Rákshasa’s Ring

By Viśākhadatta
Translated by Michael Coulson
Foreword by Romila Thapar (To be published in the second edition)

Rákshasa’s Ring

The final, benedictory stanza of this political drama may refer to Emperor Chandra Gupta II (r. c.376-415 CE). Other than this clue to the date of the author, all we know about him is that he came of a princely family, and would have had political experience. The play is set just after Alexander’s invasion of India (c.325 BCE) when the first Emperor Chandra Gupta seized the throne and founded the Maurya dynasty. The exemplary Rákshasa is the loyal exiled chief minister of the deposed dynasty. But his opponent, far from being the villain of the piece, is a kind of super-hero—the inhumanly competent ascetic Kautílya, to whom is ascribed India’s famous handbook for rulers, a precursor to Machiavelli. Kautílya struggles not to destroy Rákshasa but to win him over to be his successor as Chandra Gupta’s chief minister, so that he himself can retire from politics.

Rákshasa [to himself]:
When I think how little Fate has been my ally in the struggle
And how devious has been the plotting of Káutilya,
For all my successful winning of his subordinates,
My nights pass in sleepless bewilderment.

Contriving the first faint outlines of a plot, and then elaborating,
Causing the hidden seeds to germinate unsuspected,
Cleverly managing the crisis, drawing together all the sprawling threads—
In these painful anxieties of creation I am working like a playwright.

385 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-1661-8  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-1661-x  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation


(Act IV, pp197-217)
(28 pp, 2mb)

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Download the title page and table of contents and one chapter of the book (in English and Sanskrit on facing pages), bundled together as a .pdf file. You can also download the CSL Front Matter (6pp, 1.3mb). It describes how we transliterate the Sanskrit text in the Roman alphabet and includes a guide to pronunciation. It also explains our system of representing phonetic fusion (sandhi).

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About the Translator

Michael Coulson (1936–75) taught Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Sanskrit: an introduction to the classical language and Three Sanskrit Plays, translated with an introduction.

About the Foreword Writer

Romila Thapar is Professor Emerita of Ancient Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is the author of numerous books on Indian history, including Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 (Penguin, 2002). Read Forward (pdf)