Meghnad Badh Kavya- A Literary Revolution

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Meghnad Vadh

This article explores the significance of Michael Madhusudhan Dutta’s composition, the Meghnad Badh Kavya, in Indian Nationalism. It highlights Dutta’s role as a literary rebel during the Bengal Renaissance period and pays tribute to him on his death anniversary.

In light of the recent release of the movie ‘Adipurush’ and the renewed interest in the epic Ramayana, the subject has once again become a topic of discussion in our country. Seizing this moment, I would like to present an exquisite composition by Michael Madhusudhan Dutta – the Meghnad Badh Kavya. It is worth noting that during Dutta’s time, literature held a greater significance than it does in present times, making this piece all the more relevant. Moreover, as we recently observed the death anniversary of Michael Madhusudhan Dutta on June 29th, this article also serves as a tribute to the remarkable literary rebel.

My introduction to Michael Madhusudhan Dutta was through this very play – The Meghnad Badh Kavya. It so happened that when I shifted to Calcutta from Guwahati, my thoughts wavered uncertain of the choice. But with time, the city wove its enchantment around me, entwining my heart with its allure. I was wowed by the various charms of this metropolis.

But it was the theatrical legacy of Calcutta that stirred my soul. The Academy of Fine Arts soon became my destination for leisurely weekends. On one such occasion, I saw the mesmerizing spectacle of ‘Meghnad Badh Kavya’. Honestly, I was insufficiency cultivated to understand it at first instant, yet an intangible force compelled me to witness the performance time and again.

Exploring further about him, I found that Michael Madhusudhan Dutta belonged to the early days of the Bengal Renaissance period. The times when Bengal experienced significant influences from Western culture and education. This sparked social and religious reforms. In the process, literature played a pivotal role in reshaping the concepts of culture, nation, and national identity.

The retelling of the great epics, Ramayana and The Mahabharata, in the 19th century, opened doors to new perspectives on cultural nationalism. Through a “mythopoeic” approach to literature, a fresh world with its unique cultural vision emerged, laying the groundwork for a new era.

It was during this time that Dutta composed ‘Meghnad Badh Kavya’. It is a perfect example of cultural nationalism where he masterfully portrays the dichotomy of “insider/outsider” dynamics in a truly dramatic fashion. The resolute and heroic resistance of the Rakshasa clan, representing the “insiders,” against the relentless advance of Rama, Lakhsmana, and their formidable monkey army, the “outsiders,” is depicted in a magnificently grandiloquent manner.

Michael Madhusudhan Dutta
Michael Madhusudhan Dutta

Meghnad Badh Kavya is a captivating ballad composed of nine distinct ‘sargas’ or sections, which draws inspiration from Milton’s Paradise Lost. True to its title, it revolves around the tragic fate of Meghnad, the son of Ravana in the epic Ramayana. We all know how Ravana audaciously abducts Rama’s wife during his absence, prompting Rama and his loyal brother Lakshmana to embark on a momentous journey to Lanka, accompanied by a formidable army of monkeys.

In the opening ‘Sarga,’ we find ourselves within the halls of Ravana’s palace. The mighty ruler is overwhelmed by sorrow upon hearing the news of Birvahu’s demise. Ravana mourns the loss of numerous valiant warriors who bravely fought against Ram. As the weight of grief settles upon the kingdom, the lights of Lanka dim one by one, and even the flowers lose their vibrant hues. At Ravana’s behest, a wounded soldier, the bearer of this melancholic message, recounts the heroic deeds of Birvahu in a spirited and martial narrative of the war. This stirring account rekindles a spark of resilience within Ravana, momentarily lifting him from his grief. However, Chitrangada, filled with disappointment, reproaches Ravana for his failure to protect the “jewel,” his beloved son entrusted to his care.

In the second ‘Sarga,’ we witness Indra and Sachi seeking solace in the divine realm of Kailasa, fervently praying for the downfall and demise of Meghnad, while simultaneously invoking protection for Rama. Uma, the consort of Lord Shiva, approaches her husband during his meditative state, aided by the power of Love, interrupting his sacred devotions. With her persuasive plea, Uma manages to extract a promise from Lord Shiva that Lakshmana, aided by the goddess Maya, would vanquish Meghnad on the following day.

In the third ‘Sarga,’ we delve into the account of Pramila, the wife of Meghnad, as she navigates her way safely through Rama’s formidable army, with the sole purpose of reuniting with her husband in the island kingdom of Lanka.

In the fourth ‘Sarga,’ we are introduced to the scene where Sita, held captive in the Asoka forest of Lanka, remains under vigilant guard. The narrative takes a journey back in time, delving into a lengthy flashback that recounts the gripping tale of her abduction.

In the fifth ‘Sarga,’ an intriguing encounter takes place between Maya, the goddess of illusion and trickery, and Svapna-Debi, the deity of dreams. Maya enlists Svapna-debi’s aid in visiting Lakshman through his slumber, instructing him to journey to the sacred temple of Chandi in Lanka. It is within the temple’s sanctity that Lakhsmana will receive the grace required to vanquish Meghnad. As Lakhsmana arrives at the temple, he discovers Maya herself seated on the throne. She presents him with the divine weapons bestowed by Lord Shiva and directs him to accompany Vibhisana to the Nikumbhila sacrificial grounds, where Meghnad is fervently worshiping Agni. Assuring their invisibility through the enchantment of “maya-jaal” or illusion, Maya empowers Lakhsmana to confront Meghnad, who will be defenseless, thereby fulfilling his destined role.

In the sixth ‘Sarga,’ the narrative unfolds the climactic moment of Meghnad’s demise. Lakhsmana, adorned in celestial armor and accompanied by Vibhisana, embarks on a perilous journey to the land of Lanka, where Meghnad is deeply engrossed in his worship. During their confrontation, Meghnad hurls a cup that strikes Lakhsmana on the forehead, causing him to collapse into a state of unconsciousness. However, Maya, ever resourceful, revives Lakhsmana, allowing him to regain his strength. In a decisive act, Lakhsmana ultimately triumphs over Meghnad, putting an end to his life.

In the seventh ‘sarga,’ Shiva is deeply affected by the demise of Meghnad and dispatches a messenger to instill Ravana with his divine power, granting him a day to seek revenge. Consumed by the desire to kill Lakshmana, Ravana becomes resolute in his pursuit. Meanwhile, Kartikeya, wounded yet wearing a smile, steps back from the battle as whispers reach his ears, revealing that Shiva has infused Ravana with his indomitable might. In due course, Ravana discovers Lakhsmana, and the two warriors become embroiled in dubious combat. Tragically, like a falling star, Lakshmana meets his untimely defeat.

In the eighth ‘Sarga,’ Rama, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of Lakhsmana, finds solace in lamentation. Upon seeking the permission of Uma, Rama receives divine intervention as Shiva sends Maya to guide him to the realm of shades. In this ethereal realm, Rama’s departed father appears before him, imparting crucial knowledge of a medicinal remedy that holds the key to Lakhsmana’s ultimate salvation.

In the final ‘sarga,’ we witness the poignant scene of Meghand’s funeral. Pramila, filled with profound sorrow, ascends the funeral pyre alongside her beloved husband’s lifeless body. Before bidding a heart-wrenching farewell to her maids and companions, she embraces them one last time. In the midst of this solemn occasion, Ravana, consumed by bitter grief, erupts in an outpouring of anguish, lamenting the irreplaceable loss of the bravest of warriors and the dearest of sons.

What is interesting to see here is the rebellious side of Michael Madhusudhan Dutta in Meghnad Badh Kavya. He narrates Megnath as the protagonist and Ram and Lakshman are antagonists, unlike the Valmiki Ramayan. Ram and Lakshman were outsiders just like the British and Meghnath and Raven were insiders like us the Indians. The spirit of Ravana remains undeterred, for above all, there lies the unwavering devotion to the motherland, a sentiment that transcends the loss of Birvahu.

Despite the understandable concerns of Chitrangada, the courageous mother, she possesses the strength to bid her other son farewell to the battlefield, albeit with tears in her eyes. In Meghnad, Madhusudan Dutt discerns a trace of Hector of Troy, a heroic figure. It is through the portrayal of such heroism that a collective national consciousness takes shape—an impassioned patriotism and a resolute sense of duty towards the endangered motherland. The ballad’s narrative serves as an inspiration to its countrymen, rousing them from their slumber and urging them to unite in pursuit of a shared national cause.

The profound sense of patriotism and courageous defiance against the perceived “alien” power resonates not only among the men but also within the women depicted in the ballad. Pramila, the devoted wife of Meghnad, finds herself consumed by sorrow due to their separation. Overwhelmed by longing, she yearns to abandon her peaceful abode and make her way to Lanka, where her beloved husband resides. However, she must traverse through Rama’s formidable army to reach her destination. Undeterred by the obstacles, Pramila remains resolute in her determination to navigate through Rama’s forces. Additionally, Nrimundamalini, displaying remarkable fierceness on behalf of her mistress Pramila, adds a majestic touch to the narrative during her confrontation with Hanuman. Such displays of strength and determination among these women lend further grandeur to the text.

This raises the topic of the hero and hero-worship within the text, which is deeply intertwined with the notion of national consciousness. The concept of heroism is typically explored through the lens of masculine power, where the male figure is revered and admired for their majestic and imposing presence, captivating the beholder’s awe. However, the text subverts this traditional notion when Bibhishan and Rama engage in a conversation about the departing Pramila, defying the expected gender roles and challenging the conventional portrayal of heroes.

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Meghnad Badh Kavya played a significant role in shaping and integrating domestic values into the collective national consciousness.

The call of the “national cause” compels Ravana to face the heart-wrenching sacrifice of his countless sons, a burden he carries with a heavy heart. The ballad skillfully portrays the internal conflict within Ravana, where the clash between his role as a king and his innate nature as a father finds poignant and dramatic expression. In contrast to the portrayal in the Ramayana, Ravana emerges as more than just the formidable “Rakkhas-kulopoti” or demon king. He becomes a symbol of paternal love, tormented by grief and consumed by fury over the loss of his son.

The depiction of Meghnad portrays him as a dutiful son, a devoted husband, and an exceptional warrior, embodying multiple qualities simultaneously. He displays unwavering dedication to preserving his father’s honor, demonstrating his willingness to undertake any necessary action. Meghnad treats his mother with respect, assuring her of a promising tomorrow, and offers her hope for a brighter future.

This scenario also presents a familiar portrayal of a conventional Indian household, depicting a woman torn between her affection for her husband and her obligations towards the extended family. Pramila, too, assumes multiple roles, encompassing a loving wife, a responsible daughter-in-law, and a patriot-warrior. Chitrangada personifies the archetype of a caring mother, constantly concerned and offering prayers for the welfare of her beloved sons, whom she considers a precious gem.

It is crucial to recognize that the text upholds the values of hospitality. Despite Sita being abducted and held captive in Lanka, there is no mention of any direct harm inflicted upon her. Neither Ravan nor any other Rakshasas are portrayed as approaching or confronting Sita. She is left to navigate her circumstances alone. Even when Ravan suffers the loss of his children at the hands of Rama and Lakshmana, he maintains his composure and refrains from seeking revenge by harming Sita. Could this be attributed to her status as an “Atithi” (guest) in Lanka? Meghnad’s words to Lakshmana provide substantial evidence to support this notion: “You are the enemy of the Rakshasas, yet you are now a guest. Let me put on my armor.” The text is a perfect example of traditional Indian hospitality.

Meghnad anticipated receiving comparable treatment from Lakshmana, as it aligns with the Kshatriya code of conduct. However, Lakshmana seizes the opportunity to eliminate Meghnad. This scene evokes the notion of “outsiders” being regarded as “Atithi” (guests) and the subsequent betrayal of “insiders” by these “outsiders.” This concept has become deeply ingrained in the collective national consciousness, shaping the way it is perceived and understood.

Ultimately, the text portrays a national consciousness grappling with the conflicting forces of “xenophilia” and “xenophobia,” as described by William Radice. It reveals a complex love/hate attitude towards the “alien” or “outsiders.” On one hand, there is a fear of the mysterious and enchanting Rama (“mayabi”), leading to resistance. On the other hand, there is an alliance formed between Vibhisana and Rama, accompanied by a sense of hospitality towards their adversaries. This “prophetic ambiguity,” as Radiche terms it, reflects a greater dilemma faced by the nation in the nineteenth century. The cultural reformation was underway, influenced by Western thinkers or those acquainted with Western culture. Interestingly, these very “aliens” or “outsiders” had entered the land through deceit and hypocrisy. This tension is also evident in the creation of Meghnad Badh Kavya, which becomes an “intertextual” space where Pramila embodies the essence of prominent Western heroines such as Camilla and Clorinda, yet she adheres to the traditions of a traditional “decaying” Hindu culture by ascending the funeral pyre of her husband. Despite his admiration for Kalidasa and the Mahabharata, Madhusudan’s ideal remained Shakespeare and Milton, and his formal models were predominantly European.

I share this with you today as a tribute to Michael Madhusudhan Dutta on his death anniversary and also as an example of fine creativity which the artists and creators of the present generation can draw inspiration from.

Sources:

  1. MEGHNAD BADH KABYA  by DR. JAYANTA BANDYOPADHYAY
  2. Research paper by Abhay Kumar Roy published by International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews .
  3. The Slaying Of Meghanada by Clinton B. Seely published by Oxford
  4. Madly After The Masses by Alexander Riddiford

 

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