Svapnavasavadattam - Introduction



Sanskrit drama is in a special sense universal. Some of it is con­cerned almost wholly with the permanent seats of joy and grief in the human psyche, to the exclusion of most other topical,passing verities of life. Moreover, it commits itself to a supremely sat­isfying pleasure principle, and to an exultant, optimistic vision of life, without in any manner vulgarizing the passions or being crudely sen­timental and unrealistic. Since it is grounded upon an extraordinarily refined aesthetic taste it also contributes to a chastening of sensibility. Its masterful fusion of prose and poetry, of the temporal and universal, of values of joy and duty, of worldliness and otherworldliness, could be one of the means to a profound education both moral and aesthetic for the modern man.

The Indian mind has always been religious without being dogmatic, so Aesthetics and Poetics have no quarrel with Ethics and Philosophy in ancient India. Drama very much accepted this relationship and its duty towards religion and morality. It aimed at removing evil and vin­dicating truth, beauty and goodness. And in this task, it was more ef­fective than the other art forms in so far as it was the only audio-visual art (d*arn sravyam ca), and its representation of life, therefore, more immediate and persuasive.

The great Indian classical plays, and the monumental dramatic treatise, Natya Sastra, give the impression of a highly sophisticated and self-contained aesthetic world. The intellectual and cultural mi-



lieu reflected in the traditional literature also supports a similar view, encouraging one to visualize a harmonious, settled, classically con­trolled universe. Historical researches in modern times have, how­ever. revealed a different picture. For all its solid façade of established conventions and values, the Indian subcontinent was experiencing a series of upheavals at the social, political1 and philosophical levels during the period when Sanskrit drama was attaining maturity. The Indian people did, of course, succeed in maintaining a certain steadi­ness and stability in respect of their culture through all the changing dimensions of their historical life, but they did not really allow them­selves to sink into a state of servile conformism. While the bold ex­perimentalism and innovativeness in the realms of ancient culture and politics have received some attention in the post-independence period,2 the modalities and mores in the sphere of literary apprecia­tion have, for the most part, remained unchanged. Literary criticism is yet to respond adequately to the controlled dynamism of life which ancient Sanskrit plays so beautifully and variously portray.

Dramatic literature occupies a significant place in the domain of literary output. Not only does it occupy a large space in the libraries, but also has its deep and sacred station in the heart of millions.


The very fact that there developed in ancient times a well-articu­lated and richly elaborated treatise of dramatic art, which is known as Natya Sastra and which has been attributed to an ancient sage Bharata-Muni, is a testimony of the Indian temperament that was not satisfied merely with a body of knowledge derived from higher facul-

  1. R.C. Majumdar and A.D. Pusalkar (ed.) The History and culture of the Indian People. Vol. 1.1, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1951.
  2. See, D.D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civiliation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, Vikas Publishing House, Pvt Ltd. Delhi 1970. Romila Thapar, A History of India. Vol. 1, Penguin Books, 1966.


ties of intuition, revelation and inspiration, but it aimed at the efflo­rescence and flourishing of the powers of intellect in the domains of science, philosophy, ethics and aesthetics.

The text of NatyaSastra of Bharata, following the traditional view of the origin of all branches of knowledge in intuitive consciousness, traces the entire NatyaSastra to the Divine origin. It is rightly pointed out that the dramatic form originated from several elements of the four most ancient texts, Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Recitation was borrowed from Rigveda, music from Samaveda, the art of representation and imitation from Yajurveda and sentiments (rasa) from the Atharvaveda.

Although all the elements constituting a drama are found in the Rigveda, namely dialogues, music and dance, some sort of visual rep­resentation of situations and events, various amusements and recrea­tions like chariot-race, hunting and gambling, drama does not seem to have been a source of enjoyment to the people of the Vedic times, in so far as there is no hint of the prevalence of such an art. Yet, we may assume that there had been some kind of visual representation of situations and events through dialogues and action accompanied with music and dance even at that time, since all the elements are separately found in the Rigveda.

We do not know the date of Bharata but it seems certain that about the time when Bharata wrote his NatyaSastra, there was an immense wealth of dramatic literature available to him. He describes the var­ious categories of dramas, and mentions the names of dramas falling under various divisions. The art of drama and works dealing with the art were known to Pariini, and his date is definitely a few centuries prior to the beginning of the Christian era, perhaps five centuries. In his time also there must have existed many dramas. Pariini is not later than the date of the great tragedies in Greek.

KaHasa mentions three dramatists famous in his time, and they are Bhasa, Saumilla and Kaviputra. Of them we know only the last two. There certainly were many dramas even prior to Bhasa, as is found in the work on dramaturgy of Bharata. But in the history of Sanskrit literature, in dealing with drama, we have to start with Bhasa, since of all extant works, his are the earliest.




Drama, like every form of art, is a creative interpretation of life, and the dramatist renders the rhythms of the life of men and women and their circumstances by expressing them in a concentrated manner; the working out of a certain rhythm that can be discerned universally. There is, it may be said, a certain rhythm of development which de­picts a cycle of genesis, growth of action and character, confrontation with circumstances, and the resultant complexity of consequences. In India, the law of Karma suggests the law that seems to describe the pattern of the rhythms of life. According to this law, human life is a living experience of the rhythms of life, and in the ultimate analysis, the joys and sorrows, good fortune and misfortune, rise and fall, lead to a final culmination of the liberation of the agent of action, the in­most soul of man. The best forms of drama in India have avoided tragedy as a denouement. Indian drama, indeed, depicts both that is agreeable and disagreeable; it ends ultimately in the sense of release from tension, from tragedy and from death. It is for this reason that no Indian drama is comparable to tragedies of Greek and English lit­erature or any similar literature. This vast scope has made the drama what it is. In it we find royal personalities like Udayana, Du§yanta and Ramabhadra, noble characters like CarCidatta, great sages like Kanva and Durvasa, illustrious ladies like STta, and Vasavadatta, 8akuntala as well as innumerable types of common folk. In fact, drama includes in its sphere so easily and charmingly the utmost sublimity and the com­monest trivialities, so easily does it rise to the highest peak of human grandeur, and descend to the pit of buffoonery; it is closely associated with the consciousness of society. It is at once the most peculiar, the most elusive and the most enthralling of all types of literature.

An important aspect of Sanskrit drama is that the dialogues are often interspersed with verses in diverse metrical forms or cchandas. Lyricism is thus a constant consequent of the atmosphere of the Sanskrit drama. Most of the noble and leading characters express



themselves in chaste, chiseled and lyrical expressions.

Humour and comedy are adequately portrayed in Sanskrit drama, and the device that is normally employed is to introduce the character of the Vidusaka or Jester, similar to what we find in the character of the clown in Shakespearean drama. Such a character was considered very important; therefore he was allotted a pivotal role in the dramatic preliminaries beside the hero and the heroine. In most Sanskrit plays the Vidusaka is introduced as a constant, trusted companion of the king, the hero. He is a Brahmin with a strange, ugly, uncouth appear­ance, dwarf-stature with teeth protruding, lame, and bald-headed and sometimes with red fiery eyes. He occasionally refers to his traditional greed for food. He acts as an intermediary between the hero and the heroine. He is a great favourite of the ladies in the royal apartments. On the one hand, he could joke with the minor female characters, and on the other, he is privileged to be friendly with the inmates of the royal inner chambers.

From Bhasa to Mvaghosa down to the later dramatists, with a few exceptions, all have introduced this character with varying degrees of success.

RCipaka is the term used in Sanskrit for all dramatic compositions; UparCipaka being the term for a subordinate class of dramatic compo­sitions.The RCipaka which has Rasa or sentiment for its substratum, is divided into ten classes. The UparCipakas or Minor Dramas are of eighteen types, the most important of which are Alatikas, such as RatriavalT, etc., Trotakas such as Vikraorvagyam, etc. The three es­sential constituents of RCipakas which constitute their very life-blood are: (1) Vastu or the plot of the play; (2) Neta or the hero; and (3) Rasa or the Sentiment.

The plot and its structure

Commentators are generally agreed that the plot (vastu) of a drama is primarily of two kinds: 'principal' and 'accessory'. The 'principal' is that which relates to the chief characters or the persons concerned with the essential interest of the piece, and pervades the whole



arrangement. The 'accessory' is that which appears in furtherance of the main topic, and is concerned with characters other than the hero and the heroine.

Besides these two, there are three other elements requisite for the development of the plot. These are: The seed (bija), the drop (bindu) and the final issue (katya).

The development of the dramatic plot involves five stages or con­ditions. There is the beginning or start of the enterprise (arambha), which leads to the organized effort (prayatna). The third stage is the prospect of success (prapti-sambhavana) in relation to the input of effort and the obstacle to be surmounted, followed by the certainty of success (niyatapti) and the actual attainment (phalagama).

While these five stages of dramatic action are in progress the necessary links to connect them with the episodes and incidents are called samdhis or critical meeting points of the plot, which are five in number:

1) The opening juncture (mukha or protasis); 2) the progression (pratimukha or epitasis); 3) the development (garbha, meaning deep­ening or catastasis); 4) the pause (vimarsha or peripeteia), and 5) the denouement or conclusion (Nirvahana).

The hero

Four kinds of heroes are mentioned, viz., Dhirodatta, DhIrlalita, DhIrsharita and Dhirodhatta. Basically the hero "is required to be modest, decorous, comely, munificent, civil, of sweet address, sprung from a noble family etc.," says M. R. Kale.

The principal assistants of the hero should be clever in discourse, devoted to his master and a little inferior to him in qualities. The Vickisaka, or Jester, his constant companion, helps his friend in his love-intrigues, assisting in the denouement of the play.

The nayika or the heroine must be possessed of the same qualities as the hero, and also has an assistant, sister or maid.



Rasa or sentiment

Bharata enunciated the eight Rasas in the Natyagastra, the ancient work of dramatic theory. Rasa is, as described by M. R. Kale, "that lasting impression of feeling produced to his overwhelming delight in a man of poetic susceptibility"; it is a developed relishable state of a per­manent mood or sentiment called sthayibhava, brought about by at­tendant emotional conditions such as Vibhavas, Anubhavas, Sattvika bhavas etc. Bhava or 'feeling' is the complete pervasion of the heart by any emotion, whether of pleasure or pain, arising from the object under sight or sound. There are eight sthayibhavas, on which are based respectively the sentiments or moods Rasas; the eight rasas are: erngara or love, attractiveness, erotic; hasya or laughter, comedy; karuna or compassion, mercy, pathos; raudra or fury; vfror the heroic; bhayanak or the terrible; bThhatsa or disgust, loathsome; and adbhuta or wonder, amazement, the marvellous. There is a ninth rasa, that of shanta, the quietistic, not being suited to dramatic purposes it rarely occurs as the main sentiment in a drama.

In most Sanskrit plays the prevailing sentiment tends to be vira or the heroic, or mostly that of grrigara or love, attractiveness, the erotic. This is mainly divided into vipralarhbha or love-in-separation and sarnbhog or love-in-union.

The general conduct of the play

Each drama opens with a Prelude or Prologue (prastavana), which in turn is introduced by Nandi which is a benediction and as some say suggests the gist of the plot or gives the clue to the plot. The one, who arranges the preliminaries on the stage, is known as the SOtradhara, (holder of the clue) or the Stage Manager. He recites the Nandi at the opening of the play and generally at the closing and invokes bless­ings on the audience. He may sometimes retire after the recital at the opening and in his place an actor called the sthapaka takes his place. One or the other of them suggests the subject in the form of the bTja (the seed or germ of the plot of the play).



The SOtradhara was expected to know several dialects, people of different places, and was also expected to be experienced in dramatic details including the mechanical art. In short he was the chief archi­tect of the theatre, on the one hand, and the accepted leader of the troupe, on the other. He was expected to know the customs, man­ners, dresses and characteristics of different countries consistent with his knowledge and position. He was also expected to possess some basic moral qualities.

The Prelude over, the play commences arranged and exhibited in a manner indicated; the whole, being well determined and divided into Acts and Scenes. The number of acts varies from five to ten. Scenes are indicated by the entrance of one person and the exit of another. There is, strictly speaking, no front curtain, though the use of one in modern presentations does not affect the dramatic movement.



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