Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tharu Barka Naach of Dangauras

THE THARU BARKA NAACH: Nepal's Dangaura Tharu folk version of Mahabharata
Ed Kurt Meyer & Pamela Deuel, translation by Dinesh Chamling Rai,
Himal Books, Lalitpur Nepal 1998

Summary by Pradip Bhattacharya

Tharu community is the first inhabitant of the foothills of Nepal, in the Dang Valley. Its Origins unknown. Cultivators of the Tarai. The Dangaura subgroup is in the west in Dang/Deukhuri district and the Barka Naach is unique to them. The dance is part of the BARKIMAR, big war, of Tharu legend. Bhim is their hero having sheltered King Dangi Sharan, the Tharu ruler, against Krishna's wrath when Duryodhana had turned him away. Their Barka Atwari festival celebrates Mahadeva's marriage to the goddess, daughter of the First Tharu, in which the Pandavas are invited, the 1st Sunday of the bright fortnight of August. Tharu men fast in honour of the Pandavas who they regard as the first farmers of their land and its protectors. The Tharu cleared forests of Nawalparasi for cultivation, ignoring god Kumarvarti's injunction not to become farmers by abandoning the sacred thread. The forest was the god's garden. To punish them, he ordered Bhim to flood the valley by damming the Narayani River flowing through it. So, the Tharu king began to worship Kumarvarti and started Kantari Puja that is celebrated every five years by Tharus of Nawalparasi. Pandavas visited here after defeating Kauravas and feasted at Sat Gaun (7 villages) southwest of Nawalpur, cooking in seven ovens that are still shown. The excess water drained from the rice became a river. The Pandavas ate all the food, leaving nothing for their cooks, who went away in anger to live in Ruslahari (anger=rusal). There are 10 songs performed to dance with a chorus. The differences from the epic are noted below.

First song is "Lakhagirak Paidhar" relating the house of lac episode in 29 stanzas. Kunti stays behind in Jaitapur. Shakuni is sent on an elephant to invite the brothers from Jaitapur to Hastinapur. Shadev refuses to mount it, and is persuaded by his brothers "Oh! Brother Shadev, climb up or we shall be killed by the elephant." On reaching, he refuses to dismount and is persuaded. Similarly, he refuses to enter the house of wax and is told, "Come into the house or we will be thrown on the ground and killed". Daunagir locks the door at Duryodhan's orders. Shadev reviews the plan of the house and advises pulling out the pearl pillar, below which is a tunnel to escape underground. Bhim saves his brothers.

Second song is "Jatiyak Paidhar" told in 30 stanzas, each ends with the chorus: "King Yudhishthir is a pious king, And the Pandavas' kingdom must be returned". En route Jaitapur after escaping the house of lac, the Pandavas prepare to cook the alms they have collected. Nakul, Bhim, Arjun, Yudhishthir go by turn with a golden kettle to fetch water guarded by Danu who demands to eat one of them. Yudhishthir thinks: if he sacrifices Nakul, he loses a brother; if Shadev, he loses a scholar; if himself, the kingdom loses a king; sacrificing Bhim he loses his strength; sacrificing Arjun he loses his weapons. Unable to decide, he plants a stick in the middle of the river and leaves it to decide. It sounds "beem beem beem". So, Yudhishthir sends Bhim. Bhim addresses Danu that Queen Kunti is his sister, hence he is his Uncle and so while eating him, he should not use his teeth. Danu agrees. Bhim sits with folded legs and Danu swallows him. Danu gets stomach pain. Bhim cuts Danu's liver, blocks the rectum, cuts the lungs, blocks his mouth, rips open his stomach, emerges and heads home, crying out for his older brother. Then he makes crutches from branches, ties a sacred thread round his neck, disguising himself as a Brahmin priest. Pandavas reach Jaitapur. Kunti demands the true story. They tell her how they were locked up in Hastinapur and escaped pulling out the ruby pillar (changed from pearl) and later Bhim was eaten by Danu the giant. For performing his last rites they send Duhariya the messenger to locate a priest in Jaitapur. He meets Bhim disguised and returns with him. After he has done the rites, food is brought. Kunti says: "When the lentils are served, you eat lentils. When rice is served, you eat rice. You eat like my son Bhim used to eat, oh priest!" Bhim blames her for being blind and mourning her son who is before her but she cannot recognise him. "Pluck seven leaves of purain (a lotus like plant) and lay them over my mouth and sprinkle your milk over them." Duwariya brings and she sprinkles her milk that tears a hole through the leaves and goes into his mouth. "Oh dear Son, if you had revealed yourself before, I would have cooked 52 kinds of fritters just for you", says Kunti and celebrates that her five sons are again with her.

The third song in 68 stanzas relates to Draupadi's svayamvara and is called "Rau Bedhak Paidhar". Drupad's vow is to wed her to the person who hits the beautiful rau bird. Every stanza ends with the refrain "The one chosen by Princess Draupadi will be immortal forever". First to try is Daunagir, a brother of Duryodhan. Dronacharya is referred to as "Prince" who comes to see for himself how lovely Draupadi is and to observe the target. Next Shakuni tries and fails, followed by King Chuchanka, King Sapkewa, King Hasta, King Bidur, King Vagdanta, King Balabhadra, Duryodhan, and Padovir; all fail. Draupadi waxes furious and scolds Duryodhan for failing and leaving her unmarried: "I will be left unmarried. For 12 years I have been unmarried. Now who shall ask for my hand in marriage"? Bhim wishes to compete at this insult if permitted by his older brother, but Yudhishthir advises patience. Arjun, to test Karna's interest, poses as a Brahmin priest and asks for his secret knowledge of war as alms and Karna agrees provided he is allowed to marry Draupadi. Arjun says, "I am a priest and she is our priestess, How dare you ask for our priestess!" And he forecasts a carnage on Kurukshetra. Karna makes out he is Arjun and confirms the prophecy. So Arjun approaches his uncle Krishna and begs to fill his brain with knowledge and wisdom to win Draupadi. Krishna obliges. But it is Bhima who shoots and hits the rau bird. Draupadi climbs into his chariot and reaches his mother saying, "I have found a fruit, and with your permission I will eat it alone". Kunti says her five sons are equally dear to her so all must equally share the fruit. Bhim says, "If it were anyone else, I would tear open her belly, Or slap her across the face, but you are my mother, Queen Kunti, I shall let it pass". She says, "All the brothers will sleep in one room".

Fourth song is "Pashawarak Paidhar" on the dice game told in 54 stanzas each ending, "Virtuous Prince Yudhishthir follows the path of honesty, But we must deny the Pandavas their kingdom".
Yudhishthir wins the first throw, whereupon Duryodhan calls in Shakuni and his crooked dice. Bhim is sent off to fetch water with Duhshasan. Bhim finds the pail does not hold water and is delayed. In his absence Yudhishthir loses everything. Bhim returns and heaves Duryodhan and Dushasan aside, threatening to smash the crooked dice with his club. Draupadi too is lost but there is no disrobing. They go into exile via Jaitapur where they tell Kunti what happened. She laments, "Five sons I have, all beloved by me, And, among all, the youngest Nakul is the most dear". In the epic the favourite is Sahadev.

Fifth song is "Banabasak Paidhar" in 35 stanzas with the chorus: "King Yudhishthir is a pious king, And the Pandavas' kingdom must be returned".
This narrates the exile. Bhim collects fruits but brings back only the unripe ones, which Draupadi cooks for all of them, having eaten all the ripe fruits. In the 13th year Bhim is angry at being accused of eating the ripe fruits. He now fails to fill even one basket. Bhim protests against living on fruit and losing their strength. Shadev advises the kingdom of Banaras. En route they find the villages of Ahirs whom Bhim criticises as " virtuous, but also devious. They must give me an axe to work or I will slap their faces." Arjun advises going to a place of religious faith, viz. King Bairath (Virat of the epic). The brothers decide upon their disguises. Nakul instead of Sahadev is the astrologer and herds cows with the Ahirs. Shadev milks cows. Bhim takes care of horses instead of becoming the cook. Arjun carries a flute and a drum, disguised as a woman. Yudhishthir becomes the tutor of the king's children.

The sixth song, "Gharbasak paidhar" deals with the journey to King Bairath and parking of the weapons in a "sainik" tree, in 25 stanzas. The choric refrain is the same as above. The brothers lament:
"For 12 years I have wandered with my broken dreams,
And all my knowledge has turned to ashes.
I have forgotten all I knew and now
I must tend grazing cows with Ahirs."
Bhim is reluctant to hide his club in case there is trouble in the city. Nakul appears to be singled out:
"Suffering stays with Nakul just as musk Stays forever with the kasturi deer". Bairath allows them to stay provided they work as gardeners, take care of the stables, and work as gatekeepers. They agree. Yudhishthir sends Draupadi to serve the Queen.

The seventh song is "Hathiyak paidar" in 23 stanzas with the same choric refrain, in which Bairath forces Bhim to fight an elephant because Kanka (Yudhishthir) will not prevent a goat from destroying the king's fields. Bairath says if his elephant is killed, he will bear the loss, but otherwise Ballava (Bhim) has to die. Ballava is fed well with a hundred dishes and the elephant is intoxicated. Bhim has to fight in a torn loincloth, as there is no other. Bhim kills the elephant Bhauranand, removing its tusks to prove his strength, and accepts a betel nut offered by the king as a sign of friendship. Bairath requests him to protect the kingdom. Bhim agrees.

The eighth song is "Kichakak paidhar" that follows the Kichak-Draupadi episode of the epic in 28 stanzas with the refrain, "Whatever happens is the will of God". It begins with an enigmatic statement by Shakuni who says that in November ghosts are at work, so he advises the Kauravas, "you now can call on the pure Queen Draupadi. But the important words are those of your nephews, And the days of Kichaka are over." This is not explained and is not connected to anything that follows. The Kauravas appears somehow to be related to Kichaka. There is an elaborate description of Draupadi's toilette, draping a shawl on her left shoulder, beautiful decorations on her hair, bracelets on wrists, rings on fingers, toes, ears, crying out "An Ahir spied on me as I dressed!" whose significance is not clear. She wears an embroidered sari with silken sashes, lines her eyes with kohl, vermilion on her forehead and goes to Kichaka's house. There is no assignation at night, but Kichaka takes Draupadi to the front door of his house, which is blocked by Ballava who kills him after a wrestling bout. Long after (much after the prescribed 14th day for the funeral ceremonies) the Kauravas hear the news and cremate his body, swearing revenge on Ballava. In the epic this is what the Upa-kichakas do.

The 9th song in 124 stanzas relates Susharma and Duryodhan's attack on King Bairath and has the refrain: "Bhim is one of the best and Arjun is the best of archers, But the Kauravas are going to steal all the cows." When Arjun sends Uttara to take down their weapons from the tree, they are all found destroyed, except Arjun who says, "My weapon has started talking. Wherever it is sent, it reaches its goal; And whatever task it is given, it achieves it." There is a single couplet of interest that seems to have been transposed from the dice-game, as it has no link with anything in this song:
"The challenge is yours, Bhim and Arjun, to prevent
The Kauravas from defiling their own sister-in-law."
Bhim has an invincible left shoulder with which he withstands all the special missiles flung at him by Susharma, who begs for sparing his life. Bhim demotes him to a lowly blacksmith from a king.

The 10th song concludes the great war in 62 stanzas, ending with Kunti telling them that the mighty Kshatriya they slew whose arms were as big and strong as his things and whose chest was wider than 8 yards was their older brother Karna. The killing of Duryodhan is not described, only his fleeing, dropping his parasol, which Uttara Kumar holds in triumph. There is an enigmatic stanza 52 at this stage:
"Don't go herding without your cattle.
Don't visit your in-laws without your wife.
A man's lips are not beautiful without a moustache!
Speak twice your mantra: "Weapon, weapon".
Stanza 53 is a puzzle, as it is not clear who is the speaker and it is unconnected with the dialogue that follows between the Pandavas and Kunti ending in her disclosure of Karna being their brother:
"Oh my sister Queen Kunti, I am your uncle.
You are my nephews; I have taught you and given you knowledge.
Now I request my teacher's fee."

There is an Epilogue describing the ascent to heaven by the Pandavas, full of local touches. Bhim blocks the door after the brothers and Draupadi have eaten what Kunti has served. He announces with compassion that Kaliyug has arrived. First Draupadi leaves for the north on the pilgrimage of fire. Then Sahadev, of whom the watchman says he shall never reach the state of holiness. The same is said for the remaining brothers. Yudhishthir travels to heaven, sitting on the golden throne in Indra's palace and with Indra decides the path to be followed by his brothers and wife. He finds Bhim, Arjun, Nakul, Sahadev, and Draupadi, all there before him and asks them how this happened. Every one of them answers, "I cam here through the wind. That is the only way to heaven, so I arrived here before you."
So, indeed, has he.

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