22 June, 2021

The Myth Of Unfreedom

An eclectic and incisive tract

The Myth Of Unfreedom
In 1995 historian Romila Thapar delivered a lecture during the tenth anniversary celebrations of Kali for Women. The exercise led to a brilliant essay on the Sakuntala myth. It is, as the preface says, not a definitive study of all the available narratives on the theme and their treatment through the ages. It is, rather, an effort to show how, "when a theme changes in accordance with its location at a historical moment, the change can illumine the moment, and the moment, in turn, may account for the change". The essay largely comments on the different versions of Kalidasa's Abhigyan Sakuntalam.

The first section offers links between history, gender and culture; the second discusses the narrative vis-a-vis the Mahabharata and the last deals with how, in time, the various commentaries (10th to 16th C) chose to interpret the theme and how four popular versions in Bengali, Brajbhasha, Kashmiri and a Dravidian language came to be. These versions reflected popular tastes and the dominant social norms. Thus, in the early 18th century version (ordained by the Mughal emperor...

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