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Dandin – Eminent Novelist – Late Sixth Century CE

Dandin, the eminent novelist, lived during the late sixth century CE and he is the author of the famous novel Dasakumaracarita (Story of Ten Princes). He is the master of the akhyayika. An akhyayika, unlike a katha, is a story woven round real people and incidents though the play of imagination is not totally ruled out. In Dasakumaracarita, only eight chapters out of fourteen are attributed to him. He excels in authentic character portrayal not only with the courtly world of kings and aristocrats – familiar characters in Sanskrit epic poetry – but subaltern characters such as courtesans, unfaithful wives, crooked priests, hypocritical ascetics, rogues, rakes, idlers, etc. In a way then he is the forerunner of 20th century realism in literature. The novel mainly consists of experiences of ten princes who help a king to regain his kingdom.

Each prince tells a story of his experiences and these invariably include romantic encounters. One prince reports – “The fawn-eyed damsel abuses me of carrying a hard heart. When she met my gaze in the garden, she straightaway stole my heart and took it home with her. Let her judge whether it be soft of hard.”

Another sets himself up as an astrologer. One prince, Apahara Varman talks of his attempts at robbery. He says: “…I studied every house in the city, with emphasis on wealth, occupation and character. Then in a darkness black as stain on Shiva’s neck, clad in the concealment of a black cloak, girded with sharp sword, provided with a varied kit – scissors, tweezers, dark lantern, measure tape, hook, rod – I raided the house of a miser.”

There is a description of a sleeping princess seen by one of the princes – “The instep of her left foot nestled beneath the right heel. The ankle showed a slight, outward sweep. The calves lay close together. The dainty knees were bent. The thighs had a graceful curve. One soft and shapely arm lay languidly over the hip. The other comely arm was bent so that her open, flowerlike hand rested beside her cheek. Over the swell of the hip, clung close the shit of Chinese silk. The generous breasts, like two budding blossoms, trembled in rhythm with each deep breath. One earring lay sung, peeping from beneath a lovely ear half-hidden, while the ornament of the other ear which was wholly visible, darted pencils of light, gilding the ribbons in the loose hanging hair that they casually braided. The slight parting of two red lips was hardly noted by eyes intent on the innate beauty of each. Shadowed in the mirror of her upper cheek, the bed’s gay canopy glowed like a cosmetic tint. Upon her forehead the beauty spot of sandal paste was loosened by little invading pearls of weariness. Like vines that stretch towards the moon, the locks of hair curled towards her face.”

Other than the mentioned texts, Avanti Sundari Katha is also attributed to Dandin.

It is not clear whether the Dandin the poet who wrote Kavyadarsa on poetics is the same one as the Dandin of Dasakumaracarita (Story of the Ten Princes). Scholars are divided in their opinion as to whether Dandin is the author of both works – the one in verse and other, a novel, in prose. According to one view, Kavyadarsha was written at the beginning of the 8th century and the Dasakumaracharita late in the 6th century (588 CC).