Baahubali: How Rajamouli's imagery is inspired by Amar Chitra Katha

  • Nivedita Mishra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 05, 2015 18:29 IST

We all know by now how big a fan SS Rajamouli is of the Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. A closer look at Baahubali will tell you how the characters are modelled on the superheroes from the epics. But we also realise what an immense debt Rajamouli owes to Ananth Pai of Amar Chitra Katha -- so many of the characters seem to jump out of the books of Pai, particularly in the film's imagery.

Close your eyes for a moment and visualise Avanthika. It is very likely that images of Urvashi, Vasantasena, Amba with flowing anga vastrams come to the mind from the covers of Amar Chitra Katha.

Our collective memory is not likely to go back more than 150 years. So, in popular culture, one is likely to depend on paintings, sculptures and illustrations to have an idea of what life must have been in the distant past. More so, in the context of Indian mythology, as recording history in the modern sense, is hard to find.

So, here's looking into the world of Baahubali and admiring the parallels with the epics.

That waterfall and Shivudu's romance with her

When the first scenes of Baahubali flowed in after the credits, one could not help but think of this river (which is incidentally called Ganga) as the mythical goddess Ganga. With her awe-inspiring 'thousand cascades' (sahasra dhara), her power and grace, she is an epitome of strength and beauty. In Shivudu's obsession with this river, in his yanking the linga from its stone base and planting it under her gargantuan tumble and in his final leap of faith to getting to the river's summit, one is reminded of the legend (mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana) of how Lord Shiva got to bearing the burden of a goddess Ganga's descent onto Earth when he first 'arrests' her in his hair (jataa) before she sprouts out like a foundation, thus giving fruition to Bhagirath's promise.

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Consider this scene from the film - the people of Mahishmati have been forced into erecting a mammoth statue of Bhallaladeva (Baahubali's antagonist). In the process, a mishap occurs and the statue begins to fall back, threatening to crush hundreds. Just then Baahubali, who is in this palace complex in hiding, emerges from nowhere and grabs the rope and halts the fall.

Watch how the character Shivudu/Baahubali came into being

In this act of super human effort, why is it that one is reminded of Lord Shiva's legend of drinking poison and becoming Neelakantha? And what of the legend? In the Hindu mythology, Shiva occupies that singular reputation of coming in to salvage a situation when every option has been exhausted. This episode is mentioned in Shiva Purana, Shiva being the god of gods, drinks the poison that is a natural fallout of Sagar Manthan between devas (gods) and asuras (demons).

So also, Baahubali must salvage the situation with his superhuman effort, when there is no hope in sight.

Sivagami and her justice

In Sivagami, one sees that old Hastinapur regina and Kuru clan's (vansha) matriarch, Satyavati (from Rishi Vyas' Mahabharata). In her one sees that dogged determination to protect the interest to the people of Mahishmati and of the throne. She is a woman of action, never takes things passively, pretty much like Satyavati. Sivagami gives the ultimate sacrifice to protect the heir, while Satyavati breaks rules to get an heir to the throne of Hastinapur when her sons fail to continue the line and invites her illegitimate son to impregnate her daughters-in-law.

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Sivagami also reminds one of the legendary queens and mother-figures of Indian history -- Jijabai (Maratha leader Shivaji's mother) and Ahalyabai Holkar (the Maratha queen of Malwa region of modern Madhya Pradesh) -- in her martial commandeering and establishing a period of prosperity and stability in Mahishmati respectively.

Avantika, the part warrior, part forest nymph

When we are first presented with Avantika, it is as an apsara, a celestial being who appears to guide Shivudu's imagination. And as a righteous warrior, she hacks back to the legion of female warriors from Indian history and mythology - Amba (from Mahabharata), Laxmibai (Maratha queen of Jhansi), Razia Sultan (Slave dynasty queen of the Delhi Sultanat), Rani Abbakka Chowta (Queen of Ullal, Dakshina Kannada district, modern-day Karnataka who fought the Portuguese in the 16th century) and many more. Why does Kadappa remind one of Bhishma Pitamah?

In the quiet pain of Kadappa (Sathyaraj), one sees the spirit of Bhishma (another Mahabharata bigwig) -- that noble patriarch of the Kuru dynasty, a great general, a noble fighter, an elderly statesman but one who is a slave to the throne of Hastinapur. Similar is the fate of Sathyaraj -- he has sworn loyalty to the Mahishmati throne and tragically serving a fallen star.

Not just that, why is it that in Baahubali's insistence to eat from lower-caste Sathyaraj's plate, one hears the distant echo of Lord Rama (from Valmiki Ramayana) eating Sabari's 'sullied' berries?

Why does one see the reflection of Duryodhana in Bhallaladeva?

We now know Bhallaladeva, the man who knows no peace. The man who feels he has been wronged even before birth, when his 'handicapped' father is denied the right to ascend the throne despite being first born? Wasn't it Duryodhana's lot too? Do you also see the 'blind' Dhritarashtra in handicapped Bijjaladeva (Nassar)? Devasena: When Draupadi met Sita…

When one is introduced to dishevelled Devasena, she is held a captive and caged in the centre of the royal palace. Wait! Wasn't Sita too kept captive in Ashok Vatika in Ravana's palace? Why is it that when Bhallaladeva taunts her for having chosen Amarendra Baahubali over him, one thinks of how Draupati was lusted at in Mahabharata? Writer Devadutta Pattanaik mentions in his book Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, how Karna nursed anger against her for having rejected him in her swayambara as he was a lower caste. He further narrates how, despite being a chaste woman, everyone lusts for her and describes an incident when Dussala's husband (Dussala is the only daughter Dhritarashtra and Gandhar had) visits the Pandava during their exile and finding her alone, tries to outrage her modesty. And who doesn't know how Dussashana dragged Draupati by her hair while Duryodhana gestured for her to sit on his thigh.

Small wonder then one does feel that Bhallaladeva still has embers of flame burning in his chest for Devasena, despite her haggard state. And like Draupadi who refuses to tie her hair till one of her husband gets a handful of Duryodhana's blood to wash her hair, Devasena too is seen picking twigs to prepare a funeral pyre for Bhallaladeva as she knows her son will return to avenge her insult.

The only instance, through the narrative, where Rajamouli goes wrong is with the depiction of barbarians. In modern interpretation of ancient myths and legends, let the barbarian be represented by his/her mindset, not appearance, colour, ethnicity or any such categorisation.

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