Mrichhakatika as a literary text

Mrichhakatika as a literary text Mrichchhkatika, a drama text that belongs to the beginning years of the first millennium. Keeping this in view, we shall focus upon the conditions that prevailed in that distant past and the way they were recreated in the imaginative-cultural mode by its writer. Even as this play presumably entertained the audiences of its time, it has a good dose of humour and suspense. It holds an interest for us today as well. Also, a discussion about the characters in it and the conditions that surround them is sure to help us in understanding our own social atmosphere.



Sudraka, the playwright of Mrichchhkatika, lived at some point of time between the first and third century A.D. The name of the writer raises the question of whether he belonged to the marginalised sections of our society. Mark the word ‘Sudraka’ and consider. There may be some connection between the name of the playwright and his background that tells us the story of his antecedents and source. Contrarily or otherwise, the range and depth of the play suggest that he had a powerful literary imagination and was well acquainted with Sanskrit writings of his period, apart from being well-versed in the rich learning that ancient writing is known for. Mrichhakatika as a literary text , A look at the text of the play makes clear that Sudraka expressed himself with equal felicity in Sanskrit prose and verse as well as in Prakrit. The latter was a dialect used by the common masses of the time. In Sudraka’s hands, Prakrit became an efficient medium of communication and did justice to the complex thought processes of the semiliterate and illiterate. Since the dialect was closer to life’s rhythms, it left a peculiar impact on the reader and viewer then. Today as well, it might strike us for its flow and flexibility. Its raw nature moved the reader/viewer immensely.

There exist numerous references to Sudraka in writings of the ancient period. The man is remembered as a great ruler, a fine statesman, a scholar and thinker of repute, and one who knew many languages. Mrichhakatika as a literary text , These references turn him into a mythical figure. In view of the information we have, we may be tempted to guess whether he indeed was the writer of the play Mrichchhkatika that has a wide range of imagination and a close view of life at the grassroots. It is hard to surmise, for instance, that a king, howsoever knowledgeable, would be steeped in the nuances of feelings the play offers in its descriptions. It is possible that another person bearing the name Sudraka wrote this play and those many other plays that find mention in stray records of the period when he lived. This other Sudraka would have culled details of the plot and the happenings woven in it from his own sources of information and knowledge. Also, it is not necessary that an unknown figure in that period bore the name Sudraka that suggested origins of the man in the lower orders of society. It is possible that the writer of the play Mrichchhkatika thought of hiding behind an assumed name Sudraka.



Mrichhakatika as a literary text , This is an India full of energy, passion, street-smart people crowding the roads, quarrels and fights among the mighty and influential? In this we come across, too, the economic, political, crass as well as violent and scandalous facets of life—all thriving on what transpired really at the time. Historicalaccounts of the period may give us an inkling of this.

Related to developments in the early centuries of the first millennium, read the following account by D N Jha:

Increased commercial activity and the consequent growth of a money economy led to the proliferation of arts and crafts. … The increase in trade demanded an efficient organization of production and distribution. Individual artisans congregated together and formed guilds; merchants also organized themselves into corporations. No less than two dozen guilds of artisans existed in this period. The guild system seems to have become the general pattern of production, facilitating high output. … The guilds sometimes acted as trustees and bankers. … The guilds evidently utilized the capital deposited with them to augment production and paid interest on it of the proceeds from the sale of their commodities. The possibility of the increasing output may have prompted the guilds to hire additional labour, both free labour and slaves. This naturally gave a measure of freedom to artisans and craftsmen. (134-135)

Jha talks of an India active and vibrant. The increased economic activity created a platform for people to relate to one another on a plane of useful give and take. Commerce helped them increase the scope of their living beyond the narrow confines of a country market to one that, offered opportunities of expansion. Mrichhakatika as a literary text, As a consequence of this, preoccupations multiplied giving a chance to actors in the scene for tricks and innovative methods; these would enhance the quality of life stretching it beyond limits of sanctioned freedom. “Augmented production” and interest being paid on “proceeds for sale” indicate higher levels of participation in the entrepreneurial world of ancient India. Jha has stated in the quotation that “Increased commercial activity and the consequent growth of a money economy let to the proliferation of arts and crafts.” He has provided a link between activity in society and art. You know that Literature is also placed in the category of art. Do you agree with Jha regarding this link? If you do, you would have the idea that ancient Literature drew useful influences from the life of the times. Also, if the prevailing life had a strong economic activity working in it, the Literature of the period will also carry an impact of that activity in it. You may, then, see Sudraka’s Mrichchhkatika in a new light Mrichhakatika as a literary text.

Mrichhakatika as a literary text

Sudraka has in mind, a town with an active administration, a powerful section of the rich and privileged, as well as a whole group of officers who on the sly will violate the existing norms and rules. The point is that a situation such as this might give an occasion to clever manipulators for seeking pleasures of the senses. Yet, the scene we talk about captures more than a legally permissible scenario. It presents in tangible ways the clash between civilised norms and baser motives of men away from the light of law and constitution. The fight is between morality supported by ideals and pleasure-seeking by a pack of law-breakers. What should art do in such a case? Such a consideration works behind the structure of the play.

Mrichchhakatika may give the impression of being a comic play meant to offer titillation alone. Nothing is farther from the truth. In fact, there is no titillation in the scene referred to. Mrichhakatika as a literary text , Instead, a serious anomaly of social behaviour connected to a ruling clique in the town is being shown graphically. We may understand this point in precise terms when we compare the concerned scene with the dramatic happenings that unfold before us as the action proceeds. The range of action in the play is wide and it draws attention to those ethical questions as well as the connected issues of goodness and idealism that make a society meaningful in its dynamic working.

The guiding principle in Mrichchhakatika is the comic approach. It holds the main function of art to be entertaining, and letting people know that society, howsoever difficult and complex, is manageable. It dawns on us that the issue in Mrichchhakatika is a crisis that shows itself in the situation of the protagonist. Mrichhakatika as a literary text , He is rendered poor by circumstances. Yet, the value of high drama in which kings, gods, and mythical figures are predominant is not assigned to Mrichchhakatika. It is not a nataka or natakiyakriti in that sense. Nataka denotes representation of the sacred and godly in a form that indicates the lofty and profound, not the ordinary. Instead, the name given to Mrichchhakatika is Prakarana. If politics and courtly issues involving change of order, lofty questions of war and preserving large territories were at the centre of the work, the play may have enjoyed a higher reputation than it has. Mrichhakatika as a literary text , What we find instead is that an ordinary scholar rendered poor by fate, or worldly shuffles of events is emotionally supported by a courtesan. The two indeed are lovers, each holding the other in high regard and earning on that account adulation from the middle rung citizens in the society of the town. We may, therefore, accept the word Prakarana for it that may stand as explained in terms of a supposedly lesser play. Biswanath Banerjee defines the word as follows:

This work of Shudraka is a prakarana type of dramatic composition which presents the love-episode of Charudatta, a poor but noble Brahmin tradesman of Ujjayini, and Vasantasena, a rich and attractive courtesan of the same place, which ends in their happy union. The main theme of the play has been furnished with various impressive and attractive incidents and actions to make the work of Shudraka the most enjoyable one in the whole range of Sanskrit dramatic literature.

The prakarana form is defined further by Banerjee thus:

The primary condition of a parkarana to which class this drama belongs, is that it should be a drama of invention, i.e., the plot should be an invention of the poet, kavi-kalpita, based on worldly life focusing on the actions of men and women. In this respect Shudraka’s drama fulfils the condition of dramaturgy quite well, and even goes beyond it to be considered as the only drama of invention. As are the requirements of the type of composition the main theme has been presented in ten acts, the predominant sentiment (rasa) is love or shringara, a deep and calm (dhir-prashanta) Brahmin is the hero, of the two heroines, one, i.e., Dhuta, is born of a noble family, kulaja, and the other, Vasantasena, is a public woman or ganika, and this makes the composition a mixed or samkirna type of prakarana.

Mrichhakatika as a literary text  , The issue of 15 aesthetic form is also dealt with in brief. An important aspect of thematic richness finally catches our attention. We noted that the ancient period had many aspects that are of interest to us even today.


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