On Epical Blindness in Tagore’s Plays, by Ishan Chakraborty

The paper “‘When there is no light’: Epical Blindness in the Plays of Rabindranath Tagore” by Prof. Ishan
Chakraborty, Assistant Professor of English in Jadavpur University, presented by Apala Kundu talks about
mythological influences on plays by Tagore, focusing on the issue of ‘blindness’.
Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are two of the earliest and most important texts from ancient Indian
literature. It is of no surprise that such texts would find space in telling and retelling in the contemporary literary
space. The advent of the Brahma Samaj in 1828 brought about more tolerance towards reforming and renewing
Hindu sentiments, and that is where the mythological genre came into existence. Playwrights and poets like
Girish Ghosh, Michael Madhusudan Dutt wrote several texts inspired by episodes from the epics. Rabindranath
Tagore, however, differed in his texts in the form that they were adaptations rather than inspirations of the main
text.
Prof. Chakraborty’s paper explored two of Tagore’s plays: Kalmrigaya and Gandhari’r Abedon.
Kalmrigaya or ‘The Fatal Hunt’ (1882) was a retelling of an early episode of Ramayana where King Dasaratha
accidentally killed the blind sage’s son mistaking him for an elephant/deer. In the original telling by Krittibash
Ojha, there is an account of how the blind sage became blind; he had closed his eyes unable to look at the
filariasis on another sage’s body as a result of which he was cursed with blindness. Tagore in his adaptation
conveniently skipped that part. The paper argues that perhaps it was only the religious and humanitarian aspect
of the whole episode had appealed to him and not the superstitious part. Tagore focuses more on the boy’s
mother with her helplessness and vulnerability on losing her only son, a part which has no resonance in the
Krittibashi Ramayana. It might also be that Tagore ignored the physical disability due to religious prejudice.

Either way, the issue of blindness here is treated as a disease, a disability which finds no special importance in
the scope of the text.
The lesser known Gandhari’r Abedon or ‘The Appeal of Gandhari’ narrates an episode from Byasdeb’s
Mahabharata where Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas who was blind by choice appeals to her husband
Dhritarashtra to chastise their sons on their destructive ploy to send the Pandavas to exile. Dhritarashtra refuses
as he is ‘blinded by love’ for his sons. This phrase is central to Tagore’s play. He explores the concept of
‘blindness’ which is significantly different from ‘sightlessness’ (as had the blind sage above) keeping
Dhritarashtra in the center. Gandhari waits on the Almighty for the absolute and inevitable justice as
Dhritarashtra is blinded by affection and cannot provide unbiased justice. The paper forces on the rhetorical
aspect of ‘blinded by affection’ as the central argument of the play. His love for Duryodhan made him
constantly oscillate between justice and injustice, as says scholar Madhushraba Dasgupta. He is the site of
conflict between dharma and blind affection.
To conclude, Prof. Chakraborty’s paper clearly distinguishes between two portrayals of blindness in Tagore’s
two plays: sightlessness and uncomprehending through affection. In the blind sage, his sightlessness has been
shown as a disability which does not affect the plot in any way. In Dhritarashtra, the physical condition of
Gandhari’s sightlessness is merged with his lack of integrity stemming from the love of his sons.
Tagore combines a classical retelling of ancient Hindu myths and traditional values with contemporary
narratives of disability and misjudgement.

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