Mudrarakshasa (literary study)

by Antara Chakravarty | 2015 | 58,556 words

This page relates ‘Mudrarakshasa as a Nataka’ of the English study on the Mudrarakshasa: an ancient Sanskrit dramatic play (Nataka) authored by Vishakhadatta which deals with the life of king Chandragupta. This study investigates the Mudra Rakshasa from a literary perspective, such as metrics, themes, rhetorics and other poetical elements. Chandragupta ruled the Mauryan Empire during the 4th century BCE, hence this text can also be studied as a historical textbook of ancient India.

1. Mudrārākṣasa as a Nāṭaka

na tajjñānaṃ na tacchilpaṃ na sā vidyā na sā kalā /
nāsau yogo na tatkarma nāṭye’smin yanna dṛśyate//

There is no wise maxim, no learning, no art or craft, no device, no action, that is not found in the nāṭaka.

Kāvya (poetry) in Sanskrit is divided into two types—

  1. (i) dṛśyakāvya and
  2. (ii) śravyakāvya.[2]

Dṛśyakāvya is that which can be seen or exhibited and śravyakāvya can only be heard or chanted. Dramas come under the division of dṛśyakāvya which is also known as rūpaka, because, the natures of different characters like Rāma, Rāvaṇa etc. are superimposed on the actors herein, as said by Viśvanātha in his Sāhityadarpaṇa—tadrūpāropāttu rūpakam[3] . Dṛśyakāvya again can be divided into ten numbers of rūpakas and a subordinate class called uparūpakas having 18 varieties. The present drama Mudrārākṣasa is a dṛśyakāvya which comes under the first and the foremost variety of rūpaka, i.e. nāṭaka.[4]

Now, in the following, we are going to establish Mudrārākṣasa as a nāṭaka according to the canon of dramaturgy. Nāṭaka has some special characteristics as stated in the Alaṃkāraśastras like Sāhityadarpaṇa of Viśvanātha Kavirāja, Daśarūpaka of Dhanañjaya and so on. It is stated therein that a nāṭaka must have its subject matter or the story which is well known, borrowed from either history or mythology or some folklore.[5] Mudrārākṣasa also has its subject matter which is incorporated in the Bṛhatkathā (as can be concluded from its presence in the Kathāsaritsāgara, Bṛhatkathāmañjarī and Bṛhatkathākoṣa).[6] A nāṭaka should contain pañcasandhis which indicate five successive stages of the drama.[7] This criterion also is present in the Mudrārākṣasa. The language of the nāṭaka must be graceful and abound with several merits enumerated by the alaṃkāras. It (nāṭaka) exhibits prosperous condition or situation of the nāyaka and the subject matter along with the display of several rasas.[8] In Mudrārākṣasa we can find the author using various alaṃkāras and almost all the rasas making the subject matter more graceful and prosperous. In a nāṭaka, the number of acts should not be less than five and more than ten.[9] Mudrārākṣasa consists of seven acts which befits the above criteria. Only one rasa will be principal and the same is either Śṛngāra or Vīra and other rasas will be subordinate.[10] Here in the Mudrārākṣasa the predominant sentiment Vīra is finely delineated along with other subordinate rasas. In a nāṭaka, amongst the various characters there should be four or five main or principal characters.[11] The story of Mudrārākṣasa also runs depending upon Cāṇakya, Candragupta, Rākṣasa and Malayaketu, the four main characters. The characters of Bhāgurāyaṇa, Jīvasiddhi, Nipuṇaka, Siddhārthaka etc. are presented only to fulfill the aims of the principal characters mentioned above.

In the Sāhityadarpaṇa, Viśvanātha gives a list of certain actions which should not be presented on the stage. These are—

  1. calling from a distance (dūrāhvāna [dūrāhvānam]),
  2. killing (vadha),
  3. fighting (yuddha),
  4. revolution (both political and social),
  5. marriage (vivāha),
  6. eating (bhojana),
  7. curse (abhiśāpa),
  8. passing of urine (utsarga),
  9. death (mṛtyu),
  10. sexual enjoyment (rata),
  11. kissing and other things which indicate shame.

Likewise sleeping, bath, use of cosmetics and siege of the city are strictly prohibited in a Sanskrit nāṭaka.[12] All the above stated prohibited things are not exhibited in Mudrārākṣasa.

Other important characteristics of a nāṭaka found in Mudrārākṣasa will be talk over in course of our discussion in succeeding chapters of the proposed thesis. Thus, from the above short discussion only, it can be easily concluded that Mudrārākṣasa is nothing but a nāṭaka that satisfies the basic canon of dramaturgy.

Footnotes and references:






Ibid., VI.3


Ibid., VI.7


The Mudrārākṣasanāṭakakathā of Mahādeva by Dr. V. Raghavan, Tanjore 1973, p.55


Sāhityadarpaṇa, VI.7


Ibid., VI.8




Ibid., VI. 10




Ibid., 16,17,18

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