Sanskrit Classic Literature – 2

Poets write according to their insight which inspires and pleases people. From the beginning of mankind this journey of poets’ imagination has been going on. Different poets in different timeframes have expressed themselves in different languages which entertained this world as well as inspired and enriched various aspects. As discussed in part I, classical Sanskrit literature is divided in two parts – Drushya [दृश्य] and Shravya [श्रव्य].

Drushya kaavya means drama. Shravya Kaavya is again divided into two sub-parts; those are Roopatmak [रूपात्मक] and Vastvatmak [वस्त्वात्मक]. Roopatmak Sravyakaavya includes prose, poetry and Champu [चम्पू].


Prose which is also known as Gadyakaavya [गद्यकाव्य] was very popular in Vedic times. In Taittiriya [तैत्तिरिय] Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda [कृष्णयजुर्वेद] ancient prose can be found. Some part of Atharvaveda is also in prose. All Brahmangranthas [ब्राह्मणग्रन्थ] are also in prose. Aaranyakas [आरण्यक] and Upanishads are also mainly in prose.

Conciseness is the peculiarity of Sanskrit prose. Compound is the special feature of this language which expresses a lot in few words. The quality of Oja [ओज] means a lot of use of compounds which enriches the beauty of prose. As poet Dandi [दण्डी] has said ‘the Quality of Oja is the life of prose’ {Ojah Samasbhuyastvametad Gadyasya Jivitam[ओजः समासभूयस्त्वमेतद् गद्यस्य जीवितम्]} Although Dandi was at the golden era of Sanskrit prose, this special feature of Sanskrit prose can be seen right from the ancient Sanskrit inscriptions.

In Philosophical and scientific books various theories are explained so prose is prominent. To express our thoughts and to explain the validity of scientific rules prose is very impressive medium. Compared to this, prose is not much popular in Classical Sanskrit literature.

Prose is of two types. 1. Vedic prose 2. Prose which is used in day-to-day language

In Vedic prose there are small sentences and the indeclinable like Ha [ह], Vai [वै] and U [उ] are used. Use of compounds is not much; simile and metaphor are used beautifully. Prose used in mythological literature is in very ornate language and carries the beauty of literary prose.

Prose began to be written 400years before the reign of king Vikram. Poet Subandhu [सुबन्धु] is the first classical poet, who is even senior to poet Banabhatta. He must have lived in the beginning of 7th century. He had written the story with ancient name of ‘Vasavdatta’ [वासवदत्ता], but had developed it totally as a new one.

Banabhatta is the famous poet after Subandhu and probably the only one whose works give us hints about his timeframe. Both intellect and wealth were blessed upon him. ‘Kadambari’ is known as the best work in Sanskrit prose literature. This has beautiful combination of language and emotions and words and meanings. Descriptions of Nature and descriptions of characters both are impressive. Banabhatta [बाणभट्ट] has really excelled himself through his creation of Kadambari.

He has also written a Biography named Harshacharit [हर्षचरित] which is divided in eight Uchchavasas [उच्छ्वास] means chapters.

Mahakavi Dandi [महाकवी दण्डी] is also another renowned prose poet in Sanskrit classical literature. Kaavyadarsha [काव्यादर्श], Avantisundari Kathasaar [अवन्तिसुन्दरी कथासार] and Dashkumarcharit [दशकुमारचरित] are his famous works.

Katha [कथा]

This means story. Amara has defined it in the book Saarsundari [सारसुन्दरी]  as Prabandhkalpana katha [प्रबन्धकल्पना कथा], which means developing the story with one’s own imagination. Some people call it Aakhyayika [आख्यायिका], but all stories in Sanskrit literature cannot be called Aakhyayikas. According to Sanskrit poetic science the basic features of Katha are -:

§  Story is of two types Gadya [गद्य] prose and Padya [पद्य] poem.

§  A story contains a love story, battle for fulfillment of love and ends with Marriage of Hero and Heroine.

§  Story contains all emotions. Stories which are based upon common man, poets can have the freedom of using their own imagination and inhuman surprises.

§  Style of story literature is ornate.

The root of story literature lies in Vedas. Story literature can be divided in three types-

1.   Religious stories which are in classics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Many other small stories are also told in these books which are according to the main story. Puranas [पुराणे], Tripitak [त्रिपिटक] and Jainchurni [जैनचूर्णी] are included in this category.

2.   This category contains moral stories and love stories. Bauddha Jatakas [बौद्ध जातके], Jainkathakosh [जैनकथाकोष], Panchtantra [पञ्चतन्त्र], Kathasaritsagar [कथासरित्सागर] these works are also included in this category.

3.   Extraordinary and Miraculous stories fall in this category. Dandi’s Dashkumarcharit [दशकुमारचरित], Banbhatta’s Kadambari [कादम्बरी] and Subandhu’s Vasavdatta [वासवदत्ता] can be included in this category.

Brihatkatha [बृहत्कथा] is a very famous story book in Sanskrit, mostly the first story collection in Sanskrit. Gunaddhya [गुणाढ्य] is the writer of this and probably he wrote this book in the 5th century. He was said to be the royal poet of King Haal[हाल]. Brihatkatha [बृहत्कथा] was originally written in Paishachi [पैशाची] language, which is a prakrit [प्राकृत] language form. There are three Sanskrit translations of Brihatkatha, Brihatkatha Samgraha [बृहत्कथा सम्ग्रह] by Buddhaswami [बृहत्कथा], Brihatkathamanjiri [बृहत्कथामञ्जरी] by Kshemendra [क्षेमेन्द्र] has 7500 shlokas and Kathasaritsagar [कथासरित्सागर] by Somdev [सोमदेव]. Kathasaritsagar is a very popular translation of Brihatkatha which contains 24000 shlokas. Like Sage Valmiki [वाल्मीकी] and VedVyaas [वेदव्यास] Gunaddhya is also an inspiration for Sanskrit poets.

Drama {Natya [नाट्य]}

As mentioned earlier Sanskrit literature is divided into two types, Visual {Drushya[दृश्य]}and Audible {Sravya [श्रव्य]}. Drama represents the visual type. Sanskrit drama spread Sanskrit literature’s fame all over the world. Natya is more popular than Kaavya. Kaavya attracts appreciators minds audibly but drama captures audience’s minds visually. We have to imagine or to have knowledge of some things while reading Kaavya which leads to enjoyment which is only possible to scholars. On the contrary required atmosphere is already created in drama which helps even common people to enjoy it thoroughly. That is why drama entertains not only the learned but also the common mass. The message given through drama is valid for all types of people in society. Drama shows things which happen in day-to-day life. It also has the reflections of current matters in society, so impresses many.

Natya is also known as Rupak [रुपक] which is of ten types. Natak [नाटक] is the most important of them. In Sanskrit literature Natak is very ancient. Even in Vedic literature we can find descriptions about Natak. Even in Ramayana and Mahabharata we have references of actors, dancers, singers and anchors. Many theories have been put up by the scholars while discussing the origin of drama. Many scholars think that Samvad suktas [सम्वादसूक्ते] are the origin for drama.

o   Dr. Schroder thinks that these Suktas used to be sung and enacted during specific sacrifices with background music. These can be named as religious dramas.

o   According to Dr. Hurtle these Samvadsuktas used to be sung in group and here lies the origin of Drama.

o   Dr. Keith says that these Suktas are in Rugveda, there these were for praise, but those were sung by the sage of Saamveda i.e. Udgaata [उद्गाता]. Their topics are very common and relevant with society at that time. So these are the origin of Drama.

o   Some German scholars like Oldenburg, Windish, and Pishel think that firstly these Samvadsuktas were the mixture of poetry and prose. Poetry remained because it was interesting and melodious. While prose part slowly vanished because it was descriptive.

Drama exactly follows this form of ancient Samvadsuktas, as they are also a mixture of prose and poetry. Baratmuni [भरतमुनि] has written Dramatics, famous as Natyashastra [नाट्यशास्त्र]. He says in the first chapter of Naatyashastra that seeing the sorrow of common people Indra and other deities went to Lord Brahma and requested them to write the Veda for entertainment of Common people as they do not have the right to study Vedic literature. Then Lord Brahma created Veda for Dramatics by taking prose from Rugveda, music from Saamveda, Acting from Yajurveda and emotions from Atharvaveda.

Drushya Kaavya Rupak [दृश्यकाव्य रूपक] has ten different types. Natak [नाटक], Prakarana [प्रकरण], Bhaan [भाण], Prahasan [प्रहसन], Dim [डिम], Vyayog [व्यायोग], Samavakaar [समवकार], Veethi [वीथी], Anka [अङ्क] and Ehamrug [इहामृग].

v  Special features of Sanskrit Natakas-:

1.   All Sanskrit Natakas end on a happy note.

2.   Compared to other languages Sanskrit dramas are longer.

3.   Sanskrit and Prakrut languages are mixed in Sanskrit drama. Actors and other main characters speak in Sanskrit while women talk in Prakrut language.

4.   The acts [chapters] are known as ‘Ank’ [अङ्क]. At the end of each Ank all the characters leave the stage.

5.   Vidushak [विदूषक] or a comedian is a special feature of Sanskrit Natakas. He is a friend of the hero not a servant and also helps the hero in many tasks.

6.   Sanskrit natakas are based on Indian stories such as Ramayana Mahabharata etc.

v  Prakarana [प्रकरण]

It is very similar to Nataka.  Unlike Nataka the hero here is courageous, calm Brahmin or Minister or merchant. He is not very famous. The story is totally fictitious and based on tales. The Poet uses his own imagination for theme and main characters. The heroine is either a prostitute or a woman from noble family. According to this Prakarana is of three types-:

Heroine is from noble family- ShuddhaPrakarana [शुद्ध प्रकरण]

Heroine is a prostitute – Mishra Prakarana [मिश्र प्रकरण].

Two heroines of both types – SammishraPrakaran [सम्मिश्र प्रकरण]

Love is the main sentiment in Prakarana. Many different subjects, descriptions of day-to-day life, physical wealth, love stories as well as the battles between hero and the Villain are shown in Prakarana. Along with love all other sentiments should be used according to the story. Royal life and its pleasures are never described in Prakarana. The theme should be reality based. Bharatmuni [भरतमुनी] has mentioned six types of heroes in Prakarana they are – Brahmin, Purohit [पुरोहित], Vyapari [व्यापारी], Shreshthi [श्रेष्ठी], Saarthvaah [सार्थवाह], Amatya [अमात्य]. Abhinavgupta [अभिनवगुप्त] has added seventh type Vit [विट] to this category. Thus Prakarana can be of 21 types heroine of three types and heroes of seven types.

v  Bhaan [भाण]

Bhaan is a kind of one act play. Only one character presents this which is Vit [विट] or Dhoort [धूर्त]. Vit describes his own experiences which includes descriptions of other people and many other stories. Vit alone enacts for other characters with their expressions. Love, bravery and comedy are main sentiments in this type of Drama.

v  Prahasan [प्रहसन]

Comedy is the main sentiment in this category. Generally those who do not follow religious rules and traditions are criticized through humor in Prahasan. This is of two types

1.   Shuddha [शुद्ध] Ascetics, monks, are main characters in this type. Generally it is one act play. Their dialogues are humorous but they are not false or vulgar. In drama some person’s life is illustrated in a comic way.

2.   Samkirna [सम्कीर्ण] Prostitutes, servants, Vit are main characters in this type there are two acts in this and a weapon is used.

The characters and their appearance is loud. Sometimes it is presented in Veethi [वीथी] style.

v  Dim [डिम]

The story is based on any mythological event or a famous historical person. The hero is famous and has a very good character. The story is complex. There are sixteen heroes and they are shown at different stages of the play. Main character is known as the leading hero of the play but gods, serpent kings, angels, Yaksha [यक्ष] etc. are named as 16 different heroes in play.

It has four acts. As mentioned before the story is complex and magic, puppet shows are also described in this type. Deeptrasa [दीप्तरस] which is the combination of love and humor is prominent and all other sentiments are supporting. All expressions are conveyed through different situations.

v  Vyayog [व्यायोग]

The story must be famous in this type of play; it should have a description of any mythological hero or any famous tale. The main part must be of a battle or a dual or a challenge given to another warrior to prove excellence. The hero in Vyayog is famous but not a god, king or a sage. It is a one act play showing incidents which occur on same day and carries the sentiment of valor. Jamdagnyajaya [जामदग्न्यजय] is an example for this category.

v  Samavakaar [समवकार]-

The story or theme is concerned with the means of obtaining the desired objective worthy of Gods and Asuras [असुर]. This has three acts. All twelve heroes are famous and noble. The subject in all three acts is a money-fraud and truant lover. All three acts have specific order.

v  Veethi [वीथी]

Veethi has one act, and it is presented by one or two characters. It has all sentiments. It has 13 parts which altogether form Veethi [वीथी].

v  Anka [अङ्क]

Story of this type is based on Purana literature or history. The pathetic sentiment is prominent. Arguments about battles are common.

v   Ehamrug [इहामृग].

Battle or argument for the heroine difficult to be conquered is described in this type. The hero is supernatural and the opponent is cruel. It has similarity with Vyayog in no. of acts and sentiment, but the only thing which differentiates this from Vyayog is, the heroine in Ehamrug is supernatural. The hero wins and the Villain is punished at the end but nobody dies. At the last moment the battle is stopped. Ehamrug is well organized and well written play.

Thus Bharatmuni has mentioned about ten types of drama in Naatyashastra.

Champoo  literature [चम्पू साहित्य]

In Sahityadarpana, Champoo literature is described as one which is a mixture of poetry and prose. “GadyaPadyatmakam Kaavyam Champurityabhidhiyate” [“गद्यपद्यात्मकम् काव्यम् चम्पूरित्यभिधीयते”]

In Champookaavya the poet is given freedom to use prose or poetry as per his convenience. In poet Dandi’s Kaavyadarsh [दण्डी काव्यादर्श] Champoo kaavya is mentioned but the champoos which are available today are from 10th century and later. Brahmangranthas [ब्राह्मणग्रन्थ], some part of Mahabharata, Jatakas [जातक] are in prose-poetry mix form. These can be said to be the forerunners of Champoo literature. Although there is prominence of poetry in Champoo, a story is narrated so it belongs to prose category.

Here are some peculiarities of Champoo Kaavya-:

ü  Champoo is mixture of prose and poetry.

ü  It is a kind of Prabandh [प्रबन्ध] Kaavya.

ü  It is divided into chapters named Uchchhvas [उच्छ्वास], Stabak [स्तबक], Aashvas [आश्वास], Ullas [उल्लास]. Most of the Champoos are divided in Stabakas. No of chapters may be eight or more like epics or could be less also.

ü  Has elaborate story with long descriptions of situations and things which is its unique feature.

ü  Hero can be anybody- god, king, common man.

ü  No restriction on number of characters. Heroine is not necessary.

ü  No rules for poetry and prose ratio. Generally prose part is lengthy due to long compounds.

ü  Love and bravery or calmness- any of these can be the main sentiment and other sentiments are supportive.

ü  Begins with auspicious statements like Mahakaavya and ends with Bharatvaakya.

Given above are general characteristics of champoo kaavya. But all these do not apply to all champoo kaavyas, there can be exceptions.

Nalchampoo [नलचम्पू] of Trivikrama [त्रिविक्रम] is an ancient champoo probably written in 10th century. The story of Nal-Damyanti [नलदमयन्ती] is described in seven Uchchhvas [उच्छ्वास]. Yashstilakchampoo [यशस्तिलकचम्पू] of Somdeva [सोमदेव] is written in 959 A.C. This champoo is divided into eight Uchchhvas [उच्छ्वास] and tells the story of King Yashodhar [यशोधर] of Avanti who accepted Jain religion.

Published On: 21-02-2014

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