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The Hindi Oral Epic Tradition: Bhojpuri Loriki.

Bhojpuri Loriki is the fourth in a series of texts recorded by Shyam Manohar Pandey, being preceded by The Hindi Oral Epic Loriki (1979), The Hindi Oral Epic Canaini (1982) and The Hindi Oral Epic Lorikayan (1987). This Bhojpuri version, performed by the singer Sivnath Caudhari in 1966, was recorded on 48 hours of tape, making it the longest version in the series. Only half the text, a series of episodes Pandey refers to as the marriage of Samvaru, is presented in this volume. According to this version Samvaru or Mal Samvar is born along with a brother to an unwed brahman girl made pregnant by a glance (dithi) of the Sun God (suruj). When the two children are born she abandons them in a pit where Samvaru is found and raised by a dusadh. When older, Samvaru prays to Siva for a valiant brother and his prayer results in Lorik being born to Kholaini. The story is set in motion when Lorik, who grows up to be a notable warrior, is told about Satiya, the daughter of Bamari the king of Suhaval; Lorik decides she would be a perfect match for his older brother and the rest of the poem is concerned with his efforts to overcome the numerous obstacles and catastrophes which threaten to stop the marriage. The greatest of these is the fact that Satiya's father has vowed that no woman in the kingdom will marry and that Satiya herself has no desire to marry Samvaru. Lorik sets out for Suhaval after performing a magnificent puja to Durga during which he offers his own blood to the goddess and as a consequence thereafter the goddess helps him to overcome one peril after another. A major episode concerns a quest to obtain a "divine vermilion pot" (amar simdhora) without which the marriage cannot be performed: it is closely guarded by a raksasi named Surasa in Piranapur, a land ruled by witches. Once the pot has been secured Samvaru's marriage party (barat) sets out for Suhaval; though its members are successively poisoned, swallowed by a rhinoceros and killed by a venomous serpent, they are revived by Lorik with Durga's help and eventually reach their goal where a final obstacle awaits them, the armed resistance of Bamari and his six sons whom Lorik manages to kill in battle. Here the first volume ends.

The text is preceded by a number of short independently paginated introductory chapters. These provide an English summary of the story, information on the singer, a member of the ahir caste who passed away in 1982, and a comparison of the Bhojpuri version to those published earlier along with comments on the meter. The meter is highly irregular but the singer skillfully compensates for the widely varying number of matras by prolonging, lengthening or adding syllables. Portions of the text are also in prose or a mixture of prose and verse. The Bhojpuri text itself fills pages 1-425 and is followed by a Hindi commentary (pp. 427-624), an index of names (pp. 625-38) and a Bhojpuri vocabulary (pp. 629-772).

Some elements in this rambling epic, Pandey points out, are indebted to classical sources, as, for example, the account of the highly irregular birth of Samvaru which echoes that of Karna in the Mahabharata. But as Pandey notes, this influence was far from profound (p. 35). It is far more rewarding to look for parallels in other vernacular literatures. Pandey twice (pp. 13 and 50), suggests that a scene where Durga assumes the form of a mosquito to enter a temple (masake rup dhaike) is taken from the Ramcaritmanas episode where Hanuman changes himself into a mosquito (masak) to enter Lanka. However the passage he refers to in Tulsidas seems rather to say that Hanuman transformed himself into "a form [small] like a mosquito" (masak saman rup dhari 5.3.1). (Surasa, mentioned above, could on the other hand be a borrowing from Tulsi.) Be this as it may, a more obvious parallel to the hexapodous guise of the goddess can be found in Bengali mangal poetry where folk deities, including Durga, are often described changing into insects (usually a white fly); in one story the goddess is swallowed in this form by Goraksa Nath. In the Bhojpuri Loriki Durga undergoes this metamorphosis in order to enter Piranapur, a land ruled by the witches Hiriya and Jiriya (who are referred to in a formula as bamgalini). Piranapur is referred to as a kingdom of women (raj stri ka) and this clearly echoes a widespread tale about how Goraksa Nath rescues his guru, Minanath, from Kadali, another kingdom of women. One notes how here Durga has Lorik disguise himself as a yogi when he enters Piranapur and how Hiriya and Jiriya attempt to transform Lorik into a sheep (bhera); in some versions of the Goraksa tale Minanath is transformed into a sheep, as is the companion of Guru Nanak in a Panjabi hagiographical tale borrowed from it. Other correspondences could be cited; here it is sufficient to point out that the Loriki is rich in motifs and themes also found in other story cycles and other literatures.

The Bhojpuri recording is reproduced in standard Devanagari script which is a common way of presenting dialect materials in Indian publications. The text is obviously not primarily intended for linguists. The Hindi commentary consists of a lengthy paraphrase which makes it possible to follow the story in detail. In the notes to the first sixty-two pages of the text, the commentary includes definitions of difficult Bhojpuri words but for some reason this is discontinued. The very useful, but limited Bhojpuri vocabulary includes many words which are Standard Hindi. When the Bhojpuri Loriki was recorded thirty years ago the illiterate Sivnath Caudhari told Pandey that new singers lacked patience and did not want to learn the epic properly. This is a dying art and the rapid spread of electronic entertainment will hurry its extinction. Thus the Bhojpuri Loriki is not only invaluable for making this material available but for preserving it from oblivion.

W. L. SMITH UNIVERSITY OF STOCKHOLM
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Oriental Society
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Author:Smith, W.L.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Words:1016
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