Shambuk Vadh is a proscenium play produced by Janam in 2004. The play was written by Brijesh, had music by Kajal Ghosh, and was directed by Sudhanva Deshpande. The play was invited to the Prithvi Festival in 2006 and to the NSD's Bharat Rang Mahotsav the following year.
Shambuk Vadh is based on a little-known tale from the Ramayana. After the war, when Rama has assumed the throne at Ayodhya, one day a brahman appears in his court. His son has died, he complains, due to the ruler’s paap, sin. Perplexed, Rama wonders what paap he has committed. It transpires that there is a shudra named Shambuk who is reciting the Vedas. Rama goes out in search of this shudra, and kills him. The moment this happens, the brahman’s son comes back to life. The original story in the Ramayana is brief, and we are not told how the recitation of Vedas by a shudra leads to the boy’s death, or how he comes back to life when Shambuk is killed by Rama.
The actors sing the first verses of the Ramayana, in praise of Rama. The pandit and washerwomen introduce the tale of Shambuk from the Ramayana: After the war, when Rama has assumed the throne at Ayodhya, one day a brahman appears in his court. His son has died, he complains, due to the ruler’s paap, sin. Perplexed, Rama wonders what paap he has committed. It transpires that there is a shudra (low caste) named Shambuk who is reciting the Vedas. Rama goes out in search of this shudra, and kills him. The moment this happens, the brahman’s son comes back to life. The pandit and washerwomen also introduce the other characters: Shambuk’s lieutenant Satyakam, his mother Jabala, and the lovers Vridu (a shudra carpenter) and Sundari (real name Valaya, daughter of the king’s priest). Vridu and Sundari, on the run from Kalinga, are now in Ayodhya, looking for work and shelter. The pandit, in the meanwhile, is playing dice with shudras.
Acharya Susharma, a young firebrand brahman, is concerned that Vridu and Valaya have arrived in Ayodhya, and sends his soldiers to look for them. He is visited by his friends Veervarman and Dhangupta, who seek his help in setting up a market on land that has been earmarked for a water tank for shudras. The soldiers return with the news that Valaya and Vridu, are indeed in Ayodhya. They are ordered to find and capture them.
A tea shop (kahavaghar) owned by Bhattarak. Vridu and Sundari have gone there to seek work. They are found out by Bhattarak, but saved by two unknown men.
The unknown men turn out to be Satyakam and a shudra wrestler, both from Shambuk’s ashram. The lovers are brought to the ashram and given work there. Vridu will teach carpentry, while Sundari will teach Sanskrit.
Sundari directs a play at the ashram, in which the shudras act. This is about a scheming brahman, who tries to prevent a shudra getting wheat from the landlord. The shudra outwits the brahman in the end. After the play, Shambuk asks Sundari to go to another ashram and start teaching Sanskrit there. Jabala is to accompany her. Satyakam protests that teaching Sanskrit to read the Vedas and the shastras is not going to liberate the shudras. The shudras need to confront the political power of the state directly. Shambuk advises Satyakam to be patient, and argues that wresting the right to be educated is but the first step in the liberation of the shudras. For this, a collective recitation of the Vedas by the shudras in envisaged.
Night. Sundari, Vridu, Jabala and two others are traversing the jungle, where they are attacked by the Susharma’s two soldiers. A young brahman, Vrat, comes to their rescue. It transpires in the end that Vrat is a disciple of Vashishta, Rama’s guru.
Vashishta and Susharma. Susharma advocates stern action, because the shudras are getting organized and the very principles of the varna system are being challenged. This, in his view, is because of Rama’s ‘soft’ approach to the shudras, exemplified by his policy of ‘appeasement’. Vashishta says he is too hot headed, and the policy of what Susharma calls ‘appeasement’ is necessary to keep the distinction between the varnas intact. The day such a policy is unable to keep the varna system intact, the state, under Rama, will have to adopt a policy of repression. Vrat enters, and Vashishta learns that Susharma has been acting on his own, without consulting Vashishta. Vashishta asks Vrat to go and persuade Shambuk to take back his agitation. However, he also tells Susharma to prepare a volunteer force of the upper castes, and declares that Rama will undertake the Horse Sacrifice to reinstate the authority of the Vedas and the varna system.
The pandit and the dice playing shudras. The pandit loses, as always, and offers to teach the Vedas to the shudras in return for what he owes them. The shudras cannot understand who this mythical Brahma is, who gives birth to all manner of beings from all kinds of orifices in his body. Once again, he is almost caught by the soldiers, but as before, outwits them. The washerwomen enter, and inform the pandit that riots have begun. The upper castes are attacking the shudras, and the pandit better look out.
Susharma delivers a fiery speech, asking for an all-out attack on the shudras, while the lovers, Vridu and Sundari (who is also pregnant), find themselves caught in this whirlpool.
Shambuk’s ashram, where injured and homeless shudras are pouring in. Shambuk sends Vridu to Rama’s court with a message. Shambuk hopes that Rama will stop the violence and save the shudras. Satyakam argues that Rama will not come to the help of the shudras. Vashishta’s disciple Vrat arrives at the ashrama, and tells Shambuk to stop his agitation if he wants shudra lives to be spared. When Shambuk refuses to relent, Vrat tries to entice him with promises of state patronage. Shambuk refuses to sell out. In the meanwhile, Vridu returns from the court, unable to meet Rama, but with the news that the army is being readied for a campaign. It is clear that Rama is coming to kill Shambuk. Shambuk, in a final gesture of defiance, awaits his fate, firm in his belief that his sacrifice will be the first step towards the annihilation of the caste system.