One of the greatest pioneers of classical Sanskrit drama, Bhasa is said to have lived around 3rd Century A.D. He is one of the earliest known Sanskrit dramatists of ancient India. An Indian scholar, Mahamahopadhyaya Ganapati Sastrigal, rediscovered thirteen of his plays in the year 1912. Not much is known about the life history of Bhasa. There are no written records of his life nor is there a biography of Bhasa. It is said that the great poet Kalidasa was inspired very much by Bhasa and adopted most of his techniques. Only 13 plays were restored in Kerala in the beginning of the 12th century. Out of these 13 stories, 6 are based on the epic of Mahabharata, which shows Bhasa’s flare for Dramatic stories and plays. Bhasa belonged to the times when the society was politically, economically, socially and culturally dynamic. To know more about Bhasa, continue to read this insightful biography on him.
Svapnavasavadatta: Perhaps the most noted play of Bhasa is Svapnavasavadatta (Vision of Vasavadatta). The story revolves around King Udayana who is pressurized by his state minister to marry the daughter of a very powerful ruler in order to gain power to protect his kingdom from foreign invasions. The king is not too keen on this proposal as he loves is wife too much to consider taking such a step. But the wife becomes ready to sacrifice her life for the kingdom and stages a fake death. She secretly returns back to the king to be with him and awaits the new wife. The play is so well written that it won the hearts of the sternest critics. A lot of emphasis was given on theatre and fine arts. It was the time when art was taken up as a serious form of occupation and entertainment. People used to professionally stage the plays written by authors of that era. Bhasa has always been counted as the most influential playwrights of his time by Indologists, Indian commentators and anthologists. His style of writing was different that the other contemporary playwrights of his time. He made Sanskrit language very accessible and easy to understand for the general people. He did not use to use too flashy and superfluous Sanskrit. He did not use any open benediction in his plays, rather opened his plays directly with the stage directions. His stories used to have unconventional twists and turns to it. In fact he broke a very important convention by killing the hero of his story in the end of one of his plays, which was a very big thing in those times as people were only used to the happy endings. This play is called Urubhangam. Most of Bhasa’s plays were lost over the years. He did not really used to follow the rules led by Natya Shastra. He used to use physical violence in his plays, on the drama stage. This was very badly taken up by the authorities of Natya Shastra. The Unbhangam is considered as one of the two most tragic plays of the Sanskrit language. In Unbhangam, Duryodhana is considered to be an actual hero instead of been considered as a villain according to the great epic of Mahabharta. He is shown repenting in the play for all the treachery and lies that he had
Madhyamavyayoga: Bhasa’s work has been revitalized in the modern times many times. The first time it was perked up by Shanta Gandhi, a Professor of Ancient Indian Drama from National School of Drama. He directed and produced Bhasa’s plays like Madhyamavyayoga and Urubhanga. Madhyamavyayoga was a play written by Bhasa in 11th century CE. It is based on the confusion a priest’s middle son and Pandava’s middle son called Bhima. There is also a part of the play where the epic reunion of Bhima and his son Ghatotkach takes place. Bhasa took the characters from the epic story of Mahabharata but the storyline and imagination was entirely of his own. It is set in the forest where Pandavas are in exile. It starts with Ghatotkach trying to chase a family for his mother who was a demoness wanted to eat some human beings. He captures the family and gives them an option that if one of them agrees to become his mother’s dinner then he will set the rest of them free. Everyone from the family offered themselves in the act of selflessness but a decision could not be made. At the end it was decided that the middle son will sacrifice himself for the rest of the family and he agrees to go with Ghatotkach. But he makes a request that before finally be taken to his mother, he must let him drink water from the lake and satiate his thirst. Ghatotkach lets him go to the lake and waits for him to come back. When he does not return, he asks the family to tell him the name of their middle son. His name was Madhyama, which was also the name of Bhima. When Ghatotkach calls outs ‘Madhayama’ Bhima thinks that someone is calling him out. Bhima enters the scene and tries to take charge of the situation. He tells Ghatotkach that he must let the family free and if the need be, he will himself become Hidimba’s dinner. Bhima finds out while arguing with him that he is in fact his own son. They argue a lot and in the end it is decided that Bhima will go with Ghatotkach to his mother. When Hidimba sees Bhima, she discloses his identity to their son. Ghatotkach feels embarrassed and Hidimba’s apetite is satiated with the happiness she feels at the sight of her husband.