From the Jacket
The Upanisads reveal the nature of true vidya: it is the knowledge which leads to the understanding of Brahman which alone is the Reality in the world of appearances. The dramas by Shri Mani Iyer based on the Upanisads render the meaning of the Upanisads in an interesting and captivating manner so that a wider audience can gain from the Upanisadic insight.
This book presents an English translation of Mani Iyer’s seven Upanisadic dramas, originally in Tamil, and includes English transliteration of the original Sanskrit verses. The dramas pertain to seven of the major Upanisads: Kena, Isavasya, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya and Katha. With reference to each drama, there is an introduction that reveals the major questions raised by the Upanisad, the manner in which the play proceeds, the nature of the story, its characters, and the conclusion of the play. The translation is simple to follow and possesses a rare clarity.
Because of the simple language and the clear meanings of the Upanisadic verses, this book will be valuable to readers in general, students in particular, and to those interested in knowing what our Upanisads contain and intend to convey.
Dr (Ms) Rama Venkataraman has translated with great clarity and lucidity seven major Upanisadic plays from Tamil and provided the summaries for each at the beginning of the play to bring out the themes and concepts to the reach of English knowing populace and the younger generation alike.
She was aided in her efforts by Shri A.V.V.S. Kamaraju who illustrated the text with his sketches which brought out further clarity to many an abstract portion of the play.
The author has a Doctorate in Environmental Sociology and is an avid practitioner of Acupuncture. She has several easy to understand books to her credit on this forte too.
The other publication to her credit is Ladakh - A Himalayan Treasure, a socio-cultural book dealing with tourism aspects.
It is difficult to ascertain a time period for the origin of the upanisads. The Upanisadic utterances in the form of cryptic and coded Sanskrit slokas are the work of great rsis of yonder who, with the strength of their penance, could untie the knot of the mystery behind the working of the universe. They recorded their realizations in samhitas or slokas. These were passed on from guru to disciple in gurukula tradition in a well ordained way. Thus the knowledge and wisdom gained by the austere tapas (penance) of great maharsis filtered into the society and helped the living process of mankind steeped in ignorance and wrapped up in the world of phenomena brought forth by the antennae of their five senses.
The knowledge was passed on to the chosen ones who had the inclination as well as the capacity to decipher the codes in the Upanisadic slokas and who had the integrity to pass it on to the next generations. Thus the values, the wisdom and precious pearls of truth continued to be handed over from generation to generation.
The sceneries of the living process are undergoing drastic changes. The people who lived their lives in pre-ordained roles as warriors, craftsmen, traders and priests and led the machinery of the society, well oiled by their respective occupations, and imbibed the truths of the Sastras in their living. The fine subtle layers and rhythms of the society are all shredded away. By opening of the windows to the wild winds which bring both good and bad in fresh gusts continuously, the rhythm has changed for sure. But the new order has yet to be established. In this age of transition, where there is a bombardment of information with the entire mass of the population, trying to grapple with both trivial and grave ideas in the same breath, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sieve the essentials for proper and worthy living. The bombardment starts right from the cradle, and by the time the youth reach their prime they carry several encyclopedias of knowledge on diverse subjects. In all the din it is indeed difficult to differentiate between vidya and avidya as our seers have described knowledge. Any knowledge which leads to the understanding of Brahman, which alone is the truth in this universe of appearances, is true vidya or education, and all the rest of knowledge is grouped under avidya: “non-essential knowledge.”
That raises the question as to what is this true vidya or Brahman-knowing knowledge. That is what is discussed by the realized rsis in the Upanisads.
As I was going through the labyrinth of life like any person of this substratum and floundering about in the sea of knowledge, not knowing which direction to veer my boat, I came across these precious Upanisadic teachings rendered by Shri Mani Iyer in a drama form in Tamil. This format of Upanisadic writing attracted me. Time and again, prodded by the latent wish of every educated person, I had tried to read commentaries of great scholars about the sacred Upanisadic slokas. However my limited intellect and pressures of other living process have always found me falling short of comprehending the full purport of the weighty words and commentaries. As the readings get heavy the brain has a habit of curling up to slumber. Thus the words of Upanisads were always recorded patchily and thus robbed me of the full impact of their words, which eventually leads a soul to its final objective of realization to get out of this repeated cycle of bondage or imprisonment in the ignorance-personified life.
Words of wisdom locked up in the Upanisads, which are they key to open the mystery of life and death, have to be brought to the light of scholars and laymen alike. Shri Mani Iyer had taken it upon himself this stupendous job and had brought out the sacred and difficult text in a lucid and clear format of drama. Here the great rsis of yonder and their equally erudite disciples are brought out in dramatic format, a way every ordinary reader can understand. Further the difficult-to-comprehend truths of Upanisads are brought out in a dialogue form where the disciples are ever full of doubts like each one of us. The lurking doubts of our minds, are brought out through questions of the disciples and the concepts are discussed threadbare. Seeing these Upanisadic dramas rendering the difficult treatise in an interesting and captivating way, inspired me to take up translating the work into English, so that it can reach a wider audience. The universal truths should find light in the present universal language English, so that the profound thoughts and findings of the rsis, which rightfully belong to the entire human race, can be understood in an easy-to-comprehend manner. Hence though my station in life is a humble one, prompted by the all-knowing spirit “the Brahman” around and within us, I took up this work of translating Shri Mani Iyer’s seven Upanisad dramas into English. I have tried to bring out the work to the best of my capabilities. Very many scholars may find lacunae and deficiency in this work. My objective is to inform the public of the Upanisads in a drama form, who like me, are ignorant of the most important work of our rsis that lead us to brahma-vidya and final liberation. Hence I request the more erudite brethren to bear with any lapses and bring them to my notice, so that I can stand corrected.
In this endeavour of mine I owe my thanks to the scholars who took pains to go through the work from time to time and gave their valuable suggestions during the progress of the work. Shri S. Ranga Ramanujacharyalu the ex-Principal of Kavur, Sanskrit Vidhyalaya near Rajahmudry at Andhra Pradesh is one of the scholars who got involved with the work. Shri M.V.N. Chari went through the text and did the initial editing of it. Shri A.V.V.S. Kamaraju, a senior officer with ONGC devoted his valuable time and talent to draw out the many illustrations and bring out the nuances of the text matter clearly to the reader. Professor P.K. Dixit of