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Vachan


Vachan (Apophthegm) pithy saying with special meaning, almost synonymous with wise sayings or proverbs. Generally, it has some sententious implications. Traditional sayings on the good and the bad, rules and regulations, and principles or advice are generally called Vachan in Bangla. In Bangla, khana's vachan are the best examples of vachans. But another type of Vachan called dak's sayings is also famous; this is also known as 'Dak Puruser Katha' in Bangla and 'Dagar Kadha' in Chakma. The real name of the popular Khana is Lilavati, she is supposed to have written Lilavati Arya.

Vachan is an important part of folk literature. It is unique in forms, poetical merit and lyricism. The vachan of Dak (daker vachan) and Khana sometimes have bhanitas (preambles) which are absent in other branches of folk literature. Vachans are priceless gems of moral principles and guidelines for use in day-to-day life. Although the present-day language of Khana's vachans has changed a lot, that of Lilavati Arya remains close to the original. The vachans still currency in Oriya and Assamese also bear traces of the original language. Khana's vachans in Assamese have become mixed with those of Dak.

It is very difficult to ascertain the exact number of Khana's Vachans. Since it is basically part of an oral tradition, many of them have sunk into oblivion. They contain some mathematical terms which are very old, such as, chanda means 1, paksa means 2, netra means 3, veda means 4, vana means 5, chhate means 6, basu means 8, bha means 27, hina means 0, khali means 0 etc. Samudra (sea), khumbha (Aquarius) and other such words also signify numerals. It is believed that Khana's vachans were written towards the end of the Charyapada era.

In Tibetan, both dak and khana mean 'someone wise'. In Tibetan, the word khana is derived from skham (pronounced khan). The Vajradakatantra found in Nepal contains some vachans similar to those of Dak and Khana. The word dakarnava in Tibetan means 'sea of knowledge'. haraprasad shastri and dinesh chandra sen believed that Dakarnava is the oldest book of the bangla language. It contains some formulas or vachans on agriculture, astrology, popular health and daily life. The Arthashastra of Kautilya and Brhatsanghita of Varaha also contain similar formulas on weather and the subjects mentioned above. These two books have obviously influenced the vachans of Dak. Both Dak and Khana's vachans point to contemporary sayings and society.

The preamble to the Assamese version of Dak's works mentions 11 types of vachans. These relate to birth, cooking, principles, bulls, housewives, agriculture, astrology, rain etc. The Bangla version of the vachans speak of weather, agriculture, fruit and harvest, animal husbandry, popular health, astrology, times of the year, journey, do's and don'ts, longevity, signs of women, child in the womb, questions etc. The works of Dak tend to be autobiographical. The same is true of Khana's vachans; such as ami atanacharyer beti / gana bachhay kare ba anti. (Khana's father was an acharya thakur, priest in the Hindu community). Dak and Khana's subjects overlap at many points.

While the formulas of Dak are composed in one metre all along, there are metrical variations in the formulas of Khana. In both types, formulas end in rhymes; and in many cases, the word forms have been changed to complete the rhymes. There are some one-liners of Khana which are now considered proverbs; but most vachans are longer in length. Some of the formulas are as long as lyrical ballads. As for Dak, most of his formulas are either one-lined or two-lined. Some one-liners of Dak have also made their way into the world of proverbs.

Khana's vachans are also popular in Assam, but there is no collection of his vachans in Assamese, although Oriya has them. Many vachans of Khana have been attributed to Dak in Assamese. They are more or less identical to Bangla vachans, differing only in the forms of words, which are older. The vachans of Khana in Oriya are still sung with musical instruments; they were sung in Bengal too until recently. People believed that the formulas related to rains might usher in rains during droughts. Khana's vachans are called Khanavachan in Oriya and there are as many of them in the language as there is in Bangla.

Khana has an autobiographical vachan, saying, bhasa bol pate lekhi / bachahuba bol padi sathi. (I write down my sayings on leaves, and keep them alive by reading them out loud.) Here bol means speech. According to Dineshchandra Sen, the antiquity of the language has been maintained in the vachan. This shows that Khana wrote her vachans on leaves and kept reading them. This is how she wanted her works to survive.

The book called Pavchasvara or Granthasangraha (c 14th century) contains many of Khana's vachans, especially those related to astrology. This book was written by Prajapati Das, an astrologer who followed Khana's principles. The book was printed from Calcutta during the British period. At that time, an astrology book written by Shashthidas also contained some of Khana's vachans. Towards the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, more than a dozen collection of Khana's vachans were published, among which Brhat Khanar Vachan (All the apophthegms of Khana) by PM Bhattacharya is most famous. At this time, two other collections, Daker Katha (The apophthegms of Dak) and Dak Puruser Katha (The apophthegm of Dak Purus), were also published. At least ten periodicals, for example Krsi (agriculture), Krsitattva (agricultural science) and Krsak (farmer) quoted numerous apophthegms of Khana. The Assamese literary work called Chaneki contains more than a thousand of Dak's vachans.

Khana's vachans focuses an practical life while those of Dak concentrate on the didactic. This is perhaps why the reason people have memorised the vachans of Khana in greater numbers. Some Bangla almanacs and dictionaries have also used Khana's vachan. Khanar Vachan (apophthegms of Khana) and Krsi O Babgali Sangskrti (agriculture and the Bangla culture), two books edited Ali Nawaz contain more than a thousand vachans by Khana, along with the maxims of Parashar in Hindi, of Ghagh from Mithila, of Bhaddari from Dhangk and Rajasthan and Telugu proverbs. The variant readings show that the vachans of Khana have made their way into other collections. Some of Khana's vachans resemble Telugu proverbs.

A comparative analysis of the proverbs, maxims, aphorisms and vachans of Bangla and other languages might lead to new discoveries in philology. The vachans of Khana have made their way to other languages mainly because speakers of these languages share a common agricultural system. Dak's aphorisms and Khana's vachans have laid the foundation of many aspects of Bengali and Assamese culture. 'Pube hans, pashchime bansh, uttare kela, daksine mela' (ducks in the east, bamboo in the west, plantain trees in the north and fairs in the south), goes one saying of Khana. In the past, village people used to build their houses facing the south. The practice is still continued in some places. This vachan is found in both Bangla and Assamese. People still believe in the saying that 'the south-facing house is the best'. Even now people these days believe that the sight of an empty pitcher or the sound of a sneeze before a journey does not augur well for the traveller. Ravens crowing off-season still make landlords worry. The sight of a snake on the right and a fox on the left is still considered a bad omen for a traveller. People judge would-be brides following the principles laid out in the sayings of Khana. Many social rites, daily rituals, prejudices and popular beliefs are still governed by these apophthegms. Dak's aphorisms and the Khana's vachans embody the essence of Bengali folk belief. Moreover, the vachans of Khana are still regarded as a good example of poetry:

Shyamanggi sukeshi tanu lomaraji kanta,

subhuru sushila kimba sugati sudanta.

madhya ksina yadi hay pabkaj nayani,

kulahina haileo baresta dayini.

kudanta athaba hay adhik byapika,

pibgal lochana abga sasthi salomika.

madhugust yadi hay rajar balika,

kule shrestha haileo arista dayika.

Dark-complexioned, long-haired, with a lithe figure;

charming eyebrows, well-behaved, well-gaited and good-teethed;

eyes looking like lotuses and slim-waisted,

such a girl, even if not of noble family,

makes a good wife.

Bad-teethed, or disproportionately fat;

yellow-eyed, and hairy skin;

such a king’s daughter, even if of a royal family, makes a bad wife.

A collection called Kabindravachanasamuchchaya, discovered in Nepal but published from Bangladesh, points to the fact that in the past, the word vachan once meant 'poetry'. This was a medium of expression of joy and emotion. This is why people pass down their memories from one generation to another in the form of poetry, proverbs and ballads. [Ali Nawaz]