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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published online by De Gruyter July 4, 2022

Plumbing the depths: reading Bhavabhūti in seventeenth-century Kerala

Andrew Ollett ORCID logo and Anand Venkatkrishnan


Nārāyaṇa, a student of Mēlputtūr Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa, wrote a commentary on Rāma’s Last Act (Uttararāmacaritam) by Bhavabhūti that “must be counted among the more careful and perceptive ever produced for a Sanskrit play” (Pollock). This essay examines the ways in which Nārāyaṇa related local meanings (of words, phrases, sentences, and verses) to the themes of the play as a whole, which Nārāyaṇa called its “deeper meanings.” Nārāyaṇa belongs to a tradition of literary commentary in Kerala that combined a sensitivity to and appreciation for dramatic art with deep scholarly knowledge. His attention to the complex emotions of the play’s characters, and to the development of heart-rending motifs—reliving the past, betrayed intimacy, the involution and intensification of experience—allows readers to appreciate Bhavabhūti’s play as one of the greatest portrayals of the experience of love in world literature.

Corresponding author: Andrew Ollett, Division of the Humanities—SALC, University of Chicago, 1130 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637-1511, USA, E-mail:


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Received: 2021-08-31
Accepted: 2022-01-31
Published Online: 2022-07-04

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