Yearnings of a forsaken heart

Yearnings of a forsaken heart

Was Buddha right to make his wife a victim in his search for enlightenment? ‘Yashodhara’ seeks answers.

The pain of longing and yearning defies description. Yasdhodhara, wife of Prince Siddhartha, who left home and hearth in search of enlightenment, embodies this pain.

While the world revers Buddha, few spare a thought for  Yashodhara who raised her son single-handedly and sought answers within the palace walls. A recluse, she now becomes the protagonist of playwright, scholar and artiste Gowri Ramnarayan’s dance drama ‘Yashodhara’. 

Narrated by Gowri herself as sutradhar, portrayed by Mythili Prakash through dance, set to verse by poet Maithili Sharan Gupt and rendered by Carnatic vocalist Nisha Rajagopalan, the multi-genre performance is thought provoking.

Inspired by a beautiful carving on one of the pillars at the entrance of the Sanchi shrine, Gowri says her thoughts travelled to the era when Yashodhara was won in a swayamvar by prince Siddhartha.

“Like any tender girl in her youth, Yashodhara must have dreamt of a joyous life with her husband. But her happiness would have turned to grief when, one night, Siddhartha left her and their infant son, Rahul, in search of nirvana,” narrates Gowri.

Yashodhara, as an artist, paints a portrait of her husband as she pines for him and tries to understand why he stole away in the middle of the night, without confiding in her.

This pathos was represented in a soulful abhinaya by Mythili, whose gestures defined Yashodhara’s grief. What added a special dimension to the performance was the choreography. Though Sharan Gupt’s verses were not meant to be sung, Gowri has taken up the challenge with verve.

Through her narrative, Gowri not only spearheads the performance but also keeps the audience glued to their chairs. It is her art of superb storytelling that raises the pertinent question: Was Buddha right to make his wife a victim in his search for
enlightenment?

Consumed by grief, Yashodhara must still smile for the sake of her son, Rahul. To paint a picture of his father, she narrates stories of compassionate Siddhartha to Rahul. She waits for her husband in the hope that once he attains his goal, he will return.

The final act is a revelation. Yashodhara discovers that in the process of painting her husband Siddhartha, she has painted Gautama Buddha!

When Yashodhara realises that her husband will not return, she burns in misery — circled by eight earthen lamps. But her misery vanishes when Buddha returns to Kapilavastu and seeks forgiveness. Yashodhara leads Rahul to his father in the form of a young monk and she herself renounces all worldly ties.

However, the question whether Siddhartha was fair in overlooking his filial responsibilities, lingers in the mind of the audience long after the curtains come
down. And in that is the play’s triumph.

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