Furore in Agartala over play

Agartala, Jan. 7 : In a new twist to the perennial controversy over Tripura’s erstwhile princely history and heritage, the alleged “distorted” presentation of Rabindranath Tagore’s celebrated drama Visarjan, based on a crucial episode during king Gobinda Manikya’s rule (1660-1667, 1674-1679), by a Calcutta-based theatre group in Agartala Town Hall last night has created a furore here.

What hurt viewers and drama-buffs was a scene in which royal priest Raghupati rolled dissident prince Nakshatra Roy’s head with his foot and finally kicked him away. Even a remote hint of such an act on part of Raghupati is absent in Tagore’s original text of Visarjan.

Suman Mookherjee, the director of the Calcutta-based group, Tritiya Sutra, which staged the drama on the last night of the just-concluded Chandan Sengupta Memorial Tagore Drama Competition, could not be contacted for his comments as the team left for Calcutta this morning.

Local theatre personality Manik Dutta deplored the “distorted presentation” saying, “This is a major historical deviation from the original drama as headpriest Raghupati could not have kicked a Kshatriya prince belonging to the ruling dynasty with impunity.” Professor Rameshwar Bhattacharjee, a leading theatre director, attributed the “deviation” to the director’s “freedom of creation”.

The controversy is not confined to thespians. The nobility of Agartala has decided to protest the “gross misrepresentation” of Tagore’s creation. Ratul Debbarman, a poet and scion of Tripura’s royal family, condemned the presentation. “I fail to understand what prompted the group to deviate from the original text in such an atrocious manner,” he said.

and misrepresent history,” he said.

He asserted that a formal note of protest would be filed to the group demanding an apology.

What rankles the local theatre buffs and lay enthusiasts are that Tagore’s novel Rajarshi and its dramatised form of Visarjan is based on Tripura’s seventeenth century history.

King Gobinda Manikya had firmly opposed the regular animal sacrifice in the royal Bhubaneswari temple attached to the royal palace in Udaipur, present headquarter of South Tripura district.

However, in a classical encounter between religious orthodoxy and progressive liberalism, the king confronted determined opposition from the head priest Raghupati who insisted on continuing the tradition without any dilution.

As the fight reached the climax, Raghupati, facing exile for life from the temple and the palace, enlisted support from king Gobinda Manikya, while his ambitious younger brother Nakshatra Roy started preparing to stage a palace coup.

Fearing for life Gobinda Manikya went on voluntary exile in the jungles, handing over the reins of power to his ambitious younger brother.

The practice of animal sacrifice continued unabated for seven years of Nakshatra’s rule but restoration of Gobinda to the throne upon Nakshatra’s death jeopardised Raghupati’s position.

The fundamentalist head priest asked his foster-son Jaysingha to draw royal blood and present him with Gobinda Manikya’s severed head but the sensitive Jaysingha committed suicide by beheading himself in front of the image of Mata Bhubaneshwari.

Having realised the basic fallacy of his thoughts and ideas Raghupati left his job for penance in the jungles after seeking forgiveness from the king.

Tagore had authored Rajarshi and Visarjan in the late eighties of the nineteenth century with material on Tripura’s princely history provided by his benefactor and king Birchandra Manikya (1863-1896).

Even a critical view of Rajarshi and Visarjan brings into sharp focus the author’s idealistic view of kingship and profound regard for Tripura’s royal family and history.

“What the Calcutta-based drama group has done in the name of interpretative production of Visarjan is extremely unfair and distorted; no director should take such liberties with classical works composed by great authors, playwrights and poets. But this probably fits into things because ever since its first production in Tagore’s family home at Jorasanko, Visarjan has remained what I call a jinxed drama; no group, not even Vahurupee of legendary Shambhu Mitra could successfully stage it” said Bikash Chowdhury, a leading intellectual and scholar on Tagore.