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Chapter VIII



Rabindranath Tagore discovered the real image of the Indian woman.
He is the first to depict her as an intellectual personality. The heroines of
Tagore are not weak or humble. They have their own pride and self respect.
They have the knowledge of their own self. His female characters like Chitra in
Chitra, Prakriti and her mother in Chandalika, Nalini in Red Oleanders, have
their own voice. The title of the play Chandalika, itself shows that the heroine
of the play is a woman belonging to the lowest class of society. The
protagonist, Prakriti is a girl who belongs to the untouchable class. She falls in
love with Budhist bhikshu, who makes her aware of herself. Prakriti gets her
spiritual comfort. This journey of an untouchable girl from self-ignorance to
self-knowledge is shown in Chandalika.
A Brahmo-Hindu Rabindranath Tagore had a lasting regard for the
Buddha. The rational and humanistic aspects of the teachings of the Buddha
had attracted the creative genius of Tagore. "Only once in his life, said
Rabindranath, did he feel like prostrating himself before an image and that was
when he saw the Buddha at Gaya".1 He found the Buddhist principle of mans
social equality particularly alluring to his own concept of divinity in man.
Chandalika is a dramatic expression of this ideology. The play is a visual
presentation of the age-old struggle of the marginalized section of Indian
society to attain the status of equality. It is based on a Buddhist legend
associated with one of the Buddhas disciples named Ananda. In this legend,
Tagore found readymade material for the propagation of this idea of equality

and humanism through an intense conflict between marginality and spirituality.

The play is also a criticism of the worst vice of the Vedic religion, namely,
casteism. John Wilson, in his celebrated work, Indian Caste Volume I,
observes: Buddhism in its most important social aspect was a reaction against
caste, the tyranny of which multitudes had begun to feel to be unbearable. . . 2
Rabindranath Tagore realized that Indian society was permeated by
religion and living myth, endowed with a psychic landscape having its own
concept of time and space.3 He tried to portray this unique reality through
modes and methods indigenous to Indian culture. According to Indra Nath
Choudhuri, Tagores central idea was:
...to free the present- the now, and make it part of the eternal
time; and in his dance dramas this is fully realized. Tagores
increasing interest in dance in the last phase of his life reflects his
deepening sensitivity to the ecstatic, spiritual aspect of dance,
exemplified by the transcendent rhythm of dance which
constitutes the flux and the timeless, eternal order of the
The story of an untouchable girl Prakriti is told in Mitras book,
Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal. According to the story, Prakriti once
gave some water from the untouchables well to the Buddhist monk Ananda
because he asked her for it. The girl fell in love with Ananda. She went to her
mother and asked her to use magical powers to make Ananda fall in love with


her. Under the influence of the magic spells Ananda returns to where Prakriti
lives. Tagore made use of this small part of the tale which in the original, the
Shardulakarna Avadana, runs into dozens of pages.
The location of the story is at Sravasti. Lord Buddha had been staying at
the garden of Ananthapindad. One day his favourite disciple Ananda, while on
his way back from lunch at some house felt thirsty. He saw that a daughter of
the chandals, Prakriti by name, was drawing water from the well. He asked for
water, she gave. The girl became charmed at his beauty. Finding no other way
to have him, she sought help from her mother. Her mother knew magic. She
smeared her courtyard with cow dung, prepared an altar, lighted a fire and
chanting a magic spell offered 108 sunflowers in that fire. Ananda could not
resist the power of the magic and arrived at her house in the night. As he sat on
the altar, Prakriti began to spread the bed for him. Then Ananda felt remorse
and fearfully prayed to Buddha to rescue him.
Lord Buddha had in the meantime come to know, by means of his divine
power, of the condition of his disciple and cited a mantra. Under the impact of
that mantra, the magic spell of the chandal woman became weak and Ananda
returned to the monastery.
So far the original story underscores the orthodox idea of the superiority
of the monk and the lure of lustful women; but the conclusion of Avadana story
adds the informationsupposedly given by Buddha himselfthat in her
previous birth Prakriti was the daughter of a Brahmin who had contemptuously


declined the offer of marriage from Sardulakarna, the accomplished son of the

and wise chandal Trishanku, and after being defeated in the

prolonged debate the Brahmin had at last give his daughter in marriage to the
chandal boy. Trishanku was Buddha himself in the previous birth. Thus the
anecdote also highlights a radical attitude to casteism.
In 1933 Tagore wrote a small play Chandalika on the basis of this tale.
All the dramatic action in this play is revealed in the dialogues of Prakriti with
her mother. After much deliberation and prodding by Prakriti, the mother
consents to use her magic powers to draw Ananda back to their hovel. As the
mother is engaged in this magic, Prakriti reports to her mother how Ananda is
fighting the urge to go back to Prakritis home but in the end is giving in. In
1938 Tagore rewrote the story, but now peopled with more characters, in the
form of a dance-drama which is also called Chandalika. Marjorie Sykes
translated Chandalika into English.
Tagore's play Chandalika is a short two act play. The story of the play
revolves round only three characters Prakriti, a chandal Girl, Ananda, a
Buddhist monk and Prakriti's mother who has magic powers. The play is a
story of very sensitive girl condemned by her birth to a despicable caste.
"Tagore presents a psychological study of young woman who suffers on
account of her vanity and self-consciousness. Tagore highlights the enigmatic
character of a woman, the character of being all dominating over possessive to
devour all that stand before her precisely, her excessive materialistic approach
that ultimately fails".5

The play begins at the confrontation of Prakriti and her mother over the
topic of Anandas inspiration of Prakriti as a living, breathing human being and
not as an untouchable, despicable, socially neglected chandalini. Prakriti was
born in a chandal family; and, like all chandal children, she has been brought
up in the belief that she was inferior to all other people and that even her touch
would pollute a member of the other classes of society or of the other castes.
As usual Prakriti went to the well to fetch water, finding her nowhere to be
seen the mother of Prakriti calls out to Prakriti who should by now come back
home. However, hearing her mothers shout, Prakriti comes and tells her that
she was sitting near the well. The mother scolds her saying: Past noon, and a
blistering sun, and the earth too hot for the feet! Why, the very crows on the
amlok branches are gasping for heat. Yet you sit in the Vaisakh sun for no
reason at all! (Act I, 147)*.
Prakriti in reply to her mothers scolding and questioning, says that she
had really been doing penance. When asked for whom she had been doing
penance, Prakriti tells her that a few days ago someone had come to the well
and asked her to give him water to quench his thirst.
Mother asks: Did you tell him that you are a Chandalini?
PRAKRIT: I told him, yes. He said it wasnt true. If the black

* All the references in the parentheses are from Rabindranath Tagore.

Chandalika in Three Plays translated by Marjorie Sykes. New Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 1975.


clouds of Sravana are dubbed Chandal, he said, what of it? It

doesnt change their nature, or destroy the virtue of their water.
Dont humiliate yourself, he said; self-humiliation is a sin, worse
than self-murder (Act I, 147-148).
Prakriti feels thrilled and delighted by the Bhikshus words and she then
pours water into his cupped hands. The Bhikshu drinks the water and leaves;
but his words have made a powerful impression upon the girls mind. She has,
for the first time in her life, been told by someone that she is a human being
like any other. The Bhikshus words have brought an awakening in her and
have given her a new awareness of herself. At the same time she has fallen in
love with the Bhikshu, and in fact begun to be haunted by the thoughts of him.
On hearing this account of Prakritis experience, the mother tells her that
she had behaved like a stupid girl, and that she had been too reckless in her
behaviour. Prakriti would have to pay a heavy price for such misconduct, says
the mother, because Prakriti had forgotten the caste into which she was born.
Prakriti ignoring her mothers warning says: Once did he cup his hands, to
take the water from mine. Such an only little water, yet the water grew to
fathomless, boundless sea. In it flowed all the seven seas in one, and my caste
was drowned, and my birth washed clean (Act I, 148).
The mother says that even Prakritis manner of speaking has changed,
and that it seems that the Buddhist monk had cast some kind of spell upon her.
She then asks Prakriti if she really understands all that she has said. Prakriti


replies that the Buddhist monk had come to her for water when he could have
got water from any other place in the city of Sravasti through which he had
been walking all day. He had come to her at this well instead of going to any
other well. It was on her that he had bestowed the honour of quenching his
thirst. It was truly a new birth for her. The Buddhist monk had performed a
highly commendable act by asking her for water and thus conferring an honour
upon her. Evidently he wanted to fulfill some sacred purpose by coming to her,
though he could have gone to some sacred stream to quench his thirst. Prakriti
quotes Buddhist monks example of how Chandals have served water to the
priestly people. He said that Janaki bathed in such water as this, at the
beginning of her forest exile, and the Guhak, the Chandal, drew it for her. My
heart has been dancing ever since, and night and day I hear those solemn tonesGive me water, give me water (Act I, 149). Prakriti has now become
conscious of her status as a human being, on no way inferior to any other. A
feeling of self-respect or self-esteem has now taken roots in her heart.
Prakriti shows herself to be a very sensitive kind of girl and she proves
to be a sensual one too. When the Buddhist monk happens once again to pass
the well where Prakriti had given him water to quench his thirst, he does not
even look towards the well because he is not thirsty and because he had
completely forgotten the incident of his having met a Chandal girl to whom he
had imparted the knowledge of her identity as a human being. Prakriti
misinterprets the Buddhist Bhikshus forgetfulness of the whole incident as an
insult to her; and she now becomes even more determined than before to have

him as her lover. With that object in her mind, she becomes even more insistent
that her mother should use her maximum strength as a sorceress to compel the
monk to come to her. She even says that her mothers magic is something
ancient, as old as life itself, while the Mantras of the Buddhist Bhikshus are
raw things of yesterday. These Bhikshus can never be a match for her mother,
she says, and that this particular Bhikshu is therefore bound to be defeated by
her magic.
Infact, Prakriti goes so far as to say to her mother: No matter where he
goes, you must bring him back. He showed no pity to me. I shall show none to
him. Chant your spells, your cruelest spells. Wherever he goes, he shall never
escape from me (Act I, 151). Driven by her desire for the Bhikshu, Prakriti
entreats her mother to chant her magic spells in order to bring the Bhikshu to
her door to seek her love. The mother demurs on grounds of religion and
morality, but gives way when pressed hard by Prakriti.
Prakritis mother gives Prakriti a magic mirror in which Prakriti would
be able to see where the Bhikshu is and what is happening to him as a result of
the magic spells which the mother would begin to chant. The mother then
begins her magic operations, while Prakriti looks into the mirror. The magic of
Prakritis mother begins to take effect. Prakriti sees Bhikshu showing
symptoms of a change in his look and behaviour. Soon, a conflict begins in
Prakritis mind. This conflict shows that Prakriti is not merely a creature of lust
that she is not a brazen woman seeking merely the gratification of her sensual
desire, and that she is devoid of all moral scruples. Prakriti sees Bhikshu

experiencing the agony of a struggle which has begun to take place within him.
As a consequence of the magic spells being chanted by Prakritis mother, a
sensual desire to hold Prakriti in his arms and to satisfy his craving for his flesh
has risen in his heart, but he is stoutly resisting this desire and trying to
overpower it. As the magic spell continues, the sensual desire in Bhikshu grows
stronger and stronger, but the resistance increases too at least in the beginning.
A conflict between sensuality and spirituality then begins to take the shape of a
storm in his soul and the onslaught of the sensual desire has begun to distort
and twist his face which is fast losing its radiance and its serenity.
Prakritis mother asks Prakriti to look into the mirror and tell her where
the Bhikshu is at this time. Prakriti looks into the mirror, and then throws it
away. She asks her mother to stop and to undo the spells at once. In a tone of
great distress, she says to her mother:
Mother, mother stop! Undo the spell nowat onceundo it!
What have you done? What have you done? O Wicked, wicked
deed! Better have died. What a sight to see! Where is the light
and radiance, the shining purity, the heavenly glow? How worn
how faded, has he come to my door! (Act II, 165).
She tells her mother that Bhikshu is very near their house but a great
change has come over him. All the light and the radiance, all the shining purity,
and all the heavenly glow, which he originally had, are now gone completely.
He looks worn-out and faded. It seems that he carries on his back the heavy


burden of his defeat. His spiritual self has completely been overwhelmed by his
passion and his lust for her. He is coming to her door with his head hanging
downwards in shame. Prakriti tells her mother in a categorical manner to put an
end to her magic operation and kicks away all the paraphernalia of magic.
Then, addressing herself, Prakriti says that, if she is really a human being and
not a chandalini, she should not degrade a heroic man.
The mother feels only too glad to undo the magic that she has been
working and she, of course, pays the price for having misused her magic
powers. At this point Bhikshu appears at the door of Prakritis house. Prakriti,
overcome by her feeling of remorse and repentance, falls at Bhikshus feet,
seeking his forgiveness. She apologizes to him for having pulled him down into
the dust by the force of her mothers black magic, but she also says that this
visit by him would become the means of her going to heaven. She then says:
Victory, victory to thee, o Lord!(Act II, 165).
The Bhikshu now released from the effect of magic, becomes aware of
his surroundings and begins to sing a song in honour of his master, the Buddha.
The song runs thus:
To the most pure Budha, mighty ocean of mercy
Seer of knowledge absolute, pure, supreme,
Of the worlds sin and suffering the Destroyer
Solemnly to the Buddha I bow in homage.


The Bhikshu has been restored to his original self with all his spirituality and
his dedication to a life of purity and worship.
Prakriti is a combination of beauty and rare intelligence. Throughout the
play reader can experience her intelligence which is revealed by her speaking.
It is because or her intelligence that she quickly imbibes the lesson which the
Buddhist monk has tried to teach her. The advising words of the monk
inculcate a sense of her identity as a human being. She thinks that the monk's
words have caused her to be a reborn. She tells her mother that for the first time
she had heard the kind of words which the monk had spoken to her and that
ordinarily, she would have not dared even to touch the dust under the feet of
that man to whom she had given water and who had actually drunk the water.
She had so deeply been influenced by the monk's words while pouring water
into his cupped hands. She had felt that the water was growing to a bottomless
sea and that into the water were flowering all the seven seas of the world,
drowning her caste and washing her clean of the stigma of her low birth.
Of the three plays Muktadhara, Chandalika and Natirpuja, Chandalika
is the shortest play, but the most powerful. It is a poetic drama. Imagery and
symbols play a vital role and all the conflict takes place in the theatre of the
soul. The Buddhist monk Ananda awakened self-awareness and self-respect in
Prakriti by saying, Give me water and accepting it in his cupped hands.
Prakriti is transformed. The simple words Give me water acquire an
incantatory effect and run through the fabric of the play as a silver thread. They


symbolize her awakening and freedom from bondage. My birth is washed

clean says Prakriti. The new birth she refers to is her self-knowledge.
In Chandalika the central operative symbol is that of giving. Prakriti,
the Chandala girl, gives water to Ananda. Ananda gives her the awareness of
self, her new birth. Prakriti, in turn, longs to give herself (her ego-bound
physical self) to Ananda; but this kind of giving goes with possession.
Prakritis mother offers to give her life for the sake of her daughter by
undertaking to work her magic spell to drag Ananda to Prakriti. Through
sympathy, pity, and love, through her identification with Anandas suffering,
Prakriti realizes that after all this what she had desired to give him is nothing
but her wretched self. The play ends with three different givings: Prakriti
gives Ananda his freedom; Ananda gives her deliverance, a spiritual rebirth
which is superior to the ego-birth that he had given her earlier; Prakritis
mother gives her life itself, her sacrifice helping to bring about the spiritual
union (which is but mutual giving of mukti) of Prakriti and Ananda.
There are innumerable small and great symbols throughout the drama.
The Kings son, hunting for the beast symbolizes all those who see only
the flesh of the women but not her soul.The house of darkness, is the state of
ignorance of the self. Water is the symbol of love. Black stone (on my
heart) is the weight of caste label. Fire is a great purifier and a symbol of
purity; dust symbolizes lowliness, flower symbolizes women, bloom
symbolizes full development of soul, light symbolizes self-knowledge or love.


Autumnal clouds symbolize free floating things, detached persons like the
Why hurt will I bathe
In the deep waters of my pains immensity (Act II, 162).
This pains immensity refers to the suffering heart of Prakriti and her
unbounded oceanic love. His suffering and mine are one today. What holy fire
of creation could have wrought such a union? says Prakriti. This is a complex
symbol. It is a union of souls. Souls unite through the fires of suffering. She
also speaks of the fusion, of gold and copper in the great fire. Gold stands
for Ananda and copper for Prakriti, for spirit and earth, for heaven hood and
earth hood. That is why she tells him boldly in the end. I have dragged you
down to earth, how else could you raise me to your heaven? (Act II, 164).
Thus Chandalika is a cosmic drama. Prakriti stands for Nature. Mother
stands for the earth, a place of patience, suffering and understanding. The
primal spell may be taken as the force of attraction: in Nature. Particularly of
sex, Ananda stands for spirit, the awakening and bliss. Even the word
Chandals is made to represent people with mean spirits. The union of
Ganga and Jamuna is the union of the white and the dark.
Prakriti has become conscious of her status as a human being, in no way
inferior to any other. A feeling of self respect has now taken roots in her heart.
She is changed. She is no more Chandalini. She has got the knowledge of
herself. She supposes herself equal to all the human beings. She got the

knowledge of her own. Now she is a woman, more than woman she is human
being. Till she was Chandalini, she was not having any expectation from the
society but now she is the part of society. She got this knowledge from Ananda.
In Chandalika, Tagore avoids the glorification of traditional male
heroes like Lord Buddha or Ananda. The narrative is woven around the play of
emotions primarily within Prakriti. Tagores poetry brings out both the strength
and the excruciating inner dilemmas of his protagonist. It is highly significant
that Tagore made his central character an untouchable girl who not only
dominates the narrative through the strength of her personality, but also shapes
the course of action through her own choices. Prakriti, like Shyama, and
Chitrangada, is a fractured self who is denied legitimacy due to her caste and
class and banished from the life of a normal human being. Her arrival at an
understanding at who she really is occurs through various forms of rebellion
against sexual and social codes.
Prakriti is a real woman not an idealized one who is at once strong and
tormented, confident yet deeply conflicted she is a divided self, torn between
her intense yearning for Ananda and her intense guilt at making him suffer at
the mercy of Mayas Nagpash Mantra. She only arrives at a true understanding
of her own self and the world by journeying through experience, through
making errors in judgement, asserting herself and making active choices. It is
the autonomous self development of the woman (atmasakti) that Tagore hints
at in narrating the story of an untouchable girl. In her search for the true self, as
Prakriti transcends from darkness of social degradation into the light of

signifying her own self as a woman, she travels through the three states of life
the ignoble discriminations faced in her material life, the world of memory in
which Ananda has shown her respect as a human being, as well as the ultimate
dignity of her Self that she acquires at the end by understanding the true nature
of her desire she is liberated when she comprehends the unified pattern of
these closely intertwined three worlds. As Purkayastha opines that in choosing
Prakriti to occupy the central space in his narrative, Tagores preference for
focussing on the human rather than the spiritual attributes of his protagonists is
clearly manifest.6
This is a sensational twist to the dramatic rendering of Ananda legend. It
now becomes a wonderful and studious portrayal of female psychology by
Tagore. The dramatist seems to be aware of the general belief that a woman,
longing to give away everything to a man, can go to any extreme if her female
pride is hurt. Her extreme anxiety to possess the monk is the external
manifestation of her latent desire to offer her best.7 But Ananda is too far
removed from these worldly desires to accept her offering. So Prakriti has no
other options but to resort to violent means unacceptable in any religious or
social ethics. She asserts: If my longing can draw him here, and if that is a
crime, then I will commit the crime. I care nothing for a code which holds only
punishment and no comfort (Act II, 155).
Therefore, Prakriti intends on rousing similar lust in her enamours
unresponsive heart. However, it is a mental torture for the mother to fulfill this
unworldly demand of her daughter. Conventionally bound in the caste web of

her orthodox temperament, she neither can commit such a religious and social
sin to force a Buddhist monk to break his celibacy nor can she tolerate her only
daughters outrageous demand. She is afraid that it would bring a curse upon
the unhappy girl and certain death for her own self, if committed the sin of
forcing the holy monk to fornication. If undone halfway, even then, the spell
would kill her. Therefore, she tries to instill some practical sense into the
enraged head of Prakriti. But blind in revenge, the stubborn girl pays no heed
and forces her mother to chant the magical spell to bring Ananda full of lust
to her.
This is an outrageous idea for the moral and ethical cannons of the
world since the Buddhist monks in their pursuit of nirvana follow the vow of
celibacy strictly and so are beyond the reach of any common individual in
terms of worldly pleasures and familial obligations. The well-known
Bangladeshi academic and religion scholar, Azizun Nahar Islam, rightly
remarks: The Buddha pointed the changes, vicissitudes and tragedies of life.
He condemns the charms and temptations of body 8
Accordingly, every Buddhist monk is bound by the divine vow of
celibacy and strict morality. In turn, the common folks are in awe of their
holiness and, therefore, respect their divinity. But, blindfolded by the awakened
consciousness of liberty and overpowered by the freshly sprung need of
equality and spiritual union, Prakriti oversteps this morality and ethical
boundaries. That results in her spiritual tragedy in the end. K.R. Kripalani calls
it a tragedy of self-consciousness over reaching its limit9. His further remarks

regarding Chandalikas reaction point out to the drawback in such extremes

when he says: But self-consciousness, like good wine, easily intoxicates, and
it is difficult to control the dose and have just enough of it.10 In the play,
Prakriti loses all sense of fear for the holiness and social and religious codes of
conduct in her newly awakened state. Hence, she declares: I fear nothing any
longer, except to sink back again, to forget myself again, to enter again the
house of darkness. That would be worse than death!11 In doing so, she forgets
that Ananda is not an ordinary human being to exercise her passions upon but a
divine mortal working for the cause of upliftment of human dignity. She says to
her mother: Ill send my call into his soul, for him to hear. I am longing to
give myself; it is like a pain at my heart12 This pain of longing for the
beautiful and magnificent monk becomes even more intense when, later in the
play during her second chance citing of him, Ananda, immersed in his inner
spiritual self, totally ignores her presence and moves on chanting the hymn of
Lord Buddha. That crash-lands her illusionary flight of worldly longing. It is a
great shock to her sensitive mind. Her female ego gets crushed and the newly
awakened woman feels deeply hurt. So in rage, she orders her mother to cast
her magical spell on the male heart of Ananda to force him to beg for her
conjugal company. That way she could satiate her feelings of revenge upon the
entire manhood of the earth for neglecting the urge of the hitherto marginalized
In Chandalika, Tagore uses an ancient Buddhist legend for his play, but
treats it in a highly imaginative way, giving it a modernist interpretation. In

Tagores dance drama, the central protagonist is Prakriti, the untouchable girl,
not Lord Buddha or his disciple Ananda as in the original story. In Tagores
hands Prakriti becomes a woman living on the fringes of human society a
marginalized figure of Hindu society discriminated against for her social
background in a caste- segregated world view. By addressing the theme of
untouchability through this dance drama Tagore was making an extremely bold
socio- political statement against the discrimination of untouchables that in a
way supported Mahatma Gandhis pro Harijan campaign in the late 1930s
India. In Tagores Chandalika, Prakriti becomes obsessed with Ananda as he is
the first and only person outside her caste who treats her as a human being of
equal standing instead of shunning her as an untouchable. For Prakriti, Ananda
embodies liberation, a person who has shown her a way out of the stultifying
darkness of self negation, who has created a revolution in the way she
perceives the world and the way the world perceives her. Prakriti now
desperately wants to possess the man who has given her the taste of freedom
from the chains of social degradation that bound her soul.
It is through Ananda that Prakriti first learns to see herself as a human
being in her own right, she learns the meaning of dignity she learns what it is
to be a woman, to serve others as an equal. With her awareness of herself as a
woman comes the first awakening of desire, which turns into obsessive passion
for the man who has shown her respect as a human being for the first time in
her life. By giving water to the thirsty monk, it is as if Prakriti has satisfied her
own thirst for self respect. It is a kind of self ablution as it were, cleansing her

from the self negating stigma of being an outcaste. Ananda has given her the
power to serve others, the power to give life (water), nourishment to thirsty
travelers. It is in his eyes that Prakriti has seen herself as an equal to all the
other human beings. She now gains an understanding of her selfhood; an
awareness of her identity as a woman, and an acknowledgement of herself
worth. Her desire for the monk is the elemental desire of the woman, Prakriti,
for the man, Purush, and it comes only with her awareness of her still nascent
womanhood. With her desire as a female comes courage, a daring even to bring
Ananda back to her at any cost, by any means. Prakriti now takes the help of








at the end of the play Prakriti gets the knowledge of her true self. Tagore has
depicted woman as a wife, daughter, sister, mother beloved and so on. But
Prakriti is different from all these. Tagore depicts Prakriti as a woman who is
asking for her own identity and the authorized recognition of her identity by
others, which is denied by the society all along.
Tagore is aware of the fact that orthopractical Hinduism owes its
existence to the observances of Brahmins who do not touch anything ritually
impure. Tagore often lampoons the Brahminical strict taboo on touching
outcastes. Untouchability, as we have seen, is an important theme in:
Chandalika. It depicts the discrimination of the outcastes, exemplified in the
main character of the play, the untouchable girl Prakriti, by the higher castes. It
also shows a way out of this perpetual humiliation. The Buddhist mendicant
Ananda asks the untouchable girl to give him some water from the ritually

impure well. This single question of Ananda: jol dao give me some water
becomes the liberating magic spell for Prakriti. She begins to imagine another
possible way of life, a life outside obedience and self-depreciation before
persons of a higher caste. Thus Prakriti shows in her newly found selfconfidence not only that she has lost her fear of discrimination, but also that
she is capable of taking her destiny into her own hands. In other words, she
emancipates herself, while the source of her emancipation is in fact the
message of Buddha conveyed to her by Ananda that nobody is born impure
and nobody needs to undergo social ostracism and discrimination. In
Chandalika Tagore visualizes the Buddhist teaching of universal love.
Chandalika exemplifies Buddhist individualist self-emancipation. It is a play
about personal choices and self-fulfillment.
Tagores introduction of the psychological revolt, against the age-old
caste suppression overreaching its limits and resulting in tragedy, lends it a new
meaning. S.R. Sharma writes:
Against the abomination of untouchability he, of course, wrote
his moving play Chandalika. Since that abomination continues
with us, in fact assuming formidable proportions not so
infrequently, the play acquires new relevance. 13
This realization of Prakritis selfhood is intermingled with the conscious
negation of her socially imposed caste and class as well as an
acknowledgement of herself as a woman proud of her self worth. In her


obsession to possess Ananda, Prakriti makes an erroneous choice. She implores

her mother, Maya to use magic to bring Ananda back to her. The magical
powers of Maya contest with Anandas spiritual powers until he is forced
against his will to come back to Prakriti. Seeing her desired man in painful
agony, broken and defeated in spirit, his soul entrenched in darkness under the
spell of the black magic that Maya uses, Prakriti understands her error in
dragging Ananda, her symbol of light and truth, to a baser level where he
becomes a mere shadow of his former self. When Mayas black magic forces
Ananda to her door, Prakriti realizes that her desire is not for the person that the
monk represents but for the affirmation of her own identity as a female self
equal to others in all respects. Through material desire Prakriti reaches a
spiritual desire. Ananda's request, "Give me water," besides indicating his
physical need symbolizes water's regenerative image common in many
religious traditions. In the Indian context, a holy man asking for water from an
untouchable violates a social as well as a religious norm. To receive and to give
food or water were sacrilegious for both. The monk's extraordinarily radical
request awakens Prakriti's awareness of her own innate Self. Through the
universal image of water, Tagore intertwines the ideological revolution
reflected in the social, religious, and political scene of his own time. Prakriti's
self-assertion imbued in desire is manifested in her love for the young monk.
Infused by Eros, Prakriti's love ascends to agape through dedication and
repentance to liberation. It is through love that Prakriti transcends her socially
imposed caste and ultimately signifies herself as a radical human being.


The Hindu concept of caste distinction based on ones birth is inhuman.

It should be completely wiped out and equality tinged with humanity should be
established. This is the order of the day. Yet, for the better functioning of the
social order, some moral and ethical restraints should also be exercised by the
newly awakened human beings. This could be the idea of Tagore in
dramatizing the Ananda legend through Chandalika. In the words of K.R.
Kripalani: . . . a new consciousness after ages of suppression is overpowering
and one learns restraint only after suffering.14 Thats what happens to the
protagonist of Chandalika, Prakriti, the Chandal girl, at the end of her tragic
experience. She realizes the necessity for ethical values in her new birth.
Eventually, she corrects the mistake of overhauling the human ethics she had
committed earlier and turns a better and spiritual woman in the end.



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Satyam Publishers, 2003. 24.


Wilsin John. Indian Caste. Vol, 2. Delhi: K.K. Book Distributers, 1985.


Indra Nath Choudhuri. Theatric Form of Tagores Dance Drama and

its Symbolism. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988. 130.


Indra Nath Choudhuri. Theatric Form of Tagores Dance Drama and

its Symbolism. 130.


B.R.Agarwal. Insight into Feminine Mind: A Study of Tagores

Dramatic World. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2004. 132.


Prarthana Purkayastha. Warrior, Untouchable, Courtesan: Fringe

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Satyam Publishers, 2003. 91.


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Rabindranath Tagore. Three Plays. Trans. Marjorie Sykes. 145.


Rabindranath Tagore. Three Plays. Trans. Marjorie Sykes. 153.


Rabindranath Tagore. Three Plays. Trans. Marjorie Sykes. 152.



S.R. Sharma. Life and Works of Rabindranath Tagore. Jaipur: Book

Enclave, 2003. 92.


Rabindranath Tagore. Three Plays. Trans. Marjorie Sykes. Madras:

Oxford University Press, 1970. 145.