p. 106 p. 107 p. 109
Malavika and Agnimitra is the earliest of Kalidasa's three dramas, and probably his earliest work. This conclusion would be almost certain from the character of the play, but is put beyond doubt by the following speeches of the prologue:
Stage-director. The audience has asked us to present at this spring festival a drama called Malavika and Agnimitra, composed by Kalidasa. Let the music begin.
Assistant. No, no! Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhasa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kalidasa?
Stage-director. You are quite mistaken. Consider:
Assistant. The responsibility rests with you, sir.
There is irony in the fact that the works of the illustrious authors mentioned have perished, that we should hardly know of their existence were it not for the tribute of their modest, youthful rival. But Kalidasa could not read the future. We can imagine his feelings of mingled pride and fear when his early work was presented at the spring festival before the court of King Vikramaditya, without doubt the most polished and critical audience that could at that hour have been gathered in any city on earth.
The play which sought the approbation of this audience
shows no originality of plot, no depth of passion. It is a light, graceful drama of court intrigue. The hero, King Agnimitra, is an historical character of the second century before Christ, and Kalidasa's play gives us some information about him that history can seriously consider. The play represents Agnimitra's father, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, as still living. As the seat of empire was in Patna on the Ganges, and as Agnimitra's capital is Vidisha--the modern Bhilsa--it seems that he served as regent of certain provinces during his father's lifetime. The war with the King of Vidarbha seems to be an historical occurrence, and the fight with the Greek cavalry force is an echo of the struggle with Menander, in which the Hindus were ultimately victorious. It was natural for Kalidasa to lay the scene of his play in Bhilsa rather than in the far-distant Patna, for it is probable that many in the audience were acquainted with the former city. It is to Bhilsa that the poet refers again in The Cloud-Messenger, where these words are addressed to the cloud:
There shalt thou see the royal city, known
Afar, and win the lover's fee complete,
If thou subdue thy thunders to a tone
Of murmurous gentleness, and taste the sweet,
Love-rippling features of the river at thy feet.
Yet in Kalidasa's day, the glories of the Sunga dynasty were long departed, nor can we see why the poet should have chosen his hero and his era as he did.
There follows an analysis of the plot and some slight criticism.
In addition to the stage-director and his assistant, who appear in the prologue, the characters of the play are these:
A counsellor, a chamberlain, a humpback, two court poets, maids, and mute attendants.
The scene is the palace and gardens of King Agnimitra, the time a few days.
ACT I.--After the usual prologue, the maid Bakulavalika appears with another maid. From their conversation we learn that King Agnimitra has seen in the palace picture-gallery a new painting of Queen Dharini with her attendants. So beautiful is one of these, Malavika, that the king is smitten with love, but is prevented by the jealous queen from viewing the original. At this point the dancing-master Ganadasa enters. From him Bakulavalika learns that Malavika is a wonderfully proficient pupil, while he learns from her that Malavika had been sent as a present to Queen Dharini by a general commanding a border fortress, the queen's brother.
After this introductory scene, the king enters, and listens to a letter sent by the king of Vidarbha. The rival monarch had imprisoned a prince and princess, cousins of Agnimitra, and in response to Agnimitra's demand that they be set free, he declares that the princess has escaped, but that the prince shall not be liberated except on certain conditions. This letter so angers Agnimitra that he despatches an army against the king of Vidarbha.
Gautama, the clown, informs Agnimitra that he has devised a plan for bringing Malavika into the king's presence. He has stirred an envious rivalry in the bosoms of the two dancing-masters, who soon appear, each abusing the other vigorously, and claiming for himself the pre-eminence in their art. It is agreed that each shall exhibit his best pupil
before the king, Queen Dharini, and the learned Buddhist nun, Kaushiki. The nun, who is in the secret of the king's desire, is made mistress of ceremonies, and the queen's jealous opposition is overborne.
ACT II.--The scene is laid in the concert-hall of the palace. The nun determines that Ganadasa shall present his pupil first. Malavika is thereupon introduced, dances, and sings a song which pretty plainly indicates her own love for the king. He is in turn quite ravished, finding her far more beautiful even than the picture. The clown manages to detain her some little time by starting a discussion as to her art, and when she is finally permitted to depart, both she and the king are deeply in love. The court poet announces the noon hour, and the exhibition of the other dancing-master is postponed.
ACT III.--The scene is laid in the palace garden. From the conversation of two maids it appears that a favourite ashoka-tree is late in blossoming. This kind of tree, so the belief runs, can be induced to put forth blossoms if touched by the foot of a beautiful woman in splendid garments.
When the girls depart, the king enters with the clown, his confidant. The clown, after listening to the king's lovelorn confidences, reminds him that he has agreed to meet his young Queen Iravati in the garden, and swing with her. But before the queen's arrival, Malavika enters, sent thither by Dharini to touch the ashoka-tree with her foot, and thus encourage it to blossom. The king and the clown hide in a thicket, to feast their eyes upon her. Presently the maid Bakulavalika appears, to adorn Malavika for the ceremony, and engages her in conversation about the king. But now a third pair enter, the young Queen Iravati, somewhat flushed with wine, and her maid Nipunika. They also conceal themselves to spy upon the young girls. Thus there are three groups upon the stage: the two girls believe themselves to be alone; the king and the clown are aware of the two girls, as are also the queen and her maid; but neither of these two pairs knows of the presence of the other. This situation gives rise to very entertaining dialogue, which changes its character when the king starts forward
to express his love for Malavika. Another sudden change is brought about when Iravati, mad with jealousy, joins the group, sends the two girls away, and berates the king. He excuses himself as earnestly as a man may when caught in such a predicament, but cannot appease the young queen, who leaves him with words of bitter jealousy.
ACT IV.--The clown informs the king that Queen Dharini has locked Malavika and her friend in the cellar, and has given orders to the doorkeeper that they are to be released only upon presentation of her own signet-ring, engraved with the figure of a serpent. But he declares that he has devised a plan to set them free. He bids the king wait upon Queen Dharini, and presently rushes into their presence, showing his thumb marked with two scratches, and declaring that he has been bitten by a cobra. Imploring the king to care for his childless mother, he awakens genuine sympathy in the queen, who readily parts with her serpent-ring, supposed to be efficacious in charming away the effects of snake-poison. Needless to say, he uses the ring to procure the freedom of Malavika and her friend, and then brings about a meeting with Agnimitra in the summer-house. The love-scene which follows is again interrupted by Queen Iravati. This time the king is saved by the news that his little daughter has been frightened by a yellow monkey, and will be comforted only by him. The act ends with the announcement that the ashoka-tree has blossomed.
ACT V.--It now appears that Queen Dharini has relented and is willing to unite Malavika with the king; for she invites him to meet her under the ashoka-tree, and includes Malavika among her attendants. Word is brought that the army despatched against the king of Vidarbha has been completely successful, and that in the spoil are included two maids with remarkable powers of song. These maids are brought before the company gathered at the tree, where they surprise every one by falling on their faces before Malavika with the exclamation, "Our princess!" Here the Buddhist nun takes up the tale. She tells how her brother, the counsellor of the captive prince, had rescued her and Malavika from the king of Vidarbha, and had started for Agnimitra's court.
[paragraph continues] On the way they had been overpowered by robbers, her brother killed, and she herself separated from Malavika. She had thereupon become a nun and made her way to Agnimitra's court, and had there found Malavika, who had been taken from the robbers by Agnimitra's general and sent as a present to Queen Dharini. She had not divulged the matter sooner, because of a prophecy that Malavika should be a servant for just one year before becoming a king's bride. This recital removes any possible objection to a union of Malavika and Agnimitra. To complete the king's happiness, there comes a letter announcing that his son by Dharini has won a victory over a force of Greek cavalry, and inviting the court to be present at the sacrifice which was to follow the victory. Thus every one is made happy except the jealous young Queen Iravati, now to be supplanted by Malavika; yet even she consents, though somewhat ungraciously, to the arrangements made.
Criticism of the large outlines of this plot would be quite unjust, for it is completely conventional. In dozens of plays we have the same story: the king who falls in love with a maid-servant, the jealousy of his harem, the eventual discovery that the maid is of royal birth, and the addition of another wife to a number already sufficiently large. In writing a play of this kind, the poet frankly accepts the conventions; his ingenuity is shown in the minor incidents, in stanzas of poetical description, and in giving abundant opportunity for graceful music and dancing. When the play is approached in this way, it is easy to see the griffe du lion in this, the earliest work of the greatest poet who ever sang repeatedly of love between man and woman, troubled for a time but eventually happy. For though there is in Agnimitra, as in all heroes of his type, something contemptible, there is in Malavika a sweetness, a delicacy, a purity, that make her no unworthy precursor of Sita, of Indumati, of the Yaksha's bride, and of Shakuntala.