Your assignment is to read Abhinjnanasakuntalam (The Recognition of Sakuntala) plus its related notes. Begin by reading the biographical note in the front of the book, the Introduction, Sections I, III, VI, VII, X, and XIII and Appendix III on pp. 320 & 321. There are two kinds of notes in this book. Terms which are used in more than one of the works are explained in alphabetical order in the glossary on pp. 283-305, and other notes on the play appear on pp. 334-339 as well as in footnote. Be sure to use these notes to explain obscure references, etc. The claim that the ancient Athenians invented drama may hold true for the West, but Indian writers argue that theater was highly developed even earlier in Sanskrit. No plays survive from those early times, however, and the dates of Kalidasa, the greatest of the Sanskrit playwright, while much disputed, are clearly centuries later-perhaps a millennium later-than Aeschylus and his fellow tragic writers. Abhijnanasakuntalam and Kalidasas other plays were written for a refined court audience. The dialogue of the upper-class characters was delivered in Sanskrit, the classical language, and that of women and commoners in prakrit, the common speech. Despite these lofty origins, Kalidasas plays have remained popular.
There is no tradition of tragedy in India, and Kalidasas plays always have happy endings. In Hinduism, everyone has an infinite number of chances to achieve enlightenment and liberation from the wheel of rebirth. A life that ends badly is only a prologue to another opportunity. Hence the basic premises on which tragedy is based are lacking. Sakuntala is by far the best-known of Kalidasas plays. In Delhi there is a modern auditorium called the Sakuntalam Theater. The play was translated into German and English in the 18th Century, and greatly impressed the great poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who created a version of the story in German and helped to spread knowledge of Kalidasa in the West. The initial consonant is pronounced sh, and you will often see the title rendered as Shakuntala. Just as ancient Greek drama was part of a religious ritual (honoring Dionysus), so there is a religious aspect to classical Hindu drama. The play begins with a hymn of blessing which would have been sung rather than recited. The play would have been enhanced throughout by dances and songs. The Benediction is addressed to Lord Siva in his eight Rudras, or forms, mentioned each in turn and listed in the footnote on p. 169. The Creator is Brahma, who otherwise plays little role in Hindu devotions. Note the insistence on the multifaceted nature of the divine, so different from the Islamic insistence on its unity. For the devout Hindu, this play is more than a captivating love story: it is a religious drama on at least two levels. On the simplest level it teaches the doctrine of karma, that our experiences are influenced by our acts earlier in this life and in past lives. It ...
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