Charudatta is an impoverished Brahman, who is one of the central characters in Sudraka’s play Mricchakatika. Sudraka presents Charudatta as a noble and sensitive man, of respectable social position. His state of poverty is a result of his charitable nature, which is also shown as a positive trait. The word Charudatta means the one whose manner of giving charity is always beset with nobility. Charudatta is the incarnation of nobility. He bows down before the courtesan’s mother with nobility, welcomes the smallest office of the court with nobility and also offers his necklace to Vasantsena in the place of her stolen ornaments with nobility.
According to Bharata’s Natyasastra, there are four types of heroesor Nayakas: Dhirodhata (brave and haughty), Dhiralalita (brave and sportive), Dhirodatta (brave and generous) and Dhiroprashanta (brave and calm). Judging from Charudatta’s innate nature and qualities he may be classified as a Dhirodatta Nayaka, with added qualities of calmness at some points. Sudraka was a highly innovative writer who improvised on many of Bharata’s rules. In matter of characterization too, especially in the delineation of the hero, Sudraka attempted to go beyond the exact categorizations laid down.
As the play begins, Charudatta is shown to be in a gloomy mood, talking about his friends who have left him because of his poverty. His loyal companion Maitreya is seen as a merry support who tries to enliven him. The first act serves as an exposition to establish Charudatta’s calm and melancholic nature. At the same time, his treatment of Vasantasena shows his chivalrous generosity. As the play progresses, other qualities of Charudatta come to light. In the storm scene he is shown to be full of poetic imagination:
“The untimely storm afflicts the blackened sky
And the wistful lover’s heart”
He goes on to describe the clouds, the rain and the lightening with beautiful imagery and simile. His poetry is born out of his biraha, his longing for his lady-love Vasantasena.
One might argue that it is not noble for a married man to have desire for a woman other than his wife. In the first act we find Charudatta feeling ashamed of himself when he openly admires Vasantasena, thinking that she is another man’s wife: “I may not gaze upon another’s wife”. However, Maitreya assures him that he should not feel shame because Vasantasena is a courtesan. When the play was written, having a relationship with a courtesan or prostitute was sanctioned by society. It was not considered to be a sinful act, even for married men. Later, in the play, we also see that Charudatta’s wife sees this relationship as a socially licensed one. However, it must be remembered that the voice of the woman was hardly expressed at that age.
Some might question Charudatta’s claim to hero is mon another ground as well. He is a very passive character. In his relationship with Vasantasena, he does not actively initiate anything. He lets things happen to him He accepts his fate, even when he faces death. However, despite his passivity, he is at the centre of the plot and his presence is highly important. Again, he shows a unique confidence in his abilities to please Vasantasena even without any wealth.
Charudatta’s passive acceptance of death sentence was perhaps caused by his feeling that he did not wish to live without Vasantasena. The news of her death robbed him of any will to survive. Yet, before the final moments, he wished to see his son. His vatsalya, his love for his child is shown in a very emotional light. At the same time, he wishes to protect his child from the pain of watching him die. He wants his son to be taken away from the site of execution.
Charudatta is a man of strong self-confidence. Maitreya tells him that Vasantsena is going to demand from him something more than her ornaments. He coolly replies, “Let her come. She will return fully satisfied. Now his love for her is beyond control. When she comes, he hugs her as the tightening does the cloud. When Maitreya convey him Sakara’s treat, he simple says, “He is a fool” He is ready to face any danger for the sake of her love. Dr. De rightly remarks, “The most outstand feature of is character his deep love for Vasantsena”. Keithalso observes, “He loves Vasantsena with affection free from all mere passion”.
Charudatta is presented as a sensitive, noble man. He plays no active role in the revolution going on during that time. However, Sudraka’s story is not a Nataka, but a Prakarana. The play is not about royal revolution or history. It is about a common man, his love, his disappointments and his common sphere of existence. From this perspective, Charudatta is indeed the hero or Nayaka of Sudraka’s Mricchakatika. It is said about Kalidasa’s character, “His heroines are more attractive and charming then the heroes”. The opposite is the case with Sudraka. His heroes are most pleasant and charming the heroines. Dr. Ryder says, “In the case of Charudatta, his character lives in a sen win which Dushyanta or even Ram can hardly be said to live.”