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Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 102-104

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The Wedding of Arjuna and Subhadra: The Kutiyattam Drama Subhadra Dhananjaya (Text with Vicaratilaka commentary, introduction, English translation, and notes). Translated and introduced by N.P. Unni and Bruce M. Sullivan. Delhi: Nag Publishers, 2001. 282 pp. Price NA

Kulasekhara Varman's drama Subhadra-Dhananjaya (c. tenth century) is one of the most important in the repertory of the kutiyattam temple theatre of Kerala, South India, and the only surviving form of what once was a pan-Indian tradition of classical Sanskrit theatre. The acts describing the love story of Dhananjaya (Arjuna, the Mahabharata hero) and Subhadra (god Krsna's sister) have been staged for centuries. And the drama's second act also has given rise to nangyar kuttu, a solo performance by kutiyattam actresses (nangyar) enacting the story of Krsna's life (Sri Krsnacaritam).

The book under review here falls into three main parts. A lengthy introductory section presents basic facts about Subhadra-Dhananjaya and its author, whose identity is still in question, written by N. P. Unni. It also includes a section on the kutiyattam tradition by Bruce M. Sullivan. Next is a part containing the original text of Subhadra-Dhananjaya followed by its English translation with notes. The final section contains the Sanskrit text of Sivarama's Vicaratilaka commentary on the Subhadra-Dhananjaya and a note about him by N. P. Unni. The book concludes with a bibliography. This publication could be considered an enlarged edition of an earlier one, Kulasekhara Varman's Subhadradhananjayam (1987), edited by T. Ganapati Sastri with an introduction by N. P. Unni. That book consists of an introduction by Unni (pp. 1-64), [End Page 102] the Sanskrit texts of the drama, and the Vicaratilaka commentary. The present book's introduction is literally the same as that in the previous publication; the new material is Sullivan's contribution. Also new are the English translation and notes. One can only regret that the Sanskrit version of the play lacks the critical remarks and references to various readings presented in the earlier edition. Information concerning the manuscripts used for the current edition would be greatly appreciated as well, especially by Sanskrit scholars.

Bruce M. Sullivan, discussing an interesting problem of character and identity in kutiyattam, gives a lucid overview of this theatre's tradition. Nevertheless I would like to comment on his doubts about calling kutiyattam "Sanskrit drama" (pp. 58-59). The term "Sanskrit drama" denotes not only a play's language but all kinds of rules and conventions to be followed. A language convention is that the plays use both Prakrits (the literary vernaculars) and Sanskrit, since not all dramatis personae are allowed to use the latter. Though the Vidusaka, the Jester, who speaks mainly Sanskritized Malayalam (Manipravalam), dominates the kutiyattam stage, he still quotes Sanskrit stanzas and —even in his solo performances (kuttu)—makes comments not related to the text. What is more, his presence accords with Bharata's Natyasastra, the fundamental treatise on Sanskrit theatre. Kutiyattam essentially operates within the conventions prescribed for classical Sanskrit theatre. The unique language of gestures employed in kutiyattam supports the spoken lines and reveals the richness of their ideas and visual images. Kutiyattam is deeply rooted in Kerala's historical and cultural environment from which the performers—cakyar (actors), nangyar (actresses), and nampyar (musicians)—have drawn a lot. Moreover, they keep referring to their native habitat—leading to many peculiarities in staging kutiyattam's Sanskrit dramas not dictated by the Natyasastra. Nonetheless it is still appropriate to call kutiyattam "Sanskrit drama" or "Sanskrit theatre."

N. P. Unni and Bruce M. Sullivan's translation of Subhadra-Dhananjaya is its first rendering in English. English readers have an opportunity to get acquainted with the original love story of the eponymous characters. In this readable translation, the translators focus on delivering the story's main line and do not explore the subtleties of the poetry. Occasionally it renders the original freely, and typical errors crop up occasionally. A literal rendering is to be avoided, of course, especially...