Jyotiprasad Agarwala was a versatile genius through whom Assamese drama attained creativity, dynamism and modernity. Born in 1903, Agarwala was also a freedom fighter who gave new dimension to the modern Assamese musicology. He was an active satyagrahi who had spread the concept of freedom and the spirit of non violence through many organizational programmes. He composed a good number of patriotic songs during these turbulent days of the freedom movement to inspire the masses of Assam. He created a class of music now known as Jyoti Sangeet. He is also called the father of Assamese film. His sense of patriotism, loyalty to his country and his spirit of service to humanity can be best judged from his poems, stories and songs.
Jyotiprasad Agarwala, emerges as the dramatist with his play “Sunit Kuwari” which was composed by him when he was in his teens. This trend setting play of Assamese drama is a distinct departure from earlier stage directions, settings and music. He was a born poet and this poet in Jyotiprasad drove him to create his play “Sunit Kuwari” which is very lyrical in form. He wrote number of plays amongst them Sunit Kuwari, Karengar Ligiri, Rupalim, Labhita, Khanikar, Nimati kaina, Son Pakhili are remarkable.
Growth of Artistic Temperament in Jyotiprasad Agarwala:
Jyoti Prasad Agarwala was born in a family which assimilated itself into the wide canvas of Assamese society. His great grandfather moved from Rajasthan to Assam in search of his fortune.It was a time when Assam had a rich heritage of classical based traditional music. Devotional Natgeets and Borgeets of the great saints and lyricists Shankardeva and Madhabdeva had already laid a strong foundation for resurgent Bhakti-cult. Jyotiprasad’s father Pramananda Agarwala tried his best to infuse modernity into the rich texture of traditional Assamese folk songs. It inspired young Jyotiprashad to set folk–based tunes in his play Sonit Kuwari. Moreover, the life philosophy of Chandrakumar Agarwala had a far reaching effect on the evocative and the impressionable mind of Jyotiprashad. His sense of selfless patriotism, will power, dedication to duties, his poetry and above all his personality had powerful impact in the forming of psychological makeup of Jyotiprashad. His mother Kironmoyee Agarwala’s inspiration is also remarkable in this regard. He also learnt from his mother who herself was a fine singer of devotional songs, that to love mankind was the essence of religion.
The environment of his home played a significant role in imparting his education. His stay in Edinburgh University, England provided him the opportunity to come into contact with the world’s culture. His extensive reading, necessary experience, new ideas and ideals contribute to extend his mental horizon by stimulating a new spirited vision. The concept of “beauty” he derived from his uncle Chandrakumar Agarwala intermingled with his sense of culture and he began to crave for the total upliftment of the masses. His poem “The Artist’s Journey into Light” reflects the reflective mind of this genius artist - “I am an artist, I take the path of light Eternally meditating on the beautiful With multifaceted beauty I bring joy in fresh games And burn the new light in every house. From the Luit I move to the sea And search for pearls.(p26) Jyotiprasad emerged as a great product of the relentless spirit of his time who was bent on motivating and leading the masses with the concept of music and with the beautiful speeches.
Jyotiprasad rediscovered Srimanta Shankardeva and engaged himself in exploring the literary and artistic potentialities and thus he threw sufficient flood light on the very essence and vitality of our tradition. For him Krishna is the cultural manifestation of mankind who fights against anti-culture. For him journey from ‘Man’ to ‘Humanity’ is essentially a cultural one. Having been inspired by the Chandra Kumar Agarwala’s striking philosophical note ‘the worship of beauty is the game of life’, Jyotiprasad began to find new meaning of beauty and culture. Sri Aurobindo’s theory of salvation for the entire humanity surely had some deep impact in the formation of the creative stage of Jyotiprasad. For him culture stands for light.He was also highly influenced the concept of ‘Krishna-culture’ introduced by Sankardeva. He critically analysed the character of Krishna and for him Krishna is the synonym for culture. In “Silpir Prithivi”(Artist’s World)Jyotiprasad has shown total conception of ‘Krishna-culture’. He was a dreamer who tried his level best to translate his dream into action. “Jyotiprasad’s concept of cultural ideal is associated with the principle of altruism. As all social evils are caused by pseudo-culture in the guise of culture, he urged the artists to act like real doctors who would render their unfailing service for eradication of evils”. (Ahmed 1995:25) Jyotiprasad sings- “Janata tur pranoru pranot Manaru manat Silpiye moi Lukai lukai aasu.” (“O’ my people; being an artist I stay in thy core of heart and mind.”)
Social and Political Consciousness in Jyotiprasad:
Jyotiprasad was born at that period when Assam witnessed the second spell of neo-renaissance. The period witnessed the rise and growth of the feeling of patriotism and nationalism. Though he belonged to an aristocratic tea planter’s family, he could come down to the level of the masses because, the ‘artist’ in him is deeply committed to the causes of society. He was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence teachings and coming back from Europe, he plunged into the National Movement. “A spirit of re-voluntary zeal started imprinting indelibly in his mind and a positive Gandhian philosophy flickered in him a deep sense of burning patriotism.”(Ahmed 1995:33) Gandhi’s incomparable will power, noble sacrifice and strong sense of duty had boosted his feelings and started stimulating his emotive ideas. It inspired him to fight for the freedom his motherland. Amazed by seeing Gandhi’s sheer spiritual power how he could shake the British Empire, Jyotiprasad plunged into the freedom movement actively and inspired the masses through his writings. His songs written with high sounding revolutionary spirit became very popular amongst the masses- “Luitor parore ami dekalora Moriboloi bhoi nai.” (We, the youngmen of the bank of Luit We are not afraid to die.)
Jyotiprasad could not perceive the imperialist oppression on the common people of his motherland and he dedicated himself to drive away ‘duskriti’ (counter-culture) from Assamese society. For the upliftment of oppressed Indians, he made his mind to fight against all mercenary self-centered outlooks, narrow divisive views of the society. It is also notable that the unique composite structure of Assamese culture has great impact on the formation of his life’s philosophy and his thought process that are very much intertwined into the cultural scenario of Assam. Like Sankardeva, he too made an effort to bring all the diverse elements of his time into one unified gearing force. His songs and poems reflect his conscious attempt to inspire the masses to develop a broader perspective towards life. As a dramatist with social commitment Jyotiprasad composed his plays with a resolute sense of social consciousness. Some speeches of his plays reveal his commitment to the society. In his play “Labhita”the the protagonist Labhita says to her timid lover Golap- “Don’t call yourself a youth of advance days. Don’t pretend. A young man ceases to be so if his heart refuses to be kindled with the fire of revolt. The youth who has no courage to fight against the legal injustice, injustice of the state against the unjust rules and usages ceases to be a young man of today.”(Labhita, III, ii, p.212)
Jyotiprasad as a Revolutionary Dramatist:
Jyotiprasad Agarwala was born at the time of the second spell of neo-renaissance in Assam. Dr.Nogen Saikia, a prominent literary figure of Assam opines-“The neo-realism manifested in Jyotiprasad was the complementary of the early romantic stage. Unless we comprehend it there cannot be any evaluation of Jyotiprasad’s ideas and ideals”.(23) He was an ardent disciple of Sankardeva who tried his best in banishing the untouchability from the society and with his tireless endeavour who could bring about integrity among the people of hills and plains. Jyotiprasad went to Europe for education and there he came into contact with varied forms of European culture and traditions. During his stay in Europe, he also got the opportunity to witness a number of dramatic changes in the western world.
Dramatists like W.B.Yeats, T.S.Eliot, Henrik Ibsen, Bernard Shaw and Galsworthy have overwhelming influence on Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Agarwala. He adopted the elaborate stage directions, settings and background from western dramatists like Ibsen that brought a radical change in Assamese drama. It is also said that the naturalistic stage setting of ‘Karengar Ligiri’ is typically modeled on Galsworthy. Dr.Puna Mahanta in his “Western Influence on Modern Assamese Drama”opines regarding the similarity between the stage direction of Galsworthy’s Loyalities and Jyotiprasad’s Karengar Ligiri –“…This if not modeled on, is undoubtedly reminiscent of Galsworthy.”(37) Apart from the innovations of style and technique of drama, Jyotiprasad brought about a radical change in the themes or subject matter too.
Ibsen and G.B.Shaw are found advocating for women liberation and magnanimity of women. During the Nineties Europe witnessed the emergence of women Liberation which became prominent in various field of life and society. Jyotiprasad caught the true spirit of the age and created the women characters with the spark of strong personalities like-Chitralekha,Sewali, Kanchanmati,Rupalim, Labhita etc. But in methods of characterization and meaningful delineation Jyotiprasad is strikingly original. His characters are found bearing the stamp of his own reflections to the level of classic. Like an expressionist, he creates two types of characters-characters of imagination and characters developed with his intellectualism. But each of his character is the embodiment of certain ideas which are inspired by certain problems of society.
Jyotiprasad Agarwala is the leader and founder of the characters of conflicts that present the psychoanalysis of the creator. His portrayal of the character Sundar Konwar in Karengar Ligiri reflects his maturity of genius. Sundar develops a weakness toward a palace maid Sewali but at the same time he is conscious of his royal status too. A critic Dr. Mahendra Bora says-‘…the character of prince Sundar is made to associate with a peculiar kind of psychological complex. In fact, Sundar’s misogynist complex is an unhealthy expression of budding love which is related to feudal sense of class society.”(82) Sundar is also projected as a romantic revolutionary who wants to purge the society of all evils through a total revolution. Sundar says his wife Kanchanmoti- “Revolution is much needed for purging the dirt and rubbish that have been accumulated for centuries. I’ve invited revolution to my life as well as to the society.”(83)He is modeled neither on Aristotelian nor on Shakespearean sense of tragedy. His tragic destiny is the result of his eternal revolutionary mind that is ever in conflict with society. The portrayal of the character Kanchanmoti is also designed with a different mental make-up studded with the flights of complex human mind. Her character is the admixture of both tradition and novelty.
Critics believe that the dramatist Jyotiprasad was greatly influenced by Bernard Shaw’s Candida while writing his Karengar Ligiri (The palace Maid). Rupalim in Rupalim, one of the best creations of Jyotiprasad is created on the basis of his conception of beauty of simplicity. On the other hand like Galsworthy he created Labhita in Labhita as a very strong character. A character of reality Labhita being a rustic is not devoid of personality.She represents the ‘new women’ of Assamese masses of that time. A poor Assamese girl Labhita dares not to sacrifice her life for the freedom of her motherland. She says- “ … Go on fighting till you’ve the last drop of blood…the prestige and glory of the Assamese and the whole of Hindustan are at your hands-get on.”(Act v, p228)(78) The plot of each play of him has distinctive characteristics of its own. The playwright never followed the path set by others though some of them are modeled on stories taken from mythology, folklore etc. Critic S.P.Baruah opines –“Jyotiprasad has borrowed the themes like Brecht from folklore and devised the attractive structure of the play through dramatic verse, songs and dialogues.”(48) He may borrow the ideal of technical skill from the European masters, but as a talented artist he need not borrow the thematic structure.Critics notice Galsworthy’s The Eldeat Son’s positive influence in his Karengar Ligiri,in so far as the plot is concerned, but the magical touch of the dramatist gave the play a different look and meaningful synthesis. He has respect for tradition as a creative artist and he has the ability to heave uniqueness and originality out of tradition. The brilliant admixture of folk elements into Assamese music has well demonstrated the ingenuity of the playwright.
His first play Sonit Kuwari is an excellent play which according to Dr. P.Mahanta –“…in its use of elaborate setting, naturalistic technique, and methods of modernizing mythological characters, it is almost revolutionary.” Like G.B.Shaw he too played a great role in moulding the socio-economic awareness of his own society. His Karengar Ligiri pointed out a clash between the revolutionary thought and the views of traditional society though it is a romantic, imaginative play. Labhita and Khanikar are based on socio-political sources. In the preface of Labhita the dramatist says-“An attempt has been made to provide an exact picture on all aspects of life of contemporary Assam.” The dramatist is seen adopting cinema technique in presenting situations and scene divisions in Labhita. Jyotiprasad’s wide knowledge on western literary world contributed to the formation of the basis of most of his plays. Making a wide departure from the traditional dramaturgies he put Assamese drama into the realistic hold. Jyotiprasad dealt with poetic themes in most of his plays and in this regard we can compare him with the great Irish dramatist and poet W.B.Yeats. Like Yeats, Jyotiprasad’s plays are more lyrical than they are dramatic. Yeats had a life to express, he was a poet, and he had a sense for dramatic form. The Irish playwrights had the opportunity to give new life to drama by combining romanticism and realism. William Butler Yeats's contribution lies in his successful efforts as one of the creators of poetic drama. Likewise Jyotiprasad too wanted spiritual and ethical transition along with social,economic and political changes and it is very well reflected through poetic dramas like- Nimati Koina(Silent Princess).He developed the attractive structure of the play through dramatic verse songs and dialogues. His songs have the texture and structure of finer Assamese folk elements. This play is essentially a symbolic one under the guise of allegory that carries profound artistic philosophy of Jyotiprasad Agarwala.
A Trend Setter in Assamese Drama:
Jyotiprasad Agarwala emerged as a trend setter of modern Assamese drama adding variety and colour to it. For the first time the Assamese people could enjoy the dazzling beauty and rare artistry of the western dramatic elements through Jyotiprasad who assimilated those elements very craftfully to accomplish an individuality of its own as a work of art. He is the innovator of modern dramatic technique and is perhaps the first Assamese playwright to have understood the definition of drama put forward by T.G.Williams. He has possessed that creativity which led him build up any situation or character refreshingly original. The variety of human characters with all its dimensions has been artfully exposed in his plays. Being a stage artist, he flawlessly directed stage-lighting, make-up along with other directional proceedings and revolutionized Assamese stagecraft. His talent of characterization is unique. Chitralekha of Sunit Kuwari is a remarkable creation who is nothing but an idea that can be viewed by visionary idealistic eyes. The element of contrast forms an important trait of Jyotiprasad’s dramatic art. For example, the story of Rupalim, is being developed through the exposition of clashes of ideas based on love, jealousy, virginity and patriotism. Besides being a dramatist of first order, he is also a poet of unique talent. He is regarded as the harbinger of renaissance in modern Assamese songs because Modern Assamese music is said to have emerged from the base of Sonit kuwari. Introduction thematic music in plays is a revolutionary act in the history of Assamese plays. Each word of his songs used in the plays is suggestive and appropriate to the situation. With brilliant literary value, his dramas acquire classical standard. Jyotiprasad opened a new vista of dramatic culture for which his name is written in golden words in the history of Assamese culture and will always be remembered by the people of Assam as the father of modern Assamese songs and drama.
Jyotiprasad Agarwala, creative revolutionary was not only a poet, a musician and a dramatist but also a sagacious sage. Explorer of the cultural world, Jyotiprasad left no stone unturned to bring Assamese culture to the global platform. He dedicated his life to the great cause of Assamese literature and culture. For him culture is nothing but worship of beauty. A was a symbol of assimilation and humanity who always did appeal for universal harmony and peace. He was the worshiper of beauty who always dreamt of a peaceful balanced society. In the preface of Nimati Koina Jyotiprasad Agarwally nicely presents his idea in the following words- “Persuance of all arts by Man is meant for founding peace and prosperity in the world.Goddess of fine art is also Goddess of human civilization.”