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Notes on Bhasa's Play Madhyama Vyayoga


Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

In Madhyama Vyayoga (1), Bhasa presents an interesting story in which pathos (karunam) is stored in the integration of heroism (vira) and laughter (hasya) (laughter is not an expressed feeling here). Many combinations with triple and double turns can be discovered on the subject of presentation of scenes in the movements of this play. This Vyayoga is the combination of twos: this could be between Hidimba and Bhima or between Ghatotkaca and Bhima. But a trinity is present in the name of the play, Madhyama (Middle). Bhasa adapted the story of the Brahmin family from the Sunasepha episode of Aitareya Brahmana. Connecting this story to the stage of forest life of Pandavas, Bhasa created the undercurrent of the theme. The playwright made the idea of the middle in both Pandava story and the Brahmin Story the essential element of his creation. Here it may be said that the middle son among the three sons of the Brahmin is the hero of this story. Some people think that Bhasa wrote Madhyama Vyayoga to create a Vyayoga. I doubt that this may be because they belittle the subtle feelings in this human story. More than the heroism involved in the fight between the two powerful heroes Bhima and Ghatotkaca, the principal strength of the internal structure of this play is the conflict involved in the idea of trinity and the kindness experienced by the middle Brahmin boy in that trinity. The attainment of the heroic status of the middle of the three and the domination of the scene by kindness over heroism are to be noted. Even though the middle one Bhima is not present in the visual picturisation of the play, the middleness created by implosion through characterization external to the play and some noteworthy responses in the text make Bhima totally deserving to take the place of the Brahmin boy in place of him. This tripleness in the internal structure is often extremely helpful to create pictorial scenes in the presentation of the play. The dimension provided by the dynamic pictures created by the middle Bhima and the middle Brahmin boy against the other characters is metaphorically important as well as strengthened with meaning.

The duality in the parallelism created between the Bharata story and Sunasepha episode not only proclaims Bhasa's skill of imagination but also enhances the value of Madhyama Vyayoga more than the other plays known as written by Bhasa. Among the plays of Bhasa which expresses Indian-ness in play writing itself, this play maintains a structural uniqueness. Other Bhasa plays, especially those which can claim minimal script can claim Indian-ness as far as writing is concerned. It is to be understood that minimal script is not a deficiency; it has sharpness like a thin short arrow. There are only epic characters in Madhyama Vyayoga; there is no epic story. In the story created by Bhasa's own imagination, we can see an empire of feelings roaring in the short words appearing like short formulas as sea is contained in a grain of mustard. This truth clarified in the scenic splendor of any Bhasa play make Bhasa an unrivalled dramatist in the Indian Tradition. Bhasa proves that Indian dramatist was able to achieve the generalization in writing to make Karna's Burden Karna's Bharata and the story of the middle person, the story of the middle class suffocated by the middle-ness.

The laughter which was earlier noted not as the expressed feeling of this play strengthens Bhasa's skill in revealing the human character. In the laughter implied by Bhasa through his characters, his social view is condensed. This is most evident in Madhyama Vyayoga. The creation of the character of Ghatotkaca should be viewed as the commentary of the idea of dualism indicated earlier. It is to be faithfully indicated visually, based on the text itself, how the kindness of father and the rakshasa nature of mother is combined in him. When Bhima describes Ghatotkaca, the duality in Ghatotkaca's nature in his external appearance is clarified. He has a lion's face, he has the teeth of a lion but he also has eyes of honey and neck, soft and stately. The description goes on like this. This is the duality of Tamasa and Rajasa, of cruelty and kindness. If required, another duality may also be ascribed to Ghatotkaca in subtleness: These are hunter and the hunted. When Ghatotkaca sights the Brahmin family far ahead in the forest and becomes a hunter, all his cruelty should be brought forth. In the next instant due to the pity felt towards the Brahmins, he may feel the helplessness of a poor animal being hunted! This is because Bhasa does not present here the Ghatotkaca of Mahabharata who is a Brahmin hater, Dharma hater and a sinful soul. On the other hand he is devoted to the Brahmins. Otherwise he will not say that he knows that "Brahmins are foremost to be honored always anywhere in this world". But since his devotion to his mother exceeds his devotion to the Brahmins, he is compelled to catch a Brahmin for his mother for concluding her fast. Thus before the rakshasa who insists that he should get one of the sons of the Brahmin, a most tragic human story is enacted. Creating a scene of deep sorrow, Bhasa draws three pictures of duality. The old Brahmin says that the eldest son is most dear to him and he is unable to abandon him. The wife says that she desires to get the youngest son. The middle son laments: "who will like me?". To this Ghatotkaca replies that he likes him! Here on the stage three pictures of duality unfolds: The two pictures formed by the father and the eldest son and the mother and the youngest son stand as static images on either side; in the middle Ghatotkaca and the middle son creates a dynamic image. Here the respect felt by Ghatotkaca to the middle son who is steady in mind and full of affection to his kith and kin is very clear. Not only this. For a moment, Ghatotkaca feels light hearted to think to say that "he is there for him" to support him, who was lamenting that he was unwanted by his parents. In these situations we can find some of the lines in the character, in the scene, where Ghatotakaca stands as death personified. Even though this is not expressed in spoken words anywhere, Bhasa gives out his 'laughter' through indications inherent in the dialogues which propel the characters forward. This laughter is directed towards the basic selfish motive of man. The concept of Bhasa's laughter is most prominent in Hidimba's reply that "this is so" to the question of Bhima to Hidimba that "why is it so?" at the end of the play. Appearing only at the end of the play, Hidimba turns out to be a character who pulls the thread of the conflict created by heroism and kindness right from the beginning of the play. We find it interesting for a moment retrospectively thinking, appreciating the skill of the structure of the play. Because of this the newness of Madhyama Vyayoga provides ample scope for appreciation at all times.

Note (1): Vyayoga is one type of plays in 'dasaroopakam' (ten types of plays) listed by Bharata.

Translated by A. Purushothaman
3rd September 2004