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Bhasa Kavi's Sanskrit rupak Dootavakyam
- Dr. Sunil Kothari
Photos courtesy: Bharatakalanjali School of Dance, Ahmedabad

May 27, 2014

Govardhan Panchal

When at Shantiniketan, I was thinking of visiting Rabindra Bhavan to trace old photographs of Govardhan Panchal who had studied painting under Nandalal Bose at Kala Bhavan in early thirties, I received a call from Bhargav Thakkar from Ahmedabad. They were to present Kavi Bhasa's rupak Dootavakyam in Sanskrit on 13th and 14th May and wanted me to attend it. It was to be staged as a tribute to Govardhan Panchal as a part of his centenary celebrations. Twenty four years ago, I had attended its presentation along with Govardhanbhai, who had directed it as per the Natya Shastra conventions for a Sanskrit play. He had designed the stage, a simple wooden structure with two entrances on each side and in the centre, as in Koothambalam, space for Mizhavu players, where the musicians sat and actors entered from either side.

He had also used tirranokku, the curtain look, as we see in Kathakali for presentation of the characters. No microphones were used and the actors and the main vocalist had to sing in a manner whereby the audience could hear the dialogues, singing, and the sound of the musical accompaniment on veena, flute, pakhavaj and chenda. Bhargav who played the main role of Vasudev, and undertook to revive the play, followed all these instructions to a 't' and at Ravishankar Raval Building, Lalit Kala Bhavan on 6th floor in a compact Sanskriti auditorium with a capacity of 150 audience, mounted the production with considerable success.

The discovery in Kerala more than hundred years ago of Bhasa's Natakachakra consisting of six plays Swapnavasavadatta, Karnabhara, Dootavakyam, Madhyama Vyayoga, Urubhangam and Pratima Yougandharayana, was hailed with great delight by the scholars. The tradition of staging Sanskrit plays in Koodiyattam was reinforced by this discovery. While studying for Masters Degree with Gujarati as special and Sanskrit as subsidiary subjects, I was fortunate to study these six plays along with Bharavi's Kiratarjuniyam and Uttar bhag of Bana's Kadambari. Poet and renowned Gujarati litterateur Suresh Joshi helped me in my studies of these Sanskrit plays and kavya way back in 1964.

It was in 1948, Govardhan Panchal had written in Gujarati, Manipuri Nartan which was published by Nalanda Prakashan and was available at R.R. Sheth and Company at Princess Street in Mumbai. The celebrated exponents of Manipuri dance, the Jhaveri Sisters have it in their collection, both Gujarati and English editions. In 1952, Govardhanbhai had joined Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai and had participated in K.M. Munshi's dance-drama Jay Somnath choreographed by Guru Bipin Singh. He had studied Manipuri dance with guruji. The dance-drama was produced by Indian National Theatre (INT). Both Guru Bipin Singh and Govardhanbhai had played roles in that dance-drama.

In early fifties, we used to attend these dance-dramas with great enthusiasm at Bhavan. Meeting Govardhanbhai was a boon as he would explain the various types of stages as described in Natya Shastra and being a painter would sketch them for our benefit. My practical training in dance, deep interest in researches and writing on dance in Gujarati brought us close to each other. His book on Garba and Raas published by INT in Gujarati was a mine of information on a variety of Sanskrit plays. In particular, inclusion of a table, cataloguing and describing them was very illuminating. The references of dance forms in Sanskrit plays and how they reflected in folk dances of Gujarat were excellent. One quotation mentioned in Harivamsha for Maharasa, I still remember: 'Anganam anganam antare Madhavo' - 'Between each Gopi was Lord Krishna, Madhava' - when Krishna took many forms, performing with the Gopis. It is also seen in a picchwai.

Bhargav Thakkar as Krishna

Duryodhana and Krishna

Dootavakyam deals with Krishna visiting the court of Duryodhana to request him to give five villages to Pandavas, after their exile period is over. In order to insult Krishna, Duryodhana does not welcome him in his Mantrashala, even when all the kings present there, Bhishmapitamaha and others get up and welcome him with due respect. To further insult Krishna, Duryodhana asks his servant to bring the painting in which the humiliating scene of Draupadi being pulled by hair and Dushashana disrobing her during the game of dice, was depicted. Krishna does not like it and announces his mission as a messenger of the Pandavas. Duryodhana refuses to even give space enough for a point of needle to stand on. Krishna warns him about the consequences of war, which shall take place, if he does not return Pandavas their kingdom. When Duryodhana does not relent Lord Krishna assumes Vishwarupa. Duryodhana laughs and tells his servant to tie Krishna with a rope, disregarding the customary respect due to a messenger. He himself tries to tie up Krishna and is confused at his multiple images.

In the final scene, Krishna is angered and invites his weapons sudarshana, conch, mace, sword, his vehicle Garuda. But Sudarshana pacifies Krishna and tells him that killing Duryodhana will not solve the issue of sins on earth. Krishna asks the weapons to leave. Meanwhile, Dhritarashtra comes with a servant and begs forgiveness of Krishna for the insolence of Duryodhana and begs Krishna to accept the flowers he places at his feet. Krishna blesses him and the play comes to an end.
As is seen in Sanskrit plays, the director uses akashabhashita dialogues as if Duryodhana is listening to what others are saying. He welcomes Bhishmapitamaha and other kings to Mantrashala receiving them with mere acting as no characters appear before our eyes. Govardhanbhai had followed the instructions given in the play, but had used imaginatively the convention. For instance, the transforming of patachitra (painting) into a real action, the characters of five Pandavas appearing in court, Duryodhana looking at them describing Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, Draupadi being dragged in court, falling on floor, Duryodhana laughing on seeing her so helpless- the entire sequence is a tour de force.

Dolly Thakkar as Sudarshana Chakra

All weapons with Lord Krishna

Pandavas and Draupadi

Krishna showing Vishwarupa

Bhasa as a playwright introduces weapons of Krishna as live characters. Sudarshana Chakra appears describing himself and pays tribute to Krishna. Here Dolly Thakkar, who plays the role of Sudarshana Chakra, uses sancharibhavas, associate expressions and enacts Dashavatara to praise Krishna, using Bharatanatyam technique. (In earlier version, Smita Shastri had conducted nattuvangam when her disciples had performed these roles). That enhances the impact of Krishna's character. One by one the conch, the mace, the sword appears along with Garuda bird. Listening to Sudarshana's advice, Krishna decides not to kill Duryodhana and asks weapons to retire. They exit dancing. The Natya Shastra tradition of patrapravesha, entering the stage from behind the curtain held as in Kathakali, and exit is followed in an interesting manner. The curtain for Duryodhana has a painting of a serpent to suggest Duryodhana's character, whereas for Krishna, the curtain has a painting of Garuda.

Krishna to display Vishwarupa, moves behind the curtain and climbs on a stool and the curtain is lowered. The principle of theatre of imagination works here and Krishna's towering figure creates an illusion of his larger than life character. The singing of Sanskrit shlokas by Nirav Parikh, currently a disciple of Pandit Jasraj, was melodious but he had to strain a lot. The sound of other instruments like flute (Keyur Soni), veena (Dr. Anita V.P.), pakhavaj (Shishir Bhatta) and chenda (Santosh Kansara) was audible. Though they followed and respected Govardhanbhai's instructions, now in such a case, small microphone as used for interviews on television, could be used for vocalist, and for instruments microphones could be placed.

Both Dr. Mahesh Champaklal as Duryodhana and Bhargav Thakkar as Vasudev - Krishna entirely carried the play with success rendering vachikabhinaya in Sanskrit and followed hastas and angikabhinaya as directed by Bharatanatyam exponent Dolly Thakkar (nee Desai), a disciple of Elakshiben Thakore and V.P. Dhananjayan. The characters of five Pandavas were students of Engineering, who after a workshop for two weeks managed very well on the stage. Chanakya, son of Bhargav and Dolly, appeared for the first time with his parents on stage, as Bhima. Whereas the dancers enacting the roles of weapons performed competently, there was non synchronisation with pakhavaj in one case. For next production, I suggest pakhavaj may be replaced with mridangam as Bharatanatyam goes well with it. Prof. Vijay Pandya assisted the actors to speak Sanskrit correctly, which was impressive.

A scene showing various parts of stage as per Natya Shastra

What was most interesting was the simple construction of the stage following Natya Shastra instructions. Rangapith, Rangashirsha, Mattavarini, Kutapa vinyasa, Nepathya dwara and yavanika darshana (use of curtain) as devised by Govardhanbhai - they all were eye catching.

This particular play in Sanskrit resonates with contemporary sensibilities. The futility of war after two world wars, its devastating results, portrayed metaphorically in Sanskrit play conveys itself succinctly. Sanskrit plays revolving round wars are relevant in present times. With Sanskrit dialogues, visuals speak a volume along with music, dance and costumes. Direction by Bhargav Thakkar, a former National School of Drama (NSD) graduate and versatile actor with vast experience of producing plays for ISSRO was praise worthy.

The play would benefit a lot with few changes, better coordination in classical dance technique, use of microphones and toning down of costumes. Sanskrit plays are in complete minority. If Bhargav Thakkar and his colleagues plan and conduct regular workshops, they can organize a repertory for Sanskrit plays and bring that heritage to public with considerable success. They deserve encouragement and congratulations for remembering late Govardhan Panchal for his contribution to traditional dramas in Sanskrit and stage construction.

Entire cast of Dootavakyam

The play was presented by Bharatakalanjali School of Dance with support from Gujarat State Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Dr. Sunil Kothari
Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 12 years.

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