A century ago, on 18th of October 1917, on the south bank of river Ganges near Didarganj, Patna; a female figure carved in Chunar sand-stone dating back to the Mauryan period was accidentally unearthed. This 2000 years old ‘nymph of stone’ surpassed the charm of the Aphrodite; and the mesmerizing aura radiating out of this bizarre beauty clouded the smile of Mona Lisa. Neither the villagers who dug out the figure, nor its mentors who retrieved the figure into the newly established Patna Museum then, would have imagined that the icon was going to be a legend in archaeology and art-history.
Today we know this legendry beauty as ‘Didarganj Chowry Bearer Female Figure’ or ‘Didarganj Yakshini’, exhibited in Patna Museum, Patna. This is the first life size three diemnsional female statue sculpted as early on Indian archaeological time line, as 300 BC.
The stage play YAKSHINI presents the real story of finding of this figure and a fantastic conjecture of its sculpting; a story extending from early 20th century CE to the mid of the third century BCE.
The outcome of dedicated labour and talent of our archaeologists and historians in reconstructing our past must not be confined within a circle of intellectual minority, but must reach every nook and corner of society. Therefore, the existence of archaeological artefacts and finds must transcend beyond the walls of the museums and resonate in the conscience of common people. If it so happens, our heritage shall be preserved in the hearts of the people, beyond the confines of museums and historical sites.
With this very objective, and inspired by the popular remark of Greek philosopher Cicero, “To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child”, I streered my passion, the theatre, to a more utilitarian path. I started a series of Heritage Plays; the first production being Yakshini based on the Mauryan sculpture ‘the Didarganj Chawry Bearer Female Figure’ unearthed in 1917; to make people aware of the museum-collections by showcasing the stories of their excavation and related information in public.
This is a fact that message and information delivered through plays have deeper impact on public-conscience compared to those conveyed through cinema and videos. It was the most thrilling moment of my theatre career when a humble audience after the fisrt show of Yakshini, greeted me with remark "we used to go to museum; you have braught museum to us". Perhaps, this was the greatest reward for my humblest work I ever had in my life.
There has been a visible effect of the shows of Yakshini on the influx of museum visitors: people are drawn towards the museums with enhanced interest in antiquities; their eyes searching for another artefact having another story hidden within. This is a fact that more we know about antiquities, more we love and respect them and more are we keen for their conservation.
We know that the role of museums is not limited to collecting and conserving things, but also to educate people about them. In this respect, Yakshini is the first theatrical piece accountable in the subject of Public Museology. Staging of such plays in Museums, Universities and other organizations of similar nature will certainty create a positive atmosphere for protection and conservation of our heritage and culture.
I hope people will welcome the upcoming play of this series 'Ashthi Kalash', based on the excavation of the relics of Buddha at Vaishali in 1958, with the same love and enthusiasm as they have greeted its predecessor Yakshini.
Introduction of the Play
“Yakshini” is the first research based info-drama in Indian theatre and also in Hindi literature, based on this world famous legendary icon and therefore the first example of application of theatre in higher education (Public Museology).
The play showcases the documented story of excavation and retrieval of the “Didarganj Yakshini” in 1917, as well as the historical, aesthetic, and archaeological features and facts related to this figure through a well-woven entertaining story that leaves the audience spell-bound.
In addition, this play explores the possible objective and circumstances of sculpting of this masterpiece in 300 BC as well as its ‘cult value’ for the rural folk who found the statue in twentieth centyry .
The play YAKSHINI is a complete drama and the facts and information are delivered to the audience through the dialogues of the characters. Many characters in this play are real, their introduction well documented in the annals and chronicles and a few are fictitious but quite relevant to the context and theme, required to construct a complete story in historical background.
The play has been designed to comply with the theatrical norms having dramatic fluidity and providing a wide scope for creative and technical applications.
‘Yakshini’ is a experimental theatrical project presenting a charming and captivating story, pregnant with facts; and hence, it may be categorized as InfoDrama. InfoDrama is a genre of stage play in which educational information is addressed through an entertaining story. This is simillar to a 'documentary' in respect of its informative content and simillar to a stage drama due to its presentation.
This play consists of two acts.
In act-one, the story of its excavation and retrieval has been fabricated in an entertaining manner around the documented facts with all real characters of the episode of 1917. All physical, historic, aesthetic, and archeological characters of the icon have been explained in this act through the dialogues of characters, which are easily graspable and interesting so that the audiences learn everything about this sculpture while entertaining themselves.
A special consideration about the 'public interpretation' of this artwork at the time when sculpture was unearthed has been made in this play. According to Richard H. Davis, there is always a “cult value” of images in a particular culture or community. But Dr. D. B. Spooner, who played an important role in retrieval of the image to the Patna Museum and who wrote a report on Didarganj Image in the Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society in 1919, considered only the “exhibition value” of the icon and didn't enquire what the locals opined about the image. If they were worshiping the icon, what did they think of this icon? In act-one of this play, the writer has made a logical conjecture of what the villagers would have thought of this image on the basis of traditional belief and cult-practices.
Love and respect for antiquities, monuments and heritage are hallmarks of a civilized and intellectually developed society. The knowledge of our glrious past gives us a self-identity and self-respect, essential for the progress of person and hence the society. So we must create awareness and curiosity for the monuments, artifacts and antiquities among the masses so that they may understand the importance of maintaining and conserving our glorious heritage. Didarganj Yakshini is a hallmark icon denoting the superb aesthetic sense and the technical excellence of ancient Indian iconography. The play based on its excavation and sculpting is a new experiment in theatre, analogous to documentary infotainments in cinema; and it will serve as a strong tool for mass-education and mass-motivation.
To a historian and/or archaeologist, an artifact speaks a lot about the custom, costume, tradition, socio-economic condition, trade, belief, and even about the environmental and ecological conditions of the era it belongs. But a common man cannot decipher all these facts by mere looking at the artifact and reading the tag in museums. The description given by a museum guide is not always interesting so as to arouse a curiosity to know more. People just remain ignorant of the crucial information about our past, what they deserve to know.
Keeping the above things in mind, the play Yakshini, along with forthcoming plays of the series Heritage Play, has been prepared to educate people about the mystical past of our land and culture and raise awareness about 'importance and need' of conservation of cultural heritage; an object undertaken in ‘public museology’.
In the Offing
Yakshini is a pioneer work in public museology and a series of such plays named Heritage Play, are being prepared based on important museum collections uncovering some unknown chapters of Indian culture, tradition, knowledge, and philosophical/scientific ideas developed in the diffrent epochs of time. In each of the plays, all the information related to the central subject would be embedded in an interesting story fabricated within the factual limit of history and archaeology.
These plays, based on extensive academic research and exploration, present a new genre in Indian theatre : the Utiliterian Creativity or InfoDrama.
Act - 1
Act - 2