Banabhatta: The great Sanskrit poet

He, it is learnt, used to use clear demarcation between the Brahmins of the society and the rest of the general public, writes Meera S. Sashital.

India is famous for its Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit poets since time immemorial. One renowned among them was Banabhatta the Sanskrit scholar. Banabhatta was born around the 7th century in a village in India. He was born in Prittikuta village, which was situated on the banks of Hiranyavahu. The village used to exist in the district which is now called Chhapra.

Banabhatta was born to Chitrabhanu and Rajadevi in a Bhojaka family belonging to Vatsyayana gotra. Banabhatta was intelligent from his childhood and as he grew he showed signs of great potential and finished his education with much dedication and hard work. His father was a learned Brahmin and had a large part in moulding his son Banabhatta who later became one of the greatest Sanskrit prose writer and poet of India and a Sanskrit scholar.

Unfortunately, his father’s death in Banabhatta’s life caused an emotional setback in him. He became a wanderer for a while but returned to his village later. On his return he received a letter from Krishna, a cousin of King Harsha which took him to meet the king who was camping near the town of Manitara. After meeting the king, Banabhatta became an instant favourite of King Harsha.

Banabhatta was the Asthana Kavi in the court of King Harsha Vardhana who reigned from C. 606- 647 CE in North India first from Sthanishvara (Thanesvar), and later Kanauj. Bana’s principal works include a biography of Harsha, “the Harshacharita” (Deeds of Harsha) and one of the world’s earliest novels “Kadambari”. Bana died before completing the novel and it was completed by his son Bhushanbhatta.  Both these works are said to be noted texts of Sanskrit literature. The other works attributed to Bana are Chandikasataka and a drama, the Parvati Parinaya.

We are told detailed account regarding Banbhatta’s ancestry and early life can be reconstructed from the introductory verses attached to the Kadambari and the first two Ucchavasas of the Harshacharita, while the circumstances behind the composition of the Harshacharita are described in the third Ucchavasa of the text.

One of the most famous and earliest novels is Kadambari by Banabhatta as mentoned above. A very famous Sanskrit pun about Kadambari is as follows: “Kadambari Rajnaamam aahaaropi  na rochate”. This means that while one reads the Kadambari, one becomes so engrossed in it that even food is forgotten. It seems, it is a very famous oratory pun used in Sanskrit.

Although there is not much that can be critically acclaimed about Chandikasataka and Parvatiparinaya, but it is said that Banabhatta used to receive many rewards and accolades from King Harsha as an appreciation of his work and talent.

As regards Banabhatta’s writing style we gather that his grammar was impeccable and he used a lot of figure of speech in his works. His prose was generally melodious and rhythmical. His peculiar style was to use longer verses, enriched by short and crisp words. The sharpness in his writing style and his patent use of figure of speech has inspired many a writers after his time with his writing Harshacharita and Kadambari.

Banabhatta pretty much proved it that he wrote in a Brahminical way in his prologue to both the books.  Bana had tried to trace his Brahmin lineage and had given it a heavenly aspect, tried to prove that Brahmins have originated directly from the Gods. He, it is learnt, used to use clear demarcation between the Brahmins of the society and the rest of the general public. For example this following piece of writing from Kadambari shows: “Oh, they lived a life devoid of knowledge. Their life is condemned by wise men. They eat the flesh, honey, which is forbidden in the civilised society.”

This shows how caste centric Bana’s writing and perspective was. His pro-Brahmin writing style along with his extravagant writing style drew a lot of criticism towards him from his fellow courtiers. They tried to disgrace him by complaining to the King that he had done non-Brahmin things in the past. The news of slander and character assassination spread by the rivals reached Bana and his friends.

This proved to be a hamper in the way of earning Bana the royal patronage. The king was upset to hear this about his favourite scholar. He asked for a personal meeting with Bana. Bana sincerely told the King that he had always been true to his faith, knowledge and values of truth. There was so much sincerity in his words that the King was very much moved and honoured him with great rewards.

The Public Library in Aurangabad, the real birthplace of Banabhatta, still it seems has the manuscripts of Banabhatta’s works archived in it. Piroo village of Haspura block in Aurangabad, Bihar, is the real birthplace of Banabhatta. It is interesting to note that the present day villagers are Muslims who claim to be descendants of Banabhatta and call themselves Bhumihar Pathans.

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