Satirical works of Kshemendra (study)

by Arpana Devi | 2017 | 60,954 words

This page relates ‘Summary of the Mricchakatika’ part of the study on the Satirical works of Kshemendra: an 11th century poet from Kashmir, who composed three satirical works. Kshemendra himself says that in composing the satirical works his only motive is to reform the mindset of the people.—He exposes all the vices and follies prevailing in the society with the intention to reform it.

7.8. Summary of the Mṛcchakaṭika

The Mṛcchakaṭika (Mṛcchakaṭikam) is a Prakaraṇa type of play composed by Śūdraka. The work is considered as one of the great monuments of Sanskrit literature. Most probably, the Mṛcchakaṭika is a production of the second century B.C.[1] Scholars often compare this drama with the Elizabethan play Wrights. Śūdraka’s date is uncertain. He is said to be a king about whom a very little historical information is available.

The Mṛcchakaṭika is a social play having ten Acts. The work contains a love story between the poor Brāhmaṇa Cārudatta and Vasantasenā, a renowned harlot of Ujjain, with a political plot of contemporary ancient Indian society. The theme of the play is laukika e.g. drawn from real life, wherein Viṭa, Ceta, gambler, thief, prostitute, the court of the then society etc. are depicted lively.

The play makes criticism of the contemporary society. It also contains plentiful humour and satire. In the play, the skilled Brāhmaṇa thief named Śarvilaka, is an object of satire. He uses the sacred thread as measuring tape to break the brick of Cārudatta’s house. Śarvilaka is a Brāhmaṇa but is involved in the act of burglary only to rescue his beloved who is a harlot by profession.

For Śarvilaka, the sacred thread of a Brāhmaṇa is very useful in different ways especially to those who are in his profession. In the words of Śarvilaka—

yajñopavitaṃ hi nāma brāhmaṇasya mahadupakaraṇadravyaṃ viśeṣato’smadvidhasya. kutaḥ
etena māpayati bhittiṣu karmamārgametena mocayati bhūṣaṇasaṃprayogāt/
udghātako bhavati yantradṛḍhe kapāṭe daṣṭasya kīṭabhujagaiḥ pariveṣṭanaṃ ca

The dramatist also condemns gambling which was well spread in the contemporary society. His remarkable satirical comment about gambling is-dyutaṃ hi nāma puruṣasyāsiṃhāsanaṃ rājyaṃ meaning gambling is, in the real sense, to a person, a kingdom without a throne. Satirical element is also observed when gambling is compared to a king.

Like a king, a gambler is also never cares for defeat, he always takes and gives away money and being the recipient of huge income, he is ever waited upon by rich people. cf.,

na gaṇayati parābhavaṃ kutaściddharati dadāti ca nityamarthajātaṃ/
nṛpatiriva nikāmamāyadarśī vibhavavatā samupāsyate janena

Evil effects of playing dice are also criticized in the words of Darduraka.

According to him, one can earn money only by gambling; friends and wife can only be obtained through gambling; gambling helps one to present gifts and also in enjoying things and one’s everything is destroyed only by gambling also. Cf.,

—dravyaṃ labdhaṃ dyūtenaiva dārā mitraṃ dyūtenaiva/
dattaṃ bhuktaṃ dyūtenaiva sarvaṃ naṣṭaṃ dyūtenaiva

In the play, a Buddhist mendicant is also satirically depicted, who feels himself to be a slave of a courtesan, because he was bought by her from the gamblers by paying ten gold pieces.

About the mendicant it is said that in which place he lives, there even a villain never go—

api ca bho vayasya gaṇikā hastī kāyastho bhikṣuścāṭo rāsabhaśca yatraite nivasanti tatra duṣṭā api na jāyante.

In the play, satire is also directed to the royal courts. The royal court is compared to an ocean infested with sharks and alligators in the form of the spies and with snakes in the form of Kāyasthas (official).[5]

Footnotes and references:


Kale, M.R., Mṛcchakaṭika, Introduction, 25


ibid., III.16


4. ibid., II.7


ibid., II.8


ibid., IX.14

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