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Last Updated on December 16, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

The Little Clay Cart tells the story of a Brahman named Chrudatta, who despite being a member of the highest caste, is not endowed with riches because he gave them all out to people in need. Despite his misfortunes, Chrudatta continues with his duties as a Brahman, helping the people...

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The Little Clay Cart tells the story of a Brahman named Chrudatta, who despite being a member of the highest caste, is not endowed with riches because he gave them all out to people in need. Despite his misfortunes, Chrudatta continues with his duties as a Brahman, helping the people and giving advice where he can. Vasantasen, a courtesan, falls in love with Chrudatta as he is preaching at one of the temples. Despite being happily married, Chrudatta also falls for Vasantasen, and they start an affair. Vasantasen sees Chrudatta in secret and gives him expensive gifts—one which puts him in trouble after it's used as evidence in a murder case. After Samsthnaka strangles Vasantasen, he thinks that she is dead and frames the murder on the Brahman. Chrudatta refuses to be incriminated, but one of Vasantasen's kneck laces is found at his house. The judges find him guilty, believing that he killed the victim to steal the jewelry from her. The tyrant King Plaka orders his execution for the crime, but before he is killed, Vasantasen reappears and saves him. The story ends with Chrudatta's wealth and position reinstated by the new king Ryaka and his wife accepting Vasantasen as the Brahman's second lover.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1003

Chrudatta is a Brahman who has impoverished himself by spending his substance on the public welfare and in helping individuals who have sought his aid. Although dwelling in poverty in a broken-down house, he still enjoys a fine reputation in Ujjayini as an honest and upright man of rare wisdom. This reputation eases somewhat the fact that he has been deserted by most of his friends and is embarrassed by his lack of wealth.

Although married happily and the proud father of a small son, Rohasena, Chrudatta is enamored of Vasantasen, a courtesan of great wealth and reputation who, having seen him at a temple, is also in love with him. One evening, as Chrudatta and his friend Maitreya sit discussing Chrudatta’s misfortunes and the efficacy of devotion to the gods, Vasantasen finds herself pursued by Samsthnaka, a half-mad brother-in-law of King Plaka, and one of his henchmen. The men threaten to do violence to Vasantasen, but she escapes from them in the darkness and finds safety in the house of Chrudatta, where a meeting between the two increases the love they already feel for each other. Before she leaves to return to her own palace, the courtesan entrusts a casket of jewelry to Chrudatta as an excuse to see him again.

During the night a thief, Sarvilaka, enters Chrudatta’s house and steals the jewelry to buy his love, Madanik, who is Vasantasen’s slave and confidant. The courtesan accepts the jewels and frees Madanik to marry Sarvilaka, intending to see that Chrudatta should learn that the jewels have been recovered. In the meantime, Chrudatta sends a rare pearl necklace of his wife’s to Vasantasen to recompense the courtesan for the loss of her less valuable jewels. His friend Maitreya, fearing that Vasantasen’s attentions can bring only bad luck and disaster, cautions Chrudatta against doing so. Maitreya, knowing courtesans, believes that Vasantasen is merely scheming to take from Chrudatta the few possessions he still has.

After leaving Vasantasen’s palace with his newly freed bride, Sarvilaka learns that his friend Prince ryaka has been arrested by King Plaka and placed in a dungeon. The king, neither a popular nor a just monarch, fears that the people might rise up, as a soothsayer has predicted, to place Prince ryaka on the throne. After Sarvilaka succeeds in freeing the prince from prison, ryaka seeks help from Chrudatta, who aids him in escaping the pursuing guards.

Vasantasen, having become Chrudatta’s mistress, meets his small son and gives him some jewels with which to purchase a golden toy cart to replace the unsatisfactory clay cart Chrudatta had been able to afford. She makes arrangements to meet Chrudatta in Pushpakarandaka Park, outside the city, for a day’s outing, but by mistake she enters the wrong vehicle and finds herself in the gharry belonging to Samsthnaka, who still pursues her and is madly jealous of the love and favors she bestows freely upon Chrudatta. When Vasantasen arrives at the park, she is discovered in the gharry by Samsthnaka, who at first is overjoyed at seeing her because he thinks she has come to him voluntarily. When she spurns him and declares her love for Chrudatta, Samsthnaka tries to make his henchmen kill her, but they refuse. Samsthnaka sends his followers away and chokes her himself. Believing her dead, he hides the body under a pile of leaves. Then, hoping to escape the penalty for his crime, Samsthnaka decides to go to a court and accuse Chrudatta of murdering Vasantasen.

When Samsthnaka first appears at the court, the judges, who know him to be somewhat mad, refuse to see him or take him seriously, but when he threatens to go to King Plaka, the judges become frightened and send for Chrudatta. Falsely accused, Chrudatta proclaims his innocence, but circumstances are against him. He admits having been in the park, and the jewels of Vasantasen are found at his home, offering a motive for the poverty-stricken man to have killed her. The judges, in spite of Chrudatta’s previous reputation, find him guilty. Although Chrudatta’s status as a Brahman exempts him from the death penalty for any crime, King Plaka orders Chrudatta put to death. No one knows that the body identified as Vasantasen’s was actually that of another woman or that Vasantasen is not dead; befriended by a Buddhist monk, she is recovering near the park from Samsthnaka’s attack.

Chrudatta is taken through the city by two executioners, who stop several times to announce the name of the condemned man and the nature of his crime. Although the people of the city love Chrudatta, they dare not intervene on his behalf, even though he steadfastly maintains his innocence. Samsthnaka’s slave tries to tell that his master is really the one who committed the crime, but no one believes him, and so Chrudatta and his executioners, accompanied by a crowd, continue on their way to the place of execution, a cemetery south of the city.

The executioners, thinking to be merciful, offer to decapitate Chrudatta, but a miracle prevents their sword from touching him, and so they prepare the victim for the slow, agonizing death by impalement on a pike. Fortunately, Vasantasen, seeing the excited crowd as she makes her way back to the city, intervenes in time to save Chrudatta. When she tells who really attacked her, Samsthnaka is arrested. The excitement does not end with that, however, for word comes that Chrudatta’s wife, believing herself a widow, is about to cast herself upon a funeral pyre. Chrudatta reaches her in time to prevent her death, and she and Vasantasen meet and accept each other. Word comes, too, that Prince ryaka has deposed King Plaka and is now king. One of his first deeds is to restore Chrudatta’s fortune and make him an important official of the court. Chrudatta, still a man of conscience and charity, forgives Samsthnaka for his villainy and causes him to be set free.

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