Kashiram Das (কাশীরাম দাস, born 16th century) is an important poet in medieval Bengali literature. His Bengali re-telling of the Mahabharata, known as Kashidasi Mahabharat, is a popular and influential version of the Mahabharata legend in Bengal. Although the entire work is intra-textually ascribed to him, most scholars agree that he composed only the first four of the eighteen books (parvas). As with the Ramayana of Krittibas Ojha, Kashiram freely removed elements and added other legends to the story. Das is not a last name, but a title meaning "servant" in the Vaishnava tradition; the name is also written as Kashiramdas.
Kashiram Das was born to a Vaishnava Kayastha family in the village of Singi, adjacent to Katwa in Bardhaman district; his death anniversary is still observed in the region. Kashiram was the second son of Kamalakanta Das; two of his brothers were noted poets on their own, in the Vaishnava Padavali tradition. His elder brother Ghanashyam Das, is the author of Srikrishnavilas, and his younger brother, Gadadhar, composed Jagannathamangal. Although Kashiram's topic was outside the mainstream Krishna legend, his work is stylistically in the same tradition, and uses the payar chhanda (payar metre).
There is some doubt regarding his birthplace. It appears that Kamalakanta left the Bardhaman area (at the time known as Indrani Pargana) and had settled in Orissa, so it might be that Kashiram was born in Orissa and then returned to Bengal (Midnapore) at a later stage.
As a Sanskrit and Vaishnava scholar, Kashiram was patronised by a zamindar family in Midnapore, and ran a pathshala (small school) there. In addition to the Kashidasi Mahabharat, he is cited to have composed several works, including Satyanarayaner Punthi (the book of Satyanaryan), Svapna-Parba (dream reverie), and Nalopakhyan (tale of Nala), which are now lost.
It is said that he was inspired to embark on composing a Bengali version of the Mahabharata after a recitation of the Sanskrit text at his patron's home. He may have been guided in this enterprise by his teacher Abhiram Mukhuti of Haraharpur.
It is quite clear that the first four parvas—adi, sabha, vana, and virata—were composed by him around the turn of the 16th century. The vanity refrain at the end of the virata parva gives the date of its composition as the shaka year 1526 (1604 CE). He had embarked on the next book, the vana-parva, but it is thought that he may have died shortly thereafter, and the remaining books were completed by his son-in-law, nephew, and other relatives, who followed the same style and even retained the "Kashiram Das" vanity line after each chapter. The entire work was completed around 1610 AD.
Kashiram Das had named his text Bharata-Panchali, where Bharata refers to the Bharata dynasty, and panchali refers to the narrative song tradition of Bengal. The panchali works attempt to tell a story that will keep the audience's interest. In this spirit, Kashiram avoids the long philosophical discourses that are part of the Mahabharata, such as the entire discourse of Krishna to Arjuna (the Bhagavadgita). On the other hand, he elaborates the story of Mohini—the female avatar of Vishnu who enchants Shiva—based on a two-line shloka in the original.
Although other Bengali Mahabharatas had been composed earlier (e.g. Kavindra Mahabharata, 1525), the Kashidasi Mahabharata soon became the staple of Bengali Mahabharata readings. Composed in the mangalkavya tradition, the vanity refrain has become a staple of Bengali tradition:
- mahabharater katha amrita saman
- kashiram das kahe shune punyaban
This is translated to: "The Mahabharata tales are like ambrosia, says Kashiram Das; it brings merit to listen to it."
Other phrases that have become part of the Bengali folklore include "krodhe pap, krodhe tap, krodhe kulakshay" ("anger causes sin, anger causes heat, anger causes the demise of one's line").
When the Serampore Mission Press was started in the 19th century, the Kashidasi Mahabharat in parts were among the first Bengali texts to be printed. Eventually, the complete text, edited by Jayagopal Tarkalankar, was published in 1936 by the same press.
- Kashiramdas, article by Sukhamay Mukherjee in the Encyclopedia of Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi, v.III p. 2003
- Kalipada Chaudhuri, bangla sahityer itihas (in Bengali, বাংলা সাহিত্যের ইতিহাস), bani samsad, p.121-122
- Sukhamay Mukherjee, madhyajuger bangla sahityer tathya o kalakrama, 1974
- Ahmed, Wakil (2012). "Kashiram Das". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
- Huq, Mohammad Daniul; Rahman, Aminur (2012). "Bangla Literature". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
- Pradip Bhattacharya, Amrita – The Apple of Eris
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