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Epic effort in god’s language

some 500 slokas, an archaic language and an extinct literary form. Composing an epic in Sanskrit, combining erudition with imagination, is quite a literary feat in the 21st Century.

Based on The Mahabharata and with Bhisma on centrestage, Nalini Kanta Misra has composed his epic Devabratacharitam. Recognising this extraordinary scholarly effort, the Government of India has nominated Misra for the Certificate of Honour this year.

“Though Bhisma had a pivotal role, I felt that he was sidelined in Vyasdev’s Mahabharata. There, he has been perceived as an efficient army general and a good worker. I wanted to highlight his heroic qualities in my work,” says the veteran scholar.

Through six years, Misra pored over Vedavyas’ epic, culling material on Bhisma, and penning more than 450 slokas. The work came out in print in December 1999.

“In 10 cantos, I have tried to trace the physical and spiritual growth of this intriguing character — and the inspiration that drives him to celibacy — from his birth till the coronation of the Pandavas. I am now working on a sequel focusing on the latter half of Bhisma’s career till his death.” At age 72, Misra certainly seems indefatigable.

“Learning and teaching Sanskrit is ingrained in me. Both my father and grandfather were veteran Sanskrit scholars,” is how Misra explains his affiliation to the devabhasha (god’s language).

After schooling till Class VI, he was shifted to a tol for indepth knowledge of the language. “The tol imparts exhaustive training to learners, unlike the colleges,” says Misra, whose career later took shape as an inspector of tols. He has toured the length and breadth of Bengal, researching and filing reports on the tol tradition to Bangiya Sanskrit Siksha Parishad.

This apart, Misra has taught at Sanskrit College, from where he had graduated, and in the Sanskrit departments of Calcutta, Burdwan and Rabindra Bharati universities. He was also deputed as the principal of Mugberiya Bholanath Rashtriya Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya in Midnapore.

In a rich career spanning a few decades, Misra has translated and published three Puranas, including the Devibhagavata, in Bengali. He is currently editing a book on the Dharmashastras.

Apart from the President’s award, he has been bestowed with the degree of Mahamahopadhyay as well as the titles of Nyayaratna and Kavyaratna for his contribution to Sanskrit studies.

As of now, Misra is waiting for the red-letter day when President APJ Abdul Kalam would hand him the Certificate of Honour.

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