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Book Review

Thesaurus of Sanskrit drama

MAJOR SANSKRIT DRAMATISTS — Encyclopaedia of Indian Theatre 2; Biswajit Sinha; Raj Publications, R-115/2, Model Town-III, Delhi-110009. Rs. 1500.

"KAVYESHU NATAKAM Ramyam" is an oft-quoted verse which avers that the drama is the most pleasing form among kavyas. The project to produce a multi-volume reference work on Sanskrit drama is a unique and stupendous undertaking. Biswajit Sinha, the author of this series, has to his credit a number of encyclopaedias including one on Indian writers (two volumes) and an anthology of Hindi plays.

The first volume of this series was rightly devoted to Bhasa, whose 13 plays are the earliest available and are popularly known as the Trivandrum plays, as they were discovered there by T. Ganapati Sastri.

The book under review is the second volume and covers 15 playwrights. Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti and Sudraka are considered to be the great trio whose contributions to classical theatre are monumental. The author proposes to devote the third volume entirely to Kalidasa.

The present volume covers other eminent playwrights like Asvaghosha, Bhattanarayana, Bhavabhuti, Harshadeva, Rajasekhara, Saktibhadra, Sudraka and Visakhadatta.

The lesser known dramatists covered include Bodhayana, Dinnaga, Jayadeva (not the author of Gita Govinda), Krishna Misra and Rupa Gosvamin. Bhagavadajjukiyam, known as the Prahasanaratnam, is attributed to one Bodhayana but the real author was the ruler Mahendra Pallava of Kanchi. Although Rupa Gosvamin is not counted among great playwrights, the long chapter (40 pages) on his contribution to Gaudiya Vaishnavism is full of rare information. Krishna Misra was the author of Prabodha Chandrodayam, an allegorical drama.

The presentation of the subject by the author is interesting and exhaustive. Firstly, the authentic biographies of the playwrights have been furnished, followed by a concise summary of each play, act by act, and the dramatis personae in full. A complete bibliography of the plays, published in Indian and foreign languages, has been given as also bio-critical notices on the dramas by eminent scholars.

One is amazed to find that there are more than 200 books on Bhavabhuti alone and his works have been translated into many languages, which include Nepali, Manipuri, Dutch and Latin. The book is thus a treasure house of information on Sanskrit drama.

One of the main objects of this series is to chronicle the various productions of Sanskrit plays in India and abroad from the 19th century up to the end of the last millennium. This painstaking research will be a bonanza to students of drama and art historians.

It is interesting to note that an English version of Bhavabhuti's Uttara Ramacharita was first staged in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1832. Later, the original Sanskrit versions and their translations into Indian languages were staged in many cities of India with great enthusiasm.

Nearer home, the Madras Samskrita Ranga, founded in 1958 by Dr. V. Raghavan, the renowned Sanskritist, rendered invaluable service to the all-round development of Sanskrit dramatic activity.

Many titbits of information found scattered in the book are full of interest. The celebrated Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, is stated to be a descendant of Bhatta Narayana, the author of Veni Samharam. S. Satyamurti, freedom fighter and Congress leader, used to act in Sanskrit plays staged by the Madras Samskrita Academy.

The records of the Kanchi Kamakoti Math show that the playwright, Krishna Misra, was a contemporary of Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the 49th pontiff of the Peetha. In the play Mricchakatika by Sudraka, the characters speak, besides Sanskrit, no less than eight dialects like Sauraseni etc.

The rare photographs reproduced in the book are of great archival value. The volume is excellently produced but the many spelling and grammatical mistakes could have been avoided.


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