Bhasa

Bhasa

Overview

Bhāsa is one of the earliest and most celebrated Indian playwrights
Theatre in India
The earliest form of the theatre of India was the Sanskrit theatre. It began after the development of Greek and Roman theatre and before the development of theatre in other parts of Asia...

 in Sanskrit. However, very little is known about him.

Kālidāsa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

 in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram writes -
Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhāsa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kālidāsa?

So we know he lived before Kālidāsa.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Bhasa'
Start a new discussion about 'Bhasa'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia

Bhāsa is one of the earliest and most celebrated Indian playwrights
Theatre in India
The earliest form of the theatre of India was the Sanskrit theatre. It began after the development of Greek and Roman theatre and before the development of theatre in other parts of Asia...

 in Sanskrit. However, very little is known about him.

Kālidāsa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

 in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram writes -
Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhāsa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kālidāsa?

So we know he lived before Kālidāsa. As the date for Kālidāsa varies from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, Bhāsa is dated between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE. Based on the language used, his date is also supposed to be around 5th century BC. The plays of Bhāsa had been lost for centuries. He was known only from mention in other works like the famous text on poetics Kavyamimamsa written during 880-920 AD by Rajashekhara a famous poet, dramatist and critic. In the Kavyamimamsa,
he attributes the play Svapna-vasavadatta (Swapnavāsavadatta) to Bhāsa.

Discovery of his plays


In 1912, the late Mahamahopadhyaya Ganapati Sastri
Ganapati Sastri
Ganapati Sastri is one of the Indian names.* Ayyala Somayajula Ganapati Sastri, better known as Kavyakanta.* Charla Ganapati Sastri, Vedic scholar and translator.* Pilaka Ganapati Sastri, poet, translator and editor....

 came upon 13 Sanskrit plays
Sanskrit drama
The earliest-surviving fragments of Sanskrit drama date from the 1st century CE. The Mahābhāṣya by Patañjali contains the earliest reference to what may have been the seeds of Sanskrit drama. This treatise on grammar from 140 BCE provides a feasible date for the beginnings of theatre in India.Its...

 in Trivandrum that were used in the Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam or Kutiyattam is a form of Sanskrit theatre traditionally performed in the state of Kerala, India. Performed in the Sanskrit language in Hindu temples, it is believed to be 2,000 years old...

 plays. Unlike other classical plays, none of them mentioned the author, but one was the Swapnavāsavadatta
Swapnavasavadatta
Svapnavasavadatta is a Sanskrit play in six acts written by the ancient Indian poet Bhasa. It is probably the best known of Bhāsa's works...

. Comparing the style of writing and techniques employed in these plays and based on the knowledge that Swapnavāsavadatta was Bhāsa's work, all of them were credited to him. Some scholars have disputed Bhāsa's authorship of all the plays but over the years the plays have generally come to be ascribed to Bhāsa.

Plays of Bhāsa


Bhāsa does not follow all the dictates of the Natya Shastra
Natya Shastra
The Natya Shastra is an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage Bharata.The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope...

. This has been taken as a proof of their antiquity; no post-Kālidāsa play has been found to break the rules of the Natya Shastra's. Bhāsa allows scenes that contain signs of physical violence to be shown on stage in plays like Urubhanga
Urubhanga
Urubhanga or Urubhangam, , is a Sanskrit play written by Bhasa in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Based on the well-known epic, the Mahābhārata, by Vyasa, Urubhanga focuses on the story of the character Duryodhana during and after his fight with Bhima...

.This is strictly frowned upon by Natya Shastra.

The Uru-Bhanga and Karna-bhara are the only known tragic
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 Sanskrit plays in ancient India. Though branded the villain of the Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, Duryodhana
Duryodhana
In the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata, Duryodhana is the eldest son of the blind king Dhritarashtra by Queen Gandhari, the eldest of the one hundred Kaurava brothers, Emperor of the world at that time which means Emperor of India or Bharatvarsha as it was known at that time, cousin and the chief...

 is the actual hero in Uru-Bhanga shown repenting his past as he lies with his thighs crushed awaiting death. His relations with his family are shown with great pathos. The epic contains no reference to such repentance. The Karna-bhara ends with the premonitions of the sad end of Karna
Karna
Karna or Radheya is one of the central characters in the epic Mahābhārata, from ancient India. He was the King of Anga...

, another epic character from Mahabharata. Early plays in India, inspired by Natya Shastra, strictly considered sad endings inappropriate.

The plays are generally short compared to later playwrights and most of them draw the theme from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

.Though he is firmly on the side of the heroes of the epic, Bhāsa treats their opponents with great sympathy. He takes a lot of liberties with the story to achieve this. In the Pratima-nataka, Kaikeyi
Kaikeyi
Kaikeyi , in the Hindu epic Rāmāyaṇa, was the second of King Daśaratha's three wives and a queen of Ayodhyā. She was the mother of Bharata...

 who is responsible for the tragic events in the Ramayana is shown as enduring the calumny of all so that a far noble end is achieved.

Plays based on Ramayana

  • Pratima-nataka: The statues
  • Abhisheka-natka: The coronation

Plays based on Mahabharata


  • Panch-ratra: The five-nights
  • Madhyama-vyayoga
    Madhyamavyayoga
    Madhyamavyayoga or Madhyama Vyāyoga , is a Sanskrit play attributed to Bhāsa. There is no real consensus regarding when the play was written, and it has been dated variously from 475 BCE to the 11th century CE...

    : The middle one
  • Duta-Ghattotkacha: Ghattotkacha as envoy
  • Duta-Vakya : The envoy's message
  • Urubhanga
    Urubhanga
    Urubhanga or Urubhangam, , is a Sanskrit play written by Bhasa in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Based on the well-known epic, the Mahābhārata, by Vyasa, Urubhanga focuses on the story of the character Duryodhana during and after his fight with Bhima...

    : The broken thigh
  • Karna-bhara: Karna's burden
  • Harivamsa or Bala-charita: Hari's dynasty or the tale of Childhood


The Duta-Vakya and Bala-charita are perhaps the only Sanskrit plays by a famous playwright with Krishna
Krishna
Krishna is a central figure of Hinduism and is traditionally attributed the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita. He is the supreme Being and considered in some monotheistic traditions as an Avatar of Vishnu...

 as the central character.

His other plays are not epic based. Avimaraka is a fairy tale, which later became part of a Mani Kaul
Mani Kaul
Mani Kaul was an Indian film director of Hindi films. He graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India where he was a student of Ritwik Ghatak and later became a teacher. Started his career with Uski Roti , which won him the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie, he went on to win...

 film , The Cloud Door
The Cloud Door
The Cloud Door is a 1994 short Indo-German dramatic film, directed by acclaimed Indian director Mani Kaul and featuring Hindu and Muslim erotic literary themes. The film was produced by the German producer Regina Ziegler. The Cloud Door was featured along with other short films such as Susan...

(1994) . The unfinished Daridra-Charudatta (Charudatta in poverty) tells the story of the courtesan Vasantasena and is interesting for the same story was developed by Śhudraka into the more famous Mrichakatika on which 1984 film, Utsav
Utsav
Utsav is a 1984 Hindi film, produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Girish Karnad.The film stars Shashi Kapoor, Rekha, Amjad Khan, Anuradha Patel, Shekhar Suman, Anupam Kher, Shankar Nag, Neena Gupta, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Annu Kapoor, Sanjana Kapoor and Kunal Kapoor.The role played by Shashi...

 by Girish Karnad
Girish Karnad
Girish Raghunath Karnad is a contemporary writer, playwright, screenwriter, actor and movie director in Kannada language...

 is based.

His most famous plays Pratijna-Yaugandharayana (the vow of Yaugandharayana) and Swapna-vasavadatta (Swapnavāsavadatta
Swapnavasavadatta
Svapnavasavadatta is a Sanskrit play in six acts written by the ancient Indian poet Bhasa. It is probably the best known of Bhāsa's works...

)
(Vasavadatta in the dream) are based on the legends that had grown around the legendary King Udayana, probably a contemporary of the Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

. The first play tells the story of how the king Udayana married the princess Vasavadatta (his first wife).The second play tells the story of how the king Udayana, with the help of his loyal minister Yaugandharayana, later married the princess Padmavati, a daughter of the king of Magadha, and thus made this king his ally rather than enemy.

Though his plays were discovered only in the 20th century, two of them Uru-Bhanga and Karna-bhara, have become popular due to their appeal to modern tastes and performed in translation and Sanskrit.

Many of Bhasa's plays are staged in Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam or Kutiyattam is a form of Sanskrit theatre traditionally performed in the state of Kerala, India. Performed in the Sanskrit language in Hindu temples, it is believed to be 2,000 years old...

s even now, like parts of Pratijna-Yaugandharayana,Abhisheka-nataka etc.

Modern revival


The first person to revive Bhasa in modern Indian theatre was a Professor of Ancient Indian Drama at National School of Drama
National School of Drama
National School of Drama is a theatre training institute situated at New Delhi, India, established . It is an autonomous organization under Ministry of Culture, Government of India. It was set up in 1959 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and became an independent school in 1975...

, and theatre director, Shanta Gandhi
Shanta Gandhi
Shanta Gandhi was an Indian theatre director, dancer and playwright. She was a founder-member of the central ballet troupe of the Indian People's Theatre Association , and toured the country widely through the 1950s...

, who first directed productions of Madhyamavyayoga
Madhyamavyayoga
Madhyamavyayoga or Madhyama Vyāyoga , is a Sanskrit play attributed to Bhāsa. There is no real consensus regarding when the play was written, and it has been dated variously from 475 BCE to the 11th century CE...

(1966) (The Middle One) and Urubhanga
Urubhanga
Urubhanga or Urubhangam, , is a Sanskrit play written by Bhasa in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Based on the well-known epic, the Mahābhārata, by Vyasa, Urubhanga focuses on the story of the character Duryodhana during and after his fight with Bhima...

(The Broken Thigh) in Hindi. A decade later, his work was approached by playwright Kavalam Narayan Panikkar and theatre director, Ratan Thiyam
Ratan Thiyam
Ratan Thiyam is an Indian playwright and theatre director, and the winner of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987, one of leading figures of the "theatre of roots" movement in Indian theatre, which started in 1970s...

 using Manipuri dance and theatre traditions, and traditional martial art of Thang-Ta
Thang-Ta
Thang-ta or huyen lallong is a weapon-based Indian martial art created by the Meitei of Manipur. In the Manipuri language, thang means sword and ta means spear. As its name implies, the sword and spear are the primary weapons in thang-ta. The spear can be used in its non-missile form while in close...

, who first performed Karna-bhara (Karna's burden) in 1976, and later Urubhanga.

The legendary Natyasastra scholar and Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam or Kutiyattam is a form of Sanskrit theatre traditionally performed in the state of Kerala, India. Performed in the Sanskrit language in Hindu temples, it is believed to be 2,000 years old...

 maestro Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar
Mani Madhava Chakyar
Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar was a celebrated master performance artist and Sanskrit scholar from Kerala, South India, considered to be the greatest Chakyar Koothu and Koodiyattam artist and authority of modern times...

 choreographed and started to perform Swapnavāsadatta and Pancharātra for the first time in the history of Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam
Koodiyattam or Kutiyattam is a form of Sanskrit theatre traditionally performed in the state of Kerala, India. Performed in the Sanskrit language in Hindu temples, it is believed to be 2,000 years old...

.

Swapnavasavadatta was produced in Marathi by Panaji(Goa) based theatre group;Prabhakar Sanskritik Sanstha in the year 2003 & was presented as per the conventions of the Natyashastra.The play was scripted & directed by Anagha Deshpande while the production was designed by Saish Deshpande.A separate Poorvarang was also designed.

Further reading

  • A.D. Pusalker : Bhasa - a study. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi, India 1968
  • V. Venkatachalam
    V. Venkatachalam
    Padma Shri Vishwanathan Venkatachalam was an eminent Sanskrit scholar. He served as the vice-chancellor of Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Varanasi, India for two terms...

    : Bhasa (A monograph in the ‘Indian Men of Letter Series’), Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1986; Second Edn. 1994; (pp. 16+192) (Translated into Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada and Telugu-Pub. By Sahitya Akademi)