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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama



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To purchase Priyadarśikā

Title: Priyadarśikā
Author: Harsha
Genre: Drama
Written: 7th cent. (Eng. 1923)
Length: 204 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: Priyadarśikā - US
Priyadarśikā - UK
Priyadarśikā - Canada
Priyadarsika - France
  • Sanskrit title: प्रियदर्शिका
  • Translated into English by G.K.Nariman, A.V.Williams Jackson, and Charles J. Ogden
  • With an introduction and notes by G.K.Nariman and A.V.Williams Jackson
  • Includes the (transliterated) Sanskrit text facing the English translation
  • Translations also published in bilingual editions include M.R.Kale's (1928), also as Priyadarśikā; and Wendy Doniger's (2007), as The Lady who Shows her Love in the Clay Sanskrit Library volume The Lady of the Jewel Necklace & The Lady who Shows her Love (Sanskrit text transliterated)
  • Published as volume 10 in the Columbia University Indo-Iranian Series

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Our Assessment:

B : a fine little play; very well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bulletin of the SOAS . 3:3 (6/1924) L.D.Barnett
J. of the American Oriental Society . 46:77 (1926) .

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The complete review's Review:

       Priyadarśikā is one of three plays attributed to seventh-century (northern) Indian king Harsha, and probably the first of the three he wrote; it is loosely connected to the better-known Ratnāvalī as another story based on the Udayana-legend (and featuring the king Udayana/Vatsarāja and the queen Vāsavadattā).
       The set-up for the drama is a bit complicated, with the character of the Chamberlain opening the play (after the traditional invocation by the Stage-manager) with a summary of what has led to the constellation when the action opens. Basically, Priyadarśikā, the daughter of Dṛḍhavarman, king of Aṅga, had been promised to Vatsarāja but, in his anger at not getting the girl the king of Kaliṅga attacked and defeated Aṅga, taking Dṛḍhavarman prisoner. Priyadarśikā had been brought to (apparent) safety by the Chamberlain, stowed away with the forest-king Vindhyaketu -- only for Vindhyaketu's realm to have been subsequently sacked and the Chamberlain finding the princess to have disappeared. Meanwhile, Vatsarāja, who himself had been the captive of yet another king, had made good his escape -- with the daughter of king Pradyota, Vāsavadattā, whom Vatsarāja then takes as his queen. Unable to deliver Priyadarśikā to Vatsarāja, as promised, the Chamberlain slinks home to his captive master, Priyadarśikā's father.
       The play proper then begins with a triumphant Vatsarāja, and then his general, Vijayasena, coming to report on his triumph over Vindhyaketu -- as it was Vijayasena who had attacked and defeated him. It's good and proper of victorious forces to show some mercy, and Vijayasena has brought home a survivor (after: "Vindhyaketu had thus been killed along with his kinsmen and retainers, and his faithful wives had followed him"), a girl they found lamenting in Vindhyaketu's home:

'Oh, father, father !' uttered by a maiden whose beauty matched her noble birth. Thinking that she was his daughter, we brought her hither, and she is standing at the door. It is for Your Majesty to decide regarding her.
       Vatsarāja generously entrusts her to his queen, with instructions for the girl to be: "taught everything that a noble damsel should know". The queen is to remind him when the girl becomes of marriageable age, but he doesn't seem to want to concern himself with the girl otherwise; he doesn't even check her out before sending her off.
       The girl is, of course, none other than Priyadarśikā, but, uncertain of her circumstances, she doesn't dare reveal her identity; instead, she lets them believe she is Vindhyaketu's daughter and is known by the name Āraṇyakā. She pouts about the role she has been forced into -- "I, who am sprung from such a family, who have been used to commanding other people, must now do the command of another" -- but goes along with it.
       One day, heading to a pool, the king spies her, and is immediately captivated by her great beauty: "Could moonlight be incarnate here ? But the sight of that is not possible by day", he wonders, in one of the play's best poetic lines. When she is attacked by bees, the king comes out of hiding to protect her as she covers her face with her mantle -- but when he speaks -- her praises -- she realizes it isn't her female attendant but rather a man who is embracing her, and she has to pretend to be shocked. Love has immediately blossomed between them, but decorum demands that they go their separate ways.
       The next act finds Āraṇyakā charged with acting in a play being put on for a festival -- her role that of queen Vāsavadattā. Āraṇyakā's attendant, Manoramā, knows of her love for the king -- and worries about her suicidal thoughts at the hopelessness of her situation -- and assures her that the king: "himself will now be anxious to contrive a way to see you". And, indeed, with the help of the king's Jester an ingenious plan is hatched: Vatsarāja will switch roles with Manoramā, who was to play him on stage.
       The play is put on, with the queen in the audience -- leading to the drama's best scene, as she rises from her seat when the king comes on stage and greets him, "Hail, hail to my Lord !", convinced it's her husband (as well she should be), only to be told:"Princess, do not be misled ! This is a play" -- which is enough to convince her:
VĀSAVADATTĀ. (Sitting down with an embarrassed smile.) Why, that's Manoramā ! And I thought it was my Lord ! Bravo, Manoramā, bravo ! Splendidly acted !
       The ruse only works so long -- the Jester spills the beans -- and the queen is not happy: "Girl, the play is over", she announces, and has the Jester and Āraṇyakā seized, leaving the king to: "go to my couch and think out some means of gaining the Queen's pardon".
       The truth comes out, of course, but there's more high drama before the happy ending, a despairing Āraṇyakā having taken poison and near death before everything is set right.
       The four-act play is a bit fitful, Harsha stronger with specific scenes than in achieving -- at least at first -- a sense of continuity; the complexity of the set-up of course contributes to that. While interesting that the play jumps in time -- notably by a year or so between the second and third acts -- i.e. takes a very different approach than the Aristotelian unities, there's arguably not quite adequate clarity about these jumps in time (though they are analyzed in depth in the translators' Introduction).
       Among the most successful scenes is that of the play-within-the-play -- and in an Appendix to the Introduction ('Use of a Play within a Play', by A.V.Williams Jackson) the claim is that this is in fact: "the first real instance of a play within a play" (as, for example: "it is a device that was unknown to the classical drama of Greece and Rome"). It is an accomplished use of the device, and arguably the strongest reason why Priyadarśikā is of more than academic interest (even as it is also perhaps the primary reason for it to be of academic interest ...).
       If the language does not impress as greatly as that of the leading Sanskrit dramatists of that era, there are some nicely turned phrases. Harsha also employs the Jester figure exceptionally well, a traditional Fool-figure whose repartee especially with the king is quite clever and good fun. Overall, if not of the highest order, Priyadarśikā is nevertheless considerably more than merely workmanlike -- including in being a drama that very much lends itself to staging (as opposed to just reading), as Harsha shows a good understanding of what works on the stage.
       This edition, a volume in the short-lived Columbia University Indo-Iranian Series, is near-exemplary. The Sanskrit text is provided facing the (solid) English translation -- albeit, as in the Clay Sanskrit Library series, only in transliteration: the editors explain: "there was no occasion to give the Sanskrit in the original Nāgarī characters because no new edition of the manuscript was contemplated". I beg to differ, but readers at least can readily consult the M.R.Kale translation, which does include the original text, online.
       The Introduction is lengthy -- over a hundred pages -- but divided up into informative shorter pieces, ranging from an overview of Harsha's life to a section usefully showing the 'Relation to Harsha's other Dramas' to a detailed overview of the 'Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs Mentioned in the Play'. The bibliographies are, of course, long outdated (as is some of the scholarship), but still a useful starting point; on the whole, the introductory material offers pretty much everything one could want in order to fully appreciate and understand the work -- and most of it is very accessible (i.e. not overly academic). The endnotes are also helpful with many of the (sometimes confusing) details, and the editors have struck a nice balance with how extensive the annotation gets.
       Priyadarśikā is far from the most remarkable or noteworthy Sanskrit drama but is better than its somewhat neglected status suggests, and this edition is a very good one to access it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 February 2020

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Priyadarśikā: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian King Harsha (हर्षवर्धन) lived ca. 590-647 and ruled from 606 until his death.

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