Monday, December 31, 2007

OUSTING BRITISH RULE THROUGH KICHAKA VADHA – THE ROLE OF THEATRE IN THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE IN BRITISH INDIA

(An early 20th Century Marathi Theatre)

Kichaka Vadha (the killing of Kichaka) is an episode from the Mahabharata concerned with the consequence of the exile of Draupadi and the Pandavas from Hastinapura for thirteen years. The first twelve years were spent in a forest and the final year in disguise in the city of Viratanagara. A condition of the original agreement stated that if they were discovered during this period of disguise they would be required to spend another twelve years in the forest. During this period, Kichaka, the queen of brother Sudeshana (in whose employ Draupadi then was), returned to Viratanagara and was attracted to a beautiful Sairandhari (tire-woman) who, unbeknown to him, was Draupadi in disguise. Kichaka requested her to be sent to his harem and Yudhistira (the eldest of the five Pandavas) then faced the dilemma of revealing his identity or Draupadi’s degradation. The dilemma was resolved by Bhima’s decision to kill Kichaka secretly.

The story of Kichaka Vadha was found as a major attraction for the traditional theatre in Maharashtra towards the beginning of the 20th century. Kichaka Vadha was performed throughout Bombay and the Deccan to houses packed with large native audiences, until it was banned in January 1910.

Why was it banned? Because, the performance of Kichaka Vadha was meant to excite the lowest classes against the British rule, who would not be reached by newspaper or meetings. It had a message to give to the people of Maharashtra who were then, like the rest of India, downtrodden by the foreign rule.

According to a report published in Times:
“Although his name is no where uttered on the stage or mentioned in the printed play, everyone in the theatre knows that Kichaka is really intended to be the Lord Curzon, that Draupadi is India, and Yudhistira is the Moderate and Bhima the Extremist party. Every now and again unmistakable clues are provided. The question indeed admits of no doubt for since the play first appeared in 1907 the whole Deccan has been blazoning forth the identity of the characters. Once they have been recognised the inner meanings of the play becomes clear. A weak government at home, represented by King Virata, has given the Viceroy a free hand. He has made use of it to insult and humiliate India. Of her two champions, the Moderated advocate gentle - that is, constitutional measures. The Extremists, out of deference to the older part, agree, although satisfied of the ineffectiveness of this course. Waiting until this has been demonstrated, they adopt violent methods and everything becomes easy. The oppressor is disposed of without difficulty. His followers, namely the Anglo-Indians - are, as it is prophesised in the play and as narrated in the Mahabharata, massacred with equal ease.”