‘The Holy Panchayat’ or ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ as it was titled in Hindi carries the distinction of beingPremchand’s ﬁrst story to be published in Hindi. Originally it had been written in Urdu and was titled‘Panchayat’ but Premchand’s desire to reach a wider readership led him to switch over to writing in Hindiand he translated this story himself. It was published in 1916 in the May-June issue of theperiodical
. ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ belongs to the early group of short stories by Premchand,which were written between 1916 and 1920. Other stories included in this group are ‘Namak ka Daroga’,‘Bade Ghar ki Beti’, ‘Rani Sarandha’, ‘Mamta’, ‘Saut’, ‘Amavasya ki Raat’ etc. Most of these stories share acommon purpose and exhibit a similar flow of ideas. They are narrative / descriptive in nature and arebased on an idealistic view of things. The sense of the teller and the tale comes through quite stronglyand the stance of the author is of the omniscient narrator. He reveals all, knows the characters’background, can take a peep into their hearts and minds and can philosophize on the prevailing state ofaffairs. Most of these stories carry within them Premchand’s early beliefs and convictions. When hebases the resolution of these stories on a ‘change of heart’ he actually believed it to be possible. In fact,these stories have often been referred to as the ‘change of heart’ stories since they mostly end with theevents getting resolved through a ‘change of heart’ in the concerned characters.The element of chance plays an important role, both in the development of the plot as well as in theresolution of events towards the end. Because the resolution of the stories depends to a large extent onan idealistic premise, there seems to be a corresponding lack of the element of believable probability,which in turn takes the story away from being entirely realistic in nature.
‘The Holy Panchayat’ or ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ is set in a village and begins quite characteristically withPremchand at ﬁrst introducing the reader to the physical as well as the emotional backdrops of the story.Jumman Sheikh and Algu Chaudhary show a deep bond of friendship, which goes back to their childhooddays. The two belonging to different faiths shared nothing, not even food or religion. There was nothing tobind them except their mental and emotional afﬁnity.
Then he proceeds to describe how if Jumman hadto go to Haj he would entrust Algu with the responsibility of looking after his house. Algu did the same ifhe had to be away anytime.We are given a glimpse of the beginnings of this friendship in the boyhood days of these men when bothused to be students of Jumman’s father Jumrati. In a short paragraph Premchand sketches a vivid pictureof the method of imparting and receiving education in a village. Algu is ever willing to run odd errands forhis teacher and to get his hubble-bubble ready for him. We may recall how Premchand too received asimilar coaching in the Persian and Urdu letters from a Muslim teacher and was ever trying to please histeacher though at times for reasons other than the apparent ones. Despite Algu’s numerous odd jobs forhis teacher, he could never succeed in studies and consoled himself by saying that education was not inhis kismet
. Premchand is here giving us a peep into the mind of an average Indian who is always ready toblame his Kismet for his own failures. Jumman on the other hand did well and became known for hislearning in the surrounding villages. Algu was known and respected for his wealth.Having set the story against this backdrop of a village scene and against this background of friendshipand harmony, Premchand proceeds to develop it further and introduces a new character – Jumman’s oldaunt. At this point we may stop to take note of a few things. Two things are important here. Firstly therural background of the story, which is going to necessitate the calling of the Panchayat. The Panchayatused to bring justice to remote areas of the country especially to people who could either not afford thecity courts or simply could not reach them. Equally important is the strong bond of friendship that existedbetween the two friends because it is this bond which will be dealt a severely damaging blow during theproceedings of the Panchayat. At the same time it will be used for making a very important point as far asmeeting out justice to the accused is concerned. Thus in a very skillful manner Premchand is going toconnect the opening of his story with the events that follow.
A Build-up to the Panchayat Proceedings
We are given another peep into the past and are acquainted with events that have brought matters to theirpresent state. Jumman’s old aunt had handed over her whole property to Jumman on the assurance thatin return she would be looked after and provided for till