Unlike the Vikramorvasiya and the Sakuntala, the Malavikagnimitra is simply and solely a drama. Though the very first dramatic composition of Kalidasa, it is the composition of one who possessed the highest dramatic sense. That it is the very first of Kalidasa's plays hardly requires any elaborate argument to prove. The Prologue shows the young dramatist apologetically asking to be excused for his obtrusion into the realm of the dramatic art which Bhasa and Saumilla and Kaviputra held in esteem. This Prologue reveals a novice's modesty which is—naturally enough— absent in the prologues of the other two plays which came after Kalidasa's fame as a dramatist was already established.
A brief account of the the plot.
A maid-servant of Dharini, the eldest queen of King Agnimitra, is carrying a ring with the image of a snake on it, when she meets another, Bakulavalika by name, who was going to Ganadasa, the dancing-teacher, to enquire how Malavika, the young girl recently placed under him, was progressing in her dancing lessons. The conversation that ensues between the two reveals how the King once went to the studio where the queen was inspecting a fresh portrait of hers with Malavika's figure drawn prominently among the servants. On seeing this figure of a stranger, the King asked who she was. The queen hesitated to reply but the child princess Vasumati (who was a sister to the queen) interposed : "Sir it is Malavika." Thenceforward the queen took greater precautions to keep Malavika away from the eyes of her husband. The maid-servants then go their own way. Then enters Ganadasa in a mood of self-exaltation : "Of course, every one thinks highly of his hereditary lore. But it is no idle sense of importance we cherish regarding 'the representational art. For, sages look upon it as a lovely visual sacrifice to gods; it was divided into two by Rudra in his own body which was shared by Uma. Herein are seen the actions of the people inspired by the three Qualities and varied in sentiments. Indeed Natya is the one common means of entertaining people, however widely their tastes might differ." He speaks with admiration about Malavika's intellectual gifts and shows a natural curiosity about her identity and antecedents. Bakulavalika informs him that Malavika was sent as a 'present' to the queen by her step-brother, Virasena, who was a commander in charge of a frontier-fortress on the banks of the Narmada.
In the next scene the King is seen looking into state affairs in consulation with his minister and ordering military operations against the Vidarbha King, who had not sent a satisfactory reply about the release of his own cousin, Madhavasena, who was attacked and taken prisoner by Vidarbha officers while he, along with his younger sister, was on his way to Agnimitra's capital with a view to offering her hand to him in marriage. The state business over the Vidusaka arrives "our minister in charge of another department," as the King describes him. The Vidusaka informs the King about the plan he had thought out—and even put into execution—for satisfying his desire to see Malavika in person. Just then they hear angry voices behind the curtain, whereupon the King remarks to the Vidusaka, "Friend, here's the tree of your good stratagem putting forth blossoms!" Ganadasa and Haradatta, both dancing teachers enjoying the patronage of the queen and the King respectively, have quarrelled among themselves; so they come to the King and request him to test them in their art and adjudge their relative merits. The King, however, declines to act as the judge as he might be suspected of partiality for his own protege, Haradatta. He therefore decides that the contest must be held in the presence of the queen, too. The queen arrives there in the company of the learned nun Pandita Kausiki The latter is invited to officiate as the Judge. The queen smells some deep-laid, plan in the whole affair but much against her will she consents to the holding of the contest. The nun Parivrajika (as she is called) rules that in view of the perfect mastery on the part of the two contesting dancing-teachers over their art, their relative merits must be adjudged in terms of their ability and skill in imparting their art to others; and therefore each one was to give an exhibition of his art through his pupil. Naturally, Ganadasa staked his all on Malavika of whose superb qualities he was in no doubt whatever. The arrangements in the theatre are made : the sound of the drums is heard, and the royal party leaves for the theatre to witness the demonstration.
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