Balarama is Abhimanyu’s Father-In-Law:

A Study In Folk Mahabharata

Abhimanyu’s marriage with Balarama’s daughter Sashirekha or Vatsala is a unique story. This story is not to be found in the main Mahabharata narrative or in any Sanskrit literature or scriptures. It is a folk-myth developed by oral tradition.
Balarama and Revati have a daughter – Shashirekha or Vatsala. Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna and Subhadra falls in love with her. Elders agree that Vatsala and Abhimanyu would get married. The beginning is thus very happy. There is romance in the air, and what’s more, it has also the sanction of parents. 
Then comes the jolt. Irony of fate changes things. The Pandavas lose their kingdom in the game of dice and are exiled. The new ruler is Duryodhana and the future ruler is prince Lakshmana. Balarama and Revati rethink. How can they give their daughter in marriage to a stateless prince, even if he is a nephew? Balarama prioritises his daughter’s happiness over his own promises and decides to rescind his promises.
When Duryodhana, Balarama's favourite disciple, asks Balarama to give Shashirekha in marriage to Lakshmankumara, Balarama agrees on Revati’s insistence.
Subhadra has been living in Dwarka with her son after the Pandavas left for exile. Now she is miserable at her own brother’s change in heart. She confides her sorrow in Krishna. Krishna advises Balarama not to take any hasty decision, but Dau won’t listen.
When Abhimanyu comes to know of his mother’s grief, he is furious at the insult to his mother, father and to himself. He is not ready to make any compromises with honour. He decides to leave Dwarka and join the Pandavas in exile.

Abhimanyu is learning the lessons of life. His days of innocence are over. The idealism and romance of childhood love is inadequate in the face of an adult world. He is learning the complexities of life. Without a state a prince is more ordinary than a commoner.
Perhaps he understands that his father’s loss of Kingdom and exile has lead to a fall in his social status. His days of blissful security are over.
The world of ‘heart’ is pitted against the mighty world of ‘cold materialism.’ No hope for the heart, it seems.
Subhadra and Abhimanyu leave Dwarka and in the course of their journey reach the state of Hidimbavana. Ghatothkacha is the king of Hidimbavana. His mother is Hidimba, Bhima's first wife. Subhadra and Abhimanyu have no knowledge of this. As they set foot in Hidimbavana, Ghatothkacha blocks their way.
Abhimanyu being Arjuna's son does not have the word ‘fear’ in his dictionary. A fight ensues. At first Ghatothkacha, thinking Abhimanyu to be a kid, does not take him seriously. Subhadra shivers with fear seeing the gigantic and fierce Ghatothkacha fighting his young boy.
Finally Abhimanyu’s showers of arrows enter Ghatothkacha’s body. Unable to bear the pain, Ghatotkacha cries aloud in agony, and falls down. Hearing his cry of pain Hidimba rushes to find her valiant son lying like dead. She takes his head on her lap. Calling him Bhima’s son she laments.
Subhadra and Abhimanyu are shocked. They are utterly bewildered. With tearful eyes, Hidimba narrates the story of her love with Bhima. Subhadra and Abhimanyu are full of grief. Subhadra identifies herself and her son, and consoles her. Abhimanyu brings water and revives Ghatotkacha.
As Ghatotkacha regains consciousness, Hirimba tells him everything. Ghatotkacha is delighted to find his own younger brother! He takes Subhadra and Abhimanyu home and look after them with great honour and affection.
As Ghatothkacha learns the reason of Subhadra-Abhimanyu’s quitting Dwarka, he is angry with Balarama. He cannot accept that Balarama wants his daughter to marry the son of Duryodhana who is responsible for the plight of the Pandavas.
Ghatothkacha decides to intervene and act against injustice. He makes it his mission to have Abhimanyu wedded to Vatsala. He takes Subhadra and Abhimanyu to Dwarka. After quite an adventure he brings Shashirekha to Abhimanyu and Subhadra. Shashirekha and Abhimanyu are very happy.
In the meantime Duryodhana and Lakshmana come to Dwaraka. Ghatothkacha takes the guise of Vatsala. With his magical power he frightens Lakshmana. Lakshmana cannot see Vatsala, but different fearful shapes and runs away.
Thus Ghatothkacha’s tricks drive away Lakshmana. The end is the defeat and humiliation of the ‘mismatch-bridegroom’. The happy ending of the protagonists is intensified by the inglorious exit of the opponents.
Balarama finally agrees to Shashirekha’s marriage with Abhimanyu. It is a grand wedding. And then there is Krishna, under whose auspices all have happened. He has the last smile as usual over his elder brother.

The theme of Abhimanyu’s marriage to Shashirekha is particularly popular in South India. Ballads and stories abound on the theme In Telugu and Kannada. The exponents of the art of Harikatha count this story as the most popular one in their repertoire. In fact, it is the most popular Mahabharata theme in Andhra. (Mahabharata in Telugu Literature by Dr.Sonti Venkata Suryanarayana Rao - http://www.mihira.com/mihaug00/mahabharata.htm)
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the story or the exact location where it originated. However, Folk picture story-tellers particularly Chitrakathis in the rural areas of Southern India are one possible source.
 Picture story-telling as a folk-art goes back to antiquity. References to itinerant performers of dramas are found in many ancient Indian texts. Panini (600 B.C) refers to Saubhikas or dramatists who used pictures for their performances. Saubhikas also find mention in Kautilya's Arthasastra (dated 321-296 B.C), Asokan inscriptions (255-237 B.C.), Patanjali's Mahabhasya (140 B.C) and Mahavastu, a Buddhist text compiled between 200 B.C to 400 A.D. (http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20B%20Vol.%2011-16.1/Vol.%2015.2/15.2Banerji.htm)
Chitrakathis as a nomadic community of storytellers are found all over Maharashtra and some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The painted narratives or Chitrakatha are mainly from Pinguli, Maharashtra. This art is also known as Paithan paintings. The paintings are executed in rectangular panels, generally pasted back-to-back on both sides. They are held up for the audience by means of a bamboo stick and used as aids to narration of legends to the accompaniment of music and songs. (http://www.kalamkariart.org/index.php?id=6&type=txt)
This Paithan is the famous Pratishthan, the capital of the Satvahana kings who ruled from 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. In the days of Mahabharata this region formed a part of the kingdom of Dandaka.
Coming back to our present discussion, the Paithan paintings have interesting link with the South Indian puppet shows of antiquity. This has been attested by folk researchers like Stache-Rosen and Sadwelkar. Meinhard opines "Whether the shows of the Citrakathis are exhibitions of cut-out pictures or of fixed paintings on paper or some other material, and whether the text is dramatic dialogue or epic recital, both sorts of entertainment have apparently sprung from the same root". http://www.sagecraft.com/puppetry/definitions/historical/chapter2.html
The Paithan pictures of Maharashtra vividly paint the Abhimanyu story. In ‘recent’ paintings dating about 1850 A.D various episodes of the story like Abhimanyu Hunting, Abhimanyu asking for his father Arjuna’s Chariot, Meeting of Duryodhana and Vatsala’s Father, Ghatothkacha’s fighting with Abhimanyu, Ghatothkacha attacking Abhimanyu, Ghatothkacha reviving and embracing Abhimanyu while the two mothers also embrace, Ghatothkacha abducting Vatsala, Abhimanyu’s marrying Vatsala etc. are a visual delight. (For images visit - http://www.mythfolklore.net/india/galleries/1/abhimanyu.htm)

In Indonesia, whereto Hindu culture spread around AD 100, we have the Wayang theatre. One form of Wayang theatre - Wayang Beber, considered the oldest form of Wayang - serves to demonstrate the possible origin of puppetry from picture explanations. (http://www.sagecraft.com/puppetry/definitions/historical/chapter2.html)
This is very interesting because the Indonesian version of Mahabharata has great resemblance with the Indian folk-versions. The Indonesian version developed independently to a large extent thereafter, but the parallelism is striking. There, Abhimanyu marries Krishna’s daughter Ksiti Sundari with Ghatothkacha’s aid, and Ghatothkacha himself marries Perigwa, Arjuna’s daughter.
In recent times there has been renewed interest in the Chitrakathis. Mushir Ahmad directed a 19 minutes English Documentary in 1978 titled ‘Chitrakathi.’ The Documentary film traces the evolution of Chitrakathi, the folk form in the Konkan area of Maharashtra, while revealing the transformation being brought about by the modern life. Pinguli is an old village on the Konkan coast, about 32 km north of Goa. A unique Thakur community here of sixty families has preserved for hundreds of years three different folk forms Chitrakathi, marionettes and leather puppets. (http://www.nfdcindia.com/view_film.php?film_id=191&categories_id=17)

Patterns in the development of the folk-myth
Some ‘instigating factors’ behind the development of the folk myth are easily discernible –

1) A ‘discontent’ with the main narrative of the Mahabharata regarding its silence on some characters and situations particularly the next-generation Pandavas
2) ‘Reminiscence’ of appealing myths of the main narrative
3) Silence of the main narrative on some relations and aspects of relationship.
4) A perceived ‘sidelining’ or ‘marginalising’ of certain characters particularly the next-generation Pandavas in the main narrative.
The development of the folk myth follows some definite pattern. Parallel situations in ‘reminiscence’ of the main narrative are created to intensify the pleasure of the situations. The marginalised characters of the main narrative are given prominence in the folk-myth. They are glorified as if to give them their deserved place denied by the main narrative. Events are explored from the perspective of folk life and living. Recurrent themes of the main narrative are reinterpreted. Situations are reinvented through the new heroes and this time they are given ‘wish-fulfilling’ attributes. A curious blending of ‘worship’ and ‘identification’ towards the mythical characters and fusion of opposing attitude of ‘distancing’ and ’familiarising’ is noticeable. Most importantly, the mythical characters are made to act in accordance with the ‘social script’ and ‘household script’ of local importance.
Popular imagination could never accept the fact that Abhimanyu and Ghatothkacha should die so young, and that the Mahabharata poets should be completely silent about their mutual relationship and ‘Balya-lila’. In the main Mahabharata they are praised very high for their valour but they have not been given full blood. We have no detailed information on their childhood and the pangs of their growing up without the presence of fathers. The folk imagination works up to fill the void. The Mahabharata has not explored the life and mutual relationship of the next generation of the Pandavas. Folk imagination is ever eager to fill these lacunae.
The epical grandeur of the main narrative cannot satisfy folk imagination. It appears to be ‘flawed’ in as much it fails to look at life from the level of the ‘earth.’
Ghatothkacha is reminiscent of the ‘naughty and mischievous Krishna’ who handles a tricky situation with tricks. Subhadra-harana episode of the main narrative is paralleled in Shashirekha-harana. The father stole Balarama’s sister, now the father’s son steals his daughter. The situation is also a parallel to how Duryodhana’s desire to marry Subhadra was frustrated. This time it is the son who is the loser. Stealing a lady or winning a lady for one’s brother is yet another parallelism. Bhisma did the same thing, and so did Arjuna.
Ghatothkacha’s action brings to mind his father’s guises as Draupadi on the eve of killing Kichaka. The appeal of folk myth thus works with the natural law of association with the main narrative as well as a dissociation with its perceived ‘highhandedness’ or ‘elitism’.
One folk-perception of the ‘flaw’ of epical grandeur is the absence of farce, if not comedy. Folk life cannot thrive without farce and fun. Characters and situations are re-invented and re-interpreted to provide the much needed entertainment. A giant like Ghatothkacha taking the guise of a slender woman is fantastically farcical. Lakshmana’s running away in fear is another height of farce. 
When Titans clash, the folk is always the bearer of the brunt. Apathy towards war is evident in our story. Abhimanyu’s fight with Ghatothkacha is like the war in cartoon comics. No one dies. The rest of the story has not a single war. Crisis is solved by wit and magic. The ‘always-ever’ subaltern folk unknowingly make a powerful commentary on the elitist vision of crisis; which finds no other alternative to war in resolving crisis. Fratricidal war is a reality that looms dark in rural life as elsewhere. But it is not a very comfortable phenomenon of social reality. Fratricidal war is here too, but ‘death’ is tempered by ‘humiliation’.
One cannot help noticing a strong patriarchal orientation. Female characters are ‘worrying mothers’ ‘sulking mothers or sisters’ or ‘helpless bride’. It is an all-male show. Woman is shown as enemy to woman. They are shown as the root cause of troubles. Despite the ‘benign matriarch’ in Subhadra and Hirimba, one cannot help noticing their too passive a role.

Development of the Story and its appeal
Cross cousin marriage is quit frequent in Andhra and was even obligatory in olden days. The development of the Abhimanyu-Shashirekha folk-myth is understandable in this light. The question of morality regarding incestuous marriages never arises.

The appeal of the story lies in its highlighting the rural India’s community and culture’s story. Through the story the community identifies with the mythical characters and familiarises them. The immense characters of the main narrative busy with action of national or cosmic import are after all humane, concerned with family matters.
Folk life pivots on events like birth-death-marriage. All these events have been institutionalized by religious rituals, social and cultural events. The Abhimanyu story has all the ingredients of family and social drama. Here is a groom and a bride with all prospects of a happy married life; here is close knit family ties; and here is – what else - family feud. Here are all ingredients of folk life and living like fraternal conflict; Brothers lost and found; Suffering wives; a contemplated mismatch and its foiling and what not!
The broad structure of the story follows archetypal comedy. Hero falls in love with heroine. It is a childhood affair. That makes it more attractive with a ‘made-for-each-other’ tag. When everything seems to run smooth, obstacles come like bolt from the blue. Balarama like a typical bride’s father is more concerned for his daughter’s welfare and displays all typical bride’s-father-syndromes like. The eligible bachelor Abhimanyu falls in his esteem for no fault of his own. Lakshmana being the crown prince becomes more attractive as a prospective groom. It is a story too common anywhere in Bharatavarsha.
An aggrieved Subhadra leaving her ‘Mai-ke’ or ‘Baper-Bari’ in sulks is appealing in its familiarity. She is also deprived of the bliss of ‘Shashural.’ It gives the necessary sentimental touch to the story. Our Hero’s becoming ‘nomad’ and leaving with his mother the comfort and security of ‘Mama ka Ghar’ towards an uncertain future is his ‘revolt’ against the system. He is an ‘Angry Young Man’.
After Ghatothkacha’s fall, Hirimba becomes vulnerable in her own place. It is the typical situation of a male-dependant Indian woman in a patriarchal set-up, rendered helpless at the unexpected death of the main pillar of her security. She is a mother whose existence in mature age pivots round her only son. She has a husband yet she is husbandless, another common situation of rural Indian society. If Subhadra is helpless outside the ‘Lakshmana rekha’ of her ‘Shashural’ and ‘Mai-ke’, Hirimba is helpless in her own home at the prospect of losing her only male-support.
Meeting of Subhadra and Hirimba is a wish-fulfilment. Both belong to the same family. Both are marginal wives. Both have been deprived of the comfort and security of ‘Shashural’ and the support of husband. Relational ties apart, identification as ‘suffering woman’ glues their bond, and their reconciliation becomes easy and spontaneous.

The hero Abhimanyu has to suffer for no fault of his own. The hero’s power lies in his evoking sympathy by virtue of his greatness and vulnerability. His greatness is ensured by his victory over Ghatothkacha, and his vulnerability in his sulky withdrawal from Dwaraka and subsequent dependence on Ghatothkacha.
Again, judgement is not so easy. A young man will identify himself with Abhimanyu, but a ‘kanya-daygrastha Pitah’ – a father with marriageable daughter - will identify with Balarama. Everyone is right from his or her perspective.
This is another folk-commentary on the matter of ‘vow’ or ‘promises’, which has much role to play in the Mahabharata. All complexities of Mahabharata arise from such ‘vows’ or ‘promises’. Common life cannot accept sticking to words as such an important matter, yet its ‘value system’ interprets them as the high epitome of ethics. Balarama’s breaking of vow is contrasted to Ghatothkacha’s vow to help his brother. Ghatothkacha is the sacrificial hero, willing to put his own happiness at stake for the happiness of his brother. As an Elder brother or ‘Bade Bhaiya’ he has unquestionable right to sacrifice for ‘Chhotu’ or ‘Munna’.
Lakhsmana’s running away is comic; it is also a sort of wish fulfilment to the repressed rural woman. The scene nourishes the secret desire of empowerment by changing body-signs at will. The burden of childbirth, exploitation, menial labour etc snatches away all natural physical beauty of a poor woman within a few years of marriage. The vulnerable woman becomes more vulnerable. The in-laws and husband responsible for her plight now call her ugly looks by names. A rural woman has little choice in selecting her marriage partner. The Vatsala episode is paying back with the same coin. Ghatothkacha as Vatsala driving away a mismatch groom is the vulnerable woman’s desire to drive away an unwanted groom.
The joy of the situation lies in the prospect of manipulability of ‘common perception.’ A community where individuals feel themselves fixed in ‘formulated phrases’ by a common ‘eye’, an invisible ‘eye of the Other’, takes pleasure in foiling that ‘eye’ and manipulating it into ‘mistaken perception.’
The story has otherwise the usual dimensions - Krishna’s superiority to Balarama; Balarama’s giving in to Krishna’s will at the end; Krishna having the last laugh. It is Balarama’s or the ‘Bade Karta’s’ surrender of ‘will’ to the superior intelligence of ‘Chhoto-Karta’ Krishna. Krishna embodies wish-fulfilment of all ‘talented’ younger brothers ‘downed’ by an obsolete-minded ‘Karta’ in joint family system.
Rural India’s obsession with the institution of marriage is all too evident here. Marriage and marital bliss is the unquestionable salvation. ‘Mismatch’ marriage is the greatest doom.
Ghatothkacha is described as a terrible Rakshasha in the Mahabharata. He looks like a mountain summit of terrible aspect, frightful, possessed of terrible teeth and fierce face, with arrow-like ears and high cheek-bones. He has stiff hair rising upwards, awful eyes, sunken belly, blazing mouth, wide as a chasm, and diadem on his head. He is capable of striking every creature with fear. He terrifies his foes by leonine roar. Even elephants begin to eject urine (From – K.C.Ganguly). This fearful image of Ghatothkacha has a natural grasp over superstitious folk psyche.
Despite all the terrible attributes, Ghatothkacha is a hero, because his heart is at the right place. A ‘Benign Danava’, a being with supernatural power yet human emotion and feelings, is the cherished wish-fulfiller of folk dream. Folk psyche pays homage to him by making a Krishna of him. 
In Lakshmana’s humiliation for no fault of his own (he has the right to fall in love with Shashirekha and to want to marry her) the subaltern derives a sadistic pleasure by turning Lakshmana into a subaltern of subalterns! Lakshmana of the elite upper-class is made to fall even below the level of the ‘normal’ folk. Lakshmana is not only duped, he is also made to appear as ‘mad’, a marginal among the marginal!
Another aspect is the triumph of the son-in-law over the father-in-law. The prospective ‘father-in-law’ is the perpetual villain to ‘eternal lovers’. So he must swallow his pride at the end. He can create hurdles, but cannot win over eternal lovers.
The themes of ‘rescue’ and ‘revenge’ ‘reconciliation’ ‘rebirth’ ‘rectification’ give the folk-myth its universal appeal. Shashirekha is rescued from a ‘bad’ marriage; Ghatothkacha takes revenge on behalf of his fathers against Duryodhana; Ghatothkacha and Abhimanyu are separated brothers who reconcile; Ghatothkacha, Abhimanyu, Subhadra, Hirimba, Balarama and Revati and Shashirekha – all undergo rebirth. They evolve fresh and vibrant with new experience. And in all these hurly-burly Krishna stands out as the catalyst. He has his blessings on Abhimanyu-Shashirekha, he has his auspicious indulgence in Ghatothkacha and he has his usual mischievous smiles playing on his lips at his elder brother and Bhabi’s all too predictable defeat. 
The ‘micro-politics’ of joint family are explored. Fraternal relations are explored with a certain cynicism. Krishna-Balarama relation has an undercurrent of tension and envy. Balarama being elder is the ‘Karta’, but Krishna by virtue of his superior acumen and wisdom is the ‘real-Karta’. There is also undercurrent of rivalry between Rukmini and Revati – the sister-in-laws of a joint family. The Revati-Subhadra tension i.e. the tension between ‘Bhabi’ and ‘Nanad’ is another aspect of the eternal drama of a typical Indian joint family. Ghatothkacha-Abhimanyu relation turns for better with a common mission. But their relation with Lakshmana has nothing redeeming in it. Two brothers forming a group against another, is a very familiar scenario in any typical Indian joint family. 

The story or the characters of Ghatothkacha and Abhimanyu do not fit exactly into the pigeon-hole of Campbell’s set-archetypes. They are more complex. Indian epical stories, even if they are folk-creations are indeed remarkable for their multiplicity of perspectives and complexity of conception. The characters are not ‘arche-TYPES’ but rather ‘arche-ROUNDS’!
Both Abhimanyu and Ghatothkacha are martial, sacrificial and romantic. Abhimanyu, Ghatothkacha, Subhadra – all are heroes and heroines in turn.
Abhimanyu enters crisis. His setting out for his fathers is his quest for a harmonious self. His companion is his own mother. He meets his chief adversary in Ghatothkacha. Entering Ghatothkacha’s kingdom is his ‘crossing the threshold.’ Latter he finds a ‘mentor’ and ‘supernatural aid’ in the same person. If the first part of the story has Abhimanyu as its hero, Ghatothkacha takes over in the next part. The adversary transforms into mentor, and now mentor transforms into the hero, with the original hero taking a willing backseat.
Again, from Ghatothkacha’s perspective, his journey is also from crisis to resolution. He is the hero in his own land. Abhimanyu is the transgressor and his chief adversary. Ghatothkacha has also lessons to learn through trial. Overconfidence and complacency causes his defeat at the hand of a younger adversary. After the conciliation with his brother, he receives the ‘call to adventure.’ The rest of the story is his quest for cosmos. And now he finds a mentor in Krishna. Krishna is also the ‘oracle’ and also the ‘father’ with whom Ghatothkacha joins hand. Ultimately in driving away Lakshmana with his magical powers, Ghatothkacha becomes the ‘master of the two worlds.’
Though Abhimanyu gets the prize at the end, Ghatothkacha too gets his prize. Enabling a brother get a bride is also heroic in Mahabharatan standard. He resembles Bhisma. Here lies the complexity in Indian epics as also in its folk developments. The Heroes ‘ultimate achievement’ is happiness of others. His own gain, if any, is the adventure itself, the ‘Karma’, and not any material possession, or ‘Karmaphala’. As Paoahari Baba would say, ‘Jan Sadhana Tan Siddhi.’ Both the heroes are reintegrated into society with a new status, wealth, or marriage to the princess. Ghatothkacha here embodies Krishna’s Gita-philosophy, working incessantly for others, not seeking anything in return.
Leaving aside western terminology, we find some typical Indian archetypes. Balarama is the archetype of a cynical father, who places Khandan-ka-sawal over emotional idealism. Revati is the typical potential ‘Sashumata’ (Mother-in-law) in search of a prosperous ‘Jamata’(Son-in-law). Hirimba is the matriarch, the shelter-provider, the protector. She and Subhadra as well, are the all-enduring, son-dependant mothers. Both also represent the vulnerable ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ in absence of a secured Father-in-law’s house.

Modern Representations
In late 1800s there was a revival of ‘Shringara Kavyas’ in the Telugu world. Shringara Parinaya Gathas (sRingaara priNaya gaathaa-s), like Subhadra Parinayam, Draupadi Parinayam, Damayanti Parinayam, Jambabati Parinayam etc were written with great fervour. (Source information – Desiraju Hanumanto Rao)
Malladi Venkatakrishna Sarma wrote the play 'Shashirekha PariNayamu', a ‘Khanda Kaavya’ in 1928. This became the immediate inspiration of Telugu stage play and cinemas. Kuchipudi and other dance dramas also incorporated the story in their cultural fold. Even today the story wields such power on the audience that one of the 120-year-old Surabhi troupes, under the direction of Surabhi Jamuna Rayalu, won the Golden Nandi for best production a few years back in the Nandi Drama festival held at Vijayawada. Jamuna Rayalu, along with the renowned make-up artiste of this Surabhi theatre, K. Kesava Rao was warmly felicitated after the show. The play has been hailed as a Perfect Screenplay for its theatrical values and trick techniques.
The play has its share of variations within variations, and in such sub-variations it uses ‘Puranic archetypes’. Here it is Narada who, as usual, is the root of creating all tangles. One day he comes to Dwaraka. An inebriated Balarama insults him. Bearing a grudge, Narada plans to create trouble in Balarama's family. He advises Revati, Balarama's wife, to get her daughter Shashirekha wed to Duryodhana's son Lakshmana, instead of Abhimanyu, with who she is already in love. Here Narada is given a revenge motive. Krishna, not favouring Balarama’s decision takes the services of Ghatothkacha. Shashirekha is lifted along with her cot and shifted to the forests where Abhimanyu lives. These scenes also include how Krishna and Ghatothkacha fool the Kauravas, with Ghatotkacha playing the fake bride. (http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/fr/2005/09/16/stories/2005091602010300.htm)
The play inspired K.V. Reddy’s 1957 movie ‘Maya Bazaar’ of Vijaya production, hailed as a landmark in Telugu Cinema. It creates some other sub-variations in the folk-myth in keeping with a Cinema-audience of very different taste and expectations. Here, Abhimanyu and Shashirekha are just kids when Balarama-Revati promises to marry them. Betrothal at childhood has much popular appeal. The betrothed pair eventually grows up separately in Indraprastha and Dwaraka. This situation offers much possibility for cinematic romance.
After Yudhishthira loses the dice, Shakuni plans for a marriage alliance of Lakshmana Kumara with Shashirekha, to topple Abhimanyu’s wish of marrying Shashirekha. Here, Shakuni-archetype is used as the spoiler of a ‘perfect match’. Cinema-audience needs a perfect villain like Shakuni. Narada, obviously, cannot suit that role.
Lakshmanakumara is portrayed as the cowardly son of Duryodhana. A cinema-audience needs a mismatched-groom as degradable as conceivable. The heroes – Abhimanyu and Ghatothkacha must appear ‘whiter’ against a sharply contrasted ‘black’ Lakshmana. Balarama's wife Revati is portrayed as a greedy woman. Again, she is the ‘black’ woman in contrast to a ‘white’ Subhadra or Hirimba.
Shashirekha, Lord Krishna and Subhadra all oppose Balarama’s change of plan. Here Subhadra takes her son to Ghatothkacha on Krishna’s advice. As usual, Krishna is the Supreme Arranger. Ghatothkacha is unable to withstand the insult of his brother and approaches Krishna for help. Krishna directs him to take the form of Maya Shashirekha (a duplicate Shashirekha) and marry off the original Shashirekha to Abhimanyu. The cinema, thus, uses the reminiscent parallelism of the ‘Maya-Sita’ myth of the Ramayana.
Ghatothkacha with the help of Krishna kidnaps Shashirekha and transports her to his ashram where she is united with Abhimanyu. Krishna, thus, is given more prominent role in this story than elsewhere. The novelty in the film is in the Krishna-Ghatothkacha joint operation.
Ghatothkacha, with his Maya disguises himself as Shashirekha and replaces her in Dwaraka. His henchmen Chinnamaya along with Lambu and Jambu designs and builds a welcome palace with his Maya and that is the MAYA BAZAAR- The market of Illusion! Lambu-Jambu, as their very name suggests, is the comedy provider. The various events that take place in the MAYA BAZAAR are remarkable. 
Ghatothkacha follows the orders and gets ready to marry the Kaurava prince in the form of Maya Shashirekha. On the day of the wedding, Ghatotkacha takes the guise of Vatsala and goes to the marriage hall. His magic gives him the power to appear in different forms to Lakshmanakumara alone. When Lakshmanakumara sees his bride looks like a lion or tiger in turn, he takes to his heels. Ghatotkacha displays his magic (Maya) to Duryodhana and his evil-minded kinsmen and drives them back to Hastinapura. The movie ends with Ghatothkacha teaching a lesson to Kauravas under the aegis of Lord Krishna. 
There is much cinematic-drama in the movie. There is a scene showing Abhimanyu & Vatsala romancing on the lake in the first segment when a spy reports on them to Vatsala’s parents. Krishna who is aware of this (being god), switches places with Abhimanyu while Abhimanyu hides with Vatsala in the bushes. The second segment begins here. When Balarama and Revati turn up, they comment on Krishna & Rukmini romancing like newly weds. Krishna & Rukmini smile and leave. Then Balarama and Revati decide to go for a romantic boat ride justifying that they can do it if Krishna can. (http://tfmpage.com/forum/5281.oldsongs.html)The movie adds a tint of ‘couple-rivalry’ between the pairs Krishna-Rukmini and Balarama-Revati.
The man behind the camera was Marcus Bartley, whose innovative manoeuvres helped make it a landmark film. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayabazar) (http://www.fact-index.com/m/ma/maya_bazar.html) (http://www.telugupeople.com/cinema/cinema.asp?cinemaId=47)
Amar Chitra Katha comics have also its valuable share in the development and popularisation of the story. Ghatothkacha is the redoubtable hero and one of the finest characters in the Mahabharata. He is affectionate and kind even though he is a Rakshasa. He is shown to learn all the arts of the Rakshasas from Hirimba, and to inherit an affectionate and chivalrous temperament from Bhima. He is an invaluable ally to the Pandavas in times of trouble - always available whenever they think of him.

Folk Myth vs. Main narrative of Mahabharata
Just like Karna’s death, Indian psyche is never comfortable with Ghatothkacha’s death or Krishna’s dance of joy over his death. In Section CLXXX of Drona Parva (K.C.Ganguly) we see that beholding Ghatothkacha slain and lying like a mountain, all the Pandavas became filled with grief and began to shed copious tears. ‘Only Vasudeva filled with transports of delight began to utter leonine shouts, grieving the Pandavas. Indeed, uttering loud shouts he embraced Arjuna. Tying the steeds and uttering loud roars, he began to dance in a transport of joy, like a tree shaken by a tempest. Then embracing Arjuna once more, and repeatedly slapping his own armpits, Achyuta endued with great intelligence once more began to shout, standing on the terrace of the car.’ (K.M.Ganguly)
It is as if to expiate the ‘ill-treatment’ of Ghatothkacha’s character that he has been endued with a ‘golden heart’ beneath his Rakshasha garb. This characterisation of Ghatothkacha is in perfect harmony with the main narrative, if one remembers how this young man helped the Pandavas during their Banabas and carried Draupadi on his back through difficult terrains. Ghatothkacha is transformed into a spiritual-trickster like Krishna. The folk-psyche thus takes a sub-conscious ‘revenge’ over Krishna’s ill-treatment of Ghatothkacha by making him a sort of ‘mini-Krishna’.
Mahabharata is a living epic. But the great ‘organism’ often tends to lose touch with its own vibrating heart in the din and bustle of sophisticated scholarship. Folk India is the keeper of the Indian conscience. True to its role, folk creative imagination endows the living organism of Mahabharata not only with the ‘heart’ but also with the ‘heart of heart’ – the conscience.
Our present story will always remain as a pulsating triumph of the Indian folk-psyche for its creative indigenization of the main narrative, and daring attitude to even ‘improve upon’ the main narrative of Mahabharata, perceived by the folk-psyche as a parochial story of the ruling elite!


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

Top | Hinduism

Views: 5140      Comments: 2

Comment Very good explanation about the characters of Seshirekha, Abhimanyu, Hidimbi, Subhadra and as to how, Ghatoskatch succeeded in marrying seshirekha with Abhimanyu. Its o.K. In some texts that there is no daughter in the name of Vastala or Seshirekha to Balarama. It is also noted in some texts presented in Google that Gatochkatch got married Ahilavathi and blessed with a son Barbarika. But in this text that Gatotkatch got married the daughter of Arjuna and Abhimanyu got married the daughter of Krishna. If possible clarify and mail the reply to my Mail ID furnished.

krishna rao varanasi
07-Feb-2015 10:58 AM

Comment The idea of parental consent for marriage is rather recent 'innovation'. As the Indian economy stagnated especially during the colonial period, social structures were modified to deal with the new economic realities.

Dashratha comes to know of Sita's wedding to Raghu Ramachandra's after all 'deal' was stuck. Kunti is informed about the Draupadi's arrival in the Pandava household after the swayamvar. Subhadra is of course encouraged to flee with Arjuna by Krishna himself. Arjuna marries Uloopi, without any consent from anyone. It is Hidimba who approaches Kunti for help in wooing Bhima.

For each such case that I may present here, there may be a counter case too. Like Uttara's wedding with Abhimanyu is fixed by Arjuna and King Virata.

Holi, Garbha-daandiyain my view were festivals designed to be meeting grounds for young to familiarize themselves and progress towards marriage.

The moot point is really Indian society's commitment towards marriage. Unlike the Rest of the World - especially those who were not significantly influenced by India. Like the West or Middle East. The 'invention' of marriage as a social custom is also an Indian tradition. Roman, Greek entered were contractual relationships - reserved for those with power and wealth.

It is only in Indian society that marriage was common among the poor also.

Anuraag Sanghi
17-Apr-2012 02:18 AM

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