(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

A king called Sudraka (shew-DRAW-kah) is known as the writer of the play Mrcchakatikā(c. 300-c. 600 c.e.; Mrchhakatika, 1898, also known as The Little Clay Cart). His identity, however, is surrounded in controversy. Although there is no reliable record of a ruler of that name in the list of Indian kings with whom the play can be associated, there are a few legendary references to a king of that name. Some believe that the author was actually a court poet named Śaumila who lived after the writer Bhāsa but slightly before the time of the poet Kālidāsa; however, the court in which Śaumila served is uncertain. Many experts believe the style of writing shares much with the work of Bhāsa and contend that Sudraka and Bhāsa were the same person. Others insist that writer enlarged on Bhāsa’s work Cārudata (second or third century c.e.; English translation, 1930-1931) by adding to it a subplot involving a lowborn revolutionary named Sudraka who overthrew an unjust king. The preface to the play states that the writer committed suicide at the age of one hundred, but the statement works against the identification of Sudraka in that he himself would have been dead at the time of writing the statement. Mrchhakatika is the only work credited to Sudraka. Scholars doubt that such a brilliant writer, one who lived for a century, would have left behind only one work.

Despite the controversies about its origin, Mricchakatika is one of the best known and best loved of the surviving classical Sanskrit dramas. The plot revolves around the love affair of a beautiful courtesan named Vasanthasenā and a poor man of generous disposition named Cārudata. Of particular importance in this play is the information about the social conditions of the times, presumably the fourth century c.e.

Sudraka Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The elegant classical Sanskrit writing was known to and inspired many later Indian writers. It also was the first Indian work to glorify a political revolution.

Sudraka Bibliography

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bernhard, Betty. Taking a Ride on the Clay Cart: Dynamics of Sanskrit Theater, a Production Casebook of the Classic Natyashastra Style. Claremont, Calif.: Pomona College, 1995.

Chakrabarti, Prakaschandra. A Treatise on Sudraka’s “Mrcchakatika.” Delhi: Pilgrim’s Books, 1999.

Chattopadhya, Nisikanta. Dr. Nishikanta Chattopadhyaya’s “Mrcchakatika,” or “The Toy-Cart” of King Sudrakak: A Study. Reprint. Calcutta: Sanskrit Book Depot, 1984.

Dandekar, R. N. The Age of the Guptas and Other Essays. Delhi, India: Ajanta Publications, 1982.

Devasarma, Visvanatha. Shudraka. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1999.

Naikar, Chandramouli S. The “Mrcchakatika” and the Indian Laws. Dharwad, India: Medha, 1994.

Oliver, Revilo Pendleton, trans. The Little Clay Cart. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1938.