The Little Clay Cart

By Śūdraka
Translated by Diwakar Acharya
Foreword by Partha Chatterjee

The Little Clay Cart

The “Little Clay Cart” is, for Sanskrit drama, atypically romantic, funny, and thrilling, replete with love, humor, courage, and intrigues. As Wilson put it, the ten-act play is “in many respect the most human of all the Sanskrit plays. There is something strikingly Shakespearian in the skilful drawing of characters, the energy and life of the large number of personages in the play, and in the directness and clearness of the plot itself.” One of the earliest Sanskrit plays, “Little Clay Cart” was created in South India, perhaps in the seventh century CE. The plot unfolds in the city of Ujjain, but so secular and universal is the story that it can be situated in any society in any period.

The leading character Charu·datta, a married merchant reduced to poverty, is extramaritally involved with a wealthy courtesan, Vasánta·sena. The king’s vile brother-in-law, unable to win Vasánta·sena’s love, strangles her, and accuses Charu·datta in the court. Under the villain’s influence the court decides the case hastily and condemns Charu·datta to death. Fortunately, our heroine rises from the dead to save her beloved, and everyone applauds their love. At this culminating moment, there is regime change, and the rebel-turned-king makes Charu·datta lord of an adjacent city.

Charu·datta in despair:
Comfort following hardship shines resplendent, Like seeing a lamp in darkness deep, But a man reduced to need from fortune’s state Lives dead—alive only in keeping up his frame.

Vasánta·sena on the way to her lover’s in a rainy day:
Oh cloud, you are shameless! First you frighten me as I rush to my lover’s, And now touch me with your hands, your shafts of rain!

Libertine says to Vasánta·sena:
If you get angry, you have no love, But without anger how can passion arise? Be angry and make him angry, but very soon Be soothed and soothe your lover.

674 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-0729-6  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-0729-7  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation


Act 8: “Vasánta·sena Strangled”
(pp. 327–39; 8.1–63)
(20 pp, 0.57mb)

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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).

You can set Adobe Acrobat Reader to display the Sanskrit text and translation in facing page view. Simply go to “View” in the toolbar, select “Page Layout” and click on “Facing.”

About the Translator

Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University, Japan.

About the Foreword Writer

Partha Chatterjee is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. His most recent publications include A Princely Impostor? The Strange and Universal History of the Kumar of Bhawal (2003) and The Politics of the Governed: Popular Politcs in Most of the World (2004).