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My Final Exam Essay explored the theme of love in the play by Kalidasa called “Urvashi Won by Valor.” In this essay, I decided to discuss the opposite kind of theme, which includes obstacles and struggles of the main characters, their sufferings, and drama.
Overall, since “Urvashi Won by Valor” is a tragic play, struggles, and sufferings of the main protagonists who are desperately trying to be together is a necessary component. In my current essay, I will examine the sufferings and difficulties the characters go through from philosophical, social, and literary points of view. Besides, I will identify the characters with similar stories from Ancient Greek literature in order to compare the messages delivered by the works of different cultures.
Historical Background of the Play
In the history of ancient India, Kalidasa can be referred to as a facilitator of a one-person renaissance since his works made a significant impact on the further development of the Indian drama during the medieval times in India (which occurred much earlier than those in Europe). Currently, Kalidasa is known to be the author of seven outstanding works, among which there are three dramatic plays written in prosaic form, two poems, and two epics.
These are the only works that survived until the present day. The play by Kalidasa called “Urvashi Won by Valor,” also known as “Vikramorvashi,” was written in the fifth century CE. The play belongs to classical Sanskrit drama, which, as a rule, is based on the Vedic stories. In other words, the plot for a classical Sanskrit play was supposed to be well-known and come from such Vedic epics as Mahabharata and Ramayana.
During the medieval times, these texts were the only source of the stories for the plays, this is why the authors were to be inventive and slightly alter or expand the plot of a famous epic, adding some details to make it interesting, authentic, and entertaining. This is exactly what a well-known medieval poet Kalidasa did with the plot taken from a Vedic script. Kalidasa expanded the story, which can be found in Rigveda, turning it from a short dialogue into a proper play with dramatic events, struggles, and obstacles faced by two lovers trying to be together.
“Urvashi Won by Valor,” tells a story of a tragic relationship between a celestial nymph called Urvashi and king Pururavas. The characters develop mutual sympathy from the first glance, and soon their relationships transform into a serious passion, yet being together is a challenge for them since they initially come from different worlds – Pururavas is a human being, while his beloved is a mystical creature.
Over the course of their relationship, the main characters go through a variety of ups and downs, which is the key to a relationship drama. The couple cannot be together due to a number of environmental factors such as the king’s marital status, the nymph’s participation in a play, the fight during the honeymoon in the Himalayan forest, Urvashi’s transformation into a vine, and the curse laid on the couple by the gods.
Before, the lovers finally get to live happily ever after as they have to go through quite a rough series of struggles. In fact, the poet’s transformation of a well-known story from Rigveda is criticized. Kalidasa is accused of turning a beautiful and tragic Vedic story into a simple domestic drama, quite primitive and filled with a variety of new characters such as the clown, the queen, the gem of reunion, and the ending of the story (Ryder 119).
It turns out that the original story of Urvashi and Pururavas is even more tragic since they never get to have a relationship, and the nymph leaves her beloved telling him that love between two creatures of different worlds is never meant to survive and even friendship between them is impossible because the hearts of women are just like those of hyenas (Ryder 120).
The Role of Sufferings in the Play
The original story of love between a mortal king and an immortal celestial nymph is tragic as the characters never find happiness regardless of all the struggles they cope with. Kalidasa’s version of the same story was planned as entertainment, this is why it was simplified and enriched with multiple details and plot twists.
Kalidasa’s version is more adventurous and naïve. The source of the obstacles in the relationship between Pururavas and Urvashi are of a natural and mystical character. For example, the birth leaf on which Urvashi writes a message for the king gets carried away by the wind and gets in the hands of the queen’s maid, the nymph accidentally names her beloved immortal during the play in paradise, she mystically gets transformed into a vine in the forest after entering a forbidden territory, the king by accident finds a gem of reunion and magically locates a vine that reminds him of his beloved woman, the gem mysteriously gets stolen by a vulture and found by Urvashi’s son.
The sufferings in the play develop in cyclic patterns, which basically presents an ancient version of a soap opera where two characters keep struggling to be together and coping with one obstacle after another. The role of such a transformation of the story helped Kalidasa make his play more attractive for the viewers who were supposed to worry and sympathize with the miserable couple and the dramatic relationship.
The accidental troubles facing Urvashi and Pururava get solved in the same mysterious manner making the main protagonists passive and non-influential in their own love story since all the obstacles to their love are inflicted and resolved by other characters, objects, or external circumstances such as the gods of Paradise, the wind, a bird, or a magic gem.
The play by Kalidasa is a tragedy that slightly resembles the literature of ancient Greece. For deeper analysis, the characters of another tragic love story (that of Orpheus and Eurydice) are compared to those of “Urvashi Won by Valour.” The story of ordeals of Orpheus and Eurydice, just like the struggles of Urvashi and Pururava, is filled with sad twists and unfair obstacles. Eurydice is forced to the kingdom of Hades since she accidentally dies from a poisonous snake bite.
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Having lost his beloved woman, Orpheus, just like Pururava, becomes desperate and starts to search for her. The scene of Pururava’s madness when he loses his mind unable to tolerate the loss of Urvashi is one of the most famous parts of “Urvashi Won by Valor.”
Orpheus’s reaction is similar, he is willing to put his life to save his beloved dryad, so he enters the dire underworld and faces a number of dangerous creatures looking for the ruler Hades. Just like the original story of Urvashi and Pururava, Orpheus and Eurydice are never meant to be together, having gone through a huge number of obstacles Orpheus loses the love of his life forever on the way back from the underworld (Love Stories of Greek Myth par. 8).
Sinha compares Urvashi with Phaedra from the tragedy “Hippolytus,” noting that the heroine could be viewed from two sides – as a victim and as a crafty seductress (122). Truly, Urvashi is quite irresponsible, charming married king, who is also a mortal man. Besides, she fails as a mother abandoning her child for the sake of being with a man.
Urvashi deliberately refuses to develop her relationship with the kind and sacrifices her son for her own happiness, which is hardly a choice of a good and responsible mother. Just like Phaedra, Urvashi can be viewed not as a victim of obstacles but as their creator when she irresponsibly left her man during the honeymoon at the forest driven by unreasonable jealousy.
The original plot of the love story between Urvashi and Pururava found in Rigveda emphasizes the impossibility of a relationship of a mortal being and an immortal creature, which is the key to dissonance in the world’s order and hierarchy that leads to chaos. The transformed plot presented by Kalidasa in the form of a play depicts suffering as an inevitable part of any relationship. Kalidasa shows that love is a delight, and it worth fighting for, yet it has an underside that carries pain, stress, and sadness.
Kalidasa’s story, even though it ends well, is a demonstration of a quintessential relationship that is built of ups and downs and has a cyclic nature, so happiness and sufferings replace one another time after time transforming a love story into a carousel that never stops turning, a powerful mechanism that sucks the participants in and makes them face one struggle after the other in exchange of moments of pleasure and utter joy. The author may have created a medieval soap opera of a play, but he definitely succeeded at portraying the dual nature of love that is both painful and delightful, that hurts regardless of the higher social background or divine nature of a participator.
In conclusion, the play called “Urvashi Won by Valor” written by Kalidasa, a famous poet of medieval India, presents a love story of a celestial nymph Urvashi and a mortal king Pururava who have to go through a great number of obstacles and experience a great deal of sufferings before they finally can unite and live together happily. The plot of the play was taken from a Vedic text and transformed into a dramatic adventure of a couple.
The play carries a message that love has dual nature, and it is as painful as it is delightful. The main protagonists of the play demonstrate that love and relationships are problematic and sometimes extremely challenging for everyone – even for kings and divine creatures. Finally, the title of the play notes that the king conquered the nymph by means of his bravery and persistence, yet Urvashi, often immature and irrational, showed an equal amount of endurance fighting for her relationship.
Love Stories of Greek Myth. Greek Mythology. 2011.
Ryder, Arthur. Kalidasa: Translations of Shakuntala, and Other Works. Library of Alexandria, 1920. Print.
Sinha, Bijon. Innocent victim or scheming seductress?: Euripides’ Phaedra (Hippolytus) and Kalidas’s Urvashi (Vikramorvasiyam): a comparative study of two tragic heroines. Coimbra, Portugal: Coimbra University Press, 2015. Print.