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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

This plan is frustrated by Makaranda

The dramatist Bhavabhuti was a Brahman of the Taittiriya school of the Yajurveda and belonged, as we learn from his prologues, to Vidarbha (now Berar) in Southern India. He knew the city of Ujjayini well, and probably spent at least a part of his life there. His patron was King Yacovarman of Kanyakubja (Kanauj), who ruled during the first half of the eighth century.

Three plays by this poet, all abounding in poetic beauties, have come down to us. They contrast in two or three respects with the works of the earlier dramatists. The absence of the character of the jester is characteristic of them, the comic and witty element entering into them only to a slight extent. While other Indian poets dwell on the delicate and mild beauties of Nature, Bhavabhuti loves to depict her grand and sublime aspects, doubtless owing to the influence on his mind of the southern mountains of his native land. He is, moreover, skilful not only in drawing characters inspired by tender and noble sentiment, but in giving effective expression to depth and force of passion.

The best known and most popular of Bhavabhuti's plays is Malati-madhava, a prakarana in ten acts. The scene is laid in Ujjayini, and the subject is the love-story of Malati, daughter of a minister of the country, and Madhava, a young scholar studying in the city, and son of the minister of another state. Skilfully interwoven with this main story are the fortunes of Makaranda, a friend of Madhava, and Madayantika, a sister of the king's favourite. Malati and Madhava meet and fall in love; but the king has determined that the heroine shall marry his favourite, whom she detests. This plan is frustrated by Makaranda, who, personating Malati, goes through the wedding ceremony with the bridegroom. The lovers, aided in their projects by two amiable Buddhist nuns, are finally united. The piece is a sort of Indian Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending, the part played by the nun Kamandaki being analogous to that of Friar Laurence in Shakespeare's drama. The contrast produced by scenes of tender love, and the horrible doings of the priestess of the dread goddess Durga, is certainly effective, but perhaps too violent. The use made of swoons, from which the recovery is, however, very rapid, is rather too common in this play.

The ninth act contains several fine passages describing the scenery of the Vindhya range. The following is a translation of one of them:--

This mountain with its towering rocks delights The eye: its peaks grow dark with gathering clouds; Its groves are thronged with peacocks eloquent In joy; the trees upon its slopes are bright With birds that flit about their nests; the caves Reverberate the growl of bears; the scent Of incense-trees is wafted, sharp and cool, From branches broken off by elephants.

The other two dramas of Bhavabhuti represent the fortunes of the same national hero, Rama. The plot of the Mahavira-charita, or "The Fortunes of the Great Hero," varies but slightly from the story told in the Ramayana. The play, which is divided into seven acts and is crowded with characters, concludes with the coronation of Rama. The last act illustrates well how much is left to the imagination of the spectator. It represents the journey of Rama in an aerial car from Ceylon all the way to Ayodhya (Oudh) in Northern India, the scenes traversed being described by one of the company.

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