Parva and Daatu: Classics from a Master Litterateur

Parva and Daatu: Classics from a Master Litterateur

The second episode of the series introducing the major literary works of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa features Parva and Daatu. These are deservedly acclaimed literary classics written by an author at the peak of his powers.

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A Brief Survey of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s Major Novels
Parva and Daatu: Classics from a Master Litterateur


WIDELY ACCLAIMED as Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s magnum opus, Parva (Chapter/Episode) is a true modern classic based on Maharshi Veda Vyasa’s immortal Mahabharata. This is also considered to be the author’s greatest work. Parva has been translated into six Indian languages and English and has retained its eminence. Non-Kannadigas who have read it in its Hindi and Marathi translations consider it one of the masterpieces of modern Indian literature.

The novel is both a retelling and reinterpretation of the Mahabharata set completely on the realistic plane and devoid of divine and supernatural elements. Parva narrates the story of the Mahabharata mostly using the stream of consciousness literary technique. Several principal characters found in the original Mahabharata reminisce almost their entire lives. Both the setting and the context for this self-reflection and reminiscence occurs at the onset of the great Kurukshetra War.

In transforming Veda Vyasa’s epic narrative into the modern novel format and humanizing various divine elements, Dr. Bhyrappa has attained artistic excellence all the while adhering to Veda Vyasa’s spirit. This creative reinterpretation does not mar any character or situation in the original but variously, embellishes them, offers original insights, and provides details in places where Veda Vyasa has remained silent.

One of the grandest re-creations in Parva is the thundering climax of the Kurukshetra war, which is symbolic of the dawn of a new era and a new world order. It is an extraordinarily vivid picture that comes alive before our eyes for the lush details of geography, setting, weaponry, and the emotional and psychological upheavals that each character undergoes. The novel ends with unending torrential rain, symbolizing hope and a promise of renewal.  

Dr. Bhyrappa’s portrayal of the central character of the epic, Krishna is a tour de force. Unlike other characters, Krishna does not indulge in any self-reflection nor does he appear directly. His character is systematically revealed through the eyes of other characters such as Kunti, Yudhishtira, Bhima, Arjuna, Yuyudhana, Balarama, Duryodhana, et al. Each of these characters are partisan participants who try to understand him in their own way, according to their own temperament.

Parva is also noteworthy for the sheer authenticity in how Dr. Bhyrappa painstakingly recreates the Bharatavarsha of the Mahabharata era. This includes vivid details of the physical geography of different regions their respective climes in each season, the various political formations in the country, and the social and cultural ambience of the period. The fact that all of these details flow organically and are integral, inextricable parts of the story is a great testimony to the author’s artistry.    

Perhaps no other work in Kannada literature in the last four decades has been so widely discussed, critiqued, and analysed as Parva. It is also the subject of a doctoral thesis.


Published in 1975, Daatu (The Crossing) is another landmark classic of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa. It is a powerful, intricate and emotional examination of one of the pillars of the Indian society, the Varna System (incorrectly translated as caste system). Daatu won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975 and has been translated into all 14 Indian languages and English.

Taking a remote village in the Old Mysore region of Karnataka as its canvas, Daatu offers an insightful, artistic and scholarly commentary on the Varna organization. However, the scope of Daatu is pan-Indian. The novel encompasses an expansive clutch of themes including the origins of the Varna system, the differences between Jati, Varna, Kula, the evolution of each Varna, their interrelationships, its history and its place and relevance in the post-industrial world in 20th century democratic India.

Daatu is an abundant goldmine of myths, legends, stories, poems, and narratives associated with each Varna and branches thereof. The setting of the novel in a traditional Indian village named Tirumalapura, a microcosm of the traditional Indian society. It is populated with people from almost all Varnas and is thus an appropriate backdrop to narrate what is essentially the social and cultural history of Bharatavarsha. The novel also has a parallel track that explores the role, relevance, and attitudes to the Varna System in urban India, represented by Bangalore.

The direct impact of the post-Independence politics on the Varna System is also a central theme of Daatu. Another crucial subtext of the novel shows the historical reality of how colonial British rule rudely cut off an existing social order that was preserved almost intact for more than a millennium and the upheavals that resulted when this society tried to grapple with this sudden change. An important observation in the novel is in this dialogue: “for centuries in the past, India had Jati but not casteism.” In fact, casteism became more pronounced and sinister after India attained independence. Jati was replaced by caste and castes became political vote banks. For all its faults, the Varna System had preserved social harmony. In its mad and misguided rush to uproot and somehow “equalize” a functional society, “independent” India lost Varna and replaced it with cyclical caste warfare. One is reminded of Ram Swarup’s penetrating insight in this context: “The new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without dharma.”

The episodes in Daatu unveiling the reality of caste-based reservations in education and employment are truly original and brilliant. It appears that over the last seven plus decades, each caste is engaged in an incessant race to garner as much economic benefits as possible at the expense of social harmony.

Dr. Bhyrappa uses the love story between a Brahmana lady and a Vokkaliga youth – the son of the local MLA – to flesh out the full extent and complexities of the so-called anti-caste movements. Both hail from the same village. This love affair gradually leads to an unfolding of the subterranean feelings of superiority and inferiority in the village culminating in a real, physical clash. Dr. Bhyrappa uses a powerful mix of raw, rustic dialogue, emotional and community-based manipulations and provides a literary treat that makes us think and introspect. The harsh light of truth that he sheds on all castes, sub-castes and communities is actually a searchlight that we must turn inwards to examine our notions about our own castes and communities, and us as individuals. The novel’s climax where Satyabhama, the protagonist sheds her Yajnopavita and silently chants the Gayatri Mantra, is one of the masterly enunciations of Dhvani or suggestion.  

Daatu truly deserves every award and accolade that it has received. And more. Nearly half a century after its publication, it merits an urgent revisit.

To be continued

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