Acharya's Call Part-II

H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses


Part II

HH Mahaswamiji
14    Drama in Ancient India

By reading books and hearing lectures, ideas get impressed in our mind. If the oral exposition is made to the accompaniment of music, as in katha kaalakshepa (musical discourse), the subject matter becomes more interesting and has a better appeal. The sravya kaavyaas (classics intended for study) of mahaa kavis (great poets) are embellished by a good style and enriched with alankaara, praasa and a vivid description of nature and so our minds love to linger over them and to drink in the beauty of expression. These great poets have also composed drisya kaavyas (dramatic works). Visual representation on the stage has a more direct and more vivid appeal than any amount of descriptive writing or talks.

Among the great poets who have written dramas are Kalidasa and Bhavabuti. Every drama portrays all the moods of the mind, or emotions, known as the nava rasaas, in a greater or a lesser degree. But there is one predominant emotion in each drama, which is its overtone. For example, Mahaaveera Charitam and Veni Samhaaram specialize in veera rasa (valor). In the same way, soka (grief), haasya (humor), and other rasaas are portrayed in the main in other dramas. Of these nine rasaas the last and the highest one is saanta rasa. Writers on Alankaara Sastra have been divided on the question whether saanta rasa deserves to be included among the rasaas, since it is a state of equipoise, not ‘affecting’ the mind in any manner, as any of the other rasaas do. The other rasaas are transient in their hold on the mind; they cause agitation and affliction to the mind for the moment. They do not conduce to permanent joy and peace. But saanta rasa, on the other hand, gives an abiding satisfaction, as a result of which the mind is at peace with itself and with the world. The effect on the mind endures without diminution or disappearance. As Sri Thyagaraja has expressed in one of his songs, Saantamuleka saukhyamu ledu, there can be no bliss if there is no saanti. So, though saanta rasa is not colorful and activating as the rest, it has been considered as a rasa in its own right.

There are six tastes, shad-rasas, like saltish, sweet, sour, bitter, etc, which stimulate the palate by their distinctive features. Apart from the fact that they can be “enjoyed” only in combination in proper proportion with articles of food, they are not saatvic by nature. They may “please” the tongue but they do not give “peace” to the mind. On the other hand, they “irritate” the tongue and “agitate” the mind. Sweet, which is one of the shad-rasas, and which is associated with an article like sugar, palls on the tongue when experienced in excess and becomes insipid. But there is another kind of sweetness which does not satiate. It is known as the madhura rasa andis to be found in substances with which the other gustatory rasaas cannot associate, namely, fresh butter and sweet curd, which Sri Krishna enjoyed. Butter and curd are pure white in color without any admixture, and as Sri Krishna’s mouth filled with butter, His heart was filled with joy. The madhura rasa of butter is saanta rasa.

We speak of black color and white color, but they are not primary colors according to science. The puranaas speak of the Sun as riding in a chariot drawn by seven horses (saptaasva सप्ताश्व). The word asva according to the Niruktam, means kirana (rays). So the meaning of saptaasva is one who has seven rays. We are aware that there are seven colors in sunlight. The spectrum splits this light of the sun into its seven component colors. Scientists have determined the quantum of each of the constituent colors in sunlight. These colors, when combined in the same proportions, produce whiteness. The flame of the oil lamp is reddish, because the element which makes for red is in excess in oil, while the flame of the lamp fed by pure ghee does not have this red tinge. It is pure white light and that is why ghee lamps are lit in the sanctum of our temples nearest to the Deity. Sunlight, which is also pure white, is in fact, colorless.

If each of the elements like gold, silver, iron, copper, etc, is heated to incandescence, it will emit a particular color peculiar to it. The spectroscope also reveals the existence of these elements in the constitution of the sunlight. In addition to these, an element known as Helium is also found in the sunlight. In Sanskrit Helih is one of the names of the sun. Helium is an element found in the rays of the sun, but not found on earth.

Like the sunlight, which is colorless, the crystal (sphatika स्पटिक) too has no color. In fact, water has also no color. The test of a good sphatika is that it should become invisible when immersed in water. Among visible objects, the sphatika is pure and white. Among tasteable articles, butter is pure and white. Among mental states, saanta is pure and peace-giving. Saanta rasa is that in which the mind rests in peace and repose.

Among dramas, those that are devoted to saanta rasa are not many. This is especially true of modern dramatic works, which seek to exploit the instincts of kaama and krodha (lust and anger) and degrade human nature, instead of elevating it. No modern drama has saanta rasa for its motif. But there is a classical drama which is devoted to the promotion of saanta rasa. That is the Prabodha Chandradaya Naataka of Krishna Misra, a dramatist of Rajaputana, who lived about a thousand years ago. It is an allegorical play devoted to the establishment of the supremacy of jnana as the means to moksha (salvation). The dramatis personae in it are Viveka, Vishnu, Bhakti, Sradha, karuna, dharma, vairagya, ajnana, mamamoha, paapa, asatya etc, and the drama itself delineates the conflict between these contending forces for the Saamrajya of Prabedha. The forces making for asaanti are vanquished and saanti of jnana comes out victorious. On the same model, Sri Vedanta Desika has written the Sankalpa Suryodaya, which is devoted to establishing the supremacy of Bhakti and its consummation in evoking the grace of God.

The dramas that ought to be acted on the stage are those that are calculated to elevate the mind, rather than corrupt it, and which leave the spectator at peace with himself and with the world, and do not agitate his mind and rouse his passions. At the present time we have any number of dramas and pictures that pander to lower human passions and some are intended to set one set of people against another, producing as they do, ridicule, resentment and anger. The danger to society from such corrupting dramas has increased now, because cinematography has enabled us to multiply the screen version of a drama and to exhibit the same simultaneously at a number of places and a number of times.

In olden days, acting on the stage was restricted to a certain community known as Bharataputras. Dramatization was their svadharma and their perquisite. If others who have other dharmas take to acting, they will not only encroach on the dharma of those who have a right to act, but will be obliged to give up their own svadharma, with deleterious consequences to themselves and to society. Even while acting, Bharataputras have to observe certain rules. A man should not act the role of a woman. Any man and any woman cannot take the roles of husband and wife; a husband and wife on the stage must also be a husband and wife in real life. But unfortunately this restriction is not observed now by those who take to the stage and the screen, and the absence of this restriction and restraint tends to degrade the morals of our people both in public life and in private life.

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