(Last Updated on : 29-11-2011)
Ashvaghosa is regarded as the earliest Indian dramatist who was also a Buddhist scholar of great fame. According to traditions Ashvaghosa was originally a Brahmin
who adhered to the Sarvastivada school of Buddhism
. He was however later on attracted by the doctrine of Lord Buddha
and became one of the four runners of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. As per the emblems of his own work his mother was Suvarnaksi.
Plays of Ashvaghosa
Ashvaghosa's famous work is the Buddhacarita, a court epic in excellent style and spirit on the life of the Buddha. He is also said to be the author of the Sutralankara and Mahayanasraddhopada. The Saundarananda is another famous work of Ashvaghosa, which is in the epic manner devoted to the effective exposition of Buddhism.
Three Buddhist dramas have been discovered from the fragments of manuscripts on palm-leaf, at Turfan. One of them named Sariputraprakarana is ascribed to Ashvaghosa, who was a contemporary of Kanishka
. The drama has nine acts and its theme is based on the events which led up to the conversion of the young Maudgalayana and Sariputra by the Buddha. The drama has a close relation with the classical type as laid down in the Natyasastra
. The other two dramas of the same manuscript may also be attributed to Ashvaghosa because they have the same appearance as the Sariputraprakarana. One of them is allegorical and no earlier specimen of this type of drama than the Prabodhacandrodaya of Kisnamisra is known. In this drama one can find the allegorical figures of Buddhi (wisdom), Kirti (fame) and Dhriti (firmness) appearing and conversing. Ashvaghosa usually confined to religious themes.
The Sutralankara mentions a Buddhacharita that was probably authored by Ashvaghosa. In the conclusion of the composition he mentions the purpose which led him to adopt the Kavya form. Since he makes no reference to any earlier poem Saundarananda can be considered as his first attempt. This poem deals with the legend of the conversion of the reluctant Nanda, his half-brother, by Buddha. He deals with it in the standard manner of the later Kavya. He starts with an account of the foundation of Kapilavastu
that displays his knowledge of heroic tales and mythology.
Ashvaghosa's poem, as far as choice of incident and arrangement are concerned, produces maximum effect. He renders vivid and affecting descriptions to the scenes. It is believed that he is the first Sanskrit dramatist as well as considered as the greatest Indian poet preceding Kalidasa
. He belonged to the group of Buddhist court writers whose epics rivalled the contemporary Ramayana
It was also believed that Ashvaghosa has been the author of the influential Buddhist text Awakening of Mahayana Faith. He is also considered to be the composer of the Mahalankara.