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....

Symbolism in Hindi Drama – II

Prof. Amar Nath Gupta

(Government College, Bhopal)

The traditional form of symbolism still remains the poetic. ‘Jyotsna’ (1934) of Sumitranandan Pant, immediately following in the wake of ‘Gunjan,’ is an excellent manuestation in symbolic terms of the poet’s stupendous structure of his Philosophical ideology. One cannot agree with what Pt. Ram Chandra Shukla expressed about it saying, “What is this all, he has not been able to understand.” It belongs to that highest order of imaginative work which includes the ‘Book of Job,’ ‘Faust,’ ‘Paracelsus’ and claims as its greatest example the ‘Divine Comedy’ of Dante. Like Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ it is symbolic. But whereas ‘Faerie Queene is an allegory, ‘Jyotsna’ is a genuine nature-myth. An allegory is reasoned and labored, a myth is instinctive and spontaneous. In allegory there is a systematic formality, which in myth is replaced by the large, divinely simple significance of the very symbolism of nature. An allegory is the result of experience, a myth of intution. A myth is entirely confined to the childhood of the race. It is an unconscious form of art, and unconsciousness belongs to childhood. ‘Jyotsna’ possesses the wide-eyed, reverent wonder of the child at the world of beauty and mystery, ‘peopling it with spiritual creations that press everywhere through the material veil, as also the instinctive faith which cannot survive the scientific temper of maturity. It is, in all essentials, an original conception. The impression that the study of the play leaves upon the mind is one of youth, of freshness, of exuberance of life. It is marked by the tone of wonder, of fullness of life, of eagerness, an exuberant outburst of joy or pain, or both, distinguishing it from the exhausted verse of the preceding age. The story is little, characterisation nil. For, that had not been the design of the playwright. For an examination of its charm, we shall have to go elsewhere. There, are other things, its music, color, atmosphere, and Philosophical import, which arrest our attention.

The story relates to the intention of the Moon to entrust the responsibility of the administration of the Universe to his Chief Queen, introduced in the play as Jyotsna (moonshine), after whose name the play is named. This decision has been taken by him after he has seen so much destruction, waste, destitution, and monstrous struggle in the world. Jyotsna is ordered to establish, with the help of her attendants, Svapna (Dream), Kalpana (Imagination), Pavan (Breeze) and Surabhi (Fragrance), to establish a heaven of love, irradiated by beauty and complete understanding of ideology. The play contains five Acts. The first Act my be entitled ‘Towards the Light.’ The dialogue between Chaya (Shadow) and Sandhya (Evening) reveals the decision of Indu (Moon) and suggests the beginning of a new ideal world, such as had not been witnessed before. The second Act may be called the ‘Parting of power.’ Indu parts with his power and authority to Jyotsna, who, inspired by his resplendent glory, would descend upon the earth from the skies to scatter grains of goodness, peace and beauty, where there had been superstition, blind faith, conventions, self-conceit, selfishness, greed of power, and other evils of that sort. The third Act is the ‘Journey of Jyotsna.’ She descends on earth, where she is informed of the actual conditions on earth by Pavan (Breeze) which is corroborated by the grating tones of the cricket. Pavan and Surabhi are transmuted by Jyotsna’s magic touch to the dainty shapes of Svapna and Kalpana, who are ordered by Jyotsna to create a world of man’s feelings with the help of beauty and art, so that man may be led on from darkness to light, from body to soul, from outward form to inward emotion, from concrete to abstract. A dome of many-colored glass, standing on the tremeulous, gentle and healthy feelings of man like Bhakti (Devotion), Shakti (power), Daya (Pity), Satya (Truth), Samtanuraj (Feeling of equality), Sneha (Love), Kala (Art), Nishkam Karma (Dispassionate Action), Sadhana (Discipline), brings about a revolution on earth, where the whole world is knit in ties of brotherhood and cosmopolitanism. In this Act the playwright’s views on politics, art, society, and ethics are suggested deftly, so that the whole sounds like an acted Sermon. This is followed by Jyotsna’s departure to Heaven. Her task being over, she has no business to stay any more on earth. The fourth Act, which may be regarded ‘Act of Fulfillment’, is a triumphal chorus of rejoicing, as gradually the embodiments of evil are on their heels after this establishment of the reign of goodwill on earth. The fifth Act is the ‘Act of Liberation’ of earth from darkness and eternal conflict. All powers of earth and air,–dew, butterfly, wave, dawn etc., of the natural and the spiritual world unite in a wondrous paean that, for depth and variety of music, for beauty of imagery, for the expression of rapturous gladness, finds no parallel in Hindi Drama. Some critics of the play might say: “The drama is woven out of dreams, it is a maze of color and music devoid of definite structure and meaning.” It is, of course, true that much is crude and weak here, much is held in the immature intellect and not fused by imaginative passion into art; weak, sentimental, empty,–guilty of that worst aesthetic sin, prettiness. Nevertheless, the eternal value of ‘Jyotsna’ lies in its aspiration towards a universal love, its passion for freedom, its poignant melody, its exquisite imagery, in the wondrous beauty of fragments scattered here and there through the drama.

To the making of ‘Jyotsna’ has contributed all that heritage of English Literature, which Sumitranandan Pant imbibed from his Professors of English Literature, when a student at Allahabad. The impress of Shelley’s ‘Prometheus Unbound’ is fairly visible in this play. Pant and Shelley resemble each other so much. Both are pure idealists, intensely sensitive, highly strung, smitten with a passion for change, and possessed of a marvellous fineness of perception responsive to subtle sense impressions; both are the poets of half-tints and passing moods and glancing restlessness; both love beauty with the devotion of a saint and the vision of a seer. Even without this conscious influence of Shelley upon him, and merely on account of this close resemblance, one would have certainly mistaken some of the traits of Pant as having been emphasized, if not altogether imbibed, by his study of Shelley.

The first point of influence of Shelley that strikes one is the technique of songs introduced in both. The supreme aesthetic glory of the ‘Prometheus Unbound’ is in its music. The variety of metres is marvellous. So various are these songs in their tone and coloring that it can almost be said about them that they are different from one another. The verse varies with the sentiments that are expressed by the speaker, or by the speaker himself. It rises into the long passionate swing of the anapaest, or is broken by the flute-like notes of short trochaic lines, or relieved by the half-lyrical effect of rhymed endings. That it has been possible to draw different kinds of music by one instrument can be seen, comparing the opening soliloquy of Prometheus, in Act I, with that of the opening soliloquy of Asia in Act II. The sternly repressed passion of Prometheus is expressed by means of a sonorous pomp, and austerity of epithet, consonants striking upon consonants with cold and scant vowel coloring; but, on the other hand, Asia’s melody has a prolonged and gentle sweetness, the sparkle delicate life animating the whole, and the soft air and light air of the spring-tide she sings. Jupiter’s utterances have a certain metallic ring and harshness of tone. Almost all the characters have an individual accent of their own. Songs are onomatopoeic.

Pant, like Shelley, approximates in his songs of ‘Jyotsna’ the sentiment expressed therein to the nature of the speaker. He has suggested, by the modulation of sound and the subtle assonance and fine alliteration, the glimmer of the fireflies in the song which begins thus:

“The whole place is lighted.
We are the lighters of the world’s path,
We glimmer at every step the path of the world.”

The sound suggests the meaning, and, here, the whole atmosphere. Similar effects have been attained in the song of Dew and Breeze, and Wave and Vibration of the Breeze. Like ‘Prometheus Unbound,’ ‘Jyotsna’ presents an arresting sweep and variety of direct lyrical modulation. The songs in both have the same light movement, redolent with fairy suggestion; they have the same elusive and dainty grace. Characters are also suggested by analogous effects of symbolic suggestion, vivid picturesqueness, and sound echoed by sense.

Secondly, in the second decade of this century poets in Hindi became colorists, and Pant is one of the greatest of them. ‘Jyotsna’ is a great play so far as the use of light and color are concerned. Rainbow-lights, keen, swift and pure, play through ‘Jyotsna.’ Obviously the influence in this respect again is of ‘Prometheus Unbound’ in which the color scheme is shaped into an organic whole. Various examples of splendid display of colors are Interspersed throughout the drama. We are taken from faint light to darkness, from darkness to semi-light, from semi-light to complete darkness, and from darkness again to the fresh light of morning. Color is the ineffable, subtle atmosphere of the play, helping us to understand the meaning of the play. Again, Jyotsna, bringer of light into darkness, life of life, the Light of Life, the highest embodiment in the drama towards which the worship ever ascends, reminds us of Asia in ‘Prometheus Unbound’; through Jyotsna, as through Asia, the redemption is intended to have been worked. Pant again, has taken the symbol of darkness as an indication of evil and imperfect conditions in the world, and that of Light or Dawn to signify peace, order and settlement on earth. If the speed of the Hour speeds to proclaim redemption over earth and sea and land in ‘Prometheus Unbound,’ in the fifth Act of ‘Jyostna’ the bird swallow proclaims the coming of dawn, and with it all that it stands for in the drama. The fresh light of morning  shines more clearly and constantly as the action marks a progression. An examination of the last Act of both the dramas reveals an astounding similarity. All powers on earth and in Nature are joined in a chorus of triumphal rejoicing on the new conditions having been ushered on earth. Shelley expresses the joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness, the boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness, through the dialogue between Earth and the Moon, in which is suggested that the whole of God’s creation is wrapped in an animation of delight on account of the interpenetration of the spirit of Love. Pant invites all the objects in Nature and on earth to join the universal ‘Song of Honour’ to describe the new change in creation; there is the dew, snowdrop, violet, tulip, potentila, sweet-pea, forget-me-not, daisy, carnation, honeysuckle, iris, lily, rose, 1 butterflies, dawn, almost every object that the playwright can conceive of. The intention of the playwrights in both is the same: expression of change from the old convention-ridden world to a world ruled by Beauty and Art.

An examination of the thought-content of the two will also suggest some resemblance in their philosophical aspect. Shelley is a thorough-bred democrat and communist, even before Communism in its present form was born, and ‘Prometheus Unbound’ is the most profound expression of Shelley’s democratic ideal, his profound love for humanity, a sympathy for all the woes of the suffering world, a passion for freedom, and a spirit of a deathless hope. It was Shelley’s belief that evil is an accident of the outer life, and thus dwells in that outward authority which checks the free play of impulse. Over the ashes of tyranny Shelley intended to build a regenerate world of pastoral innocence, with Love as the supreme and eternal power to help bring in such a state. Pant is also aware of tyranny and its attendant ills, and with the help of Jyotsna, the spirit of Light and Love, he also, like Shelley, has a purpose to build his golden age, of unbounded peace and prosperity. Leaving aside details, in general outline the thought of both Shelley and Pant is the same, enabling us to conclude that Pant was influenced by Shelley’s ‘Prometheus Unbound’,

Besides the influence of Shelley on ‘Jyotsna,’ there is the influence of Keats too. 2 Sensuousness is admittedly the most prominent quality of Keats’ poems. Beautiful sounds and beautiful pictures are more than a poetic ornament with him. They constitute a delight in themselves. Sweet sensations are a fascination to him, and he yearns for them. He approached Nature and life, through the senses. Music, color, flavour, fragrance, sympathy and friendship, warmth and love, greatly appealed to his heart. There are sensuous pictures of Keatsian type in ‘Jyotsna’ and their number is legion. Particularly, in pictures of Jyotsna and Indu there is the Keatsian touch. The influence is only of flavour and tone rather than of thought.

Representation of amorous embrace and kissing is another feature of the play.

There are examples of incidental symbolism in modern Hindi playwriting, where dramatists are inclined to resort to symbolical devices in order to project values that do not seem to emerge with sufficient distinctness and force from a merely realistic representation of human affairs. The use of this type of symbolism in plays otherwise realistic, demonstrates the very close influence of Western playwrights, like Ibsen, Galsworthy, Shaw, who employ symbolism exactly for the same purposes. This steadily increasing incursion of symbolism into the burgeois realistic drama has been the result of the Hindi playwrights’ study of these dramatists of the West.

Govind Das Seth employs the symbol of the bull in a china shop in ‘Prakash’. ‘Prakash’ is a socio-political drama, in which the stir caused by the advent of Prakash from the semi-ignorant state of his rural surroundings to the crystal flame consciousness of the city life, in the midst of persons of various classes in the city with all their attendant characteristics, is shown. In the Prologue a strong bull is shown entering the china shop to the great consternation of the proprietor of the shop. The Epilogue reveals the havoc which the admission of the bull has brought about in the shop. Prakash is the bull, who brings ruin upon the affected, dissimulating and artificialised persons inhabiting the city. The use of symbolism of this kind is just like Ibsen’s in ‘The Wild Duck,’ where the figure of the duck, besides being used to suggest to the imagination the ironic plight of the Ekdal family, is also introduced as an important element in the development of the plot,–an attempt at symbolic representation which may be admired for its boldness rather than for its plausibility.

In ‘Chalna’ a cat is introduced at various places. It has been done, not for nothing. The cat is brought upon the stage at a critical time, when either of the characters present upon the scene begins to talk to him in such a way that startlingly, but quite unconsciously, great truths are revealed and the relations that exist between the characters are exhibited. Or the cat has been brought upon the stage for the sake of greater emphasis, as when it is discovered sleeping with beggars on the footpath under the same blanket. This is done to set off, by a contrast, the wretchedness of their condition; these beggars are worse off than cats and dogs. It is also used at a time when, on account of a tense dramatic situation, it is not possible for the character to speak, and it speaks on behalf of the character. John Galsworthy has used with remarkable success such a symbolism, whereby the whole play is symbolically represented before the audience by a simple and pregnant device of such a type. In ‘The Eldest Son’ of Galsworthy, the head-keeper, at a critical point in the play, produces two puppies from his pockets and talks to them in a way which startlingly brings out the relations which exist between the two betrayed girls, Freda Studdenham and Rose Taylor.

‘Sohag-Bindi’ by Ganesh Prasad Dwivedi is a domestic Tragedy. It deals with the problem of a woman, who, bereft of the sweet company and love of her husband on account of an incompatibility that exists between them, is on her way to a slow death. But before the lamp of her life fades into the darkness of eternity, the arrival of a young man for whom she develops a silent and subdued admiration, lights her life by his stay for a few days but never to return again. Kali Babu, the husband, does not probe deep into–he does not even know–this mentally torn condition of the wife. The lady dies, and Kali Babu from the burning ghat brings forth a bone of his wife to treasure it secretly as her sweet memory. On his opening the suitcase of his wife, he discovers a letter written by his deceased wife to the young man, whom she silently admired in her state of mental repression, but which was never intended to be delivered to him. This letter gives the greatest shock of his life to Kali Babu, from whose hands, un-awares, the bone of his dead wife falls on the ground, and a cat, which happened to arrive there, begins to play with it. This subtle symbol is introduced by way of a warning to the man that, as it is too late now, there is no use crying over spilt milk, or it is introduced to intensify the bitterness of his mind by way of contrast. So great is his shock that, in his agitation, he pays no attention to the only memento of his dear wife. This symbol is also in the tradition of Galsworthy’s symbols, which he introduces to reinforce some special emphasis or state of feeling.

In Govind Ballabh Pant’s ‘Angur Ki Beti’ (1937) (Daughter of Vine-grapes) effective use is made of the dumb show. A whole scene is enacted without a single word being uttered. The scene is of the bank of a river. The bridge is broken. The road is blocked by a heavy plank, over which is hanging a board, written upon which is ‘Danger’. A donkey comes near the plank and presses his neck against the plank. The board falls upon the ground and the light is put out,–which was intended to illumine the words on the board. There is darkness everywhere. Madhav and Prathibha come in their car, and as they steer the steering-wheel towards the bridge, the car falls into the river. The introduction of the donkey has been done to naturalise the situation. There are few dumb scenes in Hindi. The inspiration to write it in this case has been taken from the novels and plays of Galsworthy, who is a master of the dumb-show. 3 Another fine example is in ‘Sharmaji’ of Ganesh Prasad Dwivedi. The play ends with Sharmaji’s gesticulation after the departure of the Doctor. There is another dumb-scene in ‘Varmala’ of Govind Ballabh Pant, in which Avikshat and Vaisalni are shown in their chariot. It is a dream of Vaisalni. As, in her dream, Avikshat advances to catch her by the hand, she wakes up to discover that a demon in reality has caught her hand. Dream device and dumb show are caught in a combination by the playwright here.

‘Albela’ by Govind Das Seth is an example of the technique employed by John Galsworthy to describe the innermost feelings of his characters. The man in this play finds a response to his feelings in the wordless groans and mute whispers of the horse, after whom the play is named. The horse is the leader and the philosopher of its rider. In the horse he hears the eternal music of nature; he harps upon the song of the Almighty in his heart. He has been his constant companion, and the humanitarian impulse of the rider of the horse, only on finding an affirmation in its neighing, urges him to give to the poor what he has robbed from the rich, since all their money had been amassed by exploiting the poor.

A delicate use of symbolism has been made by Govind Das Seth in his ‘Pralaya and Srishti’ (‘Destruction and Creation.’) The playwright’s purpose is to build a new order of society over the ashes of the old. He advocates a complete adjustment of society to suit new conditions. ‘Pralaya’ stands for destruction of the ‘old’, ‘Srishti’ for the regeneration of the old in an entirely new garb. The poor people have suffered for long. Is it not the time now to improve their lot? It is undoubtedly possible by a re-orientation of values in society, politics, literature, and economics. The young man’s reflections on the various aspects of life in the play reveals the harm done by Capitalism. Hence, instead of it, a new order of things, in which a fillip will be given to lobourers and the poor people, is desirable. The play ends in symbolism. In the upheaval caused by an earthquake, followed by the tottering of buildings, symbolic of Capitalism, the man, having sympathies with the laboring population, also falls down, as the upper storey of his house comes down. In this struggle, which the earthquake symbolises, labour would come out triumphant eventually, in spite of its temporary overshadowing in the great struggle which is suggested by the fall of man in the end. Ibsen’s plays embody great and profound spiritual truths expressed symbolically, as in his ‘When we Dead Awaken,’ which ends in symbol and mystery. Irene and Rubek prefer to face the danger of death in order to reach the mountain top which symbolises the promised land of the spirit, where, through the mists, life may be transfigured by sunshine. The storm, however, continues, accompanied by the peal of thunder, but as the avalanche descends with terrific speed, they are buried beneath its enormous mass, and the play ends with a message of peace and repose. Ibsen’s play has been mentioned, to point out the nature of the symbolism in the play of Govind Das Seth. In cases like these, of course, there is no question of a direct borrowing. Nevertheless, it will not be far from the truth to say that the atmosphere and tone conveyed by both is similar.

Upendranath Ask, too, has used symbols in his plays to convey more than, on the surface, meets the eye. His plays, like ‘Devtaon Ki Chaya Main’ (‘Beneath the Shadow of gods’), ‘Lakshmi ka Svagat’ (‘Welcome Lakshmi’), ‘Adhikar Ka Rakshak’ (‘Protector of Rights’), make an incidental use of symbolism, combined with a bitter irony in its use. The names of these plays are symbolic. Lakshmi in ‘Lakshmi Ka Svagat’ does not stand for wealth, for the newly-wedded bride, who is taken as ‘Lakshmi’ (Goddess of Wealth) by the bridegroom’s father. The storm, accompanied with rain, symbolises the agitation in Roshan’s mind at the time, when his son by his first wife is dying and his parents are planning and forcing him to marry again. In the parents the playwright represents the merciless tyranny of a social system, which has devoured his son, and which is preparing to manacle him in its iron chains. The play ends with a symbolic utterance of Surendra to Roshan’s mother–‘Bring grain and arrange a lamp’–which means in the Punjab that someone is dead. Arun’s death is symbolised in the fall of the glass-hanger. In ‘Devtaon Ki Chaya Main’ the playwright deals with the inroad of town-life, with all its evils, as a force which, under the semblance of providing work to the simple folk of the villages, is making their condition hopelessly wretched. It takes a heavy toll of life. Even their milk is taken away from them. In the death of Sadiq and in the grievous hurt received by Rahim, he represents the sufferings which the deaf tyranny of the Capitalism of the cities is causing in the villages. The news of the fall of a huge building where Rahim was working displaces the mental equilibrium of the lady, which the playwright shows by the quivering of the tree and the blowing of the ashes in the hearth. The device to symbolise an evil in society as a force is taken by Ask from the English play- wrights who make their protagonists not men, but unseen forces. The heroes of Galsworthy’s plays are the unseen fates of modern existence, against which the poor mortals can but pitifully cry in moments of desperation and horror. Like the waves dashing in ceaseless fury through Synge’s ‘Riders to the Sea’ or the bleak expanses of landscape in Miss Sowerky’s ‘Rutherford & Son’, Upendranath Ask, too, consciously or unconsciously employs one of the surest means of raising apparently sordid subject-matter on to a higher, and truly tragic, plane.

In a large number of cases the inspiration of the playwrights has been taken from the dramatists of the West. The degree of inspiration, of course, is different in each case, Some show signs of a direct influence, others show influence in technique, yet others in tone or atmosphere. The number of dramatists in whose work is visible any direct borrowing is very small. The following are of some the uses to which symbolism has been put in Hindi:

(1)   Symbolism used as a projection of the playwright’s comments on society, ethics, politics, etc.
(2)   Poetic use of symbolism.
(3)   Device of ‘topsy-turvydom’ of Barrie woven through the warp and woof of dreams.
(4)   Use of symbolism to indicate the hidden impulses of man.
(5)   Symbolism as a means of emphasis.
(6)   Symbolism to make protagonists of drama not men, but unseen forces.
(7)   Symbolism to embody profound spiritual truths.
(8)   Incursion of dumb-show into symbolism.
(9)   Sometimes it forms merely a suggestion in an otherwise unsymbolic drama.
(10)  Sometimes, it dominates the whole plot and all the characters in the drama.

1 These English names of flowers are used by Pant in their English form. Names of some Indian flowers are also given. This seems to have been intentionally done. The playwright desires a confraternity of nations with complete understanding. The combination of English and Indian flowers symbolises the union of these countries in the new kingdom of art and beauty.
2 Nagendra’s ‘Sumitra Nandan Pant,’ page 116.
3 In ‘Justice,’ a convict is seen prowling like a caged animal, and finally flings himself against the door; in ‘Fraternity,’ Stephen Dallison shuts the window with a slam to exclude unpleasant sound, as Barthwick does in ‘The Silver Box’; in ‘The Forsyte Saga, Soames Forsyte, in his agitated dispute with Irene, presses a china cup in his hands, which falls into fragments upon the ground; the return of Mrs. Builder to her husband in ‘A Family Man’ is acted in a dumb show; Lady Morecombe, in ‘The Show,’ is shown standing behind her dead son’s vacant chair, and acts as if she has her dead son’s head in her hand.

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