A new play by Kâlidâsa is announced. The first performance is to take place at the Spring Festival, and will be the event of the Ujain season. The citizens are proud of their great poet, and declare with enthusiasm that, in beauty of language and truth of sentiment, no other Indian drama can vie with Shakuntala. It is King Vikrama's gracious pleasure that the play shall be acted at the Royal Castle. The excellent company, the author's high repute, the patronage of the Court, the gladdening springtime, and the elaborate scenic preparations happily combine in a promise of great success. The splendid music-room of the castle, generally used for Court concerts and recitals, has been made ready for the performance of Shakuntala. The heavy folding-doors, now replaced by a brocaded stage curtain, lead to the central court where a large audience can be accomodated. A circular range of stately marble columns round which fresh garlands spirally ascend gives the open court a classical appearance. Sculptured busts of gods and kings rest, in the interjacent niches, on massive stands of blue porphyry, behind splashing cascades ornamented with quaint shellwork. The royal tent is pitched in the middle of the court. Its rich cloth is of Syrian scarlet, bordered with gold, and lined with palegreen cashmere. The six posts which support it are overlaid with beaten silver. Around their base, and in front of the stage, is a profusion of choice flowers and tropical foliage, tastefully arranged in the national colors of Ujain. The Imperial standard is waving from a flagstaff erected by the side of the theatre. The curtain folds are held together by a handsome ruby and diamond clasp,--the letters U and V, initials of the city and the King, being daintily interlaced in the time-hallowed nâgari or urban script.  The clasp is to be presented to the poet, for the Râja knows how to honour literary merit.
At last the festive morning dawns. The orchestra plays behind the stage, and, amid the opening bars of the prelude, King Vikrama enters, regally adorned with diadem and purple, and surrounded by his aides-de-camp and high State functionaries. The vassal kings are seated on his right, the Queen and her ladies on the left of the throne. One lady-in-waiting holds a golden lyre and a wreath of immortelles and evergreen, the Queen's souvenir for the laureate. The crimson liveries and peach-coloured waistbands of the black slaves who serve refreshments are pleasantly relieved by the cool-looking lawn dresses, pearl necklaces, and diamond tiaras of the Court beauties. The palace court swarms with distinguished guests. Ministers and savants, brahmins and kshatriyas, the cream and flower of Ujain society, are promenading or lounging, chatting and laughing. Here are some excited politicians, eagerly discussing the impending war with some rebellious hill tribe in Nepal, and there is a group of fine gentlemen tattling over the latest society scandal or to-morrow's cock fight. In a quiet corner the ringing voice of Varâha-Mihir may be heard; the astronomer-royal is speaking to a calm-looking, white-bearded Persian. On the opposite side, the sparkling eyes and broad forehead of Amara Singh are conspicuous. That famous Court lexicographer, who stoops slightly, is just handing the final portion of his Sanskrit Dictionary to a Buddhist friend, who has come all the way from the South of China to undertake the translation of the precious manuscript. But now the gay hum dies away into silence. And exquisite trio on flute, guitar, and harp is finished, and youthful choristers, pure-toned as silver bells, sing praise to gods, and greeting to King and clergy. Then the stage manager comes forward, pronounces a short benediction, and begs the illustrious audience in humorous verse to lend a kindly ear to the entertainment. The King's chamberlain unclasps the costly gem, and two figurantes draw aside the folds of the curtain. Admiring interjections and the clapping of hands testify that the beautiful woodland scene with which the play opens is highly appreciated. The gurgling of a swollen brook hurrying down the hillside and wild screams of waterfowl are heard in the distance. The golden rays of the morning sun fall through the branches of some fine old trees upon the noble features of King Dushyanta. Dressed in sombre russet, he alights from his hunting-car, bow in hand, and adresses his charioteer in eloquent Sanskrit verse. The background of the stage is raised, and represents a sacred grove with Kanva's peaceful hermitage. Two nut-brown maids in rustic garb are watering the thirsty plants in the tidy garden. The stage herald, holding a long staff of mimosa wood in his hand, so that he may conveniently point to the various objects which he means to explain, now announces Shakuntala, the heroine of the play. A thrill of excitement runs through the spellbound audience. Will the actress satisfy or disappoint their high expectations? But there she comes, clad in a plain frock of matted bass which veils and yet reveals her lovely form. The rounded lines of the girlish face, her large soft eyes and long downy lashes, the graceful neck and delicate arms, the heaving of her but ill-imprisoned bosom, the expressive attitudes and natural gestures, win every heart. She opens her lips, and her mouth speaks music. Vikrama's Court trembles with delight and deep emotion. Shakuntala, the latest play by Kâlidâsa, is henceforth enrolled among the immortal creations of the world's poetry.
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