By Srinidhi Murthy

Ratnavali is a Sanskrit drama about Princess Ratnavali of Simhala.  The play has been credited as the work of a master playwright, the 7th-century poet-king Harshavardhana of Kanauj. It is the story of a young named princess Ratnavali, who gets shipwrecked on the way to her wedding and how she finds love in the end. 


Princess Ratnavali was the daughter of Vikramabahu, the king of Simhala. Vikramabahu’s niece, Vasavadatta, was married to King Udayana of Kaushambi. When the king heard that his niece had died in a fire, he proposed a marriage between Ratnavali and Udayana, to keep the relationship between the two families alive. But unknown to him, Vasavadatta had not died. Rumours of her death had been spread by Udayana’s minister, Yaugandharayana, as he wanted Ratnavali and Udayana to get married. What happens to Ratnavali, Udayana and Vasavadatta, forms the crux of the story. 

Script: Subba Rao; Illustration: Pratap Mulick
Themes involved 

Royal alliances 

Royal marriages were among the most sought-after alliances between kingdoms in ancient times all over the world. In this story, King Vikramabahu’s niece, Vasavadatta, was married to King Udayana of Kaushambi. Through this marriage, Vikramabahu formed an alliance and friendship with Udayana. When Vikramabahu heard that his niece had died in a fire, he mourned for her. At the same time, he did not want to lose his relationship with Udayana. If Udayana decided to marry a princess from another kingdom, her father would be an ally of Udayana’s instead of Vikramabahu. Hence, he proposes a wedding between his daughter Ratnavali and Udayana, to keep the relationship between the two kingdoms alive. 

Consequences of acting without approval 

Script: Subba Rao; Illustration: Pratap Mulick

A loyal minister always thinks about the well-being of his king and kingdom. Hence, when a prophecy predicted that the union of Ratnavali and Udayana will bring prosperity to Udayana, Yaugandharayana, the king’s minister, worked hard on arranging the match. He told Vikramabahu that Vasavadatta had died and accepted the marriage proposal from Ratnavali without informing Udayana. Yaugandharayana’s intentions may have been good, but his one action caused mishaps and confusion, which may have permanently strained the relationship between the two kingdoms. In the end, due to his complete trust in his minister, Udayana called him and gave him a chance to explain. This highlights their relationship and indicates that the king understood Yaugandharayana’s good intentions. With the character of Yaugandharayana, the playwright shows the terrible consequences of acting on someone’s behalf without his knowledge or approval. 

The insecurities of a queen 

Script: Subba Rao; Illustration: Pratap Mulick

It is shown that Vasavadatta and Udayana loved and cared for each other. Yet, when Ratnavali was introduced to Vasavadatta as her new companion, the queen feared that Udayana may take a liking to her. Hence, she promised herself that she would never allow them to meet. This shows that queens, even though they ranked high, next only to the king in the court, constantly feared a change in their husband’s affections. When Vasavadatta sees Ratnavali and Udayana together, she becomes heartbroken and orders that Ratnavali should immediately be locked in her inner chambers, until further notice. Later, Vasavadatta learns that Ratnavali is her cousin and sympathizes with her for all the troubles she had to undergo. When it is revealed that Ratnavali would bring prosperity to her king and kingdom as per the royal prophecy, the queen lets go of her insecurities and requests Udayana to accept Ratnavali as his wife. Through Vasavadatta, the writer shows how a good queen sacrifices her happiness and insecurities for the greater good of her kingdom. 


Ratnavali has been adapted thrice into Indian cinema. Movies with the same title were released in  1922, 1924, and 1945. 

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Kapala Kundala

By Srinidhi Murthy

Did you know Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was only twenty-eight years old when he wrote his second Bengali novel, Kapala Kundala? It is considered one of his finest works. Since its publication, Kapala Kundala has been translated into various languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Sanskrit, and German. 


Kapala Kundala is set during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. A boat, returning from a pilgrimage, loses its way and seeks refuge at a strange island. When the fog clears, the boat sets sail again, abandoning a passenger named Navakumar on the island. There, he meets a kapalik, a devotee of Goddess Kali, and a young maiden, Kapala Kundala. How these meetings change the lives of Navakumar, Kapala Kundala and the kapalik forms the rest of the story. 

Themes involved 

Human Sacrifice 

Navakumar first meets the kapalik while looking for shelter on the island. The kapalik offers his cottage as shelter, and food to Navakumar that night. The next day, when Navakumar asks the kapalik to help him to return home, the kapalik asks Navakumar to follow him. On their way through the forest, a beautiful young woman named Kapala Kundala emerges from between the trees and warns Navakumar that the kapalik plans to sacrifice him to Goddess Kali. When Navakumar refuses to go with the kapalik, he is forcefully dragged to the place of sacrifice. Chatterjee sheds light on the kapalika tradition, where a kapalik performs human sacrifice to please Goddess Kali. When Kapala Kundala, the foster daughter of the kapalik, saves Navakumar, the kapalik becomes enraged at his daughter for interfering with his sacrifice and vows revenge. 

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy

Religion and Revenge 

Navakumar was married to a girl named Padmavati when they were both still children. When Padmavati’s father converted to Islam, Navakumar’s father spurned Padmavati and refused to acknowledge her marriage to his son.  Padmavati later changes her name to Mati Bibi and meets Navakumar, after the events of the island have taken place. When she tells him about their childhood marriage, Navakumar refuses to accept her as his wife since he is now married to Kapala Kundala. Mati Bibi then disguises herself as a man and decides to get revenge on Kapala Kundala. Through Mati Bibi, the writer shows how misplaced anger can make people take drastic decisions that ruin their lives. Since childhood, Mati Bibi had seen Navakumar as her husband. Thus, when unfortunate circumstances separated them, she was unable to move on from her feelings and directed her anger towards Navakumar’s wife, who had played no part in her suffering.  

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy

Marriage and Trust 

In ancient times, a women’s name was changed by her in-laws after marriage. This practice is still prevalent in some parts of the nation. In this story, the writer highlights this practice as Kapala Kundala’s name is changed to Mrinmayee after her marriage to Navakumar. The writer also shows the importance of trust in a marriage. Navakumar sees Kapala Kundala with Mati Bibi, who is disguised as a man, at midnight in the forest. He grows enraged and his distrust is further fuelled by the kapalik, who convinces Navakumar to sacrifice Kapala Kundala to Kali for her unfaithfulness. Blinded by his anger, Navakumar is quick to agree. It is only when he confronts Kapala Kundala that he remembers this is the girl who saved his life and that it was foolish to trust the kapalik over his  wife. This realisation rebuilds Navakumar’s trust, which not only saves his marriage but also Kapala Kundala’s life. 

Script: Debrani Mitra; Illustration: Souren Roy

Kapala Kundala was adapted into four Bengali films of the same name in 1929, 1933, 1952, and 1981. It was also adapted into a Hindi movie in 1939 and a television series that aired on DD National. The novel was also adapted by Amar Chitra Katha as a comic, written by Debrani Mitra. 

Read the entire story of Kapala Kundala on the ACK Comics app!


By Srinidhi Murthy

Manonmaniam, an immortal epic play in verse, was written by P. Sundaram Pillai (1855-1897), in 1892. Sundaram Pillai was a noted Tamil scholar, professor of philosophy and served as a high-ranking official in the old Travancore maharaja-ruled state. Considered as the pioneering play in Tamil literature, Manonmaniam is about a princess who finds love in the middle of a web of political intrigue and betrayals. 


Manonmani was the only daughter of Jeevakan, the Pandya king. Jeevakan relied on the guidance of his teacher, Sage Sundara, to rule his kingdom. Sundara’s influence over Jeevakan caused jealousy in the king’s chief minister, Kudilan. As Jeevakan had no son to succeed him, Kudilan also wanted his son, Baladevan to marry the princess. One day, Sage Sundara decided to go on a pilgrimage. This was the moment Kudilan had been waiting for. In the sage’s absence, Kudilan began to gain influence over the king. Whether he succeeds in his plans or not, forms the rest of the story. 

Script: Lalitha Raghupati; Illustration: Varnam
Themes involved 

The courtier’s deception 

In a monarchy, only the king made the final decision regarding his kingdom and people. Hence, a courtier always wanted to gain some influence over the king, so that he could indirectly influence his important decisions. In this story, we come across Kudilan, as a cunning courtier, who wants to reach the king’s ears for the same reason, but his attempts are thwarted by the king’s teacher and advisor, Sage Sundara. Hence Kudilan makes his best attempts in the story to turn the king against Sage Sundara. To strengthen his position in the court, Kudilan also plans to marry his son to the king’s only daughter, Manonmani.  Kudilan also tries to betray his king to the enemy to save himself. The character Kudilan was created to show how dangerous was to have a cunning advisor in the court.     

Script: Lalitha Raghupati; Illustration: Varnam

The position of a princess 

The second theme the story deals with is the position of a princess in the court. Manonmani, as the only child of the king, with no brother to succeed after her father, becomes a valuable pawn in a court full of wilful courtiers. She also has to make some unhappy decisions for the well-being of her father and kingdom. For instance, Manonmani was not eager to leave her birthplace Madurai to move to a new city, Tirunelveli. She even tries to counsel her father against it. When Jeevakan refuses to listen, she agrees for the sake of her father. Later, after Jeevakan loses his kingdom, he wishes that Manonmani should marry Baladevan. Though the princess never wanted to marry Baladevan, she finds herself unable to refuse her father’s request. With Manonmani, the writer tries to show how a princess was expected to put the happiness of her father and her kingdom before her own. 

Loyal friendships 

Manonmaniam highlights the importance of having loyal friends, especially for a king. The readers can witness the concern Sage Sundara has for Jeevakan and how often he guides him to the right path. We also see the loyalty shown by an elephant as it carries the wounded Jeevakan from the battlefield and takes him to the sage’s hermitage. The courage shown by Jeevakan on the battlefield earns admiration from the rival Chera king, Purushothaman. It is Purushothaman who reveals the deception of Kudilan to Jeevakan and offers his friendship to the Pandya king. With these characters, Sundaram Pillai shows how a king should always surround himself with loyal friends and advisors. 

Script: Lalitha Raghupati; Illustration: Varnam

The play was adapted into a Tamil movie titled ‘Manonmani’ in 1942. The movie received positive reviews and ran for more than 25 weeks. It was also adapted as a comic by Amar Chitra Katha, titled ‘Manonmani’. 


Read the entire story of the epic in Amar Chitra Katha’s title, Manonmani, available on the ACK Comics app!

Clever Narayani

By Meghana L. 

A long long time ago, a man named Nandu and his daughter Narayani, lived in the town of Rajgir in the district of Nalanda, Bihar. He made a living by working as a labourer on wealthy landowners’ fields and rearing pigs. Narayani helped her father by taking care of the pigs.  

 Every day Narayani would take the pigs to a pond near her home, where they would wallow. One day she saw a young man walking past the pond in a hurry. Narayani stopped the man and asked him, “Where are you going in such a hurry, sir?” 

 The man stopped and replied, “I have to reach the Ganga by the full moon. It is an auspicious day, and I must take a dip in the river.” 

 She told him that the river was too far away for him to reach there in time. Instead, she asked him to trust her and do as she said.  

 She pointed to the pond her pigs were wallowing in and said, “I need you to have faith in your heart and take a dip in this pond. I will bring on the auspicious moment of the full moon, and you will be rewarded.” 

 The man followed her advice and took a dip in the pool. To his surprise, he found precious jewels under the water and brought them out with him.  

 Narayani asked him to take another dip, and the man agreed, thinking he could pick more jewels. Instead, he only found mud at the bottom. He came above and asked her why he could not find anything this time. She replied, “The result is equal to the faith you have in your heart and your confidence in me.” 

Script: Mrinalini Manda; Illustration: Vineet Nair

 The man asked Narayani to marry him as he was taken by her wisdom. She replied to his proposal by saying that she would only marry him if her father agreed to the match.  

 The man went to her father and asked him for permission to marry his daughter. Nandu was hesitant to give his approval. He told the man they were poor and could not afford a grand wedding. The man said that he was not concerned with all that and he was only interested in Narayani, whose wisdom had impressed him. On listening to what the man had to say, Nandu agreed to their wedding.  

 After the wedding, Narayani told her husband that in reply to her father’s question about what wedding gift he wanted, he should say: Suravi, Varahi, and Shaurya. He did as she told him without question and found out that Suravi, Varavi, and Shaurya were a cow, a pig, and a parrot, respectively.   

 Narayani, her husband, and the animals lived happily together. However, one day, Shaurya, the parrot, told them that Indra had decided not to send rains down in all the regions, except the barren hills and valleys of Rajgir, in the next monsoon. As a result, there would be a famine. 

Script: Mrinalini Manda; Illustration: Vineet Nair

 The husband was surprised to see this and asked the parrot how he knew this. Narayani revealed to him that they were no ordinary animals. The parrot had access to King Indra’s court and would visit it every day, bringing news to his mistress. Varahi was the leader of the pigs, while Suravi was the auspicious cow that yields plenty.  

 Narayani proceeded to assign tasks to the animals to counter Indra’s decision. She asked Varahi to gather her herd and dig up the barren hillside and valleys and asked Suravi to manure the fields. She then asked her husband to sow paddy in the area dug by Varahi. Everyone followed her instructions, and by the harvest season, they had an abundant harvest which they decided to share with the rest of the village during the famine. 

 When Indra came to know, he was enraged. In return, he decided to send rats to destroy the crops. Shaurya overheard this and relayed the message to Narayani. Her husband arranged for a clutter of cats to guard the crops and foiled Indra’s plan once again.   

Script: Mrinalini Manda; Illustration: Vineet Nair

 Indra was furious and decided to teach Narayani a lesson. He declared he would send a storm when they stored the crops on the threshing floor. The grains would get washed away, and there would be a famine as he had originally planned. Shaurya came down and relayed this information to Narayani. She asked her husband to dig a moat around the foot of the hills. Her husband did as she said and completed the ditch, along with other men from the village.  

 When Indra sent the storm, the water collected in the moat instead of flooding the area, so the paddy did not wash off and remained safe. The entire village shared this harvest and Narayani and her family saved everyone from the famine.  

 This is the legend of Narayani that people in Bihar and its surrounding areas have passed down to date. A moat similar to the one in the story presently exists in the district of Rajgir. Locals attribute its existence to Narayani. They also believe that Bawan Ganga, or 52 Gangas, is the same pond where her pigs used to wallow and where she met her husband.  

Read more folktales from around India in our title ‘Buying A Song and Other Stories’.

The Accidental Astrologer

By Srinidhi Murthy

In a small village, there lived a poor Brahmin called Manduka. He had been named Manduka, meaning ‘frog’, because since he was a small child, his father often told him that he was as dull as a frog in the well.  Now grown up, Manduka observed that nobody in the village took notice of him. One day, when he was passing by a merchant’s house and noticed that a wedding was taking place. Disappointed that he had not received an invitation to the wedding, he thought to himself,  

“I wish I could do something which would make everyone sit up and take notice of me.” 

Suddenly, he had an idea. He went to the stable and quietly led away the horse on which the bridegroom had come. He then took the horse to a secret place near a stream, without anyone seeing him. The next morning, the merchant was informed by his servant about the missing horse. The merchant panicked and ordered his servants to start a search. After some time, a servant came running to the merchant and told him that a woman was waiting for him outside. He also added that the woman claimed to be married to an astrologer, who could help find the horse. The merchant immediately ordered his servants to bring the astrologer to him. 

Script: Luis M. Fernandes; Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

Soon, Manduka, dressed as an astrologer, met the merchant in his house. He told the merchant that he would find the horse near the stream. To his surprise, the merchant found the horse exactly at the place Manduka had mentioned. Impressed, he rewarded Manduka handsomely for his help. After this incident, Manduka’s reputation as a credible astrologer grew and people began to take notice of him and respect him. 

One day, Manduka received a summon from the king. At the palace, the king told him that his queen’s necklace has been stolen and asked Manduka to find it using his astrological talents. Manduka was terrified. He was worried that the king would discover that he was not a real astrologer. 

In his despair, Manduka blamed his tongue for all his troubles, while he was in his palace chamber. He said – 

“What have you done, Jihvah (Tongue)? Why did you do it?” 

Script: Luis M. Fernandes; Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

What he did not know was that the maid, named Jihvah, who had stolen the queen’s necklace, was watching him. She was shocked to hear Manduka’s words and thought that he had found out about her being a thief. She immediately went to him and confessed that she had stolen the necklace in a moment of weakness. She begged for mercy and requested him not to reveal her theft to the king. Manduka was surprised at the turn of events. He kept a calm face and told the maid that he would not reveal her name to the king if she told him about the whereabouts of the necklace. 

The next day, Manduka took the king to the palace garden and told him that the necklace was buried under a tree. Indeed, the king found the necklace under a tree Manduka had shown him. However, to the king’s surprise, Manduka refused to reveal the thief’s identity. The king’s minister became suspicious of Manduka’s intentions and told the king that Manduka might have found the necklace in the palace and hid it under the tree to gain praise from the king. After listening to his minister, the king decided to set one more test for Manduka to prove his worth.  

Accordingly, Manduka was summoned by the king once again. This time, the king placed a closed jar in front of him and asked him to identify what was inside. Manduka worried that the king would put him to death if he told him that he was not an astrologer. In his despair, he loudly said to himself –  

“O Manduka (Frog)! You were better off in the well” 

Script: Luis M. Fernandes; Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

Much to Manduka’s surprise, the king praised him and revealed that there was indeed a frog hidden in the jar. The king rewarded Manduka handsomely and he went back home to a hero’s welcome. 


The Jackal and the Bandicoot

By Srinidhi Murthy 

One day, while roaming the forest in search of food, a jackal saw a troop of rats, who were led by their king, a bandicoot. The clever jackal realised that it would be useless to attack them as he would be able to catch only one of them before the rest ran away. He then hatched a plan and followed the rats to their hole. 

The jackal waited for all the rats to go in and then stood outside, on one leg, his mouth open and his face turned towards the sun. This strange pose piqued the curiosity of the rats and some of them came out, with their king, the bandicoot, to find out more.  

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustrations: Chandrakant Rane

The bandicoot asked the jackal –  

“Why are you standing on one leg?” 

“If I stood on all four, the earth would not be able to bear my weight’, the jackal replied. 

When asked about why his mouth was open and his face turned upwards, the jackal told the rats that he was taking only air as his food and that he was facing the sun to worship him. The bandicoot and the other rats were impressed by the jackal’s answers and hailed him as a saint. The jackal was thrilled when he found out that his plan was working. 

The next day, the jackal stood in the same position when the rats arrived to worship him.  After some time, the rats started to leave. This was the chance he was waiting for! Without attracting any attention, he quickly swiped up the last rat in the line and gobbled him up.  

This went on for many days. The jackal continued to eat one rat every day without anyone noticing. One morning however, the bandicoot noticed that the jackal had gained weight, even though he had been taking only air as his food for many days. Later, a few rats also pointed out to him that the number of rats in their hole had reduced.  The bandicoot immediately suspected the jackal’s hand behind these strange events and decided to confirm his suspicions. 

That evening, as the rats set out to meet the jackal, the bandicoot said- 

“Today, all of you go ahead. I will come out last”. 

As usual, the rats worshipped the jackal and started to leave. The bandicoot, who was last in line, was prepared, as he expected the jackal to pounce on him.

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustrations: Chandrakant Rane

The moment the jackal sprang, the bandicoot moved. The jackal fell down. Without wasting a moment, the bandicoot dug his teeth into the jackal’s throat and killed him. That evening, the happy rats had a grand feast of the sly jackal’s body!  

Read more moral stories in our collection Wit and Wisdom, now available on the ACK Comics app, ACK store, Kindle, Flipkart and more. 

Tagore’s Heroines

By Srinidhi Murthy

Rabindranath Tagore is considered one of the pioneers of the Bengal Renaissance, which took place during the 19th century. He has given Indian literature numerous unforgettable characters, a lot of whom were women. Tagore’s heroines were complex and fierce while also being flawed and vulnerable. They fought for equal status in society and refused to bow down to the expectations of society in a way that was rare for the time. Read on to learn more about some of Tagore’s most compelling heroines. 

Mrinal from Strir Patra (A Wife’s Letter)

Set in the late 19th century, Strir Patra is the story of Mrinal, a woman married into a zamindar household. Mrinal is depicted as an intelligent and observant woman who feels stuck in mundane, domestic life after marriage. Her intelligence is seen as a disadvantage and her beauty seems to be the only thing society values. As the story progresses, she is introduced to Bindu, the widowed cousin of Mrinal’s sister-in-law.  Bindu’s plight makes Mrinal even more aware of the patriarchal and oppressive nature of her in-laws. After Bindu commits suicide, Mrinal becomes completely disillusioned with the idea of family and marriage. In her letter to her husband, she explains her decision to leave him, in order to finally find her freedom. 

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra
Kalyani from Aparichita (The Unknown Woman)

Kalyani is the protagonist of Tagore’s story, Aparichita. In the tale, Kalyani is set to marry Anupam, but her father breaks off the match on the wedding day due to demands of dowry from the groom’s uncle. After a few years, a guilt-ridden Anupam proposes marriage to Kalyani again.  However, the independent protagonist rejects his proposal and tells him about the new direction her life has taken. Instead of letting her cancelled marriage be an impediment, Kalyani ventures into the world to find her purpose and identity. She dedicates her life to educating underprivileged women and helping them lead a life of dignity.  Through Kalyani, Tagore shows a woman choosing to find meaning outside of marriage without letting patriarchal traditions dictate her significance in society.

Giribala from Maanbhanjan (Fury Appeased)

Giribala, the protagonist of Maanbhanjan, is married to a wealthy zamindar. However, unknown to her, her husband falls in love with a theatre actress and plans to leave Giribala for her. While spying on her husband, Giribala is introduced to the world of theatre and finds herself fascinated with the art.  After her husband leaves her, the heroine decides to emerge stronger than before. She reinvents herself and pursues a successful career as a theatre actress. Through Giribala’s story, Tagore highlights how women can find success in their chosen fields too. The protagonist is special since she does not choose to become an actress to regain the love of her husband. Rather, she does so for her own love for theatre. 

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra
Mrinmoyee from Samapti (The Conclusion)

In Sampati, the protagonist is a young, fun-loving woman, Mrinmoyee, who enjoys her freedom. However, everything changes for her when she is married off to a wealthy and educated gentleman, who falls in love with her strong, unique personality. However, on the day of the wedding, Mrinmoyee questions her husband. She confronts him about her lack of choice in the decision to get married and thus refuses to reciprocate his feelings. Over the course of the story, she slowly begins to accept her husband and return his affection, but by her own choice, taking her own time. Through Mrinmoyee’s story, Tagore alludes to women being made voiceless and not having any say even in their own life choices. 

Kamala from  Musalmanir Golpo (The Story of a Muslim Girl)

In a short story set in the 19th century, Tagore introduces us to Kamala, an orphaned girl raised by her uncle and aunt, who resent her as a burden. Soon, Kamala’s marriage is arranged with the son of a wealthy man. However, their wedding procession is attacked by robbers. To her surprise, her fiancé and other relatives all flee, leaving her at the mercy of the attackers. She is rescued by Habir Khan, a respected Muslim gentleman, who takes Kamala to her house. When her aunt and uncle refuse to take her back, Kamala ends up staying with Habir Khan. She finds a better life, full of respect, at her new home, where she has the freedom to practice her own religion and make choices for herself. When the robbers attack Kamala’s cousin Sarala, she is no longer afraid. She saves her cousin with help from Habir Khan, and delivers her safely to her house. Through the story, we see the evolution of Kamala and the effect freedom and respect has on her personality.

The Monkey’s Heart

By Kayva Gokhale 

On the banks of a river, in a beautiful jungle, there once lived a crocodile couple. Across the river, on the other bank, there also lived a monkey. The monkey would live high up in the trees and feast on the fruits and berries there. He was fast as well as smart and so, was very hard to catch. However, the female crocodile had her heart set on tasting the heart of the monkey. She would often ask her husband to trick the monkey and bring her his delicious heart somehow.  

The male crocodile thought hard. He knew that catching the monkey would be difficult, but he did not want to disappoint his wife either. Soon, he had an idea.  

The crocodile went up to the monkey, who was busy eating tasty fruits. He called out to the monkey and said, “Dear Monkey, don’t you get bored eating these same fruits every day? I know a tree across the river which is full of juicy, colourful fruits! Don’t you want to try them too?” The monkey was eager to try the fruits, but he replied, “I can’t swim across the river. The strong currents will drown me. How will I taste the fruits then?”  

This was exactly what the wily crocodile wanted. He said at once, “That’s all? Don’t worry, dear Monkey, I’ll take you across on my back. After all, this is what are friends are for!” The monkey happily agreed and hopped onto the crocodile’s back.  

As soon as the crocodile reached the middle of the river, he started to sink lower. The worried monkey asked the crocodile what he was doing. The crocodile then revealed his plan. He told the monkey about his wife’s wish to eat his heart.  

Script: Meena Talim; Illustration: Jeffrey Fowler

Scared, but thinking fast, the monkey began to laugh loudly. The crocodile was confused. He asked the monkey why he was laughing, to which the monkey said, “Your wife wants my heart but she’ll never get it even if you kill me!” 

“Why is that?”, asked the crocodile. 

“Well, as you know, monkeys are very smart. So, we hide our hearts high up in trees, where they are safe. If you take me to my tree, I’ll prove it to you. In fact, I’ll happily give you my heart.” 

The crocodile was surprised. 

“Really?!” he exclaimed. Pat came the reply, “Of course, that’s what friends are for!” Satisfied, the crocodile quickly swam back to the bank. He let the monkey get off his back in order to fetch the heart.  

Once he was safely on land, the monkey quickly scampered up the tallest tree. From up there, he shouted out to the crocodile, “You silly crocodile! If I removed my heart from my body, wouldn’t I die? Go away now and tell your wife she won’t be having monkey heart anytime soon! Hahaha!” 

Read more Monkey Stories on the ACK Comics app. 

Krishna Speaks #14

This quote from the Bhagavad Gita tells us about the greatest pitfalls for mankind. 

The Pioneers of Marathi Natyasangeet

By Saee Joshi

Natyasangeet or Sangeet Natak are Marathi language musical dramas, which combine prose, poetry and music to convey a story. This form of musical theatre has its origins in 19th century Maharashtra and soon became a popular form of entertainment for the common man. Most of the plays in the initial days would be based on mythological stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. However, with time, these plays also evolved to include historical and social messages. While there have been numerous musical maestros who contributed to the growth and development of this cultural phenomenon, there are three men who stand out as pioneers.

Bal Gandharva
Illustration: Sushmita Lama

Bal Gandharva, born Narayan Shripad Rajhans, was the Natsamrat or King of Theatre of Marathi musical theatre for nearly half a century. Born to a common Maharashtrian family in June 1888, he was graced with a melodious voice. Young Narayanrao began singing bhajans (devotional songs) from a tender age. It was in one such singing performance in Pune that a member of the awed audience, Lokmanya Tilak, the great social reformer and freedom fighter bestowed upon young Narayan the name ‘Bal Gandharva’ or a ‘Young Celestial Musician.’

Bal Gandharva joined the Kirloskar Natak Mandali at the age of seventeen. His first performance was a female role in the Marathi version of the Sanskrit play ‘Shakuntala’. He acted in several plays – from classic to contemporary themes, almost exclusively playing female roles. His second marriage, after the untimely death of his first wife, was to a Muslim singer named Gauhar Bai, extremely progressive for that day and age. He acted in several anti-colonial plays as well during the course of his career. 

He was proclaimed the ‘Natsamrat’ in 1944, and elected president of the Marathi Natya Shatabdi Sammelan, a conference commemorating the centenary of the Marathi Theatre. In 1955, he was given the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Padma Bhushan in 1964.

Though, time could not be at a standstill. As Bal Gandharva become older and women were no longer shunned from the stage, he had to move onto more mainstream entertainment: the film industry. He dabbled in the movies, but eventually returned to the stage after a few flops. Though he founded a flourishing company, the Gandharva Natak Mandali, he remained in debt due to the extravagance of the theatrical world. He suffered through a lot of grief, losing three of his children, and a paralytic shock in 1952. Bal Gandharva had been paralysed ever since, struggling and virtually penniless. He died on 15th July, 1967.

The Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir was built in his honour in Pune in 1968, and it still flourishes to this day, furthering Bal Gandharva’s legacy.

Deenanath Mangeshkar
Illustration: Sushmita Lama

Deenanath Mangeshkar’s mercurial style and resonant voice made him one of the biggest voices on the Marathi musical scene. His distinctive musical legacy has never been replicated. Deenanath was born in what is now modern-day Goa, in a small village called Mangeshi, to a Karhade Brahmin priest and a Devadasi, Yesubai. In his teen years, he christened himself again as ‘Mangeshkar’, as a homage to the place he was born in, and to the deity of the Mangueshi temple, also called Mangesh. 

From the age of five, young Deenanath began taking singing lessons from Shri Baba Mashelkar and later joined the Gwalior school. He was inspired by the variety and aggressive style of Gayanacharya Pandit Ramkrishnabua Vaze. He travelled to Bikaner for his formal training, under Pandit Sukhdev Prasad. He joined the Kirloskar Sangeet Mandali and the Kirloskar Natak Mandali at the age of 11, leaving it shortly after and founding his own Balwant Mandali. 

Deenanath’s musical voraciousness and winning features resulted in him becoming immensely popular on the Marathi stage.  The element of surprise in his arrangement of note-patterns fascinated theatre-goers.

Deenanath’s versatility expressed itself in his voice and plays. Dramas produced by Deenanath Mangeshkar were always resonant with nationalism and patriotic in nature. He worked with writers like K.P. Khadilkar, Veer Vamanrao Joshi and Veer Savarkar.  Some of his most patriotic works include Manapaman, Ranadundubhi and Sanyasta Khadga.

Deenanath fathered Lata, Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridaynath Mangeshkar, who became the first family of Marathi and Hindi film music. 

In the years of financial hardship and creative discontent in the 1930s, Deenanath began drinking heavily. He breathed his last in Pune, 1942, only 42 years old. The Mangeshkar family has established a hospital and research centre in Pune, the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital, in his memory. 

Vasantrao Deshpande
Illustration: Sushmita Lama

Vasantrao Deshpande is a household name in most of Maharashtra now, but this musical maestro could have very easily vanished into the haze that then surrounded the theatrical world. Born in 1920 to a Deshastha Brahmin family in Murtizapur, in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra, Vasantrao was exposed to the Marathi devotional songs that his mother sang from the early years of his childhood.

Though he had an exceptionally sweet voice, it was entirely by chance that he was discovered by Shankarrao Sapre, a local music teacher after his mother relocated them to Nagpur. He began learning music, and within four years had landed the role of Krishna in the 1933 film ‘Kaliya-Mardan.’ In Kolhapur, where the film was shot, Vasantrao discovered artists big and small, all of which served as an inspiration to him. Deenanath Mangeshkar, the star of the theatrical world at the time, even took the young Vasantrao under his tutelage. 

Vasantrao imbibed all of their styles into his own, and he is to date the sole inheritor of Deenanath’s Mangeshkar’s mercurial musical flair. Vasantrao never stuck by a particular gharana, or music lineage, though he was initially trained by the Gwalior Gharana. He absorbed the good qualities of every gharana that he came across. He stayed in Lahore with his uncle for a short period of time, and it was here that his colourful style truly evolved.

He passed the matriculation exam and landed a job as a civil servant in Pune in 1941, which though highly unsatisfactory to the artist, provided him with financial security. Though he did not pursue music as a career for several more years, he built up a social circle in Pune comprising fellow music lovers and pursued his learning under different gurus. 

The favour of Hyderabad’s Begum Akhtar was one of the most influential turning points for Vasantrao, and it was due to her support and insistence that Vasantrao finally started pursuing music full time in 1966. Though the initial years were difficult, he met with great success and respect. His most memorable role was that of the ‘Khansaheb’ in the play Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, which catapulted him into stardom. This role is still retained by his grandson and contemporary classical singer Rahul Deshpande. 

Vasantrao had coronary issues in the 1980s, and though he lived long enough to receive the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award, he died on 30th July, 1983, at 63 years old. The Vasantotsav, an annual musical festival organised in his honour in Pune, is spread over three days in January.