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Why are historians and scholars of art worried about a Persian translation of the Mahabharata?

The original Razmnama commissioned by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century has been inaccessible for over three decades and its preservation quotient is in question

persian translation mahabharata, historians on translation of mahabharata, mahabharat epic, indian epics, indianexpress, Jaipur City Palace Museum news, Akbar’s original Razmnama,Illustrations from the Razmnama.

The Razmnama (Book of War), the first-ever Persian translation of the Mahabharata was commissioned by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1582. His court historian Abdul Qadir Badauni records that it took nearly four years to compile four lavishly bound volumes of the book. It had 168 album bound paintings and 707 folios. Sanskrit scholars and Persian translators and artisans worked together to produce this sumptuous volume. It includes translation of about a lakh Sanskrit verses.

Badauni recounts that Akbar chose the Mahabharata because “This is the most famous of the Hindu books and contains all sorts of stories and moral reflections, and advice, and matters relating to conduct and manners and religion and science”. It was an initiative to preserve the unity of his empire and win over the non-Muslim population.

persian translation mahabharata, historians on translation of mahabharata, mahabharat epic, indian epics, indianexpress, Jaipur City Palace Museum news, Akbar’s original Razmnama, Its paintings are known only through the faded photographs mounted in the fourth volume of TH Hendley’s Memorials of Jeypore Exhibition 1883, published from London in 1884.

While there are several copies of the Razmnamas in various libraries across India, and with private collectors, the Jaipur City Palace Museum holds Akbar’s original Razmnama. The Museum bought the book in the 1740s for 4024 Akbari rupees.

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Unfortunately, it has been under seal by the Supreme Court since 1986 due to a family dispute. The court does not allow mobile items (anything other than buildings) to be accessed, for fear of theft and damage.

Rima Hooja, Director, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, City Palace Jaipur, says, “As with all Mughal manuscripts, it is a document that shows a deep cultural exchange between translators, scribes, artists and bookmakers. It is a significant item in the evolution of Indian art.”

Historians and academics are worried about its current state since the paper is perishable and no one has seen it for the longest time. Hooja says, “We expect it to be safely wrapped and protected in fabric, as manuscripts are traditionally stored. We don’t have an image of its cover but it may be between a hard-board covered in fine brocade or mushroo, in keeping with the traditional covers from the Mughal period.”

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Neera Misra, a Delhi-based historian and researcher, who has been reaching out to various authorities for an “academic access” to the book, says, “When the Jaipur family acquired this manuscript, apparently the leather cover was removed as leather items are forbidden in their family. The pages were kept intact. Being a perishable paper product we as scholars of history and art are concerned about its current condition.”

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Misra started her efforts to access the book in 2016, as she was to present a paper at an international conference on Akbar’s Razmnama. By 2017, Misra had acquired the NOC from both parties in the civil suit, saying they had no objection to her having academic access to the manuscript. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court-appointed receiver passed away and she had to wait for a new receiver to be appointed.

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Under the new Receiver, Justice SK Misra, her application is pending. ADN Rao, advocate for the Receiver, says, “A lot of treasures are kept in the disputed lockers and storerooms (of the museum), not just the Razmnama. There is the instrument of accession signed by Sardar Patel and Hari Singh in one of those lockers.”

It was last seen and its details recorded by a former Director of Jaipur City Museum Ashok Kumar Das, almost 25 years ago.

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First published on: 27-10-2020 at 06:20:24 pm
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