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....

Pratimanatakam of Bhasa

C. L. N. Moorthy


Dr. C. L. N. Moorthy

            Kavyeshu Natakam ramyam, tatra ramya Shakuntula ... Thus goes the eulogy of the best drama in Sanskrit. It means that among the various branches of literature, drama tops the list and among the dramas, Sakuntalam of Kalidasa excels. No doubt, Kalidasa is the greatest poet of India. But as a dramatist, in truth, he cannot surpass most of the Sanskrit dramatists. It is indeed Bhasa who excels as dramatist and his drama PRATIMANATAKAM captures the hearts of the connoisseurs. It is a pity that most of the cultured readers of India do not know the name of Bhasa, let alone the merit of PRATIMANATAKAM.

It was Kalidasa who first praised Bhasa as the ‘established author of repute’, in his maiden venture MALAVIKAGNIMITRAM. Bhasa was considered the father of Sanskrit drama, nay, the Indian Drama. Poets like Bana, Jayadeva and Rajasekhara extolled him as the towering dramatist, the smile of the Goddess of Poetry. Bhasa is said to be a contemporary of stalwarts like sage Bharata of NATYASASTRA and Panini of ASTADHYAYI and Kautilya of ARTHASASTRA (3rd century B.C). Bhasa must have written many dramas, but unfortunately only 13 works could be discovered until now. Among these, traditionally, SWAPNAVASAVADATTAM is considered the best. But his drama PRATIMANATAKAM is so unique in theme and arresting in stagecraft that it can vie with SWAPNATAKAM, or ABHIJNANASAKUNTALAM for the first place.

In the entire history of Literature, it is Bhasa alone who sees good in all people and has a soft corner for all the famous bad characters like Ravana, Kaikeyi, Duryodhana and Karna of the classics, the RAMAYANA and the MAHABHARATA. In his plays Bhasa portrays these so called villains as the good and noble people who were sinned against than sinning. Bhasa tries his best to portray these characters as lynch pins in the scheme of the play of God. On reading Bhasa’s plays, one ends up unconsciously sympathizing with so called bad characters. This is more so in PRATIMANATAKAM.

Bhasa took the theme of Ramayana for his PRATIMA. The Ramayana is the perennial source, Upjeeva Kavya, for all latter poets. Many poets retold the story of Rama again and again so as to make the Ramayana story attain ten million verses ­CHARITAM RAGHUNATHASYA SATAKOTI PRAVISTARAM.

Having taken the story of Rama, Bhasa creates a new world of Rama. It may be noticed that Kalidasa enriched the story by introducing the episode of Durvas’s curse and a Signet Ring. He invented episodes to cover up the darker side of the character of the heroes. Bhavabhuti created incidents to highlight the sentiment. Bhasa invents episodes to highlight the brighter side of the villains without lessening the stature of the heroes and keeps up the curiosity of the reader­-audience.

The first act of the drama opens in a stunning manner with the coronation of Rama taking place as soon as it is announced in the presence of Emperor Dasaratha, Lakshmana and Satrughna. Sita who is in her quarters does not know about her husband’s coronation and is surprised when she learns of it. The coronation is abruptly disrupted by Manthara the messenger of Kaikeyi in the middle of the ceremony. Rama does not know the reason for this disruption and retires to Sita’s quarters. There he learns of Kaikeyi reminding Dasaratha about the promise he made to her father of the bridal price (Stree Shulka) of making her son the future king of Ayodhya. Now Rama starts out to the forest without Kaikeyi or Dasaratha asking him to go. The two well known boons are not mentioned and thus Bhasa protects the characters of Kaikeyi and Dasaratha. What is more, Rama takes upon himself the blame of accepting the crown greedily to prevent people accusing Kaikeyi. Before Rama’s arrival to her quarters Sita casually wears the bark-garments thus saving Kaikeyi the unpleasant and cruel task of handing her the bark-garments. It is to be noted that the important characters Dasaratha, Kaikeyi and Manthra do not appear on the stage in this act.

In the second act Dasaratha passes away and Bharata who is away is asked to return to Ayodhya forthwith without being told of his father’s death. Bharata had been away from Ayodhya for a long time.

PRATIMANATAKAM takes its name from the events that take place in the third act. The scene of action is the Hall of Statues, the Pratimagriham. Bharata awaits at the outskirts of Ayodhya for astrological reasons, for the auspicious time. He enters into the temple-like mansion where the statues of the departed emperors are instal1ed. He does not recognise the statues of his forefathers. He learns of his father’s death on looking at the statue of his father among those of the departed ones. He faints at what he sees and later learns from the attendant of the gallery that his mother was, responsible for the death of his father and the departure of Rama to the forest.

When the three queens arrive at the Hall of Statues to pay their tribute to departed Dasaratha, Bharata fails to recognise them also. When Kaikeyi is introduced to him he does not bow to her out of indignation, attacks his mother with harsh words and wants to know the real reason for demanding the kingdom for him and for sending Rama to the forest for no fault on Rama’s part. He refuses the crown and leaves to the forest to fetch Rama to Ayodhya.

The introduction of the Hall of Statues saves Kaikeyi from directly telling the truth of Dasaratha’s death and her desire to anoint Bhamta as the king. Bhasa portrays Bharata as more devoted to his brother Rama than to his mother. The dramatist introduces and uses the Hall of Statues so skillfully that the reader-­audience accept it unquestioningly.

The fourth act shows up the noble character of Rama & Bharata and their obedience to their parents as well as their affection and love to each other. Rama convinces Bharata that he would return to Ayodhya after fourteen years as desired by Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi. Bharata agrees to look after the kingdom as Rama’s agent. In all probability Bhasa introduced the Padukapradana to make Bhamta blemishless.

Act five is the high watermark of excellence in the whole of Sanskrit literature. Bhasa dares to bring Rama and Ravana face to face before the battle begins. He makes Rama worship Ravana reverentially. Ravana enters the hermitage disguised as a sage in the fourteenth year of Rama’s forest life. Ravana arrives when Rama was in conversation with Sita regarding the annual ceremony of libation to his father falling the next day. Ravana, an expert in Sraddha Kalpasastra, misleads Rama telling him in all sincerity and earnestness as a real sage-guest that the flesh of kanakanaparsva deer (with its golden ) is the most efficacious one in the tarpana ceremony. Rama believes the words of sage-­looking Ravana. Just at that moment a knanakanaparsva deer suddenly appears there and Rama goes in pursuit of it leaving Sita in the service of Ravana. Lakshmana had already left the place on some errand. Ravana thus cleverly manages to carry away Sita. Bhasa knits the dialogues between Rama and Ravana so skillfully that nothing sounds suspicious. Bhasa makes Ravana kidnap Sita heroically and makes him leave information as to where he lives. Ravana does not take Sita away behind the of Rama. We may say that Ravana who steals Sita steals the hearts of the reader-audience too. Bhasa depicts Rama as not listening foolishly to the words of his wife to get the deer for her. The dramatist makes the tarpana ceremony important to Rama and not the desire of his wife, thus elevating Rama’s character in the process. Sita also comes off spotless as she is not responsible for sending Rama away for a non-existing golden deer.

In the sixth act Bhasa makes Kaikeyi reveal the curse of the blind sage couple whose only son was accidentally killed by Dasaratha in a hunting expedition. He makes Kaikeyi opt to take the blame on herself for sending Rama to the forest. Dasaratha is made to grieve and die not because of Rama’s death as a consequence of the curse but because of the agony of separation from Rama. It is made to appear that out of love for Rama Kaikeyi sends him to the forest to ward off his death due to the curse rather than the greed to grab the kingdom. Rama was to be sent to the forest only for fourteen days. Kaikeyi utters the words ‘fourteen years’ instead of saying ‘fourteen days’ in her perturbed state of mind. This well known fact is corroborated by the revered elders of the dynasty like Vasistha, Vamadeva and also Sumantra. Learning the details of Rama’s exile Bharata now falls at the feet of his mother and craves her pardon which she readily and happily grants. Bharata gets ready to assist Rama in his battle against Ravana.

The seventh and the final Act begins with the statement that Rama had already returned to the hermitage of Bharadwaja after destroying Ravana and installing Vibhishana as King. He has come with Sita and is followed by the armies of monkeys and bears. Thus the story of Kishkindhakanda, Sundarakanda and the Yuddhakanda are done away with in one simple sentence. The entire Ayodhya, lead by Bharata and the three queens, comes to the hermitage where Rama is halting. There takes place happy reunion of the sons and their mothers. Kaikeyi takes up the thread of the coronation that was disrupted earlier and proposes the coronation of Rama then and there itself even without going to Ayodhya. Accordingly Rama was coronated to the chanting of Vedic hymns and victory cries of the subjects. Thus the play PRATIMANATAKAM ends on a happy note. But the audience is surprised by the oddity of not seeing at all the great heroes like Hanuman, Vibhishana and Indrajit etc. The killing of Ravana which usually is the climax of the story, is not shown nor described vividly. Though the story ends there is a feeling that the play is not complete. Bhasa leaves the audience dissatisfied so that they eagerly await another play from him to complete the story of Rama. And Bhasa comes up to satisfy his audience with his ABHISHEKA NATAKAM.

As one turns and glances at what has been done by Bhasa, there is nothing but appreciation for the skill with which the entire story is handled. The story takes a new shape that is whole-some and memorable. We cherish Kaikeyi for her unselfish sacrifice in the midst of abuse and scolding, the true heroism of Ravana, the simplicity and straight forwardness of Rama, the sweet innocence of Sita, the blemishless devotion of Bharata. The play writer has succeeded in giving us perfect models for good and noble life for it is said that “The poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

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