Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 4

Languages and meters

While nothing of value is added by mentioning what has been discussed by both Dr N P Unni and Dr S Ramaratnam, just for the sake of completion, here is the list of meters and languages used. Even in a small work the author has shown versatility in usage of languages and meters which can be gathered by a cursory glance of the lists below.

Metres: Anuṣṭup, Āryā, Indravajra, Rucirā, Mālinī, Vaṃśasthā, Vasantatilakā, Śārdūlavikrīḍitā, Sragdharā.

Languages: Sanskrit, Prakrits - Śaurasenī, Māgadhī.

Critical appreciation

Mahendravarman starts with a brilliant invocatory verse

भाषावेशवपुः क्रियागुणकृतानाश्रित्य भेदान्गतं
भावावेशवशादनेकरसतां त्रैलोक्ययात्रामयम् ।
नृत्तं निष्प्रतिबद्धबोधमहिमा यः प्रेक्षकश्च स्वयं
स व्याप्तावनिभाजनं दिशतु वो दिव्यः कपाली यशः॥१॥

[May that divine skull-bearer (Śiva)
Of unfettered omniscience,
Himself a spectator and performer
Seized of emotions and portraying sentiments
Comprising the course of the three worlds
By speech and dress by actions and feelings
Grant thee glory that fills the bowl of the universe]

Translation by NP Unni (modifications emphasized)

The verse can be easily used in plays which have more serious and sublime themes without batting an eyelid. The Mahānaṭa aspect of Śiva is alluded to in the verse along with the fact that he encompasses the whole universe thus being both the performer and the spectator. One can't help but be reminded of the invocatory verses from Mālavikāgnimitram, Vikramorvaśīyam, Abhijñānaśākuntalam, Mṛcchakaṭika and Mudrārākṣasa all of which incidentally invokes the same deity Śiva. While not as profound in content compared to the above mentioned verses, this verse is still a profound one by any standards, much better than many other invocatory verses employed by other poets. Contrast it to the invocatory verse of Svapnavāsavadattā where in a bid to bring the names of the characters using sabhanga-abhanga-śleṣa such a delicate themed play invokes Balarāma who is neither known for profundity nor such delicate emotions. Or Mālatīmādhava which invokes Gaṇapati, sneezing, and being tormented by the snake in a humorous way. One can also notice that the main character is alluded to in the invocation address to Śiva which contains one of the names of Śiva - Kapālin.

Lockwood and Bhat in their introduction (page 112) alludes to four levels of interpretation for this verse, two of which also considers Kapālin to be suggesting “king” and “playwright”. While some of the explanations are nice, getting out four interpretations seems to be a stretch and gives an impression that too much is being made out of this verse and the authors seem to walk on thin ice.

In the same section and in the other sections too the authors seem to be enamoured by Tantra - the stage manager’s having a second wife for example, which wasn’t uncommon in those times is somehow construed to allude to Tantra - and find many suggestions which don't seem to add a lot in terms of rasa.

Next we also notice that the faux pas committed by Satyasoma which casts doubt in the mind of his partner about his fidelity is hinted by the fact that the Sūtradhāra has married a younger woman which has angered the senior wife. She in fact chides him for such juvenile antics, in the process cleverly mentions the name of the play through pun (यौवन-गुण-भर-मत्त-विलास-प्रहसनं दर्शयितुमागतोऽसि?).

The junior wife is only referred in third person compounding to the confusion and results in adding fuel to her anger which is allayed only after telling that it is the pariṣad (gathering of the connoisseurs) - a feminine word - waiting to see it being staged.

Mahendravarman, introduced as Śatruṣadvarganigraha, has many precedents, typically for any individual, let alone a king, the aspiration is to conquer all the six enemies - the ariṣadvarga. Even arthaśāstra which primarily deals with the material world, declares it’s aim to be indriyajaya i.e. conquest of senses.

He is also described as Kubera in munificence, which is interesting, such comparison with Kubera comes even in the Rāmayana (धनदेन समस्त्यागे) when describing the qualities of Rāma even though there are no famous episodes where Kubera acts as munificent as alluded. Somehow that image has stuck with Kubera for so many centuries. A comparison with Raghu or Śibi would have made it more appropriate. Along with the invocatary verse, the verse which further describes his qualities helps us gauge the prowess of the author in handling the majestic śārdūlavikrīḍita metre. The last verse in the sthāpana is intercepted by the dialogue of a character like it is usual in bhāsa and followed later.

The main plot starts with the entry of Satyasoma along with Devasomā, their drunken antics are described immediately to convince the audience that they are extremely intoxicated. Satyasoma appreciates Devasomā that she has gained so much beauty and grace in so few days of the vrata alludes to her joining him recently, this is later confirmed when Babhrukalpa enters. Satyasoma, trying to support her, commits faux pas (gotra-skhalana), calling her by another name Somadevā, which results in anger. To convince her he vows never to drink again which makes her fall at his feet to apologise. This results in one of the best verses of the prahasana.

पेया सुरा प्रियतमामुखमीक्षितव्यं
ग्राह्यः स्वभावललितो विकृतश्च वेषः।
येनेदमीदृशमदृश्यत मोक्षवर्त्म
दीर्घायुरस्तु भगवान्स पिनाकपाणिः॥७॥

[Take to wine and gaze at beloved’s face
Don the natural, yet loathsome, dress
Long lived be the Lord of pinaka bow
Who thus proclaimed the way to Liberation]

Translation by NP Unni

It is a practice in our tradition for elders to bless younger people to enjoy a long fruitful life. But here, Śiva is the highest deity for kāpālikas, not just that he is the ideal whom they try to reach, he is also the lord of time, Mahākāla, who has the ultimate control over time. He is the one who has neither birth nor death. He is the oldest and still beyond aging. In spite of all these things Satyasoma, a mere mortal, blesses that Śiva a long life! If not for anything, we should salute the sheer audacity of the character and the author who speaks through such a character. It also reflects the universal outlook and inclusiveness of Sanātana dharma. We have instances of devotees blessing the Lord in all seriousness. Eg.: Periyalvar blessing Viṣṇu.

To be continued...
This is the fourth part of the multi-part essay on "Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas". Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh, Shashikiran B N and Hari Ravikumar for reviews and valuable inputs.



Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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