Distressing as Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri lynching maybe, bloodlust and hatred aren’t the only marker of Hindu-Muslim relations in the state. An exquisitely-preserved copy of the Mahabharata, in Urdu, is an insignia of Uttar Pradesh’s rich historical tradition of the intellectual and cultural exchange between Muslims and Hindus.
Farman Manjul chanced upon the book in his great grandfather, Mawali Hussain Naseer badi’s library, in Rae Bareli and learnt from his mother that this rare version of the Mahabharat was being defend as “lucky family heirloom” since three centuries. A scholar in the family, according to the exclusive report in the Times of India, said that this translation of the epic “was an emblem of our (India’s) Ganga-Jamuni tradition” and was co-authored by Haji Talib Hussain and his friend Durga Prasad for an Urdu audience.
It isn’t a literal translation and every chapter has a Persian and Arabic introduction join with the Urdu text.
Manjul’s mother, Shahin Akhtar, who’s now taken to browsing the epic, said that their possession of the book was getting them a ton of publicity. “We are getting unprecedented guests these days…and all want to take a look at this age-old book,” said Shahin.
While an Urdu Mahabharat may be novel, Uttar Pradesh has a rich pre-colonial tradition of Hindu epics being available in languages other than Hindi and Sanskrit.
The regional archive office in Allahabad is hosting an exhibition of writings on Lord Rama–the main protagonist of the epic Ramayan– authored by Muslims in Persian and Urdu.
Several of the manuscripts, according to a report in the Times of India, were over 350 years old, with the most popular one being a Persian translation by Sadaullah Masihi, called ‘Ramayan Masihi,’ and written during Jahangir’s rule. Others include the ‘Ramayan Yek Qafia’, ‘Shri Ram Natak’ and ‘Ramleela Natak,’ in Urdu.
“Muslims had developed a deep cultural understanding of Hindu philosophy, customs, culture and literature and the Ramayana became the most translated book in languages like Arabic, Persian and Urdu,” regional archive officer (ARO) Amit Agnihotri told the Times of India.