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New Rendering of Mrcchakatika

A.N.D. Haksar

By King Sudraka (150 BC). Adapted by Vidwan Tenneti
Prajahita Prachuranalu, Warangal, 2006, pp. 129, Rs. 60.00


Tradition holds Kalidasa to be number one while some may contest this honour for Bhavabhuti or Bhasa. But, asked to name the four best dramatists of Sanskrit literature, most knowledgeable readers would doubtless complete the list with Sudraka, an adaptation of whose work is the subject of this review. Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti have earned their  standing with three celebrated plays each, and Bhasa with thirteen not equally well known. But Sudraka joins the august foursome with only a single work. This is Mrcchakatika, which translates into English as The Little Clay Cart. There must be something in this play which got eminent Sankritists of our time, like Arthur Ryder and Moreshwar Kale, to name its author in the company of the other three great playwrights. First, it is very good drama and an excellent comedy. Second, its tone and realism give it a more contemporary appeal. The Little Clay Cart is a play rich in humour and tenderness, and crowded with action in quick changing scenes.Its main story, of love between the poor but noble-minded Charudatta and the virtuous courtesan Vasantasena, is interwoven with another of political intrigue leading to the overthrow of a wicked king. Apart from sensitive romantic interludes, the scenes range from attempted sexual molestation and virtual murder, a court of criminal justice in session and an execution about to take place. The main players are supported by a lively host of lesser characters, chief among whom is the hero’s adversary, a remarkable and vivid combination of villain and bufoon. Besides him there are faithful friends and loyal servants of either sex, a gambler-cum-burglar turned Buddhist monk and a revolutionary with his sympathizers. There are also the hero’s wife, whose cordial meeting with his inamorata was considered by some critics a contravention of traditional literary norms, and his infant son whose demand for a toy gives the play its name. The modern appeal of Mrcchakatika also derives, it must be noted, from its praise and acceptance in the West. According to literary historian Winternitz, while the older Sanskrit works on poetics and criticism did not seem to consider this play important enough for quoting examples from it, in Europe it was well received from the beginning. First publi-shed in Bonn in 1847, its German translations appeared in the subsequent seventies, followed by those in English, French and other European languages, some also enacted on the ...

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