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Old is gold

By December 29, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu   –   Kuldeep Kumar

Raza Pustakmala is a treasure trove of rare literary classics

Besides being one of the foremost painters of India, Sayed Haider Raza (February 22, 1922-July 23, 2016), was a great lover of Hindi literature. While he knew French, English and Urdu too and was familiar with their rich literary traditions, Hindi had a special place in his heart. Not only did he write letters to his friends and make entries in his diaries in Hindi, he made a liberal use of lines from prominent Hindi poets like Muktibodh, Agyeya and Kedarnath Singh and inscribed them on many of his paintings. He also inscribed lines from Sanskrit and Urdu poetry but only in Devnagari script. He was passionately devoted to the idea of preserving and promoting our literary, artistic and philosophical heritage by making it available to the Hindi-speaking public.

Thirty-five books

TTo realise his dream, the Raza Foundation, headed by former bureaucrat and poet-critic-cultural activist Ashok Vajpeyi, has started to publish old and unavailable literary classics as well as other important books related to the domains of political and philosophical ideas under Raza Pustakmala (Raza Book Series) in collaboration with Rajkamal Prakashan. Vajpeyi is the Chief Editor of the Series while Piyush Daiya is its Editor. Thirty-five books have so far been brought out in this series and many more are expected in the coming years. Covers of all the books carry paintings of Raza and his contemporary fellow painters. It is a unique initiative of its kind in Hindi and one hopes that others will also follow suit. Although much different in its scope, it can be compared to Murty Classical Library of India in terms of its significance.

The publication of the Sanskrit classic Amarushatakam, collected and translated into Hindi by Kamleshdutt Tripathi and edited by Shrikrishan Das, is an important literary event. Mitra Prakashan, Allahabad had published it in 1961-62 and, although republished by Vani Prakashan after some years, it has been unavailable for a long time. Prakrit and Sanskrit poetry were dominated for a long time by Shringar rasa (erotic rasa) and Haal’s Gahasattasaee in Prakrit and Amaru’s Amarushatakam in Sanskrit have been hailed as the epitome of erotic lyrics.

Dispelling myths

Like couplets in an Urdu ghazal, lyrics in these texts as well as in those that treated them as models are independent of one another and the only common thread is the erotic rasa. In contrast to Prabandh Kavya (poetry in a specific format like epic), this style of poetry was known as Muktak Kavya (verse that was unconnected with other verses).

Amarushatakam shatters many myths that are being currently propagated and reinforced. It not only offers beautiful descriptions of erotic play between lover and his beloved but also portrayal of a drunken woman participating in it. It not only shows one man having love affairs with two women at the same time but also a woman doing the same with two men. A number of verses deal with adulterous and amorous relationships with uninhibited descriptions of the female body.

Not only that, in the third verse, Amaru, the seventh-century poet, makes a startlingly bold statement while describing viparit rati : “The face of a woman making love on top /…will save you. Who needs Vishnu or Shiva or Skanda or any other god?” The book is permeated with a definite male gaze but it also allows space for a woman’s myriad feelings and erotic expressions. As Triapthi has written an erudite introduction, the book becomes much more accessible to a lay reader.

The other notable book in this series is Braj Ritusanhar, edited and collected by Prabhudyal Meetal. It is a compilation of Braj Bhasha poetry that beautifully describes different seasons and contains bewitching portrayals of nature’s beauty. The book was published nearly seven decades ago titled “Braj Bhasha ka Ritu Saundarya” (Seasons’ beauty in Braj Bhasha) with an introduction by great scholar Rahul Sankrityayan who quotes from Apbhransha poetry of several poets, including the eighth-century poet Svayambhu and the eleventh-century poet Abdurrahman, to show the continuity of ritu-varnan (poetic description of various seasons).

While the re-publication of the book is a very welcome development, the book would have become more useful had the Raza Foundation commissioned a competent translator to render Hindi translation of the Braj Bhasha verses as their meaning is not easily accessible to Hindi readers these days.

Nirala’s note

Similarly, it is heartening to see the republication of Gangaprasad Pandeya’s Mahapran Nirala which was first published in 1948 with a short note written by the great poet Nirala himself. The book carries it in Nirala’s own handwriting, that adding value to the already precious edition. This was perhaps the first full-length study of Nirala’s life and writings and retains its literary value to this day.

Besides a book of quotations from great Hindi poet Muktibodh and two collections of Mahatma Gandhi’s discourses at his daily prayer meetings, the series also offers Hindi translation of Muriel Lester’s reminiscences about the Mahatma titled Gandhi ki Mezbani (Hosting Gandhi). Well-known poet-critic-playwright Nand Kishore Acharya has done the translation. Sabhyataaen aur Sanskritiyan (Civilizations and Cultures), a book by one of India’s foremost philosophers Daya Krishna, is also a gift to the Hindi reader.

The writer is a seasoned literary critic

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