J A Y A
This is a little known but very ancient poem, believed to be the precursor of the Mahabharat.
The poem, sung at bards at courts, recounting a king overcoming his rival kinsmen; wandering minstrels sung the tales far and wide for the people, ala Luv Kush. The various singers were banded under the name ‘Sutas’, often illegitimate offspring of Kshtriyas who performed several courtly duties, including charioteers and bards.
Jaya is believed to be the forerunner of the Mahabharata and its wide ranging tales of the Kurus; along with the Ramayana, it spawned the Puranas i.e. tales of the various dynasties and everything to do with them. Dr. S V Ketkar called this Sauta literature, composed, preserved and sung by the Sutas.
This literature had a more ritualistic counterpart that Ketkar called the Mantra literature that focused on hymns, rituals, sacrifices, philosophical and esoteric discourses; later even grammar and philosophy, religious literature that was in the hands of the priestly Brahmins.
Subsequently, Sauta literature also passed into the hands of a Brahman Bhrigu clan, which is believed to have interpolated their own valorous stories. But scholars of the Mahabharata are able to identify those interpolations.
Our today’s Mahabharat was recounted by several narrators. Where, you would ask, is Ved Vyas, the Mahabharat’s creator, eye witness and participant?
Dr. Irawati Karve reveals that Vyas told his stories to his disciples, possibly on the basis of that earlier Jaya. The Mahabharat backstory reveals Vyas as Krishna (dark) Dvaipayana (born on an island); chiranjiv i.e. very long lived. He was also credited with editing and putting into order the hymns of the Rigveda, Atharvavda and Yayurveda.
As a ‘Vyas’ i.e. an ‘arranger, a man who throws together’, could it be that he took the Jaya story as told by different bands of Sutas with subsequent additions and rearranged them into the wide-ranging epic we know today?
Vyas was also a participant of that story, inducted by his mother, Satyavati, the wife of Shantanu to perform niyoga with her childless daughter-in-laws to beget Kuru heirs, after Bhishma refused to oblige. Heirs to the throne were all important to stave off the greedy eyes of avaricious kings, eying both the empty Kuru throne and widowed princesses.
The tragedy was that Satyavati did not prepare her bahus for the Niyoga, not did Vyas make himself less alarming. The young bhabhis were expecting their handsome jethji (Bhisma); instead in walks a fearsome smelly man with fearful eyes and a long scraggly beard.
Terrified out of their wits, one closed her eyes to shut out the sight. Her child Drithrashtra was sightless. The other paled in fright and her Pandu was born a pale impotent albino. Only the lusty maid produced a healthy, wise Vidur, cursed to always be the Other, despite his mental prowess.
Modern bards? Why, the advertising fraternity that sells nonexistent qualities; British historians who rewrote histories to suit that Nation of Shopkeepers; Rajput bards sung of valor, not repeated sellouts to settle internal quarrels!