Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘Conclusion to Chapter 4’ of the study on the evaluation of Sanskrit literature with special reference to Kuntaka and his Vakroktijivitam from the 10th century CE. This study reveals the relevance of Sanskrit poetics in the present time and also affirms that English poetry bears striking features like six figurativeness taught by Kuntaka in his Vakroktijivita, in which he propounds the vakrokti school of Sanskrit literary criticism.

The examination of these dramatic pieces shows that Kuntaka cites twenty six different dramas in his text. But it is notable that he did not cite any verse from the plays of Bhāsa. At least Svapnavāsavadatta and Pratijñāyaugandharāyaṇa were available at the time of Kuntaka. Still there is no exact reason why Kuntaka ignored these famous plays of Bhāsa. Whatever it is among the different literary genres, dramas have an esteemed position. He selects some lost dramas written based on Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and a Jain drama named Puṣpadūṣitaka, one of the well known prakaraṇa named Mālatīmādhava and a bāṇa named Pādatāḍitaka along with the famous dramas like Veṇīsaṃhāra, Mudrārākṣasa etc. Though there are numerous dramas, Kuntaka was very conscious in selecting them in every situation. Kuntaka’s citations of large number of dramas of both famous and rare dramatists reveal that he has no partiality towards any particular dramatists. The best platform for Kuntaka to bring forth his final varieties like contextual and compositional figurativeness to an optimum level is dramas.

It is well known that Tāpasavatsarāja is a drama written by Anaṅgaharṣa Mātṛrāja. The name of the author is given in the beginning and end of this drama. Unfortunately there is no more information about the author except his name. In the introduction of old lost Rāma plays, V. Raghvan says that he has got a manuscript of Udāttarāghava but does not give any information about it. With the help of this manuscript, Camille Bulcke, in Ramakatha, says that Udāttarāghava was most probably written in 8th Century C.E by one Anaṅgaharṣa Mātṛrāja. Citation of verses from Tāpasavatsarāja of various rhetoricians like Kuntaka, Abhinavagupta, Ānandavardhana etc. helps to assign the date of Tāpasavatsarāja is before 9th Century C.E. Resemblance of the date and name of the author of both these dramas makes one surmise that it was written by the same person.

Likewise it is seen that Rāghavānanda, an old lost drama was written by Viśākhadatta. There is no exact evidence to prove that either this Viśākhadatta is none other than the author of Mudrārākṣasa or someone else. Kuntaka cites a single verse rāmosau bhuvaneṣu …… from Rāghavānanda. Bhoja’s citation of the same verse in Śṛṅgāraprakāśa helps V. Raghavan to say that this verse is from Rāghavānanda. But still the author of this work is unknown. An anthology named Saduktikarṇāmṛta ascribed this verse to Viśākhadatta.

The reliability of anthologies is limited but not completely negligible. Citation of Rāghavānanda’ s verse of Bhoja and Kuntaka helps to assign its date before10th century C.E. It is believed that Mudrārākṣasa was also written in between 6th or 7th century C.E. These things help to conjecture that both Mudrārākṣasa and Rāgavānanda were written by same author. This reveals that still a lot of rare dramas of even some famous writers are also in oblivion. So the efforts taken by the rhetoricians like Kuntaka should always be regarded as very valuable. Their attempt helps us to find out the details of those texts.

Yet another resemblance in the name of authors is seen in the works like Kṛtyārāvaṇa and Hayagrīvavadha. Both are written by one Meṇṭha. The authorship of Kṛtyārāvaṇa is just conjectured as Meṇṭha but not certain. Likewise there is no certainty about the date of Hayagrīvavadha. But some external evidence helps to assume that it was written before 10th Century C.E. Camille Bulcke says that Kṛtyārāvaṇa was written in the beginning of 9th Century A.D. Resemblance in name and date prompt to guess that either it is written by same person or two different persons having same name.

Kuntaka’s evaluation of Veṇīsaṃhāra and Nāgānanda reveals that he always uphold principles of propriety. In Veṇīsaṃhāra, Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa has depicted the amorous sports between Duryodhana and Bhānumatī while a great war was happening outside. Kuntaka firmly criticizes such impropriety of Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa. In Nāgānanda, Kuntaka appreciates the self-sacrifice of the hero Jīmūtavāhana, through which he attains many goals of his life. Indication of impropriety in the words of Sītā in Bālarāmāyaṇa also shows that Kuntaka never tolerates improper behavior from an ideal character. Kuntaka also appreciates the authors of Mudrārākṣasa and Tāpasavatsarāja for their depiction of new way of political strategy in their work for delighting the readers. Kuntaka’s propriety in making plausible innovative changes in Mālatīmādhava like ‘vidhimapi vipannādbhutavidhim’ and a minute, but beautiful emendation found in the verse of Pādatāḍitaka are also praiseworthy.

A large number of compositions have been mentioned without any further details. Their brief analysis has been given here. Detail information is given as appendix. Kuntaka cites few unique literary pieces written based on Rāmāyaṇa. They are Rāmābhyudaya, Udāttarāghava, Vīracarita, Bālarāmāyaṇa, Kṛtyārāvaṇa, Māyāpuṣpaka etc. Here Kuntaka just cites the names of these texts for showing the uniqueness of the texts though they are written based on the same source. By the analysis of the available information on these texts, it is clear that the innovations made by the poets are amazing. Moreover, according to Kuntaka, unique title of a work plays a significant role in contributing to the charm of the work as a whole. It should be related to the pivotal incident discussed in the plot. The examples given for such beautiful titles are Abhijñānaśākuntala, Mudrārākṣasa, Pratimāniruddha, Māyāpuṣpaka, Kṛtyārāvaṇa, Chalitarāma and Puṣpadūṣitaka. Among them the lost dramas are Pāṇḍavābhyudaya, Rāmānanda, Māyāpuṣpaka, Kṛtyārāvaṇa, Chalitarāma and Puṣpadūṣitaka, Rāmābhyudaya and Udāttarāghava. In them all are Rāma plays except Pāṇḍavābhyudaya, Pratimāniruddha and Puṣpadūṣitaka. Puṣpadūṣitaka is the one and only Jain drama cited by Kuntaka. There is not much information about these dramas except their names. Their names indicate that Pāṇḍavābhyudaya and Pratimāniruddha were written based on Mahābhārata.

Kuntaka cites the minor dramas like Chalitarāma, Māyāpuṣpaka, Kṛtyārāvaṇa Pratimāniruddha and Puṣpadūṣitaka as instances of beautiful title given to a composition. The pivotal incident discussed in Chalitarāma is the treachery of two demons towards Rāma by giving false news about the character of Sītā. So the title Deceived Rāma is apt to this drama. In Kṛtyārāvaṇa Rāvaṇa’s witchcraft is the main theme that leads the story. But it is not clear how the title named Puṣpadūṣitaka is connected with the story because of the unavailability of the text. Unavailability of the complete text of Pratimāniruddha also makes it difficult to assess connection of this title with its theme. Likewise In Māyāpuṣpaka, the word māyā means illusion and puṣpaka signifies the flying chariot of Kubera. But from the available quotations it is impossible to find out the significance of the illusory chariot in this play. Kuntaka’s citation of them in this particular context makes sure that there must be connection between the title and pivotal incident described in it. Name of texts cited in these two varieties of compositional figurativeness are Māyāpuṣpaka and Kṛtyārāvaṇa.

Kuntaka’s suggestion of the title of a work without citing any verse makes it difficult to identify the works. There may arise some doubts about the names of Vīracarita and Rāmacarita cited by Kuntaka. In Nāṭyadarpaṇa the author says that the sudden end of a sentiment while it is flowing well is improper. An instance taken for it is from a drama named Vīracarita. Here the word fight between Rāma and Paraśurāma, which was enriched by the heroic sentiment, was interrupted by the words of Rāma that ‘kaṅkaṇamocanāya gacchāmi. In the second act of Mahāvīracarita the word fight between them was interrupted by kañcukī by saying ‘devyaḥ kaṅkaṇamocanāya militā rājan varaḥ preṣyatām’. Moreover in the first viveka of Nāṭyadarpaṇa the author says that for making Rāma an ideal hero, Bhavabhūti brilliantly avoids deceitful killing of Vālin in Vīracarita. Undoubtedly this prompts us to think that title given as Vīracarita is none other than Mahāvīracarita of Bhavabhūti. Absence of citation of verses makes difficult to ascertain the work Rāmacarita is either Uttararāmacarita or some other Mahākāvya. But Kuntaka cites some other situation explicitly from Uttararāmacarita. So Rāmacarita mentioned by Kuntaka is different from it.

Among these dramas some of them like Mahānāṭaka, Kṛtyārāvaṇa, Rāmānanda are considered as shadow-plays. The first drama considered as a shadow play is Dharmābhyudaya of Meghaprabhācārya. Unfortunately its date has not been fixed. It is sure that there may be some purpose for the creation of shadow plays otherwise there is no need to create such replica of something. Sometimes it was created for reciting in particular occasions or festivals. S.K De opines that Mahānāṭaka is notorious for its shameless plagiarism.[1] Most of its verses are taken from Rāmabhyudaya, Subhāṣitāvalī etc.

The depiction of the anxious words of Lava by seeing the golden statue of Sītā in Chalitarāma that ‘ayekathamiyamambā rājadvāramāgatā, kathamiyam kāñcanamayī’ is one of the beautiful instances that untouched Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. Though there are lots of innovative themes in these Rāma plays created by the poets, they never tried to change the main sentiment like the Veṇīsaṃhāra of Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa from Mahābhārata. One of the contributions of Kuntaka to Sanskrit literature is his citation of verses from some rare works. Such attempts helped to bring some rare works to light. It also inspires the scholars for its further enquiry and study. The partial information of these Rāma plays is available from some citations also from other poetics texts like Sṛṅgāraprakāśa, Dhvanyāloka etc. and from some anthologies like Subhāṣitāvalī, Sūktimuktāvalī etc. From these it is clear that the different and unique composition based on a same story is appreciable. It reveals the poetic imagination of various poets. Such types of works also have their own place in literary genre. There is no need to avoid them considering them as a replica of something. This is what Ānandavardhana said in Dhvanyāloka that:- dṛṣṭapūrvā api hyarthāḥ kāvye rasaparigrahāt/ sarve nava ivābhānti madhumāsa iva drumāḥ/ /[2] It means that “Even trite subjects in poetry will put on a new freshness if they get into touch with sentiment just as the same trees appear quite new with the advent of spring.”[3] The reach of the present day best seller novels written based on the life of Rāma and Śiva like The skion of iksvaku and The immortals of Meluha etc. also reveal the same.

Footnotes and references:


S.K.De, op.cit, p.227.


Dr.K. Krishnamoorthy (Ed.). Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana, 270.



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