Mudrarakshasa (literary study)

by Antara Chakravarty | 2015 | 58,556 words

This page relates ‘About the Drama’ 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.

2. About the Drama

The Mudrārākṣasa is based on the political intrigues of Cāṇakya, the minister of the Maurya king Candragupta of Pāṭaliputra. This Cāṇakya had destroyed the Nanda dynasty and installed Candragupta on the throne as the first Maurya emperor. Now, to make Candragupta secure, Cāṇakya presses Rākṣasa, the former minister of the Nandas, in to the services of their Maurya successor as a minister. The reconciliation of Rākṣasa was not an easy task as he still professed loyalty to his former patron. But, the task has been accomplished through a certain ‘signet ring’ of Rākṣasa coming into the possession of Cāṇakya; therefore, the title of the play is Mudrārākṣasa or ‘Rākṣasa won over by means of the signet ring.’ It seems to be in full conformity with the cannons of dramaturgy stated in the Sāhityadarpaṇa of Viśvanātha Kavirāja that the theme should be reflected in the name of that particular nāṭaka.[1]

The prologue starts with the recital of the Aṣṭapadānānd ī, seeking for blessings of Lord Śaṅkara with a tint of Vakrokti which indicates the trickery of Cāṇakya involved in the whole affair of the present nāṭaka. After that the stage manager appears on the stage and appreciates the audience. Then proposing for some music he turns towards home. Entering his home he feels a festive like environment and finds all the inmates very busy for the dinner, preparing for the Brahmins on the occasion of lunar eclipse. The stage manager assures his wife that it was a mere rumour, as, from what he knows of astronomy, though he can see that the malicious planet is about to swallow the Candra, full as he is; but that its conjunction with Budha is sure to save the Candra from the looming danger. Misunderstanding the word Candra in this context as Candragupta being attacked by the enemy, Cāṇakya appears on the stage in an angry mood repeating the sentence “who dares to attack Candra as long as I am here.” In this way, preparing the stage for the entry of Cāṇakya through the conversation between the Sūtradhāra and his wife the prologue comes to an end.

The first act starts with a monologue of Cāṇakya, which acquaints us with the various plans and schemes of the same and also the purpose behind them all. Cāṇakya expresses in the monologue of his determination for securing Rākṣasa as the minister for Candragupta. To protect Candragupta from the enemy allies led by Malayaketu and to grab Rākṣasa, Cāṇakya employed spies everywhere to know about the situation of the city. Amongst them a spy, Nipuṇaka in the disguise of a wandering mendicant is seen conferring with Cāṇakya about the hostile attitude of a certain Jaina monk Kṣapaṇaka Jīvasiddhi (in reality Cāṇakya’s agent), of a scribe Śakaṭadāsa, and of a Jeweler Candanadāsa. Rākṣasa’s family was staying at the house of Candanadāsa, from where Nipuṇaka picked up the signet ring of Rākṣasa, which encourages Cāṇakya to get a certain letter written by Śakaṭadāsa (a scribe and a friend of Rākṣasa), seal it with the signet ring of Rākṣasa, and then deliver both the ring and the letter to Siddhārthaka with some instructions. This particular scene is pivotal to Rākṣasa’s failure. Cāṇakya next tries to induce Candanadāsa to hand over the family of Rākṣasa, but as a loyal friend Candanadāsa refuses to do so even though being threatened with capital punishment. At last Cāṇakya sends order to incarcerate Candanadāsa with his family and confiscate his property.

The self-confidence of Cāṇakya and the success of his schemes are seen in act II by the frustration of Rākṣasa’s plans. Rākṣasa’s spy, Virādhagupta, appearing as a snake charmer, reports the former, that all the attempts to kill Candragupta had been rendered futile by the sheer vigilance of Cāṇakya, citing examples of Dāruvarman, a spy of Rākṣas, killed Vairocaka, uncle of Malayaketu mistaking him as Candragupta; Abhayadatta the physician who was appointed by Rākṣasa to poison Candragupta was detected by Cāṇakya and made to drink the poisonous medicine himself; again Pramodaka was suspected owing to his lavishness and was put to death; Bībhatsaka and the rest directed to assassinate Candragupta in his bed chamber were detected by the astute Cāṇakya again, and burnt alive by setting the concealed place they were laying hidden to fire. Over and above these all the allies and friends of Rākṣasa including Śakaṭadāsa had been arrested by Cāṇakya. In the meanwhile, Śakaṭadāsa had been rescued by Siddhārthaka acting upon Cāṇakya’s private instructions brought to Rākṣasa. Here, another thread is being woven by Cāṇakya.

Act III begins with the appearance of a Kañcukī, Vaihīnarī by name, who let the audience know that Candragupta wants to celebrate the kaumudīmahotsava, and for which ordered to decorate the Sugāṅga palace. But this very idea was intentionally forbidden by Cāṇakya. This act is all about misleading Rākṣasa and Malayaketu. Therefore, Cāṇakya arranges a sham quarrel between himself and Candragupta. Cāṇakya was summoned by Candragupta to know the reason behind the prohibition of the festival. But reaching upon the palace heated exchange of words erupted between Cāṇakya and Candragupta. Taking this opportunity a bard named Stavakalaśa, sent by Rākṣasa, praised Candragupta and made the situation worse. The scene ends with Cāṇakya resigning his office and Candragupta ordering the Kañcukī to proclaim the same to people. But even though it was a sham quarrel Candragupta got anxious of whether his preceptor was really angry with him or was it just a part of acting! Whatever be the case, Candragupta was clearly upset with this turn of event. This clearly shows Candragupta’s devotion towards Cāṇakya.

In act IV, Karabhaka, an agent of Rākṣasa reaches Rākṣasa’s palace from Pāṭaliputra and reported about the heated altercation between Cāṇakya and Candragupta. Rākṣasa, suffering from severe headache, was pleased with the report of the alienation of Cāṇakya and Candragupta, and dreams of establishing prince Malayaketu on the throne of Pāṭaliputra. But the conversation between Karabhaka and Rākṣasa is misinterpreted by Bhāgurāyaṇa, a fake friend of Rākṣasa and a secret emissary of Cāṇakya. And unfortunately, Malayaketu becomes suspicious about Rākṣasa’s nature. Bhāgurāyaṇa tells Malayaketu that the deserters from Candragupta are willing to deal with Malayaketu directly and not through Rākṣasa. He further says that Rākṣasa has enmity against Cāṇakya; therefore as Cāṇakya has been discarded and as Candragupta is originally a scion of Nanda dynasty there is all the possibility that Rākṣasa will join Candragupta and the later will welcome him in no terms. At the end of this act Rākṣasa consults Kṣapaṇaka Jīvasiddhi, for a date for the expedition on Pāṭaliputra. Jīvasiddhi, advices for the full moon day when the moon is in its full orb, considered auspicious and which indirectly indicates the rise of Candragupta.

The misunderstanding between Rākṣasa and Malayaketu is brought to a head in act V which opens with an interlude. Siddhārthaka, a secret emissary of Cāṇakya and a fake friend of Rākṣasa, is caught red handed when asking for the exit visa from Bhāgurāyaṇa with a letter and a box of jewelries both sealed with the Rākṣasa’s seal, carrying to the Mauryas. Kṣapaṇaka Jīvasiddhi also succeeds in poisoning the mind of Malayaketu against Rākṣasa by his allegation that it was Rākṣasa and not Cāṇakya, who employed the ‘poison maid’ against Malayketu’s father Parvateśvara and killed him which is proved by the jewelries put on by Rākṣasa. The above mentioned letter is the one which Cāṇakya had copied by Rākṣasa’s loyal friend and scribe Śakaṭadāsa in act I. It describes the intended treachery of the princes’ main allies, while the ornaments are easily recognized by Malayketu to be the same that he had formerly given to Rākṣasa. All these misunderstandings are created by Cāṇakya resulting in Rākṣasa’s dismissal and the five kings under Malayketu are sentenced to death. By these incidents Rākṣasa is so moved that thinks of committing suicide once, but he refrained from doing himself so thinking of Candanadāsa, whom he has to rescue from Cāṇakya’s trap. In this act Rākṣasa is totally trapped by Cāṇakya’s men from all sides and Canaky’s intrigues start showing result.

In act VI another interlude or praveśaka can be seen, where, in a conversation between Siddhārthaka and Samiddhārthaka the audience come to know that Rākṣasa is dismissed from his service by Malayaketu and Malayketu’s expedition has been proved to be a failure because of the disagreement among his own followers, and he is confined by Bhāgurāyaṇa, Bhadrabhaṭa and others. Now, Rākṣasa goes to Pāṭaliputra to save his friend Candanadāsa who was ordered to be impaled by Cāṇakya for sheltering the formers family. In Pāṭaliputra, Rākṣasa meets a person in a garden who was about to commit suicide, because his dear friend Viṣṇudāsa has decided to end his life before the execution of his friend Candanadāsa. Hearing this, Rākṣasa decided to surrender himself into the hands of Cāṇakya for saving his dear friend Candanadāsa. Now, Rākṣasa is totally trapped by the intrigues of the shrewd politician Cāṇakya.

In act VII Candanadāsa is being led to his execution, followed by his wife and son mourning in a very pathetic way. And here Rākṣasa gives himself up to Cāṇakya to save his friend. Cāṇakya explains to Rākṣasa that all the plans, including the forged letter, were made by him to induce Rākṣasa to take up the post of the chief minister of Candragupta. After some hesitation Rākṣasa accepts it, the lives of his friend Candanadāsa as well as that of Malayaketu are saved, and all prisoners are set free. Cāṇakya then ties up his hair and asks Candragupta and Rākṣasa what other favour they would like to have from him. Then Candragupta expresses his complete satisfaction at what has happened, while Rākṣasa only adds that the ruling king Candragupta might rule long in the Bharatavākya. Here ends the play Mudrārākṣasa.

Thus Mudrārākṣasa can be said to be a historical play as its two central characters viz. Cāṇakya and Candragupta are found as the historical personas. The events represented in the play cover a period of about a year.

Footnotes and references:


nāma kāryaṃ nāṭakasya garbhitārtha-prakāśakam|| Sāhityadarpaṇa, VI. 142

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