We can summarize Shankaradeva’s contribution to Assamese culture in two points.
- First, Shankaradeva propagated Vaisnavism in Assam in the 15th and 16th centuries.
- Second, he promoted the creed of Vaisnavism through Boorgeet and Ankiya Nats. Both Borgeet and one-act plays are his creations.
He borrowed the plot for his one-act plays from other religious texts. However, he twisted and mingled certain additional elements to cater to the taste of the common folk of Assam.
Ankiya Nats are one-act plays that primarily focus on the supremacy of lord Krishna or Rama. He has written his plays in Vrajavali or Brajabuli.
He has written 6 Ankiya Nats, and some of them are Kali Damana Yatra, Rama Vijaya Nataka, and Parijata Harana.
In this blog post, I will discuss topics related to Parijata Harana.
Shankaradeva’s Parijata Harana Summary
Shankaradeva’s Parijata Harana retells two stories from the Bhagavata and the Vishnu Puranas (Smith 18). We can summarize the play in the following paragraphs:
In the first part of the play, Narada offers a divine flower to Krishna. Krishna places it in Rukmini’s hair on request. Narada also goes to Satyabhama to provoke her about the flower.
The king of the gods, Indra, requests help from Lord Krishna. The demon Narakasura attacks his palace and seizes their belongings. In the hour of need, Lord Krishna pacifies him and ensures that he will end the atrocities of Naraka. Therefore, Krishna defeats Narakasura and restores harmony in heaven.
In the second part, Satyabhama demands the flower. Consequently, Krishna steals the parijata tree from Sachi’s garden for Satyabhama. It induces a fight between the two divine figures: Krishna and Indra.
Though Indra fights with the mighty Krishna, Indra accepts his defeat in the end. He offers Krishna the parijata tree, and he happily takes it. Krishna plants the tree by the door of Satyabhama’s residence and fulfills his wife’s wish.
Analysis of Parijata Harana
The Character of Narada
Narada as an informer
In the play, Narada plays the role of an informer, instigator, and mischief-maker.
It is Narada who first shares the information with Krishna about the chaos that Narakasura creates in heaven. Later, he continues to be an informer throughout the play. Before the battles between Indra and Krishna, he carries the messages between both parties.
However, Narada is not just a plain informer. He usually alters the statements of the speakers and adds his own. For instance, when he goes to Amaravati to bring the parijata, Shachi denies offering to him. She says one must have various merits and be a resident of Amaravati to have the flower.
Narada alters the statement of Shachi and tells both Krishna and Satyabhama that Shachi has meditated, and after ages of persistence, she became the mistress of Amaravati and worthy of the Parijata tree.
He says that he is miserable and ashamed to make Satyabhama feel bad. Narada tells “when I heard the goddess’s curses, my heart burned” (Shankaradeva 42) to add fuel to Satyabhama’s sentiment.
Narada is not just a liar but also a mischief-maker. He glorifies the parijata tree profusely to create a desire of having the flower in Rukmini. He says that a woman will enjoy the enormous benefits to attract the attention of Rukmini.
He becomes successful in his intention. The reason is after listening to the marvelous qualities of the flower, Rukmini requests Krishna to give her the flower.
The next thing Narada does is inform Satyabhama about her rival’s possession. He lies to Satyabhama that he told Krishna that she deserves the flower.
Narada re-stresses the same point to Satyabhama that having a wonderful flower will make a woman fortunate. He makes her feel insecure by telling her that Krishna did not consider his opinion that Satyabhama deserves the flower. He fuels her with jealousy by telling her Krishna fixes the divine flower in Rukmini’s hair “with his own hand with great affection. Oh, yours is an unlucky life” (Shankaradeva 30).
Before revealing the flower, he first makes her feel nervous and arouses curiosity in her by averting his face and remaining silent to create curiosity in her. He says, “I have witnessed the dire deeds of your Krishna. Mother, you are unfortunate” (30).
He also says, “O dear, fate certainly has not been kind to you! Mother, what can I say, it pains me to have to tell you this” (30).
He exploits Satyabhama’s insecurity. Therefore, he uses words such as “unfortunate”, and “unlucky life” in the conversation to make her feel insecure.
Had he not provoked Satyabhama and made her feel jealous, she would not have desired the flower. As a result, there will not be any fight between the divine figures. We see his intention to create a clash in his support of Satyabhama.
When Shachi rejects to give parijata for her being unworthy of it, Satyabhama in a rage orders Krishna to fetch it for her immediately. Narada repeats the same to support her.
He also carries the message of Satyabhama’s miserable condition to Krishna. Narada himself advised Krishna to go to his wife. Later, he criticizes Krishna for staying with her. Narada reminds Krishna that he is keeping aside his promise to Indra and agreeing to take Satyabhama to Kamrup.
If we consider Narada’s importance in the play’s context, then we will find without him, the nataka is incomplete. If Narada is not there to incite Satyabhama, then she would not demand the parijata from Krishna.
As a result, Krishna steals the parijata. Provoking Satyabhama is the first step in the play’s action, and Narada does this. The playwright uses the character of Narada to trigger the action. Therefore, we can assert Narada plays a crucial role in the play.
Watch the summary below
The Role of Satyabhama
Satyabhama plays the role of an insecure, headstrong woman who demands to have the divine flower at any cost.
After Narada provokes her, she felt envious that she should have the flower instead of Rukmini. When Krishna promises her he would bring the whole tree, she is unconvinced and demands to fulfill his promise soon.
When Krishna tells her he has to help the gods first and therefore he needs to go to Kamrupa. Satyabhama is stubborn and goes with her husband. She is afraid that her husband might give the flower to some other co-wife.
Satyabhama continues to show her insecurity until the end of the play. Krishna mistakenly plants it by his door, Satyabhama feels dissatisfied and asks him again to plant it before her door. She is doubtful since Krishna has many co-wives, therefore there is a probability of stealing the flower from his home.
When Shachi accuses Krishna of flirting with other women, she too does not cease there. Satyabhama too accuses Indra of seducing Ahalya and other dancing girls.
Satyabhama becomes so possessive about the flower that she asks her husband to take the tree from heaven at any cost. Because of her, Krishna steals the parijata tree. Yet, she does not feel shameful about it. She says to Shachi that it is an act of heroism.
Satyabhama does that just to satisfy her ego, when Shachi denies giving parijata, She feels offended and demands her husband to take the tree right now.
She exhibits authoritativeness when Krishna asks Indra to take the tree back. She scowls at Krishna, “What right do you have to give away my parijata?” (49).
The character of Shachi
Shachi is the prideful wife of Indra and the owner of the parijata tree.
Until she is aware of Satyabhama’s desire, we see one aspect of her nature. when Satyabhama visits Amaravati, she greets Satyabhama by embracing her.
Later, when Satyabhama and Krishna trespass on her property, it enrages her. Shachi insults Indra about his worth and pressurizes Indra to bring her possession.
Becasuse of her Indra fights with Krishna. She provokes her husband.
She says, “Husband, is a mortal being taking away the parijata tree in your presence? What are you good for? What’s the use of your thunderbolt?” (43).
When his wife incites him, how can he live peacefully?
She also tells him, “You are not a hero at all! It’s a mockery to call you Indra.” (45) If his wife questions his manliness, how can he be inactive?
Shachi stirs her husband to fight with Krishna who just who has just saved them and Amaravati from the threat of Naraka. It evinces her ignorance. She evinces her ignorance again when she accuses Krishna of being licentious.
The Battle between Krishna and Indra over the Parijata Flower
When the sentinels inform Shachi about the theft of the celestial tree parijata tree, she enrages her. She urges her husband Indra to bring her parijata back. As a result, Indra Indra goes on his elephant, Airavata, to bring back the tree.
Indra becomes arrogant and challenges the lord from whom he earlier asked for help.
Indra tries to intimidate Krishna by telling him he would finish his life. He shoots his sharp arrows at Krishna. Seeing them, Krishna too fires off arrows. They break all the shafts and he cannot face Krishna’s arrows. They strike Indra and penetrate his breast with bolts. Consequently, Indra falls unconscious, and however, he quickly gets up.
He does not quit and again threatens Krishna to finish his life with his thunderbolt if he does not return him the parijata. As a last resort, Indra throws a thunderbolt at Krishna. It cannot do anything to Krishna and he faces it with no effort. To finish his arrogance and ignorance, Krishna raises his discus. Seeing the discussion, Indra becomes terrified and flees on his elephant Airavata. Krishna runs after him and laughs at him. Indra accepts his defeat and realizes his mistake of fighting with the lord and requests for forgiveness which Krishna does it easily.
The fight scene plays an important part in the play. This is one of the main actions that stress the main idea of the play, that Krishna is the supreme lord of the universe. I have discussed this in the analysis part below.
A critical appreciation of the play or Parijata Harana as an ankiya nat
Shankaradeva’s Parijata Harana is an ankiya nat. The term ‘Anka’ means one-act play (Smith 16).
Unlike Sanskrit plays, Shankaradeva wrote the play in Vrajavali or Assamese Brajabuli. It is a blending of “Maithili, Assamese, Braj Bhasha, and sometimes other languages” (17)
Since we are reading a translated version of the play, therefore we do not see what the language looks like. However, to get a glimpse, we can say that it has similar to the Assamese language.
Since Shankaradeva mainly composed it of the Assamese for the people of Assam, it has a certain motif. The motto is to propagate Vaisnavism.
He exercises Vaisnavism through the dramatic technique of “recurrence or reduplication or parallelism” (Das 68). It is a method through which the hero or Krishna in this context, saves everyone from danger and proves that he is the supreme lord.
For instance, in the Kaliya Damana Krishna performs his lila twice. First, when goes to rescue his friends who lie unconscious on the bank of Yamuna. He plunges into the poisoned river and fights with the snake. The fight ends with the taming of the snake. The next instance is when Krishna controls the wild forest fire.
Similarly, in Parijata Harana Sankaradeva employs recurrence twice: once in the battle with Naraka and another, when he fights with Indra.
The demon Naraka attacks the city of the gods Amaravati and carries off their possessions. Indra comes to Krishna to seek help. Krishna gives him the word to finish Naraka’s life for good. Krishna goes to Kamrupa to fight the demon. Naraka defeats the gods but he cannot defeat Krishna. Krishna finishes his life and restores peace in Amaravati.
The second instance is not a fight between another demon and a god but between two divine figures.
Indra goes to Krishna to bring the parijata tree from him. He uses his arrows and thunderbolt at Krishna but it does not affect Krishna.
Krishna shoots arrows at Indra which strikes him and uses his discus to finish the fight. This frightens Indra and makes him realize the mistake that he has done by fighting with the lord.
We can also interpret this as lila. Shankardeva wrote the ankiya nats to promote Vaishnavism. It primarily revolves around the lila of Krishna or the portrayal of Krishna as the supreme leader.
Sisir Kumar Das defines lila as “an enactment of God himself to vindicate his divinity and to establish his absolute authority over the world” (Das 60).
Though Indra is the king of gods, Krishna is the supreme god. Shankardeva demonstrates the ideology through the fight. If Indra does not fight, his message will not be clear. Therefore, Shankaradeva employs the character of Indra for the principle of ankiya nat.
Both fight scenes discussed above are ways for the playwright to convey the message, Krishna is the supreme lord. The Sutra comments on visiting Kamrupa as an act of performing lila. None is above him. He is the savior and everyone should bow down to him.
Towards the end of the play, when Satyabhama boasts of having the parijata tree, Rukmini replies in a didactic tone. She says by worshipping Krishna, one can get dharma, artha, kama, and moksha efficiently. In comparison a parijata is nothing. That is the message of the play: nothing is more precious than having the blessings of Krishna.
Like Sanskrit plays, the play begins and ends with a benediction. In the benediction, the director worships Krishna. The not only introduces the play and the characters to the audience, but he also sings, dances, and throws light on the actions. Shankaradeva dispenses the principle of Vaisnavism through the sutradhara or director.
There are some instances in the play, where the sutradhara directly mentions Vaisnavism. For instance, when Krishna goes to Amaravati to return the belongings of the gods from Kamrupa. Sutra tells the audience that Krishna meets Aditi there and he discloses to her “his knowledge and fills her heart with the spirit of Vainavism” (Shankaradeva 40).
Repetition of the principle of Eka Sarana Dharma through the sutradhara throughout the play does the same. For instance, the play ends with a benediction or bhatima,
“Put firm faith in the name of Hari.
It is the name of the King of Dharma.
So says Shankaradeva, the servant of Krishna”
Repeat the name of Rama.” (52)
Significance of the title Parijata Harana/ Importance of Parijata flower in the play
The major portions of the play revolve around the parijata flower. If we remove it from the plot, the play would be only about Krishna destroying the tyranny of Narakasura. and would not be interesting. We must applaud Shankaradeva for interweaving the main plot of the play with the secondary plot.
Parijata tree is a sacred tree, and it is in the city of the gods, Amaravati. Its flower has exceptional qualities. According to the legends, Krishna brings the divine tree to the earth. The play Parijata Harana revolves around the theft of the tree.
Narada first introduces the flower in the first part of the play. He brings a flower from the tree to Krishna. The sage tells Krishna that it has a pleasing fragrance and that the owner of the flower will enjoy wealth, family, and glory. A woman who wears it will be more fortunate than any other woman. Her husband will never her.
This is the beginning of the theft. After hearing the extraordinary qualities of the flower, Rukmini wants to be fortunate. Therefore, she requests her husband to give it to her.
Narada goes to Satyabhama to incite her jealousy. He tells her that Krishna does injustice to her by giving the divine flower to Rukmini. Satyabhama feels humiliated and also demands from her husband.
Initially, Krishna forgets to bring the tree, and later, he orders Narada to bring the tree. According to Shachi, she gets the tree after years of diligence. Therefore, she does not want to share it with any mortal woman like Satyabhama who does not qualify for it. This hurts the ego of Satyabhama and she orders her husband to fetch the tree immediately.
Krishna pulls the tree up and the guardians see them stealing the tree. This induces a duel between Indra and Krishna where Indra accepts his defeat. Later, he presents the tree to Krishna. This is how Krishna brings the celestial tree to the earth.
Therefore, the name ‘harana’ which means stealing perfectly fits in the play. Hence, Shankaradeva has chosen the name Parijata Harana, “The Theft of the Flowering Parijata Tree” (Richmond 82) for his play.
Smith, William L., translator. Parijata Harana Nata. By Shankaradeva. Worldview, 2019.
-,-. Introduction. Parijata Harana Nata. Shankaradeva, Worldview, 2019, pp. 16-18.
Das, Sisir Kumar. “Ankiya Nat and the Medieval Indian Theatre.” Parijata Harana Nata, translated and introduction by William L. Smith. Worldview, 2019, p. 60, 68.
Richmond, Farley. “The Vaisnava Drama of Assam.” Parijata Harana Nata, translated and introduction by William L. Smith. Worldview, 2019, p. 82.