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Posted on : January 7th, by

Much time has passed since I wrote my last blog. I had not finished the blog as I had to put the various links in the blog and I have just finished them now. There are so many images of Diwali in India which I also included to show things which are dear to me. Diwali has always been special. But the blog felt incomplete.

Mainly because of the name Ghatotkacha.

ghatotkacha- son of Bhima Mahabharata
Ghatotkacha- son of Bhima Mahabharata

Let me explain. When I think of the Gupta period there is one thing that plays on my mind. It is a favourite tunnel through which I allow my imagination to roam. The Gupta period is thought of as an epitome of classical times – a period when literature and art in its myriad forms flourished. One little noticed fact always intrigues me. When one talks of Gupta period there is always mention of Chandragupta I, his son Samudragupta and then the grandson Chandragupta II. The empires they controlled started from small dominions to becoming large swathes of power And there is supposition that the Guptas belonged to a merchant class Vaisyas Sanchi has had connections with kings of the ruling Kshatriya class. As expected, most rulers come from this class but it also has kings rising from the priestly Brahmin class as in Shunga perid) and here is a connection with the Vaisya class. But guess where Chandragupta I comes from? Much is made of whom he married – the Licchavvi princess Kumaradevi and in fact Chandragupta I issued coins which had the princess on the obverse side – a very unusual practice. The Licchavvi connection seems important as the son Samudragupta also referred to this. But who was the father of Chandragupta I? His name was Ghatotkacha. And where else do you come across Ghatotkacha – in that other great epic in India called the Mahabharata Mahabharata, a great Sanskrit epic of 90,000 verses, which is thought to have been written in 400 BC about a war which probably happened hundreds of years before and the memories of the stories had been carried down through an oral tradition. Written by the sage Vyasa, recited by his disciple Vaisampayana, it is an extraordinary story which feels raw and true as the breadth of human emotions and experiences seem to be taken in that vast compendium of stories. If you want to read an English version, the masterly book by the last Governor General of India C Rajagolachari is a simple story telling at its narrative best. It is an abridged version but the story telling is easy and compelling. Produced by Bharathi Vidya Bhavan, it has sold more than a million copies which surely is testament to its success. I have a copy and treasure it. But back to Ghatotkacha. In Mahabharata there is a whole section on the conception of a Ghahtotkacha. Nothing to do historically with this scion of the Gupta empire. But it is intriguing that this particular name was picked. In my childhood, I had heard and read of stories of this great character from Mahabharata. How he was a son of Bhima – that courageous mountain of a man, one of the five Pandavas How Bhima is in the forest keeping watch over his sleeping mother Kunti and his four brothers and their collective wife Draupadi (surely there must have been polyandry practiced in those times like it is thought to be practiced in the Toda tribes of south India and Kinnaur in North India The story is of how a Rakshasi ( a female demon) Hidimbi is sent by her brother, Hidimba, to kill and devour the meat of man! There is a reference in Mahabharata about how Hidimba is cannibalistic. This sort of theme recurs when Bhima later on in the story goes to the village Ekachakra and fights and kills another rakshasa called Bakasura who is also described as a cannibal. Bhima, of course, goes on to challenge Hidimba in a duel which is described in great length in the Mahabharata. And after that is a long discussion about the merits and demerits of marrying the Rakshasi Hidimbi who by now has fallen in love with Bhima and wants to forsake her roots and be with him. Finally it is agreed that Bhima will spend the daytime with her but will return every night back presumably to look after his brothers or protect himself form the magical powers of Rakhasas which grow at night. And this arrangement would be only for a year. A son is born to Hidimbi and Bhima and because his head looks so smooth like a Ghatam , an earthen pot,, he is called Ghatotkacha. Ghataotkacha grows overnight to be a tall young man but is always close at heart to the pandavas. His might comes into play in the final 18 day war between the cousins the five Pandavas and the Kauravas. In fact, Ghataotkacha causes so much havoc one night when the fight progresses after darkness falls that the warrior Karna has to deploy his single use fiery weapon Indrastra to kill him. That then means Karna cannot use this on his rival archer Arjuna who then becomes the architect of the ultimate Pandava victory. I wonder why such an important story line is given to Ghatotkacha. He is seen as a son of a Rakshasi – and yet here is a story of the son of a forest dweller being endowed with great courage, ability and grace and is on the side of the victors. Much is made of how Hidimbi is a forest dweller and how she is overcome by love and changes sides and rejects her brother and her roots when she sees Bhima. Also much is made of the regions this story plays in. And intriguingly there is a temple to Hidimbi Devi at Manali

I also remember a black and white movie made in my mother tongue Telugu. It was in the late 50’s and I saw it in Durgapur when I was less than ten years old – so about a decade later. I was impressed and now when I search it, I find this movie had critical acclaim due to visual special effects. The movie is Maya bazaar and the actor SV Ranga Rao plays the role of Ghatotkacha who is the central character in the film. There is a scene of him gorging huge amounts of food at a Andhra wedding singing Vivaha Bhjanamau. You can see it on Youtube

But what is the link here? Or is it just one of the connections that attracts a person’s curiosity and you pass many a pleasant moment going down such alleys on a lazy afternoon. I wonder if Ghatotkacha’s father Sri Gupta had a child, whether they would have chosen a name that they would think would reflect their status as kings and perhaps have ambitions of fame and glory. So the name must have been seen as something evoking power or blessings or connections or all three at varying times of life. This way of connecting to a reflected glory seems right in those times as only a couple of generations later the Maharajadhiraja (the king of great kings) Samudragupta calls himself Licchavidauhitra (the grandson of the Licchavis from his mother’s side). Licchavvis were a clan from the ancient clans of mahajanapadas But here is an intriguing footnote. There is also mention of a Licchavi kingdom of Nepal but this was centuries later and thought to be of no connection to the Licchavvi princess Kumradavei whose images were on the coins issued by her husband Chandragupta I. But a tenuous link is of the Licchavvi mountain tribes of Nepal and perhaps Srigupta was hankering after a famed lineage or basking in reflected glory of a connection to a famous mountain tribe – and what better way than to establish a connection to that epic the Mahabharata by naming his son after a scion of a famous forest dwelling or mountain tribe of the Himalayas and from there the Gupta lineage grew to great heights reflecting in so many spheres and touching Sanchi’s Temple 11

Temple 17, Sanchi site built in the Gupta period.
Temple 17, Sanchi site built in the Gupta period.