ARTS & ARTISTS
: Mnemonic Interludes
If indeed this was a dream,it would be fortunate not to wake up again;Or, if this should be error,then may I long be in error.
Be it heroes, idealists or kings, one question which has tormented since ages has been thequestion of balancing the conflicting claims of personal life with the larger interests of thenation/society. In this attempt to strike a balance, the victim in most cases is the sufferingindividual, unwillingly submitting to the exigencies of his exalted position. Be it Valmiki's Ramaor Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the dilemma that confronts the hero is essentially one of choice—between the personal and the public. Resolution in Western drama is usually tragicand often comes in the form of death, whereas in Sanskrit drama, we have a happy resolution.Because the aim of Sanskrit drama was the establishment of the spectator's harmony with theuniverse; the theater was meant to be "a hall of healing and joy."Bhasa, perhaps the greatest Indian dramatist who lived sometime before Kalidasa, ispresumably the author of 13 short works.
Svapnavasavadatta (The Vision of Vasavadatta)
—Bhasa's masterpiece—is a play based on the legend of King Udayana and Vasavadatta. Themain theme of this highly celebrated play is the sorrow of Udayana for his wife Vasavadatta,believed by him to have perished in a fire. Udayana passes through a prolonged period of sorrow and suffering, because of his deep and sincere love for his queen. In keeping with themetaphysical nature of Sanskrit drama, here too we are confronted by notions of time,memory, reality, and illusion.King Udayana's kingdom of Vatsa is invaded at a time of weakness and only an alliance withMagadha can save it. Yaugandharayana, the wily Chief Minister of Udayana, is thereforeanxious that his master should wed Padmavati, sister of the King of Magadha. But Udayana istoo deeply attached to Vasavadatta to entertain any such proposal. To contrive this politicallyneeded marriage, the devious minister spreads a report that he and Vasavadatta haveperished in the fire that consumed the village of Lavanaka. They leave the village and arrive ata hermitage where Padmavati happens to come. Yaugandharayana, disguised as a religiousmendicant, leaves Vasavadatta (in the garb of a lady of Avanti) in the charge of Padmavati.Udayana is finally induced to visit Magadha and is seen by Vasavadatta, though she remainsfor most of the time out of his own vision. The unhappy Vasavadatta secretly remains nearand has to watch her husband drawn into a marriage with Padmavati.Having renounced her happiness by going into hiding for the sake of her husband's restorationto his kingdom, Vasavadatta, the selfless, devoted wife, undergoes a bitter emotional trial. Weare awestruck by "the complete self-abnegation of the noble queen, who suffers martyrdomfor the sake of her lord with cheerful resignation," as also her self-sacrifice, self-restraint,serenity and dignity. Her only consolation is that Udayana is unable to forget her even in themidst of a new marriage. This is her reward for suffering that without being seen, sheoverhears him confess to the jester: "A deeply-rooted passion is hard to abandon; by constantrecollection the pain is renewed. This is the way of the world that the mind must cancel itsdebt with tears to gain tranquility." It was chiefly out of political motives that Udayana marriedPadmavati. He never ceases to mourn for Vasavadatta as he is perpetually haunted by hermemory.In this play that celebrates the power extraordinaire of human memory, even inanimate thingshave a life of their own. Udayana's sorrow for Vasavadatta becomes almost uncontrollable onthe discovery of the lute Ghosavati, her beloved companion: "My passion, for a long timedormant, has been awakened by the lute, but the queen, who loved this lute, I cannot see."