Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Our Classical Plays

Vemuri Sriramulu


Sanskrit rhetoricians divide literature into two main sections-Sravya and Drisya, which literally mean the audible and the visible. The latter section is known as Rupaka or drama, which is certainly the highest form of literary creation, as expressed in the famous phrase, Kavyeshu natakam ramyam.

In a drama the scope for construction is limited; for the dramatist has to depict life in its objective reality, and this very limitation demands of him creative ingenuity of a very high order. Every great piece of art has an aesthetic import and a suggestive message to human life. This makes for its integral beauty and is its very soul. Responsible as the artist is to so mould and colour the content of his art as to permeate it with a suggestive motif which is all his own, he has to perfect his art with the utmost skill, while hiding himself and his subjective leanings behind it. The objectivity of dramatic art is an inevitable consequence of the fact that a drama is dialogue in form and therefore nearer to objective life than a narrative poem or a novel, where the author has a fuller scope to give expression to his personal predilections and reflections.

In the East, particularly in India, literary art has developed on some fundamental motifs, the significance of which can be envisaged only by a clear understanding of the cultural currents that have permeated the national mind. The mere aesthetic merit, the pleasure which it imparts, is usually taken into account while appraising a literary production, whereas the motif behind it is often ignored. It cannot be denied that there must be a sublime vision of life and even a philosophy of it in the mind of the artist, wherein he finds supreme beauty, a universal meaning and an elevating message, and he gives it a shape in his art, which defies the influence of time and space. It is from this point of view that our great literary classics–be they epics or dramas–have to be studied.

The presence of an all-pervading soul and its exhibitive urge is taken for granted in all levels of life. So the entire world is viewed as a kindred family, and its fundamental unity is more a faith than a conclusion.

In the delineation of character, in the development of the theme, in bringing into play various emotions, the generality of Indian classical writers are more inclined to an idealistic representation than a realistic portrayal. Every character may be taken as the personification of a particular motif. The movement of life through its different stages is attuned to a gradual unfolding and flowering of the basic motif. The purpose of art is taken to be not so much the mirroring of Nature as the creation of an archetypal beauty.

Hindu thought has an instinctive apprehension of the subterranean currents of the law of causation or pre-destination which are in evidence in every turn of life, and in the light of which the various undulations in the fate of a human being are explained and justified. In Sanskrit drama, situations are incorporated which seem to be extraneous impositions, thrust in as expedients, from a realistic view-point, but which can be justified as workings of the hidden hand of destiny. The trend of life seems to be determined and guided by higher powers in consonance with one’s own past Karma than by one’s own selective volition.

Faith in God, severely just and immensely merciful at the same time, whose decrees are reformative and never vindictive in their final effect on human life–such faith seems to have prompted Sanskrit dramatists in giving shape to their literary themes. In spite of the apparent potency of evil in blasting man’s hopes and plans, they seem to have an unfailing trust in the mercy of God whose hand is clearly visible in its movement with the world, and from the divine point of view nothing can or does go amiss.

Another important factor is the relative appraisal of virtue or Dharma, and desire or Kama. The four functions of human endeavour are defined as virtue, economy, desire and liberation. Of the first three which pertain to the mundane life, economy and desire, are to be subservient to virtue. Where economy and desire gain an upper hand, and virtue is either ignored or sacrificed for the sake of the former, there retribution does come down on the remiss individual, but the punishment meted out is such as to bring about a sublime fruition of the life of the subject. What has happened even in unwary moods to undermine the superiority of virtue does have its responsive retaliation in the form of some unforeseen mishap. Thus the ennobling worth of virtue is emphasised and its final success is brought to the forefront in Sanskrit drama; as a result of which we have only comedies and tragi-comedies but no tragedies. Another significant feature that Indian dramatists lay stress on is that mutual attraction between individuals is to be traced to some innate causes evoked by pre-existing relationship in past births. The bond of love is no accident in life but an intimation and remembering of the past associations.

An immediate intimacy and intercourse, more real than imaginary, between human and superhuman spheres, a reading of personal relationship and sympathy in the workings of Nature are much in evidence in Sanskrit drama. Psychological functioning is as much attributed to Nature and Nature’s forces as to man.

Thus we see that the Indian dramatists, while they had their material from commonplace life, ever fixed their eyes on the stars above and carved out types of exquisite beauty.


The theory of Rasa is a unique contribution of Sanskrit rhetoricians to the science of Aesthetics. Rasa literally means relish. It is the peculiar joy that a work of art produces in our minds when we come into intimate touch with it in its entirety. The psychology of it is an enigma, all the more so because we enjoy a comedy as well as a tragedy, though there is a subtle difference in the sort of relish we experience in the two cases. But it is an obvious fact that all great art attracts and never repels us, whether the emotional content therein is pleasurable or painful.

The rationale of this experience lies in the fact that in us there is an inherent faculty, free from any encroachment of self, universal and synthetic in its apprehending nature, which finds pure joy in the play of Life. But this faculty will wake up and function when it comes face to face with life as represented in art. This may be called the aesthetic faculty of the mind. Art generalises life, gives it an integrity and makes it an unique piece of creation. The aesthetic faculty in us perceives the unity in art which is its very beauty and responds in a dispassionate emotion of joy. What it does our lower mind fails to do, because it is ever in the grip of the self which colours it continuously with its likes and dislikes. So, labouring under the obsession of this personal element, our lower mind cannot disentangle itself from the sway of the self and hence cannot compose itself into an impersonal tranquillity, when only the aesthetic functioning is possible. That is why Sanskrit rhetoric describes this aesthetic functioning as alaukika (super-mundane). It partakes of the nature of the transcendental joy of the Divine Artist, who is responsible for the cosmic progression which is the only source of all artistic activity, while it is supreme art itself, Himself being the constant creator of this entire Cosmic Art, He ever whispers to Himself, "this is good," which means, in our parlance, "this is beautiful."

This divine faculty of enjoying the universal play as Lila or sport, has its echo in our souls when we enjoy any beautiful piece of art, irrespective of its content being pleasurable or painful.

Rasa works under subjective as well as objective stimulus in expressing itself. When objectively stimulated, it expresses itself as aesthetic appreciation. But in rare individuals, in whom the aesthetic faculty has matured, it works like fire, melting the very stuff of life and casting it into unique moulds of creation: all great art is the result of it. The production of Rasa in the recipient is the culminating effect of Art. Rasa has its ground in a concordant emotional atmosphere. It is nurtured and brought to flowering by the interplay of emotions.

A particular emotional motif is made predominant in Sanskrit drama, and, in every stage of the development of the theme, that motif is never lost sight of. A due sense of proportion and artistic propriety is keenly observed, so much so that every passing episode, every secondary emotion, is depicted in a manner to subsidise the principal motif. When once the artist hits upon a theme as a deserving subject for his artistic expression, he views it with an intuitive eye, broods over it in the calm of his soul, focusses on it the glow of his aesthetic energy, and finally gives it a concrete form. In the process of shaping it, he bestows on it the care of a mother and the absorption of a lover. He is sensitive to the least discordant note and scrupulously avoids anything that may mar the symphony of his creation. The idealistic atmosphere, the development of plot, the variety of characters introduced, the fascinating poetry and subtle cadences harmonizing with the mood of the particular character, the propriety and decorum, ‘the decencies of the Stage’ wherein all undignified and debasing spectacles are rigorously eschewed,–all these contribute to the fostering of the predominant Rasa. An episode may be occasionally met with which seems alien to the principal emotional motif; but careful scrutiny will reveal that it contributes to the richness of the main motif by the law of contrast.

In the realm of the world’s literature, the Sanskrit drama is unique for its creative unity and suggestive beauty.1


1 Mr. Sriramulu is a teacher in the High School, Narasaraopet. He took the M. A. degree in English Literature at the Dacca University, standing first in his year. A close student of the Drama, Eastern and Western, he has recently translated into English, with considerable skill, selected scenes from some Sanskrit plays. The Preface to his unpublished book is here given to the readers of Triveni, with the author’s kind permission.–Editor, Triveni.

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