Sanskrit drama

dramatic tradition of classical India

The term Indian classical drama refers to the tradition of dramatic literature and performance in ancient India. The origin of dramatic performance in the Indian subcontinent can be traced back to as early as 200 BCE. Its drama is regarded as the highest achievement of Sanskrit literature. Buddhist philosopher Asvaghosa who composed Buddhacarita is considered to have been the first Sanskrit dramatist. Despite its name, a classical Sanskrit drama uses both Sanskrit and Prakrit languages giving it a bilingual nature. Sanskrit drama utilised stock characters, such as the hero (nayaka), heroine (nayika), or clown (vidusaka). Actors may have specialised in a particular type. Mahābhāṣya by Patañjali contains the earliest reference to what may have been the seeds of Sanskrit drama. This treatise on grammar provides a feasible date for the beginnings of theatre in India.Kālidāsa in the 4th-5th century CE, was arguably one of ancient India's greatest Sanskrit dramatists. Three famous romantic plays written by Kālidāsa are the Mālavikāgnimitram (Mālavikā and Agnimitra), Vikramōrvaśīyam (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi), and Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala). The last was inspired by a story in the Mahabharata and is the most famous. It was the first to be translated into English and German. Śakuntalā (in English translation) influenced Goethe's Faust (1808–1832). The next great Indian dramatist was Bhavabhuti (c. 7th century CE). He is said to have written the following three plays: Malati-Madhava, Mahaviracharita and Uttararamacarita. Among these three, the last two cover between them the entire epic of Ramayana. The powerful Indian emperor Harsha (606–648) is credited with having written three plays: the comedy Ratnavali, Priyadarsika, and the Buddhist drama Nagananda. Other famous Sanskrit dramatists include Śhudraka, Bhasa, and Asvaghosa. Though numerous plays written by these playwrights are still available, little is known about the authors themselves.
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main subject: Sanskrit drama


Natya Shastra

Sanskrit text on the performing arts

author: Bharata Muni

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