Thursday, July 06, 2006

Linguistic obscenity

Mr IK Shukla from USA sent this to me:

I like to add my two bit on a linguistic mayhem.

This linguistic obscenity comes swaddled in saffrofascism. These days the saffronazis have become inordinately fond of the Sanskrit prefix Maha (“great”).

Never in my childhood and teen years had I ever heard anyone anywhere saying Maha Ram Navami, Maha Krishna Janmashtami, Maha Shivaratri, or Maha Aarati, Maha Prasad, Maha Jagaran, Maha Vasant Panchami, Maha Dipawali, Maha Holi, Maha Raksha Bandhan, Maha Dashahra. The newfangled crudity "Maha Aarati "is associated with Hindutva violence in Mumbai and beyond. So too the other festivals now bearing the lethal load of Maha. The more phony and venal the occasions, the more they proclaim their shallowness with their tawdry tag of Maha.

Does Maha really always add to the meaning positively? No. Neither in the vernaculars nor in Sanskrit. Mahamari (Hindi) is an epidemic, Mahabhinishkramana (the great departure) is a sad occasion. Maha Papi is a great sinner. And see this usage in Kalidasa's Malavikagnimitra (2nd act, in Sanskrit):

Ganadasa: Mahabrahmana! Na khalu prathamam nepathyadarshanam

(O Mean Brahman, we are not showing the play for the first time).

This vulgarization detracts very seriously from the gravitas of words like Mahakal (the temple in Ujjain) and MahaPariNibbanaSutta (the Buddha's last sermon). The word Maha was to be used very cautiously, very discriminately. No wonder the original name of the epic was Jaya Kavya, not Mahabharata. And when it acquired this latter name, it was in no way a flattering synonym. In popular imagination and usage this word carries a very negative connotation: colossal destruction, hence undesirable and detestable.

1 comment:

multisubj yb said...

Maha Bharata has about 115,000 verses and is the longest epic in the world. The phrase Maha Bharata has been current since the 12th Century. Use of 'Maha' is justifiable for Bhaarata. Spelling need to be more phonetic.
I agree that the prefix Maha is being misused, particularly in commercial ads. One washing soap ad: Maha Bar. (Large bar soap).

When an epic hero like Arjuna could sell old clothes and make money, in today's world of business, omissions and commissions may be tolerated.