Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 9

We move on to the next prahasana, Bhagavad-ajjukam.

Bhagavad-ajjukam

Bhagavad-ajjukam as mentioned before is a śuddha-prahasana, like Mattavilāsa is one among the best. While the construction of the title is simple - formed by considering the two main characters of the play, Bhagavān, the yogin and Ajjukā the courtesan - that in no way undermines the poet’s capability of constructing a funny comedy of errors nor has it affected its popularity. The earliest reference of this drama is found in the Mamandur inscription (7th century CE) as mentioned by Dr S Ramaratnam. This reference places it chronologically either before or together with Mattavilāsa but not after it.

Like Mattavilāsa, the plot at first seems trivial - just a walk along the park - involving two characters, where the characters arrive leading to the events in the play. Again the author’s perspective helps in generating humour from such a threadbare plot.

A preceptor and his disciple arrive at a grove, the preceptor tries to put some sense in the foolish disciple who has taken this route to fill his stomach, but it is futile. The disciple is enamoured by the music he hears and follows it only to see the courtesan who was singing it die, bitten by a serpent. The preceptor uses this opportunity to teach him a real lesson, using his supernatural skills, entering into her body. Finally the error is rectified and the two are swapped. Both in Mattavilāsa and Bhagavad-ajjukam the authors are well aware that the simpler the plot is, the easier to generate humour and entertain the rasikas. A complicated and convoluted plot would make the rasikas think too much about the plot failing to evoke rasa.

Like Mattavilāsa, Bhagavad-ajjukam has been a favourite in the theatrical tradition and has been staged multiple times even in the recent past. The drama has also seen multiple editions, one can see Dr S Ramarathnam’s thesis for such details. For the current analysis, we follow the text edited by Veturi Prabhakara Shastri, we also consult the edition compiled by Lockwood and Bhat and try to complement Dr S Ramaratnam’s thesis.

The poet

Unlike Mattavilāsa, the authorship of Bhagavad-ajjukam is not conclusively established. Some scholars opine that it is Mahendravikramavarman, while others think that the play is authored by another poet named Bodhāyana. Again as the primary aim of the article is to enjoy the work rather than debate about the authorship, the readers can refer to Dr S Ramaratnam’s thesis where he provides more details and argues in favour of Bodhāyana.

Dramatis Personae

Sūtradhāra (Stage manager) : Introduces the play, sets the stage for the performance. Wants to gain the favour of the king by staging the same play later. Seems to be confident enough to instruct the other character about what hāsya is and how prahasanas are staged etc.

Vidūṣaka (Stage manager’s companion) : Supports the Sūtradhāra in conducting the initial proceedings. Even though a comic character, he seems to be unaware of prahasanas. Both have very few lines.

Parivrājaka (The preceptor) : A yogin, adept in various śāstras. Has supernatural powers which he uses to great effect. Addressed as Bhagavān.

Śāṇḍilya (The disciple) : Has recently joined the Parivrājaka, has no real interest other than finding easy ways to lead life. Wants to misuse the respect people have towards parivrājakas and sādhus.

Vasantasenā (gaṇikā) : The courtesan, who comes to the park to meet her lover, to be bitten by the snake. Well-versed in arts. Addressed as Ajjukā.

Madhukarikā and Parabhṛtikā: Attendants of Vasantasenā.

Yamapuruṣa: The attendant of Yama, mistakes Vasantasenā as another person of the same name and takes her to Yamapuri, only to realise his folly later. His mistake is the crux of the plot.

Mātā (Mother of Vasantasenā) : Comes to see her daughter after she is bitten by the snake only to be surprised by her weird behaviour.

Rāmilaka: Vasantasenā’s lover.

Vaidya (Doctor):Whose skills are insufficient, he brings in the snake doctor.

Sarpavaidya (Snake Doctor): Even he cannot handle the case properly and hastily retreats.

The summary of the plot

The prahasana starts with invocation followed by the entry of Sūtradhāra and his companion Vidūṣaka, the Sūtradhāra shares his desire of presenting a play in the royal court and earn the appreciation of the king and shares his belief that a prahasana would be the best thing to present. Vidūṣaka says that he is ignorant of the genre which leads to the start of the proper play. The Parivrājaka enters searching for his disciple Śāṇḍilya who being lazy is lagging behind, Parivrājaka sympathetically puts his laggard behaviour to be the result of the all pervading ignorance. Meanwhile Śāṇḍilya straight away betrays his emotions by giving an introduction about his lineage and concludes that his bid to fill his stomach made him follow the Parivrājaka but it has not been useful. They both find each other. Śāṇḍilya questions the ways of Parivrājaka which seems to be otherworldly and has no immediate benefits, all attempts by the Parivrājaka to drill some sense in his mind goes futile. The conversation is followed by their arrival at the pleasure garden. Parivrājaka asks Śāṇḍilya to enter inside but Śāṇḍilya is afraid that the tiger which lives in the garden as per the stories he had heard might kill him. So he implores Parivrājaka to enter first. He follows him and immediately thinks he has been caught by the tiger and is about to die. When the Parivrājaka corrects him that it is a peacock, Śāṇḍilya accuses the tiger to have transformed into a peacock and is now fleeing, frightened by him! They sit after choosing a spot. Again there is a long discussion about the purpose of learning, validity of scriptures and so on. Here Śāṇḍilya again gives his opinion about food and other material enjoyments. Meanwhile the courtesan Vasantasenā in a bid to meet her lover Rāmilaka enters the garden which is the designated place, along with her two attendants Madhukarikā and Parabhṛtikā. Madhukarikā is sent to bring Rāmilaka, Vasantasenā and Parabhṛtikā stay back and settle in the garden. Vasantasenā sings in a sweet voice which attracts the attention of Śāṇḍilya. He is instantly smitten, but realises he needs to be rich once he comes to know that she is a courtesan!

This is the ninth 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.

Author(s)

About:

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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