Category: Drama
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"Chitra" is a one-act play by Rabindranath Tagore that explores the themes of love, identity, and the pursuit of freedom. The play tells the story of a young princess named Chitra, who struggles to reconcile her duty to her kingdom with her desire for personal fulfillment. Chitra is torn between her duty to marry a prince and her love for a warrior, Arjuna. Through their conversations, Chitra and Arjuna come to understand each other's perspectives and ultimately find a way to be together while also fulfilling their obligations. The play is a poignant meditation on the complexities of love and the importance of individual agency.


A Play in One Act

Rabindranath Tagore


The Characters

VASANTA (Lycoris).
CHITRA, daughter of the King of Manipur.
ARJUNA, a prince of the house of the Kurus. He is of the
Kshatriya or “warrior caste,” and during the action is living as
a Hermit retired in the forest.
VILLAGERS from an outlying district of Manipur.
NOTE. — The dramatic poem “Chitra” has been performed in India
without scenery — the actors being surrounded by the audience.
Proposals for its production here having been made to him, he
went through this translation and provided stage directions, but
wished these omitted if it were printed as a book.

Scene I

Art thou the god with the five darts, the Lord of Love?

I am he who was the first born in the heart of the Creator. I
bind in bonds of pain and bliss the lives of men and women!

I know, I know what that pain is and those bonds. — And who art
thou, my lord?

I am his friend — Vasanta — the King of the Seasons. Death and
decrepitude would wear the world to the bone but that I follow
them and constantly attack them. I am Eternal Youth.

I bow to thee, Lord Vasanta.

But what stern vow is thine, fair stranger? Why dost thou wither
thy fresh youth with penance and mortification? Such a sacrifice
is not fit for the worship of love. Who art thou and what is thy

I am Chitra, the daughter of the kingly house of Manipur. With
godlike grace Lord Shiva promised to my royal grandsire an
unbroken line of male descent. Nevertheless, the divine word
proved powerless to change the spark of life in my mother’s womb —
so invincible was my nature, woman though I be.

I know, that is why thy father brings thee up as his son. He has
taught thee the use of the bow and all the duties of a king.

Yes, that is why I am dressed in man’s attire and have left the
seclusion of a woman’s chamber. I know no feminine wiles for
winning hearts. My hands are strong to bend the bow, but I have
never learnt Cupid’s archery, the play of eyes.

That requires no schooling, fair one. The eye does its work
untaught, and he knows how well, who is struck in the heart.

One day in search of game I roved alone to the forest on the bank
of the Purna river. Tying my horse to a tree trunk I entered a
dense thicket on the track of a deer. I found a narrow sinuous
path meandering through the dusk of the entangled boughs, the
foliage vibrated with the chirping of crickets, when of a sudden
I came upon a man lying on a bed of dried leaves, across my path.
I asked him haughtily to move aside, but he heeded not. Then
with the sharp end of my bow I pricked him in contempt.
Instantly he leapt up with straight, tall limbs, like a sudden
tongue of fire from a heap of ashes. An amused smile flickered
round the corners of his mouth, perhaps at the sight of my boyish
countenance. Then for the first time in my life I felt myself a
woman, and knew that a man was before me.

At the auspicious hour I teach the man and the woman this supreme
lesson to know themselves. What happened after that?

With fear and wonder I asked him “Who are you?” “I am Arjuna,” he
said, “of the great Kuru clan.” I stood petrified like a statue,
and forgot to do him obeisance. Was this indeed Arjuna, the one
great idol of my dreams! Yes, I had long ago heard how he had
vowed a twelve-years’ celibacy. Many a day my young ambition had
spurred me on to break my lance with him, to challenge him in
disguise to single combat, and prove my skill in arms against
him. Ah, foolish heart, whither fled thy presumption? Could I
but exchange my youth with all its aspirations for the clod of
earth under his feet, I should deem it a most precious grace. I
know not in what whirlpool of thought I was lost, when suddenly I
saw him vanish through the trees. O foolish woman, neither didst
thou greet him, nor speak a word, nor beg forgiveness, but
stoodest like a barbarian boor while he contemptuously walked
away! … Next morning I laid aside my man’s clothing. I
donned bracelets, anklets, waist-chain, and a gown of purple red
silk. The unaccustomed dress clung about my shrinking shame; but
I hastened on my quest, and found Arjuna in the forest temple of

Tell me the story to the end. I am the heart-born god, and I
understand the mystery of these impulses.

Only vaguely can I remember what things I said, and what answer I
got. Do not ask me to tell you all. Shame fell on me like a
thunderbolt, yet could not break me to pieces, so utterly hard,
so like a man am I. His last words as I walked home pricked my
ears like red hot needles. “I have taken the vow of celibacy. I
am not fit to be thy husband!” Oh, the vow of a man! Surely
thou knowest, thou god of love, that unnumbered saints and sages
have surrendered the merits of their life-long penance at the
feet of a woman. I broke my bow in two and burnt my arrows in
the fire. I hated my strong, lithe arm, scored by drawing the
bowstring. O Love, god Love, thou hast laid low in the dust the
vain pride of my manlike strength; and all my man’s training lies
crushed under thy feet. Now teach me thy lessons; give me the
power of the weak and the weapon of the unarmed hand.

I will be thy friend. I will bring the world-conquering Arjuna a
captive before thee, to accept his rebellion’s sentence at thy

Had I but the time needed, I could win his heart by slow degrees,
and ask no help of the gods. I would stand by his side as a
comrade, drive the fierce horses of his war-chariot, attend him
in the pleasures of the chase, keep guard at night at the
entrance of his tent, and help him in all the great duties of a
Kshatriya, rescuing the weak, and meting out justice where it is
due. Surely at last the day would have come for him to look at
me and wonder, “What boy is this? Has one of my slaves in a
former life followed me like my good deeds into this?” I am not
the woman who nourishes her despair in lonely silence, feeding it
with nightly tears and covering it with the daily patient smile,
a widow from her birth. The flower of my desire shall never drop
into the dust before it has ripened to fruit. But it is the
labour of a life time to make one’s true self known and honoured.
Therefore I have come to thy door, thou world-vanquishing Love,
and thou, Vasanta, youthful Lord of the Seasons, take from
my young body this primal injustice, an unattractive plainness.
For a single day make me superbly beautiful, even as beautiful as
was the sudden blooming of love in my heart. Give me but one
brief day of perfect beauty, and I will answer for the days that

Lady, I grant thy prayer.

Not for the short span of a day, but for one whole year the charm
of spring blossoms shall nestle round thy limbs.

Scene II

Was I dreaming or was what I saw by the lake truly there?
Sitting on the mossy turf, I mused over bygone years in the
sloping shadows of the evening, when slowly there came out from
the folding darkness of foliage an apparition of beauty in the
perfect form of a woman, and stood on a white slab of stone at
the water’s brink. It seemed that the heart of the earth must
heave in joy under her bare white feet. Methought the vague
veilings of her body should melt in ecstasy into air as the
golden mist of dawn melts from off the snowy peak of the eastern
hill. She bowed herself above the shining mirror of the lake and
saw the reflection of her face. She started up in awe and stood
still; then smiled, and with a careless sweep of her left arm
unloosed her hair and let it trail on the earth at her feet. She
bared her bosom and looked at her arms, so flawlessly modelled,
and instinct with an exquisite caress. Bending her head she
saw the sweet blossoming of her youth and the tender bloom and
blush of her skin. She beamed with a glad surprise. So, if the
white lotus bud on opening her eyes in the morning were to arch
her neck and see her shadow in the water, would she wonder at
herself the livelong day. But a moment after the smile passed
from her face and a shade of sadness crept into her eyes. She
bound up her tresses, drew her veil over her arms, and sighing
slowly, walked away like a beauteous evening fading into the
night. To me the supreme fulfilment of desire seemed to have
been revealed in a flash and then to have vanished…. But who
is it that pushes the door?

Enter Chitra, dressed as a woman.
Ah! it is she. Quiet, my heart! … Fear me not, lady! I am
a Kshatriya.

Honoured sir, you are my guest. I live in this temple. I know
not in what way I can show you hospitality.

Fair lady, the very sight of you is indeed the highest
hospitality. If you will not take it amiss I would ask you a

You have permission.

What stern vow keeps you immured in this solitary temple,
depriving all mortals of a vision of so much loveliness?

I harbour a secret desire in my heart, for the fulfilment of
which I offer daily prayers to Lord Shiva.

Alas, what can you desire, you who are the desire of the whole
world! From the easternmost hill on whose summit the morning sun
first prints his fiery foot to the end of the sunset land have I
travelled. I have seen whatever is most precious, beautiful and
great on the earth. My knowledge shall be yours, only say for
what or for whom you seek.

He whom I seek is known to all.

Indeed! Who may this favourite of the gods be, whose fame has
captured your heart?

Sprung from the highest of all royal houses, the greatest of all
heroes is he.

Lady, offer not such wealth of beauty as is yours on the altar of
false reputation. Spurious fame spreads from tongue to tongue
like the fog of the early dawn before the sun rises. Tell me who
in the highest of kingly lines is the supreme hero?

Hermit, you are jealous of other men’s fame. Do you not know
that all over the world the royal house of the Kurus is the most

The house of the Kurus!

And have you never heard of the greatest name of that far-famed

From your own lips let me hear it.

Arjuna, the conqueror of the world. I have culled from the
mouths of the multitude that imperishable name and hidden it with
care in my maiden heart. Hermit, why do you look perturbed? Has
that name only a deceitful glitter? Say so, and I will not
hesitate to break this casket of my heart and throw the false gem
to the dust.

Be his name and fame, his bravery and prowess false or true, for
mercy’s sake do not banish him from your heart — for he kneels at
your feet even now.

You, Arjuna!

Yes, I am he, the love-hungered guest at your door.

Then it is not true that Arjuna has taken a vow of chastity for
twelve long years?

But you have dissolved my vow even as the moon dissolves the
night’s vow of obscurity.

Oh, shame upon you! What have you seen in me that makes you
false to yourself? Whom do you seek in these dark eyes, in these
milk-white arms, if you are ready to pay for her the price of
your probity? Not my true self, I know. Surely this cannot be
love, this is not man’s highest homage to woman! Alas, that this
frail disguise, the body, should make one blind to the light of
the deathless spirit! Yes, now indeed, I know, Arjuna, the fame
of your heroic manhood is false.

Ah, I feel how vain is fame, the pride of prowess! Everything
seems to me a dream. You alone are perfect; you are the wealth
of the world, the end of all poverty, the goal of all efforts,
the one woman! Others there are who can be but slowly known.
While to see you for a moment is to see perfect completeness
once and for ever.

Alas, it is not I, not I, Arjuna! It is the deceit of a god.
Go, go, my hero, go. Woo not falsehood, offer not your great
heart to an illusion. Go.

Scene III

No, impossible. To face that fervent gaze that almost grasps you
like clutching hands of the hungry spirit within; to feel his
heart struggling to break its bounds urging its passionate cry
through the entire body — and then to send him away like a
beggar — no, impossible.

Enter Madana and Vasanta.
Ah, god of love, what fearful flame is this with which thou hast
enveloped me! I burn, and I burn whatever I touch.

I desire to know what happened last night.

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