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Call me “Ganga”, I stay; call me “Gangi”, I leave

There is a well-known saying in Odia which is about polite language: ganga boile thibi / gangi boile jibi (If you call me “Ganga”, I will stay / If you call me “Gangi”, I will leave). “Gangi” carries the impolite suffix i. In Sarala Mahabharata, Santanu’s wife, Ganga, warned her husband at the time of their wedding that she would live with him as long as he did not call her “gangi”. Quite understandable, we must say, considering that even a dog does not eat anything from someone who calls him using the very derogatory term “chi” (chi boele kukura barabarsha panichhueni, as the saying goes).The moment Santanuin anger called her “gangi”, Ganga annulled the marriage and left him. This proverb emphasizes the importance of the use of polite language to sustain a relationship. But what it does not say is that Ganga relentlessly incited Santanu to utter this word.

Lord Shiva had left Kailash Mountains and no one knew where he was. Taking her birth as a human, Ganga was waiting for him, looking for him. Mistaking king Santanu, Shiva’s devotee, dressed like Shiva, to be her spouse, she married Santanu. During the wedding rituals, she realized her mistake. But being told by her father that by walking out of the marriage during the rituals, she would bring disgrace to the family, she decided to marry the king. She wanted him to assure her that he would bear with her and not get cross with her over anything she would do. She told him that she would leave him if he called her “gangi”. Santanu had agreed. It was not because he was madly in love with her. It was she who had wanted to marry him, not the other way round. He had accepted her demands because he thought it was the husband’s duty to be indulgent to his wife. What he did not know was that shedesperately wanted to leave him. So she tortured him physically and mentally. She cut the throats of their six sons immediately after they were born.  Santanu had tolerated all that. But when she was going to kill their seventh, he lost his cool and uttered the forbidden word. She left him at once.Unlike in Vyasa Mahabharata, in Sarala Mahabharata, when Ganga killed her children, she did not know that because of her deed, they were freed from a curse. She killed them to hurt Santanu, so that he called her “gangi” in anger. As a wife, Ganga was treacherous, vicious and disgusting.She was the quintessential home-breaker. Rivers have two aspects: the quiet and the turbulent. Which aspect a narrator projects in a matter of the narrative compulsion. We leave this matter here.

This narrative of goddess Ganga does not occur in Vyasa Mahabharata and it can be assumed that it is poet SaralaDas’screation. It has so much impact on the Odia collective consciousness that it has become a cultural prohibition to name a girl child “Ganga”. She could have any of these names: “Jahnavi”, another name of the river “Ganga”, “Alakananda” and “Mandakini”, tributaries of the Ganga, not “Ganga”.

Sakuni is not a personal name in Odia either. This is generally true of Hindi as well, as the scholar, academic and writer, Dr.Vikas Kumar, tells me. But interestingly, there is the expression “kansamamu” but not “sakuni Mamu”.  Kansa wanted to kill Krishna. So “kansa Mamu” is used in the language as a term for a vicious uncle.  In Vyasa Mahabharata, Sakuni tried to make his nephew, Duryodhana, the king of Hastinapura and hatched plans from time to time to get the Pandavas killed. He did not succeed and indirectly became the cause of the Kauravas’ comprehensive elimination. Thus he was the bringer of misfortune to the Kauravas. In terms of end result, what Kamsa was to Krishna, Sakuni turned out to be to the Kauravas.  Yet, Odia treats them differently.

It could be because in Sarala Mahabharata, Sakuni is not looked upon as a vicious person but as the one, doomed to destroy his nephews. Duryodhana had used treachery to trap his father and uncles and close relatives in a stone house and had starved them to death. Sakuni was oath-bound to his father to avenge their murder. His father knew that it was completely beyond him. So he advised him to resort to treachery. Directly and indirectly, Sakuni instigated the Kauravas fight a war against the Pandavas. He was aware that the war would destroy the Kauravas. Sarala Mahabharata looks upon Sakuni as a victim. As such, he does arouse disgust; he evokes sympathy. That may be why Odia does not have the expression “sakunimamu”.  

Like “Ganga” and “Sakuni”, “Bidura (Vidura)” is not a personal name in Odia. But there is a temple dedicated to Bidura in the village Olasuni in Mahanga Police Station. People in Odisha have grown up with the story that Bidura offered Krishna the same food that people offer to him, namely, saga bhaja (fried green leaves) and rice. In this story, there were no sages with Krishna. He alone was his guest that night. I do not know who the author of this story is. There is a very popular bhajan in Odia by Bhikari Charan Bal which contains this: bhakata bidura saga bhaja dei toshaiparilamana (The devotee Vidura pleased (you, i.e., Krishna) with fried saga).

Incidentally, in Sarala Mahabharata, Bidura did not suffer deprivation (neither did he in Vyasa Mahabharata). He was a minister in the kingdom of Hastinapura. There is no evidence in this text that suggests even remotely that he chose to live in poverty. He had offered Krishna and the sages, fruits and pan cakes of various kinds, khir, cheese, etc. in plenty.

Now, it seems that despite a temple for him, Bidura has not been traditionally viewed as a person above reproach. There is a saying about him: kaurabankara khae / pandabankara gae(he lives off theKauravas but sings the praise of the Pandavas). The saying censures the person who does so as being ungrateful. This may explain why Bidura is not a personal name in Odia.

Like Bidura, Bibhisana (Vibhishana) is not a personal name in this language. Bibhisana is revered as a great devotee of Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. There is a ritual in Sree Jagannath Temple in Puri with which he is connected, namely, Bibhisana bandapana. Details in some other piece. This is at one level; at another, he is viewed as a deserter, although his was a virtuous act. But the deserter image of him supersedes everything else.

It is not unexpected that “Gandhari” and “Dhritarashtra” are not personal names in Odia. The same hold for Hindi. Gandhari’s blind folding herself by choice is generally viewed as a virtuous act. Both in Vyasa Mahabharata and in Sarala Mahabharata, which are the source of quite a few of the community’s moral values. In both she emerges as anhonourable person. But the defining image of her is centred round her blindness, not the thinking behind it. Understandable, because virtuous blindness does not make life easier for the person. No surprise that no parents would name their girl child “Gandhari”. Dhritarashtra stands out as a greedy person, whose greed eventually led the Kuru family to the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Vikas says that Duryodhana and Dussasana are not personal names in Hindi. Interestingly in Odia these are. This may have to do with the way Sarala Mahabharata treats these characters. There are many situations where Duryodhana’s words and actions redeem him. For instance, he was so grief-stricken seeing the severed heads of Draupadi’s children that he asked Durdaksha to place the heads on his chest. He died embracing them. As for Dussasana, his most heinous act was not a voluntary; act he did what his elder brother asked him to do.

Naming is a cultural act. Personal names provide us insights into the cultural values and attitudes of a community. Most scholars who study personal names study those that exist, not those that are expected to exist but do not. They do not study the names that are not really expected to exist, but they do. The unexpected need explanation. And the search for explanations can be gainful and enriching. 

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Prof. B.N.Patnaik

Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur

Email: [email protected]

(Images from the net)

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