It was 1575 A.D. Peru Bhattu (meaning A Renowned Scholar) and Lakshmi ( TheGoddess of Wealth) living on the banks of the great river Godavari, in an area in what is today’s Andhra Pradesh, have a beautiful male child . They name him Jagannatha, (The Lord of the Universe).
He is an Eka Santha Grahi, meaning that he can entirely grasp and recount whatever you tell him once or what he looks at once, a phenomenal memory, to put it simply. No need for you to utter the same thing twice or over and over to him.
The child grows up. He learns Sanskrit, the language, its extensive literature and its great sciences, right from the ancient vedas,
upanishads , prabhandas and what not. He is now in his early twenties. Not much scope for a guy like him, in these backwaters. Restless to forge out into the wide world, make a name for himself and yes, lots of dough. So, Northward, Ho ! He sets off. The journey is hard, arduous and dangerous but exciting. He learns a lot about the great country, the people,their various languages, cultures and traditions. He is constantly on the move,
A few years pass like this in his travels. You know how it was, travelling in those days. If you don’t, read the essay, “Journey to Niagara” ,by Charle Dickens.At last he reaches the capital cf the Moghul
empire, Delhi, the great place hallowed by the Pandavas, To know more about Pandavas you need to read the Maha Bharata. They say what is not there is not there anywhere else.And whatever is there elsewhere is already there.
He is weary of his travels, he likes the place and wishes to settle down there, at least for the time being. The emperor Shah Jehan, they say is a great patron of arts and a mohammadan by birth, He is reputedly tolerant to scholars from religions other than his. But Jagannatha is new to the place. He knows no body in the court. Doesn’t know a word of the local language, Urdu a pidgin of Sanskrit slang, Persian, arabic and what-have-you. But he is not daunted. He hangs out at the entrance to the Emperor’s mansion. He has asked the guards in Telugu and Sanskrit, to allow him in but they shoo him off. No clue, however, as to how to sneak in. He is just sitting there, famished, waiting and watching people going along. Something catches his interest. Two persons, evidently local and well-to-do are bickering about something, of course in Urdu. Jagannatha llistens intently, correlating their gestures and gesticulations with the alien words in order to make a guess at what they were quarrelling about and may be, pick up a few words of the local language. He could not make out much.
He leaves it at that and begins to contemplate as to what goes to make an epic. Is it the words, their sounds, their juxtaposition. Or is it their literal meaning or the greater meaning of the collection of words, or it was the figures of speech, the alliteration or the layers of meaning a greater scholar of all arts and sciences can impart to a single bod
of text to gladden a wide and varied readership? Or is it the bliss that the work bestows on its fortunate readers, that sets apart a writing
as a Kavya? This is enough stuff to fill a treatise, he concludes. And what could he name it. Yeah, Rasa Gangadhara , could be an appropriate title , he decides.
He is woken up from his reverie. It is the palace guards. They say something which he doesn’t comprehend, but surmises based on their gestures that the emperor is summoning him. He is apprehensive, Has he committed some great sin parking his ass in a no parking zone? The guards are insistent. He gets up and follows them inside the mansion.
The emperor is holding court. Jagannatha is led to a witness box. He stands there and bows to the Emperor and the court. The Emperor looked benign but regal. He must be in his early forties or a bit younger. Jagannatha’s shrewd eyes perceive that the two guys who were quarrelling before the mansion sometime ago were also there.He understands as why he was summoned there.He decides to play by the ear.
The court clerk asks him something and he replies him in chaste Sanskrit that he doesn’t understand . Soon a person who knew a little bit of Sanskrit is brought as an interpreter.
He asks the young fellow whether he saw the fellows quarreling . He replies in the affirmative. He is again asked what they were quarreling about. And he replies that he had no clue, as they were shouting at each other in Urdu, of which he doesn’t know a bit. The clerk is a bit disappointed, but insistent and asks him to let the court have his guess.. The young man says he doesn’t know the import of their exchange, but could understand a bit from their gestures but will provide an exact recital of their exchange verbatim along with their accompanying guestures. He is permitted. To the astonishment of everyone he enacts both the parts so faithfully that , the emperor is amused
and astounded. The case is tried and decided, but the witness is asked to stay back. After the court rises for the day, the king calls the young man and rewards him. The young man is flabbergasted at the extravagance of the reward. He recites ex tempore, a Sansrit sloka i.e. poem, extolling the munificience, – only the Almighty or the emperor could afford to be so extravagant in the matter of rewards.The emperor has a long talk with him through an interpreter.
The emperor, Shah Jahan, is the grandson of the great moghul emperor Akbar, who tried to evolve a new religion, Din-e-elahi, as a bridge linking all the great religions of the sub continent. But he was too great to impose it on his subjects with an iron hand, It never took off, but his efforts endeared him to all his subjects except the exceptionally orthodox elements.
Shah Jahan liked his grandpa. He perceives the same great qualities of scholarship, intellect and tolerance that his grand father had, in his eldest son , the crown prince, Dara Shikoh also. He is already quite proficient in mohammadan theology, the liberal arts and much more. As the prospective emperor of the great country, which is preponderantly Hindu, it was desirable that he learns the ancient language of Sanskrit and the vast volume of religious and secular literature that was available in the language.
The emperor appoints Jagannatha as the mentor to the crown prince. Soon the prince gets so well-versed in the new language and the religion that he finds several parallels in his own religion and that of the majority of his subjects. He translates several tough texts in Sanskrit, like the Upanishads, the epics etc., into Persian. He declares that there were indeed references to the
ancient Upanishads, in his own Holy Book.
The emperor is overjoyed by his son’s progress and prowess. He honours Jagannatha by way of weighing him in silver coins and gifting the coins to him. He confers the title of ” Pandita Raya ” ,( The Emperor of Scholars ), on the scholar. They become more like friends rather than a king and a subject.
They are playing chess one day. A beautiful young girl is in attendance to serve them snacks and drinks. .Jagannatha knows that she is Lavangi, the daughter of the emperor through a greek lady (yavana). The emperor is confident of his own prowess and wagers that in case the scholar wins, he would grant the winner anything he seeks.</p
The scholar replies that by the grace of the Almighty and the emperor, he is not short of anything, but if His Excellency insists he would think of a token reward, just to please the benefactor. They play on and Jagannatha wins.He is dismayed but the emperor is happy to have cornered his friend to seek something from him.
Jagannatha is at a loss as to what to ask of the king. He looks around scratching his head. The girl is filling his empty cup once again. One more for the road, he smiles wryly. Looks at the princess once more longingly.
He makes bold and warily begs the emperor of the reward what he desires from him. The emperor is shocked but sticks to his word.The scholar takes the alien girl as his wife.
Time and tide they say, wait for no one. The emperor had grown old and infirm. His lovely wife had died and he had built a great mausoleum in her honour, one of the few wonders of the world. But grave portents are underway. The other sons of the kings are restive. They do not like that the crown prince succeeds. The orthodox clergy finds him to be a heretic. The old Emperor is imprisoned and the heretic is put to death . The year 1659 One of his siblings ascends the throne. A watershed in the history of a great country.
There is a change in the fortunes of Jagannatha. He moves to Varanasi. But he is accorded a cold shoulder. He seeks to engage the scholars there in debates. But they refuse to acknowledge this degenerate who entered into wedlock with an alien lady who was born into an alien religion He
Goes to the banks of the river Ganga along with his still beautiful wife..
Ganga, the Devine Mother of all his countrymen.Ganga, the cleanser of all sins of her errant children. They slowly begin to walk down the steps along the bank. But even the Mother seems to be disenchanted with her prodigal son. The river begins to retreat from them. He is dismayed. Bursts out into anguished verses extolling the Mother and entreating her to clasp her hapless child to her bosom. The river stops receding, to the astonishment of onlookers. With each verse more addressed at her she begins to climb a step above. And as he concludes his pleading, she envelops the couple into her embrace and slowly recede and move forward towards the deep.
There is another version of the story a more prosaic one that says, the Mother anoints him, and
leaves him and he moves away with his spouse to Mathura and spends the rest of his life as a devotee of Lord Krishna.
These great verses entitled Ganga Lahari, (Waves of Ganga), are recited by his countrymen to this day, and several singers have mellifluously sung them to sublime accompanying music.