Bharat Ek Khoj

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The Classical Age
(Episode 17)

The seasons and their changing landscapes are always celebrated in out busts of songs redolent in joy. Thus in spring the wide valleys, flower-bedecked mountains, the boating lakes and the romping deer are paid an ode to, in spring's own raga Vasanta.the pitter-patter of the rains are welcomed by the smiling maiden getting happily drenched, to the melody of Malhar, unique to the season. Autumn has the frolicking fish in the ponds and the beaming bevy of children, enjoying sugarcane juice. And, winter has the has somber vina to catch the mood of the wrinkled woman in a threadbare blanket, trying to get some warmth from her smoky oven.

According to Nehru, the age of the Guptas was no doubt a golden one enlightened, vigorous and highly cultured, but the efflorescence of culture began in the kushana time. The Ajanta frescoes are full of tenderness and love of beauty and life. Painted by the Buddhist monks, these frescoes take one back into some distant, dream- like and yet real world. We have here women in plenty: princesses, singers, dancers seated and standing, beautifying themselves or in procession. Nehru feels how well those painter-monks must have known the world and the moving drama of life! By the gupta time, even the kings and emperors saw themselves in the image of the Gods and Goddesses as sculpted on their coins.

Nehru refers to Kalidasa, acknowledged as the greatest poet and playwright of Sanskrit literature, who probably lived in the 4th century at Ujjain. There was a contemporary playwright Shudrak, known for his tender play Mrichchakatikam (The clay cart). Interestingly, Nehru noted that the language of the old plays of Kalidasa and other is mixed. In the same play, educated people speak Sanskrit and ordinary, uneducated folk, usually women, in Prakrit, the language of the masses. The lyrical and poetic passages which abound are in Sanskrit.

The Mrichchakatikam opens with the beautiful courtesan Vasantasena adorning herself and daydreaming about her lover, the chaste but poor Charuddatt. A charlatan loses 100 gold-coins in a gambling den and flees to take refuge at her place. She repays the debt, and on learning that he was the servant of Charudatta, finds out more about her paramour. The evel eye of the King's brother-in-law falls on Vasantasena, returning though a garden after her tryst with charudatta, and unable to seduce her, nearly kills her. Being royally connected he is able to fix the blame on the innocent Charudatta and manipulate justice to send him to the gallows. The timely arrival of Vasantasena, who did not die, saves his neck and the lovers are happy.

Nehru cites approvingly the opinion of Joseph Wood Krutch, a noted American critic: Such a play can be produced only by a civilization which has reached stability; when a civilization has though through all the problems it faces, it must come to rest upon something as calm and naive like this...