“Chakravyuha” by Manoranjan Bhattacharya, with lyrics and music by Kazi Nazrul Islam, first performed on 23rd November 1934. The play is unique for three reasons:
The novel explanation it offers for the traditionally accepted “motiveless malignity” of Shakuni, the set-piece villain of the Mahabharata, depicting an intriguing understanding between him and Krishna, who appear almost as partners orchestrating the Kurukshetra holocaust.
The entrancing picture of the David-and-Jonathan-like “love passing that of woman” between Lakshman and Abhimanyu, sons of Duryodhan and Arjun respectively, who make a pact to share the kingdom between themselves, irrespective of what their elders do, if they ever become heirs to the throne. Ironically, one kills the other and is himself slain in the deadly discuss formation of the Kaurav army.
An outstanding scene in which, after Abhimanyu’s death, Draupadi confronts Jayadrath and her husbands in flaming agony.
The extracts that follow relate to the encounters between Shakuni, Bhishma and Krishna, and Draupadi, her husbands and Jayadrath.
Act I Scene I
(Bhishma, Abhimanyu, Lakshman and Shakuni)
Vasudev? Such a good boy!
When we meet, only jests
saying, “Uncle, Uncle”
Didn’t come himself? Could not, I suppose?
Pandavs’ incognito time is over,
Many tasks on his shoulders!
He, perhaps, knows where’s Yudhishthir.
If only he’d whisper it to me,
secretly the tricks of dice I could teach him.
He knows nothing at all;
only suffers defeat after defeat!
Trained by me,
Duryodhan he could defeat.
On return, the game shall be held,
again kingdom he’ll lose at dice.
Had he learnt it, this time Duryodhan
would be forest-bound.
Do not mind, Lakshman.
Kings’ exile is but luxury!
Many Chandra-stories I hear in the Purans.
All forest-exiles are a fancy.
What would happen if one didn’t go
That I can’t understand.
The essence of vow-observance
passes your comprehension,
How true, Bhishma-dev
I had forgotten you are here
incarnate vow-observance yourself!
But, is it good to fulfill all vows?
That day, that moment
when father and brothers died
in the dark dungeon
like a fool
Kuru clan annihilation had I vowed.
But what is a non-Aryan’s vow?
That vow has been swept away
in the flood of Karurav love.
Hence, oblivious of all
I live only for dicing!
Dice, dice – dice is my bosom companion.
Ha! ha! ha! ha! (laughs demonically)
What these dice are made of
you’ll all laugh to hear.
My father died first.
In prison cremation wasn’t possible
flesh and skin melted; rotted, fell away
exposed pure white skeleton.
One by one fell ninety-nine brothers
I alone, eat, drink and pass time.
Time refuses to pass.
From father’s rib-cage
carefully breaking-off three firm bones
passed time grinding them on the stony floor.
Those bones turned into dice
Then Kauravs turned compassionate,
released me from prison.
When I die,
these dice will I leave Lakshman
to defeat Abhimanyu and send him to the forest.
Matters long past why recall?
Forget not, Gandhari’s brother are you . . ..
Act II Scene II
(Karna, Krishna, Shakuni)
Discussions are over.
I leave to salute father.
Most devoted to his father is Anga’s king:
In the tourney when Duryodhan
anointed Karna king of Anga,
leaning on a staff, barefoot,
Adhirath the charioteer
caught betwixt fear and wonder,
trembling in every limb, crying
“Son! Son!” burst into the royal presence,
Karna unperturbed fell prostrate
bowing lustrated head
in the dust at his bare feet.
Your devotion to your father too
I know well.
The burden of his bones
you bear on your breast.
Never have I got you, Krishna, by myself.
In the sabha you look at me and smile,
I myself laugh and try to make all laugh.
This restless agony of mine
who comprehends, who doesn’t
I know not, don’t worry about.
That you, Krishna, have understood
makes my bearing this burden
I realize, at long last it’s time
to offer father’s bones to Ganga.
Do so, son of Subala.
Let peace come to this Bharata.
First let peace come to this Bharata.
Subala’s bones will reach Ganga thereafter.
Father’s refusal to marry his daughter
to blind Dhritarashtra
only this the crime,
for that cause, prison;
for that, death in neglect,
with ninety-nine sons, – you know!
Me alone they all kept alive by their share
of the morsels to repay the debt!
Father’s bones keep lidless watch
over my repayment efforts
While that debt remains,
peace will come to this Bharata you imagine?
Can past crimes not be forgiven, hero?
I’d thought today I wouldn’t laugh.
Now you make me laugh, Keshav,
you speak of forgiveness?
Your father, too, was in prison;
in prison were you born
how much did you forgive Kamsa?
Kaliya, Putana, Chanura, Mushtika, Kamsa,
Shishupal and others
with stories of your forgiveness
Bharata’s history is replete.
Now it seems perhaps I was mistaken.
Then such mistakes commit some more.
Kurukshetra finish off,
then raise the question of forgiveness
Because of your hesitation
quenching of all flames is delayed.
Your vow not to take up arms in Kurukshetra
is senseless egotism!
Sudharshan at rest will only delay justice.
And then this repeated useless
enacting of peaceembassies!
All over today?
The attempt to bind you – Shakuni’s scheme.
Now speed your way to Virata’s city,
seven armies swiftly assemble
on the plains of Kurukshetra.
How much pain in how many quarters,
Great Creatrix of illusion!
Knot upon knot!
Will you not in compassion un-knot, Mother?
Knot upon knot,
revolutions of eras, of birth
Amba’s ascesis as Shikhandi targets Bhishma;
Drupad’s flaming agony birthed Dhrishtadyumna
to slay Dronacharya;
Draupadi’s flowing tresses – Bhim’s vow
against Duryodhan, Duhshasan;
Gandhar’s bones demand oblations
of Kaurav blood;
Amid eighteen armies, if you can seek out,
a wondrous skein
of flaming agonies interwoven
How many knots will you unravel?
Sever asunder with an adamantine stroke,
More the delay, more steely the stroke
will have to be tempered, Discuswielder!
So much you see, Shakuni!
Heart’s profound agony has honed wisdom!
I understand why Dharmaraj’s dharma
mankind can’t accept even today!
In ever-new forms, new and newer coils
will ensnare man’s heart.
New blows will be needed
to sever them time and again.
Then, one day, man’s love
will shine forth piercing the mists of hatred.
That day is still afar, Krishna.
Today’s task do today.
Yet, that day’s hope time proffers today;
even in this age see Dharmaraj,
even within Shakuni the touch of softness
awakens when I see Lakshman,
like Prahlad among demons, in the Kaurav clan.
That this weakness cause me no anguish,
this little grant,
you, whom all call Narayan.
[ Laughing] Being Narayan is very problematic,
the thief wishes not to be caught. (laughs)
But where’s Lakshman?
Again will you take him to Virata’s?
I find the art of enchantment you’ve
gifted all to your nephew!
Lakshman he’s turned almost into a Pandav!
Binding leaf to leaf
you won’t succeed in uniting trees
meaningless, to create a fresh anguish for me.
Astonishing! so much weakness in me
for a Kaurav child?
I have sped here for his sake!
It seems I’ve grown old.
Delay no more, Keshav!
It seems I’ve grown old.
Delay no more, Keshav!
Before death my life’s debt
must be repaid………….
Act III Scene 1
(Bhishma and Shakuni)
Who? Saubala? Where is Duryodhan?
You know the Kuru King’s ego is hurt
Bhishma’s vow stands broken in today’s battle,
that’s not Bhishma’s shame alone,
but counted as the Kuru king’s insult.
My vow alone is not fruitless today,
Keshav’s resolve is fruitless
him have I forced to take up arms in
And what did that profit?
The Pandavs weren’t slain.
Only a fresh fear arose of Krishna’s arms
in the Kaurav army
But where are your five arrows
with which you vowed to slay the Pandavs?
At night’s end stolen by Keshav-Arjun,
my resolve frustrated.
That’s why Keshav’s vow
had to be broken.
Stole away arrows!!!?
In Duryodhan’s guise stole the arrows.
And you couldn’t recognize?
Grown so senile?
Or, senile you’ve been since long
only, you’ll not admit it to yourself.
Know you with whom you talk, Shakuni?
With Bhishma’s spectre!
You threaten Gandhar with fear of death?
Ever seen any Gandhar afraid of death?
If you wish, kill me,
Unarmed, alone, I stand before you.
What is it you wish to say?
Let the death wish awaken in you.
That you’ve died long ago, realize.
False flatterers lift you skyhigh
with cries of “Bhishma! Bhishma!”
No longer truthvowed son of Shantanu,
nor Parashuram’s victor.
The unjust attack on Gandhar,
the torture in dungeons,
the day these occurred because of you,
that day you died.
Or Bhishma never would’ve tolerated
torture of woman in the Kaurav clan!
Or you, Bhishma, yourself could have stopped
the infantile rivalry of Kaurav-Pandav,
Or, in mockbattle over nine days in Kurukshetra,
destroying a few petty lives of mere soldiers
uselessly, never would Bhishma have done.
Such bitter words never have I heard
from any mouth!
Angry? Kill me.
You’re the general and armed.
Bitter surely my words
but true; think them over
if any sinews of thought remain.
The Pandavs you’ll be unable to destroy
or to defeat
then, to fight on Duryodhan’s side
is meaningless, senseless.
Stand aside, let Radheya come,
swiftly let the curtain drop on this play. . . .
Act V Scene 1
(Draupadi, Bhim, Yudhishthir, Jayadrath)
Death, give me death, you Sindhu hound!
(off stage) Oh you, lustcrazed, greedy for others’ wives!
(off stage) Draupadi I still crave for.
Life you’d gifted your relative,
death ask him to give me, O Dharmaraj,
from suicide’s sin save me.
Yudhishthir I see here?
By your generosity,
glory in today’s battle is mine.
I had gifted you life, Sindhu king,
in return I beg
open the vyuhadoor. We’ll enter
to protect the child in battle
only against injustice,
not harm any of the Kaurav side.
In the slaying of a helpless child
do not assist, O hero.
Hero I’m none.
Petty king of Sindhu, lustcrazed thief.
BhimArjun’s insults still etched on my body.
Only today have I found the chance
vengeance for the insult
I’ll extract to the hilt.
Tomorrow might be my death!
Death surely is yours tomorrow at Arjun’s hands, villain.
The vyuhaentrance I can leave open, Bhim,
if today you give me your Draupadi.
Oh, you wicked second Kichak!
Drop futile arrogance today, Vrikodar!
(stopping Bhim) Charioteer’s son bound you,
kissed your cheek,
Jayadrath defeated you,
yet empty vaunting won’t end even today?
But Krishnaa is wanton!
Menstruating, singlecloth clad,
being stripped in court
you watched unmoved.
Today of my own will
I’ll choose the Sindhu king,
more precious than life,
more dear then honor,
dearer than all
son’s life to save,
that you’ll be able to bear.
Come, let’s go, Jayadrath, where you’ll take me.
Open up the vyuhagate.
Go Dharmaraj, go Bhimsen if you can, save
Subhadra’s and Uttara’s life’s treasure.
For me the wareffort,
in my dishonor let it end!
Let peace be established!
repeatedly do not call me!
Dead or alive am I, asleep or awake?
Dharmaraj, command I slay this wicked female!
Prowess only in killing women!
Even than awaits brother’s command!
So incapable, Bhimsen,
had I known would I have unbound my tresses?
Come, Sindhu hero,
with your own hands you’ll plait my hair
Yes, oh yes! Go lovelyhaired one,
go, wed Jayadrath!
Heroic Jayadrath will open up the vyuhapath,
Abhimanyu I’ll bring back!
Then, thereafter! Thereafter?
No, no, what is this terrible dilemma?
Sindhubeast will bind up Draupadi’s flowing hair?
That flowing hair, that pennant
in joy and sorrow, victory and defeat
that led the Pandav expeditions!
That flowing hair whose history’s writ
in letters of blood in Bhim’s heart,
that flowing hair!
But within the vyuha imprisoned
lies five Pandavs’ life!
His life bought with mother’s dishonor
will heroic Abhimanyu ever forgive?
You, Yudhishthir, are still
unkind to Bhim ever!
Won’t you guide this imbecile to his duty
Determine your own duty,
I have determined mine.
Thus you inveigled Kichak into the dancing hall!
ensured his destruction.
Deception won’t fool me.
Your willing consent’s the most terrible!
Terrifying its flames,
even the Pandavs , I see, can’t bear!
Remain in the Pandavs’ home,
I’ve to attend to my duty. (Exit)
Then what will I do?
Kill me, Bhimsen. . . .
Act V Scene 2
(Karna, Krishna and Shakuni after Abhimanyu’s death)
I, King of Anga, Kauravally
slew in unfair battle son of the Pandavs!
What other son’s sacrifice do you desire,
Feel, now, the pain!
Pain today the Pandavs comprehend,
pain today the Kauravs understand,
pain today Virat apprehends,
pain today the Yadavs realize.
How much pain, exposed and secret
in every limb of Bharata,
concentrated in Kurukshetra
as explosive eruption
if you have understood, masterphysician,
delay no longer the ultimate surgery!…
Arise in fury, O Pandavs,
launch a night assault on the Kaurav camp.
Slay Drona, Karna, Duryodhan, Duhshasan,
All slew your son in unjust battle,
slay all today!
Mahakal, Lord of War, Annihilating Time,
at your feet we sacrificed our dearest treasure!
Pray to him,
may we not stray from Dharma in war,
we followers of Dharmaraj.
Whether Dharma or adharma is mine
Narayan, you know all.
Dharma will stay no more, Krishna!
Chakravyuha churning has engendered
adharmavenom in Kurukshetra!
Today the Kauravs have drunk it,
tomorrow the Pandavs.
Slaying Drona, Karna in fair battle
is that possible, you think?
Drinking Duhshasan’s heart’s blood,
breaking Duryodhan’s thigh,
gross violations of Dharma
are Bhim’s vows, you know,
yet “dharma, dharma” you chant in deceit?
Hence this terrible blow
had to be hit at you,
had to be hit at Parth!
Don’t turn today’s blows fruitless, Krishna;
swiftly quench the burning!
Fruitful or fruitless, whatever it be,
today’s effort is my last,
no more strength is left.
In the dicegame sabha
casting my father’s ribs
I raised a storm;
today, shattering my own ribs,
have I cast them in Kurukshetra!
Pushed Lakshman into death’s maw!
Gave Kauravs the scheme to slay Abhimanyu!
Unmasked the real face of war!
Now at its own pace will war move
towards its own goal.
must fulfil Abhimanyu’s last wish
light twin pyres in Kurukshetra.
I will light twin pyres in Kurukshetra today
in that fire let everyone’s pain burn away.
Pain not only of now,
The accumulated pain of the age,
The era’s collected sickness
burn them in that fire, Keshav,
Then, if you can, usher in a new yuga
to lift men’s hearts above war,
so long as war exists
the pain of war do not assuage.
The more excruciating the pain of battle
the sooner will mankind forget war,
that task is yours,
that worry is yours.
My work today is ended.
You had wanted it one day,
Today the time has come
to offer father’s bones
at the Ganga of your feet, Narayan!
(Places dice at Krishna’s feet)
Original Bengali Play by Manoranjan Bhattachrya
Transcreated by Pradip Bhattacharya, IAS