Sunday, November 27, 2016

52 Steps to River Ganga

Effective communication is an art. Writing and speaking is also an art as they are integral to effective communication. Not everyone is endowed with the skills of speaking and writing effortlessly. When some people talk, it is difficult to understand what they actually wish to convey. It is indeed tough to understand what many people write. The many components of communication such as intent to communicate, composing the message for either writing or speaking out, choosing the right word for the occasion, finding the appropriate medium etc. call for considerable skills to make the art of communication effective. Some people are endowed with these qualities to an exceptional degree. It is a pleasure to read or listen to such talented people. Human brain is capable of doing all these actions at once. But all human brains do not work with the same efficiency. Some are extremely talented. They can give instant reply with wit or sarcasm to any subject hurled at them. They can play with words and thoughts effortlessly. What is talent? It is defined in many ways. Bhatta Touta has given a very wonderful meaning to this word "Talent". It is the urge to create something new continuously and spontaneously, and often without any apparent effort. Please Click Here to read a post on "Talent" as defined by Bhatta Touta.

Vengimandala, the region between Krishna and Godavari rivers in Andhra, has produced many brilliant and learned scholars and poets who displayed this type of tremendous talent of quick wit, wisdom and ability to play with words. Among these many scholars and poets, Jagannatha Panditaraja stands tall and holds his own place even after over three hundred years. Jagannatha was born in Manikhanda Agraharam (present Munganda in Amalapuram sub-division of East Godavari district) and lived in the early part of 17th century AD. He came from a family of scholars and was known for his immense capacity to construct poems on any subject instantaneously. He tried for support from contemporary Kings. Vijayanagara empire was on the decline and hence he moved up north and ended in the court of Jaipur Kings. There was a Kazi there, a Persian scholar who had learnt Sanskrit and was challenging the scholars in the King's court to debate with him in Sanskrit and Persian. He had defeated all the scholars present there. The Jaipur King wanted Jagannatha to try his turn. Jagannatha took six months time, learnt Persian and Koran and defeated the Kazi in debate. 

Jagannatha's fame reached the Mughal Kings in Agra. Emperor Shah Jahan advised the Jaipur King who was his subordinate to send Jagannatha to his royal court. Shah Jahan's eldest son Dara Shikoh had learnt Sanskrit and was instrumental in translating many Sanskrit epics to Persian. (Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who produced and acted in the lead role as "Chanakya" is on record to state that Dara Shikoh was responsible for translating 22 Upanishads to Persian and through Persian they reached Europe.) Dara Shikoh became a good friend of Jagannatha. Shah Jahan made Jagannatha as a court poet and conferred the title "Panditaraja" (King among scholars) on him.

Jagannatha has many literary works to his credit. His Rasa Gangadhara is a much acclaimed work in Alankara Shastra (Poetics). His other works are of high quality and his brilliance radiate form them. He was ruthless and arrogant in dealing with other poets and their works. He was a junior contemporary of the famous Advaita scholar Appaiah Deekshita and criticized his works with personal vengeance.  

There is a very interesting story about the life of Jagannatha Panditaraja. Once Emperor Shah Jahan and Jagannatha were playing chess. Shah Jahan became thirsty and wanted water. He rang the bell for water. A girl came from behind the curtain carrying a jug and served him water. Jagannatha looked at her and was captivated by her beauty. Even after she left and Shah Jahan made the next move on chess board, Jagannatha was still looking at the girl who was now standing behind the curtain. Shah Jahan asked Jagannatha whether he could make a poem to describe the girl's beauty. Jagannatha recited the following as if he was waiting for the call:
 इयं सुस्तनी मस्तकन्यस्तकुम्भा 
कुसुम्भारुणं चारुचेलं वसाना |
समस्तस्य लोकस्य चेतः प्रवृत्तिं 
जीत्वा घटे विन्यस्ययातीवधाती ||

Iyam sustani mastakanyastakumbhaa
Kusumbhaarunam charuchelam vasaana
samastasya lokasya chetah pravruttim
Jeetva ghate vinyasyayateevadhaatee

While appreciating her beauty, Jagannatha recited that while going away after serving water, she had arrested the life of those present there, filled the jug with it and taken away. The jug was heavier when she left despite pouring away the water in it!

Shah Jahan was much impressed and wanted to give a present to Jagannatha. Jagannatha asked the emperor for her hand in marriage. Shah Jahan told him that she was his foster daughter Lavangi and a Muslim girl and Jagannatha may not marry her being from a religious family. Jagannatha insisted on marrying her and the emperor agreed. Thus Jagannatha became the emperor's foster son-in-law. For the next twenty years Jagannatha Pandita had all the wealth and pleasures of life as the emperor's foster son-in-law. When Shah Jahan got a monument constructed for his wife Mumtaz, it is said that Jagannatha suggested to name the monument as "Mumtaz Mahal". Present name of Taj Mahal is derived from that.

In today's world Jagannatha's marriage to Lavangi may not matter at all, but in those days it was not received well by his contemporary scholars and poets. When emperor Shah Jahan fell ill later in his life and Aurangzeb took his place, Jagannatha had to move away from Agra and started to live in Varanasi. Jagannatha had bad days in Varanasi. Appaiah Deekshita was on his way to River Ganga with his disciples in the Panchaganga Ghat in Varanasi. He found someone lying on the steps of the Ghat and woke him up. He was startled to see that it was Jagannatha Pandita. What a fall for someone who had ruled the literary world as Panditaraja, he said. Moved by his comments, Jagannatha composed poems in praise of River Ganga instantaneously. As he recited the slokas of what is now known as "Gangalahari", the river waters rose a step level for each sloka. As he completed his 52nd sloka, the river waters reached him and took him away. How much truth is there in this story is not known, but he probably had a dip in the sacred river to atone for his sins of being arrogant with his contemporaries. The 52 steps of Panchagnaga Ghat and the 52 slokas of Gangalahari are a witness to this episode. 
A Tamil film titled "Lavangi" was produced based on the life of Jagannatha Pandita and Lavangi, in 1946. Yaragudipati Varada Rao, better known as Y V Rao, directed the movie and played the role of Jagannatha Pandita. Rao made some changes in the story to suit cinematic interests. The film showed that the young wife of Jagannatha who was left behind in his native place moved to Agra and changed herself as Lavangi to find her husband. B R Panthulu played the role of emperor Shah Jahan. Kumari Rukmini acted as Lavangi. It was considered as a trendsetter. The film was later dubbed in Hindi as well, but was not a success at box office. But it made another contribution to Indian cinema. Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini fell in love and got married when the movie was being made. Yesteryears heroine Lakshmi (known as Julie Lakshmi) is the daughter of Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini. As is well known, Lakshmi has acted and is acting in movies of all South Indian languages as well as Hindi and earned name and fame. She is a worthy successor to her father Y V Rao, who has the distinction of directing the first Kannada Talkie movie "Sati Sulochana" and many other contributions to the film world.

The legend of Jagannatha Pandita and his brilliant works continue to shine in literary circles. His name is taken with utmost respect whenever literary criticism and poetics are discussed.


  1. Wonderful information chain.We canoy question historian as they have spent life in finding truth .It will be Luke asking a magician how gw did the tricjk.

  2. Felt like being taken on a tour of the bygone era , superb !!

  3. Superbly chronicled! Your repository of knowledge is simply astounding. 52 steps of Panchaganga ghat seem to be like a fitting tribute to the great literary scholar.

  4. Sir, I am really amazed at the collection of information and knowledge you dig in to create your blogs. I love the way you weave it together with your own inimitable style.
    Spell bound by the information and the light you through on topics I enjoy reading.

  5. As you said, "Effective communication is an art. Writing and speaking is also an art as they are integral to effective communication. Not everyone is endowed with the skills of speaking and writing effortlessly." This aptly applies on you

  6. The best example for an effective communicator is brought out in this article and many such other articles from you in these blogs. A very interesting history beautifully presented.

  7. As always, you've connected history and the present very well. Your knowledge of history, mythology, modern day films, politics, amazing.

  8. The effective steps of communication which is an integral part of administration are well explained and administered in this beautiful episode.