Author’s life and works :
Mrichhakatika or The Little Clay Cart is the only extant drama in the entire history of ancient Indian collection of Sanskrit drama which fulfils the spirit of the drama of invention, as defined by the Sanskrit canons of dramaturgy. The masterly execution of characters with universal appeal, description of Nature with supreme romanticism and at the same time presentation of humour with apt sense of blending make the drama a standalone piece of literature in its unique genre. But unlike other stalwarts of the time like Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti, the identity of the author of such a marvelous drama is still densely clouded.
We come across the name of king Shudraka as the author of this text only from the very prologue of the same text and unfortunately from nowhere else. From the same prologue we also come to know that he was a very renowned king who had performed an Ashvamedha ritual in order to establish his superiority over other kings; he was also a very learned man having attained the knowledge of the Rigveda, the Samaveda, mathematics, the Kamashastra and the art of training elephants and that he had lived for more than a hundred years.
We also get e reference to another king of the same name and similar achievement in BanaBhatta’s Kadambari where the entire story is narrated by the parrot narrator to the king Shudraka, but all the characters in that romantic love-story are supposed to be imaginary. And only apart from the story of Kadambari there are no textual, mythological or historical references to king Shudraka, neither to any king that matched his achievements.
The meaning of the word ‘Shudraka’ is ‘little servant. It seems likely that The Little Clay Cart was written at the beginnings of a golden age of Sanskrit drama under the Gupta kings of Kanauj, who ruled over the greater part of India during the fourth and fifth centuries. In this connection it is also imagined that an unfinished work associated to the great sage-poet Vyasa, Charudatyam was taken up by some later poet and after successful completion of the same he might have mentioned his identity as a mere little dutiful servant to Vyasa in the prologue.
As regards the predominance of swift-moving action over the poetical expression of great truths, The Little Clay Cart stands related to the Latter Acts of Râma as Macbeth does to Hamlet. Again, Shûdraka’s style is simple and direct, a rare quality in a Hindu; and although this style, in the passages of higher emotion, is of an exquisite simplicity may be that is why he could build characters like Sansthânaka and Maitreya and Madanikâ as citizens of the world.
The play is divided into ten acts though there are no scenes into which they are further sub divided. The prologue introduces the stage director and the actor. They are found in a situation where they are poor. A situation that will be reflected through the character of Charudutta who is poor. As the first act opens we are introduced to Charudutta, Maitreya, Vasantasena, Sansthanaka and other minor characters. Hence the first act introduces to all the chief characters of the play. We find Sansthanka to be firmly established as the main villain of the play.
We also understand the basic character of Charudutta and Vasantasena. The act ends with Vasantasena leaving a casket of gems in the house for safe keeping and returns to her home. The second act shows the antics of the Shampooer who gambles. This scene is introduced to show the generosity of Vasantasena. Further it will be the Shampooer who will come handy in the resolution of the plot. In the next act the casket is stolen. We learn about the gregariousness of Charudutta who compensates the lost jewels with his wife’s necklace.
In the fourth act named Madanika and Sharvilaka, Sharvilaka restores the stolen jewels to Vasantasena. Madanika is given her freedom. Act five informs Charudutta and the audience that Vasantasena is to arrive at Charudutta’s house. Vasantasena spends the night at Charudutta’s house due to the storm. In the sixth act, i.e. the morning of the fourth day, we meet Charudutta’s son – Rohasena. He is crying because he no longer has access to his golden casket and has to play with little clay cart that Charudutta’s servant has made for him. Vasantasena gives her jewels onto the cart and tries to console Rohasena. Vardhamanika (another servant of Charudutta) comes up with his cart to take Vasantasena back to her home.
Meanwhile, Sansthanaka’s driver also comes up the same way. The two carts are mixed up and Vasantasena gets into the cart of Sansthanaka while the escaped convict Aryaka (who has been prophesied to kill the reigning king) ends up in the cart of Charudutta. In the face of discovery, Aryaka is saved by one of the policemen. Then, Aryaka escapes with the help of Charudutta’s aid. In the eighth act the ghastly act of the strangling of Vasantasena takes place. She is saved by the same Shampooer she has rescued from a gambling debt. He has now turned into a monk. He revives the half dead Vasantasena and takes her to save Charudutta.
Ninth act sees the trial of Charudutta where Sansthanka alleges that he has killed Vasantasena for her jewels. The general notion in and around the court is all in favour of Charudutta and if Maitrya hadn’t entered the courtroom with the jewels and while fighting Sansthanaka hadn’t spilled the jewels, Charudutta would have had been spared. The ultimate scene sees the incarceration of Charudutta. He is taken to be executed. Many including Sthavaraka tries to save him but could not. Ultimately, as Vasantasena returns, Charudutta is reprieved. Meanwhile, Aryaka kills Palaka and becomes the king himself. He makes Vasantasena a ‘vadhu’a legally wedded wife of Charudutta. The play ends in a happy reunion.