India culture is based on the Indian religious scriptures especially the Vedas, the earliest literature for the betterment of the mankind. The later literature has been developed from inspiration from the Vedas and the Upanishads. These Holy Scriptures are mentor for every aspect of life, art philosophy etc. This article is an effort to view how these scriptures are useful to evaluate literature, not only Indian but literature in general, unbound of time and space. This is also a view to focus on how two cultures of two different times and global territory can be similar in the thinking process. This also proves that the morals given in these two works are unaffected by times and anthropologies.
Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is a philosophical play based on Vedantic mysticism which deals with the theme of confrontation between the worldly power and the spiritual bliss, between the banausic body and the immortal soul and above all, between the various waves of mind and paramananda soul. It is the tragedy of not an ordinary man whose errors are generally being forgiven, but a tragedy of a highly learned philosopher, who is fully acquainted with the rich philosophy of life and death, good and evil, yet commits blunder wittingly by selling out his soul to Lucifer, the Satan of Darkness for twenty four years so as to gain the pleasure of the body or the five senses and the power to feed his pride.
Girish Karnad narrates similar problem in The Fire and the Rain with the character of Yavakri who has received his Knowledge and Supreme Power directly from Indra, the god of rain, by performing hard penance for ten years.
The Atharva Veda says that the ultimate goal of knowledge is to perceive the truth, the eternal God or His immortal grace. It also lays much stress on the faith of man to God:
vSyo wUyay vsuman y)o vsu v.ix8Iy |
Vasyo bhoovaaya vasumnan vayo isu vanshishiya
vsuman wUyas. vsu miy 2eih˜ 1
Vasurnaan bhooyaasum vasti Inayi dhehi
Meaning: O human being! Have faith in God and always strive in such a way that by serving others, you get the most excellent status in life.
Yavakri and Faustus, both, want to achieve that ‘most excellent status’. But the irony is that they want it not by dint of their great knowledge of the immortal soul or conscience but by indulging in the materialistic connivances of all sorts. They never develop their faith in the existence of the Almighty and Omnipotent God; in fact they wanted to be as powerful as God unmindful of their being mortal. This is their fatal flaw which ultimately leads to their death.
One of the themes of Dr. Faustus as well as The Fire and the Rain is the damnation of a brilliant scholar on account of their overweening pride and lust, their misuse of knowledge as power and many other omissions and commissions. Both the plays deal with ambiguities and complexities which lead them to a multiplicity of feeling and tone and can be read from the Vedantic point of view.
A tragic hero is one who is capable of becoming an angel but becomes a devil. Instead of using the power, possessed by this mighty figure, for the welfare of mankind, he uses it to satiate his personal grudges. Faustus rises from a humble background and becomes the master of all knowledge available at his time. On the contrary Yavakri is the only and nescient son of Bhardwaja, one of the two priests gifted with profound spiritual supremacy. Faustus is a Don of a university and is looked at with awe. The chorus of the book says:
Now is he born, his parents base of stock
In Germany, within a town called Rhodes
Of ripe years, to Wartenberg he went
Where as his kinsmen chiefly brought him up.2
Yavakri becomes the most powerful person by acquiring the Universal Knowledge from the God. The people, ordinary and class, in the region want to meet him, as Andhaka, his godfather says:
Yavakri gets no peace here. It’s this endless stream of visitors. Morning to night. Ceaseless. Learned men, ascetics, pundits, all dying to find out how he talked to the god. . . The whole world is at his feet. 3
Dr. Faustus was a seed sowed in poverty, but with his hard work he became the fragrant flower of great knowledge. Yavakri is a kind of stigma to the great heritage of Bhardwaja but with his great penance he has been raised as powerful person. At this stage, both should be devoted and faithful to God and they should render their knowledge in the service of the people. Their knowledge is not employed for the welfare of the general people, rather they are seen paying their entire attention to the self aggrandizement, avenge and worldly pleasure. This is not obvious to the great scholars like Dr. Faustus and Yavakri. The Rigveda holds the view:
Apa. m2ye tiS4va.s t<iS4va.s t<*`aivdJjirtam
Apaam madhya tristhivansa trishnavidajjaritarum
m<la su95 m<ly ˜4
Mrula sukshatra mrulaya
Meaning: The main cause of unhappiness or sorrow is ignorance. Therefore, man must obtain self-knowledge or spiritual knowledge by uplifting his level. Due to that only, all the desires can be subdued.
It is interesting to remark that uplifting the level doesn’t mean the mounting of property and possession, pleasure and passion; but it denotes the sublimity of the scope of the voice of consciousness or the realm of the soul which is always illuminated by its own light. It is this light of the soul that must be continued to be burnt by the knowledge of the Almighty. Yavakri confesses before Vishakha, “Some knowledge but probably little wisdom. I know now what can’t be achieved. That itself is wisdom, isn’t it?” (F & R. 14) Generally the gyre of the mind puts out the light of the soul, and hence the body is bound to lead a state of darkness.
The irony in a tragedy, according to the Elizabethan context, the brilliance of the protagonist leads him to great disaster. We know that knowledge may be used for insight as well as for power. Renaissance thinkers like Bacon favoured knowledge for the sake of power. Dr. Faustus develops a fancy for magic while Yavakri is firm for penance. Faustus wishes to utilize his power of knowledge in the field of magic which is both white and black but Yavakri is determined to ruin the Raibhyas. White magic does well to all. God often practices it to do miracles. But black magic is practised by egotistical individuals for personal gain. Both, Dr. Faustus and Yavakri are inclined to the evil side of things.
Faustus conjures up evil spirit and sells his soul for 24 years to the devil in the exchange for knowing and getting the forbidden while Yavakri goes for hard penance for ten years for the same. With his knowledge and power Dr. Faustus invokes the Helen of Troy, talking to Helen, he says:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Illium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss
Her lips suck forth my soul see, where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips
And all is dross that is not Helena.5
Here Faustus speaks these lines under the influence of the Evil Spirit, the physical lust. He wants to be immortal with a kiss of Helen, the most beautiful lady of the world. He also thinks that except Helen, everything is dross or meaningless. Yavakri also falls into the same trap which is prepared by his fate. He seduces Vishakha, his former beloved and now Paravasu’s wife. He also finds his knowledge useless as he says to Vishakha:
The day I decided my penance was over I fell down in a dead faint. I don’t know how long I was in that state. It was terrible exhaustion, the pain of sheer relief. And when I opened my eyes, do you know the first thing that I thought of? Ten years ago . . . you opened the knot of your blouse, pressed my face to your breasts, then turned and fled. 6
The knowledge gained after penance did not change him a bit. He still keeps in mind the memory before ten years:
The smell of your body, ten years later I opened my eyes and I knew I was hungry for that moment. 7
The concept of Yoga reveals that when a man is under the waves of mind or the cloud of evil spirit, his soul is gone and he goes farther than the truth. Our great sage Patanjali says that yoga controls waves of thought in mind. But it is very difficult to have a perfect mastery over the various thought waves of mind; every practice can help the man to do that. It is not the success of ‘one morning I woke and found myself successful’. Lust is one of the greatest waves of the mind which absolutely blinds the eyes of the soul. The story of Ravana is one of the glaring examples of our past. This is exactly what we find in the life of Dr. Faustus and Yavakri, both divert their good knowledge for bad cause. Both are unable to free their foul from the clutches of the evil. The Samveda observes:
yen deva: piv5e`aTman. punte sda |
Yena devaha pavitrenaatmaanum punate sada
ten shS52are` pavmanI: punNtu n: ˜8
tena sahastradhaaren Paavamaanihi punantu naha
Meaning: The success of human life lies only in removing the spirit’s (soul’s) and mind’s faults and wicked tendencies and becoming cleansed pure. Thousands of solutions have been described in the Vedas for freeing the soul from blemish and for freeing it from the shell of selfishness.”
When Yavakri is intentionally preparing the trap to ruin the Raibhyas he is unaware of his own fate that was entrapping him for his death in his own plan. Or perhaps he is overconfident about his knowledge and power. In Dr. Faustus the devil finds a fine scope for expansion of his evil empire. After having the nil of lust, Faustus realizes that now he is damned beyond redemption. He bursts into despair and self pity, but in vain:
Now hast thou hut me bare hour to live,
And then thou must be dammed perpetually
Stand still, you ever ring spheres of heaven
That time may cease and midnight never come
Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, week, a natural day
That Faustus may repent and save his soul! 9
Yavakri too, cries at the end of Act One. Vishakha after being aware of yavakri’s intentions spills out the sacredly chanted water from the kamandalu. When the only power of Yavakri is spoiled he has nothing in his hands but to run to save his life from the Kritya, the Brahma Rakshasa invoked by Raibhya, Vishakha’s father in low. Yavakri yells:
Water please! Just a drop. Oh gods! Only a drop . . . you devil. I trusted you . . . A drop of water. . . (Yavakri runs. . . . The Brhma Rakshasa runs after Yavakri. Yavakri stops now and then, desperately digs for water, then not finding any runs on.
He comes to the hermitage, which is still being guarded by Andhaka. As Yavakri comes running and is about to step into the hermitage, Andhaka jumps up and grabs him. Doesn’t let him move.) . . . (The Brahma Rakshasa comes and spears him. Yavkri collapse in Andhaka’s arms. The demon pulls out the trident and goes away.)10
Now the point is: why are they disqualified for being forgiven even though they confesses their venom and craves the grace of God? The point might be that an ignorant man may have some claims to mercy but not an informed man like Faustus or Yavakri. They were supposed to know and they did know that their path was fraught with the dangers of damnation. There is the old man, in Dr. Faustus, symbolizes good sense, to warn him against his ways, and Vishakha warns Yavakri but they did not listen. Both are badly possessed, and in that stake, the sense of discrimination between the right and the wrong is gone. But both these cases are quite different from the case of Macbeth. In Macbeth, when Lady Macbeth goads him to commit the sin, Macbeth is clearly aware that his act will be a great sin and will not go unpunished. In Dr. Faustus and The Fire and the Rain, the ordinary people are aware of the consequences. Nittilai and Vishakha talk with Yavakri to utilize his power for the betterment of the people but Yavakri himself takes it otherwise. He curses Nittilai her death before the fire sacrifice.
It is interesting to note here that knowledge has a tendency to corrupt. Look at our age. Today we have got so much knowledge and power that we may end ourselves with our conscience. Knowledge may not be bad in itself. But the frail man of today misuses it. Perhaps that is why in the Christian as well as Greek theology, knowledge (light) was kept forbidden for man. But Marlowe has shown this moral not as a sermon as was the practice in the conventional Morality plays, but as a psychological drama in the psyche of man.
Atharva Ved: 16/9/4, quoted by Pt. Sriram Sharma Acharya, Divine Message of the Veds, Yug Nirman Yojna, Mathura, 1997, p. 14.
Marlowe Christopher: Dr. Faustus, Chorus, lines 11-14.
Karnad, Girish: The Fire and the Rain. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, Fourth Impression 2011. page 8-10
The Rigved: 7/89/4, op. cit. p. 94.
Marlowe, Christopher: Dr Faustus, Act IV Scene II.
Karnad, Girish: The Fire and the Rain. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, Fourth Impression 2011. page 14
Karnad, Girish: The Fire and the Rain. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, Fourth Impression 2011. page 14
Sam Ved: 1302, op. cit. p. 84.
- Marlowe: Dr Faustus, Act IV, Scene III.
Karnad, Girish: The Fire and the Rain. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, Fourth Impression 2011. page 25
 Lecturer in English, D. K. V. Arts and Science College, Jamnagar (Gujarat)