October 20, 2006

Puranics: Altered or Forgotten Tradition

The readers of Puranas (mainly Bhagvat Purana) in public with motive of earning of merit for self and the merits for the listeners were called Puranics.

Here is an eyewitness account of the description of a Puranic family of ninteenth century of India. It is a part of autobiographical note of Saraswati Pandita Ramabai (1858 – 1922) as per the site of International Christian Women’s History Project (ICWHP) .

Postal Stamp of Pandita Ramabai issued in October 1989 in India

"Ever since I remember anything, my father and mother were always traveling from
one sacred place to another, staying in each place for some months, bathing in
the sacred river or tank, visiting temples, worshipping household gods and the
images of gods in the temples, and reading Puranas in temples or in some
convenient places.

The reading of the Puranas served a double purpose.
The first and the foremost was that of getting rid of sin, and of earning merit
in order to obtain Moksha. The other purpose was to earn an honest living,
without begging.

The readers of Puranas. Puranikas as they are called-
are the popular and public preachers of religion among the Hindus. They sit in
some prominent place, in temple halls or under the trees, or on the banks of
rivers and tanks, with their manuscript books in their hands, and read the
Puranas in a loud voice with intonation, so that the passers-by, or visitors of
the temple might hear. The text, being in the Sanskrit language, is not
understood by the hearers. The Puranikas are not obliged to explain it to them.
They may or may not explain it as they choose. And sometimes when it is
translated and explained, the Puranika takes great pains to make his speech as
popular as he can by telling greatly exaggerated or untrue stories. This is not
considered sin, since it is done to attract common people's attention, that they
may hear the sacred sound, the names of the gods, and some of their deeds, and
be purified by this means. When the Puranika reads Puranas, the hearers, who are
sure to come and sit
around him for a few moments at least, generally give
him presents. The Puranika continues to read, paying no attention to what the
hearers do or say. They come and go at their choice.

When they come, the
religious ones among them prostrate themselves before him and worship him and
the book, offering flowers, fruits, sweetmeats, garments, money, and other
things. It is supposed that this act brings a great deal of merit to the giver,
and the person who receives does not incur any sin. If a hearer does not give
presents to the Puranika, he loses all the merit which he may have earned by
good acts. The presents need not be very expensive ones, a handful of rice or
other grains, a pice, or even a few cowries, which are used as an invitation."

By Pandita Ramabai, Dated: March, 1907.

A General Comment:

In present days in India, you do not come across a pilgrim, who performs the work of a Puranic. However, on the other hand, there many Kathakars, Elucidators on Bhagvat Gita and other religious books like Ramayana etc. There are television channels exclusively dedicated to such speakers who address to their audience in different robes. In Sikh religion also, there are Patthis and Raagis who have taken up similar activity and enjoying a good audience. Whenever such people visit a city, there are big hoarding, showing their oversized faces produced with the latest technology in printing. They come to the stage in a grand manner. They are surrounded by such followers who readily give large amounts in charity. There are people who sponsor their visits to their cities. They put in to practice all the successful marketing and event organising skills and models when they perform their act of elucidation. They do not use Sanskrit much in their elaboration. They talk in a dialect which their audience can understand. Can they be called the present day Puranics???

The source claim that the writing has been borrowed from the official document issued by the Government of India in the year 1989, when the Indian Government issued a commemorative stamp on Pandita Ramabai and had also declared her the women of the millenium. Philatelic officer of Department of Post might have issued it. However, there is no counter proof to establish the authenticity of the account. Similarly, as per the account given there, the death of Pandita Ramabai is given as 1920. However, on numerous other sites, it is given as 1922. It creates some doubts. A review of the book of Pandita Ramabai by Meera Kosambi given on Vedams Books, the last year of her life is given as 1922. It is only that the description given about the Puranic seems to near to the truth, that the relevant description is reproduced above.

Photograph Source:
Wikipedia and Indian Post. On the India Post site, the details provided about the stamp does not contain the autobiographical essay as claimed by International Christian Women’s History Project (ICWHP).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Form


Email *

Message *