By Harṣa and Bhāsa
Translated by Andrew Skilton

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Two plays that break the rules: both show the hero dying on stage, a scenario forbidden in Sanskrit dramaturgy. From widely different ideological and social backgrounds, each evokes intense emotion in an exploration of love and heroism, conflict and peace, idealism and pragmatic reconciliation.

Harsha’s Play, composed in the seventh century CE, re-examines the Buddhist tale of a magician prince who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save a hostage snake (nāga).

Shankha·chuda:
So, if we deserve your sympathy, think of a plan so that my mother here will not give up her life tortured by my disaster.
Hero:
What needs planning here? The plan is already conceived. But it depends on you.
Shankha·chuda:
In what way?
Hero:
If you want her living, when you dying she’d die
And you living she’d live, then save yourself with my life.

I am the plan. So give me the victim’s mark quickly, so that I can put it on and get up on the slaughter stone.

Attributed to Bhasa, the illustrious predecessor to Kali·dasa, “The Shattered Thighs” transforms a crucial episode of the Maha·bhárata war. As he dies from a foul blow to the legs delivered in his duel with Bhima, Duryódhana’s character is inverted, depicted as a noble and gracious exemplar amidst the wreckage of the fearsome battle scene. As ignoble man dies a hero’s death.

376 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-4066-8  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-4066-9  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Indian Religions, University of Cardiff.