650 Plays! Nehru on Sanskrit Wonders!! (Post No.5402)

Compiled by  London Swaminathan



Date: 7 September 2018


Time uploaded in London – 18-25 (British Summer Time)


Post No. 5402

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We read about wonders of Sanskrit language. Jawaharlal Nehru adds more interesting information which most of us don’t know.

Following is taken from his book Discovery of India before Independence: –

“Europe first learned of the old Indian drama from Sir William Jones translation of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, published in 1789. Something in the nature of a commotion was created among European intellectuals by the discovery and several editions of the book followed. Translations also appeared in German, French Danish and Italian. Goethe was powerfully impressed and he paid a magnificent tribute to Shakuntala.

The idea of giving a Prologue to Faust said to have originated from Kalidasa’s prologue, which was in accordance with the usual tradition of the Sanskrit drama.
Wilson who used to be Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford university, has said of these two,
‘It is impossible to conceive language so beautifully musical or, so magnificently grand, as that of the verses of Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti.

Islamic Rule is cause for decay ??

The stream of Sanskrit drama continued to flow for centuries but after Murari , early in the ninth century, there is a marked decline in the quality. That decline, and a progressive decay, were visible in other forms of life’s activities. It has been suggested that this decline may be partly due to the lack of royal patronage during the Indo -Afghan and Mogul periods and the Islamic disapproval of the drama as an art form, chiefly because of its intimate association with the national religion. But there is little substance in the argument though political changes at the top had some indirect effect. The decline was obvious long before the political changes.


Yet , in spite of all this, it is astonishing the Sanskrit drama continued to be produced right through the mediaeval period and up to recent times. In 1892 appeared a Sanskrit adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Manuscripts of old plays are continuously being discovered. A list of these prepared by Professor Sylvain Levi contained 377 plays by 189 authors. A more recent list contains 650 plays.


An English translation of Shudraka’s ‘Mrichakatika’ drama was staged in New York in 1924. Mr Joseph Wood Krutch , the dramatic critic of the ‘Nation’ wrote of it as follows,
‘Here, if anywhere the spectator will able to see a genuine example of that pure art theatre of which theories talk, and here, too, he will be led to meditate upon that real wisdom of the East doctrine but in a tenderness, far deeper and truer than that of the traditional Christianity which has been so thoroughly corrupted by the hard righteousness of Hebraism. A play wholly artificial but yet profoundly moving because it is not realistic but real. Whoever the author may have been, and whether he lived in the fourth century or the eighth century he was a man good and wise with the goodness and wisdom which not come from the lips or the smoothly flowing pen of the moralist but from the heart……..
Nowhere in our European past do we find, this side the classics, a work more completely civilised.


Vitality and Persistence of Sanskrit

Sanskrit is a language amazingly rich, efflorescent, full of luxuriant growth of all kinds, and yet precise and strictly keeping within the framework of grammar which Panini laid down two thousand six hundred years ago. It spread out, added to its richness, became fuller and more ornate, but always it stuck to its original roots.

Sir William Jones observed as long ago as 1784,
‘The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek; more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stranger affinity, both in the roots of verbs ,and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have sprung from some common source which perhaps no longer exists’.

Nehru has given a detailed list of Sanskrit books with short descriptions in the Discovery of India.






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