Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sivaratri - Chandrasekhara Kambara

"On that night, in Kalyana, nothing was in the right place and right order. None had any trust in others; and each one listened to others with suspicion. Every one's words had two meanings; the apparent and the hidden. On that night, the dark night of Shiva, Kalyana didn't sleep; but it wasn't awake as well, as the rituals required...."

It was the time of great turmoil at Kalyana, the capital city of the King of Bijjala, of Kalachurya dynasty. The man hunt for the Sarana's are at the full swing, after the fall out of Basavanna with the king. The struggle of control, or the changing power equation has made them fall apart. The once trustworthy and beloved minister and the King. Basavanna ( as he is now fondly called) and his clan of Shiva devotees are spreading in size and in influence. Basavanna, himself as established the 'mahamane' ( or big house) and is now a gaining popularity as a social reformer with "his preach against casteism, blind rituals, animal sacrifice and other such social evils".

Chandrasekhara Kambar, one of the masters of Kannada Literature, is turning his attention to the life of 12 century reformist, the leader of Shaiva sects ( the Lingayats) in one of the important events of the history of state. The 6 act play focuses on the manslaughter of the Saranas ( the followers of Basavanna) by the Kings men, and the resulting murder of the King on an eventful day. The build up through various insignificant events through out the evening, the play culminates at the place of the local prostitute, whom the King frequent, in a verbal dual between the King and his once trusted minister who turned a foe.

"I can't believe this, Basavanna ! The king anf the respectable minister of the country, meeting each other in the house of a prostitute ! Is this just a coincidence ? Or Does it signify religion and politics coming together ?"

Damodara, son of the court priest was prompted by his father to steal the Gold necklace of the queen from the palace, disguised as a 'Sarana ( desciples of Basavanna). The 6 act play, moves along the gold necklace from place to place as Damodara escapes the guards taking refuge at a Dalit's house, later at the house of the prostitute. The lady refuses to accept the gift as it is not earned by her labour. The visiting King see the lost necklace as the events unfolds. Kambar, managed to compress the historical events into a single night without loosing its significance , despite shifting actual times.

Kambar's skill and craft come at best here. It is a tricky subject and is sensitive in nature. One has to know the historical and religious background of the life and times of Basavanna, to appreciate the play in its power. Kambar uses these symbols cleverly. He builds up the play in shorter acts through the lives of common people, associated with the kingdom or with Saranas. The social structure is changing. Basavanna, defying all the earlier religious norms, encouraged inter caste marriages and social living. The followers of Basavanna is now increasing. It was important for the higher ups in caste and in power to control the growing influence of his people, hence the act of arson and murder. It is to this scene, Kambar turns this mirror towards us, to our present days and era,with clever intentions.
"That's true, My lord. Fresh breeze had begun to blow; and thouse who breathed the fresh air of new life desired change. They declared they were also human. The sacrificial victim got voice and sang 'vachanas'. But your system continued to breathe the same stale air of thousands of years. How can it survive ? Won't you think on these line, my loard?"

The translation (The English translation of this was released in December during the Bangalore Sahityotsava) was smooth for most of the part, and I can guess the difficulties to translate some of the local idioms to English. It did occur a bit vague at places, but was commendable on the whole. The book was written an year ago, and Kambar continue to use the traditional Indian style of Stage act using the time tested methods of old Sanskrit plays of Bhasa and the rest. The "outsiders" ( the mad women in this case), the traditional sutradhara and the vast members of support actors as we see in the plays in India, a vast difference from the modernist drama of the west. As a result, its with large number of cast for this short play, and hence the leading characters Basavanna and the King are thus reduced to a smaller part of the book. Hence, as an act you wouldn't have scope for on stage charisma or improvisation, but as a book, it gives a greater value and strenght to the character of Basavanna, and the importance of the play in the present times.
Sivaratri ( 2011)

Chandrasekhara Kambara ( translated from Kannada by C N Ramachandran )

Abhinava Imprints

116 Pages
The Hindu , The night of Awakening

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