Mysterious king shUdraka
Great rulers in Indian literary tradition
Indian literary tradition has a rather telescoped view of post-epic history. By epic history we might consider the period circumscribed by the rAmAyana, the bhArata and the harivaMsha and the period before the post-bhArata king lists of the purANa-s. In the period following the epics literary tradition accords a few kings with almost legendary status and tends to conflate their histories and legends in a peculiar fashion. Here the curtain is raised with udayana a scion of the old pANDu lineage. After this, we are led to the cycle of the evil and depraved king nanda and his end at the hands of chANakya and his student chandragupta, who replaced nanda as the emperor of bhArata. Then we are anachronistically informed about vikramAditya and his vetAla siddhi-s. His glorious reign is ended by the tree-riding shAtavAhana (shAlivAhana), the andhra, who then replaces him as the grand emperor in India. Then shAtavAhana’s has his chance to face the axe at the hands the brave shUdraka, who lives an exalted life of 100 years and 10 days in a court studded by some of the greatest writers to the age. Then we have break in the turn of the royal reel, only to resume with harShavardhana firmly ensconced in sthAnIshvara with his brilliant courtier bANa. Thereafter, we transit to bhojadeva in whose court we see an anachronistic assembly of poets of all eras, even as he trumps the bygone heroes by ascending vikrama’s throne and capping the head of the kAvyapuruSha with his sarasvati kaNThAbharaNa. With him a the forbidding green curtain was drawn over Indic tradition, though we hear of the occasional celebration of regimes, such as that of the vikramA~Nka of the chAlukya-s or the dynasty of the rAthoD-s. This is in short is the legendary landscape of Indic literary tradition. Of the rulers mentioned here there is not much doubt about the historicity of any of them. At least nanda, chandragupta the maurya, one or more shAtavAhana-s, vikramAditya the gupta emperor, harsha and bhoja are studied in textbooks of history as rulers of note. The general consensus is that these historical figures indeed supply the foundations of the eponymous figures in Indic legend. Of course there is the much debated problem of the anachronism of vikramAditya (and a related problem of the date of kAlidAsa, both of which we shall not dilate upon right now). This notwithstanding, there are other elements supporting the historicity of the said rulers. But the only ruler who hardly seems to find mention from a historical standpoint is the king shUdraka. Most textbooks of history, at best, mention him as a playwright renowned for his mR^ichChakaTika, which is often described as one of the most innovative plays in Hindu tradition. Yet they might even fail to remark that tradition holds him to be a king in the same league as the above.
In this regard the purANa-s, the much reviled source of early Indian history, are not very different. While the andhra-s or shAtavAhana-s find a prominent place in their terminal account of the dynasties of the kaliyuga, there is no mention shUdraka as being the cause of their end [Footnote 1]. Indeed the core of the paurANika narrative appears to have ended with the shAtavAhana-s – e.g. the matsya purANa records them as the last dynasty. Some old paurANika vaMsha-s appear to have been extended to include some brief accounts of successor states of the andhra-s, such as the nAga-s, the shrIparvata-s, AbhIra-s and early gupta-s; they are hardly the subject of any detailed account. More pertinently, they do not mention shUdraka as being among the glorious successor kings. Interestingly, the core paurANika accounts also do not mention vikrama in connection with the andhra-s. Thus, we may conclude that the literary tradition of the kAvya-s and nATaka-s are not entirely congruent with the purANa-s. So was this legendary king shUdraka all legend after all? This is a question which arrested our attention since our days of childhood.
The legend of the shAtavAhana emperor
To get a hang of this issue we may first look into shAtavAhana with whom literary tradition connects shUdraka. The shAtavAhana of literary tradition might be a composite of more than one andhra emperor, synonymized under the dynastic name. A number of notable andhra kings are recognized by the purANa-s and epigraphic records who may be the prototypes of the shAtavAhana of literature. Indeed, the synonymy of multiple shAtavAhana emperors in literary tradition appears to be echoed by the much later jaina polymath hemachandra sUri in his deshI-nama-mAlA who gives, shAtavAhana [shAlivAhana], sAlana, hAla, kuntala as a list of synonyms. In literary tradition he tends to come as a single figure of outstanding significance, who founded the era in which we live (at least south of the narmadA). For example, we commonly hear the verse:
yudhiShThiro vikrama-shAlivAhanau tato nR^ipaH syAd vijayAbhinandanaH |
tatastu nAgArjuna bhUpatiH kalau kalkI* ShaDete shaka-kArakAH smR^itAH || from ananta’s play
[*karkI in the rhotacizing version]
Thus, tradition explains that the kaliyuga is marked by 6 kings starting with yudhiShThira. He was followed by vikrama and shAlivAhana thereafter. About 16000 years in the future it is said that the ruler vijayAbhinandana would found a new era after he has ousted the mlechCha-s from the sindhu. After that in Bengal nAgArjuna would start a new era and finally the kali yuga would be brought to an end by the coming of kalkI at shambala. Similarly, shAtavahana is mentioned again with vikrama in another verse composed in the paramAra court after the death of bhojadeva:
dhAtar-bhartar-ashesha-yAchaka-jane vairAyase sarvathA
yasmAd vikrama shAlivAhana mahI-bhR^in mu~nja bhojAdayaH |
atyantaM chira-jIvino na vihitAste vishvajIvAtavo
mArkaNDa dhruva lomasha prabR^itayaH sR^iShTAhi dIrghAyushaH ||
Here the poet states that dhAtR^i must really not like poets who live off patronage (yAchaka-s) because while he has granted a long life for the ascetics like mArkaNDeya, dhruva and lomasha, he as not granted a long life for the kings vikrama, shAlivAhana, mu~nja and bhoja [who were great patrons of literature].
Literary tradition uniformly records this shAlivAhana as being not just a great patron but also a notable prAkR^ita poet who composed the sattAsai or the subhAShita-kosha as bANAbhaTTa calls it.
Who was shUdraka: some ideas prevalent among historians
This illustrious shAtavAhana was the one whom shUdraka is supposed to have superseded. So, what do we known about him within the literary tradition? Firstly, he is said to have been the subject of a historical narrative, the shudraka-kathA by the poets rAmila and somila which has unfortunately been lost. In the absence of this key narrative, the common practice among historians, who have tried to find history in shUdraka, is to interpret the available data thus: 1) Since he is said to have been the nemesis of the shAtavAhana-s he should be found among the successor states of the said dynasty. 2) Since his locus of activity is described as avanti and mAlava, he should be located among the northern successor states of the Andhra-s rather than those taking their place in the core zone. 3) In his play mR^ichChakaTika he has a character named Aryaka, who is described as a gopAla-dAraka (son of a cowherd) who seizes the throne of avanti by overthrowing the king pAlaka. This is taken to refer to the AbhIra cowherds overthrowing the shAtavAhana-s. In this regard the authority of certain purANa-s, which state that 10 AbhIra rulers spanning 67 years ruled after the shAtavAhana-s, is used to support the proposal. 4) His name “little shUdra” literally means he was a shUdra; hence, he was an AbhIra (since these cowherds are traditionally regarded as a shUdra group). So, it was concluded that shUdraka was one of the AbhIra rulers and is usually identified with either shivadatta or his son Ishvaradatta. As circumstantial support for this proposition it has been stated that like the AbhIra kings who were votaries of rudra, shUdraka also always specifically invokes rudra at the beginning of his literary works [note the use of the phrase “sharva prasAdAt” in his regard]. Again the date of the skanda purANa in kaliyuga saMvatsara-s [Footnote 1] is taken to support the AbhIra identification of shUdraka.
However, other than the potentially important historical marker in shUdraka’s play of the conquest of avanti by a cowherd king, much of the above speculation does not hold up to close historical analysis. The AbhIra-s of the region are recorded primarily in the context of the kShatrapa-s of western India. We first encounter them as backers of the kShatrapa rudrasiMha in his quest for the throne – they, under their general rudrabhUti, aid him in displacing the kShatrapa jIvadAman from the throne (Gunda inscription of ~181 CE). Some time thereafter (but before 191 CE), the abhIra chief Ishvaradatta, the son of shivadatta, displaced the rudrasiMha to become lord of avanti for some time. This probably corresponded to the coup of the gopAla-dAraka Aryaka mentioned in the mR^ichChakaTika. However, it should be noted that at this time the shAtavAhana-s were far from overthrown – in fact a reasonably powerful andhra ruler shrI-yaj~na-shAtakarNi held his sway throughout this period and was able to seize the northern Konkan from the kShatrapa-s. Thus, at least the historical marker in the mR^ichChaTika is best identified with the brief AbhIra conquest of avanti from the kShatrapa-s. It can in no way be taken as the conquest of avanti by the AbhIra-s from the shAtavAhana-s to end their reign. Hence, the whole identification of shUdraka with one or the other AbhIra king appears rather facile.
Literary tradition on shUdraka
Now, we may turn to look more closely at the literary tradition itself to better understand the material on shUdraka. We currently possess three major works are attributed to shUdraka – the mR^ichChakaTika, the monologue (bhANa) known as padma-prAbhR^itaka and the vINA-vAsavadattA. Of these the former two are best preserved, and the first of them offers the most in terms of information relevant to our quest. Firstly, it should be noted that in addition to the gopAla character Aryaka, who finally becomes king by staging a coup, there is another reference in the mR^ichChakaTika that might connect him to the kShatrapa rudrasiMha. In the 8th act of the play, the rogue shakAra (saMsthAnaka) is about to murder the heroine, the public woman vasantasenA, in the park, when she states that if only her lover the brAhmaNa chArudatta saw her he would rescue her. To this saMsthAnaka mockingly replies in the vulgar prAkR^ita (note shakAra is depicted with a speech defect; perhaps he was of Iranian descent with a bad accent making s->sh):
kiM she shakke vAlIputte mahinde laMbhAputte kAlaNeMI shubandhU |
ludde lA.A doNaputte jaDA.u chANakke vA dundhumAle tisha~NkU || (in 8.34)
He asks if her lover is indra, or the son of vAlin, the son of the apsara raMbhA or the asura kAlanemI or subandhu or the king rudra or ashvatthAman or jaTayu or chANakya or dundhumara or trisha~Nku. Here the mention of the king rudra rAjan (ludde lA.A) is rather telling in the context of the cowboy coup mentioned elsewhere in the play. It is a reasonably strong piece of evidence that indeed the coup of Aryaka is modeled on the AbhIra coup on the kShatrapa rudrasiMha. Other circumstantial evidence is the praise of rudra and skanda by Aryaka’s host upon his successful takeover of the throne – this is consonant with the epigraphic evidence supporting the mAheshvara affinities of the AbhIra rulers:
jayati vR^iShabha ketur dakSha-yaj~nasya hantA
tadanu jayati bhetta ShaNmukhaH krau~ncha-shatruH | (in 10.45)
In terms of location while prathiShThAna is not the center of the action there is a mention of durgA as sahyavAsinI (the goddess of the sahyAdri-s) rather than the usual vindhyavAsinI (in 10.36). This supports the origin locus of the play in dakShiNApatha. Thus, one might conclude that the play as we have it was probably composed after the AbhIra conquest of the kShatrapa-s and in the Deccan region.
However, there are some other features in the play that make the picture more complex. First, the play’s prefatory statement has a posthumous eulogy of shUdraka. So, clearly the play appears to have been redacted after his death. What we do not know is the degree to which it was redacted. This makes a direct inference of the *author’s* age based on historical events in the play somewhat uncertain. This is further emphasized by two issues: 1) The plot of the play appears to exist independently in another play termed the dAridra-chArudatta which is attributed by some to bhAsa. This implies that redaction of the existing story line that characterizes this play by different authors is something that has happened in the early Indian theater. This allows us to raise the question as to how far the version we have represents directly represents shUdraka’s contribution. 2) The prAkR^ita verse quoted above mentions subandhu. Now, there is only one famous subandhu in Indic literature – the author of the vAsavadattA romance. That subandhu is generally taken to be a much later author because he refers to the nyAya intellectual udyotakAra who post-dates the nAstika intellectual din-nAga. So, if the vAsavadattA as we have it is subandhu’s original work then we are faced with a further chronological tangle with respect to shUdraka.However, this problem vanishes if we accept the position of Hindu literary tradition on subandhu [Footnote 2].
The preface of the mR^ichChaTika describes shUdraka thus:
dviradendra gatish chakora-netraH paripUrNendu-mukhaH suvigrahash cha |
dvijamukhyatamaH kavir babhUva prathitaH shUdraka ityagAdha satvaH ||
He had the gait of an elephant the eyes of a partridge, his face beamed like the moon and he had a well-built body. He was a chief among the dvija-s and a kavi who was known as shUdraka. His good was unfathomed.
api cha |
R^igvedaM sAmavedaM gaNitaM atha kalAM vaishikIM hastishikShaM
j~nAtvA sharva-prasAdAd vyapagata-timire chakShuShI chopalabhya |
rAjAnaM vIkShya putraM paraMa-samudeyana-ashvamedhena cheShTvA
labdhvA chAyuH shatAbdaM dasha dina sahitaM shUdrako .agniM praviShTaH ||
he knew the R^ig, the sAman, mathematics, the sexual arts and elephant training and by the grace of sharva his eyes were never covered with darkness. He placed his son to rule after him and sought to perform the most difficult ashvamedha ritual. After having obtained a life of 100 years and 10 days he was cremated.
api cha |
samara-vyasanI pramAda shUnyaH kakudaM veda-vidAM tapodhanash cha |
paravAraNa bAhu yuddha lubdhaH kShitipAlaH kila shUdrako babhuva ||
He was swift in battle and free from drunkenness. He was the pinnacle of the veda-knowers and the possessors of tapasya. He was keen to engage with his arm the enemy defenses, such was the king shUdraka.
While this portraiture might be seen as aiming to convey the all-round brilliance of shUdraka in the three puruShArtha-s, it has one peculiar element: Although shUdraka is a brAhmaNa, his royal status, and his physical and military prowess are emphasized in addition to his traditionally brahminical pursuits of scholarship [Footnote 3]. These points are consistently emphasized by all the other authors in Indian literary tradition who refer to shUdraka. These accounts include that of daNDin, who lists shUdraka as one of the old authors whom he respects – he describes him an a universal conqueror twice over – once with his weapons and again with his literary compositions. The Kashmirian historian kalhaNa mentions him in his rAja-taraMgiNi as being one who was firm in wielding weapons and also a learned man. Several saMskR^ita literary critics invariably mention him as a famous literary figure and/or a warrior – these include bANa in his kAdaMbarI, kulashekhara in his tapatisaMvaraNa, bhUShaNa in his chandrApIDa katha. While his early biographies by rAmila and somila, and also one by pa~nchashikha, have been lost we have account two notable accounts of his life. The escapades of shUdraka with his two women vinayavatI and harimatI and his subsequent marriages with them are narrated by daNDin. On the other side his brave deeds are narrated in a somewhat corrupt and fantastic fashion by ananta, which includes an interesting textual reference of shUdraka’s magical voyage to the American continent (krau~ncha-dvIpa). Comparable accounts of the deeds of shUdraka are also available from the jaina works, the kalpa-pradIpa by jina-prabha sUri and the chaturviMshati prabandha of rAjashekhara jaina. Further material is offered by bhatta-somadeva in his kathA-sarit-sAgara, rAjashekhara (the Hindu one) in his kAvya mImAmsa and hemachandra sUri. The general narrative regarding shUdraka that can be reconstructed from these accounts goes thus:
A brAhmaNa named harisharman sought the audience of the great andhra emperor shAtavAhana but was beaten up and driven out by his guards. The brAhmaNa seeking to punish the king performed a rite to viShNu to obtain a son who would kill shAtavAhana [Footnote 4]. This son was shUdraka, who was orphaned shortly after his birth. His maternal uncle became his guardian and shUdraka rapidly acquired considerable proficiency in various intellectual spheres even as a child. But unlike most other brAhmaNa children, he displayed extraordinary physical strength and proficiency with the bow, quarterstaff and sword. Once shAtavAhana and his vIra-s had a show of strength in pratiShThaNa. They were to lift a large and heavy rock with their hands. Most vIra-s could only lift it by a thumb or two thumbs breadth, but shAtavAhana lifted it up to his knees. It was then that the young shUdraka strode in there and easily lifted the stone and threw it in the air. It broke into three pieces and one fell in the nAgahrada and another at the cross of the highways between uttarApatha and dakShiNApatha. Amazed at this feat shAtavAhana made shUdraka the chief of this guards. His vIra-s afraid of his power asked that he only be given a quarterstaff and no other weapon. However, with just this weapon he was able to stave of the vIra-s when they once tried to break into the king’s fort in pratiShThana. Once the shAtAvAhana kingdom was invaded by the chiefs dUrgarAja and chUrNarAja but they were defeated and subjugated by shUdraka who lead the army. The king then made shUdraka his prime minister.
At this point things get fantastic and an asura called mAya took the form of a brAhmaNa and entered the palace of shAtavAhana to seize his wife ana~Ngavati. But shUdraka with his magical abilities was able to see the asura and beheaded him. But he was accused of brahmahatya and asked to go into exile. He then showed that head of the asura could still speak and tried to absolve himself of the accusation. The head was then taken to the inner chambers to entertain shAtavAhana’s women. But the head of the asura alone was able to regain its power and seize ana~Ngavati. Carrying her, the asura flew across the eastern ocean over the dvIpa-s of suvarNa and finally landed in krau~nchadvIpa where he imprisoned her with the help of his brother the asura mAtra. The king’s court accused shUdraka of having abducted the queen. He vowed to get her back in two months. Accordingly he performed a great tAntrika ritual to kAlikA who showed him via the dUradR^iShTi prayoga that the queen was imprisoned in krau~nchadvIpa. She asked him to perform another rite of the jAla-chakra of 64 yogini-s to help he reach the most distant continent. The yoginI-s pleased by the ritual gave him an invisibility turban, flying slippers, a magical sword and control over a vetAla, who would be his assistant. With these accouterments shUdraka flew over the ocean and the islands and reached krau~nchadvIpa. There his vetAla was able to lead him to a dense forest in the midst of which in a stone fort was imprisoned the queen. He scaled the fort and under the cloak of invisibility conferred by his turban he reached the asura-s and killed them after a tough fight with his sword. Then, he flew back with the queen and returned her to the king. Then she gave birth to a son svAti and a daughter shakti. After this the shAtavAhana who had ruled justly till then lost his mind and started seizing and sexually enjoying women from each of the 4 varNa-s and a dreadful intestinal disease was spreading through the land. Alarmed at this, the brAhmaNa-s turned to shUdraka, who had just then returned from his escapade in which he had gained two wives, one of whom was a mAlavan princess.
shUdraka overthrew shAtavAhana, made his son svAti the king, and cured the land of the disease [Some versions say that the brAhmaNa-s invoked a terrible yoginI of the name karNakumArI in a lump of flour and she seized shAtavAhana and drowned him in the nAgahrada]. Then shUdraka despite his loyalty to the shAtavAhana house was attacked by svAti. In a great showdown in northern Maharashtra shUdraka bolstered by troops from beMba, the avanti prince, routed the army of svAti, took him captive and performed the ashvamedha ritual. He then reinstated svAti as the king with his own son to watch over him. Some accounts state that finally shUdraka himself was killed and eaten by a brahma-rAkshasa. Yet others state that finally at the age of 100 years and 10 days he surrendered himself to death. The jaina versions state that he would attain jina-hood in his next birth as he has been enlightened by a jaina AchArya curiously named kAlika.
shUdraka as a historical figure
The vividness of the shUdraka character suggests to me that beyond doubt that he was a significant historical figure, who somehow slipped through the cracks. It is from accounts such as the above we are now left to piece together his history. At the most basic level we can confidently reconstruct shUdraka as having been a brAhmaNa minister of a shAtavAhana king. While he overthrew the rAjan, it appears that in all likelihood he did not found a dynasty of his own as many accounts mention him as eventually restoring the kingdom to the son of shAtavahana. This would imply that we should not expect to find in the paurANic king list and also that he is unlikely to be found among the successor states of the shAtavahana-s. Regarding his date two main scenarios present themselves. In the first option, we make the assumption that, other than the preface, much of the mR^ichChakaTika was indeed shUdraka’s own work. If this were the case, then we have the temporal marker of Ishvaradatta overthrowing the kShatrapa rudrasiMha and also the mention of the nANAka coin with the image of the Sumerian goddess nAnA, who was syncretized with the Iranian aredvI sUrA anAhitA. This would place shUdraka after 190 CE. Thus, he could have overlapped with yaj~na-shAtakarNi or his immediate successor. It is conceivable that under yaj~na-shAtakarNi’s immediate successor the shAtavahana-s declined allowing the takeover of the kingdom by shUdraka followed by the establishment of puppet rulers.
However, this scenario has a potential problem leading to an alternative – the successor of the shAtavAhana king is given as being svAti. There are several svAti-s in the dynasty, but none of them are recorded after yaj~na shAtakarNi’s reign. The first of them might have come to the throne around 57 BCE and the last of them around 86 CE. The last of the svAti-s was preceded (by a few generations in the purANa-s) by hAla who is identified with shAlivAhana who is typically the locus of the shUdraka narratives. He is generally believed to be the shAtavAhana ruler who tried a naval attack on shrI lankA, the one in whose court the paishAchI bR^ihatkatha was presented, and the author of the sattAsai. Hence, he could fit into the role of the legendary king shAlivAhana whose reign was truncated by shUdraka. A related possibility is suggested by bANabhaTTa’s record in the harShacharita that shUdraka was instrumental in the conquest of the chakora province from chandraketu. We have a short-lived king in the paurANic king lists (e.g. matsya purANa), in the generations immediately after hAla, named chakora-svAti, who could well have been named so because he was in possession of the chakora province. His predecessor, a certain sundara-shAtakarNi whose reign was also rather short. It is possible that the short reign of sundara shAtakarNi marks the the period of the rise of shUdraka, his eventual conquest of the chakora province and finally his return of the throne to the andhra-s under svati along with the chakora province. These consideration would place shUdraka earlier in time, approximately between 50-86 CE. But these proposals would need us to sacrifice the mR^ichChakaTika as we have it as being shUdraka’s un-redacted work.
My own speculation is that the shAlivAhana legend developed first around hAla but started accreting material from other shAtavAhana rulers. Thus, hAla and a svAti down in his lineage were telescoped as father son pair. In the development of the shAlivAhana legend, hAla provided the inspiration for a scholarly king encouraging literary activity. His valiant successor gautamiputra shAtakarNi supplied the image of a valiant shAtavAhana who took the andhra-s to great heights. The image of the criminally sexual king appears to have been transferred from an earlier shAtavahAna ruler kuntala-svAti who is mentioned in the kAmasUtra as killing his wife with scissors during his violent sexual activities. Finally, it conceivable that the historical shUdraka emerged to crush but not displace the andhra-s after the reign of yaj~na shAtakarNi. As a result he was then superimposed onto the shAlivAhana legend that was amalgamated from various earlier shAtavAhana monarchs. However, I find it equally likely that he was earlier and associated with the apparent dip in the shAtavAhana regimes following hAla. Given the evidence for multiple recensions of the chArudatta play, I will not be surprised if the extant mR^ichChakaTika is a redaction of shUdraka’ version that happened about a century after him.
Appendix: shUdraka and the thiefs
The mR^ichaChakaTika is invaluable in being one of the few surviving sources of the mysterious shAstra that is said to have been revealed by kumAra for the benefit of chora-s and taskara-s. In chapter 3 of the play the brAhmaNa thief sharvilaka is shown citing several usages from this shAstra. He sights some dirt thrown up by a gnawing rodent and calls it a portent of success for the sons of skanda, i.e. thieves. He then goes on to cite various precepts of that had been taught by skanda regarding how a wall must be breached during a burglary. Importantly, during the process he applies a magical invisibility ointment and utters a mantra to kumAra. This mantra is a version of the same found in the extremely rare ShaNmukha-kalpa, one of the earliest surviving kaumAra tantras:
namo varadAya kumAra-kArttikeyAya | namaH kanaka-shaktaye brahmaNyadevA devavratAya | namo bhAskara-nandine | namo yogAchAryAya yasyAhaM prathamaH shiShyaH | tena cha partituShTena yoga-rochanA me dattA |
Then applying the ointment he utters:
anayA hi samAlabdhaM na mAM drakShyanti rakShiNaH |
shastraM cha patitaM gAtre rujaM notpAdayiShyati ||
Then again before entering through the breach he utters “namaH kArttikeyAya |”.
The parallels with the ShaNmukha-kalpa found in this play, along with the several mantra-archaisms of former text itself, suggest that this kaumAra tantra was likely in place before around 200 CE. This is further indirect evidence for our proposal that key elements of the shaiva mantra mArga had their origins in the archaic kaumAra tantra-s whose knowledge considerably declined thereafter.
In this context we might note some curious incidents regarding shUdraka’s life narrated by daNDin. While shUdraka was trying to enter the palace of the princess vinayavatI, he was caught by the men of the king of mAlava. While he escaped and succeeded in eloping with her initially, the mAlava rAjan captured his daughter and took her back, leaving shUdraka to wander in the forests of the Satpura mountains. Here he was captured by dacoits and taken to their lair. There he greatly enamored the dacoit chief’s daughter AryadAsI, who selflessly released him from their clutches. Then he tried to enter mAlava again when he was captured by the men of the rAjan as a dacoit and was to be sentenced to death for various crimes. At this point vinayavatI saves him and the two escape and get married. The intimate knowledge of the chaurya-shAstra and the character of the peculiar saMskR^ita speaking brahminical thief suggests that indeed there might be some historicity to the narrative of daNDin. It is likely that these elements come from shUdraka’s own version of the play and were related to his time spent with the dacoits.
Footnote 1: There is a suggestion that shUdraka has been mentioned in the vulgate skanda purANa 126.96.36.199. Based on the dynastic list his age is specified as kali 3290 ~ 188 CE. This reference is unfortunately somewhat uncertain because the name shUdraka is not reliably preserved across the manuscripts or recensions. In any case the date is tantalizing, given his identification by former historians with an AbhIra king. However, it should be stressed that the SkP text is very clear in calling him an andhra/andhra-bhR^itya.
Footnote 2: Hindu literary tradition, like the accounts of daNDin and abhinavagupta, present subandhu as living in the court of bindusAra the son of chandragupta maurya. subandhu is said to have been captured by bindusAra in course of his campaigns, but captivated by his work, vAsavadattA, bindusAra released him and made him his minister. This is supported by the legend recorded in certain colophons of the vAsavadattA that subandhu was the nephew of vararuchi through his sister. Tradition tends to hold vararuchi as being in nanda/chandragupta maurya’s court. Finally, the ma~njushriya mUlakalpa states that while ‘vi’ was the brAhmaNa adviser of chandragupta ‘su’ was the adviser of bindusAra – viShNugupta chANakya and subandhu. This fits well with the mention of chANakya and subandhu together in the mR^ichChakaTika. This raises the possibility that works of previous authors like subandhu might have indeed been redacted or reworked giving artificially latter dates. A similar process could have happened for the mR^ichChakaTika too.
Footnote 3: pR^ithividhara (an AchArya of the shaMkara maTha), the famous commentator on the mR^ichChakaTika, opines that shUdraka was a kShatriya. However, this characterization is a faulty interpretation of the preface that goes counter to all the other testimonies regarding shUdraka (see above). The name shUdraka appears to have been taken as an ironic screen name, keeping well with his sense of humor displayed in the mR^ichChakaTika (note saMsthAnaka’s “murder” of the bhArata and the rAmAyaNa). Indeed daNDin reveals his real name to be indrANigupta. This also rules out the speculation that shUdraka was an AbhIra shUdra.
Footnote 4: This incident might be compared to a similar incident in the origin story of the kadaMba dynasty, wherein the brAhmaNa mayUrasharman of kA~nchipuraM raised an army to defeat the pallava-s after he had been roughly manhandled by pallavan cavalrymen.