Mahakavi Bhasa

Bharat has a very ancient history, more than 8000 years old. Drama being the oldest form of communication and a branch of performing arts was began to narrate stories using the combinations of speech, dance, music, gesture and sound. India has an indigenous dramatic tradition and still remains unaffected from foreign influences.

Bhasa is one of the greatest pioneers of classical Sanskrit drama. The foundations of Sanskrit theatre were probably developed in Vedic and religious ceremonies, then refined over centuries. The first works we can really identify as Sanskrit theatre, however, emerged in the first and second centuries CE. His date of birth is uncertain but it is said that he must have lived around 3rd Century A.D. He is thought to be a devotee of Vishnu, probably a brahmin and obviously lived before the time of Kalidasa.

A prolific poet and dramatist, he was venerated by Kalidasa, Banabhatta, Rajashekhara and critics such as Abhinavagupta. Kalidasa in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram  wrote that, how will the work of a modern poet named Kalidasa impress this learned assembly, which is used to the compositions of well-established poets such as Bhasa, Kaviputra and Saumillaka? This is how the earliest reference is made to Bhasa in the opening act of Kalidasa’s first play. Not much is known about Bhasa and his biography but it is believed that he lived in the times when the society was politically, economically, socially and culturally dynamic.

He was the first writer to develop fully formed plays. He helped define the themes, aesthetics, and formulas that would define Sanskrit theatre. His plays had been lost for centuries. Bhasa’s theatrical works take great liberties and do not adhere to the principles of Bharata’s treatise. Bhasa deviated from the accepted dramaturgy of the time by portraying battle scenes and killings on the stage. The plays are generally short compared to later playwrights and most of them draw the theme from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Plays based on Ramayana

  • Pratima-nataka: The statues
  • Yagna-Phalam
  • Abhisheka-natka: The coronation – The play begins with the coronation of Sugriva and ends with Rama’s coronation.

Plays based on Mahabharata

  • Panch-ratra: The five-nights – In this drama Duryodhana performed a sacrifice. After the sacrifice he wishs to offer daksina to Dronacharya. Drona requested Duryodhana to give the share of the half of his kingdom to Pandava and said his prayer and dakshina. But Duryodhana agrees on the condition that if Drona brings the news of Pandavas within “five nights” then he would give the share of the kingdom. According to Drona’s stipulation the play get its name “Panch-ratra”.

  • Madhyama-vyayoga: The middle one – Bhasa wrote his Madhyamavyayoga by taking the story of the re-union of Bhima and Hidimba. Bhima rescued the son of a Brahmana from Ghattotkaca while dwelling in the forest.

  • Duta-Ghattotkacha: – It is an one act play based on the Mahabharata. After the tragic death of Abhimanyu, Arjuna promised to kill Jayadratha. krishna sends Ghatotkaca the son of Bhima, to the Kaurava-camp to intimate the Kurus about the promise of Arjuna. The most interesting part in the drama is the debate between Duryodhana and Ghattotkacha.

  • Duta-Vakya : The envoy’s message – This play refers to the Mission of Snkrsna for peace between the kauravas and the pandavas so that the dispute is amicably settled and the tragedy of a war is avoided. The debate between Krishna and Duryodhana is depicted here in the drama.
  • Urubhanga: The broken thigh – It is still renowned tragic play which focuses on the story of the character Duryodhana during and after his fight with Bhima.

  • Karnabharam: Karna’s burden – It is about the downfall of the mighty epic hero ‘Karna’, projecting the inner conflict that develops in him when he enters Kurukshethra to wage a crucial battle with the Pandavas.

  • Harivamsa or Bala-charita: Hari’s dynasty or the tale of Childhood – It is considered to be a pauranic play. The play narrates the early life of Krishna culminating in the slaughter of the wicked Kams’a.

Another two well known plays by him which are fictional are:

  • Svapnavasavadatta – The main theme of the drama is the sorrow of Udayana for his queen Vasavadatta, believed by him to have perished in a fire, which was actually a rumour spread by Yaugandharayana, a minister of Udayana to compel his king to marry Padmavati, the daughter of the king of Magadha.

  • Pratigya Yaugandharayanam – It is a legendary play of four acts. Pradyuta the king of Ujjain wanted to give marriage, his daughter Vasavadatta to Udayana, the king of the Vatsas

Bhasa has been a constant source of inspiration to all later dramatists for a very long period till his dramas went out of public currency. The influence of Bhasa on the Kerala dramatists is immense. Not only have they imitated his structural peculiarities but also they have taken down his antique Prakrit.

By, Khushali Thakar

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