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Venisamhara of Bhatta Narayana

Venisamhara is the only known work of Bhatta Narayana. But there are reasons to believe that he must have written other works as well. Bhatta Narayana belonged to the 6th or the 7th century CE.

The plot of Venisamhara (Binding of Hair) is based mainly on the episode in the Mahabharata of Bhima taking a vow that he would tie up the tresses of Draupadi with the blood drawn from the thighs of Duryodhana. The playwright takes liberties with the original episode in maturing omissions, additions and variation. The play consists of six acts.

Composed in six acts, the work dramatizes the incidents of Yudhishthira losing Draupadi in the game of dice; Dushasana insulting Draupadi in the presence of elders and attempting to disrobe her, through without success; and the Pandava hero Bhima swearing to braid Draupadi’s hair (veni) with his own hands with Duryodhana’s blood. The vira-rasa (heroic statement), mixed with fury and violence, is delineated in this drama. The entire Mahabharata war is succinctly dramatized in this work, culminating in Bhima fulfilling his pledge. The author’s erudition in all the systems of Hindu philosophy and his acquaintance with the enormous mass of the Puranic lore are evident in the drama.

The mention of Draupadi swearing that she would not tie her hair loosened by Duhshasana while dragging her to the royal assembly from her apartment is not found in most of the recensions of the Mahabharata. This became a popular legend only after this drama.

The drama basically deals with the final war that takes place during the narrative in the Mahabharata and incidents like the game of dice are recalled only in conversations.

Rhetoricians say that there should be suspense till the last act so that the play holds the interest of the spectators. Accordingly, the dramatist introduces a character called Charvaka in the last act and he informs Yudhishthira that Duryodhana is coming with Bhima’s blood in his hands. Unable to bear this news, Yudhishthira decides to immolate himself. But on seeing Bhima he mistakes him to be Duryodhana and is about to let off an arrow against him. Sahadeva brings Charvaka to the scene (who confesses to his falsehood) and Yudhishthira understands the machinations of Duryodhana.

The drama is much quoted in manuals of rhetoric of Vamana, Anandavardhana, Ruyyaka, Namisadhu, Kshemendra, Mammata, Dhananjaya etc.

There is plenty of action in the drama but little actual movement on the stage. Characterization is not the strong point of Bhatta Narayana. This does not mean that he has not the capacity to paint the characters. Heroic and pathetic sentiments run side by side.

Dhananjaya, following Anandavardhana, has drawn many verses from the drama to illustrate different emotions.

The action though polished and powerful is labored.

Scholars have expressed their difficulty in identifying the hero of the drama – whether it is Bhima or Dharmaputra? There are episodes example – Duryodhana and Bhanumati, which are irrelevant to the main action of the play. It is said that Duryodhana alone has secured the best attention of the playwright. The play is noted not so much for innovative ideas but for dramatic devices.