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Madhvi Lata

Madhvi Lata – ‘Girish Karnad’s “Naga-Mandala’

The Naga-Mandala is story of a married couple and an infatuated supernatural being in which Appanna is a abusive husband and Rani is an innocent wife who is abused by human as well as supernatural being Naga. Appanna makes Rani’s life miserable through domestic violence and Naga takes advantage of wretched condition of Rani and assuming the form of her husband uses her physically while playing as a caring and loving husband. Small roles are played by Kurudavva and his son Kappanna who are well-wishers of Rani.

The play does not only show the evil present in people but it also shows how it is born. The play shows some problems which are more evident in our present day; these are identity theft, mistaken identity and identity crisis. Wikipedia defines these problems clearly. It says Identity theft is a form of stealing someone's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, usually as a method to gain access to resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victim of identity theft (here meaning the person whose identity has been assumed by the identity thief) can suffer adverse consequences if they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another's personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

The term identity theft was coined in 1964; however, it is not literally possible to steal an identity—less ambiguous terms are identity fraud  or  impersonation .
Mistaken identity is the case when someone is taken to be as someone else. Identity crisis, according to psychologist  Erik Erikson , is the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence. Erikson coined the term.

The  stage of psychosocial development  in which identity crisis may occur is called the Identity Cohesion versus Role Confusion stage. During  this stage (adolescence), adolescents are faced with physical growth, sexual maturation, and integrating ideas of themselves and about what others think of them. Adolescents therefore form their self-image and endure the task of resolving the crisis of their basic ego identity. Successful resolution of the crisis depends on one’s  progress through previous developmental stages , centering on issues such as trust, autonomy, and initiative.

The play Naga-Madala has all the three problems of identity. The identity theft can be seen in the impersonation of Naga as Appanna. The objective of Naga was to obtain access into the house of Appanna and to take advantage of his wife so he takes his form and presents himself as Appanna before Rani. Rani completely unaware of the fact accepts him as her husband and lets him use his right on her body.

Rani can be said to be a victim of mistaken identity. She thinks that Naga is Appanna because she did not have a reason to think otherwise. She, in a way, commits a crime of adultery but she was unaware of this fact that Naga was Naga and not Appanna. Naga asks her if she wants him to visit her at their second meeting: “No, let’s say, the husband decides on the day visits. And wife decides on the night visits. So I won’t come at night if you don’t want me to.”(272)

But why would Rani forbid Appanna to visit her at night especially when he is nice with her, this is where she is duped by Naga and she permits him to visit her at nights not knowing that he is not her husband. She sees blood on him and says: “Blood on your cheeks! And your shoulders! That looks like tooth mark. Did you run into a thorn bush or a barbed wire fence on your way here?” In the day when Appanna comes to house Rani finds no sign of blood or wounds him: “But last night... he has blood on his cheeks/… and shoulders. Now ….”

However, the way Rani submits herself to the will of Naga makes her behaviour suspicious:
“No, I won’t. The pig, the whale, the eagle-none of them ask why. So i won’t either. But they ask for it again. So I can too, can’t I?” (277). Rani gets a hint of the reality when she sees the reflection of Naga in mirror and finds a reflection of Cobra in the place of Naga but here again she is fooled by Naga:

“(…she looks at him in mirror. Screams in fright. He moves with lightening speed, pulls her away from the mirror and holds her in his arms. She is trembling)……
Rani: When I looked in the mirror, I saw there-where you were sitting-instead of you, I saw a (Mimes a cobra with her fingers.)
Naga: What? A cobra?
Rani: (Silencing him.) Don’t mention it. They say if you, mention it by name at night, it comes into the house.
Naga: …..why shouldn’t it come with love?
Rani: May God bless our house and spare us from that calamity. The very thought makes me shudder.
Naga: I am here now. Nothing more to fear.”(272-273)

The time when she talks to him about her pregnancy it becomes quite clear that she was a victim of mistaken identity:

“Naga: I am glad you hid the news from me all this time. Even now try to keep from speaking about it as long as possible. Keep it a secret.
Rani: From whom?
Naga: from me.
Rani: what are you talking about? I have already told you. How can it be a secret again? And how long can it remain a secret? Another fifteen days? Three weeks?”(283)

She is totally confused by his behaviour, but she is unaware of his identity. At the time when she is presented before the Elders for judgment, she does not know that it is Naga who is the cobra in the ant hill so she is afraid of taking the cobra ordeal. She says: “I am scared. Please-if the cobra bites me, what shall I do? I am afraid-” (289). She is quite sure of her innocence because she did not know the reality of Naga. She says: “But I have done nothing wrong. I am not guilty of anything. What shall I plead guilty to?”(289)

She realizes the truth about him when she talks to Kurudavva. It is Kurudavva who makes her realize the true identity of Naga. Kurudavva is grieving the disappearance of her son Kappanna. She says:

“…when he tried to tell me I didn’t listen. I was a deaf. A tempress from beyond? A yaksha woman-Perhaps a snake woman? But not a human being. No. What woman would come inside our house at that hour? And how? She wasn’t even breathing….” (291)

This conversation with Kurudavva somehow makes her realize the truth about Naga and she understands why Naga was insisting on her to take the cobra ordeal. In her realization of the truth she says: “Why should she suffer like this? Would sight have helped? Do desires really reach out from some world beyond right into our beds?”(291). This is the statement of Rani which makes it clear that she has realized the identity of Naga because Rani who was afraid of cobra ordeal and was ready to take the red-hot iron ordeal suddenly becomes bold enough to take up the cobra ordeal. This shows that she has realized the truth.

But being a victim of mistaken identity does not prove that she herself was completely innocent. Because even after realizing the truth about Naga she does not feel guilty about it. And ironically at this stage when she comes to realize the truth, people of the village including Elders become the victim of mistaken identity as they declare Rani as a “goddess incarnate”.

Karnad has shown identity crisis in the character of Rani. After coming to the house of Appanna she is unable to identify herself as his wife and she does as she is told. Her identity crisis is visible in her self-talks in which she imagines about her parents and want to go away from the house of Appanna:

“Then Rani’s parents embrace her and cry. They kiss her and caress her. At nights she sleeps between them. So she is not frightened any more. ‘Don’t worry,’ they promise her. We won’t let you go away again ever!’ in the morning, the stag with the golden antlers comes to the door. He calls out to Rani. She refuses to go. ‘I am not a stag,’ he explains, ‘I am a prince’”… (255)

In the problems of identity it is also worth noticing that Appanna who is a real human being is considered as a beast by Kappanna. He says: “…That Appanna should have been born a wild beast or a reptile. By some mistake, he got human birth.”(255). Here again we find a man who is like a beast and is devoid of human virtues and there is Naga who though takes advantage of Rani is caring and more humane.

The play shows us a very complex character of Rani. She is abused by Naga and Appanna. Appanna is her husband and she finds herself unable to go against him but her feelings tell about her detachment from Appanna. However, Naga is just an imposter with supernatural power who takes advantage of her and makes physical relationship with her. Her statements and her actions show that she is aware of the true identity of Naga in the end and also that she knows that the child in her womb does not belong to Appanna but Naga, but still she does not feel guilty for her action and she does not consider Naga as evil being.

This behaviour of her makes one ask whether she was an adulteress or she was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is defined by Wikipedia as a  psychological  phenomenon in which  hostages  express  empathy  and  sympathy  and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in the light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of  abuse  from their captors for an act of kindness.

The identity crisis in Rani is very significant aspect of her personality and of the play as well. It is her identity crisis that she is unable to identify herself in the role of wife of Appanna. Matters would have been different if she was cared and loved by Appanna but she is not. She struggles to be the wife of Appanna and so when she gets a chance to define and complete her identity as the wife of Appanna in the form of the root given by Kurudavva she takes her chances. However, she is not bold enough as the child in her, the identity of which lurks in the form of her soliloquies, gets hold at the crucial moment and she withdraws from carrying out the scheme of feeding the root to Appanna. Without knowing she pours the root mixed curry in the house of cobra and that event changes her life.

It should be considered here that Rani spent a long time with Naga and Naga was caring towards her. He did not beat her or ignore her but he showed that he cared for her and that he loved her, may be this caused her not to think ill of Naga and she started feeling affection towards him. Just as someone suffering from Stockholm syndrome would. In the light of these facts it is not an easy task to say whether Rani was guilty or not but she was a victim for sure.


  1. Abrams, M.H. “Folklore”.  A Glossary of Literary Terms. Bangalore: Prism Books Pvt.Ltd, 2005.  Print.
  2. Abrams, M.H. “Freudian Criticism in Psychoanalytic Theory”. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Bangalore: Prism Books Pvt.Ltd., 2005. Print.
  3. Babu, M. Sharad. “The Concept of Chastity in Girish Karnad’s Naga-Mandala.” Ed. Jayadipsinh Dodiya. The Plays of Girish Karnad: Critical Perspectives. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1999. Print.
  4. Karnad, Girish. Collected Plays, Volume One: Tughlaq, Hayavadanam Bali: The Sacrifice, Naga-Mandala.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Web Sources:

  1. “Identity Crisis”. Wikipedia. Thomas Nelson. N.d. Web. Date of access 12 July. 2014.
  2. “Identity Theft”. Wikipedia. Thomas Nelson. N.d. Web. Date of access 12 July. 2014.
  3. “Mistaken Identity.” Wikipedia. Thomas Nelson. N.d. Web. Date of access 12 July. 2014.
  4. “Stockholm Syndrome.” Wikipedia. Thomas Nelson. N.d. Web. Date of access 13 July. 2014.




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