Malavika and Agnimitra is the earliest of Kalidasa’s three dramas,and probably his earliest work. This conclusion would be almostcertain from the character of the play, but is put beyond doubt by thefollowing speeches of the prologue:
Stage-director. The audience has asked us to present at this springfestival a drama called Malavika and Agnimitra, composed byKalidasa. Let the music begin.
Assistant. No, no! Shall we neglect the works of such illustriousauthors as Bhasa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel anyrespect for the work of a modern poet, a Kalidasa?
Stage-director. You are quite mistaken. Consider:
Not all is good that bears an ancient name,
Nor need we every modern poem blame:
Wise men approve the good, or new or old;
The foolish critic follows where he’s told.
Assistant. The responsibility rests with you, sir.
There is irony in the fact that the works of the illustrious authorsmentioned have perished, that we should hardly know of their existencewere it not for the tribute of their modest, youthful rival. ButKalidasa could not read the future. We can imagine his feelings ofmingled pride and fear when his early work was presented at the springfestival before the court of King Vikramaditya, without doubt the mostpolished and critical audience that could at that hour have beengathered in any city on earth. The play which sought the approbationof this audience shows no originality of plot, no depth of passion. Itis a light, graceful drama of court intrigue. The hero, KingAgnimitra, is an historical character of the second century beforeChrist, and Kalidasa’s play gives us some information about him thathistory can seriously consider. The play represents Agnimitra’sfather, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, as still living. As the seatof empire was in Patna on the Ganges, and as Agnimitra’s capital isVidisha — the modern Bhilsa — it seems that he served as regent ofcertain provinces during his father’s lifetime. The war with the Kingof Vidarbha seems to be an historical occurrence, and the fight withthe Greek cavalry force is an echo of the struggle with Menander, inwhich the Hindus were ultimately victorious. It was natural forKalidasa to lay the scene of his play in Bhilsa rather than in thefar-distant Patna, for it is probable that many in the audience wereacquainted with the former city. It is to Bhilsa that the poet refersagain in The Cloud-Messenger, where these words are addressed to thecloud:
At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest
With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow,
With village trees alive with many a nest
Abuilding by the old familiar crow,
With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples’ darker show.
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 longdeparted, nor can we see why the poet should have chosen his hero andhis 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 theprologue, the characters of the play are these:
AGNIMITRA, king in Vidisha.
GAUTAMA, a clown, his friend.
DHARINI, the senior queen.
IRAVATI, the junior queen.
MALAVIKA, maid to Queen Dharini, later discovered to be a princess.
KAUSHIKI, a Buddhist nun.
BAKULAVALIKA, a maid, friend of Malavika.
NIPUNIKA, maid to Queen Iravati.
A counsellor, a chamberlain, a humpback, two court poets, maids,and mute attendants.