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Monday, May 11, 2015

As the one Sun appears / To each observer a different Sun

Bhasa, who must have lived in the second half of the 4th century BC, is often referred to as the “Father of the Indian drama.” He is an accomplished Sanskrit poet of a very high order. He is known for his dramatic style and his plays are marked by profound psychological insight, striking figures of speech, brilliant epigrams and have all the navarasashumor,  heroism, surprise, anger, pity, terror, serenity, devotion and love. Kalidasa, Bana and certain other Alankarikas refer to him in high terms. Amongst all his plays, Svapnavasavadattam is the most popular, for it is here that the poet said to have excelled in plumbing the human heart in its depths and shallows, in moments of supreme love and pity with a matching felicity of language depicting vipralambhasringar.

One day, King Udayana, the hero of the play, having married Princess Padmavati of Magadha, comes out for a stroll into garden along with his court jester. However, the king, who is not able to forget his first wife, Vasavadatta, who was said to have died on a village-fire, shares his agony with Jester thus: “When I saw Vasavadatta in Ujjain, Lord Kama shot all his five arrows at me at once. And I felt love, sweet and fierce; my heart is still experiencing the prick. Wherefrom this sixth arrow [marrying  Padmavati] to add to my sorrows?”

The smart Brahmin (Jester), sensing the agony of his King and in an attempt to divert his king’s attention, looking up exclaims: “Ah! Ah! May your Majesty just see the row of cranes flying calmly in the serene autumn sky, looking as beautiful as the long white arms of the
adored Baladeva.”   

“Friend I see it”, responds the King.  And goes on saying,
Srujvayatam ca viralam ca nathonnatam ca /
 saptarshivamsakutilam ca nivarthaneshu /
nirmucyamanbhujagodarnirmalasya /
seemamivambarathalasya vibhajyamanam—
Now the line is straight, now it’s broken / Now the flight is upward, now it’s low / This line of birds divides the welkin / In two, like boundary marks we know. / The sky is spotless like the belly / Of a serpent casting off its slough; / When the birds turn and wheel round, we see / Them twisted like the Great Bear itself.”

In the meanwhile, seeing the same flying birds, the maid of Princess Padmavati, who were all sitting behind a bower, exclaims: “Preshatam Preshatam bhartrudharika—See, may the Princess have a look at this row of cranes, beautiful and white like a garland of kokanada flowers proceeding calmly enough.  Oh! The lord!”

These comments of the Jester, theKing and the maid about the same flying cranes in three different forms, glorifies the poetic genius of the playwright, for he could mouth them with words that aptly suit their individual perceptions. We all know that perception is defined as a representation of the world in mental images. Each one of us has our own mental pictures of people and of other things around us. The sorting and organizing of stimulus—say for example an image of pen by the eye, is sorted and organized by a mental processing—takes place in the mind. So, perception is an activity that can best be described as a process of integrating information.

Perception is one of the four ways in which our knowledge base is constructed. In our philosophy, perception is understood as Pratyaksha, direct experience through our sense organs. The other three sources of knowledge are: anumana—inference; upamana—analogy; and the third is sabda—testimony.

Of course, our prime concern now is to understand a little about perception and the tricks it plays in building up our knowledge base. That said, we must realize that the knowledge that we perceive through direct experience always interacts extensively with the store of knowledge that we have already accumulated. Which is why, perceptual knowledge is never a ‘raw’ sensation; it involves the integration of information. In other words, when we see something, what we perceive is influenced to a great extent, by our pre-existing knowledge. Psychologists say that perception is relative. It is influenced by the state of our mind, and the background of knowledge we have about the thing which we perceive. Hence, perception, could at times, be completely wrong.        

Now, going back to the play, it becomes clear that the Brahmin, the King and the maid, have perceived the flying cranes according to their own experiences and state of mind—the Brahmin from his experience of praying to Lord Krishna and Balarama; the King who has been concerned more with the boundaries of his kingdom, lost and regained; and the maid who only knows about wreathing garlands with flowers—and put appropriated words to share that with the others. It is this individual perception driven by one’s own experiences that made the same set of flying cranes appear to each observer in a different form. 
What a great poetry!

Keywords: Bhasa, Svapnavasavadattam, perception


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