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Paradise in a Prison Cell: the Yaugandharāyaṇa Plays of Bhāsa

  • Robert E. Goodwin


It takes a determined sceptic to doubt the attribution of the Svapnavoāsavadatta (SV) to Bhāsa, a playwright Kālidāsa himself named as so favoured in his time that the younger generation of nāṭyakāras had a difficult time getting a hearing. After sifting through the evidence, the most likely conclusion is that the play we have of that name (or a variant), first discovered for Indology by T. Ganapati Sastri in 1909, is a somewhat shorter version of the play known to Śāradātanaya, Rāmacandra and Guṇacandra, Sāgaranandin, Abhinavagupta, Bhoja, and others. And one can scarcely admit the genuineness of SV without accepting the Pratijñayaugandharāyaṇa (PY): the two are perfectly complementary in plot, theme, treatment, and style. But even if we could not locate these two plays among the earliest extant of the whole Sanskrit corpus, we would be justified on aesthetic and thematic grounds in including them in any study of the key works of Sanskrit poetry. The plays are simple, yet charming and sophisticated, and more genuinely dramatic – giving us a more complicated sense of conflicting human interests (especially SV) – than any play except the Mudrārākṣasa (MR) of Viśākhadatta, who, however, completely lacks Bhāsa's lightness of touch. The two plays provide a thematic bridge between Kālidāsa and Viśākhadatta, combining the latter's resolute focus on sentiment-negating political demands (artha, utsāha) with the former's luxuriating treatment of the inner world of erotic emotion (kāma, śrṅgāra).



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1 Mātavikāgttimitra 1.2 and preceding.

2 Śāradātanaya's testimony is the most persuasive, since he gives a rudimentary sketch of the plot which includes the lute-verse of Act 6 (6.3). He also cites a portion of a verse we do not have, one which indicates a missing episode: Udayana tentatively concluding from Padmāvatī's artful make-up that Vāsavadattā still lives. Abhinavagupta also cites a verse not in our play, as do Rāmacandra and Guṇacandra in their Nāṭyadatpaṇa (where they name Bhāsa as the author). Rājaś'ekhara's dictum — that Bhāsa's SV survives the fire-ordeal of criticism — is borne out by modern taste as well. See the collected evidence in ch. 2 of Pusalker's, A.D.Bhāsa: A Study, 2nd edn. (Delhi, 1968), which one should also consult for bibliography on the whole attribution debate. The most recent summary known to me is Venkatachalam, V., Bhāsa (New Delhi, 1986), a Bhāsa advocate.

3 I am agnostic with regard to the claims of other plays in the corpus of thirteen. I see little of Bhāsa's characteristic intelligence and graceful humour in the Pratimānāṭaka, for example. On the other hand, I feel certain that the Avimāraka and fragmentary Daridracārudatta are his. The PY is probably also somewhat abbreviated: too much goes on between the extant Acts 3 and 4, and it is after all surprising that we do not even see the conventional hero (see Bharata's definition, Nātyaśāastra (NŚ) 34.22–23, KSS ed.) on stage.

In this essay my citations in both plays are from the Poona edition of Devadhar, C.R., Bhāsanāṭakacakram: Plays Ascribed to Bhāsa (1967; rpt. Delhi, 1987). I have also used the editions with commentary of Sastri, T. Ganapati: The Pratijñāyaugandharāyaṇa of Bhāsa, 3rd edn. (Trivandrum, 1920); and The Svapnavāsavadatta of Bhāsa (Trivandrum, 1924).

4 Which is not to say that is not present in the MR, as I have shown in “The divided' world of Sanskrit drama”, in The Scope of Words: In Honor of Albert S. Cook, ed. Baker, Peter et al. (New York, 1991), pp. 229–48. covertly dominates Rākṣasa's loyalty to the older political order. But for Bhāsa the conflict between the mutually exclusive demands of inner and outer worlds is undisguised, not to mention that his treatment of is both wistful and playfully humorous in the true kāvyic spirit.

5 The Mālavikāgnimitra, of course, is also comic and ironic, but so much so that, were it not for the Śrī-like qualities of the heroine herself, we would have little sense of the ideality of Agnimitra's erotic desire. Most modern critics, Indian and Western, have regarded the hero as a lecherous fop: see my Kālidāsa's metadrama”, Journal of South Asian Literature, XXIII, 1 (1988), pp. 131–2, n. 3.

6 The distinctions are in a sense arbitrary. Cārudatta, who is regarded as “steadfast-and-tranquil” (dhīrapraśānta), clearly has some of the prominent dhīralalita qualities of a romantic hero, but according to NŚ 34.17–19, or its interpreters, Brahmins and merchants (and Cārudatta is both) must be dhīrapraśānta. I have shown elsewhere that commentators differ on the classification (dhīralalita vs. dhīrodātta [“steadfast-and-exalted”] of Duḥṣanta, hero of the Sakuntala: “Aesthetic and erotic enhancement in the Śakuntalā”, Ada Orientalia (Hungary), XLIII, 1 (1989), p. 109. Rāksaṣa, a Brahmin, must be dhīrodātta, though, strictly speaking, that slot is reserved for kings. Conventionally, Rākṣasa escapes such classification altogether. Since the plot can be seen as hinging on the success or failure of Candragupta's bid for power, Rākṣasa becomes a secondary hero (pratināyaka). The same is true for Cāṇakya, and for Yaugandharāyaṇa in the PY. Thus Ganapati Sastri regards Udayana as the hero of the PY, and we shall follow his practice. This makes more sense with regard to PY than MR for two reasons. Udayana remains the focus of sentimental interest as the rasika figure, while Candragupta is only marginally so. Secondly, while both Yaugandharāyaṇa and Rākṣasa see themselves primarily as loyal aids and dependants of their sovereigns, in Rākṣasa's case this becomes almost a soul-searching issue, since his devotion forces him into rebellion against the status quo. In other words it becomes an ideologically marked locus of feeling that shifts the centre of gravity away from the issue of Candragupta's or Cāṇakya's success. But whether one regards Udayana or Yaugandharāyaṇa as the PY's nāyaka, the relationship between them is the same, and that is what we are interested in here.

7 Udayana, according to some versions of the legend, was taught this skill by a Naga. An Indian Orpheus, he charms wild animals, especially elephants, with a stringed instrument. However that may be, the play itself regards the skill as a family inheritance (2.10 +). See, for all variants of the Udayana story, Adaval, Niti, The Story of King Udayana as Gleaned from Sanskrit Pali and Prakrit Sources (Varanasi, 1970).

8 A Trojan Horse situation: the blue elephant was artificial, manned by soldiers.

9 This latter “heroic” aspect of the play theme should not diminish our sense of Udayana's romantic extravagance. The hero of Sanskrit drama is not an archaic warrior with an exuberant bloodlust. The ethos is courtly, and we are rather to understand such depictions in the spirit of panegyric and aesthetic posture. Ultimately their value is either to add to his romantic charisma or to elicit pathos for a noble spirit caught in the nets of deception, etc. To invoke Schiller's useful distinction, we are on the level of the sentimental rather than the naive.

10 Cf. the Nāṭyaśāāstra (NŚ) on “human success” (mānuṣī siddhi), 27.6ff. (Kashi ed.). See also my discussion in “Aesthetic and erotic entrancement in the Śakuntalā,” pp. 104–5.

11 2.10 +, trans. Woolner and Sarup, except for final sentence: Woolner, A.C. and Sarup, L., Thirteen Trivandrum Plays Attributed to Bhāsa (London, 1930).

12 Mahāsena has also already called attention in soliloquy to Udayana's addiction to sport (līlā, 2.6).

13 She shows herself as susceptible to his appeal as innumerable Indian matrons to that of die child-god Kṛṣṇa.

14 The sage Dvaipāyana Vyāsa at the end of Act 1 has already predicted his resurgence, but left the impression that it would be due solely to Yaugandharāyaṇa's covert activity.

15 One of them is interested only in arthaśāstra, the other in warrior's training (vyāyāma = kşatradharma): neither sees the value of music (gandharvaveda). Lacking courtly polish, they are philistines who would be incapable of attracting sahrdaya women (cf. the list of desirable qualities in a suitor, 2.4, one of which is sānukrośatva or “tender-heartedness”).

16 A modern version of Udayana, with Napoleonic trappings, is Fabrice del Dongo in Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma.

17 3.7, trans. Woolner and Sarup: parityajāma santaptaṃ duhkhena madanena ca/ suhrjjanam upāśitya yaḥ kālaṃ nāvabudhyate/;/

18 3.5 +: bandhaṇaṃ dāṇim pamadavaṇaṃ sambhāvia pautto rāaḷiḷam kattuṃ [bandhanam idānīṃ pramadavanaṃ sambhāvya pravṛtto rāja-/rāgalīlāṃ kartum/] The rāaḷiḷaṃ of the Prākrit yields both rāja- and rāgalīlām in Sanskrit. Woolner and Sarup have chosen the latter, but it seems to me that the pun is too good to lose.

19 Yet they too serve the purposes of the nāyaka's final siddhi.

20 MR 1.16 and preceding: athavā yat svayamabhiyogaduḥkhair asādhāraṇair apākṛtam tad eva rājyaṃ sukhayati/ kutaḥ

svayam āhṛtya bhuñjānā balino'pi svabhāvataḥ/ gajendrāś ca narendrāś ca prāyaḥ sūdanti duḥkhitāḥ//

My translation. I have used for convenience Kale's, M.R. edition: Mudrārākshasa of Viśākhadatta with the Commentary of Ḍhuṇḍhirāja, 6th edn. (Delhi, 1976).

21 Cf. Freud's, 1914 essay “On narcissism: an introduction”; also Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921).

22 E.g. verses like 1.8 which depict him as a generous friend to the good, etc. O r see the panegyric verses at the beginning of Śakuntalā 5. The rasika-as-king may be impractical and little inclined to duty by temperament but he is depicted as sentimentally bound to his subjects.

23 The elopement is technically either gāndharva or rākṣasa marriage, depending on one's point of view; cf. Manusmṛti 3.32–33.

24 An important motif in this play and the next. A list of allusions to Fate or related Fortune: PY 1.3 (daiva), 1.5+ (bhāgya), 1.6+ (kṛtānta), 1.12 (kāla, bhāgya), 1.15+ (vidhāna), 2.0+ (daiva), 2.5 (bhāgya), 3.4 (daiva); SV 1.4 (bhāgya), 1.11 (vidhi), 3.0+ (bhāgadheya), 4.6+ (vidhi), 6.4 (bhāgya), 6.5 (daiva), 6.18+ (bhāgya).

25 The classical work on the subject is De, S.K., “The Bhakti-Rasa-Śāstra of Bengal Vaisnavism”, Indian Historical Quarterly VIII, 4 (1932), pp. 643–88. The latest treatment known to me is Nrisinha Bhaduri, P., “Bhakti (devotion) as an aesthetic sentiment”, journal of Indian Philosophy XVI, 4 (1988) 377410. The essence of the system qua aesthetics is the granting of gradated rasa status to all positive affective relationships with the charismatic personality.

26 For other systematic attempts to solve the problem see Raghavan, V., The Number of Rasas, Adyar Library Series xxiii, 3rd rev. edn. (Madras, 1975), pp. 119–25, 201–3, and passim. None of these other schemes seems as useful to me as the Vaiṣṇava bhakti analysis.

27 For śānta rasa in general the basic source is Raghavan's Number of Rasas. See also Masson, J.L. and Patwardhan, M.V., Śāntarasa and Abhinavagupta's Philosophy of Aesthetics, Bhandarkar Oriental Series ix (Poona, 1969).

28 putuṣāntaritaṃ māṃ drakṣyati svāmī— ripunṛpanagare vā bandhane vā vane vā samupagatavināśaḥ pretya vā tulyaniṣṭham/ jitam iti kṛtabuddhiṃ vañcayitvā nṛpaṃ taṃ punar adhigatarājyaḥ pārśvataḥ slāghanīyam/ /

29 It is, incidentally, quite clear from NŚ 27.4 off. that the audience of Sanskrit drama did not consist exclusively of rasikas. But even the rasika shared the naive sentimentality of the popular imagination. Daivikī siddhi complements and enhances, rather than excludes, mānuṣī.

30 Can even parental love survive continued exasperation ? It would require, at least, a perfect lack of suspicion bad faith in the indulged child. But this is precisely what Sanskrit drama seeks to demonstrate: that the rasika, for all his privileges of power and sexual freedom, is in perfect good faith. One could say that this is the fundamental theme of these two plays.

31 In innumerable stories in world literature, from high romance to fairy- and folk-tale, a disarmingly passive and ignorant, but noble-hearted, hero achieves the pinnacle of success (kingdom, wealth, princess). See Luthi, Max, Once upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, trans. Chadeayne, Lee (Bloomington, 1976; Germanoriginal, 1970), ch. 10, Kāvya has clothed the romance logic in the courtly and dharmic ideological codes of Indian culture, a phenomenon Northrop Frye refers to as “kidnapped romance”: The Secular Scripture: A Study the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, MA, 1976), p. 57.

32 It is indicative, for instance, that Cārudatta's successful romance entails his advancement to princely status with more than a full recuperation of his earlier wealth.

33 Cf. Mudrārākṣasa 3.4, spoken by Candragupta: parārthānuṣṭhane rahayati nṛpaṃ svārthaparatā parityaktasvārtho niyatam ayathārthaḥ kṣitipatiḥ/ parāthaś cet svārthād abhimatataro hanta paravān parāyattaḥ prīteḥ katham iva rasaṃ vetti puruṣaḥ//

See also the image of Mālavikāgnimitra 4.1, where rasa is the juice of the tree of love.

34 The “nirvana-principle” is first broached by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).

35 The nāgarika is the urbane townsman whose culture is a conscious imitation of courtly life. But the relationship was reciprocal: Purūravas, the royal hero of Kālidāsa's Vikramorvaśūya is called a nāgarika (3.13 +, Velankar ed.). The model lover of the Kāmasūtra is called both nāgarika and nāyaka (“protagonist”), showing that life imitated art. See the remarks of Kuiper, F.B.J., Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka: On the Origin of Sanskrit Drama (Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 227–8. See also my “Dākṣiṇya and Rasa in the Vikramorvaśūya”, JRAS, 1988, pp. 288–304.

36 The occult intelligence need not always be Brahminical, though it usually is in these plays with their Hindu perspective. I subscribe to Louis Dumont's well-known thesis that the sine qua non of authority in the traditional Indian world-view is renunciation (with its implication of access to transcendent knowledge) rather than Brahminical status per se. See the classic essay World renunciation in Indian religions”, Contributions to Indian Sociology IV (1960), pp. 3362.

37 Cf. Sarvānanda, as cited in Pusalker, Bhāsa, pp. 30–1.

38 Cf. N S 27.55 (KSS): yas tuṣṭau tuṣṭim āyāti sóke śokam upaiti ca/ dainye dīnatvam abhyeti sa nāṭye ptekṣakaḥ smṛtaḥ//

Likewise this is the kind of gentle spectator Kālidāsa calls for in Vik. 1.2.

39 Being “without passion” one cannot be a poet or rasika. apāre kāvyasaṃsāre kavir ekaḥ prajāpatiḥ/ yathāsmai rotate viśvam tathedaṃ parivartate// śṇgārī cet kaviḥ kāvye jātaṃ rasamayaṃ jagat/ sa eva vītargaś cen nīrasaṃ sarvam eva tat//DhA 3.42 + //

Śṛṇgārin is a de facto synonym of sānukrośa.

40 nāyakasya kaveḥ śrotuḥ samāno' nubhavas tataḥ, cited by Abhinavagupta, DhAL 1.6 +.

41 The community may even include the ascetic, as shown by the example of Vālmīki, whose art derives from real-life sympathy for a forlorn krauñca bird. See Dlwanyāloka 1.5 with Abhinava's commentary. Of greater interest, perhaps, is the passage of the Abhinavabhāratī which notes that women are capable of bringing natural sympathy to a state of rasāsvāda repose: tathā hy ekaghana-śokasaṃviccarvaṇe'pi loke strīlokasya hṛdayaviśrāntir antarāyaśūunyaviśrānti-śarīratvāt (Gnoli, R., The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta, 2nd rev. edn. [Varanasi, 1968], p. 17). But AG need not have singled out women (though his remarks are, incidentally, suggestive of the idea that, as in the West, courtliness indicates a certain feminization of social values). Is not Cārudatta the epitome of the tender-hearted sahṛdaya? To insist on a boundary between his aesthetic capacity (Mṛcch. 3.3–5) and his whole sentimental bearing in life is to miss the point of the characterization. David Smith (Ratnākara's Haravijaya: an Introduction to Sanskrit Court Poetry [Delhi, 1985], p. 46) has pointed to an interesting śloka in the Kuṭṭanīmata (548 in the Tripathi, ed. [Bombay, 1924]) which shows the sahṛdaya as a Cārudatta-like sentimentalist: gāḍhānurāgabhinnaṃ tāruṇyarasāmṛtena saṃsiktam/ na bhajati sahṛdayahṛdayaṃ vibhavārjanasambhavā cintā/ /

The worry born of making money does not touch the sahṛdaya's heart bursting with deep-rooted desire watered with the nectarous rasa of youth.

42 We need hardly say that this is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Poets and musicians have often found that to move hearts has more than a spiritual value.

43 See my discussion in “Dākṣiṇya and Rasa in the Vikramorvaśūya”, pp. 291–92 and passim.

44 A key notion, broached at 2.0.72 in Devadhar's edition. Again Vāsavadattā's complaint seems to be made on “aesthetic” grounds: she complains, in other words, that it is out of character for a rasika like Udayana to act with “indifference” to his deceased wife by marrying again so easily.

45 4.5, trans, mine. padmāvatī bahumatā mama yady api rūpaśūlamādhmyaiḥ/ vāsavadattābaddhaṃ na tu tāvan me mano harati//

46 See “Dākṣiṇya and Rasa”, p. 298. Construed one way what she says is that true daksinya is the avowal of heartfelt sentiment; but also present is the hint that Udayana's confession is in a sense the polite lie required by the dākṣiṇya code when a woman questions her husband about his infidelities. In other words, she may be implying (and this does not negate the first construction) that Udayana is gallantly denying his love for her, Padmāvatī, in the evoked ghostly presence of Vāsavadattā. By offering this fiction she maintains face in a society that appreciates gallant façades.

47 Technical discussion of whether we do not in fact have vipralambha śṛńgāra, since Vāsavadattā is not actually dead, is beside the point. Appeals to pity are an essential part of rasika self-display and need to be regarded as such.

48 4.8, trans, mine. iyaṃ bālā navodvahā satyaṃ śrutvā vyathāṃ vrajet/ kāmaṃ dhīrasvabhāveyam strāsvabhāvas tu kātaraḥ//

49 A motif sounded several times in the play, e.g., 1.7+ (twice).

50 5.9, trans, mine. yadi tāvad ayaṃ svapno dhanyam apratibodhanam/ athāyaṃ vibhramo vā syād vibhramo hy astu me ciram/

51 I do not accept Pischel's idea that Sanskrit drama originates in puppet-theatre and am agnostic as to whether “string-holder” is to be taken literally with regard to the stage manager. The pun is apropos here though.

52 The term is borrowed from Rājasśekhara (Kāvyamīmāṃsā 4), who distinguishes between the constructive or strategic (kārayitrī) and emotive (bhāvayitrī) aspects of the poetic imagination. See Nobel, J., The Foundations of Indian Poetry (Calcutta, 1925), pp. 64–7, for a short discussion. Bhāvayitrī pratibhā belongs to Udayana, the rasika (which term includes the poet qua sensibility) capable of realizing the affective meaning of aesthetic fictions, i.e. the series of intimations we have discussed.

53 The Sanskrit terms for the elements of plot-construction are borrowed from the arthic sphere. See “Kālidāsa's metadrama” and “The divided world of Sanskrit drama”.

54 The Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa, compiled by Vidyākara, ed. Kosambi, D.D. and Gokhale, V.V., Harvard Oriental Series xlii (Cambridge, MA, 1957), “Introduction”, p. xlvii.

55 6.16, trans. Woolner and Sarup.

56 His ascetical aspect is suggested in three ways. First, he is asexual (as in the PY). Second, his decisiveness cuts through the impotence of sentimentality, thus manifesting the Cāṇakya rather than the Rākṣasa side of his character. Third, the metonymy of his disguise aligns him with saṃnyāsa and its associated intelligence.

57 6.18+, trans. Woolner and Sarup.

58 E.g. Mai. 4.19 +.

59 I have discussed this at some length in a still unpublished essay, “The playworld of Sanskrit drama”. The basic idea is that the depersonalized ideal of rasa, aesthetic emotion for savouring only and not as a means of understanding human complexity, has an ascetical (and paradoxically anti-emotional) aspect. It also parallels the notion of love as sensual connoisseurship rather than personal affection and commitment. Most dramas show an awareness of the tension between these two notions of love and expose the inadequacy of standard raja-aesthetics. See my review of Chad, V.K., Sanskrit Criticism (Honolulu, 1990) in JAOS, CXI, 3 (1991).

60 Not every rasika was polygynous, we can be sure, but the rasika ideal itself is. Just as today a male does not have to have enjoyed much “male privilege” to feel defensive about it.

61 Chad's apt term: see n. 59.


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