Many critics have pointed out that Sudraka’s The Little Clay Cart is more like Western drama than any other Sanskrit play, in structure, characterization, and tone. This may account for the fact that Indian critics have been less enthusiastic about the work than have those of the Western world. The Little Clay Cart is noteworthy for being the only known Sanskrit play to show a courtesan in love with a Brahman, as it is also the only known one to contain important characters from various strata of Hindu society rather than from the upper castes only. It is the realistic and vivid presentation of these characters that probably has appealed most to Western readers.
Hindu philosophy places less emphasis on individuals’ power to alter their own lives or destinies than does Western, Christian philosophy. Throughout The Little Clay Cart, nearly all the characters speak of destiny and fate. Hindu thought also tends toward seeing life and history as circular, moving in cycles of such opposites as destruction and creation, growth and decay, rather than the Western view, which tends toward a linear interpretation. The title is a summation of this wheel-of-fortune concept, although the section of the drama dealing with the cart is extremely short. Chrudatta’s young son has been playing with a gold cart belonging to a friend, and the friend wants it back. In his impoverished state, Chrudatta can afford only to have his servant make a clay cart for the boy. When Vasantasen sees the boy crying for the gold cart, she gives him jewels with which to buy one for himself. Thus the circle is complete.
Many other circles are also seen in the plot. ryaka, an exiled prince, is imprisoned but escapes. The mad king is killed and ryaka becomes king. A gambler who has...
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