Though chronologically his third, Rishyashringa (1970) is Chandrasekhara Kambar’s first major play, while Mahmoud Gawan happens to be his latest. I feel happy that these two important works of Kambar have been ably translated into English by Krishna Manavalli, and published as Two Plays.

Kambar published his manifesto-like long poem, Helathena Kela (Listen, I Will Tell You) in 1964. His major themes, concerns and motifs are introduced powerfully in this poem. Rooted in his folk tradition and creatively employing the native idiom and storytelling mode, Kambar creates a myth in Helatini Kela, the nuances of which are explored further in many of his future works.

This narrative poem is set in the fictional space of Shivapura. Most of Kambar’s works are set in this space. In Helathena Kela, the Gowda, the chieftain of Shivapura village, is killed by a Rakshasa. The Rakshasa (the foreign/Western demon) enters the village from outside in the guise of the Gowda and begins to rule both the latter’s household and the village.

Gowda’s wife is now the wife of this Rakshasa. Their relationship results in the birth of a son who is named Balagonda. Not only this poem, but also many other works of Kambar’s explore the theme of the colonial conquest in multiple forms and multiple angles.


Balagonda is the central character in Rishyashringa. The play is designed as a sequel to Helathena Kela. Kambar has made use of the native dramatic forms successfully here. However, his modern sensibility has made Rishyashringa a modern play. Memories of Oedipus and Hamlet are evoked. The interplay between mythical imagination and modern sensibility has resulted in a work which is at once contemporary and universal.

Balagonda is sent to a school away from Shivapura. The village, which is facing a waste land kind of a situation because of famine, is desperately waiting for the return of Balagonda. The villagers think that he can redeem their hopeless condition devoid of creativity and fertility. The pan-Indian myth of Rishyashringa, the bringer of rain, gets localised in this way.

But Balagonda is not as pure as Rishyashringa. His very birth is illicit. Kambar, the creative artist, problematises the character of Balagonda and the notion of the liberation of Shivapura community. This liberation demands new forms of violence and new sacrifices.

Mahmoud Gawan

Though Kambar’s works go back to folk myths, legends, local forms of narration and dramaturgy, he has also successfully drawn from contemporary and historical sources. Mahmoud Gawan is one such play. His imagination, language and diction operate in new ways here. This play does not present history in a linear fashion but creates a new alchemy with the creative mixture of local myths and legends. Here, gods take human forms. Many events challenge logic. Allah and Vitthala become one. The author attempts to infuse idealism with historical reality.

Mahmoud Gawan is set in the fifteenth-century political space of the Bahamani Sultanate. Mohamoud Gawan hears about the great Sufi saint Bande Nawaz and arrives in Hindustan. He thinks of this place as an idealised space where “people live together with a thousand different faiths and a hundred philosophies.” He becomes the Diwan of the Bahamani empire but soon falls victim to political jealousy. His end is tragic. Kambar’s work reflects a balance between the ideal and the real.

It is always a challenge to translate the works of Kambar. Krishna Manavalli has been immensely successful not only in translating the folk language and diction of these plays, but also in recreating Kambar’s literary world in a new language. She has invested her fine literary sensibilities and earlier experience of translating Kambar’s novels in these two plays.

Besides, we must remember that Kambar’s use of language in the two plays is different. The translator is sensitive to such differences and retains their respective flavours in her translation. She has been able to catch the rhythm of the speech in the original plays. In fact, it is this rhythm which is the soul of Kambar’s work. Manavalli has taken Kambar’s plays to a larger readership in a highly commendable manner.

Two Plays, Chandrasekhara Kambar, translated into English by Krishna Manavalli, Penguin Books.