Summary: Urubhangam

Urubhangam is an unusual play in the corpus of classical Sanskrit dramas.  Most famous of its quirks is its portrayal of Duryodhana’s death on stage, in explicit defiance of the prohibition of such a dramatic device by the Natyashastra.  One thing that the conflict between the Natyashastra and Urubhangam suggests is that Bhasa was active as a playwright before the completion or canonization of the Natyashastra.

The play is also very short.  The representatives of the Sanskrit drama genre, nowadays, are long plays—Shakuntala and Mrcchakatika, etc.  While divided into two acts, Urubhangam is only a few pages long.  Partly because of its length, this play is commonly identified as an anka play, as defined by the Natyashastra.

The play also treats Duryodhana—often regarded as the force of wrong in the Mahabharata—with respect.  In this play, this figure whose obstinacy has led to a cataclysmic war, appears as dignified, self-satisfied, even-tempered, and even wronged by the forces arrayed against him.  Because of the way this play revels in the complicated character of its protagonist, it is often identified as the closest thing in ancient Indian drama to Tragedy.

The play dramatizes a moment in the Mahabharata.  Throughout the war, the principal combatants face off against each other in epic duels.  As the war is exhausting itself, Duryodhana, the leader of the Kaurava faction faces Bhima, a champion of the Pandavas.  Bhima wins this duel, but only by questionable means.




Three Kaurava Soldiers

Duryodhana: King of the Kauravas
Balarama: Advisor to Duryodhana
Dhritarashtra: Duryodhana’s Father
Gandhari: Duryodhana’s Mother
Malavi: Duryodhana’s Wife
Pauravi: Duryodhana’s Wife
Durjaya: Duryodhana’s Son

Ashwatthama: Kaurava Warrior



Prologue: the Director and an Actor alude to the story of the play, and see, offstage, the carnage the war has left.

Act One: Three Kaurava Soldiers describe the ruined battlefield.  They see and describe the duel between Duryodhana and Bhima.  As the Soldiers see it, Bhima falls and Duryodhana refuses to strike him while he is down.  Krishna signals to Bhima to strike Duryodhana on the leg, contrary to the rules of engagement.  Bhima does so.  Duryodhana falls.  Balarama is dismayed.  Bhima and the other Pandavas run away.

Act Two: Balarama approaches Duryodhana, who lies broken on the stage.  Duryodhana refuses to blame Bhima for treachery.  Duryodhana blames divine intervention.  Dhristarashtra enters with Gandhari, Malavi, Pauravi, and Durjaya.  Duryodhana cannot stand to receive his father and must refuse Durjaya’s move to sit in his lap.  Duryodhana’s family laments.  Duryodhana is determined to die proudly.  Duryodhana enjoins Durjaya to obey the Pandavas in his absence.  Ashwatthama enters, raging against the wrongs done to Duryodhana.  Ashwatthama promises to destroy the Pandavas and Krishna.  Duryodhana encourages him to lay down his arms.  Ashwatthama promises to make Durjaya king.  Duryodhana expresses satisfaction over this promise.  Duryodhana sees dead people and dies.  Dhristarashtra goes to the forest.  Ashwatthama goes to kill the Pandavas in their sleep.