According to Sanskrit dramatic theory, a Sanskrit drama doesn’t end in tragedy. The plot development always heads towards joy and union. This is in contrast to Greek drama where tragedy according to Aristotle is, “the highest form of art”.
Kalidasa’s Abhijnanasakuntalam isn’t a tragedy but has tragic events which could’ve led to a tragic end but as it happens in Sanskrit drama, certain interventions come along and prevent that from happening. Sakuntala’s character is put through much misery, Anasuya lets us know that she was abandoned as an infant. She is separated from her lover in the hopes of reunion, she later leaves her father’s abode and is then rejected by Duhsanta. After this however, things change and the role of the signet ring comes into play which confirms the structure of a Sanskrit drama- the meeting, the hindrance, the resolution, and the reunion. But how is this structure facilitated? Kalidasa here shows his excellent craftmanship. He has skilfully complimented the storyline with divine interventions which prevent the tragic end for Sakuntala.
In Mahabharata, Duhsanta marries Sakuntala and she proposes only her son will succeed to the throne. Later Duhsanta leaves for his palace and upon seeing Sakuntala again rejects her as his wife even though he remembers exactly who she was and in doing so was utterly cruel to her. Kalidasa however has negated this and has made adjustments for certain additions and interventions like Durvasa’s curse. In fact this curse is what leads to the genesis of a potential tragedy. Here the domino effect takes place and so when Sakuntala approaches Duhsanta who has no memory of her is met with disappointment and this is taken further when her only proof of their union, the signet ring is lost. Sakuntala is found devastated and she, “cursing her stars wept aloud, flinging her hands up”.
Supernatural and divine elements are found throughout the drama and they are integral as almost each crucial event is a consequence of these elements. Duhsanta stays in the hermitage under the excuse of fighting off ‘demons’ a supernatural entity. The curse in itself has the power to erase a person’s memory. In fact Kalidasa uses this curse to modify characters and change the course of the play’s action. As in Mahabharata, Duhsanta rejects Sakuntala of his own will, here this cruelty is attributed to the curse and so is Sakuntala’s suffering. According to Mandakranta Bose, “Durvasa’s curse is identifiable as the mainspring of tragic action. It turns the plot toward a different trajectory.
Maneka’as friend, an Apsara, takes away Sakuntala, this is an excellent example of Dues ex Machina. Later the signet ring is found by pure luck. It was swallowed by a fish in the river where Sakuntala had lost it and some fishermen caught the very fish which led to its recovery. This ring brings back Duhsanta’s memory and it makes him lament his loss and regret his behavior towards sakuntala, this evokes Karuna rasa. The Karuna rasa is evoked multiple times throughout the play. When Sakuntala leaves her father, when she is repudiated, and when Duhsanta is seen miserable upon recovering his memory.
The signet ring has a very crucial role to play, it seems to be a source of hope to Sakuntala, Then it becomes a hindrance and finally the cause of their reunion so while the curse is the turning point in the play, the ring is what adds a curious development. It is the antidote to the punishing curse. If it had not been lost Sakuntala would not have had to go through what she did. But it did get lost and she is humiliated in the vulnerable state of pregnancy, she is seen extremely disturbed and she says, “fate shows its inexorable power.”
Mitali asks Duhsanta to come and fight off demons for God Indra and he obeys and on their return, Mitali takes him to the hermitage of sage Marica where he sees a boy towards whom he feels affection. He is delighted to know that the boy is his own son. He is later reunited with Sakuntala as well and it seems the drama doesn’t end in tragedy. However, it could have as it somewhat did in the Mahabharata. The interventions of the supernatural forces and creatures and Gods seem to guide the whole plot. The fate which Sakuntala curses seems to have brought on calamity on her but it also defeats her misfortune.
Thus, it is seen that such interventions and the play of luck seem to uphold the structure of Sanskrit drama. They are the very reason which causes the union, the hindrance, the resolution and the reunion. Sakuntala and Duhsanta are united because Duhsanta has to stay in Sage Kanva’s hermitage to fight off demons, their love is in conflict because of the curse and the lost signet ring, and its resolution comes about when its found by pure luck and chance, the reunion takes place because the God Indra orchestrates it. Kalidasa has intentionally devised such interventions and impediments to provide an essential vibrance to the play. Since Sanskrit drama cannot end in tragedy so if it were not for these interventions this would have not been possible. Sakuntala is hopeless after being rejected and Duhsanta is in a state of extreme pathos upon recovering his memories and it seems certain to the audience that the plot is progressing towards a tragedy, that there is no respite but Mitali’s unexpected arrival is as unexpected as the reunion of the lovers. In the end, the victory of love is seen. And tragedy is prevented.
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