It may readily be imagined with what interest, the keen Orientalist received this communication; with what rapidity he followed up the clue; and, when at length his zeal was rewarded by actual possession of a Ms. copy of one of these dramas, with what avidity he proceeded to explore the treasures which for eighteen hundred years had remained as unknown to the European world as the gold-fields of Australia.
The earliest Sanskrit drama with which we are acquainted, the ‘Clay-cart,’ translated by my predecessor in the Boden Chair at Oxford, Professor H.H. Wilson, is attributed to a regal author, King [S’]udraka, the date of whose reign cannot be fixed with any certainty, though some have assigned it to the first or second century B.C. Considering that the nations of Europe can scarcely be said to have possessed a dramatic literature before the fourteenth or fifteenth century of the present era, the great age of the Hindu plays would of itself be a most interesting and attractive circumstance, even if their poetical merit were not of a very high order. But when to the antiquity of these productions is added their extreme beauty and excellence as literary compositions, and when we also take into account their value as representations of the early condition of Hindu society—which, notwithstanding the lapse of two thousand years, has in many particulars obeyed the law of unchangeableness ever stamped on the manners and customs of the East—we are led to wonder that the study of the Indian drama has not commended itself in a greater degree to the attention of Europeans, and especially of Englishmen. The English student, at least, is bound by considerations of duty, as well as curiosity, to make himself acquainted with a subject which elucidates and explains the condition of the millions of Hindus who owe allegiance to his own Sovereign, and are governed by English laws.
Of all the Indian dramatists, indeed of all Indian poets, the most celebrated is Kalidasa, the writer of the present play. The late Professor Lassen thought it probable that he flourished about the middle of the third century after Christ. Professor Kielhorn of Goettingen has proved that the composer of the Mandasor Inscription (A.D. 472) knew Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara. Hence it may be inferred that Lassen was not far wrong. Possibly some King named Vikramaditya received Kalidasa at his Court, and honoured him by his patronage about that time. Little, however, is known of the circumstances of his life. There is certainly no satisfactory evidence to be adduced in support of the tradition current in India that he lived in the time of the great King Vikramaditya I., whose capital was Ujjayini, now Oujein.