Mahendravarman’s Dramatic Critique

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Then Criticism the Muse’s handmaid prov’d

To dress her charms, and make her more belov’d:

But following wits from that intention strayed,

Who could not win the mistress, woo’d the maid

(Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism 102-5)

The Bhagavadajjukam is Mahendravarman’s dramatic critique on the concept of ‘prahasana’. Instead of making a dry-as-dust analysis in the form of a pure critical essay, Mahendra wants to discuss the concept in the form of a stage-production which would enable him to bring about a pleasantly surprising marriage of ‘creation’ and ‘criticism’ – ‘nātaka’ and ‘prakarana’.

The prastāvanā of the play implies that ‘prahasana’ in the form of ‘nātaka-prakarana’ is Mahendra’s hypothesis and the play proper is the dissertation which proves the hypothesis. Intending to make his dissertation both a source of entertainment and a clear, critical exposition of the ‘prahasana’, Mahendra makes the sūtradhāra teach the Vidushaka by means of a practical demonstration in which the sūtradhāra plays the role of the teacher Parivrājaka while the Vidūshaka plays the role of the taught Śāndilya. The entire play thus has a double order of correlated references: (i) The sūtradhāra teaching and the Vidushaka learning what a prahasana is and (ii) the parivrājaka, with his unripe wisdom, trying to teach Śāndilya and Śāndilya, with his total unwillingness, refusing to learn, which gives rise to a prahasana – a model of the prahasana. In view of this double order correlated references, the play demands of the reader/spectator a constant awareness of the double vision of ‘the action without’ and ‘the action within’ necessitated by the presence of an inner play in addition to that of the outer play.  ‘The action without’ and ‘the action within’ prescribe two levels of perception: (i) that of viewing the farcical comedy (prahasana), and (ii) making out the theoretical aspects of the farcical comedy (prakarana).

The Bhagavadajjukam is thus fit to be called ‘nātaka-prakarana’ – an instance of Mahendra’s superb innovative ability. The play-proper is, indeed, an exposition of the prahasana, but in doing so Mahendra ends up by creating a new type of play called the ‘nātaka-prakarana’ in which there is a marriage of ‘creation’ and ‘criticism’. If then, the prastāvanā gives a list of ten different types of play, the end of the play proper adds one more to the list – nātaka-prakarana – thus making the total number of plays eleven.