Adventures of a Brahmin priest: Vishnubhat Godse

Title: Adventures of a Brahmin priest. My travels in the 1857 rebellion. (Maza Pravas)
Author: Vishnubhat Godse. Translated from Marathi by Priya Adarkar and Shanta Gokhale
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India in the 1857 C. E., what kind of a country was it? What kind of people inhabited it? What motivated them to unite and to separate in the rebellion against their foreign rulers? Did India almost achieve independence through this rebellion or was it as unattainable as ever? Was the revolt a mutiny or a widespread uprising? There were many theories at that time, many analyses, each differing from the other depending on which side was theorizing. But how was India at large perceiving this tumultuous event? In the ‘Adventure of a Brahmin Priest’ we do not get an answer to all these questions, but we do get a precious glimpse into the psyche of a cross section of the Indian society during 1857.

Vishnubhat Godse was a poor Brahmin living in a small village in Maharashtra. His family had incurred deep debts which they had no means of repaying. In this dire situation Godse saw a ray of hope. A large religious ceremony was going to be conducted in Gwalior (North India) which held a promise of earning some money. After convincing his family of the necessity of this journey Godse left with his uncle to travel to Gwalior. It would have been a long and arduous journey, but not really extraordinary, except for the fact that the year was 1857 and the country was on the brink of a major unrest.

Soon after Godse began his journey the revolt broke out. The Gwalior ceremony was cancelled, but Godse and his uncle pushed on and travelled extensively in the North of India, visiting Gwalior, Jhansi, Kashi, Lucknow, Ayodhya and other places of religious importance. The rebellion had flared up all around them and they travelled amidst the battles and the looting that ensued. Along his journey he came across soldiers from both sides, sometimes this put him in danger and at other times he could glean information about how the rebellion progressed. Notable amongst his experiences was a certain period of time he served under the patronage of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. He witnessed the battle that the Rani fought with the British and he was also witness to the falling of Jhansi. Godse returned to his village after a time period of three years and brought back stories and some notes of his experiences from the time period. Twenty five years after his return, he penned down ‘Maza Pravas’ in Marathi language (My journey), a travelogue of sorts which included his experiences from this eventful journey. ‘Adventures of a…’ is the first English translation of Godse’s text.

Religion has always been a prime motivator for political uprisings. For the revolt of 1857, it provided the ultimate trigger in the form of the offensively greased cartridges. Religion and caste structure reverberates in different forms throughout this text. At times it is a motivation to fight the foreigners, and at others it is also a reason for people to distance themselves from the revolt. Godse’s text gives us an insight into the mindset of the people of different social statuses. He talked to soldiers and royalty, as well as common citizens. The intensity of association and the effect of the revolt vary drastically with the geography and social status of the people. The fragmented nature of the society of that time is very startling. Godse’s text is not a comprehensive account of the 1857 revolt, but the most important thing that it does is provide a sense of the moral code of the people, a sense of their beliefs, hopes and fears.

The original was written in Marathi and ‘Adventures of a…’ is its first translation in English. The translation done by Priya Adarkar and Shanta Gokhale is excellent and feels very transparent and non-intrusive as a good translation should be. It maintains the original tone of the writing intact in the translation. Most importantly the translation makes this text available to a wider audience.

In conclusion:‘Adventures of a Brahmin priest’ is an extraordinary text written by an ordinary man. It was written at a time when it was not very common to travel, and even less to write about such travels. Fortunately for us Godse did undertake this journey and has left behind a rare eye witness account of one of the most intriguing periods of Indian history. I highly recommend reading ‘Adventures of a Brahmin priest’. It is a must read.

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