‘Chitrangada’, a dance drama by Rabindranath Tagore in 1892, is based on the love life of Manipur’s princess Chitrangada and Arjun, the third Pandava of the epic Mahabharata. Lopa Banerjee translates it into English.
English translation: Lopamudra Banerjee
Note: ‘Chitrangada’, a dance drama, originally composed by Nobel laureate Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore in 1892, is based on the love life of Manipur’s princess Chitrangada and Arjun, the third Pandava of the epic Mahabharata, and it documents the emotional journey of Chitrangada as she is awakened by her irresistible passion for the love of her life, Arjun. According to Mahabharata, Arjuna, the brave warrior travelled the length and breadth of India during his term of exile, and it was during his wanderings that he had a brief sojourn in ancient Manipur, a mystic kingdom renowned for its natural beauty. There, he met Chitrangada, the daughter of the king of Manipur and eventually married him on the preconditioned premise that he would never take away either Chitrangada or their children from her maiden kingdom of Manipur. The couple later had a son named Babruvahana.
Rabindranath Tagore took the basic story of Chitrangada from the epic and adapted it in his drama, expanding the narrative with his deep sensitivity in the characterization of princess Chitrangada, where the feminine subjectivity comes out through his characteristic lyrical style. Through her transformation from the masculine warrior princess to the diva with charming, feminine attributes, Tagore carves her as the timeless, complete woman who personifies love, courage and substance.
Chitrangada – the classic audio rendition by the legendary Suchitra Mitra, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay and Kanika Bandopadhyay
The dawn emerges, a primal hue, with its sunlit garb.
The eyes, half-open, trance-like, soak in the rays, their first stimulus.
At long last, the dawn pierces through its crimson garb,
Gushes out in its opaque whiteness, resplendent in a vociferous world.
Likewise, truth is first manifested in outwardly opulence, in a feast of colors
And variegated bounties. The attraction of truth overwhelms the untamed soul.
But one day, when it sheds its outer crust of opulence,
Its glory is fully revealed to the enlightened soul.
This philosophy of truth and beauty is at the very core of the drama- ‘Chitrangada.’
In its narrative, the drama unfolds the initial spell of infatuation between lovelorn souls,
And then, the gradual awakening that breaks the spell in a quantum leap,
Reestablishing truth in its stark, unadulterated splendor.
Lord Shiva had been deeply satisfied with the utmost devotion with which the mighty King of Manipur had worshipped him. He had granted him a priceless boon—a boon that he will have only male heirs. However, in spite of this, when a girl was born to him, he named her Chitrangada and raised her with all the attributes of a son. Since her girlhood, Chitrangada practiced the ‘Kshatriya’ art of archery, educated herself in the tactics of warfare, the subtle theories and politics of running a kingdom.
Meanwhile, Arjun, the third Pandava, the illustrious warrior prince had come for a temporary sojourn to the kingdom of Manipur, following his twelve-year-long tryst with celibacy. The story of ‘Chitrangada’ starts from this point.
Look, the bewitching beauty, the illusory ‘maaya’
Has stepped feet in the orchard of youth.
See how desperate she is, on her hunting spree of young hearts
As she emerges, slowly, softly, with surreptitious footsteps
In splinters of golden rays entwined with the pitch dark.
Soon, she flings her magic web around naïve youth like a noose,
Plays her irresistible flute in the furtive wind around.
The bewitching ‘maaya’ tests the valor of bravehearts,
Destroys the spiritual contemplation of saints.
Casts her catastrophic net all around her.
Welcome, the bare, beautiful truth,
Stripped of vain ornaments and false pride,
Invade the fortress of concocted dreams,
Ushering in the spirit of salvation.
Let the glory of manhood break free
From the shackles of illusions, once and for all…..
[Princess Chitrangada with her army, on her hunting expedition.]
Listen, the dense clouds roar, relentless, at the zenith of the mountain,
The shadows of darkness loom large, in the thick forest.
The deer couple, overwhelmed by the sound of the incessant cascade
Never has an inkling of the footsteps of the hunter.
Behold the imprints of the nails of the forest tiger adorning the tracks,
Leaving behind clues of caverns in the dense body of the forest.
Arjun was in a slumber, resting his weary body in a nook of the forest. A sakhi (female accomplice) of Chitrangada confronted him, mistaking him as an impediment to their hunting spree.
Arjun: Hail! How impertinent of you to show disrespect to Arjun! Where will you find shelter after such a disastrous deed?
Chitrangada: Arjun!! Are you Arjun, the warrior prince?
Arjun (Glancing at the army of girls, dressed up as boys, looks down upon them with a sense of amusement, and laughs out loud)
Ha ha ha ha!! Herd of little boys, you better go back to your mother’s lap, where you belong! Ha ha, what a comic relief!!
Chitrangada: Arjun, the brave warrior, don’t you go away!
Come back, I beseech you,
Don’t disregard me thus, with your forgiveness…
Rather invite me to an open war!
Let me feel the glory of inevitable death in your hands,
My brave heart prince—
Arjun, was it you, Arjun?
Ah, you poor soul Chitrangada, what a stupendous loss!
Was this how your welcoming of the great warrior,
The hero you had worshipped, destined to be?
Look how he went away, deceiving you….
Arjun, was it you, Arjun?
The Sakhis (female friends and accomplices of Chitrangada):
It is getting late; the daylights will fade soon.
Princess, please tell us, which forest should we venture to, for hunting?
The dark, dense clouds engulf the sky,
Look how the deer runs towards a cluster of bamboos,
his shaded canopy, shivering in the moist breeze!
Chitrangada: Let it be, why this vain pursuit,
Why this frolicking, at all?
Ah, accursed soul, how I detest this life of mine!
[She sings to herself, a song of self-motivation—]
Oh, the mighty storm, I beckon you.
Come to the branches of my parched leaves,
Break open in spurts of rain at the onset of the lush monsoon.
Let all indifference, all lifelessness wither,
Let all that is devoid of life’s pleasures disappear.
Let the teardrops of the ultimate night of fury usurp it all.
Let it all go away, in sync with the catastrophic dance of the ‘rudra’.
Let me make a lavish seat, in the abode of my empty heart.
Let me adorn my moist bosom with new drapes.
Look, there is a tide in the river, its banks are overflowing.
As the heady aroma of jasmine runs towards the unknown,
My heart is reawakened, as I resurrect, from the pangs of death.
The Sakhis: Hail thee, sakhi Chitrangada, what was that strange encounter
Altering you thus? Just a momentary glance,
A transient onslaught, and you shed your own precious identity,
Like it had never existed before?
Like the creeper tree who sheds its outer skin,
Getting in touch with the sun’s golden rays,
As it comes to know the virgin wonders of its own inner core?
Oh dear, what is that splendor that just touched my eyes?
Was it hidden all this while in the sun’s own realm,
Lighting up its being?
Ah, precious one, my heart has waited for you
Since ages, since days and nights,
As you lay in my heart like a dormant dream.
You were there, nestled in the deep, dark trenches
Of a world of wordless pain.
I have hovered, from one birth to the next—
Amid the excruciating anguish of your separation.
I have waited for you, a silent bud,
Dejected, devoid of music, in the orchard of youth.
How do I spend the long, agonizing nights in my lonely bed,
Restless, dying to be one with my soulmate?
Oh, my magnificent prince,
Bring your garland for me, make me yours.
Lift my shadowy veil with your loving hands,
Behold my demure, smiling face
In the auspicious light of our tender love.
Arjun enters the scene with his accomplices and dances along with them.
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