The saṭṭaka is a four-act love comedy, a kind of hybrid classical drama (saṃkīrṇa-rūpaka) resembling the nāṭikā, but omitting two explanatory devices, which are mandatory in the latter: the viṣkambhaka (a kind of interlude introducing the first act), and the praveśaka (another kind of interlude introducing each following act). Because of their omission, the acts (aṅka) are called “backdrop” (yavanikā) in the saṭṭaka. Nevertheless, this genre is unique among traditional plays, first of all, in terms of its language. It is written entirely in Prakrit and it does not alternate Sanskrit and Prakrit dialects according to the social status of dramatis personae, as in most of the classical genres. The choice of language was introduced by Rājaśekhara (9th-10th c., Kannauj), who wrote his Karpūramañjarī entirely in Prakrit, because he found this language, which is, according to him [Bālarāmāyaṇa I.11], sweet by nature, the most appropriate to the theme of his play: love (śṛṅgāra). His Karpūramañjarī became the representative of the genre, including its language.
Five authors followed in Rājaśekhara’s footsteps. Nayacandra Sūri, who lived in the 14th-15th centuries in Gwalior, even if he kept Sanskrit in his saṭṭaka for the speeches of high ranked men, he wrote his Rambhāmañjarī on the model of the Karpūramañjarī. Mārkaṇḍeya, a 15th-16th century grammarian in Triveṇī, composed his Vilāsavatī, a saṭṭaka that we know only by the reference in his Prakrit grammar. The Candralekhā is the only work to have come to us from Rudradāsa who lived in Calicut in the 17th century. This play bears another title too: Mānaveda-carita. Viśveśvara Pāṇḍeya wrote his Śṛṅgāramañjarī in Kāśī in the 17th-18th centuries. Finally, Ghanaśyāma, minister of Tukojī I in the 18th century in Thanjavur, composed three saṭṭakas. Only the Ānandasundarī was passed down to us in manuscripts. In his works, Ghanaśyāma mentions the Vaikuṇṭha-carita, a saṭṭaka about Kṛṣṇa’s life, and another untitled one.
This latter is one of the most interesting saṭṭakas in terms of its structure, vocabulary and literary style. Ghanaśyāma lived in the 18th century Thanjavur, where multi-textuality (anekārtha-kośa) and the ‘crooked’ figure of speech (vakrokti) were popular. He cut Rājaśekhara’s Karpūramañjarī into pieces and fitted its fragments into his Ānandasundarī in a crooked way. He also inverted the order of the dramatic links (saṃdhi) and inserted two meta-theatre (garbha-nāṭaka) in guise of viṣkambhaka and the praveśaka. Ghanaśyāma uses many unusual and rare words and creates humour too by applying ambiguous terms. At the time of the author Prakrit was far removed from spoken languages and little cultivated in the circle of scholars versed in Sanskrit and in a vernacular language. It is for this reason that Ghanaśyāma says that only a true poet can compose a saṭṭaka. We have two manuscripts, one in Pune (P) that the author wrote at his age of 22, and which was published by Upadhye (1955), and another one in Thanjavur (T). This latter is the copy of a revised version of the original of ms. P. The literary and lexical improvement of the text in the ms; T is considerable, therefore, in this project at the Gonda Foundation I prepare a new critical edition based on this ms. None of Ghanaśyāma’s work have been translated yet, this will be the first one.
- Sanskrit and Prakrit literature
- Indian theater and ars poetica
- Buddhist philosophy in Pali
- Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
- classical Tibetan languages.
Country of origin
Period of stay at IIAS
A saṭṭaka titled Ānandasundarī, a Prakrit drama written by a 18th century poet, Ghanaśyāma