Alva’s Nudisiri 2012 is a three day Kannada literary festival at my home town Moodubidire. Even though I could not attend all the programs which were held during that three days period, I watched three drama performances. Here are the photos from the Kannada drama performed by Alva’s Ranga Adhyayana Kendra Students under the able direction of Jeevanram Sullia. They presented one-act drama of Mahakavi Bhasa – Dutavakya (Envoy’s Message). This famous Sanskrit drama written by Bhasa was presented in a new unique way with new stage adaptation. The use of backdrops that also donned the roles such as Dhrona, Dushyasana and Bheeshma. The use of chende and the stylized movements were reminded us the local folk art Yakshagana. All in all it was a very successful entertaining well polished presentation.
Trying to depict a drama in pictures is a tremendously difficult task. I wanted to freeze the expressions during the critical junctures of the drama. As I was sitting stationary in the audience I had very little leeway to move around and get the best possible angle. Having a very fast zoom allowed me to compose and recompose most of the photos in a matter of second. Almost all of them are full frame with very little cropping done in post processing.
All these pictures were photographed using Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. As I was using the new super silent shutter mode of 5D mark III which gave a pleasant viewing experience to audience beside me without disturbing them. As the light was of low intensity I used a relatively high ISO of 800 and kept aperture at full wide open f/2.8. Focusing needs to be critical as wide aperture resulted in a very shallow depth of field. As I knew the flow of the story of the drama it was easy to follow it.
The Dutavakya dramatizes the story of Krishna’s efforts at reconciliation and the story, though based on the Mahabharata Epic, develops entirely on new lines. To insult the ambassador, Duryodhana is purposely looking at a picture of Draupadi Vastrapaharana after ordering that none should get up to honor Krishna. But Krishna’s majestic personality makes every one get up, and, when Duryodhana pretends to be absorbed. Krishna, pointedly asks him why he is seated and Duryodhana is suddenly thrown off his balance. He somehow composes himself and continues to gaze at the picture alone; It attracts Krishna’s attention also for a brief second because of artistic beauty, but Krishna understands the purport of the picture and chides Duryodhana for looking at a picture wherein the insult of one’s own kith and kin is delineated. He even orders that the picture be removed at once.
Duryodhana dares not even protest, and Krishna dominates the entire scene after this initial triumph. Duryodhana insinuatingly asks whether the various sons of the ‘Gods’ are keeping good health. Pretending not to understand the insinuation, Krishna rejoices at Duryodhana’s affectionate enquiries, and asks the latter to surrender to the Pandavas their patrimony. Duryodhana put the former insinuation more plainly, since he declares that these are not the sons of his uncle Pandu, but are the progeny raised on his aunt Kunti by the various gods, since his uncle was himself denied sexual enjoyment with his wife by a curse. Even otherwise, he seems to suggest that, by the law of primogeniture then prevailing, he as the eldest representative of the elder line is entitled to the entire kingdom. Krishna at once retorts that his father’s father Vichitravirya died of consumption and Dhritarashtra was raised by Vyasa on Vichitravirya’s wife, and, if Duryodhana’s argument were to be conceded, even Dhritarashtra could not inherit the kingdom. This naturally leads to some personal recrimination, and Krishna finally remarks that he should not deny their patrimony to the Pandavas. Duryodhana retorts that kingdoms are not begged for, but conquered, and so the Pandavas must fight and show that they deserve to rule. Duryodhana refuses to give even a piece of straw from his patrimony to the Pandavas.
When Krishna wants to frighten him by telling him how Arjuna had fought with Siva and done similar other exploits, Duryodhana refuses to budge an inch from his position and insults Krishna. The latter turns to depart when Duryodhana calls Sakuni, Karna, Dussasana and others to bind him. They all fail, and Duryodhana himself starts to do the same. Krishna exhibits his Visvarupa and so many Krishnas manifest themselves; and the ropes with which Duryodhana wanted to bind Krishna were found on the persons or the other kings gathered in the audience-hall.
In the original Dutavakya screenplay there are so many weapons, Sudarsana, Nandaka etc., which manifest themselves. This used to look obviously spurious, since they come and go without serving any purpose at all. But here in this drama Jeevnaram gives a twist to Sudarshana which is shown as a tool which is going to destroy Kuru sena. As reconciliation note Dhritarashtra enters at this moment and prostrates before Krishna and asks him to accept his hospitality. Krishna does the same and he stops idea of destroying Kauravas and the One-Act play ends.
This vigorous Scene is entirely Bhasa’s own creation. The spirited conversation between Krishna and Duryodhana is kept at an animated level. The Visvarupa which Krishna exhibits is without a purpose in the original Mahabharata Epic, though he might say there, “Alone I am a match for all the Kauravas,” since it was exhibited there when Dhritarashtra abused his son for his desire to bind up this mighty person. It was not exhibited as a practical retort to the Kauravas actually trying to bind him. In Bhasa, the Visvarupa is the dramatic reply Krishna gives to Duryodhana’s wicked actions.
Mahakavi Bhasa, the Sanskrit playwright, was one of the greats of all times, believed to have lived two or three centuries ahead of Kalidasa. As the date for Kalidasa varies from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, Bhasa is dated between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE. Based on the language used, his date is also supposed to be around 5th century BCE. Reverential references are seen about the greatness of poet Bhasa in the works of Patanjali, Kalidasa (both first century BC), Banabhata, Dandi (both seventh century CE), Vamanacharya (eighth century CE), and a long line of other poets and critics till 12th century CE.
Kalidasa in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram writes – Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhasa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kalidasa?
The plays of Bhasa had been lost for centuries. He was known only from mention in other works like the famous text on poetics Kavyamimamsa written during 880-920 AD by Rajashekhara a famous poet, dramatist and critic. In the Kavyamimamsa, he attributes the play Swapnavasavadatta to Bhasa.
Dr. T. Ganapati Shastrikal was a scholar and the curator of the Travancore Oriental Manuscripts Library, in Trivandrum, Kerala, India. In 1906 he made a sensational discovery in literary history and then by publishing in 1909, a series of 13 plays, all in Sanskrit. It was a circle of Bhasa’s plays, which lay in darkness for more than eight centuries, which were used in Koodiyattam. Unlike other classical plays, none of them mentioned the author, but one was the Swapnavasavadatta. Comparing the style of writing and techniques employed in these plays and based on the knowledge that Swapnavasavadatta was Bhasa’s work, all of them were credited to him.
Bhasa does not follow all the dictates of the Natya Shastra. Bhasa deviated from the accepted dramaturgical practices of the day by depicting battle scenes and murder on stage. For example scenes that contains signs of physical violence to be shown on stage in plays like Urubhanga. These plays are considered to belong to pre-natyshastra period. Where he was born and when, or any clear information about his family or circumstances in which he lived is all topics of debates. But in that his works seem to ignore many of the dictum of natyshastra, the assumption gains approbation that he lived before Bharata’s Natyshastra period.
The Uru-Bhanga and Karna-bhara are the only known tragic Sanskrit plays in ancient India. The Karna-bhara ends with the premonitions of the sad end of Karna, the epic character from Mahabharata. Early plays in India, inspired by Natya Shastra, strictly considered sad endings inappropriate. Another interesting aspect I noticed in Karna-bhara, Indra comes to Karna disguised as a Brahmin and prays for a mighty gift. Here the Brahmin’s speaking Prakrit is rather strange and would fit in only on the supposition that Bhasa lived before the time when the rule about a Brahmin speaking Sanskrit alone had not as yet become rigid.
The plays are generally short compared to later playwrights and most of them draw the theme from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Though he is firmly on the side of the heroes of the epic, Bhasa treats their opponents with great sympathy. He takes a lot of liberties with the story to achieve this.
Soon after this drama there was one more Chora Charanadasa by Natana Mysore directed by Mandya Ramesh which I will cover that in my next blog.