Muktidham questions fundamentalism through a historical context
To question in contemporary India is akin to teasing a tiger. Few dare to cross the line, but when they do, it’s within a context. Theatre writer and director Abhishek Majumdar is one among this group that likes to question such idiosyncrasies. This weekend, Majumdar (in association with India Foundation for the Arts) brings to the stage, Muktidham, a Hindi play written and directed by him. The play questions right wing extremism, which has impacted the believer of this ideology. But Majumdar explores this proposition, placing the idea in the context of the 8th century when the Pala Kingdom was ruling large parts of Northern India and a predominantly middle-class segment in the society was emerging.
It’s taken nearly two years for Majumdar to explore the idea, “There has been an ongoing conversation since the right wing came to power, but most of this is on social media — a shorter format that favours simplistic ideas and not the nuances,” he says. It was the Jawaharlal Nehru University episode that prompted him to ruminate further. “I was seeking answers to three questions: where does this notion of ‘we are under threat, we need to respond’ originate? Why has the right wing turned anti-intellectual? What has led to the invention of a situation that justifies extremism?” says Majumdar, recollecting the thoughts in his mind before writing the play.
The story is set in a fictional town called Beerpur and revolves around a matha (Hindu monastery) which is surrounded by Buddhists. The play begins with fervent
recitation of shlokas (chants) in Sanskrit — reminiscent of the opening title track of the popular television series of the 80s, Bharat Ek Khoj. It then introduces the protagonist Agnivesh, one of the scholars in the matha and a likely candidate to succeed Nath Nand. Nath is head of the Matha and is soon to retire to muktidham (abode of salvation). But there is Yuyutsu, another probable candidate. Agnivesh is driven by the ideology of defending the purity of the religion and raising an armed resistance to Buddhism. Yuyutsu on the other hand, wants to open the doors of the matha to lower castes as a political ploy, though he covertly castigates them. Amidst all of this, the women, Nath’s wife Ahilya, and Guruma (female head of the matha) have critical roles to play. “It’s incredible to note how women in the 8th century wielded such power in society. Guruma wears a janaya (sacred thread) and is a master of philosophy who teaches men,” explains Majumdar.
The play essentially attempts to answer the question: what leads a population to want a fundamentalist leader and what is this clash between one’s personal God and the God that rulers want to thrust on the people? “The tiger has teased us enough, now it’s time to tease back,” Majumdar signs off with a smile.
January 27-29. At Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar, 7.30 pm. Tickets (Rs 200) on bookmyshow.com
— Ayesha Tabassum