The Origin and Character of Hindu Drama


by R. N. DUTTA, B.A., B.L.


The origin, history and construction of Indian drama makes a fascinating study. Dramas and theater were very popular form of entertainment in India prior to the entry of films and modern theater. We have reasons to believe that dance and drama developed as a mass entertainment medium in India since the earliest times under the patronage of kings, wealthy merchants, and ruling classes. It is possible that story telling which was a popular pastime in rural India might have gradually developed into plays and dance dramas. All the entertainment forms that developed in India have a deep religious base with an underlying spiritual or moral message.

The material for them came from the religious literature for which ancient India was well known. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas were the main inspiration for the emergence of Hindu drama and secular literature during the period when India was witnessing the emergence of empire states. In addition, scholars like Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti deceloped Sanskrit plays and dramas as a separate literary tradition. They would not have done so unless play acting was a popular form of entertainment in their times.

The plays might have been originally enacted in the royal courts for the entertainment of kings, queens and their entourage, but at some point they might have become popular in both rural and urban areas with wandering bands of artists offering their art in exchange for shelter, food and money. The following article is a 100 year old exposition on the subject and perhaps the most comprehensive on the topic of Hindu Drama in the historical context. The article is very detailed in its treatment and worth reading. We have not edited the essay, but changed the spelling of some ancient names according to the current practice.

Jayaram V


The purposes for which an ancient language may be studied are its philology and its literature, or the arts and sciences, the notions and manners, the history and beliefs of the people by whom it was spoken. Particular branches may be preferably cultivated for the understanding of each of these subjects, but there is no one species which will be found to embrace so many purposes as the dramatic. The dialogue varies from simple to elaborate, from the conversation of ordinary life to the highest refinements of poetical taste. The illustrations are drawn from every known product of art, as well as every observable phenomenon of nature. The manners and feelings of the people are delineated, living and breathing before us, and history and religion furnish the most important and interesting topics to the bard. Wherever, therefore, there exists a dramatic literature, it must be pre-eminently entitled to the attention of the philosopher as well as the philologist, of the man of general literary tastes as well as the professional scholar.


Among the various sorts of literary composition the drama holds the most important position; for it is a picture of real life, and, as such, of national interest. It consists of two principal species, tragedy and comedy; the minor species are tragi-comedy, farce, burlesque and melo-drama. Both tragedy and comedy attained their perfection in Greece long before the Christian era. There it originated in the worship of Bacchus. The English drama took its rise from the mysteries or sacred plays by the medium of which the clergy in the Middle Ages endeavoured to impart a knowledge of the Christian religion.

The Sanskrit drama is said to have been invented by the sage Bharata, who lived at a very remote period of Indian history and was the author of a system of music. The earliest references to the acted drama are to be found in the Mahabhashya, which mentions representations of the Kansabadha and the Balibadha, episodes in the history of Krishna. Indian tradition describes Bharat as having caused to be acted before the gods a play representing the Svayamvara of Lakshmi.

Tradition further makes Krishna and his cowherdesses the starting point of the Sangita, a representation consisting of a mixture of song, music, and dancing. The Gitagovinda is concerned with Krishna, and the modern Yatras generally represent scenes from the life of that deity.

From all this it seems likely that the Hindu drama was developed in connection with the rise of Vishnu and Krishna as popular Hindu deities; and that the earliest acted representations were, therefore, like the mysteries of the Christian Middle Ages, a kind of religious plays, in which scenes from the legends of the gods were enacted mainly with the aid of songs and dances supplemented with prose dialogues improvised by the performers. These earliest forms of Hindu dramatic literature are represented by those hymns of the Rig-Veda which contain dialogues such as those of Sarama and the Panis, Yama and Yami, Pururava and Urvasi.

The words for actor (nata) and play (nataka) are derived from the verb nat, the Prakrit or vernacular form of the Sanskrit nrit, "to dance." Hence scholars are of opinion that the Sanskrit drama has developed out of dancing. The representations of dramas of early times were attended with dancing and gesticulation. There were rude performances without the contrivances of stage and scenic arrangements, dancing and music forming a considerable part. The addition of dialogue was the last step in the development, which was thus much the same in India and Greece. This primitive stage is represented by the Bengal Yaêras and the Gitagovinda. These form the transition to the fully developed Sanskrit play in which lyrics and dialogue are blended.

Sakuntala belongs to the mytho-pastoral class of Sanskrit plays; Probodhchandraodaya, to the metaphysical. The Hindu theatre affords examples of the drama of domestic, as well as of heroic life; of original invention as well as of legendary tradition.

The Hindus did not borrow their dramatic compositions from foreigners. The nations of Europe possessed no dramatic literature before the fourteenth or fifteenth century, at which period the Hindu drama had passed into its decline. Mohammedan literature has ever been a stranger to theatrical writings, and the Muslim conquerors of India could not have communicated what they never possessed. There is no record that theatrical entertainments were ever naturalised amongst the ancient Persians, Arabs, or Egyptians. With the exception of a few features in common with the Greek and the Chinese dramas, which could not fail to occur independently, the Hindu dramas present characteristic features in conduct and construction which strongly evidence both original design and national development.

Angustus William Von Schlegel observe, "Among the Indians, the people from whom perhaps all the cultivation of the human race has been derived, plays were known long before they could have experienced any foreign influence."


Sanskrit plays are full of lyrical passages describing scenes or persons presented to view, or containing reflections suggested by the incidents that occur. They usually consist of four-line stanzas. The prose of the dialogue in the plays is often very commonplace, serving only as an introduction to the lofty sentiment of the poetry that follows.

The Sanskrit drama is a mixed composition in which joy is mingled with sorrow, in which the jester usually plays a prominent part, while the hero and heroine are often in the depths of despair. But it never has a sad ending. The emotions of terror, grief, or pity, with which the audience are inspired, are therefore always tranquillised by the happy termination of the story. Nor may any deeply tragic incident take place in the course of the play; for death is never allowed to be represented on the stage. Indeed, nothing considered indecorous, whether of a serious or comic character, is allowed to be enacted in the sight or hearing of the spectators, such as the utterance of a curse, degradation, banishment, national calamity, biting, scratching, kissing, eating, or sleeping.

Love, according to Hindu notions, is the subject of most of their dramas. The hero, who is generally a king, and already the husband of a wife or wives, is suddenly smitten with the charms of a lovely woman, sometimes a nymph, or, as in the case of Sakuntala, the daughter of a nymph by a mortal father. The heroine is required to be equally impressible, and the first tender glance from the hero's eye reaches her heart. With true feminine delicacy, however, she locks the secret of her passion in her own breast, and by her coyness and reserve keeps her lover for a long period in the agonies of suspense. The hero, being reduced to a proper state of desperation, is harassed by other difficulties. Either the celestial nature of the nymph is in the way of their union, or he doubts the legality of the match, or he fears his own unworthiness, or he is hampered by the angry jealousy of a previous wife. In short, doubts, obstacles and delays make great havoc of both hero and heroine. They give way to melancholy, indulge in amorous rhapsodies, and become very emaciated. So far the story is decidedly dull, and its pathos, notwithstanding the occasional grandeur and beauty of imagery, often verges on the ridiculous. But, by way of relief, an element of life is generally introduced in the character of the Vidushaka, or Jester, who is the constant companion of the hero; and in the young maidens, who are confidential friends of the heroine, and soon become possessed of her secret. By a curious regulation, the jester is always a Brahman, and, therefore, of a caste superior to the king himself; yet his business is to excite mirth by being ridiculous in person, age, and attire. He is represented as grey-haired, hump-backed, lame and hideously ugly. In fact, he is a species of buffoon, who is allowed full liberty of speech, being himself a universal butt. His attempts at wit, which are rarely very successful, and his allusions to the pleasures of the table, of which he is a confessed votary, are absurdly contrasted with the sententious solemnity of the despairing hero, crossed in the prosecution of his love-suit. His clumsy interference with the intrigues of his friend, only serves to augment his difficulties, and occasions many an awkward dilemma. On the other hand, the shrewdness of the heroine's confidantes never seem to fail them under the most trying circumstances; while their sly jokes and innuendos, their love of fun, their girlish sympathy with the progress of the love-affair, their warm affection for their friend, heighten the interest of the plot, and contribute not a little to vary its monotony.

Indeed, if a calamitous conclusion be necessary to constitute a tragedy, the Hindu dramas are never tragedies. They are mixed compositions, in which joy and sorrow, happiness and misery, are woven in a mingled web,—tragi-comic representations, in which good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are allowed to mingle in confusion during the first acts of the drama. But, in the last act, harmony is always restored, order succeeds to disorder, tranquillity to agitation; and the mind of the spectator, no longer perplexed by the apparent ascendancy of evil, is soothed, and purified, and made to acquiesce in the moral lesson deducible from the plot.

In comparison with the Greek and the modern drama, Nature occupies a much more important place in Sanskrit plays. The characters are surrounded by Nature, with which they are in constant communion. The mango and other trees, creepers, lotuses, and pale-red trumpet-flowers, gazelles, flamingoes, bright-hued parrots, and Indian cuckoos, in the midst of which they move, are often addressed by them and form an essential part of their lives. Hence the influence of Nature on the minds of lovers is much dwelt on. Prominent everywhere in classical Sanskrit poetry, these elements of Nature luxuriate most of all in the drama.

The dramas of Bhavabhuti except Malati-Madhava, and the whole herd of the later dramatic authors, relate to the heroic traditions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, or else to the history of Krishna; and the later the pieces are, the more do they resemble the so-called 'mysteries' of the middle ages. The comedies, which, together with a few other pieces, move in the sphere of civil life, form, of course, an exception to this. A peculiar class of dramas are the philosophical ones, in which abstractions and systems appear as the dramatis personæ. One very special peculiarity of the Hindu drama is that women, and persons of inferior rank, station, or caste are introduced as speaking the Prakrit or vulgarised Sanskrit, while the language of the higher and more educated classes is the classical Sanskrit of the present type.


According to the code of criticism laid down in works on Sanskrit drama, it should deal principally either with the sentiment of love, or the heroic sentiment; the other sentiments should have a subsidiary position. There should be four or five principal characters, and the number of acts should vary from five to ten.

There are several species of the drama,—ten principal, and eighteen minor. Of these none has a tragic end. Every drama opens with a prologue or, to speak more correctly, an introduction designed to prepare the way for the entrance of the dramatis personæ. The prologue commences with a prayer or benediction (Nandi) invoking the national deity in favour of the audience. Then generally follows a dialogue between the stage-manager and one or two of the actors, which refers to the play and its author, mentions past events and present circumstances elucidating the plot, and invariably ends by adroitly introducing one of the dramatic personages, and the real performance begins.

The play thus opened, is carried forward in scenes and acts; each scene being marked by the entrance of one character and the exit of another. The stage is never left vacant till the end of an act, nor does any change of locality take place till then. The commencement of a new act is often marked, by an introductory monologue or dialogue spoken by one or more of the dramatis personæ, and is called Viskambhaka or Praveshaka, which alludes to events supposed to have occurred in the interval, and the audience are prepared for national plenty and prosperity, addressed by one of the principal personages of the drama, to the favourite deity. The development of the plot is brought about through five divisions called the five sandhis. A sandhi is a combination of incidents whereby the object is attained.


There were no special theatres in the Hindu Middle Ages, and plays seem to have been performed in the concert-room (Sangita-Cala) of royal palaces. A curtain, divided in the middle, was a necessary part of the stage arrangement; it did not, however, separate the audience from the stage, as in the Roman theatre, but formed the back-ground of the stage. Behind the curtain was the tiring-room (nepathya), whence the actors came on the stage. When they were intended to enter hurriedly, they were directed to do so "with a toss of the curtain." The stage scenery and decorations were of a very simple order, much being left to the imagination of the spectator, as in the Shakespearian drama. Weapons, seats, thrones, and chariots appeared on the stage; but it is highly improbable that the latter were drawn by the living animals supposed to be attached to them. There may have been some kind of ærial contrivance to represent celestial chariots.


Kalidasa is the author of Sakuntala, Vikramorvasi and Malavikagnimitra. He has been designated the Indian Shakespeare. He is reputed to have been one of the nine ornaments (or "gems") of the Court of Vikramaditya, king of Ujayin, whose Era, called Samvat, begins in 56 B.C. Stories extant about him describe him to be the veriest fool. He rose to be a great poet through the favour of the Goddess of Learning. Those stories embody the public opinion that except through Divine Grace or the Inspiration of the Muse a man cannot rise to such eminence by learning and culture alone. His native place is Kashmir or its neighbourhood. He had no doubt suffered from the pangs of poverty and neglect and travelled a great deal. He professed the Saiva form of worship.

His chief poems are the Raghuvansam, the Kumarasambhavam, the Meghadutam and the Ritusanharam. It is believed that he wrote a treatise on Astronomy and one on Sanskrit Prosody. His genius was of a versatile nature. He was a poet, a dramatist and an astronomer. His works bespeak the superior order of his scholarship—his acquaintance with the important systems of philosophy, the Upanishads and the Puranas;—his close observation of society and its intricate problems;—his delicate appreciation of the most refined feelings, his familiarity with the conflicting sentiments and emotions of the human heart,—and his keen perception of and deep sympathy with the beauties of Nature. His imagination was of a very high order and of a constructive nature. His power of depicting all shades of character,—high and low,—from the king to the common fisherman, is astonishing. His similes are so very apt that they touch directly the heart and at once enlist the sympathy of the reader. He is called the poet of the sentiment of Love as this sentiment was his forte. His diction is chaste and free from extravagance and is marked by that felicity of expression, spontaneity and melody which have earned for him the epithet—"the favoured child of the Muse."


Of all Sanskrit dramas, Sakuntala has acquired the greatest celebrity. It is not in India alone that it is known and admired. Its excellence and beauty are acknowledged by learned men in every country of the civilised world. It was the publication of a translation of this play by Sir William Jones, which Max Muller thinks "may fairly be considered as the starting point of Sanskrit Philology." "The first appearance of this beautiful specimen of dramatic art," he continues, "created, at the time, a sensation throughout Europe, and the most rapturous praise was bestowed upon it by men of high authority in matters of taste."


The recovery of the ring, like its loss, was a matter of pure accident and points to the moral that the joys and sorrows of human beings depend in most cases upon circumstances which lie beyond their control.


The play was not written at a time when Buddhism was despised, and had already been driven out of India, but when it was still regarded with favour, and was looked up to with reverence.


The root of all the stories of Pururavas and Urvasi were short proverbial expressions, of which ancient dialects are so fond. Thus—'Urvasi loves Pururavas,' meant 'the sun rises'; 'Urvasi sees Pururavas naked,' meant 'the dawn is gone'; 'Urvasi finds Pururavas again,' meant 'the sun is setting.'

The same ideas pervade the mythological language of Greece.


The name of Bhavabhuti stands high in Sanskrit literature. It is perhaps the highest in eloquence of expression and sublimity of imagination. Throughout the whole range of Sanskrit literature—from the simple lessons of Hitopadesha to the most elaborate polish of Naishadha—from the terse vigour of Sankaracharjya to the studied majesty of Magha—from the harmonious grace of Kalidasa to the ornate picturesqueness of Kadambari, there is probably no writer who can come up to Bhavabhuti in his wonderful command of Sanskrit language and surprising fluency and elevation of diction.

The introductions to the Viracharita and the Malati-Madhava tell us that he belonged to Padmapura in Vidarva (Berar) and was the grandson of Gopal Bhatta and son of Nilkantha and Jatukarni. He was descended from a family of Brahmans surnamed Udambaras.His wonderful memory and vast erudition soon procured for him the title of Srikantha or Minerva-throated. He soon removed to the court of Ujjayini, where before the celebrated Mahakala all his plays were acted. He wrote the Viracharita, the Uttarramacharita and the Malati-Madhava.

According to Rajatarangini, Bhavabhuti was patronized by Yasovarma, king of Kanoja. This Yasovarma was subdued by Lalitaditya, king of Kasmira, who acquired by his conquests a paramount supremacy over a large part of India.


The play throws some light on the condition of women. The princesses of Videha publicly go to the hermitage of Vishvamitra. Sita comes out with her attendants to dissuade Rama from meeting Jamadagnya and makes a public entry with him on his return to Ayodhya. The old queens come out to meet their children. Yet it must not be supposed that Hindu women enjoyed the same freedom of intercourse as their European sisters. As now, there used to be separate apartments for women. As now, they were not admitted to an equality with men. The princesses of Videha do not carry on conversation with the princes of Ajodhya. Sita does not come out to pay her respects to the seniors, but her salute is announced from within. There is now more seclusion of Hindu women as the result of the influence of past Mahammedan rule. The influence of British rule is now promoting the cause of female liberty.


The mutual sorrows of Rama and Sita in their state of separation are pleasingly and tenderly expressed. The meeting of the father and his sons may be compared advantageously with similar scenes with which the fictions of Europe, both poetical and dramatic, abound. The true spirit of chivalry pervades the encounter of the two young princes with their father. Some brilliant thoughts occur, the justice and beauty of which are not surpassed in any literature. The comparison of Chandraketu to a lion's cub turning to brave the thunderbolt is one of these; and another is the illustration of the effects of education upon minds possessed or destitute of natural gifts.


The marriage dress of high-born females described in the sixth act is well worthy of our observation. It consisted of a corset of white silk and a fine red upper garment, besides the usual lower dress, ornaments, and a chaplet of flowers. It has received several modifications since the days of Bhavabhuti.

The sacrifice of good-looking girls, alluded to in the fifth act, was common in his time and other authors allude to it. The seventh story of Dasakumar Charita is just like it, when a prince rescues a princess from a similar Sanyasi and afterwards marries her.

The story of "Malati and Madhava" is one of pure invention. The manners described are purely Hindu without any foreign admixture. The appearance of women of rank in public, and their exemption from any personal restraint in their own habitations, are very incompatible with the presence of Muhammedan rulers. The licensed existence of Buddha ascetics, their access to the great, and their employment as teachers of science, are other peculiarities characteristic of an early date; whilst the worship of Siva in his terrific forms, and the prevalance of the practices of the Yoga, are indications of a similar tendency.


It must be acknowledged, that the political code from which the stratagems of Chanakya emanate, exhibits a morality not a whit superior to that of the Italian school; but a remarkable, and in some respects a redeeming principle, is the inviolable and devoted fidelity which appears as the uniform characteristic of servants, emissaries, and friends.

The play is wholly of a political character, and represents a series of Machiavellian stratagems, influencing public events of considerable importance.

The Mudrarakshasa is, in sundry respects, a very unique work in Sanskrit literature. Its plot is not a pure invention, but on the other hand, it is not derived from the usual storehouse of legends on which Sanskrit authors have generally drawn for their materials. It has no female among its prominent dramatis personæ, and the business of the play, accordingly, is diplomacy and politics, to the entire exclusion of love. There is, in truth, but one female character, with one little child, introduced into the play, and these are Chandanadasa's wife and son, who come in at the beginning of the last act. But even their appearance introduces no passages suggestive of tenderness or the purely domestic virtues, but only of sacrifice—a stern sense of duty.

In the minor characters we see the principle of faithfulness to one's lord, adhered to through good report and evil report. In the more prominent ones, the same principle still prevails, and the course of conduct to which it leads is certainly quite Machiavellian. And all this is brought out in a plot put together with singular skill.

In the seventh act we have a remarkable stanza, in which the conduct of Chandanadasa, in sacrificing his life for his friend Rakshasa, is stated to have transcended the nobility even of the Buddhas. It seems that this allusion to Buddhism belongs to a period long prior to the decay and ultimate disappearance of Buddhism from India. In the time of Hionen-Tsang—i.e. between 629-645 A.D.—it was, however, still far from being decayed, though it appears to have fallen very far below the point at which it stood in Fa-Hian's time, to have been equal in power with Brahminism only where it was supported by powerful kings, and to have been generally accepted as the prevailing religion of the country only in Kashmir and the Upper Punjab, in Magadha and in Guzerat. In this condition of things, it was still quite possible, that one not himself a Buddhist—and Visakhadatta plainly was not one—should refer to Buddhism in the complimentary terms we find in the passage under discussion.

The late Mr. Justice Telang observes:—"The policy of Chanakya is not remarkable for high morality. From the most ordinary deception and personation, up to forgery and murder, every device is resorted to that could be of service in the achievement of the end which Chanakya had determined for himself. There is no lack of highly objectionable and immoral proceedings. It must be admitted that this indicates a very low state of public morality, and the formal works on politics which exist certainly do not disclose anything better. With reference to the criticisms which have been based on these facts, however, there are one or two circumstances to be taken into account. In the first place, although this is no excuse, it may be said to be an extenuation, that the questionable proceedings referred to are all taken in furtherance of what is, in itself, a very proper end. Chanakya's ambition is to make his protegé, Chandragupta firm upon his throne, and to bring back Rakshasa to the service of the king who properly represented those old masters of his to whom Rakshasa's loyalty still remained quite firm. If the end could ever be regarded as justifying the means, it might be so regarded in this case. And, secondly, it must not be forgotten, that the games of diplomacy and politics have always been games of more or less doubtful morality. When we hear of one great politician of modern days declaring another to be a great statesman, because, as I believe he expressed it, the latter lied so cleverly, we cannot say that the world has risen to any very perceptibly higher moral plane in the times of Metternich and Napoleon, than in those of Chanakya and Rakshasa. Nor are suppressions of important passages in despatches for the purposes of publication, or wars undertaken on unjustifiable and really selfish pretexts, calculated to convince one, that even in Europe in the nineteenth century, the transaction of political affairs has been purged of the taint of immorality, however different, and I may even add, comparatively innocent, may be the outward manifestations of that taint."


Visakhadatta or Visakhadeva is the author of Mudrarakshasa. We learn from the Introduction to the drama that Visakhadatta was the son of Prithu and grandson of Vatesvaradatta—a Samanta or subordinate chief Professor Wilson was inclined to think that Maharaja Prithu might be the Chouhan Prince Prithu Rai of Ajmir; but he himself pointed out that the Chouhan Prince was never called Maharaja; and that the name Nateswara Datta would present a serious difficulty in the way of identifying the poet's father with the Chouhan Prince Prithu Rai of Ajmir. It will also appear that the author of the drama lived in a century which is prior to the age of Prithu Rai of Ajmir by centuries. He was in all probability a native of Northern India. The grandson of a tributary chief and the son of a Maharaja he was well-skilled in state-craft and made a special study of stratagems and crooked policies; in consequence of which the bent of his mind was mainly directed to business and did not indulge in sentiments. The effect of it is manifest in his poetry which is business-like and vigorous, but lacks in sweetness, beauty and the tender emotions.


The author may possibly be Pratapa Rudra Deva, sovereign of Telingana in the beginning of the fourteenth century.


It is said to have been written for the yatra of Kumar Pala Deva, by order of Tribhuvana Pala Deva, by the poet Subhata.


It is the composition of Kanchana Acharya, the son of Narayana, a celebrated teacher of the yoga, of the race of Kapi Muni.


The drama was composed by Viswanath, the son of Trimala Deva, originally from the banks of the Godaveri, but residing at Benares, where it was represented at the yatra, or festival, of Visweswara, the form under which Siva is particularly worshipped in that city.


This is a Prahasana or Farce, and is especially a satire upon princes who addict themselves to idleness and sensuality, and fail to patronize the Brahmans.

It was composed by a Pandit named Gopinath for representation at the autumnal festival of the Durga Puja.


This heterogeneous composition is the work of a Pandit of Nadiya, Vaidyanath Vachespati Bhattacharya, and was composed for the festival of Govinda, by desire of Iswar Chandra, the Raja of Nadiya.


This comic play is a severe but grossly indelicate satire upon the profligacy of Brahmans assuming the character of religious mendicants. It satirizes also the encouragement given to vice by princes, the inefficacy of ministers, and the ignorance of physicians and astrologers.

It is the work of a Pandit named Jagaddisa, and was represented at the vernal festival; but where, or when, it is not known.


Although the personages are derived from Hindu history, they are wholly of mortal mould, and unconnected with any mystical or mythological legend; and the incidents are not only the pure inventions of the dramatist, but they are of an entirely domestic nature.

It is stated in the prelude to be the composition of the sovereign, Sri Harsa Deva. A king of this name, and a great patron of learned men, reigned over Kashmir; he was the reputed author of several works, being, however, only the patron, the compositions bearing his name being written by Dhavaka and other authors.


Raja Sekhar is the author of Prachanda Pandava, Biddhasalvanjika, and Karpura Manjari.


Murari composed Anargha Raghava.


The author is Bhatta Narayana surnamed Mrigaraja or Simha, "the lion." He is one of the five Brahmins who, with five Kayesthas, came from Kanouj and settled in Bengal at the invitation of Adisura, the then king of Bengal.


This play was composed by Krishnamisra. It is an allegorical play, the dramatis personæ of which consist entirely of abstract ideas, divided into two conflicting hosts.


The play is a dramatized version of the story of Rama interspersed with numerous purely descriptive poetic passages. It consists of fourteen acts and on account of its great length is also called the Mahanataka, or the great drama.

Tradition relates that it was composed by Hanuman, the monkey general, and inscribed on rocks; but, Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, being afraid lest it might throw his own poem into the shade, Hanuman allowed him to cast his verses into the sea. Thence fragments were ultimately picked up by a merchant, and brought to King Bhoja, who directed the poet Damodara Misra to put them together, and fill up the lacunæ; whence the present composition originated. Whatever particle of truth there may be in this story, the "Great Drama" seems certainly to be the production of different hands.


Vasavadatta of Subandhu is a short romance, of which the story is this. Kandarpaketu, a young and valiant prince, son of Chintamani king of Kusumapura, saw in a dream a beautiful maiden of whom he became desperately enamoured. Impressed with the belief, that a person, such as was seen by him in his dream, had a real existence, he resolves to travel in search of her, and departs, attended only by his confidant Makaranda. While reposing under a tree in a forest at the foot of the Vindhya mountains, where they halted, Makaranda overhears two birds conversing, and from their discourse he learns that the princess Vasavadatta, having rejected all the suitors who had been assembled by the king her father for her to make choice of a husband, had seen Kandarpaketu in a dream, in which she had even dreamt his name. Her confidante, Tamalika, sent by her in search of the prince, had arrived at the same forest, and was discovered there by Makaranda. She delivers to the prince a letter from the princess, and conducts him to king's palace. He obtains from the princess the avowal of her love; and her confidante, Kalavati, reveals to the prince the violence of her passion.

The lovers depart together: but, passing through the forest, he loses her, in the night. After long and unsuccessful search, in the course of which he reaches the shore of the sea, the prince, grown desperate through grief, resolves on death. But at the moment when he was about to cast himself into the sea, he hears a voice from heaven, which promises to him the recovery of his mistress, and indicates the means. After some time, Kandarpaketu finds a marble statue, the precise resemblance of Vasavadatta. It proves to be she; and she quits her marble form and regains animation. She recounts the circumstances under which she was transformed into stone.

Having thus fortunately recovered his beloved princess, the prince proceeds to his city, where they pass many years in uninterrupted happiness.

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