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Indian Classical Literature Unit 1 Classical Sanskrit Drama
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Important Question and Answer
Q.1. “In his adaptation of the story of Shakuntala from the Mahabharata, Kalidasa has contributed to the deterioration of the Status of Women.” Comment.
Ans: The story of the love of Dushyanta and Shakuntala is narrated at length in the Mahabharat ‘s Adi Parva. There, Shakuntala is depicted as an assertive woman and one who stands up for her right and demands it. The story goes somewhat like this. Dushyanta, a king of the lunar race. in the course of his hunting excursion, reached the hermitage of Kanva. His adopted daughter, Shakuntala being alone there, had to entertain the king, as was wont in those times. The king was fascinated by the matchless charm of the sage’s daughter, from whom he learnt the story of her birth and parentage, and whose Kshatriya origin made it possible for him to marry her. Without much ceremony, the king expressed his desire to her, to which she yielded on his promise to appoint her son as his successor.
He then wedded her by the gandharva form of marriage, and having stayed with her for some time returned to his capital. Being afraid of the sage’s anger, without whose knowledge the connection had been formed and who was sure to pronounce a curse if displeased with the match, the king did not send for his new wife. The sage, however, divining what had happened in his absence, approved the choice of his daughter who, in course of time, delivered a son, and sent her to her husband without waiting for the king’s summons. Dushyanta, afraid of public censure. discarded her. But a heavenly voice enjoined him to receive his wife and son, and Shakuntala was soon raised to the dignity of the chief or the crowned Queen.
There is no denying the fact that this prosaic story, wanting in those dramatic elements, which give effect and life to a play, has been dramatised by Kalidasa with that dramatic skill and mastery over his art, which have made him immortal as the Shakespeare of India. One strange similarity in the lives of these two poets is discernible. Shakespeare has nowhere originated the main plots of his dramas, but in his hands they received life and meaning and made him what he is-he unrivalled master of his art. Kalidasa, too, selected a mythological love story to serve as the basis of his drama; fully conscious that such a story would have greater charm. His deep dramatic insight quickly saw that the story, though simple and unromantic in its form, was pre-eminently fitted to be the nucleus of such dramatic situations and incidents as would stir up the hearts of all men of poetic sensibility, and produce a magical effect upon them.
The German poet Goethe’s words of praise for the drama are indeed justified, “The soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted and fed.” This is the poetic aspect of the drama, which appeals to the heart. But every drama has characters in the story and the incidents connected with them are usually a reflection of society. Viewed from this social point of view, we perceive that the characterization of Shakuntala, over the years, was eventually adapted to the image of a woman suitable to the ideals of the new middle class in the nineteenth century. The child of nature was an innocent girl who was led astray, but she remained submissive, long suffering, patient and devoted to her husband and was finally exonerated. Unfortunately, later centuries too went along with Kalidasa. The Shakuntala of the Mahabharata, who was a liberated woman, demanding to be justly treated, was ignored. On the other hand, we have endorsed the more submissive Shakuntala of Kalidasa, a woman waiting pa-tiently for recognition of her virtues.
Male chauvinism is revealed in the adaptation and recreation of the Mahabharata story in the play of Kalidasa, which conforms to contemporary vision. Probably Kalidasa stopped at borrowing the kernel of the story and did not realise that his play would contribute to a gradual eroding of women’s independence. After all, if society influences literature, it is also vice-versa. Shakuntala, as described in the drama, became the role model for an average Indian womanhood- patient, submissive, faithful even in the face of adversity, and suffering in silence. Other members of society expected her to be like that; and what more the women themselves were convinced that their role in society is to be good wives and mothers.
Though indirectly, this mindset was brought about by the literature of the times. To that extent, we have to con-cede that while adapting the story of the Mahabharata, Kalidasa has indeed contributed to deterioration in the image of women. In the epic version Dushyanta’s refusal to accept Shakuntala is a tactical move, meant to precipitate a situation wherein he can legitimise their union. But Sanskrit drama needed a hero who is an ideal. Around him revolve the sentiments that flower into emotions in the hearts of the audience. The Dushyanta of the Mahabharata deliberately pretends ignorance of his marriage and repudiates Shakuntala. This would mean a ‘stain’ on the character of the hero, which would not have been acceptable to the audience. So the curse of the sage is introduced.
The irresponsible behaviour of Dushyanta is glossed over, as are the moral implications of his refusal to recognize Shakuntala. To exonerate him Kalidasa introduces the curse, clearly to avoid addressing the moral implications. There is also a suggestion that Shakuntala erred in agreeing to a gandharva marriage and succumbing to her passion. The loss of the ring also helps to bring in the tragic element in the play. Kalidasa’s play was influenced by the need to create an effective drama. In spite of the introduction of two friends for Shakuntala, she is never shown as a weakling. She is the daughter of a Kshatriya (warrior) Vishvamitra and time and again Kalidasa has provided her with dialogues that reveal her dignity (Act I), propriety (Act III), anger (Act V) and pragmatic mindset (Act VII). The advice of Kanva Rishi in Act IV reveals a rather subordinate position of women in society. But one can argue that even in such a setting Shakuntala’s angry outburst in Act V stands out as an act of assertion.
Q. 2. Explain the dramatic function of the ring in Abhijnana Shakuntalam.
Ans: The very title features the ring Shakuntala and the ring of recollection. Thus the ring has a very important function to play in the drama. Kalidasa has used the ring motif in a very effective way. In Act I, the king offers it to free Shakuntala from the debt of watering the plants that she owes to Priyamvada. This results in the king being recognised as the king Dushyanta. Again in Act IV, we glean from the conversation ofAnasuya and Friyamvada that the ring has been given to Shakuntala by Dushyanta as a token of remembrance. At this point, the ring becomes especially significant, as the sage Durvasas has cursed Shakuntala.
On Priyamvada’s entreaties he relents a bit and offers a way out of the curse the king has to see some ornament of recognition. The ring fits the bill. But, unfortunately, for reasons, which seem convincing to the two friends, they do not relate the details of the curse to Shakuntala. It is only a vague warning- “if the king fails to recognize you, show him the ring.” Shakuntala takes it casually and fails to guard it safely. It falls into the river during her ablutions. The absence of the ring at the crucial moment, when it is most needed, results in the brilliant exchange of words between Samgarava and the king in Act V.
It also depicts the fighting spirit of Shakuntalwand the upright character of the king. In Act VI the fisherman discovers the ring inside the belly of a fish that he has caught. He gets his reward and the ring has detonated the curse. Dushyanta is plunged in sorrow and a pall of gloom settles on the entire scene. He remembers all the details of his union with Shakuntala and a sense of guilt gores him. The king reprimands the ring for having deserted the finger of his beloved. He recounts that he had promised to send someone to fetch her before she finished counting his name on the ring: one syllable each day. But he did not send anyone! This near-insane condition of the king, caused by the agony of separation, is emotionally very appealing. This has been made possible because of the ring-motif.
Rabindranath Tagore and many other scholarly critics of this play have accepted the need for this suffering of the king. The love between Dushyanta and Shakuntala was passionate. It had to go through the fire of separation to purify it and elevate it to represent it as the ideal of love. In Act VII Shakuntala’s eyes fall on the ring on the king’s finger. He offers it to her once again but Shakuntala is wary. She refuses to have anything to do with it and it goes back to the king’s finger. Later when Sage Marica explains the curse as the reason for the king’s non-recognition, she realises why her friends had warned her and told her to use the ring.
Thus the ring has an important function to play in the drama. In Kalidasa’s drama not only are Nature, flora and fauna made into live characters- even inanimate things like a ring appear as real characters of the play.
Q. 3. The king’s painting of Shakuntala- Explain its relevance.
Ans: Abhijnana Shakuntalam is basically a romantic play with the erotic sentiment being dominant. In such a play the dramatic climax is usually the point that depicts the initial union/falling in love of the hero and heroine. Obstacles and obstructions in the path of love usually fol.; low this. The final denouement comes after the successful removal of all impediments. But this modus operandi is not a cut and dried method or a theoretical solution. It is a very subtle arrangement of incidents that the dramatist very skillfully manages.
This brings about the ecstasy and emotional enjoyment of the connoisseurs of dramatic art. In the beginning ofAct VI, Kalidasa presents a scene drawn almost raw from life of the fisherman’s discovery of the ring. This is followed by the tragic outburst of the king. The sight of the ring brings back the memory of Shakuntala. The king realises the wrong unwittingly done to her. His helplessness, agony, guilt and sorrow are depicted in a very touching manner. The king seeks to console himself in various ways. One of them is his attempt to paint a panting of the beloved. As per his instructions, the atten-dant brings it to the garden for him to watch her picture, and try to mitigate his heartache.
This painting is used by Kalidasa to highlight the depth of the king’s love and satisfy. Shakuntala’s well wisher Sanumati/Mirakesi that the king’s love for Shakuntala is intact. The king feels that the portrait is not a worthy representation of the real beauty of Shakuntala. Kalidasa’s knowledge of the fine arts is revealed a number of times in the various remarks of the king..”My tears have discoloured the picture”. “The discoloured part has swelled up.'”‘It needs retouching.” The extensive details that the king wants to put in and his desire to hold the painting in his own hand are indicative of his profound love. But what is really, tragically marvellous, is the way he forgets that it is merely a paint-ing and asks the jester to drive away the ‘impudent bee.’ And even more touching is the way the jester too goes crazy and helps the king to carry on a conversation with and rebuke the bee in the painting. l ne disillusionment that follows Vidushaka’s realisation is even more pathetic.
For the king it is virtually the real Shakuntala. But now reality has again transformed Shakuntala into a picture! The play of words is a verbal delight. But the king has to accept that his tears will not allow him to view her even in a painting.
All the remarks of wonder by Sanumati/Mistakes at this lamentation of the king keep up the suspense and wonder element of the drama.
Further, it is the painting motif that is used by the poet to bring out the noble aspects of the characters of the king and the senior Queen Vasumati. When the king hears that Queen Vasumati is coming into the garden to meet him, he asks for the painting to be removed lest it hurt the feelings of the queen. [Books on Poetics have recorded that a king who is considerate to his former wife (first love) even while taking a new wife is called Dakshina (considerate, compassionate)]. The queen is really blue-blooded. When she sees the attendant (Pratihari) carrying an official letter to the king, she desists from disturbing him. The king says, “She knows the importance of state business and avoids interrupting my duty.”
Thus a small token, a painting becomes a vibrant symbol in the deft hands of KalicInska and helps to evoke var-ied emotions and expostulations, helping to bring to life characters, with whom the audience identifies easily, thus reaping the fruit of unalloyed literary enjoyment (Rasa).
Q. 4. Comment on the absence of tragedy in Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam.
Ans: Tragedy is something sorrowful. Shakuntalam is a love-drama, where problems and obstacles create worry and anxiety: the separation of the hero and heroine causes heartburn, tears, and sorrowful situations. But these dejections and deceptions are not long lasting. That is why it is pointed out that real, hard-hitting sorrow is absent in this play. In Act II, the jester is sad because he is physically and mentally tired, and wrecked because of the king’s antics. The ascetics are sad because the evil spirits are disturbing their sacrifices. In Act III the two friends are sad and worried because their friend Shakuntala is lovesick. The king’s anxiety about Kanva’s consent to the marriage; Shakuntala’s pregnancy; Durvasas’ curse; Shakuntala’s sorrow at leaving the hermitage; Kanva’s sorrow at the separation from his foster daughter; the repudiation of Shakuntala by the king in Act V; teal repentance and suffering and mental torture suffered by the king in Act VI; his sorrow at being childless; Vidushaka’s bodily torture suffered at the hands of the disguised Matali all these cause discomfort, anxiety, tears and pain. To that extent there is the sentiment of shoka but it cannot be termed as the emotion of Karuna.
Thus Kalidasa, in keeping with the theme of the play, has kept sorrow within limits and has juxtaposed it with joy and happiness, with the finale being the reunion of Dushyanta, Shakuntala and Bharata. The reason is not far to seek. Sanskrit drama is bound by convention and rules, which strictly maintain that drama is for entertainment and mental elevation. Thus a tragic end cannot be approved or accepted in traditional drama.
Concept of Tragedy – Absence of formal tragedy is thus a peculiarity of Sanskrit drama. Tragedy, on the other hand. is a Western concept and in theory, it is a tale of disaster and death. It happens to a hero, who by certain qualities of action, thought and spirit is above the ranks of common men. a noble or exalted personage, in the Aristotelian sense. The hero is drawn into a conflict of great magnitude because by his intention and action, he places himself in a position antagonistic to higher or superior powers. These may be external to the hero, like destiny. divine will or the established rule of earthly power, as in the Greek tragedies: or they may be internal forces, as in Shakespearean tragedy, representing a conflict of will within the heart of the hero. Such an opposition creates conflict and tension in the story. The essence of the tragic delineation is that the hero, caught in the conflict, never runs away from it. The conflict may have originated from his initial error in doing a certain action; which in a cool moment of practical reasoning, he could have possibly avoided. or there may not have been any awareness of an error on his part in opposing superior forces pitched against him. Whatever it is, he has taken a step that he is not going to retrace. It leads to continuous struggle and acute suffering. But the hero goes through them with consistency and courage. He does not turn back even when death stares him in the face. The forces of opposition are mightier than the power of the hero. So he is ultimately crushed in the struggle.
This is the framework of a formal tragedy.
The suffering and sorrow which are a necessary part of the tragic action, stem from a willful, unwise or erroneous action on the part of a hero. They do create pity or compassion in the mind of the spectator who also experiences fear or awe at the terrible spectacle to which the action is leading. But there are other emotional reactions too, which are connected with such an experience. The uncommon courage, which the hero displays in his death-struggle with antagonistic powers, raises him to an extraordinary human level. While his suffering and death evoke our sorrow and sympathy, his courage in going down fighting, fills our heart with deep admiration and sublimity. It is this emotional reaction that lifts the sorrow and pity to the sublime level of art and assures aesthetic satisfaction.
It is obvious, therefore, that though sorrow is an integral part of the tragic experience. It alone does not make a tragedy unless the sorrow is not helpless suffering but is born of a fateful action, and unless it reaches the sublime level through the undaunted and courageous fight of the hero, unto death.
This type of tragedy has no place in the theory of Sanskrit drama. The story/drama, according to Sanskrit theory, just cannot culminate in the death of the hero. The Sanskrit writers have accepted this prescription partly out of respect for theory and critical opinion and partly because the spectators too, with their responses moulded by tradition and critical opinion, would not have tolerated it . utter disaster and the death of their well-loved and august heroes.
The concept of tragedy depends on what values the writers have and what their public is prepared to accept. Sanskrit writers did not attempt formal tragedy, and judging from critical opinion and actual dramatic practice, the readers and spectators too do not seem to feel that they had missed anything.
Q. 5. What are the eight rasas according to the Natyashastra ? Discuss any two.
Ans: Rasa is considered the ultimate enjoyment in Drama. Bharata, in hii Natyashastra has discussed the various hues this Rasa adopts according to the different emotions of the human heart.
The eight rasas are- Erotic (Shringara), Furious (Raudra), Heroic (Vira), Odious (Bibhatsa),Comic (Haasya), Pathetic (Kamm), Marvellous (Adbhuta) and Terrible (Bhayanaka).
Erotic (Sringaara): This proceeds from the Dominant State of Love (Rati). Its base is attire, which is bright, white and pure. Hence an elegantly dressed person is called a lovely person (Sringaari). The Erotic is so named because of its association with bright and elegant attire. It owes its origin to men and women, full of youth. It has two aspects -Union (Sambhoga) and Separation (Vipralambha). The Determinants of Erotic are the pleasures of the season, garlands, unguents, ornaments, or going to a garden. The Consequents of the Erotic represented on the stage are many such as clever movement of eyes and eyebrows, soft and delicate movement of limbs, or uttering sweet words. The Transitory States in the Erotic do not include fear, indolence, cruelty and disgust. The Consequents of love in Separation are indifference, languor, fear, yearning, dreaming and extremes like fainting.
It is of three kinds: of Words, Dress and Action. [Though based on love, the Erotic sometimes manifests itself through Pathetic conditions]. Bharata explains this apparent anomaly.
The ten conditions of the person-in- separation [from Indifference to Death-like-condition] are indeed pathetic. But the two (Pathetic and Erotic-in-separation) are dif-ferent from each other:
(a) The Pathetic refers to a condition of despair, owing to affliction under a curse; separation from dear ones, loss of wealth, death or captivity. But,
(b) The Erotic is based on separation and relates to a condition of persistent optimism, arising out of yearning and anxiety. [And this is the reason . why the Erotic Sentiment includes, to to an extent, conditions available in all other Sentiments.]
Comic (Haasya); Dominant State/Emotion is laughter.
Determinants are unseemly dress, impudence, greed, defective limbs and uncouth behaviour.
Consequents are throbbing of the lips, nose, cheek; opening the eyes wide; perspiration,colour of face etc.
Transitory States are indolence, dissimulation, drowsiness etc. This sentiment (comic) is of two kinds:
(a) Self-centred; and (b) Centred on others.
This is mostly seen in women and persons of the inferior type.
The nature of laughter changes according to the type of person:
(a) lb persons of superior type belong to Slight Smile (Smita) and Smile (Hasita).
(b) To those of the middling type, belongs gentle laugh-ter (Vihasita) and laughter of Ridicule
(c) To those of the inferior type, belongs vulgar laughter (4pahasita) and violent laughter (Atihasita). Thus the Comic Sentiment has six varieties.
[Gentle laughter is less noisy and is sweet. In that of Ridicule, the nose should be expanded and the eyes should be squinting. The Vulgar should be out of place and time, there should be laughter with tears in one’s eyes and the head and shoulders shaking. In Excessive laughter the eyes are expanded and tearful sound is loud and excessive, hands cover the sides.
The Comic is of three kinds- of limbs, dress, and words.
Q. 6. What is the relevance of the Prologue in a Sanskrit play ?
Ans: Sanskrit drama was an integral part of society and its values. It was not merely a short-lived source of entertainment, but had a message to convey to the audience. As such. A lot of preparation and precautions were taken in the.presentation of the play.
Before beginning a show, the stage-manager (Sutradhaara) inspects the theatre and its surroundings. All the accessories are checked, parts are assigned and the Supreme-power is invoked for blessings for the completion of the enactment of the play without any hindrances. This serves as a psychological morale-booster for all concerned. All these activities are carried out behind the curtain, away from the eyes of the audience.
The actual drama, that is visible to the audience, starts with the Invocation (Nandi), a benediction invoking the grace of a deity. This verse, which is usually sung, serves as a point to rejoice and anticipate the beginning of the play.
What follows is the Prologue- a preamble to the ac-tual drama. Either the stage-manager or another person introduces the occasion of the enactment of the drama, its title and the author. This person presents the prelude, in the course of which he introduces the subject matter of the drama as well. lie usually refers to the critical sense of the audience in order to please them; and to the artistic skill of the actors to create interest in the performance. Invariably, a song also forms part of the prologue in order to lend a musical background to the dramatic performance. This song is usually sung by the actress (nafi) who comes as a partner to the stage manager. The prologue is seldom a monologue. The actor is accompanied by the actress or by another associate or by the clown/jester. By means of the dialogues between the two, the preliminary information about the play is given. The story is usually a historical piece or well-known folklore, which is fairly familiar to the audience. Coupled with this is the information provided in the prologue. This enables the audience to comprehend the strain of the story and enjoy it, right from the beginning.
This type of Prologue is seen in Goethe’s Faust (said to be influenced by Kalidasa’s Shakuntala). We see modified and truncated versions of the Prologue even in modem . plays, though the presentation is very different.
Q. 7. What does the king mean by his state-. ment,” It is my firm belief that she can be a warrior’s bride.”
Ans: King Dushyanta has fallen in love with Shakuntala. He is under the impression that she is the daughter of the Hermit-Sage Kanva. That makes her a woman of the Brahmin caste.
There were four castes in society at that time – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, in that order of merit. According to the social code of that time, a man could marry a girl/ woman of the same caste or one from the caste lower to his. This was called the Anuloma marriage. But marriage with the female of a caste, higher to one’s own, was not permitted and hence it was termed as the Pratiloma marriage. Dushyanta, being an upright king, would not trespass social norms and limitations. And yet, his heart was struck with love for Shakuntala.
In this context, he makes the above statement. The reason he gives for it is, that a heart, which is purified, and culturally and ethically sensitised right from birth, is inca-pable of harbouring any desire, which is improper or against moral standards. He means to say, “My heart is noble and correct. If this heart desires her, then it can be safely inferred that she is fit to be a warrior’s bride.”
He proves his point by saying that whenever men of nobility are in doubt, it is their inner voice or the sixth sense, which serves as the determining authority. Dushyanta is confident that in his case too, it is so. We see that further developments in the play prove him right as Anasuya clarifies that Kanva is the foster-father of Shakuntala. The real parents are Vishvamitra (a Kshatriya by birth) and Menaka (an Apsara-a celestial being). This state- ment of the king reflects the strong streak of confidence in his character, established on the basis of the power and a result of the upright life led by him.
Q.8. “Even though a sage, Kanva is a worldly man.” Explain.
Ans: Kalidasa has delineated every character in the drama Abhijnana Shakuntalam, to the utmost perfection, keeping the propriety of the whole work in view. One of the main characters is Kanva, the foster-father of the heroine Shakuntala. He is depicted as a Kulapati running a vast hermitage, with thousands of disciples living there, engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. Kanva is spiritual to the core and his administrative abilities are immense. Ile is described as being possessed of superhuman power, the result of his ripened asceticism. Kalidasa has depicted Kanva as the perfect picture of the ancient sage-patriarch. This is strikingly represented in the incidents of the fourth act.
The principal trait of his character, as painted there, is his parental affection for his adopted daughter Shakuntala. Though he himself is an old hermit, he is so deeply af-fected by this feeling for his daughter, that he is moved to tears on the occasion of his separation from her. While bidding farewell to her, he is overcome with a deep sense of sorrow at her departure, as he has brought her up with utmost care and affection. Secondly, in spite of being a sage, who is detached from worldly activities, his worldly wisdom is remarkable. He demonstrates practical wisdom in the counsel he gives to Shakuntala and in the message he sends to the king. He is an affectionate father, a great sage, and a sound philosopher with a thorough understanding of human life.
On one hand, he is a great sage maintaining eternal celibacy and running a hermitage where many people are engaged in various rituals and spiritual activities. On the other hand he is the one who, finding a babe at the foot of a tree in the jungle, brings it to the hermitage and gives the child a home, albeit an ascetic one. He took special care in bringing up the child with love and affection. He worries for a suitable groom for her, like any worldly father. Even in the case ofAnasuya and Priyamvada, he is aware of his responsibilities about arranging for their marriage. This apart, the advice he gives to Shakuntala in the fourth act and the message for Dushyanta, reveal the worldly wisdom of Kanva- political, social, cultural, and domes-tic. The role of a queen, the importance of an heir, the jealousies amongst the co-wives, the power of the sages, the limitations Of the bride’s father: there seems to be nothing that escapes the worldly eyes of sage Kanva. It is true that according to Indian mythological tradition, the sages had knowledge of the past and the future. Yet Kalidasa has juxtaposed the ethereal vision of Kanva with his worldly duties in such a natural development of incidents that the sage Kanva retains his worldly reactions, to lend that much- needed poignancy to the element of sorrow in the fourth act.
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