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Alha Khand – The Book – Facts – Short Essay

Alha Khand is a popular folk-epic in North India consisting of many gathas (folk ballads). It is presently known as Alha, and its reciters are called alhait. Tradition says that the name of its composer-poet is Jaganik. Alha was, perhaps, composed between 1182 and 1203 CE.

In 1865 CE, Sir Charles Elliott employed one of three or four Alha singers to compile Alha. It was published for the first time by Munshi Ram Swarup. Portions of its Bhojpuri version were collected and published by Sir G.A. Grierson and a few portions of its Bundelkhandi version were published by Vincent A Smith (Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. IX, I, page 502.)

W Waterfield translated a few portions from Elliott’s collection and Nine Lakh Chain or Maro Feud was published in installments in Calcutta Review (Vol. No 61 and 63) of 1875-76 CE. The Lay of Alha was published in 1923 CE by G A Grierson in which he gave translated portions by Waterfield and abstracts of untranslated portions. These valuable collections led to the later publication of Alha Khand by many publishers.

The composition is replete with references which problematize the text. The historical changes in the time period of the original composition resulted not only in a number of battles but introduced changes in weaponry such as the introduction of cannons, pistols, etc., in the battles. These had been unknown to the Chandelas and Cauhanas of 1182 CE.

There is the depiction of a ritual problem in the present plot of Alha. Prithviraja’s sister Bela was married to Paramala’s son Brahma, but Prithviraja Cauhana demanded Paramala’s daughter Candravali while besieging Paramala’s fort at Mahoba. This incident involved a moral question as to whether the demand for Candravali was just or improper. Thirdly, the linguistic problem of using such modern words as kachari (court), salam (good bye), kursi (chair), sipahi (policeman), etc., have also complicated the problem. Taking into account all these problems in dealing with an Alha text, an authentic text which might be considered nearest to the original, has been editec by Narmada Prasad Gupta in the course of a special project offered by Madhya Pradesh Lok Kala Parishad, Bhopal.

Alha’s text in Mahoba style is the oldest one from which different styles of Sagar, Datia, Pucchi, Karganva have sprung up in Bundelkhand. The texts in Kanauji, Braji, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and other regional styles have used elements of their regional folk culture to redesign the plot. Hence these texts are original in their own. All the texts collected together reflect the widespread folk culture of India. In this respect, Alha Gathas are an example of regional epics for their vigor and vitality.