Mahabharata in Oriya – Sarala Mahabharat



The earliest adaptation of Vyasa’s Sanskrit Mahabharata into Oriya, the language of the people of Orissa State in India, was done by Sarala Das. Also known as the ‘aadi kavi,’ or the first poet, of Oriya Literature, Sarala Dasa undertook the monumental effort of translating Sanskrit Mahabharat into Oriya in the 15th Century. Sarala Mahabharata cannot be exactly termed as an Oriya Translation of the original because the author makes serious intelligent digressions and interpolations to adapt it into the tradition of Orissa.

The greatness of the Oriya Mahabharat of Sarala lies in the fact that it is not a mere literal translation. Sarala Das cleverly incorporates culture, customs, folklore and other native aspects of Orissa tradition and purposefully avoids philosophy in order to reach out to the large majority of rural audience.

It must be noted here that Sarala was not a Brahmin and to attempt to write a classical text like Mahabharat in the 15th century in a regional language like Oriya needs real courage and determination. This was a period when knowledge and Hindu scriptures were reserved for a few elite while vast majority were prisoners from birth and denied knowledge.

Sarala Das views the characters and incidents in the Mahabharata from a common man’s point of view. He makes Pandavas visit holy sites and famous temples in Orissa. Skips the Bhagavad Gita (only mentions about in few verses) and the discourse between Yudhishtira and Bhisma. Instead, he incorporates new events which give emphasis on Oriya folklore and customs.

The Pandavas are like any other human beings and the large than life image is avoided. This makes them more identifiable to the common man and also serves as a reason for the numerous pitfalls that the Pandavas have in their life.

The Gods in the Mahabharata are perfectly amalgamated with the Oriya culture. The best example is that of Lord Jagannath.

Many might raise an eyebrow to such digression from the original Mahabharat. But what it has done is that Sarala Dasa was able to reach out to millions of common folk who would not have easily related to the Sanskrit version.

Sarala Mahabharat has been translated into English and other regional languages in India.