Friday, October 14, 2011


Kalidas is a celebrated Sanskrit poet and dramatist who is believed to have lived around 4 CE.

He wrote three plays - Abhigyan Shakuntalam, Vikramovarshiyam and  Malavikagnimitram.

Malvikagnimitram was the first one in the series. This is a 5 Act play about the love-story  of King Agnimitra of of Vidisha from the Shunga dynasty (presumed to have ruled Magadha around 152 BCE) and Malavika, who is the maid to the chief Queen Dharini. He falls in love with her when he sees her portrait. His childhood friend Gautam (Vidushak - court entertainer) is his partner in crime. Gautam and Malavika's friend, a fellow handmaiden Bakulavalika, help the couple avert the wrath of the queens Dharini and Iravati. Here is how the story unfolds -

Act I

Two learned sclolars Ganadas and Hardatt are arguing amongst themselves so as to settle the issue of who is a better mentor and pundit in the field of dance & drama. This serves as an excellent backdrop for King Agnimitra who is besotted by the portrait of a chambermaid named Malavika standing next to Queen Dharini in the royal painting, to summon her without making his desires obvious.

Malavika is a student of Guru Ganadas. One of his best proteges. If ever there were to be a competition, he would showcase her and no one else. This fact was known to the court entertainer Vidushak, Gautam. He was Agnimitra's childhood friend and quite aware of his love-struck king's secret infatuation. He sets up a contest between the two gurus hoping to get to see Malavika for real.

All this is being planned as other royal orders of going into a battle with the King of Vidarbha are carried out. Wardens of the King of Vidarbha had captured his cousin, prince Madhavsen, who was to enter into a matrimonial alliance with his royal brother. Madhavsen's sister had escaped by disappearing in the confusion of the capture.

Kanchuki, chief of the inner chambers of the Palace arranges for the dance performances while another minister Amatya Vahtak gets busy with military preparations.

The King insists that Parivrajika Kaushiki (Madhavsen's minister Sumati's sister), who has renounced the world should be present during the dance contest. Her decision would be decisive, not that of the other queens who were an audience too.

Act II

Vidushak Gautam's plan is a success. Guru Ganadas has chosen Malavika to perform as his chief disciple. She performs a quartet written by Sharmishtha in the form of a Chhalik playact. Her beauty is described in detail and the king is unable to take his eyes off her. Her voice is as sweet and innocent as her looks. She sings the part of a beloved yearning for her lover. The King feels as if she is calling out to him. Before he can say anything, the performance ends.

The young danseuse had left quite an impression. Gautam reliases that there was one expresson that she had failed to enact which the King was waiting for impatiently. He hadn't seen her smile. Being a court jester, Gautam quips about something. Everyone laughs. The King, the Queens, the Ministers, Teachers.

Malavika had taken the exit bow and was about to leave when she smiles gently. Just a glimpse of her teeth and shy eyes do their magic. The King is happy.

He is not interested in the other teacher, the performances of his pupils or the contest anymore. His purpose was served. He saw Malavika for real. He wonders how he can get out of enduring another dance recital by someone he didn't wish to see. This is when Vaitalik arrives. Vaitalik is a 'stuti pathak' by profession. A bard. His job is to sing praises of the King. He announces that it is lunch time now and all must rise for the meal. Agnimitra and Gautam look at it as divine intervention and rush out of the recital chambers.


Kaushiki's maid Samahitika and Madhukarika (caretaker of the Queens garden) are discussing the final outcome of the dance competition and Malavika's undisputed victory as they walk about, collecting lemons for Kaushiki. Everyone knows that the King has a soft corner for the new pretty chambermaid.

Underneath the Golden Ashoka tree stand Malavika and Bakulavalika who have been sent there by the chief queen Dharini to perform the ceremony of dohada so that the tree flowers soon. The chief queen is unable to take part in the ritual herself as her feet hurt after a fall from the swing. The queen has promised Malavika that if the tree blooms within five days of the ritual, she would grant her a wish. Bakulavalika adorns Malavika's beautiful feet with red pigment aalata and also conveys King's love-message which has been passed onto her by Vidushak Gautam.

The younger queen Iravati has invited King Agnimitra to the royal garden to welcome the onset of spring by sharing a ride with her on the swing. She sends him Kurbak flowers and waits for him in the pleasure-garden with her lady in waiting Nipunika.

The King wonders how he can hide his true emotions and not let Iravati know that his affections belong somewhere else now. Gautam advises that he shouldn't withdraw from his other wives even though his heart wishes none from his harem. They head towards the pleasure-grove.

The King, Gautam, Bakulvalika, Malavika, Iravati, Nipunika come face to face in the garden.

Act IV

Vidushak brings the news of Malavika and Bakulavalika's imprisionment in the underground dungeons by the chief queen Dharini. Strict orders are in place not to set them free unless someone brings the order of their aquittal by producing the seal of her ring Nagmudrika. Queen Iravati and her maid Nipunika have done their job of informing the chief queen of the clandestine meeting of forbidden lovers in the pleasure-grove. Queen Dharini is furious and refuses to show any signs of mercy.

The king decides to meet queen Dharini in her chambers. She is nursing her hurt feet with red sandalwood paste. Parivrajika Kaushiki keeps her entertained by telling her stories. Summoning his wits, Gautam decides to help the King in getting Malavika released from the prison.

Gautam feigns a snake-bite. He is sent to the royal physician Dhruvasiddhi. Chaos and commotion takes precedence in the chief queen's quarters. Everyone is eager to be of some help. The door-keeper informs that the physician requires any talisman which has an image of a snake to perform the ritual of Udakumbhavidhana, which can invalidate the deadly poison.

Dharini gives her ring as it has an image of a snake without knowing the real purpose it was asked for.
The ring is shown to the keepers of the dungeons and Malavika is free again.

Act V

The Ashoka tree is in full bloom within five days. The chief queen is obliged to fulfill her promise of granting Malavika one wish. She is very happy as her son, prince Vasumitra has won the battle that had arisen out of capturing of the Ashvamedha Horses. The King of Vidarbha had surrendered as well.

Everyone is assembled under the Ashoka tree.

Two maids who have been brought from Vidarbh desh as performers recognise Malavika as their princess. Madhavsen's sister is Malavika, who was in the hiding for so long after her brother's capture. The story unfolds. Kaushiki explains how all this came about.

Queen Dharini knows that her husband secretly loves Malavika. Now that it has been established that Malavika is of royal birth as well, the Chief Queen gifts her maid to him which in turn also serves as granting Malavika one wish which she had promised.

                                                                   THE     END

Note: You can read the book at Malvikagnimitram - English Translation by C.H. Tawney

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