The Abhinjanasakunthalam is regarded as the very first Indian play to be translated into a western language. After the translation by Sir William Jones, there were about forty six translations in twelve European languages. Some English translations are “The Fatal Ring: an Indian drama” by Sir William Jones, “The Lost Ring: an Indian drama “by Sir Monier Monier Williams and “Sakuntala and other works” by Arthur W. Ryder.
In the thesis by Tripti Mund , it is mentioned that the Abhinjanasakunthalam contains over two hundred verses. These verses are mostly uttered by the major characters. The language spoken by them is Sanskrit. The division of language spoken by the character is according to the social status. Vidushaka speaks Prakrit, Maharastri is spoken by high class women, children and royal servants. The other attendants of the royal palace speak Magadhi. The low class people like cowherds, robbers, gamblers speak varieties of prakrit like Abhiri, Paisaci and Avanti. ( Mund 24, 25) The themes for any Sanskrit play are usually from history or epic legend. But the dramatist mixes it up with his own fictitious inventions like Kalidasa has done it many places in his Abhinjanasakunthalam.Order now
The play commences with Nandi followed by the prologue wherein the stage manager with his wife or assistant introduces the actors and informs the audience of the play. Apart from religious festivals, marriage, birth the Sanskrit stage adhered to the high ideals of Indian culture. The theme of the play is based on the Indian philosophy that true love is immortal. Rabindranath Tagore has explained this theme of love in Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and says that Kalidasa has shown that while infatuation leads to failure beneficence achieves complete fruition, that beauty is constant only when upheld by virtue, that the highest form of love is the tranquil, controlled and beneficent form, that in regulation lies the true charm and lawless excess, speedy corruption of beauty. He refuses to acknowledge passion as the supreme glory of love; he proclaims goodness as the final goal of love. (krishnamachariar 590)
As mentioned before most Sanskrit plays begin with a prayer or a Nandi. The Nandi is essentially addressed to a deity. For Kalidasa it was Lord Siva. According to the essay by Lockwood and Bhatt, classical dramatists have taken the body of verse and infused it with genetic elements and this is the first source of the organic continuity in the structure of a Sanskrit play. The Nandi is thus an embryo of the play. (Lockwood & Bhatt 1)
A mere read through would not reveal the inner meanings of the Nandi because many ideas are just suggested, which makes it all the more complex for even a well read reader to grasp. The meanings become clearer as the play proceeds. Following this the sthapaka suggests the story by a simple beginning or by naming the character, as in Sakuntalam. The sthapaka then pleases the audience with songs descriptive of some seasons. The Prasthavana is of two types- the Prarochana and the Aamukha. Here the sutradhara holds conversations with the actress or the assistant, bearing on the subject.
The classical Indian idea of drama is that of a work representing the march of the three worlds. Bharata speaks of it as a sacrifice. This idea comes from the Purusa sukta of the Rg-Veda , where the whole world is seen as a sacrifice. According to A. Berriedale Keith, Indian tradition gives drama a divine origin and close connections to the Vedas. (Keith 12). The most potent idea of the drama being a sacrifice appears in the Nandi or the prologue. There are two important levels of suggestiveness- cosmic creation, which is seen in the purusa sukta of the Rg-Veda and pro-creation, also mentioned in the Rg Veda.
In Sakuntalam, “the Nandi begins with a reference to the foremost creation of the creator which suggests the Waters (the female) at the cosmic level Sakuntala, the daughter of an apsara, at the erotic- procreative level.” (Bhatt-pg 18) the first two clauses of the Nandi therefore suggest the union of fire and water, implying also the structure of drama as a sacrifice since fire and water are inevitable elements in a sacrifice.
Since according to the Natya – Sastra, the Nandi should hint at the characters in the play proper and through words and meaning at the dramatic plot, the two clauses refer to Sakuntala and Dusyanta respectively identified with water and fire, the two principles of creation. The sutradhara or the director of the play and the nati or the heroine is to be reborn as the hero and the heroine later in the play proper. Nandi is followed by the sutradhara’s speech to the nati which is connotative of the sringara rasa. Implied meanings can be found in plenty in the verses which come after the sutradhara’s speech. For instance, the verse uttered by the nati when asked by the sutradhara to entertain the audience by singing a song about the summer season, explicitly states the pleasures of nature in early summer but at a higher level it also has a suggestive sexual implication. The song also is a prelude to the happenings towards the end of act three.