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....

Arundhati: A Character Study

Bh. Satyanarayana, M. A.

(Based on Uttararamacharitam of Bhavabhuti)

In the dramatis personae of Uttararamacharitam, the great Sanskrit drama by Bhavabhuti, no character, excepting the hero and the heroine, was so prominently portrayed as the character of Arundhati. The name of Arundhati, before whom even her husband Sage Vasishta looks small, is an honoured and household name throughout the land of Bharata. Tradition traces her birth and parentage to a family of outcastes, but, by her paativratya(devotion to husband), she carne to be respected as the greatest woman that Vedic India ever produced. Transformed into a star after her pious life on the earth, she became the object of worship for countless brides and bridegrooms all over our holy land. We have no details of the life story of so illustrious a personality, but it is our good fortune that it was left to the powerful pen of a genius like Bhavabhuti to portray her great character in life-like reality.

Arundhati’s role in Uttararamacharitam is that of a peacemaker. In a triangular conflict between Rama, Sita’s father Janaka, and Rama’s subjects, she brought about a happy concord among the conflicting parties, through her tact, sympathy and determination. The new king Rama who was greatly attached to his subjects abandoned his wife Sita, because the people cast reflections on her, and this greatly infuriated Janaka against Rama and his subjects. In such a critical situation there were only two persons, namely Vasishta and his wife, Arundhati, who could act as peacemakers. But, unfortunately, the great Vasishta was disqualified for the task, because it was on his behest to propitiate the people at any cost that Rama banished Sita. Finding that his ill-timed message sent to Rama through Ashtavakra produced a disastrous rift in the family of the Raghus, of which he was the Kulaguru(family priest), Vasishta felt embarrassed and helpless. The only thing he could do to ease the tension was to send a message of hope to the old queen Kausalya, mother of Rama, that all would end well in course of time. For this reason, Bhavabhuti did not bring Vasishta on to the stage for conciliating the conflicting elements.

Bhavabhuti, therefore, employed Vasishta’s wife Arundhati in the task of peacemaking–a task to which she was eminently fitted in virtue of her exalted status. Bhahavabuti declares, in the words of Janaka, that Arundhati was held so sacred that even Vasishta used to consider himself purified by his matrimonial alliance with her. The philosopher-king hails her as triloki maangalya (auspicious to the three worlds) and makes to her a most reverential bow, touching the ground near her feet with his forehead. He also compares Arundhati with the Goddess of Dawn and addresses her as Jagadvandya(respected by the whole Universe) and even the goddesses Vasundhara and Jahnavi later on refer to her by the same respectful honorific. It is, therefore, no wonder that in a situation which made so many hearts to break, no less a person than Arundhati could have intervened, and intervened with success, culminating in the happy reunion of Rama and Sita amidst scenes of universal rejoicing.

When Arundhati heard in the hermitage of Rishyasringa the startling news of Sita’s banishment, she became so angry and grieved that she flatly refused to go to Ayodhya, bereft of Janaki. She, therefore, proceeded straightaway to the hermitage of Sage Valmiki, together with the grief-stricken Kausalya. Arundhati consoled Kausalya with the message of hope sent by Vasista that all would be well in the end. But the sceptical Kshatriya lady, in her despair, put no belief in Vasishta’s words conveyed to her and openly expressed her misgivings about it. This provoked a spirited retort from Arundhati who sternly warned Kausalya never to doubt the great Rishi’s words. Kausalya, taken aat this outburst from the holy Arundhati, kept quiet hoping against hope that after all a miracle might happen as predicted by Vasishta.

Arundhati’s handling of Kausalya was a light affair but the difficult part of her work lay ahead. She knew full well that Janaka was burning with rage at Sita’s banishment and a life-long rupture between Janaka and Rama seemed imminent. A single false step on either side would for ever mar the cordial relationship that so long existed between the Raghus and the Janakas, and it was to prevent such a development that Arundhati was specially deputed by Vasishta. She, therefore, softly persuaded Kausalya to approach Janaka and speak to him first, on his arrival. But, on seeing Kausalya, Janaka taunts her as the mother of prajapalaka(beloved ruler of his subjects) and by enquiring after her health. At this, Arundhati was stung to the quick, but discreetly refrains from speaking a word in defence of Kausalya, lest, in doing so, she (Arundhati) should unwittingly offend Janaka who was already sore at heart. But when, incidentally, Janaka angrily poses the question as to how Agni was competent to test his daughter Sita, Arundhati immediately joins him and proclaims in emphatic tones that Sita is more sacred than Agni himself, and this pacifies the irate father. Then Arundhati slowly brings to the notice of Janaka the pitiable state of the grief-stricken Kausalya, who swoons at the mention of Sita’s plight, and the noble-minded Janaka, repentant for his rude behaviour towards the wife of his late revered friend Dasaratha, busies himself in bringing her to consciousness, and sadly recounts, in a reminiscent mood, the happy times spent by them in bygone days. Thus Arundhiiti succeeds in bringing together Kausalya and Janaka as desired by Vasishta.

But, soon afterwards, Kusa and Lava, the twin sons of Sita, make their appearance on the scene, and their handsome features which bear a striking resemblance to the features of Sita, open fresh wounds in the mind of Janaka. He gradually becomes so enraged at the monstrous perversity of the people and the outrageous haste of Rama that he stands up with grim resolve to destroy both Rama and his subjects outright, either with a bow and arrow or with a curse. Kausalya, terror-stricken at this revengeful mood of Janaka, implores Arundhati to pacify Janaka and avert the impending peril. Arundhati, seeing how explosive the situation is, immediately intervenes and submits to Janaka, in an appealing manner, that Rama is Janaka’s own child and that the people are an ignorant lot and entreats the angry Rajarshi to show mercy on them. At this, Janaka cools down, admitting that Rama is like a son unto him and that the people comprising mostly of Brahmans, old men, women, children and cripples, deserve clemency at his hands.

Arundhati, by now, has completed half of her work, but the remaining half, which is more complicated, has yet to be begun and completed. Kausalya and Janaka were reconciled in their common misfortune and Janaka had no trace of ill-will or anger against Rama, whose action he began to see in its proper perspective. Only the people had to be told, and told convincingly, that Sita is flawless, and until this fact was accepted by the people, there was no question of Sita’s acceptance by Rama. Arundhati, therefore, sets herself the task of convincing the people about Sita’s purity with the help of Sage Valmiki who, by his supernatural powers, arranges a huge conclave of people near his hermitage, to witness a short play of Sita’s banishment composed, by himself and staged by celestial nymphs. When, at the end of the play, Vasundhara and Jahnavi jointly deliver Sita into the hands of Arundhati, that venerable lady raises her powerful voice and addresses the mammoth gathering in a short speech, which breathes the spirit of our own democratic times. Pointing out that Sita has been praised for her purity by goddesses Vasundhara and Jahnavi, Arundhati herself presents Sita to the people as their queen. Re-calling that Sita’s purity was tried and tested by Agni and applauded by the gods, headed by Brahma, in the past, Arundhati exhorts the people to accept Sita unhesitatingly from her (Arundhati’s) hands and, in conclusion, requests the people to express their view in the matter. Arundhati’s speech, which was virtually a proclamation of Sita’s purity to the whole universe, had an electric effect upon the assembled people, who silently bowed their heads to Sita in great reverence and thereby indicated their acceptance of her. Arundhati, then, quietly calls upon Rama, standing stupefied at the turn of events, to accept Sita as his wife, and employ her as his companion in the Aswamedhasacrifice, which was only half completed by then with the gold idol of Sita by his side. And Rama meekly agrees to do according to Arundhati’s bidding, to the immense relief of Lakshmana and Sita who were anxiously watching to see how Rama would act upon Arundhati’s advice. After that, Arundhati who had no more work to do, leaves the place, making a formal request to Valmiki to perform the, Upanayanaceremony of Kusa and Lava, the sons of Rama and Sita. Thus Arundhati ably fulfils the delicate mission of peacemaking entrusted to her by her husband Vasishta, who was precluded by force of circumstances from undertaking the mission himself.

This portraiture of Arundhati by Bhavabhuti, conceived and developed out of the small nucleus in the Ramayana of Valmiki, has no parallel in the whole range of Sanskrit literature.

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