Prahasana and the Vithi are two of the major playforms in Sanskrit Drama. Though studies on some individual prahasanas and vithis have appeared from time to time in research journals, there is no comprehensive study of the two playforms on comparative basis, undertaken so far. The present book is an attempt to cover all aspects fo prahasana and vithi, in theory and practive. It is based on an in-depth study of manuscripts, microfilms and transcripts collected from various sources.
Beginning with the important aspects of Sanskrit drama, the book briefly examines the theories of rasa realization and presents a detailed account of the hasya yasa besides undertaking a study of the theoretical aspects of the prahasana first and the vithi in a later chapter, as sanctioned in the works o dramaturgy. It also presents an account of the suddha prahasanas that provide a contrasting picture in comparison with the samkirna variety. The work also analyses a few important vithi specimens. The chapter on the Vithyangas is a special feature of the work. Illustrations from well-known dramas serve to explain the textual matter with a rare clarity of thought and expressions.
This volume will interest scholars and students of Indology who are focused on the study of Sanskrit drama and dramaturgy, in particular, and literature, in general. It will also benefit readers interested in ancient Indian theatre.
Dr S. Ramaratnam is the Vice-chancellor Designate of the proposed Jagadguru Kripalu University in Orissa. Before taking up the present assignment, he was working as the vice-chancellor of Sri Sri University, Orissa. Having worked as the Director of Managemetn Institutes and Principal of Colleges, he has more than forty-five years of experience in the academic world. A major part of his career was spent in Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai, where he worked as Professor of Sanskrit and the Principal. Dr. Ramaratnam holds MA, PhD in Danskrit, DLitt, and four other postgraduate degrees, as well as degrees and diplomas in twelve subjects. He has been awarded a number of titles such as Samskrta Ratna and Bharata Kala Nipuna. He has worked as visiting Professor at Oxford University for two terms and at Mauritius University for four terms. Dr Ramaratnam has presided over sessions and presented papers in conferences held in Australia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, UK and USA. He has published a number of books and contributed over 50 articles to leading journals.
It is indeed a great pleasure going through the learned work “Prahasan and Vithi in Sanskrit Drama) by Prof S. Ramaratnam. Being a comprehensive survey of the prahasana and the vithi literature in Sanskrit, it deserves a warm welcome of scholars.
As a prelude to noticing prahasanas and vithis in Sanskrit, the author subjects a considerable corpus of ancient Sanskrit literature from the Veda down to the Upanisads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the works of the classical period, to a searching scrutiny to trace the element of humour in it, thus offering the rebuttal to he viewpoint of a section of the critics that Sanskrit literature, infact has been, and still is, far too serious to admit in it comic relief, with the exception of Sanskrit plays, where it surfaces in crude form in the antics of jester (vidusaka) who is introduced in them for the specific purpose of producing it. The ancient Sanskrit literature, infact, has enough evidence of it, as very ably brought out by our author, with a plethora of instances culled from it, in all its varieties of wit, satire and parody. Indian society has always been as robust as any other to indulge in the lighter side of life in its approach to live in all its fullness.
Humor has two broad divisions, subtle and gross/crude. While the instances in the ancient literature point to its subtle variety, that in the prahasanas by and large, with few honourable exceptions, point to its gross/ crude variety. The real humor is one that does not give the appearance of an effort behind it. That indication robs it of much of its sheen and may not appeal to more sophisticated taste, particularly in the modern times. The Sanskrit poets and playwrights of the modern period who have taken to humorous writing have been/are more careful in this regard. The humour in their creations, in quite a number of them, is m ore natural, flowing out of the situations and not a contrived one.
Humor is represented by the term hasya in Sanskrit literature. The impact of it is noticeable in the form of smile or laughter. The rhetoricians in India have been at pains to notice the shades in them, in all their minutae, thus proving their sharpness in understanding and appreciating them. It is debatable whether critics in any other language would have been so sharp and keen-eyed to notice them and detail them in their works.
It is to the keen insight of Prof S. Ramaratnam to have brought out such a thorough and comprehensive study of an important branch of Sanskrit dramatic literature. He has done a commendable job in collecting and presenting an account of many unpublished prahasana manuscripts. His account of the vithi and the vithyangas is equally praiseworthy. The appendices and the exhaustive bibliography further enhance the value of the work. His sharp intellect and critical approach are noticeable ion another of his work too, the work on an altogether different subject of management principles as gleaned from Sanskrit literature. I am pretty certain that he would, over a period of time, produce more of such works which will do the country proud.
In the pages that follow, an attempt is made for the first time, at presenting a detailed account of the Sanskrit dramatic literature with special reference to the prahasana and the vithi. The prahasana part of the Present work represents the research work done by me during the period 1975-79, first in the Department of Sanskrit, Ramakrishan Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai, and later in the Sanskrit Department of the University of Madras, under the supervision of Dr. M. Narasimhachary, former Reader in Sanskrit, who subsequently became the Professor and Head of the Department of Vaishnavism, University of Madras. The vithi portion was written by me while functioning as the UGC Emeritus Professor at the Post-graduate and Research Department of Sanskrit, Rajah’s College of Sanskrit and Tamil Studies, Tiruvaiyary, Tail Nadu during 2005-07.
Prahasana and the vithi are two of the ten major types of Sanskrit drama, the other eight being nataka, prakarana, bhana, dima, vyayoga, samavakara, anka and ihamrga. Nataka (popular play) and prakarana (social play) are the most perfected varieties, depicting all the sentiments and possessing varied characters. The other play-forms differ from one another in the main sentiment that is delineated and the type of characters introduced. Thus, the prahasana has the comic as its predominant sentiment and generally depicts the corrupt practices of certain sections of the society. The prahasana is useful in the sense that it cautions the good against the possible exploitation by the unscrupulous elements in the society. The vithi has a sprinkling of all the sentiments but has just two or three characters in it. It has a simple theme and can be presented as a street play. Thus, its message can reach the masses directly.
Though studies on some individual prahasanas and the vithis have appeared from time to time in research journals, no detailed study has yet been made to analyze them in a cogent fashion. The present study thus, is an attempt for the first time to resent a large body of prahasanas and the vithis covering all important aspects of their theory and practice. In doing so, no effort has been spared in collecting relevant manuscripts, microfilms and transcripts of the original works from different sources, though still a few could not be traced or procured.
The first chapter is introductory in nature, dealing with the important aspects of Sanskrit drama, such as its origin, the different types and their salient features. The second chapter gives a brief account of the theories of rasa-realization and a detailed treatment of the hasya rasa with suitable illustrations. Other connected problems, like whether or not hasya forms a secondary rasa, its relation to the other rasas and its scope in wider Sanskrit literature have been discussed in this chapter.
The third chapter deals with the Sanskrit prahasan in theory and practice. The salient points discussed in this chapter are-the origin of the prahasana, its theoretical features as sanctioned in the dramaturgical works and the presence of such features in the available specimens.
The fourth and the fifth chapters analyse the suddha and the samkiran types of prahasanas respectively. The latter has two sub-sections-the well-known prahasanas ad the minor ones.
The sixth chapter discusses the theoretical aspects of the vithi. This is followed by a detailed account of the available vithi specimens, in the seventh chapter. In the penultimate chapter (chapter 8), the scope of the vithyangas in Sanskrit drama is discussed. The last chapter(chapter 9) gives a retrospective resume of the study made in the preceding chapters. In addition to this, the relation of the vithi to the Indiana Folk Theatre is also discussed in this chapter. The scope of this work is limited to the specimens up to the nineteenth century. However a brief account of the works of the twentieth century writers is given in the appendix. The influence of Sanskrit languages, and a brief account of the farces in English literature are also presented in the appendix.
While rendering the verses, some of the long compounds have been split for the sake of easy readability. This has resulted in violation of the metrical rules in some places. I may be pardoned for the same. Some of the verses are the chaya of the corresponding Prakrt verses, and hence, they may also suffer from the loss of metre. Short lines in prose are rendered in roman style for the sake of convenience. While Identifying the prose lines in the footnotes, references to their abutting verse numbers are give. For example, Act II, 10-11 means that the relevant passage occurs in between verses 10 and 11 in Act II.
I have extreme pleasure in expressing mu deep gratitude to Prof Satyavrat Shasti, the scholar par excellence, who agreed to write a Foreword to this volume. In spite of his very busy schedule and indifferent health he spared his valuable time for this purpose, just out of love for me. I was not fortunate enough to have been either his student or his colleague but he condescended to my request readily. I fondly remover the hospitality extended to me by Prof Shastri and Dr. Usha when I visited them a few months ago.
I am deeply indebted to Dr M. Narsimhachary, former Head of the Department of Vaishnavism, University of Madras, who has been my mentor all along. He was my guide for my Ph D way back in the 1970s and he continues to be a lifelong guiding spirit for me. Scholars of his stature are generally inaccessible but Dr Acharya is an exception. He goes all out to help his student. Simplicity is his forte. I cannot forget the five years we spent together as colleagues in the Sanskrit Department of Vivekananda College. We used to be called as inseparables. I cherish my association with him.
I place on record my heartfelt thanks to Prof J.L Brockington who wrote the Foreword for my prahasana thesis when it was printed. I could send him only the incomplete proof of the work at that time, but h e was kind enough to go through it and provide the Foreword. When I apologized for the shortcoming the wrote back saying that he was only concerned about the quality of the work and not the peripherals. That speaks very high of him.
I had the pleasure of studying under Dr K. Kunjunni Raja at the University of Madras when I was doing M. A. He was the Head of the Department when I submitted my thesis. He introduced me to his colleagues saying “Ramaratnam has written his thesis very well, he is sure to get his PhD”. He wrote a few lines in appreciation of the work when it was printed. I somehow did not get the opportunity to study under Dr V. Raghava, but I have immensely benefited from his scholarly writings.
I also remember with profound gratitude the help, support and encouragement extended by scholars like Dr N. Veezhinathan, former Professor and Head of the Department of Saskrit, University of Madras, Dr S. S. Janaki, former Director of Kuppuswami Shastri Research Institute, Dr Venkateswaran, former Professor of Sanskrit, Annamalai University, Dr V. Varadachari , former Director of French Institute of Indology, Pondicherry, and Prof M. D. Vasantaraj, Professor of Sanskrit and Prakrit, University of Mysore (who helped me with his prakrit). I remember with devotion, Prof Kalyanasundara Shastrigal, Prof V. Rajagopalan and Prof S. Viswanathan, my beloved teachers in Vivekananda College.
My sincere thanks are also due to the following government organizations/institutions for helping me to carry out the prahasna project successfully.
i. University Grants Commission, Govt. of India, New Delhi.
ii. Higher Education Department, Government of Tamil Nadu.
iii. Ramakrishan Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai.
iv. University of Madras.
I am thankful to the UGC again for selecting me as Emeritus Professor for the period 2005-07. My thanks are due to the authorities of Rajah’s college of Sanskrit and Tamil Studies, Tiruvaiyary, for having given me an opportunity to work under the scheme in the Post-graduate and Research Department of Sanskrit of their institution. I am particularly thankful to Dr T. N. Aravamudhan, my former student and currently the principal of the college for having persuaded me to apply for the scheme and for having provided me with all the facilities during the tenure of the project.
I thank the members of my family for their constant encouragement and support in all my academic activities.
I shall be failing in my duty if I do not thank two important people who are involved in the publication of my books.
The first one is Shri Murthy who was the proprietor of Kavyalaya Publishers, Mysore, and who brought out my prahasana book in 1987. The second is Susheel Mittal, the Director of D.K. Print world, Delhi. The latter is one of the leading International publishers of Indology books. Susheel Mittal is doing a great service to the cause of Oriental Studies by bringing out quality books in Sanskrit and Indology from time to time. He brought out my Management Mantras in 2010. I am grateful to him for bringing out the present volume as well.
Last but not the least, I submit my obeisance at the lotus feet of my ista devata Lord krsna whose loving grace keeps me in good stead. Mu humble pranamas are due to my gurus, Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaji and Swami Mukundanandaji.
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