ONLY two peoples of the world were given to logical thinking?that is to reasoning. They were the Greeks and the Hindus.
Peoples of the Book (i.e. peoples of the revealed religions?Jews, Christians and Muslims) were not given to reasoning. In fact, reasoning was prohibited among them. To question a revelation to them was to question the wisdom of God.
Thus, the two paths, that of the Greeks and Hindus on the one hand, and Jews, Christians and Muslims on the other, were like chalk and cheese. They produced the most contrasting civilisations that one can think of.
The Greeks developed the science of logic and oratory and the Hindus developed logic (Nyaya) and linguistics. And those who were blocked from reasoning (Islam for example) took to the sword. In other words, one took to words, the other took to swords. Such was the contrast.
Those who took to words developed poetry and prose and their different variations. Which is how humour and satire were born. Humour (Haasa) helped to entertain the people, while satire (parihaasa) was a weapon?of ridicule. Satire came to take many forms?parody, hyperbole, burlesque, nonsense, ridicule, irony, sarcasm, cynicism, sardonic, invective and so on. Interestingly, both India and Greece developed most of these forms.
Since the object of satire was to vex or wound, and not to divert, there were wide variations in their forms. Thus Orwell's?1984? is perhaps the most bitter satire ever known.
The point I want to make is this: satire effectively replaced the sword with words in Greece and India. And it emerged as the highest form of reasoning and criticism.
Humour and satire can be traced back to the Vedas (Rig Veda). The monologue of Indra, the chief of the gods, on his ?greatness? and the ?frog hymn?, where the chanting of priests are compared to the croakings of frogs, are good examples of the earliest forms of satire.
We know more on satire and humour from Bharata, author of Natyashastra. Bertolt Brecht, the great German dramatist, was so fascinated by the Indian dance drama that he adopted the ?Vidushaka? tradition, while Goethe, the great German poet, adopted the ?Prologue.?
According to one estimate, there were as many as 600 Sanskrit plays when the Muslim invaders appeared in India. Most of them were of a polemical form between Buddhists and Hindus. Many of them perished in the conflagrations that followed. And few were being added because Islam frowned upon drama, more so on satires and humour. So a great tradition of humour and entertainment and satire (the most powerful instrument of reasoning) almost perished in the 800 years of Muslim rule. The loss is immeasurable.
I cannot go into the details of this tragic history here. But mention may be made of Kshemendra, the greatest Kashmiri humourist and satirist. He is supposed to have written forty books. Only few have survived. The rest were thrown into the Jhelum river on the orders of the Sultan, Sikander, along with most other Kashmiri works in Sanskrit.
?The invasion by the Mohammedans in the 12th century sounded the death-knell of the already decaying Sanskrit drama,? writes Balwant Gargi, an authority on Indian theatre.
The Hindu concept of Vidushaka?the comic character in the plays?is unique in world theatre. Bharata gave great attention to the character and appearance of Vidushaka. His very appearance evoked laughter. Vidushaka ridiculed himself and the world around him. Asvaghosha, one of the earliest dramatists (1st century AD) and a great Buddhist scholar, introduced the Vidushaka in his play Sariputra Prahasana. Vidushaka spoke in Prakrit, the language of the people. This shows that this tradition was well established even during his lifetime. Bhasa has created three memorable Vidushakas?Vasantaka, Santushta and Maitreya?who were all of outstanding wit. It is said that satire goaded men into a higher moral sensibility.
The advent of the British did not make much of a difference. In ?History of Indian Literature? Winternitz says that he did not publish a number of satirical plays he discovered because they were ?obsene?. Unfortunately, only very few satires were translated.
A fierce indignation tore at the hart of the great satirist. We have none like them today. Although Sanskrit plays declined it continued to be the language of wit, humour and satire for a long time. It is time to revive this tradition.