Friday, March 2, 2018

No, Didda did not kill her Grandchildren through black magic


Didda was saved from Sati by a man who she later forced into committing suicide. From the text it is clear that she guarded her position like a paranoid maniac. When she was giving she could be very giving (even got a matha dedicated to the potter lady who used to carry her on her back) and when she was in taking mode, Kalhana called her Durga. A lot is written about her character, some in glowing terms and some not so glowing. Particularly, it is always remembered that she killed her grandsons through use of "blackmagic". But, did she?

That is what the translations tell us, that is what Stein wrote ("witchcraft") and that is what everyone wrote and that is how we know. 

[I do not know sanskrit]

Now, let us revisit the original sanskrit text. In the sanskrit text of Kalhana, the word in place of "witchcraft" is abhichar. And the word is used not in relation to death of her grandsons, but in describing the dead of her old enemy Mahiman. Abhichar is often used in tantric context, Atharveda has sections on it. Abhichar however is not just some death inducing ritual, in language it can also be used to mean "ill means". In fact, in some text "abhichar" is mentioned as second nature of some women. In Rajatarangini, if a King or if a person used the services of someone who knew actual abhichar kriya (rites), then the name of  the sorcerer is often specifically mentioned. Such a powerful man is always found worthy of a mention by name. However, in case of Didda, there is no mention who was performing the rites for her.

As for death of grandchildren, the text does not seem to have word abhichar anywhere. Stein seems to have made a mistake in reading or translating, a mistake that has been copied over and over again. 

In the original text, just before giving the account of death of the three grandchildren, word vyabhichar, is used to describe Didda's nature. Word vyabhichar is used for someone who indulges in illicit sexual activity, something that Kalhana repeatedly accuses Didda of. As for how her grandchildren's death, here is how the last death is described by Stein: "

Then the cruel [queen] put without hesitation her last grandson, Bhimagupta, on that path of death which bore the name 'throne'."

"Path"/course is the operation word here. The writer says that Didda caused the death just by putting her grandson on throne. Throne bore the name death. Later when the actual torturous death of Bhimagupta  at the orders of Didda isis describ, Kalhana reminds the reader that Bhimagupta infact was not the son of her son. Not her grandson. He was a scion member of Abhimanyu's wife's family. Abhimanyu's wife had secretly passed him off as her son. So, techincally Didda had no blood relation with him. It is here the reader is told the people believed Didda had killed off the previous two young kings too.

For the death of first grandson, we read: 

"On the twelfth day of the bright half of Margasira in the year [of the Laukika era four thousand] forty-nine (A.D. 973), he was destroyed by her persisting on her unholy course". The second grandchild died of the same cause.


"Course"/path is the operational word here. The writer means to say that Didda caused the death of the child because she continued on her path of vyabhichar. Just after the death of his beloved son (a son she kept protecting from wars, she was a loving mother), in mourning although she did a lot of pious acts of building mathas (64 no less) and giving donations, just a year later she reverted back to her old "wicked" ways and thus in a (karmic) sense caused the death of her grandchildren. And it wasn't like these men died overnight, they actually died on the throne, each ruling a few years. Her acts made the throne cursed. According to Kalhana they died due to the character follies of her grandmother. The world of morals that Kalhana lives in, all this makes perfect sense. The verses preceding the section about death of these kings, Kalhana mention timi-fish of sacred waters eating its own (which may have given the wrong idea to the translators, caused a bad auto-suggest or a bad inception), humble peacock eating snake while meditating,  heron eating unsuspecting fish. The reason Kalhana mentions this all is because he wants to illustrate that one never knows when good can turn to bad.

If one omits the word "witchcraft" from Stein's translation, the true word-craft of Kalhana's sanskrit becomes clear.

--

Vinayak Razdan

-0-

Shonaleeka Kaul, the author of "The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini" (2018) did agree that my reading of the word is correct. The text mention vyabhichar.

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