INTERVIEW SNA Fellow Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi on Sanskrit theatre

E minent Sanskrit scholar, theatre personality and professor emeritus of Banaras Hindu University, Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi, was recently named a Fellow (Ratna) of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in the SNA Awards declared for 2009.

During his two terms as Chairman of the Kalidas Academy, Ujjain, his has been an immense contribution to the contemporary practice of classical Sanskrit texts. He is also unmatched in understanding and performing the plays of Kalidasa and Bhasa. He has translated a play “Bal Charitam Natakam” by Bhasa from Sanskrit to Hindi.

At present he is advisor to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts at its regional centre in Varanasi and busy translating some initial chapters of the Natya Shastra from Sanskrit into Hindi. Excerpts from an interview:

How can we preserve the Sanskrit drama tradition?

Only through folk art forms can we save and preserve this tradition. True, today people, especially the upcoming generation, is far from Sanskrit language and literature, and only a few theatre groups are continuing Sanskrit drama, as we see in Kerala and Ujjain.

In Kerala, the senior most theatre person and, in my opinion, the only top-rank theatre scholar who knows Sanskrit theatre and has the experience to do it according to Natya Shastra (precepts), K. N. Pannikar, has been doing this for a long time. Similarly I started Sanskrit Drama at the Kalidas Academy, Ujjain, where it continues. Ratan Thiyam is also doing it, but in Manipuri language and style, not in Sanskrit. So it is true that the Sanskrit drama scenario is not great today.

But I hope it can be preserved, that is only possible if we utilise more and more our folk theatre art forms. These include our rich art heritage like Chhau and Ankiya.

What was the scenario when you entered this discipline?

I came to Varanasi in 1970. Before that I was in Allahabad, where I created the Kalidas Academy. I started doing Sanskrit theatre with a few interested people there. I used to teach them Sanskrit. I had a conviction that only through the language of drama, that is, Sanskrit drama, I could maintain this art. As we know, the style of Sanskrit drama is entirely different from any other, especially drama from other countries, European or American. This style of drama follows the regulations prescribed in the Natya Shastra by sage Bharata. It begins with Purvarang and ends with Bharat Vakya. It does not start with act one, scene one. According to this ancient method,

I used to perform “Abhigyan Shakuntalam”. In Allahabad, I invited several stalwarts from Sanskrit theatre to perform in our festival, like Ajitesh Bandopadhyay from Kolkata. After coming to Varanasi, we formed a group, Abhinaya Bharati, to continue this art with another great scholar, Professor Premlata Sharma.

We did “Shakuntala”, “Malvikagnimitra”, “Vikramorvashiyam”, “Mudrarakshas” and so many plays in Sanskrit in the '70s and '80s. And then I had to join Kalidas Academy, Ujjain. Naturally we selected Sanskrit plays by Bhasa, Shoodrak and of course Kalidasa.

To follow the rules and suggestions of drama as clearly indicated in the Natya Shastra, a compendium of all arts, has been our basic concern.

What next?

At present I am working on the initial chapters of the Natya Shastra.

In the coming months, we are going to organise several programmes related to speech, based on Vakyapadeeya by sage Bhartrihari.

GAUTAM CHATTERJEE