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The Epic of Pabuji: A Study, Transcription and Translation.

In spite of being one of the oldest and perhaps even the oldest attested New Indo-Aryan language--with a remarkable and distinctive ancient literature, including folk-epics and chronicles--the Rajasthani language has received scant attention from Western scholars. After the pioneering and outstanding work done by L. P. Tessitori (1887-1919) on Old Rajasthani and its bardic literature, it is John D. Smith (Cambridge) who more than anyone else has widened and deepened the field of Rajasthani studies. His contributions include a series of articles and a critical edition of the mid-fifteenth century romance Visaladevarasa (Cambridge, 1976), a milestone in the history of Rajasthani philology. In this new and excellently produced book, Smith has turned his attention to the folk-epic and the oral tradition, making an independent use of some of the terminology and procedures adopted by M. Parry and A. P. Lord in their works on Homer and South Slavonic bardic poetry (the volume of Parry's collected papers entitled The Making of Homeric Verse is incorrectly given as The Making of Heroic Verse in the bibliography). Smith's book should be read together with his article, entitled "Epic Rajasthani," containing an analysis of the language found in the Pabuji epic, which was published recently in the Indo-Iranian Journal 35 (1992): 251-69. The book is divided into the following parts: a lengthy introduction, the Rajasthani text and its translation, two appendices, a short glossary, a bibliography and an index.

The Pabuji epic belongs to the living folk tradition whose origins lie many centuries back. It combines an oral narrative with music, and history with ritual, and involves the participation of different strata of society, thereby giving expression to many ideals, which though at times incompatible, have been held for centuries by the people of Rajasthan. Like an equally well-known epic, the Bagaravat, this work is regularly performed by a group of bhopos (non-literate folk priests and bardic poets), to musical accompaniment in front of a par, which is a long cloth-painting depicting the epic scenes. This par functions both as a background for the narrative as well as a temple for the deified hero Pabuji. As regards the par, the oldest one preserved dates from 1867, and an exquisite example of a more recent one is shown in full color on the folded plate attached to this book. Though the art of par painting can only be traced back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, it might be a secondary development from an older art of mural painting, examples of which can be found in the Shekhavati region. It goes without saying that this kind of epic must vary from one performance to another and Smith analyzes in detail the different ways the bhopos present the work. The transliterated text, as recorded by Smith in 1976, is published here for the first time. The performance of the Pabuji epic normally consists of two alternating methods of reciting it: a) a singing recitation (gav) and b) a declamatory recitation (arthav), but in the present edition Smith has included only the gav portion of it.

Most pieces of evidence point to the fact that Pabuji was a historical person, a kind of brigand ruling the small village of Kolu in the beginning of the 14th century. He belonged to the Rathor clan and thus lived before Jodha and his followers established the Rathors as the rulers of Jodhpur in 1459. A major source for our knowledge both of Pabuji and of many other characters appearing in the epic is the famous chronicle entitled Nainasi khyata, written in the 17th century by Muhato Nainasi, the prime minister of king Jasvant Simh in Jodhpur. This text is extensively used by Smith and an English version of the story of Pabuji (Vata Pabuji ri) is given in appendix 1. According to that work Pabuji undertook several journeys in western Rajasthan and southern Sind and in the latter region several villages even today bear his name. The figure of Pabuji furnishes an interesting example of a phenomenon which has occurred several times in the past history of Rajasthan, viz., that of a local hero being raised to divine status after his death. This process of deification normally conforms to a certain pattern which includes the tragic death of the hero while rescuing cattle. As Pabuji is a deified hero (bhomiyo), though the grounds for according him that status are not clear, the performance of his epic is also very much a ritual. Particularly in southern Sind today his worship is widespread, though unlike in Rajasthan the par is not used. However, a large-scale attempt to incorporate him in the wider pattern of Hinduism can be seen in that his story has been linked to that of the Ramayana, Pabuji himself being regarded as an avatara of Laksmana, while his good friend Dhebo is held to be an incarnation of Hanuman. From the foregoing, it should be clear that Smith provides us with a wealth of information and an insightful analysis of the facts.

As for the Rajasthani text, its language is at places rather difficult and Smith's translation is often more free than literal. Although a concise outline of its phonological and morphological structure has been given in the article referred to above, one might wish for further linguistic remarks. Also an extensive glossary in the manner found in the Visaladevarasa edition would have been most helpful.

In conclusion it can be safely said that Smith's pioneering achievement is a considerable contribution to our knowledge of the oral literature and the popular art forms of Rajasthan.

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Author:Suneson, Carl
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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