Saturday, June 09, 2007
do it with flowers
i am right now in one of the hottest places in india. titilagarh in orissa. the day temperature during summer goes upto 50 celsius. somedays even more. and when you have to stand and watch steel being melted in an electric arc furnace,it is really a high voltage situation. but then the early mornings compensate for the incredible heat and harshness of the day. being an early morning riser,i enjoy every bit of dawn. the airconditioners are put off, windows and doors kept wide open, and i take in the smell of fresh flowers from nearby trees and creepers and enjoy the silence and the stillness punctuated occasionally with the chirping of birds. i get ready for my first cup of morning tea. my laptop has been opened up and i decide to visit my blog.i realise that i haven't posted after the last one on 'chini kum'. "do it when it is fresh in your memory",i say to myself.i quickly run through in my mind the subject on which i would be posting when the door bell rings and our guesthouse boy brings me a plaintainleaf full of fresh flowers for my pooja.
the aroma of jasmine and the soothing feeling to the eyes of the colourful flowers remind me in a flash as it were of the play called "flowers" which l and i saw a week ago.written by girish karnad,the jnanapeeth awardee and padmashri recipent.he is a great movie director and famous playwright. this is his first play in english. produced by arundhati nag's raagshankara group and ably directed by roysten abel of delhi and sincerely performed by rajit kapur.
'flowers' is a 90 minutes monologue of a temple priest(rajit kapur) who talks about his love for lord shiva whose lingam form he worships. he is a family man with a wife and children and parents living with him.he is a devoted and pious priest.he is in the horns of a dilemma.he has become infatuated with a courtesan.he is torn between his love for his family and love for god and love for chandravati and duty towards his chieftain. one night,his life goes for a toss when everything comes together in a potboiler.the story of "flowers" is an old folk tale, a mythological story, from chitradurga, karnataka. girish karnad lived in a village without running water in karnataka for the first fourteen years of his life.his father who was a doctor would take him to 'harikathas'.and with the servants he would go and watch 'yakshagana' performances at night.karnad grew up in an ambience of puranas and mythological tales.all that seems to have rubbed off on him. as is evident from his debut play.
when l and i walked into the ncpa hall,we were welcomed by the fresh fragrance of camphor sticks and blue light.the design of the set was visually breathtaking.an elevated platform with the priest seated on it,with his back towards the audience.the body was so still that i wondered whether the object was a human being.till he turned around to stand and face us and start his monologue.while the pujari was suspended in the air,the stage below was scattered with white jasmine flowers and flower garlands and a huge heap sloping over the lingam. a perfect temple setting with the priest standing over the temple tank.
the devout priest has been doing it for years.'abhishek'(ritual bath) to the lingam. anointing it with flowers,talking,discussing,complaining. so much so that the intimacy and bond with the lingam have grown over the years. the lingam was virtually his companion in the temple.devotees would come from the village to worship the lingam and partake of the 'prasad' offered by the priest every day.the local chieftain visited the temple regularly.one day when the priest offered flowers and prasad to a female devotee,he was dumbstruck with her ravishing looks and was instantly drawn towards a mole on her right breast.they exchanged glances.that was the beginning of his love affair with the courtesan. he would think of her all the time.one day when she did not turn up,he went to her house and was met by her companion.she explained her absence and that after two days she would be having her purificatory bath.he returned only to come back after two days.chandravathi expresses her admiration for his skill in so artfully preparing the ropegarland for shiva.she invites him to decorate her naked body with flower ropes like he does to the lingam.the besotted priest gives in to her audacious demand and every night after the pooja in the temple,he goes to her house to fulfil her desires.
the affair goes on for some time.the priest's wife is aware.the parents know.the village is talking about this liaison.but he is the venerated priest.no one dares to point a finger at him.till one night matters come to a head.while bedecking chandravathi's beautiful body,he hears the trumpet of the chieftain announcing that he is on his way to the temple.he rushes back to the temple and places the same flowers on the lingam with which he decked his paramour.his wife is aghast at the sacrilege.the chieftain receives the flowers and prasad from the priest after the pooja.amidst the flowers the chieftain sees a strand of hair."does god have long hair?",quips the chieftain.stunned,the priest is silent for a moment.picking up his wits and courage,he answers " if you believe god has long hair,he will have long hair".unimpressed,the chieftain demands proof.the priest pleads for time to demonstrate what he has said.ten days are given to him and the chieftain leaves.
the priest is in great anguish.he prays to the lingam ceaselessly to save his honour.he is ashamed that he has been caught almost redhanded.god shiva can only be his saviour.the day of reckoning arrives.the chieftain comes for the customary pooja and prasad.then he instructs his assistant to examine the lingam to determine whether it has any hair.the assistant pulls out a srtand which he notices leaving behind a spot of blood.he examines more deeply to check whether any hair has been glued.he is convinced that indeed the lingam has hair.the chieftain is ashamed and repentant and begs the priest for forgiveness.
god saved his 'bhakta'.he showered his grace on his sincere devotee. the priest is relieved but then he asks god why he has saved a sinner? did he not commit the most serious transgression? and was he not fit for a severe punishment? god in his infinite mercy saved his devotee from death.there are many such stories in our mythology where god rushes to save his devotee in distress. the relationship between man and god is built on faith and not on logic or reason.
i am reminded of a book on hinduism by swami nikhilananda. writing on 'hinduism in practice',he wrote about a christian missionary who one day,near the elephanta cave at bombay, saw a primitive man absorbed in worship.the uncouth man was seated by the roadside before a lingam,the phallic symbol of shiva.the disgusted missionary, coming near,saw a sudden light on the face of the worshipper and exclaimed:"ah,after all,in spite of his superstition,he has it.but with all my education,i am still in the dark."
girish karnad probably wanted to convey in the play the deep conservatism of our society and the paradoxes that we live in.the relationship between god and man and whether the holy and sexual can cohabit.it is not new to hindu religion and culture.eroticism has been an integral part of hindu religion.sadly,the message of the playwright had not been conveyed clearly in the 90 minute monologue.