Feedback About Us Archives Interviews Book Reviews Short Stories Poems Articles Home

ISSN: 0974-892X


July, 2018



How a text lures the reader: A study of Śūdraka’s The Michchhakaika in the light of Kuntaka’s Vakroktijivitam


Dr. Ashima Shrawan, Asst. Professor, Shri Bhagwan Das Adarsh Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya, Hardwar (UK)



The Michchhakaika stands at the head of all Sanskrit plays with a plot that is rich and colorful, welded together with a variety of exciting incidents to maintain the reader’ s interest right up to the end. It is a passionate love story between the protagonist, Chārudatta, a prominent but poor Brahmin merchant of Ujjain, and the veritably beautiful Gaika, a courtesan, Vasantsenā but with a noble mind of the same city. Śūdraka has  “delineated in an excellent way the course of virtuous life based on the pleasures of two love, corruptness of legal procedures, the nature of villains and the working of Destiny”(9). This love story is full of adventures that stand apart by themselves outside the conventional class of super-human agency or insipid intrigues.  These features of the play in the terminology of Kuntaka are the sub varieties of prakaraa vakratā (episodic obliquity)which deal with the oblique use of prakaraa (episode). Kuntaka defines it as the art of devising episodes or incidents in such a way as to give maximum consistency to the total effect of kāvya (a literary composition). Kuntaka says that the writer, overwhelmed with the zest of creation, creates an alluring charm in the subject – matter by laying down the suspense unabated from the beginning up to the very end of the story.  According to him, this very charm is nothing but prakaraa. He describes it at the following eight levels: utapādyalāvaya (modified source story), upakārya-upakārakabhāva (episodic relationship), viśiṣṭhaprakara (particular event and episode), agirasaniyandanikasa (dominant rasa), apradhānaprasaga (secondary episodes), bhāvapurasthiti vakratā (obliquity of emotional states), prakaraāntara (play within play), sandhiviniveśa (juncture). The present play conceived by Śūdraka on the above pattern transports the connoisseur (reader) at varying intervals. The simple reason of this transport is the use of vakrokti at prakaraa level in the text. The present paper is an attempt to underline how vakrokti imparts āhlāda to the reader by his oblique use of prakaraas in different ways. Here it is worthwhile to add that at the level of prakaraa some other sub-varieties of vara-vinyāsa vakratā, padapurvārdha vakratā, padaparārdha vakratā, vākya vakratā and prabandha vakratā are also discernible.


The very title ‘Michchhakaika’ of the play which is symbolic is an illustration of nāmakaraa-vakratā, a sub-variety of prabandha-vakratā. The title does not have merely a ceremonial purpose. It unlocks and underlines the soul of the work; it is the skill of Śūdraka to impart it strikingness. Śūdraka deviates from the rule of naming the title after hero or heroine. Rather, he displays his unique art by naming the play after a certain episode in Act VI, where Chārudatta’s son Rohasena is crying because he was given a clay-cart (Michchhakaika) to play with when he wanted one of gold, and where Vasantsenā gives him her ornaments out of which he is asked to get such a one made for himself. These ornaments have afterwards served as the final and damning proof of Chārudatta’s supposed crime of killing Vasantsenā, it is proved that the author’s choice of the title is not only appropriate but also serves to pique the curiosity of the readers. Śūdraka, has obliquely designated the main plot with the title.  Michchhakaika justifies the poverty of life. It unfolds how the glamour of life is also hazardous.


The play begins on a note of despair with Chārudatta’s emotional dialogue on poverty, describing Chārudatta a Brahmin whose large fortune subsequently disappeared and left him penniless. The poverty was brought on him by his extreme generosity-even his name is significant. (ćaru dattam dānam yasya). He laments at great length over his situation because of change of time, change of behavior of people towards him. This prakaraa finds expression as viśiṣṭhaprakara vakratā (particular event and episode) in the play. Kuntaka defines it as:


प्रतिप्रकरणं प्रौढप्रतिभाभोगयोजितः।

एक एवाभिधेयात्मा बध्यमानः पुनः पुनः।।


बथ्नाति वक्रतोद्भेदभङगीमुत्पादिताद्भुताम्।। (KA 255)

(When even one and the same theme is again and again described in different places with a new touch of creative originality, and is made to radiate the glow of sentiments and figures of speech, it manifests a strikingly new mode of artistic beauty.)


This is described again and again in different places with a new touch of creative originality, and is made to radiate the glow of sentiments and figures of speech, it manifests a strikingly new mode of artistic beauty. At one place he says: “On the grounds near the thresholds of my house, the offering made whereon was formerly eagerly eaten by swans and flocks of doves- on the same grounds now overgrown with shoots of grass, a handful of corn falls to be devoured by insects’ mouths” (Śūdraka 21). Chārudatta, here using the metaphors ‘swans’, ‘doves’ and ‘insects’ convey the change of time. How beautifully he points out to the behavior of people, who were with him when he possessed large fortune, and now no one visits his house because he is penniless. By employing similes, he compares the guests to the bees, when they fly off desert when the season has passed away: “This alone burns me that guests avoid my house because it has lost its riches, just as the bees, flying off, desert, when the season has passed away, the elephant’s cheek, the thick line of rut whereon has totally dried up” (23).


The play is filled with highly emotional states to lend the element of dramatic and aesthetic sensibility to the context of love. The simple, short and suggestive dialogues create a highly suggestive poetry of its own to record the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions of the characters. The play captures the inner turmoil of the characters at a crucial stage where it is difficult to bridle the pace of emotions. Such emotional states (bhāvapūrasthitivakratā) abound in the play. There are number of emotional utterances made by Chārudatta, Maitreya, Vasantsenā and Vita which bring out the pathos. The conversation between Chārudatta and his poor but honest old friend Maitreya on a very subtle and clear cut topic of poverty clearly state the misery of Chārudatta. He says:

From penury a person passes to shame; being overcome by shame; he loses his spirit; devoid of spirit he is slighted; being slighted; he feels dejected; full of dejection, he comes to be sorry; being smitten with sorrow, he is left by his reason; and destitute of reason, he perishes. Ah! Pennilessness is the abode of all sorts of misfortunes! (25)

Here Śūdraka has captured the inner turmoil of Chārudatta and contributes to the emotion and misery of the protagonist. Here, the speech is also impregnated with phonemes, which is known as vara vinyāsa vakratā. The repetition of the consonants /p/, /s/, /d/  at regular intervals and the repetition of the words ‘penury’, ‘shame’, ‘spirit’, ‘slighted’, ‘dejected’, ‘sorrow’ ‘reason’ and ‘perish’ depict the dejection of Chārudatta and his lamentation at great length over his poverty. They support the ambience of the play and they are employed in order to draw the attention of the readers at the present state of society. When King Pālaka announced the decision of putting Chārudatta to death for the crime which he hasn't committed, his emotionally charged speech moves the connoisseur: “Ah! How thoughtlessly the king has acted!”(349) Here, Śūdraka, by the oblique use of the pronoun ‘how’ delineates the grief stricken heart of Chārudatta.


Vasantsenā, the heroine, a courtesan, is in love with Chārudatta and she cannot tolerate the very idea of entertaining any other suitor. When Sansthānaka approaches Vasantsenā, she proves to be a pure minded lady as she looks at him with loathing and contempt. And when finally in Act VIII, Sansthānaka persecutes her with his attentions, she is ready even to accept her death at his hands rather than prove faithless to the one that was enshrined in her heart. She gives the greatest possible proof that lay in her power of the depth of her affection and the loyalty of her love. Her vehemence is brought forth through the use of bhāvapurasthiti vakratā: “You man of evil deeds, you wretch! Full of sin that you are, why do you tempt me with money, in this matter? For the bees never abandon a lotus of graceful actions and pure form…For, love for a worthy personage constitutes the glory of courtesans. Having resorted to the mango-tree, I shall not betake myself to the Palasa tree” (287). The repetition of the word ‘you’ clearly shows her firmness of decision and her pure love for Chārudatta. And finally, when Vasantsenā dies with Chārudatta’s name on her lips, Vita, a friend of Sansthānaka mourns her death and is emotionally charged, he says:


The river of the water in the form of innocence is tied up. Love has departed to its original home! Alas, alas! O you were an adornment of your ornaments, you with that sweet face, you that shone with your fondness for amorous sports! You that were the river of goodness, with laughter for the sandy bank, the refuge of persons like me! Alas! alas! The market of passion, the treasure house of merchandise of beauty, is now pulled down! Alas, Oh, alas! (293)


The emotional state of Vita is further intensified by the oblique use of particles which is an instance of nipāta vakratā, a sub variety of pada parārdha vakratā. The tone of sadness, lamentation is brought out by the oblique use of particles.


Śūdraka’s   Michchhakaika abounds in sringāra rasa as angirasa (dominant emotion). Agirasaniyandanikasa (dominant rasa) is the fourth sub-level. Kuntaka says that all the acts are not equally beautiful. Only some unique ones serve the readers as a sporting ground for the essence of the ruling sentiment, and the artistic beauty of that act strikes the readers the most. Its artistic excellence is such that it cannot be imitate or repeated in any other act. Kuntaka defines it as:


यत्राङ्गिरसनिष्यन्दनिकषः कोऽपि लक्ष्यते।                                     

पूर्वोत्तरैरसंपाद्यः साङ्कादेः कापि वक्रता।। (KA 266)

(Another type of beauty in respect of Acts etc. is instanced when the beauty is so exclusive to an act that it cannot be attained by any other Act, either preceding or following, in the play and Act thus serves as a touchstone in its own way of the ruling sentiment of the play).


The acts 5th and 10th in the play serve the readers as a sporting ground for the essence of the ruling sentiment, and the artistic beauty of that act strikes the readers the most. Its artistic excellence is such that it is not imitated or repeated in any other act.


Vasantsenā’s intense passion for Chārudatta is evidently seen in the V act during their meeting in a raging thunderstorm. Later they are in union in the end. During this period her loyalty towards him grips the interest of the reader when she is being persecuted by Sansthānaka for her true love.  This all contributes to the delineation of the principal emotion. Here the playwright creatively uses storm in Nature to unmask the storm in the heart of lovers in Act V. Chārudutta says: “Untimely storm, which is gazed upon by the tame peacocks with their uplifted tails, and is disliked by the distressed swans who are about to depart quickly pervades the sky, and also at the same time the heart of a lover” (177).  Here thunder, storm, rain and lightning serve as uddipan vibhāvas to depict the love between Chārudatta and Vasantsenā. He compares himself to a swan as he feels he will be departed from his lover. In fact, there is a storm within and without.  This storm also shows warmth of love which is expressed later when Vasantsenā comes to meet Chārudatta in Act V, and Chārudatta joyfully speaks: “Ah! Vasantsenā has come! My darling, my evenings always pass in wakefulness, and my nights have always been passed in sighing. But today, O lady, with elongated eyes, the evening has put an end to my grief, since I am now united with you! (203). Here, nipāta vakratā (obliquity of particle), a sub variety of grammatical obliquity is employed beautifully when Chārudatta says ‘O lady!’ Finally, sringāra rasa is consummated with the permanent union of Chārudatta and Vasantsenā in Act X. Chārudatta joyfully speaks:


Bathing your breasts with the streams of the water of tears, whence did you come, like the divine lore, when I was in the grasp of Death? Beloved Vasantsenā! This body of mine, which was about to be destroyed on your account, was saved by yourself. Oh, the power of union with one’s beloved person! By the arrival of you, my beloved, that same red garment has become a bridegroom’s attire, and this garland decks me as though I were bridegroom. And the sounds of drum of execution resemble those of nuptial drums (389). 


Thus Agirasaniyandanikasa vakratā (obliquity of dominant rasa) is very aptly employed in the play.


In the play even secondary episodes also contribute to the whole plot creatively which is known as apradhānaprasaga vakratā (obliquity of secondary episodes). Kuntaka holds that:


प्रधानवस्तुनिष्पत्त्यै वस्त्वन्तरविचित्रता।

यत्रोल्लसति सोल्लेखा सापराप्यस्य वक्रता।। (KA 268)

(When the inventiveness of the poet in devising some other incident also ultimately contributes to add significance to the total plot, it should be regarded as another type of beauty of episode).


In the play, the secondary episodes are arranged integrally within the main episode to contribute to the main purpose. The introduction of Aryaka in Act VI, the interchange of carriages, Aryaka’s escape in Chārudatta’s carriage, and then Chārudatta’s helping him in flee, all are secondary episodes obliquely employed by the playwright.  Chārudatta being taken to the place of execution and his narrow escape at the last moment when the king is changed impart āhlāda to the reader.


Evidently it is seen that prakaraaupakārya-upakārakabhāvavakratā lies in the structure of the play. This level is the organic unity of episodes. It is defined in the following way:

प्रबन्धस्यैकदेशानां फलबन्धानुबन्धवान्।

उपकार्योपकर्तृत्वपरिस्पन्दः परिस्फुरन्।।


सूते नूतनवक्रत्वरहस्यं कस्यचित्कवेः।। (KA 252)


(An organic unity which strikingly underlies the various incidents described in different parts of the work leading to the ultimate end intended, each bound to the other by a relation of mutual assistance, reveals the essence of creative originality which is most aesthetic only in the case of a very rare poetic genius who is endowed by nature with the gift of an extraordinary inventive imagination).


This means that all incidents should be complementary to one another in a composition. The incidents exist meaningfully so long as there is the relationship of mutual assistance. Aristotle calls this the unity of action. Such a result is possible due to the extraordinary creative genius of the writer. He creatively connects every incident of the work resulting in strikingness of expression. The mutual relationship in episodes is maintained very skillfully by Śūdraka. The beej (seed) is contained in the meeting of Chārudatta and Vasantsenā in Cupid’s shrine. Then, Vasantsenā being pursued in the dark by a group of hooligans, one of them being the king’s brother in law, and her taking shelter in Chārudatta’s house and giving her ornaments to Chārudatta as a deposit is the ārambh (beginning). The receipt by Vasantsenā of Chārudatta’s cloak, the ornaments being stolen and coincidentally reaching Vasantsenā, her meeting with Chārudatta, returning of the ornaments to her, interchange of the carriages, escape of Aryaka, strangling of Vasantsenā by king’s brother in law and blaming on Chārudatta, his trial and all the evidences against him, and finally his execution when destiny turns around and he being saved by sudden arrival of Vasantsenā and the change of king. All the episodes grip the reader’s suspense till the end. The interest never flags from Act to Act and the humor, pathos, creative use of language which form a virtual tragedy make the play throb with life and action and constitute its chief charm.


As a whole, Śūdraka blends the beauty of the combined complex of the vakratās. These vakratās have not only a natural power of persuasion and of giving pleasure but also a marvelous power of exalting the soul and swaying the heart of the reader. The dominant emotion of the play is sringāra, which continues, in the whole play. With the apprehension of love of causing monotony to the play, Śūdraka alters the dominant emotion of sringāra with the auxiliary emotion of karua and bhayānaka, which mutually agrees to the emotion of sringāra. The speeches of Vasantasenā, and the decision of Judge impart emotion of pathos as auxiliary emotion mutually contributing to the dominant emotion of sringāra. Here the oblique use of language as poetic structure enriches the principal meaning of the play. Beside sringāra, the most immediately striking feature of the play is the clash between the personalities of the great central figures as they wrestle with huge national issues and their own inner lives. Many other themes are incorporated into the whole, and the politico-personal tension is set in a far wider context. It is true that Śūdraka creates for this play a largely un-metaphorical and un-lyrical style, which derives its power from strong sentence structure and simple rhythms rather than from any associative richness. Clarity and dignity are its qualities. It has no complexity and allusiveness. Never the less, the literariness of the play is threaded through with patterns of obliquity at all levels: phonetic, lexical, grammatical, sentential, episodic and compositional.



Works Cited


Kuntaka. Vakroktijivitam, Critically Edited with Variants, Introduction and English Translation, translated by K. Krishnamoorthy, Dharwar 1977.


Sudraka. The Michchhakaika, translated by M.R.Kale, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2015.