The Theatre of The Hindus
|Publisher:||Prachya Vidya Bhawan, Varanasi|
|Other Details||9.00 X 6.00 inch|
Many years have elapsed since the translation of Sakuntala, by Sir William Jones, announced to the literary public of the western world that the Hindus had a national drama, the merits of which, it was inferred from those of the specimen published, might render it worthy of further investigation.
Independent, however, of the Claims to notice which the Hindu theatre possesses, upon principles that equally apply to the dramatic literature of every nation. It may advance pretensions to consideration on its own account, connected both with its peculiar merits and with the history of the stage.
Hindu dramatists have little regard for the unities of time and place; and if by unity of action be meant singleness of incident, they exhibit an equal disdain for such a restriction. At the same time, as we hall subsequently see, they are not itute of systematic and sensible rules, they are as unfamiliar with the extravagance of the Chinese drama, as with the severe simplicity of Grecian tragedy.
There is one peculiarity in the Hindu theatre which remarkably distinguishes it form that of every other people. Although there is little reason to doubt that the Sanskrit language was once a spoken tongue in some parts of India, yet it does not seem probable that it was ever the vernacular language of the whole. country, and it certainly ceased to be a living dialect at a period of which we have no knowledge.
Amongst the Athenians, also, a piece was never performed a second time, at least under the same form; and it is clear that the Hindu plays are written with a view to but one specific representation. At other times, and in other places, probably, successful dramas were repeated both in Greece and India; but this was a distant and accidental, and not, as with us, an immediate and anticipated consequence of success.
Notwithstanding the expectation thus excited, the subject has received little subsequent illustration. The translation of the Prabodha-Chandrcdaya, or "Rise of the Moon of Intellect," by Dr. Taylor of Bombay, throws more light upon the metaphysics than the drama of the Hindus; and the account given of the Malati-Madhava in the "Asiatic Researches," by Colebrooke, was subordinate to the object of his essay on Sanskrit and Prakrit prosody, and was unlikely to fall in the way of general readers. These two contributions, therefore, to the elucidation of Hindu dramatic literature, have added but little to the notice secured for it by the publication of Sakuntala.
The objects for which an ancient dialect may be studied are its philology and its literature, or the arts and sciences, the notions and manners, the history and belief of the people by whom it was spoken. Particular branches of composition may be preferably cultivated for the due understanding of each of these subjects, but there is no one species which will be found to embrace so many purposes as the dramatic. The dialogue varies from simple to elaborate, from the conversation of ordinary life to the highest refinements of poetical taste. The illustrations are drawn from every known product of art, as well as every observable phenomenon of nature.
Neither of the dramas hitherto published, Sakuntala or the Prabodha-Chandrodaso, can be considered to convey an accurate notion of the Hindu theatre. Each is but the species of its own genus. The latter belongs to the metaphysical, the former to the mytho-pastoral class of Sanskrit plays; but these two varieties are far from representing every class and order. Their wide dissimilarity might lead us to anticipate the extensive range of the theatre to which they belong, and to infer that where such striking distinctions were to be found, others less decidedly marked must prevail. The inherence would be justified by the fact, and the Hindu theatre affords examples of the drama of domestic, as well as of heroic life; of original invention as well as of legendary traditions.
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