The two great epics of India; Mahabharata and Ramayana have always served to be the key sources of the storylines and plots of various plays and poetic literature. Bhavabhuti’s first and last play, share a self-explanatory title. As the title of the play Malati-Madhav provides us an idea of its plot in nutshell, here too the title provides us an idea about its Nayak (Ram), also the suffix Uttar, explains the period in which the play is supposed to have happened. (Uttar means later, likewise the title may be interpreted as “The story of the later life of Ram.)
When people refer to Ramayana, very often it is limited to the period where Ram defeats and kills Ravan. Rarely, the later life of Ram, i.e. events after his coronation is brought into the focus. Bhavabhuti’s play is a semi-imaginary description of the happenings in the life of King Ram.
Type of the play
The play is a Nataka, one amongst the various kinds of dramatic compositions. In some, the plot is famous or historical, the hero is Dheerodatt (in the Sanskrut literature, the heroes of the compositions, depending upon the nature and qualities they are described with, are divided into specific groups.), the Nayika is Sweeya. In addition, there is no supporting hero or heroines. The element of Karun Ras prevails dominantly, complemented with Shrungar and Vir ras.
The Original Source
As it is said in the earlier section of the article, the primary source of the play is Ramayana, which is one of the great epics and is written by a sage named Valmiki. To be more specific about the source, the incidents given are found in the last Kanda of the text. However, we cannot deny a dramatist’s touch over the original story. It is the sequel of Bhavabhuti’s play called Mahavircharitam, which is based on the early life of Ram, and together both the plays present the life-story of Ram in the form of the play (and of course with a sprinkling of imagination and creativity by the author).
The influence of Valmiki Ramayana is seen throughout the play as it contains the actual quotations from the real epic. (If we refer to M.R. Kale’s translation, where he has noted down the quotations, we may find them in the Sixth act). A scholar named Dr. Belvalkar puts forth another resource, Padma-purana. Ram’s story is found in the Padma-purana, in three different places and the version given in Patal-khand has many points of similarity between the acts IV, V, VI. Again, this cannot be assumed until the present purana matches by its dates to that of Bhavabhuti. Another related fact is that, these puranas have undergone various amplifications and revisions; hence, it is not sure whether their current texts are identical with that of the one before 15 centuries. The Padma purana has long sections having close similarity to Kalidas’s Raghuvansham and Shakuntal. They would appear to be the work of someone who was familiar with these works. It should be noticed that, even the Padma purana account does not tally with Bhavabhuti’s work and a learned doctor found the variations.
Perhaps, it may be said that several forms of the Ram-story were prevalent in ancient India and Bhavabhuti must have derived the supplementary material from one of them.
Ram- The hero of Valmiki Ramayana is worshipped by many Hindus and is believed to be a man of highest morals and values. He is also said to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu(Dashavtar- are ten incarnations of the deity according to Hindu traditions, and it is a belief that each of the Avatar or Incarnation emerges to fight with the evil dominant in the period they existed in.) He has occupied a special place in the hearts of the people, by his glorious self-negation and the sense of duty when he unresistingly quits the kingdom, as per the promise of his father Dashratha to queen Kaikeyi (his stepmother. The Ramayana says that, Dashratha had three wives; Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. In addition, in the time long before the birth of Rama, Kaikeyi was granted a promise by Dashratha, with the help of which she can fulfill any three of her wishes. Kaikeyi though did not use it at that time; she did at the time, when Ram was about be coroneted by which, Ram had to leave Ayodhya for fourteen years and Bharat was to be coroneted).
In the play as well he is shown as an ideal king, who believes that happiness of people is to be the highest priority for a king. He cannot be called an ideal husband considering his actions, however, his faithfulness; his genuine and pure love for his wife is appreciable. On the one hand we may criticize him for his decision to abandon Seeta, but yet we cannot ignore his grief and his sorrow. Though as a king he takes a decision, but we could otherwise never realize his condition as a husband. Bhavbhuti successfully handles Ram’s condition in every dimension as a king, father and husband.
Seeta- Seeta is one of the pictures of charming feminine excellence; she belongs to the noble company of Savitri, Damayanti, Draupadi and others who are ideals of womanly virtues. It is a noteworthy coincidence that, every one of them had to go through challenges which tested their purity, love, courage, patience and other virtues. Seeta, perhaps appears to be most unfortunate amongst them, as mostly everyone but her, though went through hard time, always they met with a good, positive end. However, it is not seen here, as the story in Valmiki Ramayana tells us that, she was doubted even after Agnipariksha and she then chose to merge with the goddess of land. Seeta was a wife, who was ready to merge herself into the happiness and will of her husband, who loved her lord and worshipped him the most. Even though her lord abandoned her, she did not let her love for him diminish nor was she ready to listen to the words blaming her lord.
Lav and Kush- The twin brothers are shown worthy of their father in every respect. Brought up under the direct guidance of Valmiki, both the brothers displayed virtues of a Kshatriya to the highest degree.
Bhavabhuti sketches Lav’s character as a boy warrior, a child with no guidance, resemblance with his parents in all his features and appearance. The fifth act displays his martial spirit and the dignified opposition, which he offers even to Ram. He is a picture of boldness and humility. Kush is brought on the stage for a comparatively short space of time, though he proves himself a worthy elder brother. Like his brother, he was also overcome by the same feeling of reverence for Ram.
Valmiki- The sage takes more than a common interest in the family of Raghu and is fond of Ram & Seeta. He is endowed with prophetic vision though his character in the play remains in the background, he contributes in a very special manner to bring about the union of the separated pair. However, a sage is said to be one who is constantly engaged in meditation, one who is not bound by worldly ties. Here he is not shown as insensitive towards the promptings of the heart. He displays the character of a kindhearted person with a purifying influence over all.
Chandraketu– The son of Laxman is shown as the commandant of the army accompanying the sacrificial horse. He is a prince with heroic tendencies but frank and sensible to the merits of others. Though he is young, like his cousins [Luv & Kush], he is fired with the true martial spirit of a Kshatriya worrier; he is very responsible towards his duties. The tenderness of his heart is displayed in an incident where he requests Ram to look upon Luv with fatherly affection, even though Luv had proved his superiority.
When Ram returns to Ayodhya after killing Ravan, the glad citizens welcome him warmly. He is then coroneted as the king of Ayodhya. However, immediately after the ceremony gets over, Ram comes to know from his spy that, people doubt the purity of Seeta. Hence Ram leaves Seeta, considering his duty towards his people to be higher than his personal life, but lives each day of his life in pain, after Seeta leaves.
Seeta soon gives birth to twins, who are brought to the hermitage of sage Valmiki but does not live with them, but with goddess Ganga. Twelve years pass by, when suddenly Ram is brought to where his sons were living and after few twists and misses, it all ends in happiness, Ram and Seeta unite.
Act 1: The play starts with the entry of the Sutradhar who speaks a few words about the author and later appears to be one among the citizens of Ayodhya. After describing a little about the invitees [the friends and sages who were invited to attend the coronation ceremony] he further moves to the palace describing the distress of Seeta. Ram is shown as trying to comfort disconsolate Seeta, when a messenger arrives from the hermitage of Rushyashrunga with the message by all elderly people such as Vasisth, Arundhati. Soon Laxman arrives and advises them to pay a visit to the picture gallery. The scene continues with the background of the gallery, and the couple seeing the paintings presenting different scenes from the past, when a spy arrives to inform Ram, about the happenings and he discloses the aspersions cast on the purity of Seeta. Ram, though is shown in dilemma for a moment, his mind as a king wins over him as a husband and he orders Lakshman to take Seeta to the forest and leave her there.
Act II- Now a period of twelve years has passed, Seeta’s twins, whom she gave birth soon after she was abandoned, are being brought up at the hermitage of sage Valmiki, who takes great efforts to educate them. In the meantime, Ram begins a sacrifice of Ashwamedha, when Chandraketu is given a duty to protect the sacrificial horse. The most important act of Ram here is Shambuk-Vadh (Killing of Shambuk). Shambuk was a person belonging to the lowest varn (shudra), but who used to indulge in meditation. As per the beliefs existing at that time, a person was not allowed to pursue the task not assigned to his varn as it might result in disaster. Especially it was stricter when it came to the lower varn person following the rituals of the higher ones. Shambuk was held guilty for the death of a Brahmin boy and people requested their king (Ram) to save them from the upcoming disasters by killing Shambuk. (Shambuk is killed by Ram in Dandkaranya, which is a slight twist in the story, where Shambuk’s soul is shown to be greeting Ram, for having raised him to heaven) Thereafter he decides to visit the hermitage of sage Agastya who had wished to see him, to pay his respect.
Act III- In an interlude, there is a dialogue going on between two rivers Tamasa and Murala, which acquaints the audience, how Lopamudra (Agastya’s wife) sends word to Godavari, for protection in his sad bereavement. We now hear Tamasa, assuring Murala about the least chance of it, as Goddess Ganga had come to Goddess Godavari with Seeta, who by her miraculous touch can revive Ram from swoon, but he would not see her. The whole act is about the details of lamentations of the royal pair occasioned by their presence in the forest.
Act IV- in the Interlude, the dialogue between two pupils of sage Valmiki informs the audience that preparations are made for the arrival of sage Vasisth, his wife, Janak and mothers of Ram. This is further followed by the conversation of Kausalya and Janak full of anguish and grief. The conversation then centres on the humble boy at the hermitage, who resembles Ram in many ways. The boy is none other than Lav. The act ends with an incident when Lav leads the sacrificial horse to the hermitage and while stopped by a soldier, he displays his martial skills.
Act V- Chandraketu arrives and openly challenges Lav to fight and Lav in the meanwhile, reduces the whole army to a paralyzed silence by means of His Astra (magic missile called Jrimbhak.) This fascinates Chandraketu, who descends from his chariot where the two young boys meet face to face and have a conversation. However, it also leads to a bitter end.
Act VI- The act witnesses, the meeting of the father and his sons, Ram finally and unknowingly, meets his son, feels a sense of parental love while embracing them and finds the facial likeness amongst them, similar to the race of Raghu as well as the features of Seeta. He also sees from a distance all the elders along with Janak, seeing whom he feels ashamed, hastening to meet them.
Act VII- It displays a dramatic representation arranged to bring about the union of the Royal couple, where Valmiki uses a creatively convincing method to assure the purity of Seeta, through his play. While the play moves on, the audience seems to be convinced of it and even Ram calls upon his people to testify it. Arundhati then introduces Seeta in person to bring back the consciousness of Ram, later addresses the assembled crowd gently rebuking them for doubting. And with their union the play ends.
The time of the events
The incidents explained in Uttar ram charitam, occupies a period of twelve years. It begins at the time when Seeta had far gone with the child. The first act of the play begins early in the after-noon of a day before all the elders left for the sacrifice at the ashram of Rushyashrunga.The time when Seeta was sad because of Janaka’s departure and Ram was consoling her, where the time indicated by the author as “after leaving his judgment seat”, which he could do after mid-day. The end of act is about the time when Seeta leaves for the forest with Lakshman.
There is an interval of about twelve years and three months between this, M.R. Kale to prove this, speaks about the words of Atreyi (SAMPRATI TU PARISAMAPTAM TAD DWADASHVARSHIKSATRAM). Seeta now has two sons, twelve years old, as she gave birth to twins soon after she was abandoned. Hence, the events from the Act III, must have had happened exactly on their twelfth birthday. The time of the second act seems to be the second watch of the early morning, on same day before the third act takes place. However, between the third and the next one, no gap or interval is observed longer than a day. For we are told in the interlude to sixth act, that Ram decides to stop the fight between Chandraketu and Lav and he could not have spent more than a day in the hermitage.
The fourth act begins soon after when Vasisth, Arundhati and other elderly people go to the hermitage of Valmiki, which was referred to in II act. The fifth act immediately follows on the same day as the fourth, better if is called as continuation of it, with an interval no longer than an hour or so. The act is also followed immediately by that of the next that is Sixth, as is shown by the fight between Lav and Chandraketu which is still going on, and Vidyadhara witnessing it with his mate. The seventh act follows soon, mostly the next morning, as the time when Ram was introduced to Lav and Kush in the previous act, not much time could have passed before the explanations were demanded as well as were given (by Valmiki).
In the opinion of M.R. Kale, the period cannot be fixed with any more accuracy than merely a possibility of intervals between the two acts, as no reference is given about the months or seasons.
The principal points in the development of the plot
M.R. Kale comes with some key points, which contribute significantly for the development of the story, which can be described as;
A. The arrival of the spy with the news of the rumor
B. Seeta abandoned near Valmiki’s ashram.
C. Shambuk incident and Ram’s visit to Dandakaranya forest.
D. His contact with invisible Seeta.
E. the Ashwamedha sacrifice
F. Capture of the sacrificial horse by Lav.
G. The fight between Lav and Chandraketu.
H. Ram’s arrival
I. Ram’s encounter with Lav and Kush
J. The declaration of the purity of Seeta by Earth, Arundhati and Ganga.
The play occupies a high place in the Hindu dramatic literature, and is commonly accepted as the masterpiece of the author. It is possessed with dramatic as well as poetic features such as; active imagination, high power in characterization, a thorough knowledge of the workings of the human heart. Despite all these, it has received a serious charge of lacking in dramatic action, leading Dr. MacDonnell to call it a dramatic poem than a play.