Śyāmilaka Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Śyāmilaka (SHYAW-mu-LAH-kah) was the writer of the Pādātaditaka (fifth century c.e.; The Padataditaka of Syamilaka, 1966), a classical Sanskrit one-act dramatic monologue. The text’s colophon claims that Śyāmilaka was a native of north India and the son of Viśveśvaradatta. His writing seems to draw on Kashmiri tradition and, thus, may have had close links to the region. The highly polished classical Sanskrit and events mentioned in the play point to a date after 455 c.e. but before 510 c.e.

The fictitious city in which the drama takes place has been identified as Ujjain. The play centers on a type of character called the vita, a man about town and an erudite bon vivant with a talent for ridiculing society. The vita did not exist only in fiction but was a type of person connected to the veśyā (courtesan) culture. The vita of the Pādātaditaka once had means but squandered his wealth. He earned his living by acting as an intermediary between courtesans and potential patrons. Because of his erudition and familiarity with veśyā society, he was able to give interesting and humorous insights into and critiques of that world.