The Manas Epos – A Review
Posted On July 5, 2023
The Manas Epos: Across the Millennium by Sindhu J., Chennai: Emerald Publishers, 2005. pp. 86, HB. Price not given. ISBN 81-7966-147-4.
The UN General Assembly resolution on the celebration of anniversaries in 1994-1995 recognizes Kyrgyz Manas epos as a “vitally important connecting link supporting and uniting the peoples of the Central Asian region throughout their centenary history”. It also recognizes that this epic is “not only the source of the Kyrgyz language and literature, but also the basis of the cultural, moral, historical, social and religious traditions of the Kyrgyz people” as well as favors “the dissemination of human ideals and values “. of humanity”.
Sindhu J.’s book celebrates the millennium of the heroic epic Manas, which is rightly called “a poetic history and an encyclopedia of the Kyrgyz people” (p.25). It seeks to contribute to international collaboration and mutual understanding (cf. p. 79), in addition to elucidating more than a thousand years of Kyrgyz history, culture, humanism, spiritual values, and caring for others (cf. p. 80-81). .
She justifies writing The Mamas Epos: Across The Millennium on the grounds that not much is known about the epic tradition of our Central Asian neighbors despite India’s trade and cultural relations with them since ancient times. Therefore, it is culturally enriching and academically rewarding to explore the riches of Central Asia “both independently and with reference to our own literatures.” (pp. 4-5).
Sindhu’s book highlights various features, notions, ideas, customs, and traditions from different eras and centuries from the 9th to the 18th, including the wars against the Chinese and the Uyghur tribes, the advent of Islam, and the conversion of pagan communities to the Islamic faith, the wars in Turkestan, Central Asian politics in the 17th century, the rise and control of communism, and life in the Soviet era. It relies on the epos to obtain a large amount of historical data about different regions of Kyrgyzstan, its rivers and lakes, villages, ethnic life, local customs, rural economy, mineral resources, horses and camels, etc. as well as points to the most common values to all people: social justice, honesty, humanism; love for the homeland, national traditions and customs; respect for human rights, national unity and tolerance; peaceful coexistence with neighboring states; and people’s aspirations and hopes for a better future. She celebrates Manas not only for the various aspects of Kyrgyz life in the past and now, but also for the national pride of the Kyrgyz people after seventy years of Soviet rule (p.4).
Since Manas is essentially episodic and oral, with an emphasis on immediacy of effect before a visible audience, its singers, called Manasci (traditionally Jomokchu), have preserved in nearly two million verses (p11) the conventions of such recitations. How have they maintained them? vivid Kyrgyz mythological tales and traditions over a thousand years old, woven around the exploits and courage of Manas and his battle companions in their fight for national independence. The bards have also preserved the life and deeds of Semetey, son of Manas. Now, as the epic of human survival with accessories for “proper mental growth, balance and psychic health” (pp. 3-4), its approximately sixty versions preserved in manuscript form at the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences, help establish Kyrgyz national identity. Sindhu’s study, however, is derived from over 250,000 Manas verses translated into English by Walter May (1995).
In Chapter 2, he reviews the Turkish epic tradition with a view to contextualizing the oral/written text of Manas and examining it geographically, historically, and culturally to underscore the Kyrgyz search for identity.
The Kyrgyz epic stems from the heroic efforts of Kyrgyz tribal lords who, in AD 840. C., they successfully fought against the Uyghurs and destroyed their capital, Bei-tin. The praises of this victory form the central songs from which the monumental epic ultimately emerges. It is a trilogy, a biographical cycle of three generations of heroes, that is, Manas, his son Semetey and his grandson Seitek, in more than 25,000 lines. The main episodes (i) in Manas (11170 lines) relate to: Manas’s birth and childhood, his first heroics; his marriage to Kanikei; his military campaign against Beijing; and death of Manas, and destruction of his achievements. In Semetey, the second part (15017 lines), the main episodes deal with: Kanikei taking Semetey and fleeing to Bukhara; Semetey’s childhood and his exploits, his return to Talas; her marriage to Aichurok; his fight against Kongurbai; and her death (or mysterious disappearance). The episodes of the third part (9488 lines) are related to: destruction of the family of Semetey and capture of Aicherok and Kulchoro; Seitek growing; fighting internal enemies; Seitek’s marriage: and his defeat of external enemies and death.
The epic, a mixture of prose and poetry, appeals as an epic of Return, like the Odyssey or the Aeneid, as well as its oral representation (p.37) reveals a society that values poetry and music, and parties and songs ( p.35 and p.39), whether it is someone’s birth, marriage or death (p.50).
In chapter 3, the Manas epic reflects a traditional patriarchy that values kinship and family. To be important and acceptable in a family, a woman must be resourceful and resourceful. She must be a faithful wife, give birth to sons, be a loving mother, take care of the housework and be a fighter in the absence of her husband. Otherwise, her position would be lower than that of a slave (pp.40-42). They beat her, disfigured her, threw her into the street or drove her back to her relatives. The epos also reveals the importance of loyal horses and cattle, rather than money, in the rural economy of nomadic tribes.
In chapter 4, Sindhu describes the influence of Manas on various aspects of present-day Kyrgyzstan. The “Yurt lifestyle” still prevails in art, architecture and everyday life (p.71). The oldest traditions still prevail in both rural and urban communities. “Krut” and “Kumyss” are still served at home and in hotels. “Hunting” as in epic times is still in style with the same old tools. The best-known Kyrgyz writers display the same ancient lyrical quality (as in Manas) in their modern prose (p. 75). Sindhu refers to various works of fiction published in the 1960s and 1970s to point out our deeper Manas influences.
He also finds several points of comparison between the Manas and the classical Indian epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (p.83). He points out that the poems about Ilius and Odysseus have ceased to inspire heroic values among Westerners and have lost their original dimension as oral tales (pp. 81-82), but the Kyrgyz and Indian epics continue to shape the lives of their people (p .83).
The Manas Epos: Across the Millennium bears witness to TS Eliot’s statement about the past of the present and the opportunity of the past. The Manas epic is the first piece of Kyrgyz oral literature recorded and translated into other languages and is rightly regarded as an epitome of oral creativity. It continues to be sung with performance, which is ample evidence of the Kyrgyz attachment to its past, just as the Manas millennium celebrations have received worldwide interest in Central Asia. Sindu J. deserves praise for familiarizing the Indian audience with the Kyrgyz epic.