|Plays of ancient India|
Indian drama is analyzed by Bharata in the Natya Shastra, probably from the third century CE or before. Bharata ascribed a divine origin to drama and considered it a fifth Veda; its origin seems to be from religious dancing. In the classical plays the Brahmins and noble characters speak Sanskrit, while others and most women use Prakrit vernaculars. According to Bharata poetry (kavya), dance (nritta), and mime (nritya) in life's play (lila) produce emotion (bhava), but only drama (natya) produces "flavor" (rasa). The drama uses the eight basic emotions of love, joy (humor), anger, sadness, pride, fear, aversion, and wonder, attempting to resolve them in the ninth holistic feeling of peace. These are modified by 33 less stable sentiments he listed as discouragement, weakness, apprehension, weariness, contentment, stupor, elation, depression, cruelty, anxiety, fright, envy, arrogance, indignation, recollection, death, intoxication, dreaming, sleeping, awakening, shame, demonic possession, distraction, assurance, indolence, agitation, deliberation, dissimulation, sickness, insanity, despair, impatience, and inconstancy. Causes, effects, and moods manifest the emotions. The spectators should be of good character, intelligent, and empathetic.
KALIDASA, was India's greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist. In spite of the celebrity of his name, the time when he flourished always has been an unsettled question, although most scholars nowadays favor the middle of the 4th and early 5th centuries A.D., during the reigns of Chandragupta II Vikramaaditya and his successor Kumaaragupta. Undetermined also is the place of Kalidasa's principal literary activity, as the frequent and minute geographic allusions in his works suggest that he traveled extensively.
Numerous works have been attributed to his authorship. Most of them, however, are either by lesser poets bearing the same name or by others of some intrinsic worth, whose works simply chanced to be associated with Kalidasa's name their own names having long before ceased to be remembered. Only seven are generally considered genuine.
There are three plays, the earliest of which is probably the Malavikaagnimitra (Malavikaa and Agnimitra), a work concerned with palace intrigue. It is of special interest because the hero is a historical figure, King Agnimitra, whose father, Pushhpamitra, wrested the kingship of northern India from the Mauryan king Brihadratha about 185 B.C. and established the Sunga dvnasty, which held power for more than a century. The Vikramorvashiiya ( Urvashii Won Through Valor) is based on the old legend of the love of the mortal Pururavaas for the heavenly damsel Urvashii. The legend occurs in embryonic form in a hymn of the Rig Veda and in a much-amplified version in the Shatapathabraahmana.
The third play, Abhigyanashakuntala (Shakuntala Recognized by the Token Ring), is the work by which Kalidasa is best known not only in India but throughout the world. It was the first work of Kalidasa to be translated into English from which was made a German translation in 1791 that evoked the often-quoted admiration by Goethe. The raw material for this play, which usually is called in English simply Shakuntala after the name of the heroine, is contained in the Mahaabhaarata and in similar form also in the Padmapurana, but these versions seem crude and primitive when compared with Kalidasa's polished and refined treatment of the story.
In bare outline the story of the play is as follows: King Dushhyanta, while on a hunting expedition, meets the hermit-girl Shakuntala, whom he marries in the hermitage by a ceremony of mutual consent. Obliged by affairs of state to return to his palace, he gives Shakuntala his signet ring, promising to send for her later. But when Shakuntala comes to the court for their reunion, pregnant with his child, Dushhyanta fails to acknowledge her as his wife because of a curse. The spell is subsequently broken by the discovery of the ring, which Shakuntala had lost on her way to the court. The couple is later reunited, and all ends happily.
The influence of the Abhigyanashakuntala outside India is evident not only in the abundance of translations in many languages, but also in its adaptation to the operatic stage by Paderewski, Weinggartner, and Alfano.
In addition to these three plays Kalidasa wrote two long epic poems, the Kumarasambhava (Birth of Kumara) and the Raghuvamsha (Dynasty of Raghu). The former is concerned with the events that lead to the marriage of the god Shiva and Parvati, daughter of the Himalaya. The gods desired this union for the production of a son, Kumara, god of war, who would help them defeat the demon Taraka. The gods induce Kama, god of love, to discharge an amatory arrow at Siva who is engrossed in meditation. Angered by this interruption of his austerities, he burns Kama to ashes with a glance of his third eye (who is later restored). But love for Parvati has been aroused, and it culminates in their marriage.
The Raghuvamsha treats of the family to which the great hero Rama belonged, commencing with its earliest antecedents and encapsulating the principal events told in the Ramayana of Valmiki. But like the Kumaarasambhava, the last nine cantos of which are clearly the addition of another poet, the Raghuvamsha ends rather abruptly, suggesting either that it was left unfinished by the poet or that its final portion was lost early.
Finally there are two lyric poems, the Meghaduta (Cloud Messenger) and the Ritusamhara (Description of the Seasons). The latter, if at all a genuine work of Kalidasa, must surely be regarded as a youthful composition, as it is distinguished by rather exaggerated and overly exuberant depictions of nature, such as are not elsewhere typical of the poet. It is of tangential interest, however, that the Ritusamhara, published in Bengal in 1792, was the first book to be printed in Sanskrit.
On the other hand, the Meghaduta, until the 1960's hardly known outside India, is in many ways the finest and most perfect of all Kalidasa's works and certainly one of the masterpieces of world literature. A short poem of 111 stanzas, it is founded at once upon the barest and yet most original of plots. For some unexplained dereliction of duty, a Yaksha, or attendant of Kubera, god of wealth, has been sent by his lord into yearlong exile in the mountains of central India, far away from his beloved wife on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas. At the opening of the poem, particularly distraught and hapless at the onset of the rains when the sky is dark and gloomy with clouds, the yaksa opens his heart to a cloud hugging close the mountain top. He requests it, a mere aggregation of smoke, lightning, water, and wind that it is, to convey a message of consolation to his beloved while on its northward course. The Yaksha then describes the many captivating sights that are in store for the cloud on its way to the fabulous city of Alakaa, where his wife languishes amid her memories of him. Throughout the Meghaduta, as perhaps nowhere else so plentifully in Kalidasa's works, are an unvarying freshness of inspiration and charm, delight imagery and fancy, profound insight into the emotions, and a oneness with the phenomena of nature. Moreover, the fluidity and beauty of the language are probably unmatched in Sanskrit literature, a feature all the more remarkable for its inevitable loss in translation.
Although some scholars date him earlier, the plays of Bhasa can probably be placed after Ashvaghosha in the second or third century CE. In 1912 thirteen Trivandrum plays were discovered that scholars have attributed to Bhasa. Five one-act plays were adapted from situations in the epic Mahabharata. Dutavakya has Krishna as a peace envoy from the Pandavas giving advice to Duryodhana. In Karnabhara the warrior Karna sacrifices his armor by giving it to Indra, who is in the guise of a Brahmin. Dutaghatotkacha shows the envoy Ghatotkacha carrying Krishna's message to the Kauruvas. Urubhanga depicts Duryodhana as a hero treacherously attacked below the waist by Bhima at the signal of Krishna. In Madhyama-vyayoga the middle son is going to be sacrificed, but it turns out to be a device used by Bhima's wife Hidimba to get him to visit her. Each of these plays seems to portray didactically heroic virtues for an aristocratic audience. The Mahabharata also furnishes the episode for the Kauravas' cattle raid of Virata in the Pancharatra, which seems to have been staged to glorify some sacrifice. Bhasa's Abhisheka follows the Ramayana closely in the coronation of Rama, and Pratima also reworks the Rama story prior to the war. Balacharita portrays heroic episodes in the childhood of Krishna.
Bhasa uses the story of legendary King Udayana in two plays. In Pratijna Yaugandharayana the Vatsa king at Kaushambi, Udayana, is captured by Avanti king Pradyota so that Udayana can be introduced to the princess Vasavadatta by tutoring her in music, a device which works as they fall in love. The title comes from the vow of chief minister Yaugandharayana to free his sovereign Udayana; he succeeds in rescuing him and his new queen Vasavadatta. In Bhasa's greatest play, The Dream of Vasavadatta, the same minister knowing his king's reluctance to enter a needed political marriage pretends that he and queen Vasavadatta are killed in a fire so that King Udayana will marry Magadha princess Padmavati. Saying Vasavadatta is his sister, Yaugandharayana entrusts her into the care of Padmavati, because of the prophecy she will become Udayana's queen. The play is very tender, and both princesses are noble and considerate of each other; it also includes an early example of a court jester. Udayana is still in love with Vasavadatta, and while resting half asleep, Vasavadatta, thinking she is comforting Padmavati's headache, gently touches him. The loving and grieving couple are reunited; Padmavati is also accepted as another wife; and the kingdom of Kaushambi is defended by the marriage alliance.
Bhasa's Charudatta is about the courtesan Vasantasena, who initiates a love affair with an impoverished merchant, but the manuscript is cut off abruptly after four acts. However, this story was adapted and completed in The Little Clay Cart, attributed to a King Sudraka, whose name means a little servant. In ten acts this play is a rare example of what Bharata called a maha-nataka or "great play." The play is revolutionary not only because the romantic hero and heroine are a married merchant and a courtesan, but because the king's brother-in-law, Sansthanaka, is portrayed as a vicious fool, and because by the end of the play the king is overthrown and replaced by a man he had falsely imprisoned. Vasantasena rejects the attentions of the insulting Sansthanaka, saying that true love is won by virtue not violence; she is in love with Charudatta, who is poor because he is honest and generous, as money and virtue seldom keep company these days.
An outstanding political play was written by Vishakhadatta, who may also have lived at the court of Chandragupta II or as late as the 9th century. Rakshasa's Ring is set when Chandragupta, who defeated Alexander's successor Seleucus in 305 BC, is becoming Maurya emperor by overcoming the Nandas. According to tradition his minister Chanakya politically assisted him, also known as Kautilya, supposed author of the famous treatise on politics, Artha Shastra. Rakshasa, whose name means demon, had sent a woman to poison Chandragupta, but Chanakya had her poison King Parvataka instead. Rakshasa supports Parvataka's son Malayaketu; Chanakya cleverly assuages public opinion by letting Parvataka's brother have half the kingdom but arranges for his death too. Chanakya even pretends to break with Chandragupta to further his plot.
Chanakya is able to use a Jain monk and a secretary by pretending to punish them and have Siddarthaka rescue the secretary; with a letter he composed written by the secretary and with Rakshasa's ring taken from the home of a jeweler who gave Rakshasa and his family refuge, they pretend to serve Malayaketu but make him suspect Rakshasa's loyalty and execute the allied princes Rakshasa had gained for him. Ironically Rakshasa's greatest quality is loyalty, and after he realizes he has been trapped he decides to sacrifice himself to save the jeweler from being executed. By then Malayaketu's attack on Chandragupta's capital has collapsed from lack of support, and he is captured. Chanakya's manipulations have defeated Chandragupta's rivals without a fight, and he appoints chief minister in his place Rakshasa, who then spares the life of Malayaketu. Chanakya (Kautilya) announces that the emperor (Chandragupta) grants Malayaketu his ancestral territories and releases all prisoners except draft animals.
Ratnavali was attributed to Harsha, who ruled at Kanauj in the first half of the 7th century. This comedy reworks the story of King Udayana, who though happily married to Vasavadatta, is seduced into marrying her Simhalese cousin Ratnavali for the political motivations contrived by his minister Yaugandharayana. Ratnavali, using the name Sagarika as the queen's maid, falls in love with the king and has painted his portrait. Her friend then paints her portrait with the king's, which enamors him after he hears the story of the painting from a mynah bird that repeats the maidens' conversation. Queen Vasavadatta becomes suspicious, and the jester is going to bring Sagarika dressed like the queen, who learning of it appears veiled herself to expose the affair. Sagarika tries to hang herself but is saved by the king. The jealous queen puts Sagarika in chains and the noose around the jester's neck. Yet in the last act a magician contrives a fire, and the king saves Sagarika once again. A necklace reveals that she is a princess, and the minister Yaugandharayana explains how he brought the lovers together.
Also attributed to Harsha: Priyadarshika is another harem comedy; but Joy of the Serpents (Nagananda) shows how prince Jimutavahana gives up his own body to stop a sacrifice of serpents to the divine Garuda. A royal contemporary of Harsha, Pallava king Mahendravikarmavarman wrote a one-act farce called "The Sport of Drunkards" (Mattavilasa) in which an inebriated Shaivite ascetic accuses a Buddhist monk of stealing his begging bowl made from a skull; but after much satire it is found to have been taken by a dog.
Bhavabhuti lived in the early 8th century and was said to have been the court poet in Kanauj of Yashovarman, a king also supposed to have written a play about Rama. Bhavabhuti depicted the early career of Rama in Mahavira-charita and then produced The Later Story of Rama. In this latter play Rama's brother Lakshmana shows Rama and Sita murals of their past, and Rama asks Sita for forgiveness for having put her through a trial by fire to show the people her purity after she had been captured by the evil Ravana. Rama has made a vow to serve the people's good above all and so orders Sita into exile because of their continuing suspicions. Instead of killing the demon Sambuka, his penance moves Rama to free him. Sita has given birth to two sons, Lava and Kusha, and twelve years pass. When he heard about his daughter Sita's exile, Janaka gave up meat and became a vegetarian; when Janaka meets Rama's mother Kaushalya, she faints at the memory. Rama's divine weapons have been passed on to his sons, and Lava is able to pacify Chandraketu's soldiers by meditating. Rama has Lava remove the spell, and Kusha recites the Ramayana taught him by Valmiki, who raised the sons. Finally Sita is joyfully reunited with Rama and their sons.
Malati and Madhava by Bhavabhuti takes place in the city of Padmavati. Although the king has arranged for Nandana to marry his minister's daughter Malati, the Buddhist nun Kamandaki manages eventually to bring together the suffering lovers Madhava and Malati. Malati has been watching Madhava and draws his portrait; when he sees it, he draws her too. Through the rest of the play they pine in love for each other. Malati calls her father greedy for going along with the king's plan to marry her to Nandana, since a father deferring to a king in this is not sanctioned by morality nor by custom. Madhava notes that success comes from education with innate understanding, boldness combined with practiced eloquence, and tact with quick wit. Malati's friend Madayantika is attacked by a tiger, and Madhava's friend Makaranda is wounded saving her life. In their amorous desperation Madhava sells his flesh to the gods, and he saves the suicidal Malati from being sacrificed by killing Aghoraghanta, whose pupil Kapalakundala then causes him much suffering. Finally Madhava and Malati are able to marry, as Makaranda marries Madayantika. These plays make clear that courtly love and romance were thriving in India for centuries before they were rediscovered in Europe.