Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Balavariani

Been thought for long as a hagiographical account, the Balavariani (ბალავარიანი, بلوریانی)is an essential part of the spread and re-emergence of a Manichaean text under various titles such as the story of Belavhar va Buzasf, Belohar va Budasef, Barlaam and Josaphat, Barlaam and Ioasaph, The King's son and the Ascetic, etc. Travelling through a number of cultures in the course of centuries, it is an ancient story found in Arabic, Pahlavi, Uygur, Old Georgian, Greek and a number of other languages. The Balavariani is the old Georgian, Christianized rendition of the story, first translated and published in English by D.M. Lang based on Abuladze's edition (1).
The style of the narrative being story within story, the frame is that of the Buddha legend as found in Buddha Karita (2). Adapted by the Manichaeans of eastern Persia (3), the core legend was added to through a number of allegorical stories and fables. One of these stories, the Parable of the Sower, shows a clear biblical borrowing (4). In the course of this westward move, the Buddha's birth story became a favourite literary tool that served the Manichaean creed in its renouncing the materialistic and the worldly desires.

Notwithstanding the fact that it has now four decades passed since the publication of The Balavariani in English and Kitâb Bilawhar wa Buudaasaf [Le Livre de Bilawhar et Budasaf] in Arabic and French (5), the findings of generations of scholars culminating in Daniel Gimaret's publication of the oldest account of the story still remains valid. the Ismaili-Arabic account, known also as Bombay version, is the oldest extant text of the story. However, as has been pointed out by various scholars (6), and taking into consideration the complicated, finished form of the story which cannot be an overnight production, this account is a translation of a still older version of the story no copy of it so far has been found.
The latest important step in the field is the publication for the first time of a fifteenth-century Persian version entitled, Belawhar va Boyuzasf by Nezam Tabrizi (7). As the author claims in his introduction, this text is an abridged variant of a still older Persian manuscript. A close reading reveals that Nezam's version, in comparison to the oldest extant text, provides textual evidences closer to Buddha legend as told in Buddha-Karita (8). Gimaret, also, anticipates this by stating, "rien ne prouve donc que la tradition représentée par B[ombay]/I[bn] B[abuya] soit moins ancienne que l'autre [Kitâb Bilawhar wa Buudaasaf]. Le contraire serait même plus vraisemblable." (9) This version, also, has two stories among its allegories that are not preserved in all available recenssions (10).

The source of Old Georgian Balavariani is a matter of controversy. In his 'introduction' to the only English publication of the book in 1966, I.V. Abuladze supports the view of D.M. Lang that the text was adapted from the Ismaili version (11). In contrast, placing Balavariani and Ibn Babuyeh's version in the same tradition (12), Daniel Gimaret goes on to say that, "il semble cependant difficile de supposer que la version arabe- du moins celle que nous connaissons- ait servi directment de modèle pour la version géorgienne," (p. 59). However, the matter is complicated by taking into consideration that the Balavariani is closer to Ibn Babuyeh account (13) only in the first two books. The Book Three of the Georgian version takes a different turn by relating individual adventures of Iodasaph, getting close to Ismaili version but, at the same time, leaving out all Buddhist traces.
In spite of the disagreements on the origin of the Georgian text, it is assumed that Balavariani is the medium by which the story moves still further west from the Abbassid muslim world and is changed from a non-religious ascetic story to a Christian hagiographical account. It is in this rendering that we read the first Christian references the Georgian translator puts into Blahvar's mouth in the second book and Iodasaph's in the last one. It is as a result of translating this version to the Greek language that Barlaam and Ioasaph becomes a full-fledged Christian narrative burdened with a large volume of redundant sayings, prayers, biblical verses, etc (14). The same transformation happens in Nezam Tabrizi's version that the author not only interpolates piles of irrelevant materials into the story, but also changes it to a Shiite tract.

Studying the narrative is not a finished task. Until fresh evidences are provided by the appearance of other manuscripts of the story, studying neglected Gimaret's culminating works, and a wider introduction of the published Persian manuscript will undoubtedly be rewarding for Balavariani scholars.

1 David Marshall Lang, trans., The Balavariani (Barlaam and Josaphat): A Tale from the Christian East translated from the Old Georgian, Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1966.
2 Asvaghosa, The Buddha-karita, trans. by E.B. Cowell, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1984 [scanned and proofed by Chris Weimar at sacred-texts.com, March, 2002, 27/5/2004].
3 Henning, W.B., "A Sogdian fragment of Manichaean cosmogony", Acta Iranica 15, pp. 301-313.
4 Cf. Gospel according to Mathew (ch. 13, 3-23).
5 Gimaret, D., trans, Le Livre de Bilawhar et Būđāsf selon la version arab ismaélienne, Genève et Paris: Librairie Droz, 1971.
6 Gimaret, 57
7 Mowlānā Nezām, Belawhar va Boyuzasf, edit. by Mohammad Rowšan, Tehran: Mirās-e Maktub, 2002.
8 Cf. Nozari, Jalil, Belavhar Nameh [The Book of Belavhar], (annex 8 in Ayeneh Miras series), Tehran: Mirasmaktoob, 2006.
9 Gimaret, 58
10 Nozari, 56-58 (Persian), 17-20 (English)
11 D.M. Lang, 36.
12 Gimaret, 56
13 Sheikh Saduqh, Kamal-e Deen va Tamam ol-Ne'mah, trans. by Mohammad B. Kamre'ie, vol II. Tehran: Katab Forushee Eslamieh, 1377 (1998).
14 See WOODWARD, G.R. and H. Mattingly, edit. and trans. Barlaam and Ioasaph, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914, etc.

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