Malavika and Agnimitra is the earliest of Kalidasa's three dramas, and probably his earliest work. This conclusion would be almost certain from the character of the play, but is put beyond doubt by the following speeches of the prologue:
Stage-director. The audience has asked us to present at this spring festival a drama called Malavika and Agnimitra, composed by Kalidasa. Let the music begin.
Assistant. No, no! Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhasa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kalidasa?
Stage-director. You are quite mistaken. Consider:
Not all is good that bears an ancient name, Nor need we every modern poem blame: Wise men approve the good, or new or old; The foolish critic follows where he's told.
Assistant. The responsibility rests with you, sir.
There is irony in the fact that the works of the illustrious authors mentioned have perished, that we should hardly know of their existence were it not for the tribute of their modest, youthful rival. But Kalidasa could not read the future. We can imagine his feelings of mingled pride and fear when his early work was presented at the spring festival before the court of King Vikramaditya, without doubt the most polished and critical audience that could at that hour have been gathered in any city on earth. The play which sought the approbation of this audience shows no originality of plot, no depth of passion. It is a light, graceful drama of court intrigue. The hero, King Agnimitra, is an historical character of the second century before Christ, and Kalidasa's play gives us some information about him that history can seriously consider. The play represents Agnimitra's father, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, as still living. As the seat of empire was in Patna on the Ganges, and as Agnimitra's capital is Vidisha--the modern Bhilsa--it seems that he served as regent of certain provinces during his father's lifetime. The war with the King of Vidarbha seems to be an historical occurrence, and the fight with the Greek cavalry force is an echo of the struggle with Menander, in which the Hindus were ultimately victorious. It was natural for Kalidasa to lay the scene of his play in Bhilsa rather than in the far-distant Patna, for it is probable that many in the audience were acquainted with the former city. It is to Bhilsa that the poet refers again in The Cloud-Messenger, where these words are addressed to the cloud:
At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow, With village trees alive with many a nest Abuilding by the old familiar crow, With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples' darker show. There shalt thou see the royal city, known Afar, and win the lover's fee complete, If thou subdue thy thunders to a tone Of murmurous gentleness, and taste the sweet, Love-rippling features of the river at thy feet.
Yet in Kalidasa's day, the glories of the Sunga dynasty were long departed, nor can we see why the poet should have chosen his hero and his era as he did.
There follows an analysis of the plot and some slight criticism.
In addition to the stage-director and his assistant, who appear in the prologue, the characters of the play are these:
AGNIMITRA, king in Vidisha.
GAUTAMA, a clown, his friend.
DHARINI, the senior queen.
IRAVATI, the junior queen.
MALAVIKA, maid to Queen Dharini, later discovered to be a princess.
KAUSHIKI, a Buddhist nun.
BAKULAVALIKA, a maid, friend of Malavika.
NIPUNIKA, maid to Queen Iravati.
A counsellor, a chamberlain, a humpback, two court poets, maids, and mute attendants.
The scene is the palace and gardens of King Agnimitra, the time a few days.