The first Hindi play in Public Museology & Theatre Directed and Acted by Sunita Bharti.
A century ago, on 18th of October 1917, on the south bank of river Ganges near Didarganj, Patna; a female figure dating back to the Mauryan Period (300BC) was accidentally unearthed. This 2000 years old ‘nymph of stone’ surpassed the charm of the Aphrodite; the mesmerizing aura radiating out of this bizarre beauty blurred the smile of Mona Lisa. Neither the villagers who dug out the figure, nor its mentors who retrieved the figure into the newly established Patna Museum, then, had imagined that the icon was going to be a legend in archaeology and art-history.
Today we know this legendry beauty carved in Chunar sand-stone as ‘Didarganj Chowry Bearer Female Figure’ or (popularly) ‘Didarganj Yakshini’, exhibited in Patna Museum, Patna. This is the first life sized female statue sculpted in Indian archaeological time line, dating back to 300 BC.
Introduction of the Play
“Yakshini” is the first play in Hindi literature written and staged on this world famous legendary icon and the first example of application of theatre in Public Museology.
The play describes the documented story of excavation and retrieval of the “Didarganj Yakshini” in 1917, as well as the historical, aesthetic, and archaeological features and facts related to this figure through a well-woven entertaining story that leaves the audience spell-bound, in trance.
In addition, this play explores the possible objective and circumstances of sculpting of this masterpiece in 300 BC as well as its ‘cult value’ for the rural folk who accidently found the statue on the south bank of river Ganges, in Didarganj, Patna, in 1917.
‘Yakshini’ is a research based experimental theatrical project presenting a ‘charming and captivating story, pregnant with facts’; and may be categorized as an ‘info-drama’.
The play YAKSHINI is a complete drama and the facts and information are delivered to the audience through the dialogues of the characters. Many characters in this play are real, well documented in the annals and chronicles and a few are fictitious but quite relevant to the context and historical theme, required to construct a complete story in historical background.
The play has been designed to comply with the theatrical norms having dramatic fluidity and providing a wide scope for creative and technical applications in theatrical art.Structure & Story
This play consists of two acts.
In act-one, story of its excavation and retrieval has been fabricated in an entertaining manner around the documented facts with all real characters of the episode in 1917. All physical, historic, aesthetic, and archeological characters of the icon have been explained in this act through the dialogues of the characters, which are easily graspable and interesting so that the audiences learn everything about this sculpture while entertaining themselves.
A special consideration about the ‘public interpretation’ of this artwork at the time when sculpture was unearthed has been made in this play. According to Richard H. Davis, there is always a “cult value” of images in a particular culture or community. But Dr. D. B. Spooner, who played an important role in retrieval of the image to the Patna Museum and who wrote a report on Didarganj Image in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society in 1919, considered only the “exhibition value” of the icon and didn’t enquire what the locals opined about the image. If they were worshiping the icon, what did they think of this icon? In act-one of this play, the writer has made a logical conjecture of what the villagers would have thought of this image on the basis of traditional belief and cult-practices.
In act-two of the play, a fictitious story portraying a sculptor, a model and the circumstances leading to the sculpting of this masterpiece in 300 BC has been fabricated within the limits of the historical facts and the epoch of time. This story adds to the creative imagination of audience/visitor to realize the epoch of the time and historicity of this sculpture.
Love and respect for the antiquities, monuments and heritage are hallmarks of a civilized and intellectually developed society. We must create awareness and curiosity for ancient monuments, artifacts and antiquities among the masses to maintain and preserve our heritages. Didarganj Yakshini is a figure serving as a watermark for the aesthetic sense and technical excellence of ancient Indian iconology. The play based on its excavation and sculpting is a new experiment in theatre, analogous to documentary infotainments in cinema; and it will serve as a strong tool for mass-education and mass-motivation.
To a historian or an archaeologist, an artifact speaks a lot about the custom, tradition, socio-economic condition, trade, costume, belief, and even about the environmental and ecological conditions of the era it belongs. But a common man cannot decipher all these facts by mere looking at the artifact in museum and reading the tag on it. If a museum guide describes the facts to a visitor, it is not so interesting as to captivate the visitor and doesn’t arouse a curiosity to know more, and people just remain ignorant of many things of our past they deserve to know.
Keeping the above difficulty in mind the play Yakshini has been prepared to educate people about the mystical past of our land thus making them aware of our cultural heritage, their importance and need to conserve them, a subject undertaken by ‘public museology’.
In the Offing
Yakshini is a pioneer work in this field and a series of such plays are being prepared based on important museum collections in Bihar and other states of India which reveal some unknown chapters of Indian culture, customs, practices, social conditions and philosophical ideas in the epochs of time concerned. In each of the plays, all the information related to the central subject would be embedded in an interesting story fabricated within the limit of historical facts and archaeological findings.
These plays would be the pioneer works in theatrical arena of India based on extensive academic research and exploration.
This play Yakshini (and the siblings) educates the audience, creates awareness about our heritages and their importance, inspires people to explore and know more about other such heritages, and is capable of pulling a large section of audience/public to museums with enhanced interest in antiquities. Therefore, staging of this play will prove to be a form of ‘Art and Antiquity Conservation’.