Prof. Debapriya Dash
Indian playwright genius Girish Karnad’s ‘Nagamandala’ was staged by the city-based cultural forum ‘Hrudaya’.
Girish Karnad’ ‘Nagamandala’ that made its stage debut in 1984, is one of those plays that has come a long way. Woven around two Kannad folk tales, the play is widely performed across the globe and has been acknowledged as a modern Indian classic and is a particular favourite of theatre groups.
Recently, Hrudaya, a city-based cultural forum had pulled off a refreshing reprisal of the play by presenting it in Odia at Vani Vihar (MKCG) Auditorium in a different garb.
Veteran dramatist Bijay Mishra and Dr. Sukadev Nanda, former VC, F.M. University had jointly inaugurated the function.The well-known satirist (Vyanga Kavi) Prof. Ramakanta Mishra had brilliantly adapted the English text and innovatively integrated traditional Odishan song and dance into the play’s fabric. This version of Naga Mandala designed and directed by Prof. Mishra had successfully been presented at National Theatre Festival CANFEST 2010 at Paradip.
CANMASS, Paradip the host organization that produced the play in the festival also staged the play at Annapurna Theatre in Puri and in a State-level Drama Festival at Dhenkanal. This time “HRUDAYA” made the stage presentation with renowned TV and film actors like Kirti Mohanty, Bijay Patnaik,Amrita Dash, Leena Das and writer-director Ramakanta Mishra doing two roles.
The storyline of the play is complex and impregnated with subtle layers of meaning. Nata, the eternal performer is cursed by the Goddess of Sleep to die if he cannot keep awake at least for one night in a month on the last night of the month, Nata at a dilapidated temple site, desperately tries to keep awake but is about to fail, when he sees some ‘Flames’ coming. The ‘Flames’ get free when the house-holders in the village, put out the earthen lamps and come to this place in the dead of the night to exchange pleasantries.
They talk of Kahani (the story a charcter) that was trapped inside the body of an old woman and escaped when the lady was taking a post-lunch nap and was snoring loudly with mouth wide open. Kahani (the story) comes along as a beautiful damsel and Nata implores to her to narrate the tale so that he could keep awake and avoid death.
The ‘story’ narrates the story of the beautiful Rani, the village belle with snake-like tresses, who gets married to Loka. Loka keeps Rani in captivity and spends every night with the ‘other woman’. Rani, a child at heart is left to herself when a blind woman Gandhari, who had been a friend to Loka’s mother-visits Rani along with his
son Kalia, an idiot. Rani and Gandhari exchange words through the windows as the door is locked from out side and develop a relation of trust.
Gandhari gives two pieces of enchanted root to Rani to feed Loka so that he would love Rani and shun the other woman. When Rani grinds the root to a paste and pours it into the cooking bowl, the paste spits fire and red smoke that engulf Rani. Rani gets jittery and decides not to feed it to Loka as it could be poison. She pours the curry with the root-paste on an anthill. The cobra in the anthill takes the potion and falls in love with Rani.
Every night when Loka is away, the cobra makes its way to Rani’s bedroom in the guise of Loka and makes love to her. Rani gets pregnant and Loka accuses Rani of infidelity. The village court asks Rani to swear with the cobra in hand and to prove her chastity. Rani tells that she had never touched any other male except Loka and the cobra. As Rani told the truth, the cobra didn’t bite Rani and instead coiled around her body and spread its hood over Rani,s head, The village court pronounces that Rani is no ordinary mortal, she is a Goddess. Rani delivers a male child and Loka & Rani live happily ever after.
The cobra suffers from pangs of love and hangs itself in the long tresses of Rani. Rani wakes up with a start to find a dead cobra dropping down her tresses. Rani asks Loka to observe the last rites of the dead cobra in the hands of their son. The play has an alternative ending with the live cobra dropping down Rani’s tresses that she accommodates in the bun of her hair as her true lover avoiding Loka’s eyes.
The play as a literary work has been interpreted in several ways like Loka and the cobra being the split self of the same person or one being the alter ego of the other.
However, the complex play was presented in an extremely entertaining format and the sincerity and honesty of the production could be felt by the discerning viewers. Literary persons, actors, media persons came in large
number to watch the play. Despite slightly bad audio and lighting drop-outs, the drama enthralled the audience with its folk flavour and unique directorial treatment.
(The author is working in the English Department of Govt. Women’s College, Keonjhar.)