Revisiting Indian Myths in Baahubali

I watched Baahubali and apart from the ecstasy I felt I had this feeling that there is something familiar about it all. Exactly what and when I finally realised I decided to write it down in an article. This morning I was happily surprised that somebody (Nivedita Mishra) had already written an article (for Hindustan Times) about it and which prompted me to kick my lazy self and do what I ought to do.

Baahubali is full of references to Indian myths. The characters are a curious mix of various characters from Indian myths and epics.

In his essay Tradition and Individual Talent  T. S. Eliot says “Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour…the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.”

S S Rajamouli takes his myths and epics and spins a saga which left millions spellbound. The film is dreamy and takes us through a fictional historical period which reminds us of our epics in a nostalgic way.

I will start with Prabhas’ character who for the first half is Shiva and in the second half is Amarendra Baahubali. In these characters Rajamouli has merged the characters of Shiva, Arjuna, Bhima and Krishna. Shiva/Shivudu is fearless like Arjuna and Bhima, is dutiful to his mother like the Pandavas but is also mischievous like Bhima. As Niharika Mishra points out through Shiva Rajamouli recreates the machoism of Shiva. In the song where Shiva climbs the mountain one can’t help but remember Arjuna through his arduous journey through the Himalayas to attain heavenly weapons. In the character of Amarendra Baahubali, one can’t help but notice a clear imprint of Arjuna. He is not just an efficient warrior but is kind and considerate towards the innocents who might lose their lives. He is also skilled in the strategies of war and uses them efficiently to ensure a win for his kingdom.

Avanthika, when we first see her, reminds us of the celestial nymphs we have seen in paintings, in television serials and in films. She is seductive, beautiful and ethereal. When we meet real Avanthika, one can’t shrug off the feeling that she is modelled after Chitrangada, Arjuna’s wife. Chitrangada was the princess of Manipur who dons the attire of a man to fight the enemies of her kingdom. When she first sees Arjuna, she falls in love with him. It is then she becomes aware of the woman hidden inside her. Doesn’t the encounter between Avanthika and Shiva reminds one of this episode in Mahabharata. Alliance with Chitrangada strengthens the Pandava’s armies and so does an alliance with Avanthika.

Bhallaldeva, as Rana Daggubatti said in an interview, is a mixture of Duryodhana and Ravana and it is rightly so. Like Ravana he has kept Devasena captive and like Duryodhana he feels he is the rightful heir of the Mahishmati throne. Bhallaldeva’s father reminds one of not only Dhritarashtra but also of Shakuni.

Devasena is modelled after Sita and Draupadi. She is fierce but is also patient. She refuses to be rescued by anyone else having faith that her son will return one day. She is bidding her time, waiting to avenge her husband’s death. Like Draupadi who refused to tie her hair until she is avenged for her humiliation, Devasena too is waiting for the day when her son will bring Bhallal’s destruction.

Kattapa as pointed by Nivedita Mishra reminds one of Bhishma and his struggle between justice and his duty. Sivagami is modelled after Sathyavati who would never leave the path of justice and ensure the well-being of her Kingdom. She also reminds of Kunti to some extent, teaching her sons the path of righteousness and ensuring that justice is brought about in the end.

Sanga unmistakably reminds of Yashoda, a woman who loves her adopted son more than anything and would go to any extent to keep him safe. In this respect Devasena resembles Devaki.

This aspect of Baahubali makes it more wondrous and amazes about the magnanimity and the complexity of the film.

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