Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shakunatala's Rejection: Kalidasa’s presentation of complex moral dilemmas in this single scene

The situation of the curse taking Dushyanta's memory of Shakuntala sets the stage for one of the most poignant demonstrations of a moral dilemma that we read about in literature.
What are the moral choices in this scene?
Dushyanta has no memory of marrying Shakuntala. He sees her pregnant and since he does not remember his making love to her, he assusme (as anyone would) that she is the wife of another man.
Yet Shakuntala knows the truth of his actions, but does not know that he has no memory of them.
The scene sets up Dushyanta to be the arch-hero or the arch-scoundrel depending on the perspective with which one views the circumstances:

Not knowing whether I be mad Or falsehood be in her, which is the heavier sin: Shall I desert her having proven herself a faithful wife, or take her not knowing if she is mine and risk being an adulterer?

Karma, Fate, Predestination, Curses, Blessings, Action, and Consequences

As we look at the plot line and dramatic action of Shakuntala, we can see that the unseen forces of destiny are constantly operative:
The king arrives at the hermitage following a deer arriving there just in time to protect them from an onslaught of demons
Shakuntala is chased into his arms by a bee, and they share their first touch over her fallen bracelet.
It is this dream of love come true that actually makes Shakuntala get lost in her own thoughts and her neglect of Durvasas brings forth the curse.
Or is it the ever-present shadow of the demons that are trying to keep Dushyanta and Shakuntala separated? Do they know that the child born of these two will be a great vanquisher of demons, and so work extra-hard to prevent this triumph of goodness? Is is some demonic work that makes Durvasas get so angry that he curses her?
Yet, grace and blessing seem to come back with equal force to meet the challenges of fate. The sage is softened by the intercession of Anusuya. And yet the blessed ring is lost. And yet a carp finds it and it is returned to the king. But too late. The circusmstances create a dynamic tug-of-war between good and evil and keep manifesting in these ways in the action.
Is all of this preparation for the couple to give them what it takes to raise an emperor son?
Are they pawns tossed around by battling forces? Or is the entire nation blessed because of their triumph over suffering through patient faithful endurance?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Separation and Longing in Hindu tradition

In Shakuntala, the consummation of the love of Dushyanta and Shakuntala is put off several times before they finally get together. This shows the place of "longing" in this tradition.
Spiritually this is a metaphor for separation from the divine.
Longing for us today seems as if it is merely a nuisance, or worse a privation, but in the Hindu tradition, the idea of longing is presented as beautiful and potent.

The following reflections come from an article by Anantanand Rambachan
The Svetasvatara Upanishad (4:6-7) uses an interesting analogy to describe the human separation from and discovery of God. It describes two beautiful birds who are inseparable friends residing on the same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree with relish while the other looks on without eating. Sitting on the same tree, one bird becomes sad, entangled and deluded. But, when he turns and sees the other, the contented Lord and the Lord's majesty, his grief disappears. The two birds are the human being, and God and the tree is the life itself. God's attention is always on the human being, but the human being, absorbed in the world, ignores God. He is unaware of the divine who is close by and patiently waiting. Human ignorance and inattentiveness to God, however, is the fundamental cause of misery which ends only when one turns round and recognizes God at one's side.

Ignorance of God is the source of our suffering and from this we must be awake. Awakening to God is consistently associated in the Hindu tradition and texts with freedom from sorrow and the attainment of joy. "Only when people shall roll up the sky like a piece of leather," says the Svetasvatara Upanishad, "will there be an end of misery for them," often used to describe the absolute. "The Infinite Itself is joy. There is no joy in the finite. The Infinite alone is joy," says Sanatkumara to Narada in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.23.1). On a particle of the bliss of God, teaches Yajnavalkya in the Brhadaranyana Upanishad (4.3.32), other beings live.

Knowing God and the bliss which is God ought not, in the Hindu tradition, to lead to selfish absorption in oneself. This is where the Assembly theme challenges us as Hindus. One cannot and ought not to turn to God without, at the same time, turning to creation and to all human beings with love and reverence. To turn to God is not to turn away from the world, but to see the world as infused by God.

"Penitence" in Shakuntala

This seems to be a constant theme in the production:
Dushyanta meets his love in a grove of penitence... and even before this receives an omen of happy love. Why does the story have this in a "penitential grove?" Remember we spent a good deal of discussion on how to name the grove in our adaptation.
Some thought penitential sounded to prison like.
Others said it was too negative, too much focusing on sin.
Yet the balance seems to lie in Dushyanta's affirmation:

Yet to inevitable things

Doors open everywhere.--

Is it therefore "inevitable" that there will be a need for penitence in their relationship?
Or is it just dramatic contrast?
Either way, the idea of penitence does not seem negative to the inhabitants. They seem to be earnest folk who do penance not only for themselves but for others.
Remember that Shakuntala and Dushyanta reconcile in a different place of penance.. this time on Golden Peak.
Dushyanta's long self inflicted penance after rejecting Shakuntala is perhaps the thing that sets the stage for his doing battle with the Kalanemi. Is he facing his own demons?
I wonder if we experienced this a little in our own engagement of this text.
Likewise when he confesses to Shakuntala, she is ready to forgive and to take the blame upon herself:

Surely, it was some old sin of mine that broke my happiness--though it has turned again to happiness. Otherwise, how could you, dear, have acted so? You are so kind.

Significant as well: both Shakuntala's "father" and Dushyanta's mother are engaged in prayer ceremonies at the time of the meeting of the two.

In our process we spoke about the demon forces working as distractions to the good fortune of these two lovers, perhaps as an attempt to avert the birth of Bharata the "all-tamer."
This realization led us to compose the storyteller's line:

How fast upon the heels of good do evil forces strike!

It is important to note as well that Shakuntala was born from an moment when Vishwamitra was distracted from his austerities. Why was Menaka sent? As a test? A challenge? An attack on his good intentions? Or a humbling of a spiritual pride that was sterile?

What is the message about penance/prayer that Kalidasa is aking us to consider?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Presentation at the symposium on encountering the sacred

Hello Everyone,
Here are some notes that I will be using for our presentation this week based on the first section. I hope to do the same with subsequent sections in the next day or so.
Feel free to add, to discuss

First section:
Discussion on the sacred nature of performance in Natyashastra,

Natya: the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).
Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or the soul-liberating dance, unlike the desi (purely entertaining) forms.
Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing and includes singing, abhinaya (mime acting).
The term "classical" (Sanscr. "Shastriya") was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotion. Many classical dances include facial expressions as an integral part of the dance form.

and the place of Shiva in Sanskrit performance

the temple arts were dedicated to Shiva. Bharatanatyam and Odissi are mentioned in the Natyashastra as sacred arts.
Shiva is often depicted as Natyaraja or Lord of the Dance triumphing over the demon Maya (ignorance)

We used Saju's invocation which was done before each session:
Translation of Angikam Bhuvanam…
Whose body is the three worlds? Whose speech is all language? Whose costume/adornment is the sun and the stars? It is you: the conscious one Shiva.

But Kalidasa’s text begins with:


EIGHT forms has Shiva, lord of all and king:
And these are water, first created thing;
And fire, which speeds the sacrifice begun;
The priest; and time's dividers, moon and sun;
The all-embracing ether, path of sound;
The earth, wherein all seeds of life are found;
And air, the breath of life: may he draw near,
Revealed in these, and bless those gathered here.

The stage-director. Enough of this! (Turning toward the dressing-room.) Madam, if you are ready, pray come here. (Enter an actress.)

Actress. Here I am, sir. What am I to do?

Director. Our audience is very discriminating, and we are to offer them a new play, called Shakuntala and the ring of recognition, written by the famous Kalidasa. Every member of the cast must be on his mettle.

Actress. Your arrangements are perfect. Nothing will go wrong.

Director (smiling). To tell the truth, madam,
Until the wise are satisfied,
I cannot feel that skill is shown;
The best-trained mind requires support,
And does not trust itself alone.

Actress. True. What shall we do first?

Director. First, you must sing something to please the ears of the audience.

Actress. What season of the year shall I sing about?

Director. Why, sing about the pleasant summer which has just begun. For at this time of year
A mid-day plunge will temper heat;
The breeze is rich with forest flowers;
To slumber in the shade is sweet;
And charming are the twilight hours.

Actress (sings).

The siris-blossoms fair,
With pollen laden,
Are plucked to deck her hair
By many a maiden,
But gently; flowers like these
Are kissed by eager bees.

Director. Well done! The whole theatre is captivated by your song, and sits as if painted. What play shall we give them to keep their good-will?

Actress. Why, you just told me we were to give a new play called Shakuntala and the ring.

Director. Thank you for reminding me. For the moment I had quite forgotten.
Your charming song had carried me away
As the deer enticed the hero of our play.

Here we see both a respect for Shiva, and a desire to get on with the play... yet even in the first scene, Dushyanta is compared to Shiva:

Your Majesty,

I see you hunt the spotted deer

With shafts to end his race,

As though God Shiva should appear

In his immortal chase.

Shiva's presence is always a presence in this play... Kalidas's ending to the play is Dushyanta's speech:

King. Can there be more than this? Yet may this prayer be fulfilled.

May kingship benefit the land,

And wisdom grow in scholars' band;

May Shiva see my faith on earth

And make me free of all rebirth.

Feel free to make comments!

See you on Wednesday!