The Role of the Vidushaka

Seeing my posts on Facebook, people are confused as to which party I support, as I make fun of everybody. My standard reply is that I am a liberal leftist as far as political leaning is concerned, with an intense hatred for fundamentalism, be it religious or secular. However, that does not prevent me from cracking jokes at liberal leftists also – because I tend to see the absurd and ridiculous in all things, myself not excluded. This is the way I am built.

Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s spinster detective, says often: “You know, I don’t usually find people either good or bad – just incredibly silly.” This happens with me quite often, especially when I listen to the pompous and self-important speech of politicians. Once you pull back from your emotional reaction and detach the words from their rhetorical context, the first thing I feel is a need to laugh.

The world is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think – Aristotle.

Yes indeed!

***

The Vidushaka is the “Court Jester” in Sanskrit drama. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The vidushaka (clown) is a noble, good-hearted, blundering fool, the trusted friend of the hero. A bald-headed glutton, comic in speech and manners, he is the darling of the spectators.

Chakyar in his distinctive attire (image courtesy: The Hindu)

Malayalis are familiar with the Vidushaka in the guise of the Chakyar. The “Chakyar Koothu” is a famous form of satirical drama in Kerala, where the distinctively dressed Chakyar narrates tales from Hindu mythology on the stage, many a time acting out the various parts himself. The distinctive feature of this performance is the funny twist he gives to many stories. All the mythical figures (especially the villains of the piece) are interpreted in a satirical way. Even the great tragedies become comedies.

The Chakyar also makes fun of the audience, comparing them to mythical characters, sometimes addressing them directly and making pithy statements. There will also be plenty of social satire: mythical situations are interpreted in the light of current political realities. The significant point to be noted is that the Chakyar is beyond criticism. In earlier days, kings used to be present for the performance, and many a time they were openly ridiculed – but none of them talked back. If one does so, the Chakyar will no longer perform at that venue.

One can see how this must have served the purpose of feedback to the ruling class. The things people were afraid to say in public, the Chakyar told the king to his face: and he had to bear it with a stiff upper lip. And the humour took away any possible rancour which could have spoiled the situation. By laughing at himself, the king presumably was allowed revisit his policies with the emotional baggage stripped away. Because, as H. L. Mencken said: “One horse-laugh is worth ten-thousand syllogisms.”

***

I try to imagine myself in the role of the Vidushaka on the internet.  So laugh with me (and at me), while I laugh at myself and the world! Rest assured, it will improve your mental and physical health.

The Chakyar has spoken.

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By nandakishorevarma Posted in General

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