Viśākhadatta Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Little is known of the life of Viśākhadatta (vee-SHAW-kah-dah-tah), nor is it certain when he lived. Possibly he was a contemporary of Chandragupta II (r. c. 380ûnc415 c.e.) and therefore lived during the golden age of classical Sanskrit literature. He might have been attached to the king’s court, as he says in the prologue of his surviving work that he was the grandson of a provincial governor. A lost play with Chandragupta II as its hero was apparently composed by Viśākhadatta. Various historians have, however, put his date either a generation earlier or even as late as 800 c.e.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Only one work by Viśākhadatta survives, the play titled Mudrārāksasa (possibly fourth to eighth century c.e.; Mudraraksasam, 1900). As is typical for classic Indian drama, the text is composed in both prose and verse, and in several dialects, both classical Sanskrit and the middle Indic dialects called Prākrit. Unique in classical Indian drama, Mudrārāksasa centers on political intrigue and rapid action. The play portrays the possibly historical minister Kautilya as an effective and powerful, though deceitful, politician. Viśākhadatta’s choice of subject and style, though highly attractive to modern readers, did not influence other dramatists in India.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Dimock, Edward C., et al. The Literatures of India: An Introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Seth, Chandi. A Critical Study of the Dramam Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadatta. Calcutta, India: Aparna Book Distributors, 1998.

Van Buitenen, J. A. B., trans. Two Plays of Ancient India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.