Two Classics in Translation
Arshia Sattar
THE MAHABHARATA OF KAVI SANJAY: TWO VOLUMES/CHANAKYA NITI: VERSES ON LIFE AND LIVING by Pradip Bhattacharya Dasgupta & Company/Penguin Classics, 2019, 250 pp., 1495.00;250.00
September 2020, volume 44, No 9

We are so obsessed with the legitimacy (or not) of many Ramayanas that we tend to forget that the Mahabharata also appears in almost every Indian language, that it, too, inhabits highly localized cultures; that outside the Sanskrit text, its characters often have lives that are rather different from the more canonical versions that most of us now know from the dominant pan-Indian version. Reading non-Sanskrit Mahabharatas and Ramayanas is always interesting, not so much because of what they leave out but because of what they insist should be put in. On the most obvious and perhaps most charming level of localization, these grand stories are situated and embellished with regional flora and fauna—the literal and the metaphorical fragrance of the Tamil Ramayana is not the same as that of the Sanskrit text. So also, the cults that surround Draupadi in Tamil country generate an infinitely more fiery character than the one we meet in Vyasa’s text.  Himachali Mahabharata stories could well surprise purists who hold the Sanskrit text as an invariant ‘original’.

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