In this article I would like to illustrate the rasas in a contemporary Indonesian play Pelacur dan Sang Presiden (“The Prostitute and the President”). The play, written by Ratna Sarumpet, is about a woman who is victimized by the patriarchal society and resists this unequivocally in her own way. The protagonist of the play is Jamila, a prostitute who is sentenced to death for murdering a high-ranking official. Jamila is an obstinate character and her words are colored by tones of anger and protest. Therefore I will focus on Raudra Rasa (furious sentiment) in analyzing the play.
As regards rasa, Bharata Muni said that the mental states are called feelings because they make us feel the goal of poetry. Aesthetic experience is the process of tasting the Rasa. Abhinavagupta concluded that ‘rasa is simply the aim of poetry’ (Gnoli 52). Based on Abhinavagupta’s interpretation of Natyasastra, rasa is juice or flavour. It is a typical Indian concept especially with regard to aesthetics.
Rasa is to be experienced by the reader or spectator of performance. According to Bharata, rasa derives from the merge between the play and the actors’ act (Determinants). Out of this occur Consequents and Transitory Mental States (Gnoli 86). In Natyasastra, eight fundamental bhavas (mental states) are delight (rati), laughter (hasa), sorrow (soka), anger (krodha), heroism (utsaha), fear (bhaya), disgust (jugupsa) and wonder (vismaya). There are 36 occasional, transitory, impermanent states. There are 8 fundamental mental states or Rasa, namely the erotic (srngara), comic (hasya), pathetic (karuna), furious (raudra), heroic (vira), terrible (bhayanaka), odious (bibhatsa), marvelous (adbhuta).
Aesthetical experience is resulted from squeezing out of the poetical word. In drama, words of the actors come with actions. The spectator senses the performance through sight and hearing. As rasa is not revealed, but rather suggested or manifested, it does not lie on the actor. He is only the means, the ‘vessel’ of tasting. The play creates a distance between the spectator and the actor. Then the spectator identifies himself with the actor.
“The Prostitute and the President”
The drama starts from Jamila’s confession of killing a cabinet minister named Nurdin. The 26-year-old woman gives herself up and is imprisoned. From her diary, read by warden Ria, we have a glimpse of her childhood. Her father gives her away in trafficking. She is sold and raped, escapes and helps her younger sister to flee a brothel. She also becomes a prostitute, then Nurdin’s mistress. Currently she is pregnant. She is sentenced with death penalty and granted a final wish. She wishes to see the president and a prominent Islamic cleric of the country, which enraged the country.
The plot of the play is not linear. One time we see Jamila in prison and the other is a flashback of Jamila before she is arrested. As there are two time settings in the play, there are two Jamilas. JAMILA 1 refers to Jamila in the past, while JAMILA 2 the present.
Ratna Sarumpaet is the founder of One Red Stage (Satu Merah Panggung) theater troupe. She started her career as a television show director in 1991 for the state-owned television channel, TVRI. The themes of trafficking and sex industry not something that she is unfamiliar with as she is also a political activist. She was awarded the Female Human Rights Special Award by the Asia Foundation for Human Rights in 1998. The play is made into a movie, “Jamila and the President”, directed by Sarumpaet herself. It was nominated as a foreign language film for Oscar in 2009.
Raudra, Bibhatsa and Karuna Rasas in the Play
In Natyasastra, raudra rasa is explained as the following:
Now (the rasa) called raudra has anger for its permanent emotion. Demons, monsters and violent men are its characters. It is caused by battles. It arises from (sic) such vibhavas as anger, provocative actions (adharsana), insult (adhiksepa), lies, assaults (upaghata), harsh words, oppression (abhiroha, or according to Abhinava, “murderous intent”) and envy.
Aesthetic Rapture, Vol. I, p. 53
Patnaik shows how raudra can coexist with other rasas, namely vira and karuna in Natyasastra. He also evidenced that anger, one of the determinants of raudra, can cause sorrow and incomprehension. In the case of the latter, anger has the potential to arouse bibhatsa rasa or odious.
The evocation of raudra and vira can be seen in Act 5b. Jamila is shocked and furious when she finds out that her sister Dinda is brutally murdered. She has been missing for two weeks and the police do not take any action. The perpetrators are in fact the police officers. JAMILA 2 tells the officers that she knows why Dinda is murdered. Dinda always refuses ‘the present’ of drugs that is given so that the girls can work all night, ‘serving ten men in one night’.
JAMILA 1 You police officers are losers!!
Only losers can take a way an innocent person’s like
Now, whether you want to prosecute me –
Or kill me, the way you
butchered Dinda, it doesn’t matter to me …..
(Act 5b, 47)
Absence of sadness becomes the vibhava of vira rasa. Jamila releases her grief of losing her sister and she is ready to be killed by the police officers who want to keep their reputation. The anubhavas are firmness and heroism. The vira from correct perception also leads to santa as the vibhava of santa is knowledge of Truth (Patnaik 232). Jamila at that point of time realizes that her fate lies on a greater power.
Basically raudra is categorized as a negative rasa, or dukhatmaka according to Abhinavagupta, as it inflicts pain. However, as far as anger and vira rasa are concerned, raudra cannot be easily called negative. The relation between raudra and vira is that, in heroic actions sometimes the elements of fury are apparent (Patnaik 145). Utsaha or dynamic energy (the main sthayibhava of vira) is related to krodha or anger (one of the sthayibhava of raudra). In addition to energy, raudra and vira rasas contain action and correct perception. Anger can actually lead to a state of blindness, where one can do wrong actions or act unreasonably (which is negative). However, the energy in vira is transformed into good deeds, thus vira is a positive rasa.
Raudra rasa can also coexist with bhayanaka and bibhatsa, terrible and odious sentiments. The reason lies on the anubhavas of raudra: ‘beating, breaking, crushing, mutilating, fighting, drawing of blood… red eyes, knitting of eyebrows, defiance, biting of lips, movement of cheeks, pressing one hand with the other, etc’ (Ghosh). Beating, crushing, mutilating and drawing of blood can cause terrible feeling and furthermore disgust or bibhatsa rasa.
Bhibatsa can be evoked from the scene where MRS WARDIMAN regrets the current condition of Jamila. Jamila’s mother puts Jamila under the care of Wardiman family because she thinks it is a respectable family. However, Jamila is abused by MRS WARDIMAN’s husband and son and becomes pregnant. In the beginning of the play, MRS WARDIMAN tells Jamila to name the father of the baby. She says she does not like to see Jamila’s wearing a jilbab or veil. She feels as if she is conspiring with the devil in insulting Jamila’s mother (Opening). She views that the veil is unsuitable for her moral and then she condemns her:
MRS WARDIMAN Your father – sold you to a pimp
when you’re still green
Dying, your mother kidnapped you
from that pimp and took you here
so that you’re safe.
In a house of a respectable family like this
she hoped you grow up well
And what eventually you become?
You are like destined to be a prostitute.
Then Jamila stands up and becomes stiff. MRS WARDIMAN’s insults are the vibhava of Jamila’s anger. After some more tensions, Jamila cannot take it anymore. She exits and it is implied that she has committed the murder.
After JAMILA 1 murders Nurdin and his son, she wipes the blood in the dagger onto her veil. She looks at the dagger as if seeing ‘a terrible sin’. She is haunted by what she has done. She remembers that her mother regards her birth as ‘light’, a blessing. Her mother talks about ‘purity and self esteem’. Then she asks what purity and self-esteem really are. There is a terrible sentiment at this moment.
The stage focus shifts. When JAMILA 2 is having a conversation with PRISON GUARD, she advices him to look after his daughters because, she says, “The world is full of greed and hypocrisy, and can pollute and trap them.” (Act I). After saying this, she bends her knees and holds her legs tight, looks straight to the front. In this scene the vibhavas of raudra rasa are anger and insult. Jamila realizes that she is talking about herself, that she is part of the greedy world, and that she is “dirty”. According to Ghosh, the vyabhicaribhavas of raudra rasa are presence of mind, determination, energy, indignation, restlessness, fury, perspiration, trembling, horripilation, choking voice, etc’. In this scene, the vyabhicaribhavas are determination, fierce look and harsh voice. Jamila goes on saying:
JAMILA 2 I am one of them, Officer.
I kill people since I was a child.
Since I could not differ the right from the wrong.
And that is terrifying.
(Act 1, p.14)
Her anger is addressed to herself and in her confession she justifies herself. The battle that causes raudra rasa is within herself.
The society considers Jamila as enemy of the country. She signifies the fall of morality and human values. PRISON GUARD reads out the newspaper to Jamila and tells her that an Islamic organization, Nation’s Faith Defender Forum (FPIB), will go for a demonstration at the court with participants of thousands of people. The organization demands that the trial sentences her to death. However, she calls the organization as “hypocrite moralist militants.” The fictitious FPIB actually refers to Islam’s Defenders Front (FPI), an organization which acts against ‘immorality’ on behalf of Islam. With uncivilized behaviour, FPI members raid on bars and nightclubs also destroy alcohol and pornography material especially during Ramadan month. They take the law into their hands and abuses religion. Jamila claims that those people do not understand morals. She instead proposes that they declare her a dignitary of the organization.
Seeing JAMILA 2 being intimate with PRISON GUARD, MRS RIA scolds him and says that his job is to guard the inmate, not to befriend her. Here the vibhava for MRS RIA is jealousy. She does not want Jamila to become a martyr.
However, MRS RIA also sympathizes with JAMILA. She tells her to stop bragging herself because “it may increase [her] punishment” (Act 1). When anger is transformed into violence and destruction, karuna rasa (pathetic sentiment) is evoked. Raudra and karuna have some common anubhavas , for example red eyes and movement of cheeks. In the scene when MRS RIA says that she cares about Jamila, MRS RIA’s face is stiff and her voice is firm—the anubhavas. In the mean time, the vibhava is Jamila’s captivity misfortune, which MRS RIA can feel as she is also a woman. The manifestation of destruction is resulted from her sorrow. This is the intersection between raudra and karuna. In karuna, the effect of sorrow is more important than the cause, while in anger, it is the opposite.
Besides MRS RIA, other people may also pity her. Malik, the LAWYER, tells JAMILA 2 that actually millions of people care about her. They do not want her charge to be interfered with political interests. However, JAMILA 2 is furious with this.
JAMILA 2 Enough! Enough!! Enough !!!!
I told you I don’t need legal defense.
The reason for her refusal of legal aid from the lawyer is she believes she did the right thing. She killed Nurdin the official with her own hands and she does not regret this. She believes that there is no border between the personal and the public affairs. JAMILA 2 says, “Prostitution is politics… I’m no different from politicians” (Act 1). According to her men boast themselves when they talk about morality. Yet, they are very weak when faced with women’s sexuality. The moral value is not upheld anymore, regardless their social status. She says she hates the society for putting politicians at a high level as if they are heroic and holy.
JAMILA – 2 Mrs Ria, do you know what those clerics
think of people like me?
Ha ha ha …. (I, 21)
The scene implies that the clerics are disgusted with Jamila. The clerics are moral upholders while Jamila is exactly the opposite. People like Jamila will go to hell. However, we can also read this the other way around, that Jamila finds the clerics disgustful. There is haasya rasa (comic sentiment) caused by the absurdity of the clerics. Discussing John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry Howl, Patnaik explains that fury is the result of alienation. Jimmy and the ‘I’ feel “the sense of disgust at those who have made these people outcasts” (154). Jugupsa sthayibhava (durable psychological state of disgust) is there and thus bibhatsa rasa (odious sentiment) is also aroused by this scene.
Jamila connects the personal world to the public world. She wants to strategically use her sexuality to disrupt the society. The highest (male) position in the country is at the president. Then she makes her death wish, to sleep with the president, rather than an amnesty from him. This enrages Mrs. Ria. She slaps her and orders her men to take Jamila to isolation room. Yet, when dragged, Jamia laments:
JAMILA 2 Not a single child on earth
Wants to be a prostitute, Mrs Ria.
Not a single child …….. (Act 1, 22)
Her distrust of the world is the reason why she had abortion several times when she is working as a prostitute. She reveals this when MRS DARNO, her ex-pimp, pays her a visit at the prison. Jamila says she does not want her future daughters to meet people like MRS DARNO and be raped legally. Neither does she want them to be sex objects nor accused as the destroyer of the nation’s morals. Revenge, past insults, threats and sexual assaults are the vibhavas of raudra rasa here.
Some women are displeased by Jamila, for example the wives of officials. Two of them come to the prison representing the community of officials’ wives. They ask Jamila’s motive of request to see the president. They feel Jamila is being arrogant. Their manner is the anubhava of raudra. WIVE 2 pulls Jamila’s hair and spits at her.
Jamila’s hatred of her life and the world is also expressed when a Muslim cleric comes to her cell. He wants to guide her to ask for God’s forgiveness. However, Jamila says that she does not need a cleric to do that because he cannot understand her suffering. She asks sharply why he comes now, why was not he be with her when her father gives her away. With the anubhava of her arms stretched she says:
JAMILA 2 Look, Pak Cleric, look!!
Look how dirty and sinful I am.
And don’t say that you are not also
responsible for all this.
(Act 7, 65)
As we can see, the main vibhavas or raudra rasa in “The Prostitute and the President” are injustice and oppression. These reasons of Jamila’s anger drive her toward her disbelieve of the world. The murder of Nurdin can be seen as the greatest manifestation of her fury, the anubhava of drawing blood. However, she cannot be categorized as the ‘bad girl’. With feminist approach, Jamila is the hero. She blames her condition on the society that commodifies women’s body. This play is a critique against the state, the law, trafficking, prostitution and religion.
Ghosh, Manmohan (trans.) Natyasastra by Bharata Muni, 1967. Calcutta: Calcutta Oriental Press.
Gnoli, Raniero The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, 1985.
Patnaik, Priyadarshi Rasa in Aesthetics: An Application of Rasa Theory to Modern Western Literature. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 1997.
Sarumpaet, Ratna Pelacur dan Sang Presiden (The Prostitute and the President). “Naskah Drama Indonesia” page http://banknaskah-fs.blogspot.com/ downloaded on April 28, 2010.