The day started off with a Sanskrit appreciation session by Arjun Bharadwaj and ended with a wonderful puppet show based on the fourth act of Shaakuntalam, by Smt. Anupama Hosakere and team.
Day 9, Session 1: Puppetry
A renowned puppeteer and innovator, Smt. Anupama Hosakere has single-handedly revived some of the puppet traditions in Karnataka. She started off by discussing the thin line that separates a puppet from something that is not a puppet; in the hands of a skilled puppeteer, anything can become a puppet. India is the motherland of puppetry and it has wonderful material for storytelling. With over six thousand years of history, there are many stories from India; be it the Vedas, the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Kathasaritsagara, Panchatantra, or the innumerable Sanskrit plays. Faced with the question of what is contemporary, we have to see if it makes sense to us today and if we can relate to it. If these have stood for so many millennia, then they must have something inherently beautiful.
The four major kinds of puppets are string puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets, and hand puppets. The Natyashastra of Bharata talks of four major aspects of dance, which is also applicable to puppetry: angika (movement of the limbs), vachika (spoken word), aharya (costumes), and sattvika (subtle aspects like horripilation and tears). In puppetry, angika is essential as is vachika. However, the aharya is equally important and is sometimes wrongly sidelined. The sattvika is limited. Some attempts are made to impart finesse to facial expression by including upaanga movements, like those of jaws, eyes, and eyebrows.
Anupama also spoke about the various arts and crafts that are involved (often behind the scenes) in the art of puppetry. Starting from designing the character, selecting the wood, carving the image, painting it, and preparing costumes for it, all the way up to writing the lyrics, composing the music, visualizing the stage, arranging the props, choreographing movements, and managing the lighting, several skilled minds and hands are needed. And the final effect is such that it can appeal to anyone and everyone.
Anupama’s presentation was peppered with so many wonderful anecdotes from her own experiences, which provided many insights to the participants. She spoke about her journey of investing time and energy on time-tested stories and that has given multi-fold rewards. She mentioned that as an artist, she has learnt to take everything in her stride, which she felt was the bonus gift of pursuing an art form.
Day 9, Session 2: Mahabharata
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
Continuing from his previous session, Dr. Ganesh spoke about the life of Krishna. When the Pandavas were performing the Ashvamedha yajna, Arjuna asked Krishna to repeat the Bhagavad-Gita. Chiding him for his stupidity, Krishna says that it is impossible to repeat those inspired words which were spoken naturally at that critical juncture. But he gives him another message, famous as the Anu-Gita. Later, he speaks his final words of wisdom, which is known as the Uddhava-Gita (recorded in the Bhagavata Purana). These later gitas are not at all comparable to the Bhagavad-Gita.
Dr. Ganesh reiterated the importance of understanding the four approaches available to us while looking at a text: adhibhuta, which is the material level; adhidaiva, which is the realm of beliefs; adhyatma, which deals with the self (i.e. our emotions); and adhiyajna, which operates at the level of ritual. The best way to look at the epic is at the level of adhyatma, not adhidaiva or adhiyajna, and definitely not adhibhuta.
Often there are debates about theism and atheism. What about Krishna? Is he an ishvara-vadi? Is he a nirishvara-vadi? He is a brahma-vadi, i.e., an atma-vadi.
Krishna was barely respected by his own people, the Yadavas. But for a few disciples and friends like Satyaki and Uddhava, he had no one among his own people. He found friendship in the Pandavas, particularly in Arjuna. But even they were not able to do anything for him. Perhaps Krishna developed a certain emotional loneliness. But he, being an atmavan, never complained. Often, there will be nobody to console great souls.
Thirty-six years after the great war, the Yadavas destroyed each other in a drunken brawl. Krishna himself participated in that fight and killed many of his own people. After doing so much for his people, he had to kill them with his own hands. What a terrible plight!
The death of Krishna, the greatest character ever created in world literature, is a non-event. A hunter by name Jara (which means ‘old age’ literally) kills him accidentally. Perhaps after the death of his kinsmen, he felt the descent of old age. And once a person feels old, it is his death. At the time of his death, Krishna remembers no one. Neither Arjuna nor Uddhava nor his numerous wives and children. He is utterly alone, as we all are, in our most intense moments.
In his epic, Vyasa hardly deals with descriptions of nature. His primary interest is the play of human emotions and the study of human nature. All his characters have negative and positive shades but we should never forget that there is a predominant trait for each character. When we look at these characters as people, then we can judge who is better than whom in an overall sense but as epic characters, they are all extraordinary. An interesting thing in the Mahabharata is the participation of the author at various crucial points in the epic that changes the course of events.
Vyasa’s openmindedness and vision gives us so many instances of karmasankara in the epic. Human emotions are nakedly on display in so many poignant situations. The weaknesses of the good and the strengths of the wicked are revealed, the helplessness of the powerful and the resourcefulness of the destitute are portrayed. It is a life-changing experience to read through this great work of the seer-poet Vyasa.
Day 9, Session 3: Raghuvamsham
Shashi Kiran B N
In this session, Shashi spoke about the successors of Rama from cantos 16-19 of the Raghuvamsham. This segment of Kalidasa’s magnum-opus deals with several kings starting from Kusha, the son of Rama, all the way to Agnivarna. Kalidasa not only uses a different poetic meter to indicate the end of a canto, he also uses a variety of meters to show the end of a major section of the epic.
Rama had twin sons as did all his brothers. Rama divided the kingdom equally among the eight grandsons of Dasharatha. When Rama takes the yogic path to cast off his body, the entire population of Ayodhya join him in the mahaprasthana. The city of Ayodhya becomes deserted and falls to ruin. The deity of Ayodhya goes in the guise of an elderly woman to Kusha and asks him to revive the city, which has become empty.
The greatness of Kalidasa is that he never loses track of the larger storyline and yet gives so much of time and attention to the microscopic details. He always adheres to auchitya (that which is appropriate). Not a single verse of his can be discarded as being superfluous.
Kusha’s son Athiti focuses on developing his kingdom. He is a symbol of abhyudaya (development), of economic growth. An epitome of artha among the purusharthas. Kalidasa goes to extent of saying that he was the fifth dikpala, the sixth element (mahabhuta), and the eighth great mountain (kulaparvata). However, he was not interested in the spiritual aspect of life.
The last king of the Raghuvamsham of Kalidasa is Agnivarna. A host of minor kings come between Athiti and Agnivarna. If Athiti was the symbol of artha, Agnivarna was the epitome of kama. He was such a lascivious man that he mostly spent his time in the company of woman, unaware of time of the day or season of the year. He neglected his subjects to such an extent that his ministers had to beg him to come out of the harem and have a look at his people, who are craving for a sight of their king. And finally when he deigned to drag himself from off his bed, Agnivarna put his left foot out of the window for his people to see. This, from a king in the lineage of Dilipa, Raghu, and Rama!
The brilliance of Kalidasa is that he merely describes in detail all these activities of Agnivarna, without pasting any labels upon him, without judging his character.
Finally, Agnivarna succumbs to a fatal disease and dies an ugly death. Even his funeral rites had to be performed in great secrecy lest the kingdom become a target to enemy kings or the prestige of the lineage is tarnished. The epic ends with a ray of hope with Agnivarna’s pregnant wife being anointed as the ruler of the land.
Day 9, Session 4. The Plays of Kalidasa
Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh
The great poet Kalidasa was also an accomplished playwright with three plays to his credit: the Malavikagnimitram, the Vikramorvashiyam, and the Abhijnana Shakuntalam. According to Bharata’s classification of plays in the Natyashastra, the first one is a natika while the other two are natakas. The Malavikagnimitram is based on a historical episode, the Vikramorvashiyam is inspired by episodes from the Shatapatha Brahmana and the Padma Purana, while the Abhijnana Shakuntalam is an elaboration of an episode from the Mahabharata.
It is little wonder that a great poet has to constant revisit the fundamental elements of human nature and this is captures in the purushartha chatushtaya. While this has been the foundation of all Indian classics, the concepts of Death and Sin have driven much of Western literature.
In Kalidasa, we see his constant quest for understanding the true nature of desire, what we call as kama-mimamsa. If the predominant theme in the Malavikagnimitram is artha- and kama-shringara, it is kama-shringara in Vikramorvashiyam, and dharma-shringara in the Abhijnana Shakuntalam.
Dr. Ganesh spoke in detail about the Abhijnana Shakuntalam, which is the love story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, the daughter of the apsara Menaka, who is brought up by the rishi Kanva, an epitome of nishkama-karma. A poignant moment in the epic (in the fourth act) is when Kanva is ready to send off Shakuntala to her husband’s house. He sends the following message to Dushyanta through Sharangrava and Sharadvata: “सामान्य-प्रतिपत्तिपूर्वकमियं दारेषु दृश्या त्वया.” Here the word सामान्य was interpreted by Ganesh in six ways, each giving a different shades of advice.
The session concluded with a video presentation of a couple of verses from the first act of the play enacted/danced by Smt. Sundari Santhanam. This was followed by a video of the fourth act of the play choreographed/enacted by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam.
Cover photo courtesy Chinamaya International Foundation.