Urubhangam is one of the oldest surviving play written by Bhasa in the 2nd or 3rd century, based on the Mahabharata. Urubhanga is a one-act play depicting the end of the epic battle and Duryodhana’s death. Although Urubhanga contains the same core storyline as that of the Mahabharata, Bhasa’s altering of certain aspects results in a different presentation of the story. An extreme example of this alteration is Bhasa’s portrayal of Duryodhana, who, in Mahabharata, is viewed as a villain, but in Urubhanga is given more human qualities. Bhasa’s presentation of Duryodhana’s side of the tale adds certain tragic elements to the play. In our play, Duryodhana’s defeat is presented as the result of unvarnished treachery. Duryodhana is not only the dramatic hero; he is also the moral hero. In fact, that seems to be the point of the play.
The Title of the Play
Bhasa’s Urubhanga parallels events narrated in Shalyaparva of Mahabharata. The main theme of Urubhanga (उरुभड्ग) is the breaking of Duryodhana’s thighs by Bhima violating the accepted conditions of Gadayudh (गदायुध्द) and the consequences of that deed.
ऊर्वोः भड्गः प्राधान्येन यस्मिन रूपके वर्ण्यते तत ऊरुभड्गं
As the play opens we have three soldiers reporting the battle between Duryodhana and Bhima and Balrama is indignant at Bhima for hitting Duryodhana on the thigh by breaking the law. The hero of the play, Duryodhana is lying on the ground groaning in pain, Balarama offers to take revenge but Duryodhana rules out retaliation or any further violence; he advocates an end of hostilities after his death. Then Gandhari, Dhritrashtra, Durjoy(Duryodhana’s son), Duryodhana’s two wives enter. Duryodhana consoles them. A chariot is sent from heaven and he departs from the earth. Thus the title which refers to the main incident is quite appropriate. All the speeches and actions of the hero are the consequences of the breaking of his thighs and all the characters speak about it and sympathise with him, and his death is the natural consequence of Urubhanga.
The Plot of the Play
Bhasa’s Urubhanga is based on the Gadaparva, subdivision of Shalyaparva. Bhasa has introduced many changes in the story to suit his purpose of representing Duryodhana as a Dhirodhatta (धीरोदात्त) type of character, bold, sympathetic, generous, loving and very powerful, though boastful. The play begins with a prelude in which three soldiers come to stage as instructed by the stage manager and they start with the description of the great field of Kurukshetra after the main battle is over, and when the duel between Bhima and Duryodhana is about to begin. The plain of Kurukshetra is shown strewn with corpses of kings, soldiers, horses and elephants slain in battle. Kurukshetra called the hermitage of battle, the home of hostility, the touchstone of valour, the abode of pride and glory, a burnt sacrifice of human lives, the prince’s bridge to Heaven.
Another describes the horrible sight of vultures, crows and other birds feasting on the meat of the dead king, soldiers and jackals pulling out from the chariot the body of a dead warrior. Blood is flowing like rivers; horses are still drawing the chariot from which both the warrior and charioteer have fallen. The gem set-ornaments and the shining weapons of the warriors are scattered on the ground glittering in the evening sunlight. Then the narrator further describes how Bhima and Duryodhana engage in a duel with their maces causing a terrific sound due to the clash of the maces, in the presence of Vyas, Balarama, Krishna, Yudhishthir, Vidur and Arjuna. Remembering the insult of dragging Draupadi by her hair Bhima is furious and Duryodhana is terribly angry due to the killing of his hundred brothers by Bhima. Duryodhana seemed to be more skillful then Bhim who had been injured by Duryodhana in duel. Just then Krishna gives a hint to Bhima by striking his own thigh with his hand, Bhima understands the hint and then Bhimasen hits Duryodhana’s thighs with his mace called Chitrangada, crushing the thighbone. Balarama become furious at this foul act of Bhima.
Duryodhana now enters dragging his body with broken thighs by the strength of arms and crawling on the ground like Vasuki, the serpent king. Balarama says the he will kill pandavas but Duryodhana with due respect, begs Balrama to let the Pandavas live for offering libations to the departed ones of the Kuru race. Just then Dhrutarashtra, Gandhari led by Durjaya, the youngest son of Duryodhana followed by his wives arrive on the scene. Now begins the most touching scene of the drama. The bold Duryodhana feels miserable when he finds his wives weeping and says that only now he feels the pain caused by the blow of mace because his ladies have come to the battlefield exposing their hair. Gandhari, a strong woman also sheds tears at the thought of Duryodhana’s impending death. Duryodhana feels sorry for not being able to prostrate at his father’s feet, he does not feel the pain of his crushed thighs as much as the pain that the blow of the mace deprived him the pleasure to prostrate at his father’s feet. Duryodhana’s misery overflows as he sees his child Durjaya. When Durjaya who tries to come to sit on the lap of his father in all innocence, Duryodhana has to prevent him, and it is then he feels the bitterest grief of his life. Duryodhana asks his father, mother and his wives to control their grief. Asvatthama suddenly appears in the mournful atmosphere of the battlefield with a bow in his hand, the twang of which generates panic. He tells Duryodhana that he will kill all Pandavas along with their guide Krishna and bring honour to him. Here Duryodhana tells Asvatthama to lay down his bow since no useful purpose will be served when all of his brothers, his friend Karna and many powerful kings who fought on his side are lost and even the great grandfather has fallen. Asvatthama, however, tells Duryodhana that he cannot put up with the wrong Bhima Sen has done to him, and pledges that he will begin the war in the night, causing all the Pandavas to burn to death. Baladev tells Duryodhana that nobody can stop Asvatthama when he has once decided to destroy the Pandavas. In a happy mood Duryodhana begins to sink. Bhasa has described here the visions and feelings of a dying hero as they are described in the Upanishads and in Puranas. The dramatist has succeeded to draw sympathy and admiration of the audience and the readers for Duryodhana, though some of his weaknesses are also brought about. In the end Balarama, a witness to all that has happened recites the Bharat Vakya. The epilogue of the play expresses that war cannot create anything good and that it destroys civilisation. The chorus sings with the following words of Bharata, a great Indian saint of ancient times: “From our world, let all unhappiness be removed. And let there be the advent of peace as the benign sun reaches the earth, and let the whole world smile like a billowy ocean.” And the curtain falls.
DURYODHANA: Hero of the play, is a Dhirodatta type of Nayaka, bold, noble, generous, loving and religious. He exhibits great will power, patience and courage. The very 1st impression we get of Duryodhan is that he is a man of striking personality, highly skilled and well trained in Gadayudha and strict observer of the rules of war. Duryodhana shows his magnanimity and sense of justice along with an exhibition of his pride and contempt for the enemy, when he says- “Don’t fear, a hero will not strike one in distress. मान or self-respect is the one thing that is highly prized by Duryodhana and he repeats several times that मान is everything for the king-“मानशरीरा राजानः.” He is a man of strong willpower. He never grieves over his downfall nor does he complain about the violation of the rule by Bhim. He also does not exhibit the pain of broken thighs. He realise the damage done to him by the mace-blow only when he is unable to prostrate at the feet of his father and has to witness helplessly his wives and son coming to the battle field. The best traits in the character of Duryodhana which draw sympathy towards him are when his family comes towards the battle field and he feels the pain of Gadaprahar when he is unable to prostrate at his father’s feet. He consoles his wives not to weep but to feel the pride of wives of a great hero. His parting advice to his son shows that he has forgotten all feeling of hatred towards Pandavas. He thinks only about the future of his beloved son. The way in which Duryodhana faces his death is most admirable. The pictures of his brothers, friend Karna and the angry Abhimanyu come before his mind’s eye and he departs with no ill-feelings but peacefully.
BALARAMA: Balarama or Baladeva as Bhasa often refers to him is the older brother of Krishna who remained neutral during the war and went on pilgrimage. The king of a neighbouring kingdom and an ally of the Kauravas as well as the teacher (guru) of Duryodhana, he approaches the wounded Duryodhana. Baladev is burning with fury and wants to take revenge, insisting that Bhima Sen has violated the rules and cannot be forgiven. However, Duryodhana does not agree that he has been deceived and insists that further war is not of any good as hundred Kauravas are already dead and he himself is about to die. Duryodhana requests Baladev not to take revenge as he thinks that what has happened must be the will of the Lord.
DURJAYA: Durjaya is a lovable boy who arrests our attention while entering the battle-field leading the blind grand-parents. His lovable simplicity and innocence contribute for the most pathetic situation in the play. When, at the end, his father gives him a piece of good advice in plain and simple language, the boy realizes the full meaning. Durjaya leaves a lasting impression in our mind by his sweet speeche, innocence and simplicity.
DHRUTRASHTRA: Blind King Dhritarashtra, father of Duryodhana, appears in the battlefield to look for his son, accompanied by Duryodhana’s mother, Gandhari. They lament the plight of their son. Dhritarashtra, the father of hundred heroes, becomes very upset to see that his only living son is going to leave him forever by reason of a deceitful club fight. Duryodhana takes a last farewell with his parents. With the death of Duryodhana he loses interest in his kingdom and goes to the forest, a right step for an old frustrated man.
ASVATTHAMA: Asvatthama is the son of the great Dronacharya. When he comes to know that Duryodhana is cheated by Bhima, he is burning with anger and wants to take revenge by killing all the Pandavas and to please his lord Duryodhana. He makes Durjaya the king of his father’s kingdom as a Brahmin he utters the words conferring the kingdom which pleases Duryodhana. After the death of Duryodhana, he proceeds directly to carry out his plan of killing the Pandavas.
Ras according to Indian critics is the life or the essence of poetry, particularly of drama which is considered the best form of literature. The main sentiment fully developed in Urubhanaga is Karuna or pathos but other sentiments and feelings not opposed to Karuna also contribute to its development. In this play Karuna ras is perhaps admixed with Virya ras (heroic) when Duryodhan consoles his younger wife not to weep but to feel proud that she is the wife of a great warrior. The Shringara ras (the amorous) is strictly avoided because female roles might seem a problem; but clearly no exclusion of such roles has been intended. Bhasa surpasses most of the Sankrit dramatist in the development of sentiments and describes the character of different types of men in a variety of situations with profound psychological insight. Urubhanga is the best example of many sentiments बीभत्स, अद्भुत, वीर, करुण etc. With great dramatic skill, Bhasa introduces Duryodhana with broken thighs crawling on the ground and gradually develops the pathetic sentiments by describing his meeting with his parents, his wives and his beloved son.
· In Aristotle’s term, Duryodhana does not qualify as a tragic hero, for he has no flaw in terms of which he might be said to have brought about his own downfall. Even that is the result of another treachery. He must therefore be judged as a bad man, his downfall hardly tragic. Thus the character of Duryodhana does not appear suited to the need of a tragic plot; and if the plot itself is read as tragic his character makes no sense within it.
· Sukumari Bhattacharji says that, the technical innovation of having the duel reported on the stage is very effective; the vivid description of the gruesome details of the battle is presented as a running commentary. The play has some passages in heavy prose full of long compounds.
ü A.S.P.Ayyar. 1942. Bhasa Indian men of letters series. The Madras law, Journal office, Mylapore, Madras.
ü Sukumari Bhattacharji. 1993. History of classical Sanskrit Literature. Orient longman Limited.
ü T.K.Ramchandra Aiyar. 1995. Urubhangam.R.S.Vadhyar & Sons, Kalpathi, India.
ü Edwin Gerow. Bhasa’s Urubhanga and Indian politics. 1985(2008). American Oriental Society.