Thursday, May 13, 2010

Loona: A New Look At An Old Story (Opening Notes)

Loona, an epic play written in verse form, is perhaps Shiv Batalvi’s single most significant work. It won him the Sahitya Akademi award for literature at the age of twenty eight. The story of Loona was not a new one. It had been around forever, an integral part of the kathas and kissas of Punjabi folklore. Only it wasn’t the story of Loona – it was the story of Puran Bhagat, a prince turned yogi. In the story of Puran, Loona is the vamp, the beautiful and evil young step mother who attempts to seduce him and who when thwarted wreaks terrible revenge.

Shiv’s motivation for re-telling an oft told story was to cast it in a new light, to remove what he identified as the distorting prisms of gender and class discrimination. He writes in his Introduction to the play that stories written by court poets in the pay of the ancient rulers should not be taken without question. Aging kings unable to satisfy the young wives they brought home were likely to be victims of doubt and suspicion, while the multiplicity of progeny from different wives was also likely to lead to intrigue over property and inheritance. And in all these histories and stories it was inevitable, that the king be rendered in the most favourable light by the court poet. “How” asks Shiv “can a modern poet follow that tradition blindly when there is no finality about any issue? There is always another aspect....”

Not only does Shiv question Salwan, the elderly king’s right to treat the beautiful but low born Loona as his property and appropriate her as his wife, he also questions why in popular tradition yogis were always high born and their temptresses of the lower castes. He elaborates, “The condition of high birth was needed even by Rama, Buddha, Charpat and Puran. Not only this, in order to prove that they were really great, lower caste women like Loona were depicted as the embodiment of deceive the high born righteous followers off the spiritual path.” It is this two-fold discrimination against women and against the depressed classes that Batalvi takes on in his version of the epic.

In many senses Loona is a feminist recasting of the old story. In it we see not only Loona making a bold case for the right of the young woman to make her own choices and express her sexuality, but we see the different women characters whether it is Loona’s girlfriends, the old queen Ichran’s maid, Queen Ichran herself explore the many ways in which women were disenfranchised in the old orders (That their songs and words resonate still in less choate ways in the psyche of the modern day woman are another story). Loona is more wonderful for having been written by a man, for while the feminist point of view is strongly put across Shiv Batalvi retains complete empathy with the male characters in the drama. In Shiv's words, “I have tried to assuage the pain from the deep recesses of my soul where my feminism lay dormant. Also my manhood.”


  1. Dear Manjul,

    Shiv Batalvi's stand is highly appreciatable, so is yours from the feminist point of view. Yes, in that sense Loona's sexuality and sensuality issues are important. On the other hand, since times immemorial woman cast against male renunciates, including a Shiva, may have had another meaning - that being, that even the renunciate is not far from his/her sexual desires when tempted with it. Thus, arises the thought that only when one is over and above this most potent force can one be actually considered to be liberated in the true sense. On the other hand, there seems to be also this as a meaning that the alpha and the omega can coexist in the same body.

    I am surely for the latter and in that sense, liberated from the cage of blame/shame of either sexes/genders, in their being of the highest states of existance at the same time rolling in the base camp too :))

    Thanks for this enlightenment from Shiv Batalvi


  2. Hi manjul,
    Thank you for this write up. I hope you will be following this with some more on the kind of writing that Shiv Kumar Batalvi does.
    I find Julia's remarks also of great interest.

  3. Hi Julia,

    interesting comment. did you read the other opening note titled 'Exploring Desire'? In a sense Puran's desire is for transcending duality and seeking union with his own soul - though he doesn't quite put it in alpha and omega terminology that is the direction he is headed out towards. more of this in the later commentaries as the play unfolds.

    Hi Abha, Thanks for dropping by - i have already transcreated many of Shiv's poems and posted them here, in case you want to get to know his work further.


  4. very nice information share i like it.


  5. Thanks for this good explanation on Shiv's Loona.