Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"The Chandayana"

The Chandayana is a classical Indian epic; a complicated love story. It started as a folk ballad and was sung for entertainment in eastern India. By the mid 14th century, The Chandayana moved from being a folk ballad to a classical story used by a local Sufi to convey a new religious message. It was recorded and written down and over several 100 years, was created in to 5 different versions. Mulla Da’ud became considered as the author of this epic.

Mulla Da’ud would read this story to an audience for two hours per session, and it took 52 sessions to complete the whole story! So it must be an important and exciting epic, if people kept coming back.

The manuscripts included paintings as well; a painting for each page. This was a very long love story so there probably were over 650 paintings! In the manuscripts, there are 5 different painting styles. The illustrations display all 5 of the Sultanate painting styles all in one story. The Indian paintings were brilliant in color, style and subject matter. The audience attending this lecture was privileged to see a slideshow of these illustrated pages that Professor Naman provided.  

Going to this lecture, I didn’t really know what to expect. Was the illustrated manuscript to be discussed in an art historical perspective? Or will it be from a different angle? To our delight Professor Naman Ahuja became a storyteller for the night. 



After The Chandayana was recorded and told as a Sufi story by Mulla Da'ud, it started to have a spiritual and mystical meaning. A man’s love breaks all boundaries for the sake of his lover. He faces death like experiences through out the story. All his battles are selfless and are for the protection of his lover. Every time he faces death, it brings him closer to God. The story, in a Sufi perspective, would be understood as a symbolic and poetic reference to devotional love and a union with God. The audience is meant to judge the man for all his mistakes in the story but to also sympathize with him and accept him as human. So this character becomes a sort of messenger for a Sufi teaching.

The Chandayana is the earliest illustrated manuscript of Hindustan. But the interesting thing about it is that it was written using the Arabic script in the Hindi language. So it would be very difficult to read. You would need to know the Hindi language as well as how to read Arabic.

The lecture was very exciting and who wouldn’t enjoy listening to a love story that has passion, battles, and drama.

A joke was made at the end of the night that it was surprising Bollywood hasn’t picked up the story and made it into a movie!

If you are interested in knowing the story of The Chandayana, you will find a compressed version as told by Professor Naman Ahuja by clicking "Read More"!

The story begins by introducing the main female character. Her name was Chanda “the moon” because she was as beautiful as the moon. At the age of 16, she was to be married. When she turned 17, she had to move to her husband’s house. As soon as she arrived, she realized she was married off to a horrible looking, one-eyed, and impotent man. She became desperately unhappy in the marriage.

Her mother-in-law saw that and advised her to run away. Chanda escaped and went to her father’s house. Fearing for his own honor and his daughter’s honor, it was agreed to lock her up in her apartment; where no one would know she escaped from her husband. 

Away from her husband and under her father’s protection, Chanda spent her days looking out the window of her apartment. One day a yogi passed by and caught a glimpse of her from her window. Upon first sight of her beauty, the yogi became obsessed and infatuated with her exquisite face. He went wondering from village to village, as yogis did, singing about Chanda’s beauty.

(The manuscript contains 26 pages describing Chanda’s beauty! So the reader and listener have to understand the greatness of Chanda’s beauty and completely grasp the idea that her face was something magnificent.)

A Raja from another village heard the song of the yogi and became desperate to find this beautiful girl. He brought the yogi to his court and asked him to show him where he could find this beautiful girl he sings about. The Raja decided to take his army and to capture this girl. Upon hearing this threatening news, Chanda’s father had to seek the help of a mercenary named Laurik.

Laurik, who becomes the main male character of this epic, is of course victorious. Chanda had her honor saved by this warrior. Now Laurik was every bit the opposite of Chanda’s husband. He was strong, powerful and had selflessly fought to protect her honor. She became interested in him.

In the meantime, the yogi kept moving from village to village singing. So the legend of Chanda’s beauty carried on. Finally, word reached Chanda’s husband who decided to capture and bring back his wife to his house. Once again, Chanda’s father had to get help from Laurik.

Now Laurik was married and he lived with his mother and wife. They both didn’t approve of him repeatedly saving this girl.

(The manuscript is filled with graphic images of a battle between Laurik and his men versus Chanda’s husband and his army)

Being the hero of the story, Laurik won the battle. On his return from the battle, Chanda was looking out her window and their eyes met for the first time. That was when the trouble began…

Chanda’s maid or closest confidante wanted to help her and to bring these two already married people together. She saw Laurik as a more suitable man for Chanda. So the maid tells Laurik he had to prove his love to Chanda. Laurik decided to become a yogi and give up the comfort of his home. He visited a temple and kept singing of Chanda’s beauty.

Laurik was able to prove himself, so he returned to his life of a hero. He now tried to climb up to Chanda’s apartment. But Chanda wasn’t going to make it that easy for him. For three days, everytime Laurik would hook his rope to her window, she would throw it down. By the fourth time, Chanda let him climb but pretended to be asleep.

Now the lovers are united but rumors began between the servants. Laurik’s wife found out and on a day when everyone was gathered at a temple for some sort of feast or celebration, Laurik’s wife attacked Chanda.

(The painters seemed to have been fascinated with the women fighting because there are many paintings depicting that scene.)

This story follows the classical Indian love story, where lovers are separated, united, and then are exiled. And that is what happened to Chanda and Laurik. They eloped and ran away in exile. As they roamed the land searching for a suitable place to settle down, they faced trouble because every man that saw Chanda fell in love with her. Laurik had to keep fighting all these men off. That went on for a year! Laurik was overprotective and so in love with Chanda and this tormented him.

(The paintings clearly illustrated his feelings by depicting the world closing in on him.)

After all these tests that these lovers had to endure, they finally found a place to settle down and express their love and live as a married couple.

Then one day, Laurik began to miss his first wife and wondered how she was doing. So he convinced Chanda to return with him to the village. But too ashamed to enter, they lived right outside the village with the herders and milkmaids.

As the story goes, Laurik sent a messenger to deliver flowers to his first wife and report back to him on her health. His first wife was immediately suspicious of her husband’s return and went out looking for him.

Outside the village, Chanda and Laurik’s first wife were veiled and in disguise as milkmaids. They ended up having a conversation not knowing who the other woman was. Laurik’s first wife started complaining of an adulterous who stole her husband. Chanda began defending the adulterous. The first wife immediately realized it was Chanda in front of her and they got into another fight.

The story continues and eventually Laurik somehow was able to convince both women to agree to live together. So the story ends with Laurik having both wives.

Some people say there was another ending. That Laurik would never find peace and was always seen wandering and searching. He was seeking the truth.

So the story doesn’t end with the focus on the union of lovers. Instead it is about a character that ends up with what he wants but he feels something is missing. So he spends his life seeking and searching.

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