3 Sanskrit Drama: An Overview

Ms. Payal Trivedi

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Sanskrit drama is highly stylized in terms of execution. The Natyasastra provides an elaborate description on the four kinds of abhinayas namely angika(body) vachika(dialogue) sattvika(states of mind) and aharya(make-up and costumes) which combine to give rise to the Natyadharmi or the stylized stage rendition like the one witnessed in today’s Kathakali and Kuttiyattam performances with exorbitant stage décor and extremely lavish make-up and costumes worn by the actors. Moreover, music and dance hold primary importance in Natyadharmi performances as the Natyasastra stipulates musical dance dramatic representation for Natya. In this form of representation, the themes are usually borrowed from Indian religious epics or else they explore the exploits of heroic characters or renowned monarchs. Supernatural beings play important role in Sanskrit plays. The other important characters in Sanskrit drama come from the middle class and the lower classes also including soldiers, merchants, hermits and sages.


Tragedy is forbidden in Sanskrit drama. Except a very few plays, almost three hundred or so plays have ended on a happy note with conflicts being resolved. Even a play like Bhasa’s Urubhangam which concludes with sad demise of the protagonist, does not advocate any cynical worldview as is seen often in Greek tragedy. Sanskrit drama regards existence as orderly and predictable. Conflicts in the plays occur only when the order of life is disrupted by individuals and finally such attempts are redirected in order to assure that the characters take their ordained places and peace is restored. Most of the exciting ‘action’ in Sanskrit drama happens off stage and is reported by messengers, letters or eye-witnesses. The plots revolve around battles, abductions, flying demons, rampaging elephants all these incidents are reported to the audience as Sanskrit theater excludes violence. The interest in the play is sustained as the characters plot and make plans which are rendered through the means of dialogue, the obstacles which arise in the fulfillment of the plans and finally the way the characters manage to achieve their desired goals. Dialogue of Sanskrit drama contains both verse and prose. Within a single unified speech, any character may slip into verse and then vice versa. The verses are replete with figurative speech and indicate the playwright’s poetic skills. For instance, Kalidasa’s verse in his play Abhijnanshakuntalam has made him famous as a poet.




Any Sanskrit play begins with a prologue or purvanga containing elaborate preliminary rituals. The plays initiate with Nandi or a prayer acknowledging the grace of god. After the Nandi, begins a dramatic prologue. This includes a short dialogue between the production’s director, an actor or other member of the performance. This conversation introduces, the subject matter, the author of the play and it may also shed light on some of the upcoming major themes of the play. The Sanskrit drama has three main constituents namely; Vastu(plot),Neta(hero) and Rasa(sentiment) The plot could be either main(adhikarika) or accessory(prasangika). The main plot or adhikarika contains the primary characters of the play and pervades in the entire plot. The accessory or prasangika serves as an additional supplement to the main story-line and introduces the subordinate or supporting characters of the play. The Neta or hero as per the Natyasastra is depicted as modest(vineeta) sweet-tempered (madhura) sacrificing (tyagi), capable(daksha) civil in utterances(priyamvada) belonging to a noble family (taptaloka), pure(suchi),articulate (vagmi),consistent(sthira)young (yuva), endowed with intellect (buddhi), enthusiasm (utsaha), good memory (smrthi), strong (dridha), energetic (tejaswi), learned (pandita) and pious (dharmic). Overall, the hero in sanskrit drama falls in the category of ‘Dheerodatta’ which means a hero who is brave and sublime at any time in every situation.

The Plot of Sanskrit drama considered to be the main element of any Sanskrit play must be drawn from great narrations, popular tales or imagination of the composer. It may be related to the principal character or any minor character of the play. Five elements constitute the plot of any Sanskrit play namely; bija, bindu, pataka, prakrari and karya. An activity begins with a Karya or purpose in mind. The initiation of the activity is the seed or bija which turns an object or phala in the end while bindu or drop connects one part of the story to another. Patak helps to develop the main topic further and prakrari is an episodal incident of limited duration which has only minor importance in the play but it also assists to the progress of the plot. Karya is the object realized in the ending of the drama.


Arambha, yatna, prapiyaia, niyatapti and phalsgama are the five stages of the object. There are five sandhis namely; Mukha, Pratimukha, garbha Vimarsha and Nirvahana performed by combining the five essentials of the plot with the five stages. This could be comprehended thus:

arthaprakrtis avastha sandhi

bija + arambha – mukha the opening

bindu + yatna – pratimukha progression

patak + praptyasa – garbha development

prakari + niyatpati – avamarsa the pause

kiirya + phalagama:~- nirvahana- the conlusion



The plot must be formulated with the aid of the five sandhis. Between bija and the end there are three stages in which the hero tries to achieve his goal. In mukha the bija is mentioned and it consists of twelve sub-divisions. In the stage of effort there is continuity. However, there may be many obstacles in the achievement of the aim. Pratimukha is the secondary effect wherein bindu and prayatna unite. After this pataka and prakrari occur. In the garbhasandhi there is blending of pataka and praptyasa. Helpful developments take place. It has twelve sub-divisions. Next is vimarsa wherein there is an alteration in the story due to the union of niyatpati and prakrari. This has thirteen divisions. The final stage is upasamhriti i.e. happy ending due to the union of phalagama and karya. It has fourteen sub-divisions. Failure in achieving the goal and frustration of the hero are absent in Sanskrit drama as it ends on a happy note with a Bhartvakya or favorable speech delivered often in the end by the sutradhara or co-coordinator of the drama.




The discussion of Sanskrit theater is incomplete without the consideration of the role of the sutradhara or the holder of strings in the play who co-ordinates significant amount of action during the rendition. It is believed that the first innovator to use Sutradhara as the stage manager was poet Bhasa. Before the sutradhara, Sanskrit plays had the introducer. However, soon this character was replaced by the sutradhara. All the well-known playwrights of Sanskrit theater assign integral responsibilities of conducting the performance to the sutradhara. The Natyasastra lists five main modes of opening the play for the sutradhara namely; Accidental representation, the opening of the story, the entrance of the character, and the transference. The Natyasastra demands that the sutradhara must present himself as a divine person or a human or a mixture of both in accordance with the subject matter. If the subject matter comprises both mundane and celestial, the sutradhara should be a semi-divine being. As per the Natyasastra, the sutradhara must use Sanskrit language as his speech is to follow the verbal style or bharati vritti. The verbal is one of the four dramatic styles relating to speech in general and the stage manager must use the same. This verbal style is divided into four varieties- the laudation or prarocana, the introduction or prastavana, the vithi and the prahasana. According to the explanation in the Natyasastra, the laudation in the preliminaries ensures victory, prosperity, good fortune etc. and it belongs to the preliminaries that do not concern the dramatist. The third and the fourth varieties form two varieties of drama of the same name and so these are not defined in the Natyasastra by the author in the chapter on style (XXII)The introduction of the play with the stipulated five modes relates solely to the stage manager.




As the stage manager or sutradhara as he is known begins the play, it is regarded as an integral mode of gradually drawing the attention of the audience towards the main theme of the play. A song accompanied by musical instruments is followed by a benedictory verse or nandi which is again followed by some information about the play, the playwright and the occasion of the performance and finally the reference is provided to either the hero or the theme of the play with which the stage manager retires and the main characters enter the stage. The introductory by the sutradhara therefore is important because it paves the way for the spectator to comprehend the subject matter on which the particular play dwells. The stage manager has to recite the prayer in the beginning of the performance. As per the Natyasastra, the stage manager has to recite the prayer in an equable voice. Thus, the stage manager forms an important part of the benediction included in the preliminaries that take place before the performance in Sanskrit theater. As per the Natyasastra, the sutradhara does not have much additional role to play after reciting the prayer but instead has to leave the stage immediately after executing the same function. Nevertheless, it is observed that in later Sanskrit plays, the sutradhara is been given due responsibility of narrating the bygone events, introducing the story-line to the audience and making the spectators familiar with the theme and characters of the play as well. The sutradhara in such plays assumes a greater onus of holding the audience attention throughout with his skillful and entertaining narration.



Certain specific characteristics befit the hero of Sanskrit theater. Mainly the hero has to be of four kinds namely;


Dhirodatta: calm and magnanimous


Dhiroddhata: violent


Dhiralalita: graceful


Dhirprashanta: peaceful


Each of them is again classified into dakshina or gallant, satha or sly, drshta or bold and anukula or devoted to the heroine only.


Heroines are classified into eight categories namely;


Vasakasajjika dressed up for union


Virahotkhandita distressed by separation


Swadhinbhartka having the husband under subjection


Kalahantarita separated by quarrel


Khandhita enraged


Vipralabdha the deceived


Prositabhartrka: whose husband is on travel


Abhisiirika who due to her infatuation is attached to thelover and gives up modesty in going out tomeet him.




1) The division into Acts:


All the Sanskrit plays are divided into acts. The division is based upon the various stages of action. A full dramatic action consists of five stage- the beginning, efforts, prospect of success, conditional success and attainment of fruit. These five stages are present in every activity of even the real life.

2) Unities


Like the Greek drama, Sanskrit drama also observes unities of action, time and place. In the Sanskrit drama, an act being a unit, these unities are maintained in each act, an act generally deals with events happening at a single place and in a single day. Whenever the day is to be covered, the act is divided into parts and then there is introduction of either a separate act or any one of the five explanatory devices. Though an interval of several years is seen between two acts, the passage of time does not affect the sense of reality of the audience as the link is supplied in between through some introductory scenes.

3)  Purvanga: Prastavanas:


The Natyasastra specifies the presentation of the play Tripurdaha on the valley of the mountain Kailasha to please lord shiva. In this description, the treatise mentions that before the beginning of the play, the purvanga was being executed. The purvanga includes worship of the gods before the performance. The Natyasastra describes that since natya is regarded as the fifth Veda, its rendition must precede with the invocation to a deity. During the first presentation of the play samudramanthana by Bharata, when the demons got enraged and disrupted the performance, the dramatist Bharata was protected by the gods. Since then, he performed a ceremonial worship of the deities and made this ritual mandatory before the stage presentation of any play. The story in the Natyasastra about the beginning of the purvanga or preliminaries thus bears testimony to the fact that art(theater) in the Indian culture is not just entertainment but is a means of divine bliss. The Natyasastra specifies:


He who will stage a play without worshipping the (gods of the) stage, will be reborn in the animals and all his knowledge would be futile”


The stage manager has to perform the purvanga along with the other actors. There are as many as 18 parts of the purvanga. Before the initiation of the performance, the stage manager arranges everything in proper order. The placing of the orchestra, dancers, singers, actors- all this is done beforehand. The ranga or the stage, thus includes nandi or a benedictory verse in praise of Kings, gods or Brahmans. It is regarded as the most important of all other precepts of the preliminaries. In fact, later on, the benediction also begins to signify the entire purvanga and as a result the first line of all the dramas is Nandyante sutradharah orenter the stage manager after the benediction.


4.  Bharatavakya or conclusion:


Sanskrit drama concludes on a favorable note with a prayer. The hero having attained the fulfillment of his desires prays for peace and prosperity to all. This prayer is in verse known as Bharatvakya which is the last formality to be completed after the play is over.


The Bharatvakya according to Biswanath Bhattacharya:


celebrates the final success of the hero by invoking the blessings of the God, pleases the audience in general. The deity or the sage, by showering boons and benedictions on the hero, gets the due respectful appreciation from the audience. In addition, he imbues the drama with a universal appeal by emphasizing the fact that in this world the good and the righteous are duly rewarded.

5.  Rasapratiti or arousal of emotions:


The Natyasastra regards rasapratiti or arousal of emotions the most important phenomenon in any Sanskrit play. As per the explanation in the treatise:


The entire nature of human beings as connected with the experiences of happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, when presented through the process of histrionic representation (abhinaya) is to be called natya.


Emotion-based experience is regarded as the central content of dramatic art as per the Natyasastra. The treatise attempts to answer three main questions pertaining to the theory of rasa namely; how rasa comes about? Second, what is rasa? And third what feeling accompanies it?. Replying to the very first question, the Natyasastra states:


Just as well disposed persons, while eating food prepared with various kinds of spices relish its taste and get pleasure and satisfaction, so do spectators with refined minds relish permanent states when they see them represented by an expression of various emotions through words, gestures and involuntary responses and get pleasure and satisfaction.


Clarifying the second point regarding the meaning of rasa or why are the mental states like rati or love, bhaya or fear called rasa it is stated in the treatise that like the material beverages, these rasas or feelings are equally capable of being relished. Regarding the third question about the feeling that accompanies it, it is touted as “pleasure” in the treatise. It is also emphasized that it requires an expert or connoisseur to be able to enjoy the taste of the rasa properly in matters of food and drink as well as in the enjoyment of taste in poetry and art. It is stated that it is with the mind that the taste in poetry and art is perceived as well as enjoyed separately from the sense of taste of various ingredients of food. The rasa sutra is illustrated thus:


Out of the union of determinants (vibhavas) the consequents (anubhavas) and the transitory mental states ( vyabhicharin) the birth of rasa takes place.


Bhava includes anything that comes into being. The material things and conditions of existence; birth, growth, decay and death are all bhavas in this sense at the sametime, the word also refers to the mental states which are brought to life in the process of artistic creation by the artist. In real life these are inevitable laws of nature which are reconstructed in art, characters, situations, incidents and happenings n turn providing the experience of rasa or relish through the means of the vibhavas, anubhavas and the vyabhicharis as per the Natyasastra. This is similar to T.S. Eliot’s Objective Co-relative in which he suggest that the poet needs to find in the outside world a structure which is equivalent to the state of mind. To communicate the emotional experience the artist needs to find something outside of himself. Objective Co-relative according to Eliot is an artistic inevitability and rather than a direct transfer of emotions, the artist requires a mediating structure. Similarly, in rasa sutra, vibhavas, anubhavas and vyabhicharis act as mediating forces that stimulate emotions.


The rasa theory thus can be interpreted as follows:


The vibhavas are statements and presentations giving rise to emotions and sentiments. The expressions of sentiments and emotions are the anubhavas. The feelings caused and expressed in a similar manner are the vyabhicharis. The union of all these leads to rasapratiti. As per the Natyasastra, bhavas are of three important kinds namely; Sthyai, Vyabhichari and the sattvika. Further, it is provided that the sthayis or basic emotions are of eight kinds- Rati (love) Krodha(anger) shoka(pathos) ustsaha(excitement), bhaya(fear), hasa (laughter) jugupsa(disgust) and vismaya(marvelous). These sthayis give rise to the nine main rasas evoked during a dramatic performance namely; sringara (love), hasya,(laughter) karuna(tragedy), raudra(anger), veera(valor), bhayanaka(fearsome), bibhatsa(loathsome) and adbhuta(wonderous). Apart from the nine sentiments, the Natyasatra lists thirty three Vyabhichari bhavas or the accessory feelings. They are: Nirveda (despair), glani(disgust), shanka(hesitation), asuya(jealousy), Mada(inebriety), srama(exhaustion), alasya(sloth), dainya(depression), chinta(anxiety), moha(distraction), smriti(remembrance), dhriti(contentment), virda(bashfulness), chapalta(inconstancy), harsha(joy), avega(agitation), jadata(stupor), garva(conceit), visada(despondency), autsukya(eagerness), nidra(slumber), apasmara(catalepsy), supta(vision), vibodha(wakefulness), amarsa(wrath), avahittha(dissimulation), ugrata(acrimony), mati(determination), vyadhi(illness), unmade(derangement), marana(mortality), trasa(fright) and vitarka(dubiousness). Apart from the thirty three transitory states, the Natyasastra also lists eight sattvikas which are physical changes that occur during the rise of any emotion these are; svedh(perspiration), stambha(paralysis), vepathu(tremor), asru(weeping), romancha(horripilation), svarabheda(change of voice), pralaya(swoon) and vaivarnayam(change of color).


According to the Natyasastra, the experience of rasa takes place in the course of a dramatic reproduction and provides immense pleasure that is equated with Brahmananda or supreme delight. Scholar Abhinavagupta elaborates on the process of rasananda and declares that rasa is Brahmasvada. It is an emotion altogether relished and forms an essential part of the human soul. It is an internal experience of bliss experienced by a yogi or a sage in the state of Samadhi or transcendental meditation. This mystical experience is alaukika or supermundane.


The two main types of Sanskrit drama are Nataka and Prakrana. The Nataka, consists of four kinds of abhinayas, viz. angika, vacika, satvika and aharya. The hero must be dhirodatta i.e. whose acts are aimed atthe defense of a righteous cause. There must be five to ten acts. The plot must be a celebrated story. Love is the subject of most of the dramas and the Vidusaka plays a prominent role in these plays. The characters must be heroic and there mustbe good deeds.


Prakaraya is a play in ten acts having some social elements. Hypocrisies of the high class 2nd the vices of the lower are exposed. The story must be a fictitious one invented by the poet. Hero or leading character may be a Brahmin or a minister or a merchant.Thc heroine can ever be a courtesan. The victory of true love, character and chastity is givenimportance in this type. Apart from the two main categories, the other forms of Sanskrit drama cited in the Natyasastra are Bhana, Vyayoga, Samvakara, Dima, ihamriga, Anka, Vithi and Prahasana. These may be understood briefly as follows:


Bhanais a monologue wherein the hero narrates dramatically a variety of incidents either to himself or to others through a device called akashabhasita. The plot is invented by the poet Love, war, fraud, intrigue etc. are dealt with. Love and heroism are the prominent rasas. It contains only two junctures the opening and the concluding. Kerala is rich in such dramas.


Vyayoga is a one act play with a few female characters. It should have a well known theme and a famous hero, dhirodatta and shall not be a divine person. adbhuta or raudra may be the main sentiments. Descriptions of battles, duals, attacks and counter attacks, exchange of insults of many men engaged in a struggle find a place in this type. Kerala has contributed much to this type of rupakas.


Samavakara consists of four acts and a well known story of devas and demons. Several subjects are mixed together in this type.


Dima – is one in which the subject is well- known. Hero should be a god, a yakas, a raksasa, a serpent or a goblin. It contains rasas except hasya and sringara. The dominant sentiment is raudra.


Ihimrga-consist of four acts. Here the hero is disappointed because he could not get his beloved .The plot is a mixed one. (Hero tries to gain a divine heroine who is as unattainable as a deer). The hero should be a dhirodiitta.


Anka – is a one act play where the plot may be borrowed from the epic. Sometimes it may be well-known. The main sentiment is karuna. As there is lamentations of women who lost their dear ones in battles and dialogues expressing disgust, it can be reckoned as a play depicting the consequences of war.


Vithi is also a one act play. It should be arranged with the employment of one character or two.


The touch of Sringara is there.


Prahasana – is so called because of the large amount of laughter it causes. It has no restriction of acts. Its subject matter is imaginary and it represents people of questionable characters. The hero is of a low character. The main sentiment is hasya. It is of three kinds – regular, modified and mixed. The parasites and hypocrites of society are ridiculed in prahasana.


Apart from these ten major types, the subsidiary varieties of Sanskrit drama or the uprupakas give more importance to musical presentation sometimes. Vachika abhinaya or dialogues are given lesser importance in this type of rendition at times and attention is centered on the facial expression of the actors. Each word of the text is elaborately interpreted. Thus, uprupakas include music and dance. Vishwanatha the author of Sahityadarpana recognizes around eighteen types of uprupakas while according to Saradatanaya there are twenty such forms.



Some Important plays in the history of Sanskrit Literature are:


Kalidasa’s Malvikagnimitram, Vikramorvashiyam and Abhijnanashakuntalam.


Sri Harsha’s Nagananda and


Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa


Bhavabhuti’s Uttarramcharita


Shudraka’s Mrrichakatika


Bhasa’s Swapnavasavdaatam



1. Kalidasa’s Malvikagnimitram is a drama of five acts. It is based upon the wooing, ending of marriage of Malvika by Agnimitra, a King of the Sunga dynasty. The plot entirely depends upon he love-intrigue of the King for Malvika which gets interrupted by Iravati, the second queen of Agnimitra. The theme is borrowed from contemporary history. Kalidasa was the first to introduce in his play the story of a modern King, Agnimitra which was previously declared unfit for themes of Sanskrit plays. The plot of the play basically deals with the ways in which the King Agnimitra manages to avail Malvika as his wife after facing several oppositions from other queens. The King is assisted by his friend Vidushaka and Vakulavalika, a friend of Malvika in the endeavor of uniting the two lovers. The opposition comes from Iravati’ the second queen of the King who has great power. The play begins with the King’s desire to get Malvika as he falls in love with her at the first sight. Finally, the play closes with the marriage of the King and Malvika who is presented to the King by the chief queen Dharini after the revelation of the fact that Malvika is a princess. The play closes with a Bharatvakya spoken by the hero and it prays for the heavenly benediction of all the people ruled by King Agnimitra.


2.  Vikramorvashiya:


Vikramorvashiya is the second drama of Kalidasa. It tells the story of King Pururava’s love affair with a celestial nymph Urvashi. Dr. S.K. De observes, “the romantic story of the love of the mortal King Pururava and the divine nymph Urvashi is old, the earliest version occurring in the Rgveda- X-95; but the passion and pathos, as well as the logically tragic ending, of the ancient legend is changed, in five acts, into an unconvincing story of the semi-courtly life with a weak denoument of domestic union and felicity brought about by the intervention of a magic stone and the grace of Indra”. (Bhattacharya 212). It is believed that Vedas and puranas do provide references to the love of Pururava and Urvashi but the exact source of Kalidasa’s play is uncertain. He has taken the main plot of the play from either any or all of these sources but has given a new form to the play by modifying its plot significantly. Primarily, the author has made Urvashi appear to be the most loving and lovable heroine unlike the merciless seductive damsel of the Vedas.


3.  Abhijnanashakuntalam:


The source of the play is the story of Shakuntala in the Mahabharata. There is also Shakuntalopakhyana in the Padmapurana as well, however, it is stated by the critics that Kalidasa has not borrowed the tale from the same and the play is based on the short account of Shakuntala in the Mahabharata. Nonetheless, the plot of Kalidasa’s play has many deviations from the original source. Primarily, we see, that similar to Vikramorvashiyam wherein Kalidasa introduces Urvashi in a different light as extremely benign and fragile than the shrewd one as presented in the Indian scriptures, in Abhijanashakuntalam as well, the author reintroduces Shakuntala in the same mode as shy and dignified and does not choose to follow the Mahabharata that presents her as the shrewd, straightforward and taunting girl. Critic Biswanath Bhattacharya observes that this transformation in his lead female protagonist enables the writer to introduce the motive of the drama as explained by Rabindranath Tagore as: “ Kalidasa has recognized the power of that love which defies all restraint, and overwhelming the man and woman, hoists its banner of victory over the ruins of the castle of restraint but the poet has not surrendered himself to it. He has shown that the riotous dalliance, which makes men and women irresponsible, is blasted by the curse of the lord, frustrated by the curse of the sage and ruined by the wrath of the gods”.


Shakuntalam is considered as the best work of Kalidasa believed to have been composed around 1st century BCE and 4th century CE. Shakuntala, the abandoned child of sage Vishwamitra and celestial nymph Menaka spends her childhood in the hermitage of sage Kanva. Dushyanta, the King happens to accidently spot her during one his hunting expeditions in the forest. He falls in love with her and both of them get married secretly in the forest. After a few days, the King receives an urgent message from his Kingdom and has to rush immediately for the welfare of his realm. He gives Shakuntala his finger-ring as a token of remembrance assuring her that he would return soon. Shakuntala remains absorbed in the King’s memories and ignores Sage Durvasa’s call due to which she receives a curse from him that the one due to which she has ignored him would forget her completely. However, the sage does have mercy on her as she implores in front of him and says that he would remember her when she would show him a token or a gift received from him. King Dushyanta forgets Shakuntala completely. In the meanwhile, as the news of Shakuntala’s pregnancy spread far and wide in Sage Kanva’s hermitage, he decides to take her to the King. In the middle of the journey through a river, Shakuntala loses her ring and as a result when she reaches to the King’s court, he refuses to recognize her.


Fortunately, the ring is discovered by a fisherman in the belly of a fish, and Dushyanta realises his mistake – too late. The newly wise Dushyanta defeats an army of Asuras, and is rewarded by Indra with a journey through heaven. Returned to Earth years later, Dushyanta finds Shakuntala and their son by chance, and recognizes them. In other versions, especially the original one found in the Mahabharata, Shakuntala is not reunited until her son Bharata is born, and found by the king playing with lion cubs. Dushyanta enquires about his parents to young Bharata and finds out that Bharata is indeed his son. Bharata is an ancestor of the lineages of the Kauravas and Pandavas, who fought the bloody war of the Mahabharata. It is after this Bharata that India was given the name “Bharatadesam”, the ‘Land of the Bharata’. However, Kalidasa’s version is now taken to be the standard one.

The play was the first Indian drama to be translated into a Western language, by Sir William Jones in 1789. In the next 100 years, there were at least 46 translations in twelve European languages. English translations include:

  • Sacontalá or The Fatal Ring: an Indian drama (1789) by Sir William Jones
  • Śakoontalá or The Lost Ring: an Indian drama (1855) by Sir Monier Monier-Williams
  • Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works (1914) by Arthur W. Ryder Tamil translations include:
  • AbignaSakuntalam (1938) by Mahavidwan R.Raghava Iyengar. Translated in sandam style.
  • Shakuntala (1854) by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar
  • Shakuntala (1895) by Abanindranath

Tagore Chinese translation includes:

  • 沙恭达 (1956) by Ji Xianlin

In Koodiyattam, the only surviving ancient Sanskrit theatre tradition, performances of Kalidasa’s plays are rare. However, legendary artist and Natyasastra scholar Nātyāchārya Vidūshakaratnam Padma ShriGuruMāni Mādhava Chākyār has choreographed a Koodiyattam production of The Recognition of Sakuntala

  • Austrian composer Franz Schubert left an incomplete opera, Sakuntala, which has been completed and recorded.

French composer Ernest Reyer composed a ballet, Sacountalâ, in 1858.

  • Italian Franco Alfano composed an opera, named La leggenda di Sakùntala (The legend of Sakùntala) in its first version (1921) and simply Sakùntala in its second version (1952).
  • Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark composed a Sakuntala overture, op. 13 (1865).
  • The Norwegian musician, Amethystium wrote a song called “Garden of Sakuntala” and it can be found in the CD Aphelion.

According to Philip Lutgendorf, the narrative of the movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili recapitulates the story of Shakuntala


4.  Shri Harsha’s Nagananda and Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa:


Shri Harsha comes after Kalidasa. He was the last Hindu King of Thaneshwar of the seventh century A.D. Nagananda(joy of the serpents) is a nataka and its source is borrowed from the Brihatkatha wherein the self-sacrifice of Jimutvahana is narrated. It is believed by the historians that Harsha was a Buddhist but at the same time, he was liberal in his attitude to other faiths. He used to worship other gods like Siva and Vishnu as well. In his drama we find the influence of his religious tolerance. He selects a theme that is Buddhist in essence, that of universal benevolence and invokes the Buddha in the benedictory stanzas in the prologue but introduces the goddess Gauri as a presiding deity but as the Deus ex Machina in the end to bring drama to a successful close.


Jimutvahana a Vidyadhara prince happens to fall in love with Malyavati as he accompanies his old father in the forest. In the due course of time, Jimutvahana is shown developing an aversion towards the materialistic pleasures of life and once again resigning in the forest where he sees the skeletons of many Nagas-snakes and learns that Garuda – the eagle kills all the snakes to satiate its hunger. Overwhelmed with benignity, Jimutvahana offers himself to Gaurda as food sparing the life of the snake Sankhachuda who was supposed to be the bird’s victim. Taking Jimutvahana for its prey, Garuda pounces on him fiercely and injures him but gradually is ashamed to realize his mistake of having attacked a human prey in place of the Naga. Finally, on Jimutvahana’s request, the bird abnegates the killing of snakes. Jimutvahana dies but while the funeral pyre is prepared to perform his final rites, goodess Gauri enters and restores the prince back to life and also gives him back his Kingdom.


The aim of the dramatist in Nagananda as it is apparent is to demonstrate the importance of renunciation.


Vishakhadatta occupies an integral place in the history of Sanskrit theater because of his renowned play Mudrarakshasa based on a historical theme. The story of the play is the winning over of Rakshasa, the wise minister of the dead Nandas to the side of Chandragupta, the new King by his crafty well-wisher and guide Chanakya. The play essentially focuses on political conspiracies and contrivances by the ministers. Rakshasa is loyal to his vanquished master and is active to undermine the government of Chandragupta as retaliation for the defeat of his lord. Chanakya also is always in search of an opportunity to protect the King Chandragupta. The [play takes the form of a political intrigue with these two characters in the centre.


The theme of the play is certainly historical. The strife between Nandas and Chandragupta is evidently based on the historical subject matter. The drama depicts the course of events that begins with the declaration of chanakya to win Rakhsasa over to the side of Chadragupta as his minister and ends with the fulfillment of his promise.


The tug of war between Chanakya and Rakhasa has been effectively dramatized and is the heart of the matter in the play. The working of the spies of both the parties has also been skillfully described and becomes very interesting. There is a lack of important female characters and the playwright seems to prove that romantic theme is not the only guarantee for successful plays. There are only three women in the play and of them, two are female gatekeepers and the other is a wife of Candanadasa, an ally of Rakshasa. She does not have any major role in the play. It is a seven act play. The central plot is discussed in the first stage of the action. The second stage of the action that is efforts to attain the end by Chanakya have been depicted through all the other five acts. The last stage of attainment of the result is reached in the seventh act.


5. Bhavabhuti’s Uttarramcharita Shudraka’s Mricchakatika and Bhasa’s Swapnavasavdattam:


Uttarramcharita is a well-known play by Sanskrit dramatist Bhavabuti and it occupies an important place in the history of Sanskrit playwriting specifically because of the fine depiction of Karunarasa or the sentiment of Karuna that evokes sympathy in the readers/spectators the moment they attempt to familiarize themselves with the plot of the play.

Shudraka’s Mricchakatika is a legendary work of Sanskrit theater. It deals with the love affair of a Brahmin Charudatta with the beautiful courtesan Vasantasena. It is a ten act play skillfully cultivated and interestingly managed by the playwright interweaving the life of the playwright’s times along with the love story. The play departs from the tradition of the Natyasastra in the inclusion of many middle and lower class characters that speak prakrit. The story is thought to be derived from an earlier work called Chārudatta in Poverty by the playwright Bhāsa, though that work survives only in fragments.It is believed to have been composed around second century BC and the fifth century AD. It is a play that is oft performed in the West.


Bhasa’s Swapnavasavdattam is drawn from the romantic narratives about the Vatsa king Udayana and Vasavadatta, the daughter of Pradyota, the ruler of Avanti, which were current in the poet’s time. The main theme of the drama is the sorrow of Udayana for his queen Vasavadatta, believed by him to have perished in a fire, which was actually a rumour spread by Yaugandharayana, a minister of Udayana to compel his king to marry Padmavati, the daughter of the king of Magadha. It forms, in context, a continuation of his another drama, Pratijnayaugandharayana

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