NAGAMANDALA BY GIRISH KARNAD
‘Nagamandala‘ is a two-act play written by the well known Indian playwright and actor Girish Karnad in 1987-88 and published in 1988. Nagamandala means ‘a play with cobra‘.
Nagamandala was basically a Kannada play, then was translated into English. The play blends history with mythical elements. The story of Nagamandala is taken from a Kannada folklore which Karnad heard from the poet A K Ramanujan.
The narrator of Nagamandala is ‘the story’ and is narrated to a man.
‘Nagamandala’ hangs around Rani, the protagonist, her husband’s indifferent attitude towards her and her incognizant affair with King Cobra.
Rani looses her husband, Appanna, to a concubine and becomes anxious about the situation. Kurudavva, an old blind lady, advises Rani to use two magical roots, a small one and a big one, which can enchant her husband back to herself.
When the small one fails, she decides to use the big one. But she is reluctant to fascinate her husband by this way. She determines to allure Appanna the other way, by love and affection, instead. So, she pours the paste of the root mixed in curry into an ant hill where a king cobra consumes it.
The King Cobra (Naga) assumes the appearance of Appanna and replaces him at nights. Rani gets pregnant by the Naga. Appanna gets enraged by her suspicious conception and brings Rani to village elders where she takes oath on a cobra on the advice of Naga. The elders believe her to be of divine birth as the cobra moves around her neck like a garland and her innocence is proved. Appanna finally accepts her and the child and they lead a happy life.
The narrator of Nagamandala is ‘the story’ and is narrated to a man. The main characters of Nagamandala are the Naga and Rani.
There is a couple, Appanna and Rani, in a village. Appanna’s illegitimate affair with a concubine keeps him away from Rani. He spends most of his time away and visits home only during lunch. Rani is locked up inside the home. Their married life begins to ruin.
Rani longs for her husband’s love but finds no development in Appanna’s daily routines. Appanna would always yell at Rani even during the small amount of time he spends with her. She receives no love and liberty in the house. No one is there to support her there. At any cost, Rani wants to win back her husband.
Kurudavva, an old blind lady, and her son Kappanna come to meet Appanna at his house one day. They find the house is closed. They discuss Appanna’s infamous activities with his concubine. Rani hears this and comes to the window. Kurudavva learns Rani’s pathetic situation. She gives her two love roots and advises to drug her husband with the roots, first to try the small one and then the big one.
The small root is mixed with milk and given to Appanna, but nothing changes in his routine. Then she decides to use the big root mixed in curry. But she looses hope to win her husband in this way, so she pours it into an ant hill where a King Cobra, the Naga of the title, resides. Naga consumes the curry and is overpowered by the strength of the magical root. At once, Naga falls into her love. He begins to follow Rani.
Naga takes the form of Appanna and visits Rani at nights. He approaches her in a romantic way and she is left speechless. She is happy with the absolute bliss and lays her head on his shoulder. He promises to visit her during nights. Naga vanishes at the sunrise.
When her husband behaves in the same way unchanged during the day, she imagines her bliss at night is a dream. But she again enjoys the pleasure again during the following night when Naga visits her in Appanna’s form. She enquires why he is brutal during the day and gentle during night or whether it was a dream last night. He replies that it is absolutely true and advises not to suspect it. Unaware the truth behind, she is convinced to go on with whatever comes on to her.
Rani notices blood on Naga’s body. She hurries to bring ointment. She sees the cobra reflection in the mirror box. She screams and says Naga that she has found a cobra reflection in the mirror right at the same place he is sitting now. But she can find no snake there when turns back. She applies ointment on his body. Naga vanishes with the sunrise.
Kurudavva and Kappanna come to visit Rani. They scream outside seeing a cobra coming out of Rani’s bathroom drainage. Rani finds her husband is not at home. Kurudavva says that she has been there for half an hour, but Appanna is not seen coming out of the house. Rani is confused.
At noon, Kappanna visits home. She yells at Rani as his dog is found dead. Next day, he brings a mongoose to home. Within a day of time it is also injured by something. That night, Naga does not come. His absence continues for two more weeks as he is injured severely on account of his fight with mongoose.
Almost after two weeks, Naga visits Rani and is informed of her pregnancy. Naga is not happy. Naga disappears and Appanna appears. He is enraged coming to know about Rani’s pregnancy. They are not together in bed for long time. So, he accuses her a harlot and declares to take her to Panchayat. He locks her down into the house and leaves.
At night, Naga appears. She lashes him with a plenty of questions about his behaviour that day. Naga convinces her and advises her on what to do in the Panchayat to prove her innocence.
In meantime, Kurudavva is restless, walking here and there, because of her son Kappanna is missing for one week. Rani seeks Kurudavva’s help in the Panchayat. But it seems impossible.
At the Panchayat, Rani pulls out a cobra from an ant hill and takes an oath on it promising that she has not touched anybody till the day except her husband and that snake. The snake moves around her neck like a garland. From this incident, the Panchayat declares that she is of a divine birth and comes to a conclusion that Rani is not a whore and thus her innocence is proved. Appanna is now ready to accept her.
Both Appanna and Rani begin a happy life with the new born child. One night, Naga appears again. Rani is found in the bed with her husband. Naga intends to kill her, but changes his thought out of love. He takes the form of a small snake and hides in her long hair.
She wakes up and feels her hair is unusually weighing. She combs her hair and a small dead cobra falls down. Appanna is happy that their son is saved from cobra; she is a goddess, he says. Rani requests to perform a ritual for the cobra on this day every year to which Appanna gladly agrees.
When the story (the narrator of Nagamandala) ends its story, the listener (the man) does not accept the conclusion. He provides his own conclusion: When Rani finds the cobra falling down from her hair, it is alive. Appanna tries to kill the snake. But Rani takes the cobra and hides it in her long hair again. At the end of ‘Nagamandala’, all live a happy life.