Gunādhya Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Gunādhya (gew-NAHD-yah) wrote a major classic of Indian literature, a collection of tales in the Paiśācī dialect of Prākrit called the Brhatkathā (n.d., original in Prākrit lost; “great story”). The Brhatkathā consisted of 700,000 couplets describing the world from its beginnings. Supposedly, the legends were whispered into Gunādhya’s ear while he was dreaming by primordial beings who wanted the ancient wisdom preserved, and he wrote the latter part of the work to make it current.

According to tradition, Gunādhya presented his work to King Sātavāhana, who disdained it because it was written in the plebian Paiśācī language. Gunādhya climbed a hill and, by the light of a fire, read the text aloud. As he read, the sky became overcast, the earth shook, deities hovered around him, trees bent toward him, and birds wept silently. He burned the manuscript as he read.

When King Sātavāhana heard of the extraordinary happenings, he sent messengers to obtain the book, but only a few thousand verses, called the Brhatkathā, remained. These focused on the modern period.