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....

Tragedy in Hindi

Prof. Amar Nath Gupta

(Meerut Collage, Meerut)

“Tragedy is a surface phenomenon,” writes Puran singh. “There is no hell save that we create for ourselves. Life is an infinite Paradise. They, who write tragedies, are not yet enlightened. The function of poetry is to help us win our own Paradise, but after reading Shakespeare, all that survives is a mental hell in which we may pass our days in unnecessary, artificial, yet terrible agony. To produce sadness in the human mind may be wise but it does not belong to the higher art of life which imparts bliss and banishes all sorrow.”1 In the West death over shadows everything, whereas the Indian artist sees in death a condition of renewal. Death is a terrible thing to witness on the stage. The great mythological characters should evoke in the minds of the audience a feeling of reverence rather than agony by an undignified spectacle of their death. The heroes are sworn to recover. There was no question of a tragic denouement. Tragedy, in its Western sense, never made any appeal to India. Hence the entire absence of this form of literature from ancient classical literature. “In epic poetry as in drama,” expresses Dr. Belvelkar, “there was in India a general feeling against a tragic ending, and yet we find the Urubhanga of Bhasa and the Hammiramahakavya of Naya chandrasuri as instances to the contrary. However, the normal objection to a tragic ending seems to have been based on the fact that, while poetic justice requires that the hero’s fate be deserved and not arbitrary, if the hero who meets such a fate is at the same time to win the sympathy of the audience, the poet would thereby be doing something detrimental to the moral interests of men. The Greek idea of Nemesis overtaking a person when his virtues practised to excess turn into vices, or the modern psychological idea that every emotion,–no matter of what kind or character–leaves man all the better and the soberer for it, does not seem to have been properly grasped by Indian formulators of poetic theory.”2

Tragedy, therefore, came to be written as early as the beginning of modern Hindi Drama, under the influence which Shakespeare exercised upon the Hindi playwrights, partly directly and partly through the Parsi stage, where the plays of Shakespeare had received incredible popularity. Bharatendu Harischandra’s ‘Nil Devi’ (1881) is the first tragedy in Hindi, though it is tragic in a crude form. It is the story describing the defeat and arrest of Nil Devi’s husband at the hands of Abdul Sharif Khan, the Muslim chieftain. Nil Devi, incognito as a dancing girl, goes to the enemy camp to save her husband. On seeing her, the Chief is infatuated by her beauty and charm, giving her an opportunity, in a state of abject drunkenness, to put an end to his life. Abdul Sharif is killed and her honour is saved. The motif of the play is revenge. Sublime moments of tragedy and subtle characterisation are not attained by the playwright. Except that the play ends in the death of Abdul Sharif and the self-immolation of Nil Devi, there is nothing tragic worth mentioning in the play. Patriotic sentiments are, however, aroused by stray references scattered throughout the play.3

Another attempt in this direction is Lala Srinivas Das’s ‘Randhir Prem Mohini’, which has been obviously influenced by Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It ends with the death of Randhir, the hero. He falls in love with Princess Prem Mohini of Surat. The father of Prem Mohini, considering him an ordinary Rajput, does not approve of their marriage.

‘Karbala’ (1924) of Premchand is another tragedy in a historical setting. The play is divided into five Acts, which are further divided into forty-three scenes of considerable length. It would take not less than six hours to stage, and might exhaust the patience of the audience. It takes 280 pages to finish. And there is a lot of repetition. Prem Chand’s genius is essentially epic. As in his novels, he finds it difficult to present his dramatic theme on a small canvas. He does not make use of impressionistic methods with a growing emphasis on situations rather than on mere sequence of events. The significance of the play is twofold. On the one hand, it gives the impression of two opposite forces marching against each other, the forces of evil superseding the forces of good and virtue. The very fact that evil triumphs and good is defeated makes the play a contradiction of the principle of Sanskrit Dramaturgy, which states that the good must come out triumphant in the end, and evil defeated. Hussain stands for the higher ideal of sacrifice and truth; Yazid represents the baser life of lust for power and wealth. In their struggle is reflected the perpetual conflict between the life of the spirit and that of the flesh. Secondly, the play also images the spirit of the age. Internal conflict is deftly shown in the characters of Nasim and Bahale, who are swayed by momentary impulses of passion and sentimental outbursts of patriotism alternating with times of ennui and the abandonment of love and its ecstacy. It constitutes the finest portion of the play. Duty towards country and religion finally triumphs over love, and the wife bids adieu to the husband who participates in the battle against evil forces, which prove too powerful for him. Tragedy looms large over the pages of the drama. The play ends with the death of Hussain and Simar. Hussain is killed by the enemy by foul means, and Simar, unable to stand the sight of such a colossal tragedy, stabs himself and dies. It is a great tragedy in so far as the will to rise above the instinct of mere living, in Hussain and his followers, lifts it above the sordid reality of life. Deaths, cold-blooded murders and indiscriminate bloodshed are all represented with a vengeance, so that the tragedy reeks with the foul smell of decomposition of dead bodies.4 Obviously the play wright has been influenced in his conception of tragedy by Shakespeare.5 In a romantic tragedy of Shakespearean type, the protagonists are sharply contrasted and clearly defined, so that they are readily recognised as representing good and evil. The machinations of the villain, in a conflict against the hero, usually lead to the death of the hero and at the same time bring about his spiritual sublimation. A Shakespearean tragedy is pre-eminently the story of one person, the ‘hero’, the story leading to and including the death of the hero. Shakespeare’s heroes are great men; generally kings and ‘princes’ or great warriors. They are not only great but they suffer also greatly; their suffering and calamity are exceptional. When the hero, this man of eminent position, falls affecting a large section of humanity, we are left with a feeling of the powerlessness of man and the omnipotence of Fate. The hero has moreover, a tragic trait; he errs by action or omission; hence, when the hero dies in consequence of the action and deed proceeding from this ‘fatal flaw’, we are left with an impression of waste. The pity and fear, which are stirred by the tragic story, unite with the profound sense of sadness and mystery consequent upon this impression of waste. Since tragedy proceeds from the actions of men themselves, the dictum ‘character is destiny’ is fundamentally true of the tragedies of Shakespeare. Other factors of a Shakespearean tragedy are, (1) the introduction of the supernatural as, for instance, ghosts and witches, (2) the abnormal conditions of mind as, for example, insanity, somnambulism and hallucinations, (3) chance or accident, 4) tragic conflict, both external and internal, (5) absence of poetic justice in the classical sense, as it is in flagrant contradiction of the facts of life, (6) and, lastly, the recognition that the ultimate power in the tragic world is a moral order. Hussain, the hero of ‘Karbala’, is a great man; his calamity and suffering are exceptional and affect a large section of his followers. He dies at the end of the play. He, too, is a symbol of the forces of good. But the essential quality of a tragic hero is missed by Premchand, for his fall is not due to a flaw in his character: Hussain, obviously, has no flaw. He excites a feeling of admiration by his heroic struggle, but he fails to excite a feeling of pity for want of a human weakness in him. ‘Karbala,’ on this score, may be regarded as a tragedy of idealism; it certainly is not a ‘tragedy of character. The impression of waste produced by the playwright does not proceed from the actions of the hero. The profound impression of tragedy has been diminished by the too obvious didacticism of the play. The ideal of Hindu-Muslim unity is adumbrated in Hussain welcoming the aid given to him, in his fight for Truth, by Sahasrai and his six brothers. Scene VI of Act II is similar to scenes of this type in Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’, where the fickleness, insincerity, and untruthfulness of the rabble is represented. This portion excellently presents mob psychology. The construction of the play is loose, as it was not possible to harmonise so many divergent elements.

Upendranath Ask has written a few one-act plays, which are tragic. The names of his tragic plays are ‘Devtaon ki chayan main’, ‘Lakshmi ka svagat’ (1938), and ‘Papi’ (Sinner 6), (1940). The characteristic of these plays is that some great social problem is taken up and developed with grim irony. The whole setting of the plays suggests tragedy from the beginning. An excellent combination of tragedy and irony is attempted here. Most people who read or hear these plays for the first time will agree that the ending comes as a distinct shock. The secret is, of course, ingeniously kept up to the end. Nevertheless, on thinking over the story, we discover a number of hints pointing to the end, and we admit the dramatist’s cleverness in springing a surprise upon us. The theme is worked out with consummate skill in ‘Devtaon ki chayan main’, where the final crisis is introduced to impress upon the readers the results which the impact of ‘civilising’ factors of city life has had on the life of the village folk. Even all their milk is drained to the cities and they have not even a drop to give to the sick. ‘Papi’ is a psychological study of Shanti Lal’s wife Chaya, suffering from tuberculosis. Her end is hastened by the absolute neglect of the husband. It ends with the death of Chaya. The atmosphere, from the beginning, is of great mental strain caused by the fire of jealousy in Chaya’s heart. Such small tragic plays belong to the class of plays like ‘Campbell of Kilmhor’, ‘The Fortieth Man’, ‘Monkey’s Paw’, ‘Mask’, and ‘The Price of Coal’. The inspiration to write them, as the playwright indirectly acknowledges, is derived from plays of this type in English.7 The pitiful tragedy that follows in his plays suggests the irony of fate, as in John Drinkwater’ s ‘X = O’.

‘Sindha-Patana’ or ‘Dahar’ (1933) is claimed by Uday Shankar Bhatt as the first tragedy in the domain of Hindi Drama.8 But it is not a claim entirely correct.9 His other tragedies are ‘Amba’ (1935) and ‘Vikramaditya’. For the creation of the tragic atmosphere, the playwright has employed the crude methods of romantic drama. Kanchuki, the fool at Dahar’s court, is partly designed after the pattern of ‘clowns’ in the tragedies of Shakespeare. The talk of Kanchuki is reminiscent of Dildar’s talk in D. L. Roy’s ‘Shah Jehan’. Dildar is himself modeled on Lear’s Fool10. This influence on Bhatt of Shakespeare has come through Bengali. His tragedies are melodramas; there is the thunder of battle in theme,–death, murders, the clangour of the exchange of  swords,–but the union of thought and emotion with action, which is the characteristic of the tragedies of Shakespeare, is completely wanting here. The playwright has undoubtedly succeeded in the representation of violent and vivid action on the stage coupled with of mental conflict. The excited utterance11 of Khalifa, after Suryadevi stabs herself, when he sees all around him the severed head of Dahar, is reminiscent of a similar device of Shakespeare in some of his tragedies. Macbeth, on seeing the ghost of Banquo in the chair meant for him, bursts into an agitated colloquy of this type.

‘Dvidha’ (1937) of Prithinath Sharma is a turning point in the history of tragedy in Hindi. It is an example of a social tragedy, in which a divided society takes the place of the divided self. In the absence of a spirit of harmony, reasoned co-operation, and an imaginative entering into the point of view of the other people, there occurs waste, friction, havoc, and the exhausting struggle of tumultuously clashing forces at cross purposes with one another. The story here is of the love of two persons for one woman, and the sudden aversion of the girl for the lover on the one hand, and that of the second lover for the beloved in the other case. Just at the moment when the marriage of Sudha Devi and Vinaya Mohan appears a certainty, the playwright springs a surprise upon us by stating the intention of the young man not to marry her, on account of the vast social differences existing between them. The hopes and aspirations of Sudha Devi are completely shattered. She rejected Keshav Deo of her own will, and was rejected in turn by Vinaya Mohan, on account of whom she had begun to hate Keshav Deo. Like the plays of Galsworthy, this play deals with the victim of social injustice, who finds himself completely helpless in face of determining circumstances and social forces which are too great for him and for her. Such a type of tragedy moves us to sentiments of compassion; Sudha Devi is a pathetic, rather than a heroic, figure. It tends to dismiss the hero as also the villain. External Fate of the romantic and psychological tragedy has no place here.

1 Vide “The Spirit of Oriental Poetry.” (London, 1996. Page 21).
2 Dr. S. K. Belvelkar’s “Notes to the Kavyadarsa of Dandin,” (I, 17). Compare Dr. S. K. De’s views in this connection: “The Sanskrit drama does not entirely exclude tragedy; but what it really does is that it excludes the direct representing of death as an incident, and insists on a happy ending....Tragedy, in their opinion, either precedes or follows the fact of death, which need not be actually represented but the effect of which may be utilized for evoking the pathetic.” (Quoted in Dr. R. K. Yajnik’s “Indian Theatre,” page 261).
3 “Bharatendu Natakavali” pages 661, 662, 669.
4 Vide, ‘Karbala’ (Second Edition, 1934. Pages 280, 264, 268). Representation of battle and bloodshed in scenes 1, 2, 3, 4. 5 and 6 of Act I. Fire is also shown.
5 Introduction to the play, page 7.
6 Vide Preface ‘Devtaon ki chayan main’, page 32
7 Other tragedies were attempted in Hindi literature before this; nevertheless, it is true the fashion of writing tragedies could not be popular.
8 Introduction to ‘Dahar,’ page (m).
9 Vide ‘Dahar’, pages 27, 45, 47.
10 Vide Yajnik’s ‘Indian Theatre’, page 225.
11 Vide ‘Dahar’, pages 153-54.

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