About the Book
“The earliest farcical sketch in one Act, the Mattavilasa or ‘Diversion of the Drunk’ of King Mahendrvikramavarman of Kanchi, depicts the drunken revelry of a Saiva mendicant bearing a human skull in lieu of an alms- bowl and accordingly calling himself a Kapalin: his wanderings with his wench through the purlieus of Kanchi on his way to a tavern; his scuffle with a hypocritical Buddhist monk whom he accuses of the theft of the precious bowl; his appeal to degenerate Pasupata to settle the dispute and the final recovery of the bowl from a lunatic who has retrieved it from a stray dog.”
The Prahasana is a remarkably smart production of the genre, replete with mirth and satire and the characters are vigorously drawn throwing a flood of light on the life of the time. The royal author who calls himself ‘Vicitracitta’ holds to ridicule the sham priests and mendicants of various religious sects.
The work is here critically edited with an English translation and detailed introduction giving an account how the farce is staged in the reformed temple theatres of Kerala by Cakyars’ during the last several centuries. A rare and hitherto unknown metrical commentary is also appended to the edition.
About the Author
Dr. N.P. UNNI (b. 1936) has the unique distinction of being the first candidate to be awarded a Ph.D degree in Sanskrit by the University of Kerala.
After a long teaching career in the Govt. Sanskrit College, Trivandrum, he joined the University of Kerala as Curator in the reputed Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library. Later he became Reader in Sanskrit (1972) in the Dept. of Sanskrit and from 1979 onwards he served as Professor and Head of the Dept. till 1996. Now he is the Vice-Chancellor of the prestigious Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.
Dr. Unni has written edited/commented/published/more than 25 books in the different fields of study like Classical literature, Dramas, Kavyas, Dramaturgy, Commentatorial literature, Literary criticism etc; etc. His magnum opusan English translation with Sanskrit text and notes of the Natyasastra of Bharata is in the press.
“What a great calamity! Sky brings forth a flower! Sands produce oil! A dramatic composition comes from the South!”-exclaimed an Actress in the course of introducing the Ascaryacudamanii of Saktibhadra, a great drama by the greatest among the dramatists of Kerala. We are further told that the poet had to send his composition outside his region in order to win acclaim. Even if the above statement is not the whole truth, it is an eloquent essay on’ the state of literary affairs prevailing at that time in Kerala. But then, the Kerala dramatist, perhaps, did not know that South India had already produced two great plays which could stand the test of time.
The Bhagavadajjuka-’the farce of the Saint and the Courtezan’ ascribed to Bodhayana by a commentator and the Mattavilasathe Diversion of the Drunk by Mahendravikrama are referred to in inscriptions which date back to 610A.D. Both these plays belong to the Prahasana type and exhibit some common features such as the exposition of the hypocrisy practised by mendicants, the decline of Buddhism in the South, the laxity in moral principles and the ignorance of religious bigots.
Kerala had the privilege of preserving these interesting plays to posterity-thanks to the flourishing stage tradition. Following the bold example of Saktibhadra, dramatists like Kulasekharavarman, Ravivarman and others brought out tolerably good dramas on a wide variety of topics. A survey conducted by the present writer reveals that there are not less than a hundred plays produced in Kerala by her sons. Many of these dramas were staged in the temple theatres of Kerala by professional actors.
As a result of these hectic activities, dramatic compositions both indigenous and coming from outside Kerala were assiduously copied and preserved. The spade work of great savants like Mahamahopadhyaya T. Ganapati Sastri brought to light a number of plays including the thirteen dramas ascribed to Bhasa and the Mattavilasa through the celebrated Trivandrum Sanskrit Series.
It is with great pleasure that I bring out this important contribution of South India together with an English translation. This is a reprint of the 1974 edition (College Book House, Trivandrum) with some revisions and additional notes. A note from my friend Dr. K.G. Paulose is also appended. I am thankful to Nag Publishers for bringing out this edition.
Mahendra Vikrama V Arman-Mahendravarman I also known as Mahendravikrama was perhaps the most outstanding among the rulers of the Pallava dynasty who held sway over a major part of South India during the early centuries of the Christian era. His manifold contributions to literature and architecture have earned him a permanent place in Indian cultural history.
Since the name Pallava appears to be a Sanskritised form of the Middle Persian Pahlava i.e., Parthian, the origin of the family is often traced back to the Parthian adventurers who came to India during the first or second century B.C., and their eventual settlement in the South seems to have occurred during the early years of A.D. The dissolution of the Satavahana empire and the political chaos prevalent in the South gave them an opportunity to establish themselves as a strong political power and soon they found themselves in an impregnable position extending their dominion over a large part of the South. By the time Simhavishnu came to power the dynasty has come to stay and he proved himself to be its real founder ruling the tract between the rivers Krishna and Kaveri, having established his court at Kancipuram.
The greatness of Simhavishnu as a ruler is testified to by his son Mahendravikrama in the Prologue of his Mattavilasaprahasana in the following words: “Simhavishnu like a mountain which bore the weight of the family of the Pallavas, had overcome all the circles of feudatory princes by his policy, had the prowess equal to that of Indra and had humiliated even Kubera, the lord of the heavenly wealth by his benevolence, greatness and wealth”. This is corroborated by a veiled reference to Simhavishnu contained in the Avantisundarikathasara of Dandin, whose great-grandfather was partronised by the king.
Mahendravikrama the son and successor of Simhavishnu, who flourished between 580-630 A.D., was a notable figure as a solider, poet, musician, architect, and religious reformer.” A host of inscriptions and rock-cut caves strewn all over the South bear testimony to this genius who gloried himself as Vicitracitta in addition to assuming many other titles. These titles found in his inscriptions reveal his astonishing variety of accomplishments rarely equalled by any other ruler.
‘Vicitracitta’-Mahendravikrama has proclaimed on various occasions that his accomplishments are myriadfold. Thus the Sutradhara in the prologue of his Prahasana is made to narrate that:
“Wisdom and bounty, mercy, dignity,
comeliness, skill in arts, and guilelessness,
Trust, valour, courtesy-such qualities,
Finding no place in this our iron age,
Have made in him their common home, as blend
In Nature’s origin, the Primal Spirit,
Creations fragments when the aeon ends”.
Further he states that ‘from him good poet’s verses win high reward though they are not of a high quality, for he himself is a poet of considerable merit.” That this enumeration of the qualities given by the Sutradhara is no exaggeration is proved by the living monuments of the author still available in the South. As has been pointed out, his inscriptions give considerable information on the various aspects of his diverse qualities and interests.
The Religion in Mattavilasa
Mattavilasa on the Kerala stage
Cast of characters
Index of verses
Table of metres
Consecration of the actor- by N.P. Unni
Mattavilasa in performance- by K.G. Paulose
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