Life

Bhāsa (BAW-sa) is best known in south India and is the earliest known dramatist in Sanskrit. He is referred to by the great Sanskrit dramatist Kālidāsa (c. 340-c. 400 c.e.) and other poets. His Bāla-carita (second or third century c.e.; English translation, 1930-1931) focuses on the feats of young Krishna (Krsna) slaying the tyrant Karnsa. Svapna-vāsava-datta (second or third century c.e.; English translation, 1930-1931) displays Bhāsa’s skill in characterization. His Cārudatta (second or third century c.e.; English translation, 1930-1931) survives only as a fragment; the dramatist Sudraka borrowed much from it.

Influence

Bhāsa’s plays display a flagrant disregard for the conventions of Indian drama. His display of killings on stage was new and flouted tradition. In Pratimā-nātaka (second or third century c.e., English translation, 1930-1931), King Daśaratha laments over the exile of his son Rāma and is shown dying in state; presenting death scenes was contrary to the conventions of Indian drama. After the king dies, his statue is placed in the temple and the widowed queens bring offerings of flowers; exhibiting royal effigies and paying them divine honors was not common in India. These influences can be seen in the dramaturgy of Kālidāsa, who sought to refine them.

Additional Resources

Bhattacharyya, Biswanath. A Critical Survey of Bhāsa’s Mahabharatan Dramas. Calcutta, India: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1991.

Ganapatisastri, Mahamahopadhyaya T., ed. Bhāsa’s Plays: A Critical Study. Delhi, India: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1985.

Gopalakrishnan, Sudha. From the Comic to the Comedic: The Traditions of Comedy of Bhāsa and Shakespeare. New Delhi, India: Sharada, 1993.

Majumdar, R. C., ed. The Age of Imperial Unity. 2d ed. Bombay, India: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1953.

Unni, N. P. Some New Perspectives in Bhasa Studies. Dharwad, India: Prasaranga, Karnatak University, 1992.