05 March, 2021

The Master’s String

When the Congress, which still doesn’t know how far to use Hindutva, swears by the ‘sacred’ janeu, the theatre turns absurd and the humour dark

Illustration by R. Prasad
The Master’s String

There is a clown, Santushta, in the Sanskrit play Avimaraka by Bhasa, circa 4th century AD. Asked if he was a Brahmin at all, he retorts: “Here, look at my sacred thread!” The sacred thread, he knew, is the supremely unimpeachable proof of elite caste identity for men. But it has other uses as well. In another, more famous Sanskrit play, the Mricchakatika of Shudraka (5th century AD), there is the clever Brahmin called Sarvilaka. He is thievish, and plots against Charudatta, the hero. Sarvilaka wants to break into Charudatta’s house. He identifies a vulnerable spot on the wall, but realises he had forgotten the measuring thread to mark out the area where he could bore a breach. It is all right, he assures himself: he can put his sacred thread to good use! For, the sacred thread is a tool of great help (mahad upakaranam) to Brahmins, especially of his kind! “One can measure a passage in the walls with it, untie the knots of ornaments, open the doors fastened by a bolt and dress the wound of insect- and serpent-bite.” He, accordingly,...

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