Methodology Of The Analysis Of Sanskrit Drama
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Methodology Of The Analysis Of Sanskrit Drama

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Item Code: NAO787
Author: M.Christhoper Byrski
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan
Language: English
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8121701198
Pages: 117
Other Details 9.50 X 7.50 inch
Weight 400 gm
About the Book

How to read and understand Sanskrita drama? The Author in quest of indigenous methodology investigates the Natyasastra and specially focuses his attienation upon the typology of Sanskrit drama, the four demenours, the span-structure and the three fold scheme of the traditional Indian value system. The criteria thus formulated are put to test while analyzing two plays of Bhasa-the Svapnavasvadatta and the Pratijnayaugandhnrayana, as well as the Sakuntala of Kalidas. The reader is invited to try this analytical system and to discover for himself the expected layers of Ancient Indian drama.


The book that is being placed now before the Readers, in its main portion, was written some time back and circulated in the seventies in a limited number of cyclostyled copies by the Publication Division of the University of Warsaw. It has remained practically unknown in India. Thus it was suggested that it may be brought out in a regular book form so as to become more easily available to those interested in this country and elsewhere outside Poland.

The Author is well aware that during the past twenty years much has been done in the field of Sanskrit literary studies both in India and in many other countries. All this should have normally been taken into consideration before the publication. Yet since other responsibilities connected with the duty to represent Poland in India precluded the Author from doing justice to this task, it has nevertheless been decided to go ahead with the publication on the assumption that basically the main purport of this study may still be valid.

Yet the Author availed himself of this occassion to add to the original text four new chapters and to include here and there some later observations that he found relevant. The first among the added chapters presents the analysis of the Sakuntala of Kalidasa done on the same lines as the other two plays of Bhasa. Chapter VII presents the results of studies in the course of which it has been attempted to situate the classical Indian art of theatre within the perimeter of its contemporary value-system. The results of this enquiry were first published few years ago in Rtvik Ritualia by Uma Marina Vesci. Chapter VIII tackles the same problem in its sociohistorical dimensions drawing a parallel between theatre and modern Indian cinema. It was originally published sometime in the eighties in Bombay by Moti Bhuvania in his ephemeralalas !-Pushpanjali Annual. Here it is presented in somewhat altered form to make the historical parallel even more striking. The last Chapter IX was inspired by the late Professor Sontheimer from Heidelberg who invited the Author to present the paper on the hero in Sanskrit drama at the seminar organised by him there. By now it might have also been published by the University of Heidelberg. This study relies heavily on the results of the enquiry presented in Concept of Ancient Indian Theatre while adding to it material drawn from Sanskrit dramas.

The Author trusts that the present book may be found of interest to those who consider Sanskrit drama and classical Indian theatre as valuable source of inspiration for modern artistic endeavour. It has basically been meant for a non-Indian Reader for the Author is well aware of his limitations and holds deep belief in what best maybe termed Samskara. But thanks to this very fact the book stands a chance to excite some curiosity also in India. The Author conscious of its obvious shortcomings, counts on the indulgence of Readers of the present book.

Finally, the timely help of Dr. Chandra Bhushan Jha, a lecturer in the department of Sanskrit of St. Stephen's College, Delhi, who has helped with proof readings and who has prepared the index has to be gratefully acknowledged.

Last but not least, a lot of credit has to go to my very dear friend Mr. Kishore Chandra Jain of the Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan without whose persistence and patience this book would have never come to be in its second avatara.


More than half a century ago Andrzej Gawronski wrote the following words : 'Indian poetry has to be judged according to Indian standards of taste. It can reveal its surpassing beauty only when it ceases to appear exotic. In my opinion, it is unfair to pass judgment upon the civilisation of a foreign people before we have made every effort to identify ourselves with it. The meaning of this phrase and its message is aboundantly clear and one cannot but enthusiastically endorse this point of view. Yet, there is one moment here at which we need to pose further question; namely—how to understand this identification postulated by the greatest Polish Indologist ? My own long stay in India convinced me that this identification should never happen at the cost of our own identity. People who stop to be what they have been born into—Europeans, Americans or Chinese—loose all chances to understand and appreciate genuine Indianness. Thus for me identification would mean intellectual openness accompanied by empathy in the sphere of emotion. Now, the question arises how to execute this openness ? In other words, what precisely should we do when confronted with an exotic culture? To my mind, one who investigates, such culture should try to understand basic tenets of it in its different aspects and try to reformulate them in such a way that they stop to be hermetic to his own intellectual compeers who cannot study this culture so closely as he does. This constitutes the basic premise of the present study.

It seems that the proof of success in such a venture would be a more or less lasting presence of some elements of the investigated culture in our own cultural milieu. Yet, our palate is in this respect more demanding than our intellect. Mediaeval Europe was so unhappy without Indian spices that very soon after the Ottoman Empire cut the route to India, the other route was discovered. I guess similar thing would happen if today Europe were deprived of her everyday tea. Unhappily or happily, culture is less attractive commodity, though by no means less important. Had Europe been consuming as much Indian culture as it is consuming Indian tea, our cultural life might have had richer and certainly more variegated and interesting flavour. Exactly like tea in our shops testifies to our food habits, Indian literature in our libraries, Indian music in our philharmonies, and Indian drama in the repertoire of our theatres, give testimony to our broadmindedness and our sophistication in the best sense of the word. Since I have never lost my European identity, it is, therefore, difficult, nay—impossible for me, to attribute the present rather discouraging state of affairs to some inborn disabilities of my culture. Thus, the only culprit I can point out is the wretched Indologist who must have betrayed the trust placed in him.

So far Indian literature fared best. This may be partly attributed to the philological bias of European Indology and partly to the fact that one can buy a book and never read it. While once a ticket is bought one has to listen to music or has to watch a performance. Historically speaking, as far as theatre is concerned this is somewhat unexpected because European theatre seems to have been taking lively interest in Indian themes for quite some time.

Most probably all over Europe the first theatres to lend their stage to exotic themes were those of the Jesuit Colleges. In Poland in such places like Lublin and Lwow plays dealing with spectacular exploits of missionaries were staged by the end of the XVIIth and the beginning of the XVIIIth century. We can safely assume similar occurrences all over Europe). The more so that already by the middle of the XVIIIth century and especially in the latter half of it similar "exotic" plays, though no more concerned with religious missionaries and already outside the Jesuit Colleges, appear all over Europe. The best example of it might be the notorious "Indian Widow", which under different titles and in different versions was played in theatres of Europe; everywhere, it seems, it was well received by the public). Inspite of the fact that those plays did present a highly adulterated picture of India or rather because of that very shortcoming of them, the European public should have been well prepared to welcome the genuine Indian drama. Consequently it comes rather as a surprise that when in 1789 William Jones for the first time translated the "Sacontala" of Kalidasa and two years later his translation was rendered into German by Georg Forster, it was not followed by an outburst of interest on the part of the European public. Staging of the "Sakuntala" and other Sanskrit dramas remains rare to this day. And when attempted often it dissolves into meaningless candy–pageantry or evolves into a completely un-Indian novel theatrical performance like Grotowski's for instance.

The reason of that is not very difficult to find. In what might be called here exoticism on the European stages we used to mould our rather modest knowledge of India into something which we Europeans could understand and with which we could easily identify ourselves. Consequently such plays like that "Indian Widow" mentioned above presented a picture which apart from few exotic and often wrongly applied names and faces of the chief protagonists covered with brownish make-up, did not contain any other apparent Indian features. Indian heroes and heroines of those plays, as well as villains, behaved in European manner and if among the audience of theatre there would have been an Indian, probably he would have wondered why Europeans need this pseudo–Indianness in order to show themselves to themselves. It seems that it is a deeply ingrained narcissism of man which bars him from a meaningful contact with another man.

Most often we have been more interested in ourselves in India than in India herself. Out of personal experience I can say that to break that shell is not easy. Yet it is an absolute condition of any real encounter. Otherwise we shall endlessly gaze at our own image simply dressed up in an Indian costume—not quite faithfully copied at that. This danger does not threaten only while writing and producing the so called exotic plays entirely of Western make. It also applies to the productions of the original Indian plays. Our critical apparatus is not geared to appreciate and judge those aspects of the ancient Indian theatrical tradition which determine its peculiar Indian character. Consequently we try to see in them just the same values (or their absence) which we used to appreciate in the "Indian Widow" of ill fame. Resulting product only testifies to a sad fact of basic misunderstanding. For original Sanskrit dramas (even in translation) do neither yield themselves to an operetta-type of interpretation or to any other known to us. The unattractive outcome of such ventures confirms this presupposition. Thus precisely here we have to look for the reasons why these dramas did not appeal to general public in the way comparable to our own pseudo-Indian plays. It may not be out of place to add here that a perfect innocence of Westerners with regard to classical Indian theatrical convention of staging plays contributed to an overall failure on our part to understand and appreciate those plays.

Therefore our most immediate task is to pinpoint the weakness inherent in the way Sanskrit drama is usually expounded. This pattern has been so forcefully established by such scholars as M. Winternitz, A.B. Keith, S.K. De and others, that it is by no means easy to challenge it. Yet it seems that a completely new set of criteria—or at least substantially modified ones—should be applied to the evaluation of the dramatic text. The principal objection to those hitherto applied is that they are haphazard and for the most part subjective. In what follows we shall try to substantiate this view and offer some positive suggestions. Since Sanskrit literary criticism as a whole developed out of the study of theatrical arts, these suggestions may be relevant to the entire field of Sanskrit literature.

A well-known Polish scholar, J. KrzyZanowski, writes in his Nauka o literaturze (Science of literature), "Literary criticism which is unable to be so fresh and sensitive as to view literary works through the eyes of their first critics is not worth much"). Scholars like Wilson, Winternitz, Keith and De have made detailed studies of the history of aesthetics but have failed to apply its criteria when evaluating the dramas themselves. For example, Winternitz stresses that, in order to approach an Indian literary work properly, it is necessary "to let oneself plunge in the spirit of India for a moment and believe all that Indians believe." Yet he can find in the Natyasastra only"a pretty fruitless science, that is devoted more to classification and systematisation than to exploration of facts and formulations of rules". When it is no longer a question of paying mere lip-service to Indian literature but making a radical change in the entire manner of reasoning, this is how Winternitz understands his "plunging in the spirit of India". Nevertheless, it would be unjust to discredit all existing criticism only because it is defective. Let us therefore try, before restating our reservations, to analyse what has been achieved in this field.

As a starting point let us turn again to Krzyzanowski. In chapter VIII of the "Science of literature" he says that the criticism of a literary work in its entirety must apply sociological, historical, aesthetic (or formal) and ethical criteria. By sociological criteria Krzyzanowski understands "the duration in time and territorial range of the appreciation", and by historical, "the problem of originality, and the problem of setting a given writer against the background of his literary tradition as well as defining his attitude towards it." These criteria have to be taken in conjunction, for, "it is necessary to consider the fundamental attitude of the epoch towards literary tradition and the way it understands the problem of originality". The aesthetic criteria are, of course, "the peculiarities of formal nature" and "the factors which shape the outer form of the literary work in relation to its inner structure". Finally, by ethical criteria Krzyzanowski understands "the appreciation of a literary work based on the assumption that it always is an expression of some reactions to life. The more they are general, universal, and unconnected with the exigencies of a particular moment which has given birth to the work in question, the broader, deeper and more universal will be the response they evoke."

Modern traditional criticism of Sanskrit drama operates mainly with sociological and, above all, with historical criteria, quite often ignoring—because of its western provenance—the indigenous literary tradition and its peculiar, not very stringent attitude towards originality. The remaining two criteria tend to be applied haphazardly or not at all. Moreover, in the case of European scholars, they are applied from the modern, western point of view; while in the case of Indian scholars, they are applied either according to western standards or, by disputing those standards, still concentrate attention upon the same points. It can be safely said that western scholars either ignore the achievements of Sanskrit literary criticism or dismiss them after totally inadequate consideration. If Indian scholars turn to Sanskrit aesthetics, they apply it in fragmentary and disorderly fashion.


IThe Typology of Sanskrit Drama (Dasarupaka)1-8
IIThe Four Demeanours (Vriti)9-20
IIIThe Structure (Samdhi)21-32
IVThe Threefold Sphere of Ethics (Trivargasrngara)33-52
VThe Analysis of The Pratinjnayaugandharayana And The Svapnavasavadatta53-75
VIThe Analysis Of The Sakuntala76-81
VII"Kantah Kratuh Cakusam"-Theatre : The Yanja of The Kamapurusartha82-87
VIIINatyotpatti : Myth Or Socio-History88-93
IXThe Hero In Sanskrit Drama94-101
Index of Technical Terms105-106

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