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Cingalese Buddhists, since in Tibet the Lamas reserve to themselves the right of acting in the Mystery Play with its manifestations of the gods and demons by awe-inspiring masks and the like.
There can be no doubt that in mediæval times, and we know not how long before, dramatic performances were held at the great spring festivals already mentioned, and there is also no doubt that such were held in honour of dead and probably deified kings. It was pointed out in Dramas and Dramatic Dances' that the Dutangada (Embassy of Angada), the earliest extant shadow play (Chhaya-nataka), was composed for and presented at the spring festival, March 7, 1242, in honour of Kumarapaladeva I, who ruled in Gujarat c. 1142–72, the particular event commemorated being the restoration of a Siva temple by that monarch. His fifth descendant and suc. cessor got a dramatist named Subhata to compose it in honour of his ancestor. Subhata himself says in the play that it was acted at the festival of Lord Kumarapaladeva. Now in similar passages of other plays the same phrase occurs with the name of a god in place of the name of Kumara-paladeva, which indicates that the latter held for the time at least the position of a presiding deity. That Indian kings were deified after death is placed beyond doubt by a Kanarese inscription from Kurgod, which circumstantially relates how Rachamalla I of Kurgod, a devout Saivite, was favoured with an epiphany of Siva and after his death returned to earth in the form of a linga self-created at Kurgod, * where a sanctuary was raised and worship paid to him under the name of Udbhava-Rachamallesvara, 'the god Isvara of Rachamalla in (miraculous) revelation.'
But monarchs were not always content to wait for posthumous worship. Thus Rajaraja I, of Tanjore, in 1055 built a Siva temple in his own honour, and endowed in it a troupe of actors to perform the play of Rajaraja,' a drama on his own life. But we need not go back to mediæval times for such cults. At this hour at Anekal in Mysore there is a performance in
* L. D. Barnett, Two Inscriptions from Kurgo' ('Epigraphia Indica' vol. XIV, p. 265).
South Indian Inscriptions,' vol. II, pp. 306–7.
honour of a dead king. Outside the temple is a circular mound said to represent Saindhava, the slayer of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, the great Pandava chief. During the festival a huge head is placed on the mound and cut off. Sham fights also take place in imitation of the great battle in the Mahabharata, on the second day of which Abhimanyu slew Lakshmana, son of Duryodhana. On the thirteenth day he fell by treachery, fighting against fearful odds; and his son Parikshit became king of Hastinapura. It is worth noting that in the cult of Osiris the chief feature was a sham fight depicting the overthrow of his murderer Set, while in the cult of Wu, the founder of the great Chinese Chow dynasty, a dramatic representation of his decisive victory at Mu (B.c. 1123) was a leading element.
But in India, as indeed in most regions, drama is of immense antiquity. Thus in the Rig-Veda there are dramatic dialogues, e.g. the Vrishtrakapi hymn, which treat of saga and myth and presuppose interlocutors, while in the age of the Brahmana literature there were recitations of old sagas, such as the Pariplava at the Asvamedha (Horse sacrifice), which told of the doughty deeds of the king's forebears and were followed by other ceremonies, including the Dhritisomas, in which a Kshatriya lute-player sang staves in celebration of former victories, with the envoi, He fought, he won that battle.'* This last will at once recall to the classical scholar the famous line of Homer, when Phoenix, on coming to Achilles' hut, found him playing his harp and singing the 'glorious deeds of heroes (kléa ávdpôr).' †
In the ancient Vedic rituals of the Pitrimedha, describing the ceremonies with which the bones of dead men were brought from their provisional resting-place for entombment in their final abode, there was a procession with dance, music, and song. Thus in the Baudhayana-Pitrimedha-sutra, we read : So the next of kin, so the women; then the dancing women in accordance shall go'; elsewhere we also hear of dance and song and musical instruments.
These passages remind us of the processions of the gods' images with
* Satapatha Brahmana,' Sacred Books, vol. XIII, 4, 3, 5. t 'Iliad,' ix, 189.
the dancers performing pantomimes referring to the legend of the deity, to which we will presently return. It must always be borne in mind that in India, as everywhere else, there is no real distinction between pantomime and drama. The pantomime is the presentation of a theme dramatically by metre and rhythmical movement; the drama combines this pantomime with the spoken word. In the great epic of the Mahabharata there is only one definite reference to drama, and that is probably late,* while there is no mention in it of the Natakas. But as Nataka merely means the performance of Natas, and these are mentioned in Mahabharata si de by side with natakas or pantomimic dancers, one cannot say that the Mahabharata knows nothing of drama.
Though in the Jatakas we have no allusion to the drama, yet, strange though it may seem, the bones of the Buddha himself were honoured in much the same way as those of chieftains in the old Vedic days. After his death and the ceremonies at his pyrethe Mallas of Kusinara surrounded the bones of the Blessed One in their council-hall with a lattice-work of spears and a rampart of bows, and there for seven days they paid honour and respect and homage to them with dance and song and music and with garlands and with perfumes.'t It must be remembered that Gautama himself belonged to the Kshatriya (soldier) caste, and that it was on account of this that seven great Kshatriya chieftains begged to receive some of his relics. In view of these facts, in spite of the silence of the Jatakas respecting the Drama, it is not surprising that the oldest surviving pieces of Indian dramatic literature are the fragments from Turfan of two Buddhist plays, one a drama on the life of the Buddha, the other a Morality.
The facts here stated seem to point to the conclusion that the drama arose from sagas and lays in honour of great men, and assumed the conventional classical form when the natas or pantomimes became the actors, the drama no doubt retaining for a long time large elements of the dance, as was certainly the case in Greece. This
* Hopkins, “The Great Epic of India,' pp. 54 sqq.
'Sacred Books of the East,' vol. XI, p. 131.
can be corroborated from modern India.* Thus the ballad of Desingu Raja, which is very popular in the North Arcot and Anantapur districts and is simply a story of a contest in the early 18th century between a Rajput chief and the Nawab of Arcot, is now popular on the stage; while similar ballads, sometimes also dramatised, are common in other districts ; e.g. those about famous Devotees, such as the story of Ramadās Gopanna of the Telugu country, and of Nanda the pariah saint of Southern India, which attract all classes.t
But these cases are not isolated, for it can be shown that in hundreds of temples all over Southern India, as well as throughout Bengal, even in the private chapels of country gentlemen, not only do women constantly dance in honour of the person or persons worshipped in the shrine, but also dramatic performances referring to their lives or to particular incidents in their lives are given on their special festival days. That such performances are not mere modern developments, but of ancient date, is demonstrated by the fact that in many of the foundation deeds of temples it is ordained that the benefactions shall be applied to Ranga-Bhoga, that is, scenic representations of the life or legends of the deity, who of course is usually some deified human being
-a fact which recalls the endowment of a troupe of actors by Rajaraja I at Tanjore.
The nature of the personages honoured in such temples can be made clear from the Progress Report of the Assistant Archæological Superintendent for Epigraphy, Southern Circle (1913–14). We have two records of the 19th century A.D. coming from Peddakoda Magundla in the Palnad Taluk of the Guntur district (Nos. 174, 148). The former cites an earlier inscription of Saka 1435 Srimukha (A.D. 1513-4), and states that one of the ancestors of the donor, a certain Mantrimurtiguru, had after death actually become a Siva-linga in the Uttaresvara temple at Peddakoda Magundla. Another record speaks of a teacher of the Pasupata-Saiva sect who had similarly become a Siva-linga in the same temple. Evidently, like the present-day preceptors of the Lingayatas in the Canarese country, these teachers
* Dramas and Dramatic Dances,' p. 204. Vol. 236,-No, 469,
+ Ibid., p. 203.
of the Pasupata-saiva sect were buried in the temple premises with a linga fixed over their tombs. In the course of time these came to be worshipped in the same manner as the lingas which had no connexion witb the tombs. Thus another inscription shows that a chief of Rayadurga granted a village for the worship of the Isvara-sthana of his mother, by which is evidently meant the shrine with a linga built over her tomb.' The popular opinion current about the famous Siva temples of the South is that they must have been directly or indirectly connected with the tombs of great saints. It is not unlikely that the majority of the extant Siva temples are of this nature. One of the commonest conditions in the grants of estates to temples in India is that the income shall be employed by the temple for the purpose of Ranga-bhoga, which must mean (as we shall see) scenic representations of the sacred legend of the god of the temple.
How persistent to this hour is the practice in India of deifying those who in life were in some way or other distinguished beyond their fellows, and of setting up cults and dramatic performances at their graves or shrines, cannot be better illustrated than by the follow, ing instance of the late Mr Arunachala Nadar, now worshipped at Eral under the name of the Chairman god. In life he was the chairman of the Town Commissioners, and he died somewhere about 1910. The story goes that thieves, hearing that some valuable jewels had been buried with him, broke into his tomb, but were driven out by his manifestation in the form of a snake. In 1914, a ballad was published in Tamil, entitled The Marvellous Ballad,' relating how the Chairman Arunachala Svami, whose grace descended in the town of Eral, drove away devils, etc. It is a series of dialogues in verse between the Svami and a number of devils whom he exorcised from the persons of as many women. It is quite dramatic in form and would probably be recited by as many persons. Arunachala's epiphany dates from 1910, since which time he has regularly made his appearance to heal the sick, exorcise devils, supply offspring, and make himself generally useful.
But there are stranger cults than this, as, for instance,