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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lightning: An Abhisarika’s Beacon to Her Paramour’s Abode

Mrichchhakatika of Sudraka is said to be an outstandingly brilliant Sanskrit play. Unlike the acknowledged masters of dramatic art like Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti, Sudraka had chosen a social theme—love of Charudatta and Vasantasena—as the plot for his play of ten acts. The hero, Charudatta is a Brahmana youth. He is known for his noble deeds, and becomes poor, for munificence has become his very second nature. He resides in Ujjayini with his wife and a child.

Vasantasena, the heroine, is an exquisitely beautiful but pure-minded Ganika —courtesan of the same city. Vasantasena, born and brought up as a courtesan, falls in love with Charudatta at her very first encounter with him at a festival, more for the nobility of his character. Thereafter, she, contrary to her profession, loathes entertaining any other suitor. Her passion for Charudatta grows so intense that one evening, braving the raging thunderstorm outside, the love-sick Vasantasena, beautifully dressing herself as an Abhisarika, goes to visit Charudatta at his residence, duly accompanied by her umbrella-bearer, Vita.

On the way, the poet scripts a conversation between Vasantasena and Vita centring on the crowding clouds and the variegated paintings that they make on the sky in such a way that it depicts the anxious feelings of Vasantasena, a ganika, courtesan, going for the first time to her lover, that too, much against the dictates of her known profession, obviously with a heart pounding.

Drawing the attention of Vasantasena saying, “Vasantasene pasya pasya!”—See, Vasantasena see! Vita describes the clouds thus: “Garjanti silasikharēshu vilambibimbā / mēghā viyuktavanitā hrudayānukārāha /yēshām ravēna sahasōptatitiha mayūriha / kham vējyathē manimayairariva tālasrumgaiha” (Mrich Act V.13)The clouds hang drooping to the mountain peaks, / Like a maiden’s heart, that distant lover seeks: / The peacocks startle, when the thunder booms, / And fan the heaven with all their jeweled plumes.” Here, the poet is comparing the dark clouds to the sorrow-stricken women, whose hearts are black, for they, being away from husbands are void of any joy.

Vasantasena, appreciating his apt description, says, “Mōdhē! Nirantara payodharavā mayaiva kāntaha sahābhiramate yadi kim tavātra / mām garjitiriti muhurvinivārayantē mārgam runadhi kupitēva nisā patnee”—“…Sir, See, this—night, as though a co-wife, is blocking my path in anger, forbidding me now and again with its thundering, as though saying—‘You Fond fool! What business you have here when your lover sports with me alone, possessing plump payodharas (breasts…clouds)?’” (Mrich Act V.15).

Here, the poet plays pun using the word nirantarpayodharaya that has a double-meaning: ‘having clouds close together’ for referring to night and for ‘the rival wife’—‘with breasts leaving no space between’. Then, Vita, concurring with her, says, “You may scold her”. But Vasantasena wonders: “What is the use of scolding her who is obstinate as is women’s nature?” But she hastens to assert her will saying, “No matter, clouds pouring in torrents, thunders threatening or frightening lightning; women who go to their lovers do not mind cold or heat” (Mrich Act V.16).

Walking through the torrents of rain poured by clouds that are dark like the wet leaves of tamala tree, Vasantasena, questions: “O shameless, shameless sky! / …/ Why do thy thunders frighten me and pain / … / O Indra, mighty Indra! / … / Remember: / For Ahalya’s sweet sake thou once didst lie; / Thou knowest lover’s pain / … / O cruel cease thy rain” (Mrich Act V.29-31).

Vasantasena, then, turning her anger towards the lightning, chides it thus: “If the cloud thunders, well, let them do so: for men are cruel. But, O lightning how is that even you too cannot understand the suffering of a woman?”

Hearing it, Vita anxiously stops her from upbraiding lightning for she is under an obligation to it. Here, Vita utters a beautiful verse: “iravatorsi chalev suvarsharajju / sailasya mughni nihatev sita panaka / akhandalasya bhavanodarvopikeya / masyathi te priyatamasya hi samnivesam (Mrich Act V.33)—But mistress, do not scold the lightning. She is your friend—This golden cord that trembles on the breast / Of great Airavata; upon the crest / Of rocky hills this banner all ablaze; / This lamp in Indra’s palace; but most blest / As telling where your most beloved stays.” And lo! As he thus pacified her, they reach the abode of Charudatta that results in the consummation of Vasantasena’s love.

Vasantasena, thus comes “to see her lover, very wet, / with dripping locks, but pleased and loving yet”, with all the passion as that of a new bride going to meet her groom for the first time. Interestingly, seeing the megha, love-sick Vasantasena, like Yaksha of Kalidasa, does not lose her ‘rationale’, on the other hand becomes a ‘proudha’—a bold and grownup woman no longer bashful or timid in the presence of her lord; one of the four principal female characteristics in poetic compositions—and chides the rain. She even reprimands Indrathe god of the thunderstorm—for obstructing her from reaching her lover’s abode. Also, reminding him of the unethical trick played by him to meet Ahalya, commands him to cease the rain at once. Such is the intensity of her love for Charudatta, a poor Brahmana with wife and a child. Like lightning, her pure mind and just-love is sure to illuminate the imagination of the audience, or might even freeze it for a while making one instantly experience “sadyaha para nirvrutini”—forgetting the external world, swaying in an indefinable ananda... joy.

Keywords: Mrichchhakatika, Vasantasena, Sudraka, Charudatta..
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