Sri VPS Rao on literary cultural Heritage of Haryana

A cradle of culture

Haryana has had a rich cultural heritage since time immemorial. Relics reveal that the region has been a cradle of evolutionary growth and cultural development. It is an established view that a large part of the vedic literature was composed in the Kurukshetra region, which was a great centre for learning of Sanskrit, the language of the learned and cultured people in those days, writes V.P.S. Rao

HE region now comprising the present state of Haryana has had a rich cultural heritage since time immemorial. Shivalik foot-hills are in the north and the Aravalli ranges in the south of this region. Legendary rivers like the Saraswati and the Drsadvati provide multi-dimensional development. Relics reveal that the region has been a cradle of evolutionary growth and cultural development.

Tools and artifacts, like hand axes, cleavers, etc, and other material found from the Pinjore-Nalagarh and Naraingarh-Chandigarh regions and those from the Dhosi hills, near Narnaul, are significant. Several places in these areas have been inhabited by early man. Popular habitations were mainly on the banks of the rivers and their tributaries. Early river terraces in the region may even date back to several millions of years. From hunters and food-gatherers, human beings developed into food-producers.

Excavations at places like Mitathal and Tigrana in Bhiwani district, Siswal near Hisar, Rakhigarhi and Balu in Jind, Rukhi near Rohtak and Bananwali and Bari near Sirsa are an evidence of a pre-Harappan and Harappan culture. Those at Mirzapur, Daulatput and Bhagwanpura in Kurukshetra are also significant. Findings at Bhagwanpura point towards the, now called, Painted Grey Ware culture. This (PGW) type of pottery has been unearthed from sites located in Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Tilpat, Panipat, Sonepat, etc. These are very places, which are mentioned in the Mahabharata as Prithudaka (Pehowa), Tilprastha (Tilput) Panprastha (Panipat and Sonprastha (Sonepat).

Besides archaeological material, literary sources are also important repositories of information about the preservation and advancement of the culture of the people.

The Vedas are considered as world’s oldest spiritual works. It is an established view that a large part of the vedic literature was composed in the Kurukshetra region, which was a great centre for learning of Sanskrit, which was in those days the language of the learned and cultured people. A large number of vedic hymns were visioned by seers on the banks of the Saraswati, which has been mentioned in the Vedic Samhitas with great reverence. A hymn in the Rig veda relates kindling of the sacred fire by two Bharatas, Devasravas and Devavata, on the banks of the Saraswati, Drsadvati and the Apaya (mentioned as the Apaga in the Mahabharata) and the Manusa lake. All of these were situated in the Kurukshetra, where the hymn was composed.

The Bharata tribe was the most prominent one mentioned in theRig Veda. The Bharata kings originally ruled over the country lying between the Saraswati and Drsadvati rivers from where they extended their kingdom to the plains of the Yamuna and the Ganga. They also conquered Kasi (Banaras), which also became a centre of learning in due course. Trained by great gurus like Vashishta and Bharadwaja and their learned descendants, they gained knowledge, besides becoming proficient in martial arts.

Maharishi Bharadwaja, author of the sixth book of the Rig veda, was not only a spiritual master, but also a great scientist whose works like the Yantra-Sarvasva, Ansum-Tantkra, Akasa-Sastra on space-technology, coupled with mastery in varied fields including education, grammar, state-craft, military science astral and medical sciences, made him distinctive and revered amongst the seers of the time. Son of Devguru Brihaspati, he is hailed as a personification of knowledge itself, and is known to have lived an exceptionally long life. He worked extensively to unravel the mysteries of nature. Besides the 765 mantras of the Rig Veda, 32 mantras of theAtharva Veda are also known to have been contributed by him. Once great masters like Brighu, Attri, Vashishta, Sandilya, Gautam, Garg, Kapil, Narada, Sukhdev, Jamdagni, Yagyavalkya, Visvamitra and Parasar visited Maharishi Bhardwaja and requested him to throw light on the requisite meditation and daily duties and practices. What Guru Bharadwaja explained to them, became a huge scriputre of 25 chapters, known as the Bharadwaja Smriti. His ten sons and two daughters also had the distinction of composing Vedic hymns.

With the blessings and grace of the great Guru-Ghars, coupled with their own qualities of head and heart, the Bharatas, after whom this country was named as Bharata Varsha, ruled over this earth for a long time. The Bharatas had defeated the Purus, another influential tribe, which later on merged with them and were collectively called Kurus, after whom this region was known as Kuru-Kshetra, meaning region of the Kurus and also Dharama-Kshetra, the meaning of which is also evident.

In several Samhitas of the Yajur Veda too frequent references to rivers lakes, places and people of the Kuru region indicate that many sacrificial formulas and rituals, for fulfilment of various types of desires and achievement of different objectives, were evolved there. The water of the Saraswati was prescribed for the performance of rites. Indian as well as foreign scholars like Macdonall and Keith have observed that the great Brahmana-granthas were also composed “in the country of the Kurus or the allied Kuru-Panchalas”, wherein the customs and rites observed in Haryana have been declared as ideal. In some Brahmana scriptures, Kurukshetra has been called the sacrificial altar of even the gods. The Upanishads also contain references to the Kuru kings, and certain scholars and subjects of the kingdom. It has been felt that the Kalpa-Sutras were also composed here.

Coming to the post-vedicliterature, some verses found in the Mahabharata indicate that this great epic was composed in a cave in the foot-hills of the Himalayas. Besides, the placementioned in the epic like Vyasa-sthal, Vyasa-vana, Misraka, associated Veda Vyasa, fourth in the line of Guru Vashishta, are also situated in Haryana.

The ever fresh Bhagavadgita,‘The Song Divine’ containing the highest doctrines and essence of the Vedas, describing virtues, glory and secrets of the all-pervading Brahma, enunciating principles and practices of the Sankhya and the Karma Yoga, leading towards realisation of the Self and God, emanated from Krishna Himself.

The renowned Manu Smriti also mentions Haryana’s places, people and their customs. Conduct of the cultured classes of Brahmavarta,the region lying between the Saraswati and Drsadvati, has been prescribed as ideal and desirable for others to follow. Evidence suggests that the Puranas, like the Vamana and the Markandeya,were also composed in Haryana.

In the 7th century, Harshvardhana of Sthanesvara (now called Thanesar), the great conquerer, monarch, litterateur and patron of learning appeared on the scene His renowned biographer and poet-laureate was Bana Bhatta, whose two famous works were theHarshacharita and the Kadambari. Poets Mayur and Matanga Divakar have also been reported to be working in king Harsha’s times. Mayur is said to be the author of the Mayur-Sataka and the Surya-Sataka.King Harsha himself is known to be author of three Sanskrit plays —Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika.

After Harsha’s reign, the intellectual and literary atmosphere received a setback. Mutual battles and Muhammadan invasions affected the environment. Though the learning and teaching process continued, yet no outstanding work produced in Haryana, during that subsequent period, has come to light.

Sanskrit in Brahmi script gave place to Prakrit in Devnagari. Though the Sanskrit language continued to exist, yet easier local or folk languages like Apbhransa and Khari Boli, besides Persian and Arabic, grew as a means of expression in literary creation.

The first prominent poet of Hindi literature is known to be Puspadanta Acharya, who was known as Vyasa of Apbhransalanguage. He was a Kashyapa Brahmin of Rohtak, who was initially a devotee of Shiva, but later on turned into a Jain. He produced many literary works in the 11th century. Another notable Jain poet was Banarsi Das, the author of Ardh-Kathanak, the first known autobiographical work in Hindi literature. The tradition of producing literature on Jain themes was continued by many poets.

Another notable centre of learning near Rohtak was Asthalbohr, a seat of Nathas and Sidhas, where considerable literature was produced. More widely known yogis of this cult were Mastnath and Chauranginath.

Numerous saints of the Sant Mat spread their teachings in Haryana. Prominent saints among them were Nitananda, Nischaldas and Sant Garibdas. There are a number of deras, which possess literature produced by them.

Among the Sufis in Haryana, the most widely known was Fariruddin Shakarganj. He lived in the 13th century.

Persian and Arabic flourished at several places. The prominent centres were Dadri, Kalyana, Narnaul, Panipat and Karnal. There is afirman of Akbar, in the Archaeological Museum, Red Fort, New Delhi, granting land as madad-i-mash i.e. subsistance allowance, to a female scholar of Arabic, in the ilaqa of Dadri. Famous and popular works were written by scribes in beautiful handwriting. Sanat Allah of Dadri and Nizam Ali of Kalyana were prominent among those who worked in the 19th century.

Haryana has been hailed by scholars as the birthplace of Urdu, which was due to the contact of soldiers of the Mughal army with civilians of this region near Delhi. The great Sufi poet Hazrat Bu Ali Shah Qalandar of Panipat composed some verses in Urdu and Hindi, generally called Hindustani — Urdu, when written in Persio-Arabic script, and Hindi, when written in Devnagari script. Another resident of Panipat, Mohammad Afzal Panipat, who lived in Jehangir’s times, composed Bara-Masa in a language called old Urdu. The early stages of Urdu have also been traced in the poetry of Jafar Zatli of Narnaul of Aurangzeb’s period. His Diwan contains verses in Khari Boli mixed with Persian and Punjabi words. Mahboob Alam, author of Dardnama-i-Mohammad, Maihsharnama and Khabnama-i-Paighambar, lived in Jhajjar.

A lot of literature on Krishna was also produced in Haryana. The famous poet Surdas (15th century) hailed from Ballabhgarh. Among other contemporary notable poets was Mahmi of Maham, who also wrote remarkably on Krishna like Rahim and Raskhan.

With the evolution of the Gurmukhi script, a new trend started and developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Compositions of theBhaktas in Hindustani, Khari-boli, Braj bhasha, etc., besides those in Punjabi, were written in the Gurmukhi script also. Besides the vani of various saints, Sikh Gurus, some notable works of Guru Gobind Singh also form a part of the Hindi literature.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw further development and popularity of usage of common words. In the19th century, lived a notable poet Sahib Singh Mrigendra, who had migrated from the Lahore Darbarand settled first at Kaithal and finally in Jind state, where he received hearty patronage from Raja Sarup Singh and Raja Raghbir Singh and became a prominent poet of the Jind Darbar. His works in Braj are found in the Gurmukhi script. He wrote verses based on Hindu scriptures in Gurmukhi script on miniature paintings done in Jind state. One such specimen is an illustration from the Durga Sapta Sati, a work of a rare genius, which forms a part of the Markandeya Purana. The painting shows King Surath and merchant Samadahi at the hermitage of Mahamuni Medha, who is reciting the Durgapath,disclosing the mysteries of life and ways to solve problems. On the top of the painting is the verse composed by Mrigendra in Braj and written in the Gurmukhi script.

In the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, another remarkable poet Rajkavi Shambhu Das of Dadri worked in Jind state. He was the poet laureate in the court of Raja (later on Maharaja) Ranbir Singh. He was the one who continued the tradition of master-poets, Kavya Shastri Acharya Parampara, up to the 20th century.

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