This session was about the recent Kannada play Rakshasa Tangidi by the very eminent Kannada personality and playwright Girish Karnad who in conversation with Deepa Ganesh revealed the intricacies of the ruins of Hampi and the battle of Vijayanagara. Karnad has been writing historical plays for a while now and this comes as the third of the important historical events of Karnataka. He considers three most important points in the history of Karnataka which were not only moments of conflict but they also encapsulated a stream of a different thought process. And Karnad has based his plays on all of the three events. Starting with 11th Century and the time of Basavanna and the Vachana which is beautifully captured in Tale Danda after which comes the 18th Century time of Tipu Sultan who was so powerful that not a single colonizer could enter his courtroom. In between these centuries comes 16th Century battle of Vijayanagara.
But before explaining the battle, in the way Karnad works, he explained the geography of the place. In the north of the river Krishna, there were 5 sultanates whereas in the South of Krishna lived the Vijayanagara empire. While the North fought among themselves, the entire South was one Vijayanagara empire. The battle of Hampi which was the attempt of North to invade South was not as simple like the colonial historians have portrayed. It was not the Muslims invading the space and destroying the beautiful city of Hindus. There were more layers to it, which are conveniently ignored to fit the present narrative. Girish Karnad gave two layers to it:
If the battle was about a Northern Muslim invasion to the South of the river, Hampi falls very much in the Northern Part of Karnataka and the river. This questions the validity of this narrative.
Ramaraya, the one who led the battle from the Southern side was not the legal heir of the throne for he was not the son but son-in-law of Krishnadevaraya who led the kingdom.
Karnad says he dwelled into these questions because historians failed to see them and as a playwright when he had to deal with characters, one also has to deal with the psyche of each person and the question of ‘why people do what they do’ becomes more pressing and urgent. Early historians did not bother with the ‘why’. They narrated the events as they were, like in the play one fails to see that the 5 Sultans fought among themselves more so because Ramaraya would help a king in one battle and then another in another battle. He made sure they remain busy in their own fight to not focus on South.
After a lively discussion about the battle and the events leading to the battle, Arundhati Nag read a part of the play in English in an elucidative manner. It was a narration of killing of Jehangir Khan, a trusted man of Nizam Shah, one of the five Sultans who was the king of Ahmednagar. This reading showed the gregarious nature of Ramaraya and put in perspective as to why the five Sultans might have joined hands to defeat the Vijayanagara empire. The point is not a Muslim justification of the Hindu killing but to say that the early kingdoms were complicated and what each king or Sultan tried was to keep his kingdom intact. Karnad’s finesse as a writer was revealed when in the play he addresses Ramaraya not as Sultan because that’s not what his people called him rather fight that name,they used to address him as Suratran to show his uniqueness and this detail could emerge only because Karnad took the effort of dwelling deep into history before beginning to write his play.
Ending the session with a short review of the pay, Professor CN Ramachandran pointed out two important aspects of the play which shows Karnad’s excellence. First is, the brilliant plotting of the play and the second is the kind of detailed history which is served to the play. In the first point, he says the play has two acts and they follow the concept of cause and effect. Where in the first act where he shows the decline of reality by Ramaraya, in the second act it causes the fall of the Vijayanagara empire and that too in half a day. He talked about how Ramaraya was an atrocious king who was a dictator and didn’t allow the legitimate king to rule. And to add, he was ruthless and the way he humiliated the sultans which are strongly evident in the play had caused the fall of the empire. For the second part, he gave an example to explain that while the first act ended with Jehangir’s beheading(sultan’s defeat) and the second act ended with Ramaraya’s beheading (Fall of Vijayanagar). Ramachandran ended with the point that it is not correcting the wrong historical perceptions but to understand that there is no ‘The History’. There are histories, there are constructs and as long as there are different ideologies, there will be different histories.
of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.