It was during my undergraduate years that I was first introduced to The King of the Dark Chamber, a play written by Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengalese Nobel Laureate. Like many profound pieces of fiction, I was perhaps too young at that time to fully appreciate and grasp its great wisdom beyond a mere intellectual level—that is until now. The play is an allegory of an individual’s spiritual and personal awakening in their quest for beauty and truth. For some of those living or interested in male-led committed, monogamous relationships many of the themes yield useful insights that can be understood and applied within the Taken In Hand framework.
Among many of the play’s themes, the relationship between Sudarshana, the Queen and the King is symbolic for the relationship between man and the Divine; and for some, a romantic relationship between two equally powerful individuals. The King of the title is unseen by his subjects, some of whom question his existence, while others such as the maidservant Surangama are so loyal and worshipful to him that they do not even request to see him. The subjects have no need for proof of the King’s existence; they believe him to be real and great. Only those who have disarmed their own pride in subjection to their King know him. They have a sense of when the King is nearing and when he is present.
SUDARSHANA. How can you perceive when he comes?
SURANGAMA. I cannot say: I seem to hear his footsteps in my own heart. Being his servant of this dark chamber, I have developed a sense-I can know and feel without seeing.
SUDARSHANA. Would that I had this sense too, Surangama!
SURANGAMA. You will have it, O Queen ... this sense will awaken in you one day. Your longing to have a sight of him makes you restless, and therefore all your mind is strained and warped in that direction. When you are past this state of feverish restlessness, everything will become quite easy.
SUDARSHANA. How is it that it is easy to you, who are a servant, and so difficult to me, the Queen?
SURANGAMA. It is because I am a mere servant that no difficulty baulks me… As soon as I bent all my mind to my task, a power woke and grew within me, and mastered every part of me unopposed.
It is through a process of the humbling and subjugation (consensual) of the King’s wife, Sudarshana, that the play describes her journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening. Sudarshana is initially depicted as a proud, yet immature queen, bemoaning the cruelty of her husband, whom she can only meet in a room that is kept forever dark. She desperately aches to see and know him, and out of that yearning falls in love with another king, whom she meets in the world outside and mistakes for her husband. It is only when she has been humbled through a series of mistakes to complete despair and has cast away her pride, that she can be reconciled with her real husband, before whom she now bows with servility. Only when Sudarshana is brought down to the level of the servant can she become the Enlightened Queen. In an expression of perfect paradox, it is through her decision to serve her husband, that she becomes powerful and beautiful. Viewed within the context of a Taken In Hand relationship, these insights may be evident and applicable for some couples. According to some perspectives, a woman’s granted submission to serve her husband empowers him to step into the light with her, serve her, and lead himself, his family, work, and community with wisdom, strength and magnanimity.
SUDARSHANA. …. You are not beautiful, my lord—you stand beyond all comparisons!
KING. That which can be comparable with me lies within yourself.
SUDARSHANA. If this be so, then that too is beyond comparison. Your love lives in me—you are mirrored in that love, and you see your face reflected in me: nothing of this mine, it is all yours, O lord!
KING. I open the doors of this dark room to-day-the game is finished here! Come, come with me now, come outside into the light!
Additionally, the play reveals a subtle, powerful phenomenological discourse between the act of seeing and not seeing. Are the invisible and unseen qualities of the King a powerful manifestation of his divinity; or is the act of seeing a curse from which one must first be blind in order to genuinely see? Must the Queen first be humbled to serve in order for her to recognize and see the divine qualities within herself? Was this not what the King had to first endure before he himself was elevated to his majestic status?
SUDARSHANA. What do you see?
KING. I see that the darkness of the infinite heavens, whirled into life and being by the power of my love, has drawn the light of a myriad stars into itself, and incarnated itself in a form of flesh and blood. And in that form, what aeons of thought and striving, untold yearnings of limitless skies, the countless gifts of unnumbered seasons!
SUDARSHANA. Am I so wonderful, so beautiful? When I hear you speak so, my heart swells with gladness and pride. But how can I believe the wonderful things you tell me? I cannot find them in myself!
KING. Your own mirror will not reflect them—it lessens you, limits you, makes you look small and insignificant. But could you see yourself mirrored in my own mind, how grand would you appear! In my own heart you are no longer the daily individual which you think you are—you are verily my second self.
And so the reader is left asking the question is that which is beyond all comparison within us or not? What do we need to do in order to see it? Do we find someone to mirror us OR peer into ourselves with eyes wide open and see it reflected within ourselves? Perhaps the answer is not “either/or” but both. Those qualities which are “beyond divinely comparison” already exist within us. To find and achieve that wholeness, one must search for and recognize that which is great and divine within ourselves and acknowledge our need for others to mirror it back to us. Taken a step further, one might also conclude that in recognizing our dependence on others to mirror us, one must understand the magnitude of power it confers upon the other individual. In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island unto himself.” Some women will assert that many dominant men (particularly those who are wise and self-reflective) living in Taken In Hand relationships understand this truth on some emotional and spiritual level. His Queen can make and even hurt him on some level, admitted or not. For some men, it may be imperative for him to first discern the nature of a woman’s heart before committing. For others, it is a non sequitur. For some women, a demonstration of the man’s worthiness and trust is necessary before embarking on a momentous relationship. For others, a moot point. Whatever the case may be, human beings are unique, fallible (this includes wise, strong men and women) and ultimately self-responsible. In sum, strive to know yourself and in the process choose wisely from among the individuals available to mirror you.
1)Tagore, Rabindranth, The King of the Dark Chamber: (trans. by Drama League of America): published by Asia Book Corp of America, September 1914.
2)Donne, John:, Meditation XVII
[EDITOR'S NOTE TO THE WRITER OF THIS REVIEW: If you give me a name I will attribute this article accordingly.]