Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bāna (BAW-nah) lost his mother early in childhood. He was nurtured by his father, who died when Bāna was fourteen. His youth was spent in a self-indulgent manner with artists, ascetics, and low-caste friends. Although a Brahman and a Pāshupata devotee, he scorned caste rules and transcended the bounds of orthodoxy. After receiving a summons from Harsa (r. 606-647 c.e.), king of Thāneswar and Kanauj, he gained the patronage of the court.

His experience at court produced the Harsacarita (seventh century c.e.; The Harsa-carita, 1897), an idealized account of King Harsa’s deeds and reign. Written in Sanskrit, it is a romance rather than history, a narrative poem that displays descriptive and poetic talent. Kādambarī (seventh century c.e.; The Kadambari of Banabhatta, 1920), a peerless narrative, is replete with images of love, pathos, sympathy, and fidelity in the Moon god’s pursuit of the maiden Kādambarī. Bāna died before its completion, but his son, Bhūshanabhatta, completed the work. Candīshataka, 102 stanzas in honor of Śiva’s consort, serves as a prayer, but is of little importance compared with his great romances.

Bāna, a humane poet, sided with the poor, ignored caste rules, and condemned satī, the immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. His language and style are flowery, but his outlook is twentieth century.