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.”

INDIA DIVIDED (NORTH AND SOUTH) AND THE CAUSE - THE MOHENJODARO SKELETONS!

Skeletons in lane between Houses XVIII and XXXIII', VS area, Mohenjodaro, Archaeological Survey of India, 1925-26
We all learnt in schools about Aryan invasion. India was invaded and conquered by the nomadic light skinned Indo-European tribes, the Aryans from Central Asia around 1500 BC, who overthrew an earlier and more advanced dark skinned Dravidian Civilisation.

In the 19th century, it was believed to be the Aryan migration, not invasion. Europeans saw Sanskrit identical with many European languages, and based on Biblical model of human migration, Max Muller estimated the date of migration to be around 1500-1200 BC.

With the discovery of Indus Valley Civilisation in 1920s, the theory turned from ‘migration’ to ‘invasion’. The war between light and dark skinned people was highlighted after this discovery, which in coarse of time led to the NORTH AND SOUTH INDIA DIVIDE (based on race). And what were the evidences – a few human skeletons found in the excavated sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler, one of British India’s very well known archaeologists interpreted these skeletons as a proof of the Aryan invasion scenario. He wrote:

“The Aryan invasion of the Land of the Seven Rivers, the Punjab, and its environs, constantly assumes the form of an onslaught upon the walled cities of the aborigines. For the cities, the term used in the Rigveda is pur, meaning a ‘rampart’, ‘fort’ or ‘stronghold’…Indra, the Aryan god, is puramdar, ‘fort destroyer’…In brief, ‘he rends forts as age consumes a garment’. Where are or were these citadels? It has in the past been supposed that they were mythical, or were merely places of refuge against attack, ramparts of hardened earth with palisades and a ditch’. The recent excavations of Harappa may have thought to have changed the picture. Here we have a highly evolved civilisation of essentially non-Aryan type, now known to have dominated the river-system of north-western India at a time not distant from the likely period of the earlier Aryan invasions of that region. What destroyed this firmly-settled civilisation? Climatic, economic, political deterioration may have weakened it, but its ultimate extinction is more likely to have been completed by deliberate and large-scale destruction. It may be no mere chance that at a late period of Mohenjodaro men, women and children appear to have been massacred there. On circumstantial evidence, Indra stands accused.”

The skeletons are no longer taken as a proof of the Aryan invasion theory. Rather, they are interpreted in a different manner.