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In The ClassicalAnd Contemporary Theatre Of Kerala

Dr. K.G. Paulose

Three ancient texts – Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata has moulded the mindset of Indians for centuries. Ramayana is the model for intra-domestic affairs, Mahabharata for
interaction with society and Bhagavata for spiritual purity. Mahabharata, unlike the other two, is not permitted to be used for regular chanting for fear of creating quarrel in the household. Mahabharata presents man as he is where as the other two depicts a sophisticated and idealized levels of living. It is precisely because of this that theatre likes Mahabharata more than anything else. The influence of Mahabharata on theatre is tremendous.

Bhasa and Kalidasa

Mahabharata has been a veritable source for Sanskrit dramatists to develop their themes. Bhasa and Kalidasa were the earliest playwrights who were inspired by the great epic. Of the two, Bhasa revolted, often amending Vyasa by suitable substitutes and filling his silence with own interpretations. Kalidasa, on the other hand, often compromised to the epic narrative.

Bhasa was sympathetic towards the characters who were marginalized, neglected and condemned - Karna, Duryodhana, Gatotkacha, etc.. He made them heroes. Krishna, Dharmaputra or even Arjuna became pale in their presence. In Pancharatra Bhasa goes to the extent of suggesting an alternative to Vyasa. Vyasa tells us that there is no alternative to bloodshed to solve the Kuru-Pandhava feud. It is an indirect approval for warfare. But Bhasa amends and corrects that there are alternatives, the way of negotiations, peaceful settlements. The indictment here is on the pitamahas and acharyas. In spite of their having eyes they behaved like the blind father. Had they sincerely wished and worked, they could have avoided the horrible war. Bhasa envisioned a Mahabhara without a Kurukshetra! Bhasa was rebellious, and theatre liked this
rebellion. Kalidasa was soft. His Sakuntala differs not much from that of Vyasa, the minor changes brought about were by the compulsion of time. These two trends – the interpretative mood of Bhasa and the compromising tone of Kalidasa – are visible throughout the history of theatre; the greater influence of course, being that of the former.