The Flora and Fauna in Karnad: A Study of Nāga-Mandala and The Fire and The Rain


Devamitra Chakraborty


Dr. Devamitra Chakraborty is an Assistant Professor of English at Dr. Bhupendra Nath Dutta Smriti Mahavidyalaya, Hatgobindapur, Purba Bardhaman. West Bengal. Indian English Drama. Her Ph.D dissertation was on the topic “Girish Karnad’s   Passage to India: A Study of His Plays”




Downing Cless argues that “natural environments become dramatic forces, taking action with agency or reacting as enforced victims, not unlike characters” in plays which can “powerfully bring on stage the other-than-human world and its endangerment” (1).  Moreover, Critics like Christine Gerhardt and Christa Grewe-Volpp speak about the possibility of intersection of ecocriticism and ecofeminism and create new avenues for reading texts to understand the symbiotic relationship between human and the nonhuman spheres. This paper tries to analyse the representation of the nonhuman world in Karnad’s two plays — Nāga-Mandala (1988) and The Fire and the Rain(1994) — to understand the ecological ideas and vision of the playwright from an eclectic perspective.

     The two plays together bring on the stage the biotic sphere of the natural environment, the fauna and the flora. Besides presenting a gallery of animals that comprise both the physical world and the psychological world of its heroine, Nāga-Mandala has, a nonhuman animal, as a major character who morphs into human shape to become a protagonist. The Fire and The Rain, has the abiotic elements in the very title of the play. The play is set on a barren land which is parching in famine and the people are desperate to get rains. But as a contrast to this wasteland there is a reference to a forest which becomes an off stage character in the play. The texts read together give us the playwright’s vision of the relationship between the human world and the non-human world which is shaped by Indian cultural and philosophical traditions. But the plays are also interrogative in nature which interrogates the discourse of development propagated by capitalist discourse that has victimized both the fauna and flora. The texts give us the picture of rural India which lives in close proximity to nature and they share a symbiotic relationship with it. The plays also highlight that in the human world it is the woman who shares greater proximity to nature in comparison to man.


Keywords: Ecocriticism, ecofeminism, development, environment, dominant discourses, Other, woman,


     Downing Cless in his introduction to his book Ecology and Environment in European Drama argues that “natural environments become dramatic forces, taking action with agency or reacting as enforced victims, not unlike characters”(1).  He again argues that “Although theatre is largely human-centered” the drama can “powerfully bring on stage the other-than-human world and its endangerment”(1).  Karnad’s Nāga-Mandala (1988) and The Fire and the Rain (1994) together bring on the stage the biotic sphere of the natural environment, the fauna and the flora respectively. Besides presenting a gallery of animals that comprise both the physical world and the psychological world of its heroine, Nāga-Mandala has a nonhuman animal, as a major character who morphs into human shape to become a protagonist. The Fire and the Rain, has the abiotic elements in the very title of the play. The play is set on a barren land which is parching in famine. Only rain can help life survive and a fire ceremony, Yajna, is arranged in this regard. But as a contrast to this wasteland, there is a reference to a forest which becomes an off stage character in the play. This paper tries to analyze the representation of the nonhuman world to understand the ecological ideas and vision of the playwright. 


     Ecocriticism is generally defined as the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment that draws its precepts from the social movements that originated in the 1990s. The movement tries to relocate the relationship of the human element with the environment—natural environment (comprising the biotic and the abiotic spheres) and the man made environment— in order to promulgate the possibility of sustainable development.  However, for Lawrence Buell any definition for the term is imprecise as the theoretical framework has many “conflicting usages that belies the implication of a coherent category implied by its customary deployment in the singular” and the movement has “generated initiatives or camps that draw on increasingly discrepant archives and critical models”. (87) Buell opines that ecocriticism can be characterized “as a two-stage affair since its inception as a self-conscious movement in the early 1990s” (88). The first wave of ecocriticism has dealt with “nonhuman nature in two different although related ways” ( Buell 89). The first way has been propounded by “British Romanticism with a genre focus especially on poetry in that tradition (including its twentieth-century Anglo-American filiations), and U.S. nature writing (ditto), with a genre focus especially on the Thoreauvian imprint” (Buell 89). And the second approach is based on the principles of deep ecology, which comprises the view that “human being and human consciousness are thought to be grounded in intimate interdependence with the nonhuman living world” (Buell 90). The second wave, on the other hand “has sought to press far beyond the first wave’s characteristic limitations of genre, geography, and historical epoch”(Buell 92). It engages “the whole sweep of Western literary history from antiquity to the present” and “it had also taken root in eastern and southern Asia as well as Anglo-Europe and the Anglophone diaspora” (Buell 92). Buell also observes that “in India, the first generation of eco-critics has taken a special interest in the literatures and philosophical traditions of the subcontinent” (92). Thus, according to Buell, the perspective of ecocriticism in India is rooted in the culture of people. Christine Gerhardt and Christa Grewe-Volpp, however, go ahead to categorise the literary movement into three phases—the first phase which “focused on re-evaluating the genre of nature writing … guided by the ideals of wilderness, conservation and individual activism”; the second phase that “considered the politics, genres and environments in terms of race, gender, class and issues of environmental justice” and the third is “characterized by global and planetary perspectives, often focusing on questions of climate change and anthropocene” (413). The duo also goes ahead to assert that there is always a scope of discussion on issues that are beyond ecocriticism but having link to the latter for “an environmentally significant category of analysis” (417). This opens up “analytical potential of such intersections” and one such major issue in which ecocriticism shares “a long-standing interest” is ecofeminism (Gerhardt 417).

Ecofeminism has emerged as the new wave or the third wave feminist movement which links feminism with deep ecology. Deep ecologists have insisted on the need to examine the “the symbolic, psychological, and cultural patterns by which humans have distanced themselves from nature, denied their reality as a part of nature, and claimed to rule over it from outside” for a better appreciation of human life (qtd in Reuther et al. 33). The human world which is ailing in different aspects owes much to its separation and domination of the environment on socio-economic, cultural, psychological and philosophical plane. There is a need to develop a close communion between the humans and other species in this biosphere for a sustainable development of human world order. The ecofeminists go further to stress that a woman shares an inherent bonding with nature unlike their counterpart. And the women share a common platform with nature in the context of violence, repression and subjugation meted out to both.  Famous Indian ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva opines that the theory of progress which originated in the Age of Enlightenment is an assertion of two facets which go hand in hand—modern scientific knowledge and economic development—without looking at life. Speaking in the context of Green Revolution she opines that implementers of such development “have reduced the biodiversity of the planet to the four commodities that can be patented, genetically engineered” (“Lie of Growth” 15). Speaking on the politics of food, Shiva points out that the issue of food producing is gendered at various levels. She argues that “Food security must remain in women's hands everywhere” and it should not be left “in the hands of a few transnational corporations [Western patriarchy] with their profit motives food security…. We will resist those who force us to produce and consume in ways that destroy nature and ourselves (“Women and Gender” 31).

Ecofeminism thus is a socio-economic and political movement which draws parallel between women and the environment as both are relegated to the position of the Other. They are commoditized and this process of appropriating both women and the environment for “progress” inculcate violence and repression on both.


     Thus, the possibility of intersection of ecocriticism and ecofeminism creates new avenues for reading a text to understand the symbiotic relationship between human and the nonhuman spheres. This paper tries to have such an approach to Karnad’s two plays— Nāga-Mandala and The Fire and the Rain— and study the symbiotic relationship of flora and fauna with the anthropocentric world specially the women. Girish Karnad is one of the main exponents who have successfully shaped the canon of post-independence Indian Theatre. He has been critically acclaimed for his experimentation with Indian myths, Indian history and folktales. One of the cardinal aspects of his modernity is the manner in which Karnad has challenged the dominant discourses like the Brahminical discourse and the patriarchal discourse. Karnad has received much critical acclaim from the perspective of feminism and postcolonialism. However, little critical focus has been received from the perspective of ecology. This includes Falguni P Desai’s reading of the mythical/ecocritical layers of Nāga-Mandala. She asserts the importance of Hindu myths and religious practices which attaches sacredness to natural objects and thereby promotes biodiversity. And Lillykutty Abraham’s novel article reads Nāga-Mandala from the perspective of Neo-Tinai and tries to identify how tinai is foregrounded as the play progresses depicting the union of the humans and the nonhumans at different levels. K Muthuram has an article that makes an eco-critical reading of The Fire and the Rain. However, a comprehensive vision of the playwright on the natural environment which can be achieved by reading the two plays together remains unexplored. As already stated in the introduction this article tries to understand the representation of the other-than-human world considering its natural entities, occurrences and settings of significance. The fauna as represented in Nāga-Mandala and the flora as represented in The Fire and the Rain assume the significance of a character in these two plays which are discussed in the following two sections.




Nāga-Mandala brings on the urban stage the flavour of the rural Kannada folk theatre. The play gets its title from the traditional folk performance Nagamandala. This theatre form is a ritualistic performance that is rooted deep in the Kannada culture just like Yakshagana.1   Nagamandala is a “festive occasion when the Naga Dance (Naga Nryta) forms a part of the worship (Ranganath 35).  This dance drama is the remnant of the totem worship of ancient days.2  But Karnad’s play makes obvious departures from the ritualistic performance to present a modern drama based on a triangular love affair between Rani, the female protagonist, her human husband, Appannna and her non-human lover, a King Cobra, here referred to as Naga. However, the locale of the play is rural India where the people share space with plenty of animals and plants unlike in the urban spheres. Karnad in his Introduction to Three Plays writes that the oral tales are:

Narrated by women—normally the older women in the family—…[and] often serve as a parallel system of communication among women in the family. They thus present a distinctly women’s understanding of the reality around her…” (“Intro” 314)

     Thus, the playwright makes it clear at the very beginning that this is a female’s world and this world lies beyond the structures of written stories. A.K. Ramanujan, to whom Karnad dedicates his Nāga-Mandala, calls the folklore “childhood voices” (“Telling Tales” 448) that has, as he says, pervaded “my childhood, my family, my community. It is the symbolic language of the non-literate parts of me and my culture” (“Who Needs Folklore” 532).  And the anti-realistic performance tradition of Nagamandala offers the perfect ambience for the make belief world of King Cobras who possesses divine powers. The snake can change into human forms and perform supernatural activities in this magical world. Thus, Rani’s lover is a king cobra which falls in love with her under the intoxication of a magical root, assumes the shape of a human (her husband) and makes love to her. The play takes ample advantage of the fluidity of folk tales in mixing the real with the unreal, the magical and the elements of fantasy and present the world of the female in contrast to the structured rational world of the male.


     Rani, is given into marriage to Appanna as a child. When she reaches the age of menarche, she arrives at her husband’s house to lead a conjugal life. But quite ironically, instead of making her the mistress of the house Appanna locks her up in the house and maltreats her. Rani accepts this role of Appanna’s cook and maid without being made his sexual partner. Thus, from the very beginning Rani is relegated to the position of the Other. From a carefree life at her father’s house, she experiences a sea change upon coming to her husband’s place where she lies in captivity and humiliation. Being locked up, Rani feels dejected and low. Rani’s only means to escape from this bondage is in her dreams where eagles, stags, golden antlers befriend her and come to her rescue. Quite significantly, we see that Rani easily associates herself with animals. The animals that are mentioned are just out of the grandmother’s tales, which generally weave magical world of the unreal and the romantic.


     Besides imaginative animals, Rani finds comfort in an elderly village woman, Kurudavva. The latter is supposed to be the friend to her deceased mother-in-law. The old woman sympathizes with her and compares her to a caged bird and Appanna to a wild beast and reptile. The analogy between the tortured animal and the tortured woman is explicit in Kurudavva’s comparison. As already mentioned, the play is replete with feminine sensibilities and the manner they respond to the natural world to convey those. There are multiple occasions when references to various animals are made to communicate the feelings. The references to animals can be categorized broadly into two— the domestic and harmless animals and the wild and the harmful ones. The parallel between the domestic animals and the women expound the concept of utility principle in both. Both are to be possessed by the owners. The wild animals Rani dreams about symbolize the desire for freedom, they also stand for vitality to transcend the boundaries of domestication and lead her to the realm of utopia. Appanna’s comparison to wild beast also connotes the hierarchy of the human over the animal the sub-human. The proposition suggests that if Appanna had been a good person he wouldn’t have acted as an animal. Thus, though the play represents the parallelism between women and animals on the context of domination, subjugation, and perpetration of violence in taming or domesticating them the broad categorization of the animals fall vulnerable in “colluding in the fiction that the species boundary is a fixed one” (Huggan 152).  Huggan here uses the term “species boundary” not in Darwinian sense but refers “to the discursive construction of a strict line between humans and animals” (156).


     Kurudavva hands Rani a magical root which the latter is to feed to her husband in order to win over his love. But unfortunately, she throws the magical potion made out of the roots on the Naga. And the latter falls in love with her. The love episode of Naga and Rani as already mentioned has both verbal and nonverbal elements emulating the world of snakes. But they are primarily based on the precepts of totem worship and other common beliefs and superstitions regarding King Cobra and are not based on any scientific reality. The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2010. The play composed in 1988 could not anticipate the change in the global habitat making this creature vulnerable which otherwise has been considered sacred since ages. The play adheres to the concept of snake cult prevalent in India. The snake cult has multiple origins like totemistic, mythical, fertility cult due to the similarity of the shape of a hooded snake and a sperm and so on. The worshipping of snakes has also originated out of fear and reverence. The coiled snake or Kundalini has often been associated with the concept of oneness of all ‘Jeeva’ (life) in this cosmos or the posture of Nagabandha is viewed as the symbol of power transmission where the male and the female stand for two opposites in Indian philosophical discourses. Thus, snake worship forms an integral part of Indian culture as many gods and goddesses are also associated with snakes. Lord Shiva also known as Pashupati or the lord of the animals is one of the trinity in the Hindu pantheon and his image is always associated with the snake Vasuki round his neck. Even Goddesses Durga holds a snake in one of her ten arms. The Padma Puran is dedicated to Padmabati, or Manasha who is the Goddess of snakes and Nag Panchami is one of the auspicious festivals observed by the Hindus when the cobra also called Naga is worshipped. But the prevalence of this snake worship has failed to protect the species which has become a victim of the march of development that has robbed it of its habitat. Thus reading/performing the play in the present times propagates the need for a sustainable development to preserve the cultural fabric of the country and subsequently preserve biodiversity as opposed to western concept of development. This western concept of development has also been constantly challenged by postcolonial ecocritics like Graham Huggan, Pablo Mukherjee and others.


     Karnad depends on Indian popular socio-cultural traditions while representing this non-human animal.  Naga assumes the shape of Appanna and visits her at nights when the latter is away making love to his mistress and cheating upon Rani. However, Naga’s true form can be obtained in the reflection in the mirror which Rani sees and gets scared. When Naga makes love to Rani, he mimes like a cobra and Rani uses the analogy of a bird and a cobra to expound their consummation of love. This dramatic irony portends an image of the hunter and the hunted. Naga here assumes hierarchical position to Rani because Naga is here not a representative of the animal world but the dominant self in the patriarchal structure of the society. This apparent suggestion of the superiority is illusive that gets dismissed at the end which is discussed later. 

The nocturnal visits of Naga are not smooth and are interrupted by two animals brought by Appanna, first a watchdog and then a mongoose. Both the animals are kept tied and made to fight each other on the desire of the master. Naga fights the representatives of Appanna and wins Rani as in the norm of the wild. The world of the animals is driven by instinct and the world of man is driven by reason. And man has designated a superior position for himself on the basis of this capability of reasoning. A perfect example of such classification is “The Chain of Being” of the Elizabethan period. In “The Chain of Being” man is positioned above the animals, the animals on the other hand get superior position to plants.  Thus, everything that is not governed by reason is rendered powerless and treated as inferior. The world of Rani is driven by instinct too. Thus, even when she sees the reflection of a snake she surrenders to her instinct. This similarity between the animal world and the world of the women draws them together whereas man fails to correspond to the natural world like the women.

     Rani’s pregnancy is in the order of the natural world but she faces the wrath of patriarchy for following her basic instincts. Appanna beats her up and compels her to face ordeal for her adultery. It is quite significant that Naga who has been towering above other animals all the while surrenders to the anthropocentric patriarchal structure at this point. The cobra does not perform any magic to save Rani. On the contrary, Naga tells Rani to perform the snake ordeal that is to hold the snake and speak the truth. The narrative becomes complicated as truth is not constant here since Rani is unaware of her adultery. Significantly, Rani is to be judged according to the patriarchal structure of the anthropes which does not spare her though Appanna is not interrogated for his adultery. A similar acceptance of the superiority of the anthropocentric world order is seen in the ending of the play.


     The snake ordeal actually makes both Rani and Naga realize their subjective positions in the patriarchal structures—both are inferior to the self/Man. Naga accepts his position:

  NAGA:….I thought I could become a human….No!...[she is] for one who is forever  a man. I shed my skin every season. How could I even hope… to retain the human form? (“Naga” 296)


     Naga accepts his limitations. Although ecdysis is not a unique feature of the snakes only, even humans shed skin, but it is a major morphological change among the reptiles. An opaque snake is quite vulnerable and Naga refers to this period of physical weakness which is of no match to the physical strength of man. This weakness finds its echo in the physical limitations of women during pregnancy or menstruation. However, the play offers double endings. Rani emerges out victorious from the snake ordeal and attains godhood in the eyes of the villagers. Appanna is forced to accept her. But she realizes the distinction between her husband and the biological father of her son but she never divulges it to Appanna. In one ending, the play turns out to be a tragedy. Naga realizes its inferiority to the humans and commits suicide realizing that he would never be able to achieve Rani. This ending snaps the possible bridge between the feminine world and nature though the fruit of their union, Rani’s son, continues to thrive. However, in the second ending there is subversion. Rani gives Naga shelter in her long tresses having the full knowledge that the snake is the biological father of her son. This continuation of the relationship is a deliberate defiance of the anthropocentric patriarchal structures on the part of both the woman and the animal and a challenge thrown to Appanna. While the first ending makes Nāga-Mandala a tragedy the second ending makes the play a comedy. It shows that the life may remain happy with the peaceful co-existence with other species and only a woman can be in unison with the animal world. A similar philosophy is expounded in The Fire and the Rain which is discussed in the next section.




If folktales give the playwright the advantage to weave magic and fantasy, the myths posit a completely different canvas. The myths are highly structured in contrast to the fluid structure of oral tales.  Karnad’s The Fire and the Rain reinterprets human relationships—man’s relationship with fellow man, man’s relationship with elemental nature and man’s relationship with the supernatural—within the structured myths.3 The main plot presents the love triangle of Paravasu, Vishakha, his wife and Yavakri. Karnad makes an innovation to present Yavakri as a former lover of Vishakha, the unnamed daughter in law of Raibhya in the source text. The subplot presents another love story of Arvasu and Nittilai, the hunter girl. The story of Nittilai is a genuine interpolation of the dramatist that presents a counter narrative of subaltern history that has run parallel to the dominant oral history assumed in the Indian culture.


    Karnad reworks the Hindu myths into a modern tragedy even when Indian dramatic theory is devoid of this western dramatic genre. The play opens on a barren draught stricken land with hunger stricken, thirsty people and animals. There is no water and the people from the villages are abandoning their homes in search of food and water elsewhere. Thus from the very opening of the play, we find the elemental nature is antagonistic and is threatening human life and humanity at length. But the attitude to this calamity is quite opposite in the two binary cultures. The king arranges for a Yajna ceremony to propitiate Indra and bring rains and appoints Paravasu as the chief priest. Paravasu is thus away from his home for seven years when Yavakri returns from the forest. Yavakri too completes his penance and attains power of universal knowledge just like Paravasu. But his knowledge does not change his inner self which is driven by hatred and revenge upon Raibhya. He takes advantage of Vishakha’s loneliness and dejected mood.

     The barren land corresponds to the barren self of Vishakha who has been earnestly waiting for compassion and human love. Yavakri stops her on her way home near the bank of a dry river from where the latter collects some water after scooping the ground. Vishakha is at first hesitant to talk but later surrenders to the intimacy of Yavakri. Vishakha’s hesitation arises not only from the fact that she is a married woman but also out of awe as she knows that Yavakri has returned from the forest after attaining the power of Knowledge. Vishakha’s cultural upbringing prompts her to admire Yavakri for his perseverance and power. But Yavakri breaks her romantic fascination regarding penance in the forest:

YAVAKRI: … life in the jungle is sheer hell. Flies, giant ants, beetles, pests, leeches attacking at the suspicion of moisture, vipers lurking in the bowls of dust. The relentless heat . not demons but mosquitoes to torture you—  ( “Fire and Rain” 119)


     Yavakri’s account gives a realistic picture of the hardships of the forest life which gives no comfort to the listener. He even continues in the same mode in his description of the encounter with the supernatural.

YAVAKRI: …. And when the god disappeared, nothing was left behind to prove he had ever been there. I looked around. The same old black scorpion. The same horned chameleon. The shower of the bird shit around me. So was it a hallucination…(“Fire and Rain” 120)


     Thus, the forest is a maleficent one to Yavakri whereas the same forest appears to be benevolent to Nittilai, which has been discussed later in this section. Thus, while depicting the flora, Karnad incorporates the binary of the two social discourses which run parallel to each other even in the present day. Vishakha is presented as a powerful woman with agency who dares to violate the codes of the society to make love out of the wedlock. But while Vishakha is earnest in her desire to make love, Yavakri’s proposition is only a means to take revenge upon Paravasu and Raibhya.  Thus, she is no longer an individual but a possession of her husband. She gets a similar treatment from Yavakri and Paravasu. Both have used her body to achieve their goals. Paravasu has utilized her body “like her experimenter, an explorer. As an instrument in a search” of immortality (“Fire and Rain” 123). When a greater scope arrives with the invitation of the fire sacrifice he desolates her immediately. And both try to take possession of her body paying least heed to her mind.

Both Yavakri and Paravasu hold woman and nature in similar attitude. Both perceive the Nature as antagonistic and wild and it needs to be controlled. Paravasu says to Vishakha:

PARAVASU: ….I went because the fire sacrifice is a formal rite. Structured. It involves no emotional acrobatics from the participants. The process itself will bring Indra to me. And if anything goes wrong….It has to be set right by a man. By me. That’s why when the moment comes I shall confront Indra in silence. As an equal.” (“Fire and Rain” 141)


     Paravasu wants to parallel the god of rains, Indra. Significantly the gods of elemental nature are all male whereas the earth is described as “dharitri” (or one that holds) as the female. Paravasu’s desire to parallel Indra in power can be linked to his desire to control the elemental forces and thereby be immortal. Yavakri too completes penance and possesses magical water (another elemental force) which he preserves to take revenge upon Paravasu and Raibhya.

The contrast to this attitude is found in Nittilai the hunter girl who belongs to group of the socially secluded. Like any tribal girl, Nittilai is well conversant to the ways of the wild animals of the forest as she can perceive all the animals from their footprints or smell or sound.  Not only are the ‘two worlds, running parallel to each other, totally different in “the religious beliefs and practices” but also in their attitude to the elemental nature (Chatterjee 169).  The world of the tribes is marked by invoking ‘deity’, getting ‘possessed’ with spirits and ‘spirit answers’ and simple philosophy of life that is based on basic instincts (“Fire and Rain” 116). So, when Arvasu is to ask Nittilai’s hand in marriage he has to announce before all that

ARVASU: ‘I want to take her as my wife. I am potent. I can satisfy all her needs…’ (“Fire and Rain” 110)

This is contrary to the way of the dominant discourse where match making is more of an economic affair than a biological one. Nittilai is conceived as the daughter of the forest. The presentation of the forest and its intimacy with Nittilai is a faithful account of the reality as the hunters share real knowledge of the forest. The Forest legislations like the Forest Act of 1865 and 1878, Forest Policy resolution 1894 and Indian Forest Act 1927 that were formulated in the British regime have ignored the tribals and their interest. The resolutions have only focused on the economic benefits of the colonial masters. It facilitated the destruction of the forests for the construction of roads and other projects of development profiting the colonial masters. The National Forest Policy drafted on 1987, reviewed the British policies and recognised the role of the tribals and the rural population who are dependent on the forest for their daily activities and in return play a positive role in “maintaining forests and environment in unambiguous terms and not merely in its implications” (Kulkarni 2145). Thus, community and the forest share a symbiotic relationship.

     The forest becomes an offstage character which supports Nittilai in all spheres. Even in this hostile time, Nittilai is never out of food or water. When Arvasu is betrayed by his elder brother and thrown out half dead, he is rescued by an actors’ troupe. But he gets new life from Nittilai. Actually, it is for Nittilai that the troupe gives indulgence to Arvasu as the latter becomes dependent on her for food and other aids during the famine. Nittilai even extends her compassionate healing touch to the actor manager’s family and provides food to the children of the actor manager. And this is only because for Nittilai the forest is a benevolent one and not maleficent as it is perceived by Yavakri. Nittilai runs away from her family in order to save Arvasu. And her brother and husband arrive to hunt her down because she has violated the norms of their society. Even in this crisis, she depends upon the forest to hide where she will “be safe enough” as “the jungle’s like a home to” her. Arvasu decides to perform in a play the role of Vritra in order to hide from the hunters (“Fire and Rain” 162). However, Nittilai is hunted down by her brother and husband when she steps out of the jungle to help Arvasu. Arvasu, while performing the role of Vitra identifies Paravasu’s betrayal with that of Vritra and goes beyond the control.4 The situation degenerates into chaos. Nittilai comes forward and pulls out the mask of Vritra to help him regain his balance. But in this process, she gets identified and killed.

Nittilai thus stands unique not only to Yavakri and Paravasu whose sole aim is to obtain elemental powers to fulfill personal selfish desires but also stands apart from her own community which too pivots around cold lifeless structures of society. Both the social structures are in contrast to humanity and love. She is here twice the Other. The subaltern society too fails to comprehend the liberalism of Nittilai. Nittilai seems to have subsumed the true essence of the natural world where primary task is to sustain life. She becomes the sacrificial lamb upon which the violence is committed with the thought to propitiate the gods and serve humanity. Thus, even though the text upholds the philosophy of union between human and nature for sustainability of life, the appropriation of the sacrifice of Nittilai breaks that hope and makes the text vulnerable from an ecofeminist perspective.


     In conclusion, it may be said that the playwright’s vision of the relationship between the human world and the natural world is shaped by Indian cultural and philosophical traditions. However, the texts are also interrogative in natures which expose the discourse of development propagated by capitalist forces that has victimised the fauna and flora. The performance of these two texts gives us the picture that rural/tribal India lives in close proximity to nature. The plays also highlight that in the human world it is the woman who shares greater bonding to nature in comparison to man. But the feminine world that is driven by basic instinct as in the natural world is often subjugated by men as they oppose the structures of patriarchy that is evident in Nāga-Mandala and the structures of both Brahmanism and patriarchy that is evident in The Fire and the Rain. Both the plays actually highlight how the psychological and physical states of anthropes are dependent on the environment. This vision continues in his last two plays where the natural environment is replaced by man-made environment. Both Broken Images and The Wedding Album explore the influence of technology on human lives.



  1. Karnad experiments with Yakshagana in Hayavadana.
  2. In Naga dance, the performer paints himself like the cobra and comes out in a well matching costume. H. K. Ranganath points out that the emphasis of this performance is not on the mere entertainment as the spectator and the performer all take part in the performance.
  3. The Fire and the Rain actually intertwines two myths— the myth of Yavakri, and the myth of Indra and Vritra. But the myth of Yavakri is mainly focused upon in this paper. Yavakri, son of Rishi Bharadwaja, violates the Brahminical tradition of gaining wisdom and resolves to obtain knowledge directly from the gods in order to surpass Rishi Raibhya and his sons, Paravasu and Aravasu. He goes to the forest and performs penance to please Indra. After obtaining the power of knowledge, Yavakri molests the daughter-in-law of Raibhya out of revenge. Raibhya, in anger, invokes the Kritya spirit that devours Yavakri. Bharadwaja, upon learning of his son’s death, curses Raibhya that he would die in the hands of his own son. The curse gets fulfilled when Paravasu kills his father out of mistake. Paravasu instead of performing father’s last rites, necessary for penitence after patricide, orders Aravasu to do the duties and himself goes back to the sacrifice, which he is conducting for the king. But later Paravasu betrays his younger brother and gets him thrown out of the sacrificial ground by the king’s men on the allegation that the latter has committed patricide. Being cast out, Arvasu goes to the forest, prays to the gods, earns boons and restores Yavakri, Bharadwaja and Raibhya back to life. Paravasu is made to forget his evil act and order is restored at the end.
  4. The second myth enacted in the play is that of Indra and Vritra. Indra and Vitra are brothers, sons of Rishi Tvastri. However, Indra slays Vitra.




Works Cited


Buell, Lawrence. “Ecocriticism: Some Emerging Trends”. Qui Parle. Vol. 19, No. 2, Duke   University Press, Spring/Summer 2011, pp. 87-115.,

Chatterjee, Partha. "Caste and Subaltern Consciousness". Subaltern Studies VI: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Ed. Ranajit Guha. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp 169-209. 

Cless, Downing. “Introduction”. Ecology and Environment in European Drama. New York: Routledge, 2010. pp 1-16. 

Gerhardt, Christine and Christa Grewe-Volpp. “Introduction: Environmental Imaginaries on the Move: Nature and Motility in American literature and Culture”. Amerikastudien / American Studies. Vol. 61, No. 4, Universitatsverlag Winter Heidelberg, 2016, pp. 413-420., http://

Huggan, Graham and Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animal, Environment. Second Edition. Routledge, 2010.

Karnad, Girish. “Introduction”. Collected Plays. Vol One. Ed. Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp 243-300.

---. “Nāga-Mandala”. Collected Plays. Vol One. Ed. Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp 243-300.

---. “The Fire and the Rain”. Collected Plays. Vol Two. Ed. Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp 103-176.

Kulkarni, Sharad. “Forests Legislation and Tribals: Comments on Forest Policy Resolution”. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 22, No. 50, Economic and Political Weekly, Dec 1987, pp. 2143-2148.,

Ramanujan, A.K. "Telling Tales". The Collected Essays of A.K.Ramanujan. Ed. Vinay

Dharwadker. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp 448-462.

---."Who Needs Folklore?" The Collected Essays of A.K.Ramanujan. Ed. Vinay Dharwadker. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp 532-552.

Ranganath, H.K. The Kamataka Theatre. Karnataka University, 1982.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford et al. “Ecofeminism: First and Third World Women”. American Journal of Theology & Philosophy. Vol. 18, No. 1, University of Illinois Press, Jan 1997, pp. 33-45., http://

Shiva, Vandana. “Women and the Gendered Politics of Food ”. Philosophical Topics. Vol. 37, No. 2, University of Arkansas Press, Fall 2009, pp. 17-32.,

Shiva, Vandana and Gopal Dayaneni. “On the Lie of Growth and the Power of the Small”. Race, Poverty & the Environment. Vol. 20, No. 1, Reimagine, Arise! 2015, pp. 14-17.,