Mudrarakshasa (literary study)

by Antara Chakravarty | 2015 | 58,556 words

This page relates ‘About the dramatist (Vishakhadatta)’ 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.

5. About the dramatist (Viśākhadatta)

Viśākhadatta is the author of the play Mudrārākṣasa. He was the grandson of Sāmanta Vaṭeśvaradatta and the son of Mahārāja Bhāṣkaradatta (or Pṛthu according to some manuscripts) as is said by the Sūtradhāra in the prologue of the play.[1] But in the Indian history any king named Bhāṣkaradatta is not found recorded in any of the scriptures. In this context it can be mentioned that Professor Wilson suggested that Pṛthu might be identical with the “Chouhan chief of Ajmir, Pṛthu Rāj, who is also known as Pṛthurai”[2], but the name of his father Sāmanta Vaṭeśvardatta presents a difficulty in the way of this identification.

Telang, the first editor of the texts of Mudrārākṣasa discards this idea saying,

“It is impossible to accept an identification for which there is no positive reason whatsoever except the similarity of name, while against it there is the circumstance noted above.”[3]

Our knowledge does not go much beyond what the author himself has given in the prologue. The very name of the author is found spelt in two different ways as Viśākhadatta and Viśākhadeva in different manuscripts.[4] But this need not detain us very long; for it is found that the names of both the father and the grandfather of our author bearing the nominal ending ‘Dutta’, which helps us to conclude that, his name also must have a similar ending. And the epithet before the names of his father and grandfather i.e. Mahārāja and Sāmanta proves that the Duttas were administrative heads. But how the son of a Sāmanta became a Maharaja is a mystery. Perhaps they were members of some royal family, but as belonging to the younger clan Vaṭeśvardatta got the administration of some province and was made Sāmanta, afterwards his son Bhāṣkaradatta inherited the kingship of some place with his own valour or for some special reason. Being the member of such a royal family Viśākhadatta finds not much pain in describing the pros and cons of diplomacy of politics vividly.

About Viśākhadatta’s native place we are left completely in dark. There is controversy regarding this amongst the scholars of different places. Prof. Wilson is of the opinion that Viśākhadatta belongs to south India.

About Viśākhadatta’s native place the following arguments can be placed–

In the starting of the prologue the sūtradhāra reads–“The seed sown by even a foolish person when scattered on a fertile soil not depend upon any excellence on the part of the sower.”[5] –This statement confers that the writer knew the process of cultivation of the rice corps and the audience also had the same knowledge, otherwise the above statement must be ‘crying in the wilderness’.

In the ending of the fifth act of Mudrārākṣasa there is a verse, the former portion of which proves that the writer was very much familiar with each and every minute feature of the culture of the gauḍa pradeśa and the beauty and embellishment of the maids of that particular place.[6]

In Malayaketu’s army there is the mention of ‘Khasa’ tribe which were said to be the inhabitants of the hill area of the eastern zone of India as supported by Tripathi.[7] The characteristic feature of this tribe is minutely described by Viśākhadatta,[8] which supports the view that the writer must be an inhabitant of a neighbouring province.

Over and above all these the main plot of the drama centers round Pāṭaliputra i.e. modern Patna, the writer describes minutely about Sona river and the places around it, and lastly he has chosen the Gauḍī style for his drama.

From the above discussions the fact can be established that Viśākhadatta’s native place was either the eastern portion of Bihar or Western portion of Bengal.

Viśākhadatta is known to have written at least four plays, on Cāṇakya and Candragupta (Mudrārākṣasa), Candragupta II (Devīcandragupta), Rāma (Rāghavānanda) and Udayana (Abhisārikāvañcitaka), of which only the present play is now available intact though there are quotations from and references to the others.

Devīcandragupta is said to be also a historical play though it does not go beyond doubts.[9] It deals with the thrilling incident of the rescue of the queen Dhruvādevī, wife of Rāmagupta. Rāmagupta was a cowardly ruler, and it is alleged that in responses to the Śaka kings demand he agreed to surrender even his wife. But her honour was saved owing to the intervention of her husband’s brother Candragupta. Unable to bear this disgrace, Candragupta carried out his bold plan of entering into the enemy’s camp in the guise of the queen and murdered the Śaka king. He subsequently married queen Dhruvādevī after the abdication and death of his brother Rāmagupta.

Abhinavagupta, Bhoja, Rāmacandra and Guṇacandra have quoted some extensive passages from this drama, whilst there further brief references in other sources also can be found.[10]

Such as in the Harṣacarita of Bāṇabhaṭṭa the reference of this story runs thus—

aripure ca parakalatrakāmukam kāminībeśaguptaḥ candraguptaḥ śakanṛpatim aśātayat[11]

There is very little information available about Viśākhadatta’s Rāma play, the Rāghavānanda. It deals with the main story of Rāmāyaṇa ending with the slaying of Rāvaṇa. It is said that only thee verses from it seem to be identified.

And Mammata has quoted one of them in his Kāvyaprākaśa thus—

rāmo’sau bhūvaneṣu vikramaguṇaiḥ prāptaḥ prasiddhim parāmasmadbhāgyaviparyayādyadi param devo na jānāti tam/
vandīvaiṣa yaśāṃsi gayati marudyasyaikabānṇhataśreṇī-bhūtaviśālatālavivarodgirṇaiḥ svaraiḥ saptabhiḥ

Looking at the expression it can be assumed that the verse might have been told by Bibhiṣana to Rāvaṇa. But it is not easy to presume a nāṭaka written by Viśākhadatta trusting upon only a few verses.

Viśākhadatta’s Udayana play, the Abhiśārikāvañcitaka, deals with the legend of Vatsarāja Udayana and Padmāvatī. The former left the latter under the suspicion that she had killed his son. When disguising herself as a Sabari and playing the role of an Abhiśārikā, the latter won back the love of her tender minded husband. This broad outline of the plot can be gathered from Abhinavagupta and Bhoja.[13]

But the problem is that both the dramasDevīcandragupta’ and ‘Abhiśārikāvañcitaka’ are ascribed to Viśākhadeva and not Viśākhadatta. Thus the problems of the authorship of these two plays remain unsolved.

Amongst these four dramas Mudrārākṣasa can be considered as authentic and the latest as it is a very serious drama and the maturity of the writer can be seen here.

Footnotes and references:


ājñāpito’smi pariṣadā yathādya tvayā sāmantavaṭeśvaradattapautrasya Mahāraja-bhāṣkaradattasuno kaverviśākhādattasya kṛtirabhinavaṃ mudrārākṣasaṃ nāma nāṭakam nāṭayitavyamiti/ Mudrārākṣasa, p.10


Mudrārākṣasa by K.T. Telang, p.12






cīyate bāliśasyāpi satkṣetrapatitā kṛṣiḥ/ na śāleḥ stambakaritā vapturguṇamapekṣate// Ibid., I. 3. p.13


gauḍīnāṃ lodhradhūlīparimalabahulāndhūmayantaḥ kapolān kliśnantaḥ kṛṣnimānaṃ bhramarakularucaḥ kuñcitasyālakasya…etc. Ibid., V.23


Mudrārākṣasa of Viśākhadatta by R.S. Tripathi, Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan Varanashi, 1972 p.3.


prasthātavyaṃ purastātkhasamagadhagaṇairmāmanu vyūhya sainyaiḥ…etc. Mudrārākṣasa, V.11


History of Ancient India, by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Motilal Banarasidass Publisher’s Pvt. Ltd., pp.248-249.


Raghavan has collected most of the quotations in his Bhoja’s Sṛṅgāraprakāśa, Punarvasu.7, Sri Krishnapuram Street,Madras.1963, pp.858-859


Harṣacaritam of Bāṇabhaṭṭa, Ed. By Dr. Gajānan Śāstri Musalgaonkar, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi, 1992,p.615


Vide., Kāvyaprakāśa of Acrya Mammaṭa, Edited by Sri Harisankar Sarma, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Tenth Edn-2003, IV. 109, p. 77.


Tantrāloka of Abinavagupta,III p. 197,and Śṛṇgāraprakāśa, Vol. II, p. 501

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