atha kena prayukto ‘yam
(The Bhagavad Gita. III-36. Then impelled by what does man lead such a life of sin even against his will, O Vârshneya (Krishna), as if forcibly enjoined?)
Sutradharan: The dramatist insists that besides being the Sutradharan, I should also play a role.
Any way, let me make an attempt. The story goes like this: Centuries ago there existed an empire on the banks of river Sarayu.
We are standing at the capital of that dynasty. There, don’t you see the palatial buildings , wonderful structures that touch the sky, quadrangles, palaces, forts and citadels, bazaars swarming with merchants from various places, armories, houses of pleasure, arenas, huge cattle sheds, gardens, mango groves, vast paddy fields, paths crowded with men, elephants and horses where you may find an occasional camel or donkey and the main paths sprinkled with water and strewn with flowers. Brahmins, fully armed soldiers, well adorned courtesans and groups of dependent chieftains embellish these paths. There always reverberate the music of Mridangas, Veena and huge drums. This is Ayodhya. Dasarathan, born in the clan of Ikshvaku, reigns here. Dasarathan, King of Kings, the most valiant, the lord of the universe! Yet he too had a great sorrow. Kausalya, the queen of Dasarathan, Kaikeyi, his most beloved wife, Sumithra, his third wife and over three hundred and fifty concubines could not give him an offspring. He had been cursed once that he would also die grieving for the son. He was in deep anguish to think that the curse must have taken this form. The old age crept in. The Emperor sank deep in grief. At last he performed Yaga for offspring, according to the advice given by the great sage Vasishtan.His three queens became pregnant. Raman was born to Kausalya, Bharathan to Kaikeyi and Lakshmanan and Sathrughnan to Sumithra. They grew up as adornments to the clan of Ikshvaku. In the early youth, they married the daughters of Janakan, King of Mithila. On the Sarayu, reflected the glory and charm of heaven. Dasarathan forgot the blind eyes of the old hermit who cursed him long ago in unbearable agony, when on the dew clad shores of Sarayu, his beloved son wriggled in pain, pierced by the arrow shot from behind, unseen.
Sumanthrar: Any body there?
Sutradharan (Wearing a turban, bows in reverence): As you command.
Sumanthrar: Let all the vassals line up in the vicinity of the King’s dwelling.
Sutradharan: The servitors are waiting for the orders
This is Sumanthrar, the Chief among the eight ministers of the Emperor. He is also the royal Charioteer. His face is unusually solemn today. This is the moment that determines the future of the Kosala Empire. There, the court is immersed in very significant discussions. Accepting special invitation, various chiefs of the cities, men of importance and great Kings of the world have assembled. In a few moments the decision to declare the first son of Dasarathan as the crown prince will be taken. Look!
The conclave is over. (Sumanthrar enters again)
Sumanthrar: Tomorrow, on the star of pooyam, Raman, the first son of the Emperor, will be anointed as crown prince. Let messengers go in all directions and announce this great news.
Sutradharan: As you command.
Sumanthrar: Let Kosalam decorate herself in splendor to celebrate this occasion.The paths and mansions should be festooned with fragrant garlands. The sweet scent of astagandham should fill every corner. The flags should flutter along the clean paths decked with flowers. Well groomed soldiers with long swords must line up in the inner palace yard. Within the outer wall, the drummers and lovely courtesans should assemble. Hundreds and thousands of Brahmins should be given food, puffed rice, curd, ghee and coins tomorrow at dawn.
Sutradharan: As you command.
Sumanthrar: You can leave after listening to the orders of the Guru of the clan, Vasishtan.
Sutradharan: As you command.
Sutradharan: Great sage, I beseech you to give me your orders.
Vasishtan: Before sunrise the things necessary for the coronation should be gathered in the Agnishala. The objects for offering like gold, silver, precious stones, pure honey, ghee, puffed rice, seeds, flowers and darbha grass. Also the royal chariot tied to four horses, the forces with its four divisions, elephants, white feathery fans, royal parasols, flag staffs, the throne, tiger skin, sheaves of all grains, white garlands, new clothes, a white ox with gilded horns, eight charming virgins and six golden pots filled with waters of the Ganges and the oceans should be ready there .
Sutradharan: As you command (goes)
Vasishtan: Sumanthrar, let Raman be brought here. The king is all eagerness to inform the beloved boy about the coronation.
Sumanthrar: The Great Sage, this is the moment of fulfilment in the life of the king. Even the hearts of his humbled subjects are bubbling with excitement. The boy who had humbled Bhargavaraman will wear the crown of Kosalam tomorrow at the dawn of Pooyam. I myself will bring the crown prince here.
Vasishtan (In good humour) The crown prince? When the mild rays of the morning sun bestows a pearly crown made of the droplets of the holy waters dripping down his head, when the king utters that word with a heart overcome with delight, we too can call him that.
Sumanthrar: The hearts of the masses have crowned him much earlier. The prince is the dawn of Ayodhya; he is the auspicious sound of Aum echoing through the dawns. (Goes)
Vasishtan: Raman is the darling of the masses, but can he sustain this respect of the people forever? Will the favour of the people stay with his glory like a servile maid, fanning unceasingly? It has never been like that. Perhaps this is the ordeal for Raman.
(Sutradharan proclaims from the back stage. Here arrives Her Majesty, The Divine Kausalya.
Kausalya, who is at the threshold of old age, appears, anxious and eager)
Kausalya: Tributes to the Great Sage. Have my prayers been fulfilled?
Vasishtan: All your prayers were answered, when you gave birth to Raman. Tomorrow your son will be declared the crown prince.
Kausalya: Tomorrow? Tomorrow itself! Lord Vishnu! May all virtues be showered on my beloved son. If I have caused his disfavour by words, looks or thoughts, that benevolent heart has forgiven me. This is the hour of great fulfilment for me. I am not sad any more about the fact that I have to share Lord Dasarathan’s wifehood with others. Now in my life there is left just one more desire, Paramapadam (Salvation). Tomorrow at day break my son will wear the crown of Kosalam. On his head the holy water from seven oceans will be poured. Before the eyes of the people at the harem, my child, alight on the royal chariot will arrive in a procession, with the mighty army following him. Lord Vishnu, the Omnipotent, I submit my little crown prince at your holy feet .
Vasishtan: Daughter, where has vanished your patience and restraint? The one who has to wait patiently at the harem has rushed to the Royal Court! Now you have lost the solemnity and the majestic disposition befitting a queen, become weak and volatile. Like a bird chirping in the morning sky, you are rambling incoherent words.
Kausalya: Great Sage, I beg your forgiveness. The dark skies of my existence has to await only one more sunrise. Seeing the rising sun, may all the sky blush forth in ecstasy and clouds in excitement leap and tumble. Then the tiny birds would chirp in noisy glee. This is the last wish and last hope of my life. Vasishtan: Is it possible even Kausalya lacks the vision to perceive the greatness of her husband? The supports of Dasarathan in his old age are truth and righteousness. To him Raman is dearer than his own life. Remember that more than any one else the king of Kosalam knows that the crown of Kosalam befits only one head.
Kausalya: Not that I haven’t understood him. But he could never understand me, yet I have no more grievances.
Vasishtan: Daughter, when innocent infants and the men of greatness commit follies you have to forgive them. Let the burning soul of the king, burdened with the sceptre, relish a moment of the loving gaze.
Kausalya: The Great Sage, the king has promised Kaikeyi the right to the throne.
Vasishtan: You have not forgotten it yet!
Kausalya: It is impossible for the wife of the king to forget the nuptial contract to another wife, promising to make her son the heir to the throne.
Vasishtan: At that time Kaikeyi’s father insisted that! Will not a father desire to make the future of his daughter secure while he sends her off to another place. Besides, Asvapathy knew very well that in the flame of his daughter’s beauty, any stone would melt. Dasarathan had no issues in you then; so he agreed to that contract, but Asvapathy is no more now. As far as Kaikeyi is concerned Raman is like her own beloved son. Her face also flushes in joy like the eastern sky at daybreak, seeing the elder brother of Bharathan. Both she and you wait for a chance to cuddle that naughty lad and in him you see the image of your beloved (lover).
Kausalya: But that contract is a vow. A vow is a truth that cannot be broken.
Vasishtan: Daughter, you have utterly lost the presence of mind. If the one who has to accept does not want the promise to be fulfilled, then how would the giver keep it? For Kaikeyi, the promised thing is the country. She has not demanded it yet. Her son does not desire the country. Bharathan, the most righteous, will never succumb to the whims of the senses. Moreover, he takes pride in his subservience to his elder brother.
Kausalya: What will happen if Kaikeyi demands the throne?
Vasishtan: Do you think that Bharathan would accept it, even if it were given to him?
Kausalya: He is more fond of me.
Vasishtan: The children could perceive the motherliness brimming in you. No one has to instruct Bharathan that Raman is the eldest and the crown is the right of the eldest. Remember, Raman will teach the generations as to who the king is and Bharathan as to who the subject is. Daughter, your son will make Ayodhya renowned and glorious. The great gathering was ecstatic when they came to know of the coronation.
Kausalya: Great sage, I have some misgivings; though people from many cities, chiefs of states and great kings of the world were invited, why were Yudhajith of Kekayam and Janakan, the great king of Mithila not invited?
Vasishtan: Mithila and Kekayam are not states subservient to Kosalam, besides Kekayam is a country so far off. Why give them unnecessary trouble? They will come to know of the good tidings in due time.
Kausalya: Bear with me if I am wrong. Should we not have informed Bharathan and Sathrughnan who are presently at their uncle’s palace.
Vasishtan: They are really far away. But they will also be duly notified when Raman and Lakshmanan are informed. You are getting anxious unnecessarily. Though you are a mother, do not forget that you are also the queen of Kosalam. This is a day for you to rejoice. Decorate the harem and await the arrival of her lord. It is not from the servant quarters that the queens of Ayodhya should come to know that the coronation is fixed.
Kausalya: For the parched lands what would give more rapture than the rain. I have no complaints even if my lord would not come to the harem to tell this news.
(Raman, a youngster of twenty five years, enters. Kausalya’s eyes fill with tears of joy.)
Raman (Bows reverentially before the Guru): I beg for your blessings.
Vasishtan: Long live my child!
Raman (kissing the hands of Kausalya): Mother, whom are you awaiting in the court?
Kausalya (Breathless in extreme joy): I was waiting for your arrival, my son. Now your mother is blessed with all good fortunes, my dear.
(The Sutradharan proclaims,- “the Gem on the crown of the clan of Raghus, King Dasarathan, the King of Kings’’ – from the back stage. Dasarathan enters, old, yet energetic. Raman bows down before him. Dasarathan walks slowly towards Kausalya, stands placing a hand on her shoulder.)
Dasarathan: My child, you are the first son born to me in my queen. The people are really fond of you. So tomorrow on the day of Pooyam you accept the position of the crown prince.(Raman bows down once again) I entrust this land with you, protect it; double the riches in the treasury, arms in the armory and all the other assets of this land. All my subjects should be forever happy .May you enjoy the pleasures of ruling, when they have the blissful experience of the absence of domination. You are humble.
Yet, it is still better to be more humble. Forsake passion and anger; gain a proud victory over yourself. Conquer your own mind, and then empires will surrender on their own. (Raman bows again) Son, may the eight directions of the universe bow down before you. May days and nights take turns to guard you! May the five elements stand in adoration at your feet! The wheel of time may rotate singing your praises.
Raman: If the blessings of the great Guru, my father and mother are with me, I am willing to bear any burden.
Vasishtan: Beloved prince, may fame and prosperity be at your service always.
Kauslaya: My son, let your wife Sita be informed of this great news. She will be overcome with joy.
Vasishtan: You and your wife should observe penance today and sleep on darbha grass.
Dasarathan: You may go to the harem and begin the rituals.
(Raman salutes the three and leaves. Dasarathan looks at Kausalya, overcome with ecstasy) Who has more claim on Raman, the crown prince – You or Ayodhya? Will there be a dispute on who has more share of his motherhood?
Kausalya: I will humbly accept the motherhood of the king.
Dasarathan: In the hour of dawn, the populace stand in reverence at the auspicious sight of the fruits bowing in full ripeness.
Kausalya: Yes, they pluck them away from the branches to submit as offerings.
Dasarathan: My divine partner, the kings have never worshipped, one after the other, at the feet of any body else. You know, you excel every one in your good fortune.
Kausalya: My lord, this servant of yours now experiences an absolute fulfillment of life. Like Ayodhya, I take pride in you and your son.
Dasarathan: Mother of the valiant, better half of the king. It is a day to make offerings. You fulfill that duty in an appropriate manner.
Kausalya: I have kept ready the things for offering before coming here. I am leaving now.(Goes)
Dasarathan: Great Sage, I am nearing the evening of my life. The worn out body hesitates to obey the commands of the will. Yet my body will regain energy and vigour any moment. I do crave strongly to go for a hunt, creating commotion in the forest. The days echoed with sounds of elephants have been long forgotten. The moments when alluring tigresses leaped closer, like the collapsing branch of Venga tree in full blossom, have vanished in oblivion. You must be wondering, this man in his extreme old age still hungers for a good hunt! My hands even now passionately throb to lift the bow.
Vasishtan: The old age might be visualizing in a dream the thrilling ecstasies of youth once again.
Dasarathan: For me youth and old age are meaningless divisions, in the calculation of life. I can still chase the chamari deer dashing up along the banks of Sarayu, where wild ilanji trees, clad in the rays of the morning sun, recline lazily with their dark hair fallen loose. I will stop the chariot hearing the tusker’s trumpeting.
Vasishtan: Sometimes end up in disaster.
Dasarathan: Are’nt you indicating the curse of the Sudra sage? How will the curse come true? I did not shoot my arrow at the young sage to kill him deliberately. His life was near the end. In unbearable anguish, the old sage cursed me. That curse is not relevant any more. I have forgotten it. In childhood we slip and fall at many a step. Nobody remembers all that .But today I am overcome with so much of joy and pride that I forget my responsibilities. Any body there?
(Enters Sutradharan) Have you sent messengers in all directions?
Sutradharan: Yes, Your Majesty.
Dasarathan: Collect a thousand cows and seven cart load of gold and gems in the place of offering. I will be reaching there before Brahmins and mendicants assemble there.
Sutradharan: As you order.
Dasarathan: Let there be sound of veena and prayer hymns in the inner courtyards throughout the night.
Sutradharan: As you order.
Dasarathan: I want to see Raman again, Lakshmanan also.
Sutradharan: Yes Your Majesty. (leaves)
Dasarathan: This is a great celebration for Ayodhya. Let every body join the festivities.
Vasishtan: In Ayodhya the celebrations have started. The pots of holy water will be ready before the dawn.
Sumanthrar: Great Sage, subordinate priests are waiting for your advice. Vasishtan: I will be there in a moment, Maharaj, is it not proper that you should inform Kaikeyi and other wives about the coronation?
Dasarathan: I am off to the harem with this glad tiding. Sumanthrar, King Dasarathan has no other occasion to celebrate. You know very well what I desire.
Sumanthrar: Yes Your Majesty.
(Vasishtan and Sumanthrar leave. Dasarathan walks about, agitated. Gradually the stage gets dim, only the countenance of Dasarathan is visible in a luminous flame)
Dasarathan: Yes, I visualize disasters and fearful events. On the sky echoes thunder and writhes lightning. The seers talk secretively that my birth star has been affected by fierce planets. The signs are not auspicious. Lord Vishnu, I haven’t committed any sin. Give strength to my soul for a few more days. I just want the sight of Raman with scept in his hand. When he adorns the throne, with his brothers standing in subservience, I will not hesitate to leave for the forest or accept death.
Raman: I bow down at your holy feet.
Dasarathan (With a start) Child, have you informed Sita about this?
Raman: Yes I have.
Dasarathan: Didn’t her lovely eyes blossom like the dark flowers of Koovalam? She is perfect match for you. Have you made the offerings?
Raman: I was preparing for that.
Dasarathan: With a prayerful mind to the mother, do everything – at night …
Raman: We are fasting.
Dasarathan: Yes, the great Guru must have given you instructions … at night (walks about nervous) When your brother Bharathan had left the palace, the apt time for your coronation came. Bharathan is saintly, righteous. He is very dear to me. Yet the mind of man is not stable. At night… (Walks agitated)
(Enters Lakshmanan) Lakshmanan must have come to know about the coronation?
Lakshmanan: Yes, My Lord.
Dasarathan: At night, the bosom friends should guard Raman and protect him from all sides. I entrust Lakshmanan with this responsibility.
Lakshmanan: This humble servant will always guard the elder brother.
Dasarathan: Tonight the guard must be strong. There can be several obstacles to things like this (Raman and Lakshmanan leave, bowing. Dasarathan stands still staring at them)
Translated from Malayalam by Bini B.S.
Saketam is the first play in the trilogy based on the Ramayana written by the famous playwright C.N.Sreekantan Nair. Saketam shows a tonal deviation from the source epic and in this sense, can be described as a reconstitution. The character of Dasarathan is analysed in a new light. He is not portrayed as a great king who stands for truth and righteousness. Dasarathan in Saketam is also an old king with nostalgic memories of his youthful exploits, who falls victim to his Kamam or desire to the alluring wife Kaikeyi. He deserves both sympathy and respect .
In this play, the insignificant aspect of the curse of the Sudra Sage in the Ramayana becomes central to the theme. In the introductory sloka, “athakena prayuktoyam”, the concept that a man walks into sins and the inevitable punishments by some strange fate is indicated.
The first act of Saketam prepares the audience for the unavoidable disaster. The hints of the coming tragedy are scattered all over, though the atmosphere is that of celebration and pleasant expectation of the coronation. Using a language which is both suggestive and poetic, the dramatist has incorporated effectively these contradicting undertones in the play. Dasarathan’s soliloquy is very significant in this respect. The beauty and vigour of Malayalam as used by C.N is a challenge to a translator.
BINI B S. Doctorate holder from the University of Kerala. Interested in creative writing. Writes genuinely inspired poetry.
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