Frozen sentiments: The transformation of Kālidāsa’s Drama to sacred art at the Cālukya Court

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Saran Suebsantiwongse


Bas-reliefs of scenes from the epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata are extremely common in temples all over India, but depictions of scenes from a Sanskrit play (mahānāṭaka) in places of worship are virtually unheard of. A few bas-reliefs at the Lokeśvara Temple and the Trailokyeśvara Temple at Paṭṭadakal depict scenes centring around a female figure, who is arguably Śakuntalā. The story of Śakuntalā is first mentioned in Book I of the Mahābhārata and was subsequently dramatised by Kālidāsa in the 5th century CE in a Sanskrit play called the Abhijñānaśākuntalam. From a comparison of these bas-reliefs with the aforesaid texts in the original Sanskrit, it is evident that they match the storyline in the play better than that of the epic. Apart from corroborating the probability that these reliefs may have been inspired by a medieval Sanskrit play, this article also explores the artistic relationship between the Cālukya kingdom and the famous Sanskrit playwright Kālidāsa, as well as the possible connection between medieval Indian temple architecture and the Nāṭyaśāstra, a Sanskrit treatise on dramaturgy. The result demonstrates that the works of Kālidāsa were known and cherished by the Cālukya royal figures, some of whom memorialised them in stone, in an unusual form of temple iconography in the two temples at Paṭṭadakal.


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