There is a train from Bangalore coming up north, called Udyan (Sanskrit for Garden, named so because of Bangalore’s garden) express. I mistook it for the Udayan Express, which reminded me of King Udayan, the hero of Bhasa’s twin plays Pratigna Yaugandharayana (= the wow of Yaugandharayana) and Swapnavasavadattam (= dream of Vasavadatta).
I had thought that a train starting from South might have his name, incidentally 13 of Bhasa (one of the best Sanskrit playwrights, thought to have lived some four hundred years before Christ) plays were discovered in Trivandrum. Prior to that, no one had seen Bhasa’s works in hard form, just through the references of the later writers. But checking the map revealed that Kaushambi, the kingdom of Udayan is up north, little West of Alahabad.
Well, the early part of the story – about the wow of Yaugandharayana is so enchanting, that I want to share it here.
Udayan is believed to have existed when Buddhism was becoming popular. As usual, India of that time continued to be embroiled into struggle for power and territory.
Kaushambi was at strife with the nearby Ujjayini (today’s Ujjain is in MP, the distance is about 500 miles between the two). Udayan ruled Kaushambi, a relatively smaller but significant kingdom. Pradyot was the king of Ujjayini.
Udayan was a popular king, young, handsome, highly accomplished in all the skills required of a king in that time. He also had a unique ability – by playing Veena, he could tame wild and war elephants. In those days, elephants played a crucial role in wars. War elephants were made to drink alcohol and then they were let loose on the enemies. Once when Pradyot’s army attacked Kaushambi, Udayan simply played Veena, calming down the elephants. From that moment on, Pradyot wanted to learn that Vidya of taming elephants. On the other hand, Yaugandharayana, the minister and adviser of Udayan wished that the two states made peace rather than engaging in frequent skirmishes for obvious reasons.
Pride prevented negotiations, and Yaugandharayana believed that a politically motivated marriage could be an excellent solution. Pradyot had a young, beautiful and talented daughter named Vasavadatta, and Udayan was a bachelor. But how would the two enemy states come to discuss marriage? From this point onward, the role of Yaugandharayana is not at all visible, but the turn of events is fascinating – hinting at his excellent statesmanship if he stage-managed the events.
Pradyot realized that it was impossible to overpower Udayan in the battle ground. So he was looking for alternatives.
One day, men who watched forest-lined Kaushambi borders brought news that a unique white elephant had come to graze the forests. Udayan who was a lover of elephants himself, took his Veena along and went over to see for himself as white elephants were not to be found in his area. As soon as he took position within the earshot of the elephant and sat down to play Veena, soldiers came out of it (remember the Trojan horse?), captured Udayan and sped away to Ujjayini.
Pradyot asked Udayan to teach him the art of taming animals by music in return of his release.
Do you know what Udayan said? He said he did not mind teaching his art and skill to anyone who was curious to know. So if Pradyot accepted Udayan as his Guru and respectfully learned from him, he would teach this Vidya to him. Pradyot could not bring himself to make a Guru out of his arch-enemy. But he thought that Vasavadatta, his daughter could learn from Udayan.
But both were young and attractive – what if they fell in love?
So, Pradyot told Udayan that there was a hunch-backed and extremely ugly girl in the family, who could spend her time well learning. Udayan replied that he was not concerned with the looks – if the student was sincere, he would teach. Pradyot said that in order to save Udayan from the ugly and potentially disturbing sight, a curtain would be drawn between the Guru and the student.
The student, Vasavadatta was told that the teacher of this exquisite and powerful art was a leper and his wounds were offending to the eye. So as the princess took the lessons, a curtain would be drawn between her and her guru.
Thus the arrangements were made and the lessons began.
Vasavadatta was a good student, but on one particular day she was making the same mistake again and again. Udayan initially instructed calmly, but a point arrived when he lost patience and yelled in frustration at Vasavadatta calling her a hunch-backed ******. Upon hearing this Vasavadatta was shocked and she yelled back that a leper who had no idea who she was had no right to call her such names.
Udayan was so shocked to hear that, that he leaped and pulled the curtain down. Both were stunned to see each other and fell in love instantly.
Well, soon Yaugandharayana came in to the picture, whose mole approached the king at the right time, and arranged for the escape of Udayan and Vasavdatta, to reach safely back home at Kaushambi and “Vidhi-poorvak” (= ceremoniously) marry Vasavadatta.
Peace prevailed as in those times it was perfectly legitimate to abet a woman who wanted to marry her lover. So Pradyot accepted his daughter’s choice and the two states became friendly.