Centennial controversy over Panchali Sabatham

Published: 05th February 2013 07:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th February 2013 07:55 AM   |  A+A-

This is the 131st birth anniversary of noted poet Subramanya Bharathi, who played a key role in urging the Indian people to stand against the British through his writings. Unlike his other masterpieces, which have been celebrated widely, there are some of his works that lie unnoticed, like his Panchali Sabatham. Discrepancies in the date of publication of this Bharathi-written work, one that created a controversy, is the main impediment in the celebration of the work’s centennial year. 

The story of  Panchali Sabatham, said to have been inspired by the Vyasa Bharatha, depicts the dice-playing scene of the Mahabharata, played by the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Yudhishtra loses all his wealth to the scheming Duryodhana and finally ends up betting his wife in a desperate last round. Bharathi, with his vivid imagination, changed the characters around, portraying Panchali as Bharata Mata or Mother India and the antagonists Kauravas as the British. In his version, the Bharata Mata takes a vow to free herself from the supression of the British. Much later, researchers on Bharathi’s work have observed that the story was written to showcase the liberation of women and break the chains of women’s opression. 

Panchali Sabatham was written by Bharathi when he was in hiding in Puducherry. The story has two parts, the first of which was said to have been published by Bharathi himself in the 1912.

The very next year, the freedom fighter Subramanya Siva wrote a review in praise of the book in the magazine Gnanabanu. If this is indeed the case, Panchali Sabatham would have celebrated its centenary anniversary this year.

But other Tamil researchers and scholars hold the view that the publication date of the combined parts, which is 1914, is the actual date and so, the centennial celebrations must be held till the next year. “Those views are only assumptions. There are no evidences for such assumptions,” says Seeni Viswanathan, a renowned Bharathi scholar and one who brought re-published 12 volumes of Bharathi’s work chronologically as Kaala Varisaipaduthappatta Bharathi Padaippugal.

“Bharathi went to Puducherry in the year 1908 and during his stay until 1918, he wrote five books including the first part of Panchali Sabatham. Of these two were banned by the British government and the ban was lifted only in 1918. After his return to Madras, Bharathi urges several of his friends to aid him in the publication of the second part, which finally sees the light of day in 1914. So, it is right to celebrate the centennial year of the work this year,” said  Viswanathan.


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