Contrary Ideologies: A Study of Girish Karnad’s play
Bali- The Sacrifice
Girish Karnad has explored the Indian mythology which is based on the textual as well as vocal manuscript of the traditions that has survived through time and foreign influences. The folk tales and traditions reflect the social, religious as well as the moral ethos of the Indian society. All these precious folk tales, myths, norms and traditions presents the mirror image of the nation. A very significant medium of preserving and protecting these cultural traditions, folk tales and myths is the folk theatres which will keep these myths and traditions alive. A folk theatre has the ability to support their existence by adopting these myths and folk tales in their performances and presentations.
Girish Karnad, who belonged to the postcolonial group of writers, was one such dramatist who had contributed immensely in preserving these myths and folk lore’s by using them as the structural base for his brilliant plays. He used these myths in his plays to express meaning for contemporary life. He brought these myths and tales from the regional context into the mainstream theatre.
Girish Raghunath Karnad born on 19 may 1938 is a worldwide known contemporary writer, playwright, screenwriter, well known movie director and actor. His works marked the true modern beginning of the playwriting in kannad and gave the Kannad writing a new transformed identity same as Badal Sarkar did in Bengali, Gurucharan Das in Punjabi, Mohan Rakesh in Hindi literature and Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi. He is one of those major dramatists of India who has significantly gone back to the age old myths of Indian tradition and culture and has brought them to light by recreating and giving them new birth through his plays.
Karnad worked for Oxford University Press, Chennai for seven years and he also served as visiting professor at University of Chicago. Karnad served as the director of film and television institute of India and also the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Academy for six years. He also Won many prestigious awards for his valuable contribution in the various creative art forms of India he received the prestigious Sangeet Natak award in 1972 and Jananpith award in 1998. Karnad was also honored by government of India by Padma Shree in 1974 and Padma Bhushan in 1992; he won many other prestigious awards also for his notable works.
Karnad’s play not only portrays the contemporary society and its dilemma but also very brilliantly employs the various conventional folk tales, myths, and folk theatre techniques and devices also. The themes of most of his plays were taken from the ancient myths or they were based on history or traditional folklores which depicts the duality of human persona and predicaments of the modern man. For example his first play Yayati published in 1961, based on the myth of king yayati, who was the ancestor of the pandavas from the story of Mahabharata. His another play Fire and the Rain(1995) is also taken from a well-known myth from the epic Mahabharata, the play revolves around the seven yearlong fire sacrifice to praise the gods to send rain in reverse of the sacrifice. His another significant play Hayavadan(1971),based on a theme drawn from a 1940 Novella Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann which was originally taken from a 11th century Sanskrit text Kathasaritsagar. In this play Karnad has used a major folk form which is Yakshagana, a traditional theatre form which is a balanced blend of dance, costume, music, make-up and stage techniques. Karnad has not only taken the ancient Indian myths but he has explored the historical richness of the Indian culture also through his historical plays like Tughlaq(1964), which explores the life and the failed decisions taken by 14th century Sultan of Delhi Mohammad Bin Tughlaq. His other historical play the dream of Tipu Sultan (1997), explored the inner life of the great visionary dreamer and ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan. Girish Karnad’s other notable works based on Indian myths are Hayavadana (1971), Nagamandala (1988), Taledanda (1990). He used the Indian myths and historical stories as the base of his plays to present and tackle the contemporary Indian issues.
Karnad is a brilliant playwright who can sweep you along with his words and his imagination. [Bali] is the kind of play that thrives on layers of subtleties that make you want to sit down and sort out the billions of thoughts it stirs up. …a powerful play that stays with you along after you have finished the last line (The Hindu, 2004).
Bali-The Sacrifice is a significant play originally written in kannad by the name Hittina Hunja (1980) later also named as ‘Atte ka kukkut’. This play was first performed on the stage at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester on 31 may 2002. The translated version republished in 2004 in English by celebrated Indian playwright Girish Karnad. The play tries to present the two completely opposite ideologies; one is of violence and another is of non-violence and it also depicts the inability of man hanging between two different belief systems and traditions. It analyses both the belief systems and poses the question that whether the intended violence is as offensive as the real violence and whether the fake sacrifice has the ability to replace the actual sacrifice and its effects.
Karnad in this play also raises the gender issues prevalent in the society and portrays the typical picture of the Indian female, trapped in the patriarchal orders bound by age old traditions and norms but the same time Karnad depicts his female characters not as helpless being but he depicts them as brave and always ready to fight the unjust norms and traditions of the patriarchal order. The ideological concerns and overtones present in the play are equally relevant today as they were many centuries ago. In the preface of the play Karnad praises sensitivity of the Mahatma Gandhi and dedicates this play as a tribute to him. “It is a tribute to the astuteness and sensitivity of Mahatma Gandhi that he saw clearly the importance of non-violence to the cultural and political survival of India.”
The play opens with the queen’s song which talks that, as the world is divided into two spheres in the same way the human soul is also divided into two sections, one part of the soul admires violence and another part refuses it and follows the non-violence:
As the world is divided
Into two orbs;
One lit up by the sun
The other hid in the shade,
So also the human soul
The habitations of gods,
In split into two realms …
The first scene starts in inner sanctum of a ruined temple where a half destructed statue of a deity is standing whose feet’s have remained only. The king enters in the outer courtyard of the temple and sits on the steps of the temple. In the inner sanctum the queen tries to move to the door of temple but mahout restricts him from doing so by grabbing her wrist. He forces her to tell her name. Queen tells him that she came there because she heard him singing and found his voice very blissful. Mahout informs her that he is a low caste man, keeper of king’s elephant and he can guess with the glimpse of her nails that she is from upper caste and class family. Mahout further says that he is better than her husband in bed on which queen gets angry and opposes him for saying so, adding that her husband is very affectionate, gentle and cooperative man. He then proceeds to tell her the story of his birth that he has born during eclipse which is full moon that is why he is very ugly and also tells her that when god offered him good looks in exchange of his voice then he completely refused the offer.
On Stage depiction of a scene from the play.
The queen mother enters in the outer courtyard with a large silver tray on which along with flowers, smell sticks a two feet high object is placed covered with saffron clothes. On the other hand in inner part of the temple queen tells the mahout that it would not look nice if they get caught together. He further tells her about his own God, a stone sculpture situated under a hundred year old banyan tree with whom he talks when he feels sad and disturbed. Mahout finally allows her to leave the place but as she was about to leave she sees the figure of queen mother outside the inner temple. She further says that she didn’t want to get caught with him on which he suggests her to pretend as they were a couple busy in love making to prevent the outsider from coming inn. In the mean while the queen mother reaches where king was sitting and orders him to open the door of the inner part of the temple. On hearing the knock on the door mahout suggests the queen to laugh and breathe heavily to show them that someone is making love there. On several knocks on the door mahout opens the door sees the king standing, he lets him inn and the king calls for queen in loud voice and finds the queen in the corner of the room.
Again the story goes back in flashback where king gets the news of the queen being pregnant and the queen mother plans to sacrifice the animal for the sake of the good fortune of the child going to born. But queen shows disagreement with her plan and asks the king to tell his mother not to sacrifice the animals on the auspicious birth of their child. When king goes to request her mother, she gets upset and tells him that she will not leave her age old ancestral tradition but she will live separately from him and the queen outside the palace in a separate cottage.
The play now comes back to the first scene of the temple where queen asks king to leave with her but kings tells her to wait and he narrates the whole story that how he came there following the queen. He also narrates her that while following her he met the queen mother in the royal garden and after forced by queen mother told her about the queen being in temple on hearing all this queen mother decides to do the sacrificial ritual to avoid the bad effects of adultery committed by the queen. Now, the mother queen brings the tray on the mid platform, when king takes off the saffron cloth from the tray he finds a life size replica of a cock placed in Centre of the tray. Then king asks the queen to take part in the ritual of sacrificing the inanimate cock but the queen refuses to do so and tells him that mere the thought of violence is equal to real violence. Suddenly the queen mother enters from behind dancing and looks as completely changed personality and asks the queen to stand bare naked face to face with her with no one else there to reduce the evil effect. Mahout warns all of them against the ritual and tells them to go back to the palace. somehow king makes queen agree for taking part in the ritual of sacrificing the cock of dough but as they were about to perform the ritual the cock begins to crow which was actually a hallucination but they becomes surprised and queen starts treating cock as alive one. On seeing this king picks up the cock of dough and throws it. Queen looks at him with hatred and picks up the sword and again a cock crows outside and when the king goes to the door to see the cock, suddenly queen puts the blade of sward on her womb and kills herself. At the end of the plays a beam of light goes on queen and she gets up and they both sings the same which she was singing in the beginning of the play.
Bali – The Sacrifice institutes notable thoughtfulness and extraordinary complexity because it offers numerous ideological differences layer by layer throughout the play. The song which was sung by queen in the beginning as well as in the end of the play hints and sets the tone of the ideological difference and overtones present in the play. The dilemma between the two half’s of the human soul one is demanding the violence and the other rejecting it is very brilliantly depicted in the play by Girish Karnad. The character of queen mother in the play represents traditional orthodox belief system and the dominant ideology present in the play which is of the violence and superstitious rituals. She forcefully thrusts her unreasonable opinions upon other members of her family, her son and her daughter in law. She advocates the sacrifice of animals as the tradition of her age old ancestral clan and considers the sacrifice as a holy offering to God in return to which god will protect her and her family from evil spirits. In the play when the king narrates his story of dream which was actually not true, the queen mother due to her superstitious belief immediately announces the sacrificial ceremony of fowls to reduce the evil effect of the dream considering dream as a sign of evil.
Mother: Dreams have spoken to me. And whenever I ignored them, I suffered. Like when I lost your father. I was warned. You know that. I still blame myself. A dream like this is like an epidemic. The longer you ignore it, the more it spreads. Eats into more of the family and the populace. It’s fortunate I came to know right now .
Mother: I shall offer the goddess a hundred foul in sacrifice.
A hundred foul. If we slake her parched throat, we may yet avert disaster.
The play possesses the strong ideological connotations and it can be seen in the brilliant depiction of all the metaphorical characters by Girish Karnad. The play explores the multiplicity of diverse human ideologies and relationships. It revolves around the intense and unending ideological conflict between the different belief systems of queen mother and her daughter in law, the queen and it also analyses the dilemma of king and his failed attempts to suppress it. This play analyses the conflict between the religious orthodoxy of the queen mother and the queen, who represents the opinion of sanity and wisdom. The queen was born in a Jain family. She was firm believer of non-violence and peace because according to her Jain religion killing of the innocent animals on the name of sacrifice is considered as a great sin and even the thought and intention of the deed is like a sin. Whereas queen mother believes totally opposite and considers animal sacrifice as holy deed. Throughout the play this difference in the ideologies on the same subject is treated as the main theme.
In this play Bali- The Sacrifice the king becomes the victim of the ideological struggle between his mother and his wife. He fails to recognize himself with one particular ideological path and finds him trapped between two totally different paths. The reason for this conflict is that he is born into a family where killing of animals in sacrificial ritual is an accepted way of worshipping the god and the religion of his family finds no fault in sacrificing the animal. The queen mother is the firm and believer of the religion. Although born in such family but out of his deep love for his wife the king gave up his religion which was based on the ideology of the violence and adopted the Jain religion of his wife, which strictly teaches the values and significance of the non-violence. Though the king has honestly adopted Jainism as his religion but he is not a Jain by birth that is why he lacks the firm conviction in his sayings and his clear choice between religion of violence and religion of non-violence. This is the reason when he says, “But I am a Jain. My son will be a Jain …. I accepted the faith because I found truth in it and compassion for the world in pain. I don’t want to add the pain. I will not let anyone do it”. It seems that the king is trying desperately to convince himself about the reality of what he is explaining rather than justifying to his mother whom he has addressed these words. As the play progresses it becomes apparent that the king is not completely believes in the non-violence because it seems that the process of his adopting the Jainism is self-imposed obligation. The undecided nature and conviction of the king puts him on the sea-saw of the violence and non-violence where both the ideologically different paths dominate each other one by one. In the whole discourse of the play the view of the king never seems clear that which ideological domain he is supporting. He feels imprisoned by the ongoing battle of different ideologies between his mother, a devotee of sacrifice and his wife, true believer of non-violence. The queen mother criticizes the king due to his inability to decide.
Mother: you’re treating my goddess as though she were a cheap, tribal spirit. … You were not born a Jain. You were born my son. But you betrayed me and my faith. Instead of choosing the woman and bringing her to your faith, you chose hers.”
The play deals with the flair of adultery and sacrifice at same time. The queen mesmerized and seduced by the voice of mahout reaches at the ruined temple where mahout is singing. She commits adultery with the mahout in the inner sanctum of the ruined temple but she is neither ashamed nor she regret what she did because the act between her and mahout taken place unintentionally. Here, through the justification given by the queen Karnad tries to explain the diversity of the outcome which goes decided on the basis of the intention of the committed act. Here again the overlapping of the ideological conflict is shown, the commitment of the act of adultery which is considered as a sin, at the place like temple which is considered as the holiest place. The headless broken idol symbolizes itself the loss of the core values on which the whole institution of the ideology is based. This play explains the multiplicity and instability of the human nature as well as their relationships. The physical aspect of the relationship has been emphasized when the queen wants to remain loyal to her husband at the same time she fails to resist herself from committing the adultery with mahout, these two contrary view points of the same character shows the diversity of beliefs within the same ideological belief system. The king also finds himself oscillating between the two ideological poles.
The focal point of the play Bali- The Sacrifice is the presentation of human predicaments by throwing light on the different prospective of the ideological human conflicts of the religious as well as social and cultural view points. It externalizes the internal quest of human being. Each and every element used and presented in the play contains its symbolic meaning and importance. The inner condition of king is symbolically represented through the story of the royal Swan which is caught in the mud and is trying to come out of it, in the false cooked dream of the king which she narrates to his mother. The condition of the king is exactly like the swan. He is also caught between the symbolic mud of two different ideologies and constantly struggling to come out of the inner struggle. The character of mahout in the play is used as a tool by Karnad to mock the orthodoxy and irrationality prevalent in the society and also to show the mirror of reality to the other characters presented in the play. He criticizes the intention of sacrificing the real cock or the replica of the real cock made off dough on the name of blind faith and superstition. He considers it witchcraft, the act of evil witches.
Bali- The Sacrifice can be considered as the voice of reason against the orthodox and irrational rites and rituals of the society. Girish Karnad seems influenced by the Bertolt Brecht and his Alienation Effect Theory and that is why he presents this play in a way which makes its appreciators to look at the play without being influenced by any others view and is free to make his own conclusion without being biased. Through this play Karnad hints at harmonious and positive inclusive possibility of all contrary ideologies present in the society. The myth used in the play provides a strong base for raising the relevant questions, by presenting the conflict of different ideologies like sin, sacrifice, intended violence and violence present in the play.