Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama

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Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama

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Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. The Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.

Sanskrit Drama


  • Sanskrit Drama
  • Sudraka
  • Mrcchakatika

Play Summary of Mricchakatika 

ACT I, entitled The Gems are left Behind. 

Evening of the first day.—After the Prologue, Charudatta, who is within his house, converses with his friend Maitreya, and deplores his poverty. While they are speaking, Vasantasena appears in the street outside. She is pursued by the courtier and Sansthanik; the latter makes her degrading offers of his love, which she indig-nantly rejects. Charudatta sends Maitreya from the house to offer sacrifice, and through the open door Vasantasena slips unobserved into the house. Maitreya returns after an altercation with Sansthanik, and recognizes Vasantasena. Vasantasena leaves a casket of gems in the house for safe keeping and returns to her home. Charudatta allots the responsibility of safe keeping of Vasantasena’s casket of gems to Vardhamanaka for the day and to Maitreya for the night. 

AcT II, entitled The Shampooer who Gambled. 

Second day.—The act opens in Vasantasena’s house. Vasantasena confesses to her maid Madanika her love for Charudatta. Then a shampooer appears in the street. pursued by the gambling-master and a gambler. They demand of him ten gold-pieces which he has lost in the gambling-house. At this point Darduraka enters, and en-gages the gambling-master and the gambler in an angry discussion. Meanwhile, the shampooer escapes into Vasantasena’s house. When Vasantasena learns that the shampooer had once served Charudatta, she pays his debt. The grateful shampooer resolves to turn monk. As he leaves the house he is attacked by a runaway elephant. Karnapuraka, a servant of Vasanta(ena, saves him. 

ACT III, entitled The Hole in the Wall. 

The night following the second day.—Charudatta and Maitreya return home after midnight from a concert, and go to sleep. Maitreya has in his hand the gem-casket which Vasantasena has left behind. Sarvilaka, who excels in theft, enters. He is in love with Madanika, a maid of Vasantasena’s. He is resolved to acquire by theft the means of buying her freedom. He makes a hole in the wall of Charudatta’s house, enters, and steals the casket of gems which Vasantasena had left. Charudatta wakes to find the casket and the thief gone. Initially, he is satisfied with the theft because the thief could find at least a gem of caskets for theft in his otherwise poor house. Maitreya tells him that the gem stolen by the thief belonged to Vasantasena and was kept by her for safe keeping. Charudatta then feels extremely sorry over the possibility of the people attacking his character without taking into consideration the event of the theft. His wife gives him her pearl neck-lace with which to make restitution. Charudatta sends Maitreya to Vasantasena’s house with the pearl necklace asking him to tell Vasantasena that he has lost the gem-casket in gambling and that he wishes to repay it in the form of the necklace. 

AcT IV., entitled Madanika and Sarvilaka. 

Third day.—Sarvaloka comes to Vasantasena’s house to buy Madanika’s freedom. Vasantasena overhears the facts concerning the theft of her gem-casket from Charudatta’s house. She accepts the casket, and gives Madanika her freedom. As Sarvilaka leaves the house, he hears that his friend Aryaka, who had been imprisoned by King Palaka, has escaped and is being pursued. Sarvilaka departs to help him. Maitreya comes from Charudatta with the pearl necklace, to repay Vasantasena for the gem-casket. She accepts the necklace also, as giving her an excuse for a visit to Charudatta. She decides to meet Charudatta in the evening. 

ACT V entitled The Storm. Evening of the third day.—Charudatta waits eagerly for Maitreya. Maitreya returns after handing the necklace to Vasantsena. He tells Charudatta that Vasantasena has accepted the necklace and that she was going to come to meet him in the evening. He has not liked Vasantasena’s action and. Therefore, he abuses her. 

He advises Charudatta to end his relationship with Vasantasena. Charudatta tells him that their relationship is different because she was attracted to him in spite of his poverty. He receives a servant of Vasantasena in the gar-den of his house, who announces that Vasantasena is on her way to visit him. He is so happy to hear this news that he hands over his piece of cloth to the servant: Vasantasena then appears in the street with the courtier; the two describe alternately the violence and beauty of the storm which has suddenly arisen. Vasantasena dismisses the • courtier, enters the garden, and explains to Charudatta how she has again come into possession of the gem-cas-ket. Meanwhile, the storm has so increased in violence that she is compelled to spend the night at Charudatta’s house. 

ACT VI, entitled The Swapping of the Bullock-carts. 

Morning of the fourth day.—A maid wakes up Vasantasena at Charudatt’s house. She tells her that Charudatta has left for the Pushpakaran Dakak park and that he has informed Vardhamanaka to keep ready a bullock cart for Vasantasena’s departure. She is pleased with the idea of going to the park because she feels that she has not seen Charudatta properly at night and would like to see him in the daylight. She returns the necklace to Charudatta’s wife. Charudatta’s wife refuses to accept it saying that since Charudatta has given it to her, she can not take it back. She further tells Vasantasena that her husband is her real ornament. Here Vasantasena meets Charudatta’s little son, Rohasena.

The boy is peevish because he has only a little clay cart to play with, instead of a toy cart of gold. Vasantasena gives him her gems to buy a toy cart of gold. Charudatta’s servant drives up to take Vasantasena in Charudatta’s bullock-cart to the park, where she is to meet Charudatta. But while Vasantasena is getting ready, he drives away to get a cushion. Then Sansthanika’s servant drives up with his master’s cart, which Vasantasena enters by mistake. Soon after, Charudatta’s servant returns with his cart. Then the escaped prisoner Aryaka appears and enters Charudatta’s cart. Two policemen come on the scene; they are searching for Ayaka. One of them looks into the cart and dis-covers Aryaka, but agrees to protect him. This he does by deceiving and finally maltreating his companion. 

ACT VII., entitled Arya’s Escape. 

Fourth day.—Charudatta is awaiting Vasantasena in the park. His cart, in which Aryaka lies hidden, appears. Charudatta discovers the fugitive, removes his fetters, lends him the cart, and leaves the park. 

ACT VIII, entitled The Strangling of Vasantasena. 

Fourth day.—A Buddhist monk, the shampooer of the second act, enters the park. He has difficulty in es-caping from Sansthanik, who appears with the courtier. Sansthanika’s servant drives in with the cart which Vasantasena had entered by mistake. She is discovered by Sansthanik, who pursues her with insulting offers of love. When she repulses him, Sansthanik gets rid of all witnesses. strangles her, and leaves her for dead. The Buddhist monk enters again, revives Vasantasena, and conducts her to a monastery. 

Act IX., entitled The Trial. 

Fifth day.—Sansthanik accuses Charudatta of mur-dering Vasantasena for her money. In the course of the trial, it appears that Vasantasena had spent the night of the storm at Charudatta’s house; that she had left the house the next morning to meet Charudatta in the park; that there had been a struggle in the park, which apparently ended in the murder of a woman. Charudatta’s friend, Maitreya, enters with the gems which Vasantasena had left to buy Charudatta’s son a toy cart of gold. These gems fall to the floor during a scuffle between Maitreya and Sansthanik. In view of Charudatta’s poverty, this seems to establish the motive for the crime, and Charudatta is condemned to death. 

ACT X., entitled The End. 

Sixth day.—Two headsmen are conducting Charudatta to the place of execution. Charudatta takes his last leave of absence from his son and his friend Maitreya. But Sansthanika’s ser-vant escapes from confinement and betrays the truth. Yet he is not believed, owing to the cunning displayed by his master. The headsmen are preparing to execute Charudatta, when Vasantasena herself appears upon the scene, accompanied by the Buddhist monk. Her appear-ance puts a summary end to the proceedings. Then news is brought that Aryaka has killed and supplanted the former king, that he wishes to reward Charudatta, and that he has by royal edict freed Vasantasena from the necessity of living as a courtesan. Sansthanik is brought before Charudatta for sentence, but is pardoned by the man whom he had so grievously injured. The play ends with the usual Epilogue. 

Critical Analysis 

`Mrichchhakatika’ or ‘The Little Clay Cart’ is an an-cient Sanskrit play written by King Sudraka (Ujjayini) in around 3 century A.D. It is one of the oldest of all the so far known Sanskrit plays in Indian Literature. Concerning the life, the date and the very identity of the author King Sudraka, we are curiously ignorant. No other work is ascribed to him and we have no direct information about him till date beyond the somewhat fanciful and exagger-ated self praising statements in the prologue of this play. Surely there are many tales, which cluster about the name of King Sudraka but none of them found so far repre-sents him as an author. A few years back the age and even the authorship of this play was uncertain. After the unexpected discovery of the plays of Bhasa provided us with new data and brought light to the drama Charudatta whose enlarged and completed version Mrichchhakatika seems to be. 

Mrichchhakatika is one of the most famous prakaranas i.e. a play whose plot is partly derived from the history and partly is a creation of the author’s fancy ofthe ancient India that is not based on the epic material and is full of rascals. It is natural that Sudraka should choose for the expression of matters so diverse that this type of drama gives the greatest scope to the author’s creative power. This type is the so-called “drama of invention”, a cat-egory curiously subordinated in India to the heroic drama, the plot of which is drawn from history or mythology. In-deed, Mrichchhakatika is the only extant drama which fulfils the spirit of the drama of invention, as defined by the Sanskrit canons of dramaturgy. An exaggerated tongue-in-cheek self-praise by the author begins as: 

Who vied with elephants in lordly grace; 

Whose eyes were those of the chakora bird 

That feeds on moonbeams; glorious his face 

As the full moon; his person, all have heard, 

Was altogether lovely. First in worth 

Among the twice-born was this poet, known 

As Sudraka far over all the earth, —

His virtue’s depth is unfathomed and alone. 

And again: 

The Samaveda, the Rigveda too, 

The science mathematical, he knew; 

The arts wherein fair courtesans excel, 

And all the lore of elephants as well. 

Through Shiva’s grace, his eye was never dim; 

He saw his son a kingin place of him. 

The difficult horse-sacrifice he tried 

Successfully; entered the fiery tide, 

One hundred years and ten days old, and died. 

And yet again: 

Eager for battle; sloth’s determined foe; 

Of scholars chief, who to the Veda cling; 

Rich in the riches that ascetics know; 

Glad, giant the foreman’s elephant to show 

His valour; — such was Sudraka, the king. 

And in this work of his, 

Within the town, Avanti named, 

Dwells one called Charudatta, famed 

No less for youth than poverty; 

A merchant’s son and Brahman, he. 

His virtues have the power to move 

Vasantasena’s inmost love; 

Fair as the springtime’s radiancy; 

And yet a courtesan is she. 

So here king Sudraka the tale imparts 

Of love’s pure festival in these two hearts, 

Of prudent acts, a lawsuit’s wrong and hate, 

A rascal’s nature, and the course of fate. 

According to its prologue, Sudraka was a Kshatriya king of some country (not mentioned) brave and hand-some in appearance, knowing Rigveda, Samaveda and mathematics. He knew the art of regarding courtesans and the science of training elephants; was a devotee of Lord Siva and had performed the Asvamedha sacrifice. The great King died at the ripe age of hundred years and ten days. Due to lack of information, facts and evidences the authorship of this play is still uncertain. There are many theories prevailing about the same, but none of them could be considered reliable. 

Kalidasa — “the grace of poetry” and Bhavabhuti — -the master of eloquence” are far more intimately allied in spirit than is either of them with the author of Mrichchhakatika. Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti are Hindus of the Hindus; the Shakuntala and the Latter Acts of Rama could have been written nowhere save in India: but Sudraka, alone in the long line of Indian dramatists, has a cosmopolitan character. Shakuntala is a Hindu maid, Madhava is a Hindu hero; but Sansthan Aka and Maitreya and Madanika are citizens of the world. In some of the more striking characteristics of Sanskrit literature — in its fondness for system, its elaboration of style, its love of epigram — Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti are far truer to their native land than is Sudraka. In Sudraka we find few of those splendid phrases in which, as the Chinese say, “it is only the words which stop, the sense goes on,” — phrases like Kalidasa’s “there are doors of the inevitable every-where,” or Bhavabhuti “for causeless love there is no remedy.” As regards the predominance of swill-moving action over the poetical expression of great truths, The Little Clay Cart stands related to the Latter Acts of Rama as Macbeth does to Hamlet. Again, Sudraka’s style is simple and direct, a rare quality in a Hindu; and although this style, in the passages of higher emotion, is of an exquisite simplicity, yet Sudraka cannot infuse into mere language the charm which we find in Kalidasa or the majesty which we find in Bhavabhuti. 

Yet Sudraka’s limitations in regard to stylistic power are not without their compensation. For love of style slowly strangled originality and enterprise in Indian poets, and ultimately proved the death of Sanskrit literature. Now just at this point, where other Hindu writers are weak, Sudraka stands forth preeminent. Nowhere else in the hundreds of Sanskrit dramas do we fmd such variety, and such drawing of character, as in The Little Clay Cart; and nowhere else, in the drama at least, is there such humour. 

The characters of the Mrichchhakatika are living men and women. It is quite evident from the play that Sudraka’s men are better individualised than his women. The char-acters include every class of individuals in the society from Brahmans to executioners to the housemaids. 

Mrichchhakatika a ten act play based on the love of Charudatta, a prominent but poor inhabitant of Ujjayini (also called Avanti) and Vasantasena, an exquisitely beau-tiful and pure minded courtesan of the same city. The play begins with a prologue consisting of a benedictory stanza which basically is a prayer for the people of the world. Author asks Lord Siva to protect the people from all kinds of pain and prejudice, free them from all kinds of bounds of mind and body. This is followed by some interesting particulars about the author told to the audience by the director of the play in a poetic sense.

The first act of the play starts with a conversation between Charudatta and his poor but honest old friend Maitreya on a very subtle and clear cut topic of poverty. Charudatta was a wealthy person a few years back but now he has turned into a poor guy. For him honour was much more important than life itself. He valued wealth only because it supplied him the means of serving others. The character of Charudatta in the play is very significantly designed with a message to its audience that he being so poor — was a very rich person in qualities and moralities. 

Soon after this Vasantasena enters – being chased by Sakara (Sristhanaka), brother-in-law of King Palaka of Ujjayini. Vasantasena takes refuge in Charudatta’s house and after being introduced leaves her ornaments with Charudatta. She already knew Charudatta had fallen in love with him. On the contrary Charudatta being inno-cent, honest and helpful helps her by taking care of her ornaments given to him by Vasantasena. To the contrary is the character of Vasantasena who neither has the girl-ish charm of Shakuntala nor the mature womanly dignity of Sita. She is in a state which is an intermediate of the two. She is more admirable than lovable. 

To gain a rough idea of Sudraka’s variety, we have only to recall the names of the acts of the play. Here The Shampooer who Gambled and The Hole in the Wall are shortly followed by The Storm and The Swapping of the Bullock-carts is closely succeeded by The Strangling of Vasantasena. From farce to tragedy, from satire to pa-thos, the story runs, with a breadth truly Shakespearian.

Here we have philosophy: 

The lack of money is the root of all evil. 

And pathos: 

My body wet by tear-drops falling, falling; 

My limbs polluted by the clinging mud; 

Flowers from the graveyard torn, my wreath appalling;

For ghastly sacrifice hoarse ravens calling, 

And for the fragrant incense of my blood. 

And nature description: 

But mistress, do not scold the lightning. She is your friend, This golden cord that trembles on the breast 

Of great Airavata; upon the crest 

Of rocky hills this banner all ablaze; 

This lamp in Indra’s palace; but most blest 

As telling where your most beloved stays. 

And genuine bitterness: 

Pride and tricks and lies and fraud 

Are in your face; 

False playground of the lustful god, 

Such is your face; 

The wench’s stock in trade, in fine, 

Epitome of joys divine, I mean your face —

For sale! The price is courtesy. 

I trust you’ll find a man to buy 

Your face. 

But a spirit so powerful as that of King Sudraka could not be confined within the strait-jacket of the minute, and sometimes puerile, rules of the technical works. In the very title of the drams, he has disregarded the rules that the name of a drama of invention should be formed by compounding the names of heroine and hero. Again, the books prescribe that the hero shall appear in every act; yet Charudatta does not appear in various acts like in act (ii), (iv), (vi), and (viii). And further, various characters, Vasantasena, Maitreya, the courtier, and others, have vastly gained because they do not conform too closely to the technical definitions. 

His greatest character is unquestionably Sansthanaka, this combination of ignorant conceit, brutal lust, and cun-ning, this greater than Cloten, who, after strangling an in-nocent woman, can say: 

“Oh, come! Let’s go and play in the pond.” Most attractive characters are the five conspirators, men whose home is “east of Suez and the ten commandments.” They live from hand to mouth, ready at any movement to steal a gem-casket or to take part in a revolution, and preserve through it all their character as gentlemen and their irresistible conceit. And side t..)3/ side with them moves the hero Charudatta, the Buddhist beau-ideal of manhood, A tree of life to them, whose sorrows grow, Beneath its fruit of virtue bending low.

In Maitreya, the Vidushaka, there is an instance of the author’s masterly skill in giving life to the dry bones of a rhetorical definition. The Vidushaka is a stock character who has something in common with a jester; and in Maitreya the essential traits of the character —eagerness for good food and other creature comforts, and blunder-ing devotion to his friend —are retained, to be sure, but clarified and elevated by his quaint humour and his readi-ness to follow Charudatta even in death. The grosser traits of the typical Vidushaka are lacking. Maitreya is neither a glutton nor a fool, but a simple-minded, whole-hearted friend. 

The courtier is another character suggested by the technical works, and transformed by the genius of Sudraka. He is a man not only of education and social refinement, but also of real nobility of nature. But he is in a false position from the first, this true gentleman at the wretched court of King Palaka; at last he finds the courage to break away, and risks life, and all that makes life attractive, by backing Aryalca. Of all the conspirators, it is he who runs the greatest risk. To his protection of Vasantasena is added a touch of infinite pathos when we remember that he was himself in love with her. Only when Vasantasena leaves him without a thought, to enter Charudatta’s house, does he realise how much he loves her; then, indeed, he breaks forth in words of the most passionate jealousy. We need not linger over the other characters, except to observe that each has his marked individuality, and that each helps to make vivid this picture of a society that seems at first so remote. 

Sudraka’s humour is the third of his vitally distinguishing qualities. This humour has an American flavour, both in its puns and in its situations. The plays on words can seldom be adequately reproduced in translation, but the situations are independent of language. And Sudraka’s humor runs the whole gamut, from grim to farcical, from satirical to quaint. Its variety and keenness are such that King Sudraka need not fear a comparison with the greatest of Occidental writers of comedies. 

It remains to say a word about the construction of the play. Obviously, it is too long. More than this, the main action halts through acts (ii) to (v), and during these epi-sodic acts we almost forget that the main plot concerns the love of Vasantasena and Charudatta. 

Indeed, we have in Mrichchhakatika the material for two plays. The larger part of act (i) forms with acts (vi) to (x), a consistent and ingenious plot; while the remaining part of act (i) might be combined with acts (iii) to (v) to make a pleasing comedy of lighter tone. The second act. clever as it is, has little real connection either with the main plot or with the story of the gems. The breadth of treatment which is observable in this play is many other specimens of the Sanskrit drama, which has set it-self an ideal different from that of our own drama. The lack of dramatic unity and consistency is often compensated, indeed, by lyrical beauty and charms of style; but it suggests the question whether we might not more justly speak of the Sanskrit plays as dramatic poems than as dramas.

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