The long-forgotten colophon of Sanscrit 715 Mudrārākṣasa

Viśākhadatta’s Mudrārākṣasa, variously translated as “Rákshasa’s Ring”, “The Signet Ring”, or “Signet Rākṣasa”, is a unique Sanskrit drama set during the reign of Candragupta Maurya, in the 4th century BCE. As G. V. Devasthali notes, it is the only work “in the whole of Sanskrit dramatic literature [to have] a mainly political theme”1 . But beyond its historical significance, it is also simply a great story, as Dániel Balogh introduces it:

A parade of secret agents, deadly poison damsels, hidden escape tunnels and tricks within tricks serve to entertain the audience or reader, and the play is as action-packed and grave as any modern cloak-and-dagger novel.2

For more than a century, the standard version of the text that scholars use has been the 1912 critical edition of Alfred Hillebrandt. And although Hillebrandt consulted dozens of sources for his edition — including manuscripts, commentaries, and previous printed editions — the most important among these is the manuscript at the BnF: Sanscrit 715, previously shelved as Bengali 117, which he calls the Codex Parisinus.


BnF Sanscrit 715, folio 1, recto

BnF Sanscrit 715, 1r. Courtesy of the BnF.


Hillebrandt describes this as the “best preserved” manuscript that he consulted, and much of his critical text is based on it. And yet, in an article from 1885, as well as in his preface to the 1912 edition, he states that the manuscript is undated. Curiously, he does not seem to have noticed the colophon at the end, which gives the date. Now, more than a hundred years later, the TST project is pleased to present to you this long-forgotten colophon.

It is difficult to overstate the influence of this single manuscript on the scholarly discourse around the text and the author of the Mudrārākṣasa. As Balogh points out, even the name of Viśākhadatta’s father, Bhāskaradatta, seems to be found only in this manuscript.


BnF Sanscrit 715, folio 1, verso, detail

BnF Sanscrit 715 1v, detail. Courtesy of the BnF.

sāmantavaṭakeśvaradattapautrasya mahārājabhāskaradattasūnoḥ…

folio 1 verso, line 4

Moreover, this reading was so influential that later editions were revised to adopt the name bhāskaradatta that Hillebrandt deemed to be correct, even though no other witness has this reading.3

But given the importance that Hillebrandt gave to this manuscript, and his presumably careful study of it, how did he miss the colophon?

It is possible that Hillebrandt was not working with this manuscript directly. In his 1885 article, he states that he was able to consult a copy of the manuscript from Christian Lassen at the University of Bonn; perhaps that copy did not include the colophon. In fact, the description of the manuscript that he gives in the article,  „zwar undatirt, aber alt und anscheinend recht sorgfältig geschrieben,” is not his own, but rather a quotation — it seems to be from a letter sent to him in 1982 by Richard Garbe. However, at the end of the preface to the 1912 edition, Hillebrandt thanks the Bibliothèque nationale “for the long and repeated use of their manuscripts,” indicating that he did, eventually, procure Sanscrit 715 itself. One possible explanation, then, is that he consulted a copy with no colophon in 1885, and then, when he was working with Sanskrit 715 directly, he didn’t check for a colophon again.

It is maddening to realize just how close Hillebrandt was to seeing the date. The last variant reading from this manuscript that he gives, in his critical apparatus, is from the end of line 3, beginning of line 4, of the last page: rantivarmmāḥ.


BnF Sanscrit 715, folio 58, verso

BnF Sanscrit 715, 58v. Courtesy of the BnF.

The date, in bhūtasaṃkhyā form, is in the middle of line 5:

vasvaṅkabālendumite śakābde

Tentatively, this would indicate a Śaka date measured as “vasu, sides, child, moon”, or 1598. Just below it, on line 6, another date is given in Bengali numerals:

śakābdāḥ 1589

BnF Sanscrit 715, folio 58, verso, detail

BnF Sanscrit 715, 58v, detaill. Courtesy of the BnF.


These two dates present a bit of a conundrum. If the first, bhūtasaṃkhyā date had been earlier than the second, then it could have been copied from the exemplar. The second date would then be the date of this manuscript. But here, that would be impossible, barring time travel. Given the similarity between the two dates, the most likely explanation is metathesis; the scribe switched the 8 and the 9 accidentally, in one or the other of the dates. Antoine Cabaton, in his catalaogue entry from 1907, gives a date of 1667 CE, which corresponds to Śaka 1588/1589.

The colophon ends with a verse that closely resembles Śvetāśvara Upaniṣad 4.5, although it is not a perfect match. Rather, the version we have here is the first maṅgala verse of the Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī:

ajām ekāṃ lo­hi­ta­śu­kla­kṛ­ṣṇāṃ ba­hvīḥ pra­jāḥ sṛ­ja­mā­nāṃ na­mā­maḥ |

ajā ye tāṃ ju­ṣa­mā­ṇāṃ bha­ja­nte ja­ha­ty enāṃ bhu­kta­bho­gān nu­mas tān ||

folio 58v, lines 6-7

Here it is, rendered into English, by incredibly prolific Ganganatha Jha:

Reverence to the One Unborn, Red, White and Black, producing many children

and also to the Unborn Ones Who have recourse to Her, and renounce Her on having enjoyed the pleasures afforded by Her.


Suggested citation

Li, Charles. 2021. “The long-forgotten colophon of Sanscrit 715 Mudrārākṣasa.” Texts Surrounding Texts: Satellite Stanzas, Prefaces and Colophons in South-Indian Manuscripts (Paris BnF and Hamburg Stabi collections). 23 January.

Charles Li

Charles is the resident postdoctoral researcher at the TST project in Paris.

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  1. Devasthali, G. V. 1948. Introduction to the study of Mudrā-Rākṣasa. Bombay: Keshav Bhikaji Dhavale. p. 54. []
  2. Balogh, Dániel. 2015. A Textual and Intertextual Study of the Mudrārākṣasa. PhD Thesis. ELTE BTK, Indoeurópai Nyelvtudományi Tanszék. p. 8. []
  3. Balogh 2015, p. 17 []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Charles Li (January 23, 2021). The long-forgotten colophon of Sanscrit 715 Mudrārākṣasa. Texts Surrounding Texts. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from

Charles Li

Charles is the resident postdoctoral researcher at the TST project in Paris.

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