Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama

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Indian Classical Literature Unit 3 Sanskrit Drama

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.

Q.1. Outline the major themes of Mrichchhakatika. Do you think it is a contemporary classic? Give a detailed argument. 

Ans: `Mrichchhakatika’ or ‘The little clay art’ is an ancient Sanskrit play written by king Sudraka(Ujjayini) in 3rd century A.D. Mrichchhakatika is one of the most famous prakaranam i.n. a play whose plot is partly derived from history and partly derived from the author’s fancy of ancient India. Sudraka had chosen a social theme i.e. love of Charudatta and Vasantasena as the plot for his play, Mrichchhakatika. The heio, Charudatta, a middle class man, is a Brahmana youth and Vasantasena, the heroine is an exquisitely.beautiful but pure-minded Ganika—courtesan of the same city. The play consists of themes of various genres such as romance and comedy while it also deals with an underplot with political overtones. 

Sudraka being a Sanskrit writer opens Mrichchhakatika with a benediction, soon after which Sutradhara takes command of the play in his hand. Another striking thing about the prologue is the information shared by Sutradhara about the death of the author. Mrichchhakatika offers the theme of Sudraka being a Kshatriya who was always ready to take advantage of fighting.Mrichchhakatika, which is a ten act play constitutes of various themes making it subject of a talk. Poverty is one of the most central theme of the play. It is the first important point that the play makes. Maitreya mentions the days when Charudatta was wealthy, and then he compares it with the days when he is not. Poverty is not simply a social state in which Charudatta finds himself, rather it becomes the very force that drives Charudatta’s thought and ideas because in the entire play he is seen coming back to the fact that he is poor; for everything that happens to him, he blames his poor condition. 

Another theme that revolves a’ ,und the play, is the theme of love and romance. • In the second act. in conversation with her maid Madanika, Vasantsena reveals how she is love sick. Through the theme of love, Vasantsena’s baldness is also highlighted when she is seen talking comfortably to her maid about how how she wants to enjoy the pleasure of youth and true love and serve some king who needs to be served for the sake•of his money. Vasantsena’s love affair also highlights concepts of economic and financial stability. One gets the idea for the same from the first act when Vasantsena rejects the proposal of the King’s brother in law and is seen more caring for the poor. This episode throws light on the social contrast of how a woman is supposed to choose a man who is financially stable but rejects him instead. She is well aware of the general pride that men carry with themselves and therefore deposits her ornament with Charudatta. 

The character of Sarvilaka is a thief. Themes of theft and gamble are introduced through this character.Gambling was considered a vice but a legal one. The rules of gambling games were decided by a gaming association. The theft committed by Sarvilaka at Charudatta’s house is also important,as it paves the way for the introduction for Charudatta’s wife, Dhuta. Also,the play contains references to music, arts and painting suggesting that these things were considered culturally important. Art in the form of music is shown through Rebhila’s character, who according to Charudatta is an expert singer. The way Charudatta praises Rebhila, it seems as if he is an ardent lover of arts and music. Further, an act related to money by Charudatta gives us an insightful perspective into the relationships of Sudraka’s time and the role money played in it. It was the duty of a man to give money and riches to his wife and therefore when a woman offers money to her husband, the entire dynamics of the relationship is reversed. One gets an idea of the same through Charudatta’s speech when he says “Through money, a man becomes a woman; and she who is a woman becomes a man, also through money”. 

Another important social situation depicted in the play is slavery. It was common for a slave to be bought and sold as if a commodity in a market place. 

Society and state in Mrichchhakatika prevailed with full force. Brahmins were seen with great respect and enjoyed certain privileges . Their status in the society also made them immune to the thieves as Sarvilaka says that he would never steal from a Brahmana. Another important thing that the play suggests is that Brahmanas also indulged in trade, for the ancestors of Charudatta got rich only after taking to trade. 

Yes, Mrichchhakatika is a contemporary classic because it is able to stand the test of the time. There are various instances and situations in the play that makes it a contemporary classic. Set in the city of Ujjayini, it throws light on romance, comedy, and other political aspects. For instance, the character of Dhuta is seen as a chaste, dedicated and a devoted wife who is concerned about the character of her husband. Like the woman in contemporary times who supports her husband in every aspect of life and praises him, Dhuta’s character reveals her dedication towards her husband. She carries the willingness to help her husband at any cost. 

Another feature that makes Mrichchhakatika a contemporary classic is its heroic element. Charudatta, being the protagonist of the play shows nobelity in his character. He is a high-minded Brahmin, a man of unbending principle, and self-righteous. He is the one who spends all his fortune in the act of private charity and public utility. It shapes as an example of a perfect classic play where the hero behaves in a responsible way. Characters like him in Sudraka’s play, are people who would not be out of place even in modern India. Mrichchhakatika gives a view of urban life. Through this play one can get a glimpse of ordinary life. 

Mrichchhakatika is much celebrated in the West because of its plot structure and also remains a prominent drama in Sanskrit, making it a contemporary classic even in today’s times which is widely translated, adapted and performed internationally. 

Q.2. Introduction to Shudraka’s Mrcchakatika. 

Ans: One of the earliest known Sanskrit plays, The Little Clay Cart was composed by Shudraka in the 2nd century BC. The play is full of romance, sex, royal intrigue and comedy. The juicy plot of the play has numerous twists and turns. The main story is about a young man named Charudatta, and his love for Vasantasena, a rich courtesan or nagarvadhu. The love affair is complicated by a royal courtier, who is also attracted to Vasantasena. The plot is further complicated by thieves and mistaken identities. It is thus a greatly hilarious and entertaining play. 

The play had been translated as The Toy Cart by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1826. It was translated into English, notably by Arthur W. Ryder in 1905 as The Little Clay Cart. Ryder’s version was enacted at the Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley in 1907, and in New York in 1924 at the Neighbourhood Playhouse, at the Potboiler Art Theatre in Los Angeles in 1926, and at the Theatre de Lys in 1953. The play has been adapted in several Indian languages and performed by various theatre groups and directors, like Habib Tanvir. The play was made into a 1984 Hindi movie Utsav, directed by Girish Karnad. The Indian play depicted in the film Moulin Rouge, may have been based on The Little Clay Cart. 

Shudraka’s The Little Clay Cart is famous for its va-riety. To gain a rough idea of Shudraka’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. The story runs from farce to tragedy, from satire to pathos, with a wonderful breadth. Here we have philosophy: 

The lack of money is the root of all evil. (i. 14) And pathos: 

My body wet by tear-drops falling, falling; 

My limbs polluted by the clinging mud, 

Flowers from the graveyard tom, my wreath appalling, 

For ghastly sacrifice hoarse ravens calling, 

And for the fragrant incense of my blood. (x. 3) 

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. (v. 33) 

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. 

1 trust you’ll find a man to buy 

Your face. (v. 36) 

Shudraka chose for the expression of diverse matters a type of drama which gives the greatest scope to his creative power. This type is called “drama of invention,” a category curiously subordinated in India to the heroic drama, the plot of which is drawn from history or mythology. Indeed, The Little Clay Cart is the only extant drama which fulfils the spirit of the drama of invention, as defined by the Sanskrit canons of dramaturgy. The plot of the Malati and Madhava or of the Mallika and Maruta is in no true sense the invention of the author; and Mrcchakatika is the only drama of invention which is “full of rascals.” 

But King Shudraka was an author of powerful spirit and so he did not follow the minute, and sometimes puerile, rules of the technical works. In the very title of the drama, he has disregarded the rule 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 acts 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. 

Q.3. Write the Major/Minor Characters in Mrcchakatika : 

Ans: The characters of Mrcchakatika are living men and women. Even when Charudatta’s character is a type, the character lives, in a sense in which Dushyanta in Abhijnanasakuntalam or even Rania in Uttar Ramacharita can hardly be said to live. Shudraka’s men are better individualised than his women. This fact alone differentiates him sharply from other Indian dramatists. He draws on every class of soci-ety, from the high-souled Brahman to the executioner and the housemaid. 

Each of Shudraka’s characters has his marked indi-viduality. 


In terms of Sanskrit terminology, The Little Clay Cart belongs to the type of `prakaran’ drama. The protagonist of `prakaran’ is a mature and patient Brahmin or minister. Charudatta, a wise and honourable young Brahmana, is the hero of Mrcchakatika. Charudatta is kind, generous, honest, religious, for-giving, and is endowed with beauty and imagination. He is left impoverished after spending his fortune for the welfare of others. To him, life itself is not dear, but only honour. He values wealth only as it supplies him with the means of serving others. We may, with some justice, compare him with Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. Charudatta is satisfied with the theft because the thief could find at least a gem of caskets for theft in his otherwise poor house. 

Everybody appreciates Charudatta’s personality. He is extremely handsome. He does not tell a lie at all. During the trial, he frankly admits that the gems being carried by Maitreya belong to Vasantasena. Charudatta sends his wife’s pearl necklace to repay Vasantasena for the gem-casket. He is deeply religious. He performs different rites and offers sacrifice. He does not lose his religious faith even when condemned to death for no crime of his own. 

Charudatta is very kind. When he discovers Aryaka in his cart in the park, he removes his fetters and lends him the cart for escape from King Palaka. We see the height of his kindness when Sansthanik is brought before him for sentence; he is pardoned by Charudatta in spite of being grievously injured. 

Charudatta is an ideal husband. He loves Vasantasena, but he is in love with his wife, too. He is very fond of his son Rohasena. He wishes to see his son before being executed. He advises his son to pursue learning after his death. 

Charudatta is a lover of arts. He likes music. He ap-preciates Sarvalika’s skill in making a hole in the wall of his house. 

In love with and loved by Vasantaseng, he is falsely accused of her murder and condemned to die. As he is being prepared for execution, Vasantasena appears just in time to identify the true murderer and save her lover’s life. Charudatta.’s fortune is restored, and he is made an official at court by the new and just king, Aryaka. 


Vasantasena is a wealthy courtesan who is in love with Charudatta. She is a character with neither the girlish charm of Shakuntala in Abhijnanasakuntalam nor the mature womanly dignity of Sita in Uttar Ramcharita. She is more admirable than lovable. She is witty and wise. She excels in painting. She knows Sanskrit quite well. She knows the art of conversation. She can compose poetry’ as well. 

Vasantasena has no greed for wealth. She refuses to accept the wealth sent by Sansthanik. She pays the shampooer’s debt. Sarvi laka’ comes to Vasantasena’s house to buy Madanika’s freedom. Vasantasena over-hears the facts concerning the theft of her gem-casket from Charudatta’s house. She accepts the casket, and gives Madanika her freedom. When Vasantasena finds that Rohasena is peevish because he has only a little clay cart to play with, instead of a toy cart of gold, she gives him her gems to buy a toy cart of gold. She returns the neck-lace to Charudatta’s wife. Madanika, her maid, says about her that she would free all her maids without even taking any wealth to do so. 

Vasatasena is very beautiful. She has been called the jewel of the city of Ujjayini. Both Charudatta and Sansthanik admire her beauty and use different terms to describe it. When Sansthanik strangles her, the courtier says that beauty has been lost from the earth. He com-pares her with the Goddess Laxmi. 

Vasantasena is as true as steel in her love; this too, in a social position which makes such constancy difficult. She loves beauty and quality, and not wealth as such. She tells Sansthanik that love is generated by quality, and not by force. Charudatta is poor, but she loves him from the bottom of her heart. She accepts the necklace sent by him because it gives her an excuse for a visit to his house. When she goes to the park to meet her lover, she is set upon by Sansthanik. He pursues her with insulting offers of love but she repulses him. He chokes her and leaves her for dead. She is rescued by a Buddhist monk. While Charudatta is being falsely accused and tried for her murder, she is being nursed back to health. She appears at the place of execution in time to save her lover’s life. 

In making the heroine of his play a courtesan, Shudraka follows a suggestion of the technical works on the drama; he does not thereby cast any imputation of ill will on Vasantasena’s character. The courtesan class in India corresponded roughly to the heterae of ancient Greece or the geishas of Japan; it was possible to be a courtesan and retain one’s self-respect. Yet the inherited way of life proves distasteful to Vasantasena; her one desire is to escape its limitations and its dangers by becoming a legal wife. 


Maitreya is a poor Brahmana. He plays the role of the Vidushaka in Shudraka’s play. In this Vidushaka, we find an instance of Shudraka’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 com-forts, and blundering devotion to his friend—are retained, to be sure, but clarified and elevated by his quaint humour and his readiness to follow Charudatta even in death. The grosser traits of the typical Vidushaka are lacking. 

Maitreya is Charudatta’s friend and confidant. He likes good food. When Charudatta becomes poor, he eats somewhere else, but resides with Charudatta in his house. His life is associated with Charudatta’s loss or gain. He opposes the idea of returning the pearl necklace after the theft of Vasantasena’s casket of gems. He advises Charudatta to tell lies. He argues that there is no witness to Vasantasena’s handling of her casket of gems to him. He also advises Charudatta not to love Vasantasena because for him, courtesans are cunning. He is sorry for Charudatta’s impoverishment, but encourages him to believe that impoverishment becomes him. 

Maitreya does not reveal Charudatta’s condition before others. He tries hard to prevent Vasantasena from knowing his condition in the first Act. Maitreya is timid. He does not like to accompany Vasantasena in darkness. He is not interested in religion at all. 

Maitreya is extremely hot-tempered. He does not care for the fall-outs of his temper. He loses his temper when he comes to know about the advances made by Sansthanik and the courtier to Radnika, Charudatta’s maid. In Act IX, there takes place a scuffle between Maitreya and Sansthanik and Vasantasena’s gems fall to the floor. As a result, Charudatta is proved guilty and committed to death for his crime. 

In short, Maitreya is neither a glutton nor a fool, but a simple-minded, whole-hearted friend.

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