Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nature of the seekers - Bhagvad Gita

चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ [७.१६]
चतुर्विधा = 4 types of, भजन्ते = pray, मां = me, जनाः = people, सुकृतनः = of virtuous deeds, आर्तः = hurt, the afflicted, जिज्ञासु = the seeker of knowledge, अर्थार्थी = seeker of wealth or materialistic things, ज्ञानी = the one who is learned, भरतर्षभ = of Bharat Dynasty

Here in the 16th Shloka of Chapter 7 of Bhagvad Gita, is defined the nature of a Bhakta (devotee/seeker).

Four classes/kinds of people take to prayers. Prayers here are thoughts positive in nature which look outward of oneself for relief. It is not necessarily a hymn or chanting. It could be addressed to anyone you hold in high regard & faith (teacher, parents, seniors, king, nature, deities etc.) in the form of a heartfelt request for help.

First one is आर्तः - someone who is in any kind of pain. The afflicted one, who is overwhelmed with anxiety, worry and sadness. As anxiety, worries, hurt, afflictions are nothing but a state of mind and born out of our very own thoughts which are negative in nature; a good way to counter them would be to put forth our very own thoughts which are positive in nature. It is not easy to think of positive thoughts when one is in the numbness of pain, hence a prayer (admission of surrender and asking for support) is the starting point. It is an easy antidote to all the mental negativity and helps us bear with it till our sense of reasoning and analysis is back.

Second is जिज्ञासु - the seeker of knowledge. The one who wants to learn.

Third is अर्थार्थी - the one who seeks material success.

Fourth is ज्ञानी - the learned one. The one who has understood the truth. Just because his prayers (of any kind) have been answered doesn't stop him for being a seeker. It is just like being a traveller who remains a traveller even when he has reached his destination.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Goethe on Shakuntala

Abhigyanshakuntalam is a seven act play written by the renowned Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidas (around 4 CE). It is based on the story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, foster daughter of sage Kanva. It deviates from the original story mentioned in the epic Mahabharat in two aspects.

One - in the original story Dushyant is ashamed of his jungle escapade with the hermit girl Shakuntala and refuses to accept her as his pregnant wife (despite their marriage in the forest according to the Gandharva ceremony) when he gets back to the city. Kalidas introduces the curse of irascible sage Durvasa in his play, thus softening and building up Dushyanta's character. Durvasa's curse on Shakuntala does not exist in the original texts of Mahabharat in this regard.

Two - Kalidas has also tempered down Shakuntala's characterisation by presenting her as a shy, demure, compassionate and fatalist possesing heavenly beauty. This is quite contrary to the bold and outrightly strightforward Shakuntala of Mahabharat who agrees to marry Dushyanta only on the precondition that the son he has from her would be the future king, no one else. She also doesn't hesitate to the narrate herself, the story of her birth as a result of the union of sage Vishwamitr and heavenly nymph Menaka out of wedlock.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, German poet, dramatist, biologist, theoretical physicist and polymath expressed his admiration in 1792 for Shakulntala as:

Willst du die Blüthe des frühen, die Früchte des späteren Jahres,
Willst du, was reizt und entzückt, willst du was sättigt und nährt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit Einem Namen begreifen;
Nenn’ ich, Sakuntala, Dich, and so ist Alles gesagt.

Wouldst thou the young year's blossoms and the fruits of its decline
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed,
Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said.
—translation by E.B. Eastwick 

It means - If you wish to see the young flowers of Spring and the ready to pluck fruits of Summer at once; or if you wish to see that object which pleases, hypnotises, delights and quenches you at once; or if you wish to see the earth and heaven in one look; I invoke the name of Shakuntala and all quests are answered at once.

Heinrich Heine's posthumus work in 1869 brings to our notice an important fact. In the chapter 'Thoughts & Ideas' he wrote "Goethe made use of Sakontala at the beginning of Faust". Goethe's 'Vorspiel auf dem Theater' (Prologue to the Theater) of Faust is inspired from Shakuntala where an actor/director comes on stage and flatters the audience of their wisdom and cultured disposition to seek their blessings and patronage (though the audiences were quite different in both eras).

Friday, October 14, 2011


Kalidas is a celebrated Sanskrit poet and dramatist who is believed to have lived around 4 CE.

He wrote three plays - Abhigyan Shakuntalam, Vikramovarshiyam and  Malavikagnimitram.

Malvikagnimitram was the first one in the series. This is a 5 Act play about the love-story  of King Agnimitra of of Vidisha from the Shunga dynasty (presumed to have ruled Magadha around 152 BCE) and Malavika, who is the maid to the chief Queen Dharini. He falls in love with her when he sees her portrait. His childhood friend Gautam (Vidushak - court entertainer) is his partner in crime. Gautam and Malavika's friend, a fellow handmaiden Bakulavalika, help the couple avert the wrath of the queens Dharini and Iravati. Here is how the story unfolds -

Act I

Two learned sclolars Ganadas and Hardatt are arguing amongst themselves so as to settle the issue of who is a better mentor and pundit in the field of dance & drama. This serves as an excellent backdrop for King Agnimitra who is besotted by the portrait of a chambermaid named Malavika standing next to Queen Dharini in the royal painting, to summon her without making his desires obvious.

Malavika is a student of Guru Ganadas. One of his best proteges. If ever there were to be a competition, he would showcase her and no one else. This fact was known to the court entertainer Vidushak, Gautam. He was Agnimitra's childhood friend and quite aware of his love-struck king's secret infatuation. He sets up a contest between the two gurus hoping to get to see Malavika for real.

All this is being planned as other royal orders of going into a battle with the King of Vidarbha are carried out. Wardens of the King of Vidarbha had captured his cousin, prince Madhavsen, who was to enter into a matrimonial alliance with his royal brother. Madhavsen's sister had escaped by disappearing in the confusion of the capture.

Kanchuki, chief of the inner chambers of the Palace arranges for the dance performances while another minister Amatya Vahtak gets busy with military preparations.

The King insists that Parivrajika Kaushiki (Madhavsen's minister Sumati's sister), who has renounced the world should be present during the dance contest. Her decision would be decisive, not that of the other queens who were an audience too.

Act II

Vidushak Gautam's plan is a success. Guru Ganadas has chosen Malavika to perform as his chief disciple. She performs a quartet written by Sharmishtha in the form of a Chhalik playact. Her beauty is described in detail and the king is unable to take his eyes off her. Her voice is as sweet and innocent as her looks. She sings the part of a beloved yearning for her lover. The King feels as if she is calling out to him. Before he can say anything, the performance ends.

The young danseuse had left quite an impression. Gautam reliases that there was one expresson that she had failed to enact which the King was waiting for impatiently. He hadn't seen her smile. Being a court jester, Gautam quips about something. Everyone laughs. The King, the Queens, the Ministers, Teachers.

Malavika had taken the exit bow and was about to leave when she smiles gently. Just a glimpse of her teeth and shy eyes do their magic. The King is happy.

He is not interested in the other teacher, the performances of his pupils or the contest anymore. His purpose was served. He saw Malavika for real. He wonders how he can get out of enduring another dance recital by someone he didn't wish to see. This is when Vaitalik arrives. Vaitalik is a 'stuti pathak' by profession. A bard. His job is to sing praises of the King. He announces that it is lunch time now and all must rise for the meal. Agnimitra and Gautam look at it as divine intervention and rush out of the recital chambers.


Kaushiki's maid Samahitika and Madhukarika (caretaker of the Queens garden) are discussing the final outcome of the dance competition and Malavika's undisputed victory as they walk about, collecting lemons for Kaushiki. Everyone knows that the King has a soft corner for the new pretty chambermaid.

Underneath the Golden Ashoka tree stand Malavika and Bakulavalika who have been sent there by the chief queen Dharini to perform the ceremony of dohada so that the tree flowers soon. The chief queen is unable to take part in the ritual herself as her feet hurt after a fall from the swing. The queen has promised Malavika that if the tree blooms within five days of the ritual, she would grant her a wish. Bakulavalika adorns Malavika's beautiful feet with red pigment aalata and also conveys King's love-message which has been passed onto her by Vidushak Gautam.

The younger queen Iravati has invited King Agnimitra to the royal garden to welcome the onset of spring by sharing a ride with her on the swing. She sends him Kurbak flowers and waits for him in the pleasure-garden with her lady in waiting Nipunika.

The King wonders how he can hide his true emotions and not let Iravati know that his affections belong somewhere else now. Gautam advises that he shouldn't withdraw from his other wives even though his heart wishes none from his harem. They head towards the pleasure-grove.

The King, Gautam, Bakulvalika, Malavika, Iravati, Nipunika come face to face in the garden.

Act IV

Vidushak brings the news of Malavika and Bakulavalika's imprisionment in the underground dungeons by the chief queen Dharini. Strict orders are in place not to set them free unless someone brings the order of their aquittal by producing the seal of her ring Nagmudrika. Queen Iravati and her maid Nipunika have done their job of informing the chief queen of the clandestine meeting of forbidden lovers in the pleasure-grove. Queen Dharini is furious and refuses to show any signs of mercy.

The king decides to meet queen Dharini in her chambers. She is nursing her hurt feet with red sandalwood paste. Parivrajika Kaushiki keeps her entertained by telling her stories. Summoning his wits, Gautam decides to help the King in getting Malavika released from the prison.

Gautam feigns a snake-bite. He is sent to the royal physician Dhruvasiddhi. Chaos and commotion takes precedence in the chief queen's quarters. Everyone is eager to be of some help. The door-keeper informs that the physician requires any talisman which has an image of a snake to perform the ritual of Udakumbhavidhana, which can invalidate the deadly poison.

Dharini gives her ring as it has an image of a snake without knowing the real purpose it was asked for.
The ring is shown to the keepers of the dungeons and Malavika is free again.

Act V

The Ashoka tree is in full bloom within five days. The chief queen is obliged to fulfill her promise of granting Malavika one wish. She is very happy as her son, prince Vasumitra has won the battle that had arisen out of capturing of the Ashvamedha Horses. The King of Vidarbha had surrendered as well.

Everyone is assembled under the Ashoka tree.

Two maids who have been brought from Vidarbh desh as performers recognise Malavika as their princess. Madhavsen's sister is Malavika, who was in the hiding for so long after her brother's capture. The story unfolds. Kaushiki explains how all this came about.

Queen Dharini knows that her husband secretly loves Malavika. Now that it has been established that Malavika is of royal birth as well, the Chief Queen gifts her maid to him which in turn also serves as granting Malavika one wish which she had promised.

                                                                   THE     END

Note: You can read the book at Malvikagnimitram - English Translation by C.H. Tawney
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