Shudraka (IAST: Śūdraka) was an Indian king and playwright. Three Sanskrit plays are ascribed to him - Mrichchhakatika (The Little Clay Cart), Vinavasavadatta, and a bhana (short one-act monologue), Padmaprabhritaka.
The prologue of Mrichchhakatika states that its poet was a king renowned as "Shudraka". He had performed Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) to prove his superiority, and immolated himself at the age of 110 years, after coronating his son as the new king. The prologue describes him as a distinguished wise man, who had mastered knowledge of the Rigveda, the Samaveda, mathematics, the Kamashastra and the art of training elephants.
No historical records mention a king by the name Shudraka (which literally means "little servant"). The first four acts of Mrichchhakatika are virtually a copy of the corresponding acts from Bhasa's unfinished play Charudattam. One theory is that the poet of Mrichchhakatika simply finished Bhasa's play out of respect, styling himself as the "little servant" of Bhasa.
A fourteenth century text attributes Mrichchhakatika to a duo, Bhartrimentha and Vikramaditya. The Mrichchhakatika is set in Ujjain. It is known that an Ujjain-based poet by the name Bhartrimentha was a contemporary of Kalidasa; the legendary king Vikramaditya also lived in Ujjain. However, identifying these two as the authors of Mrichchhakatika is chronologically impossible.
According to Farley P. Richmond, Shudraka was simply a mythical figure, and the authorship of the play is uncertain. Others have identifiefd Shudraka as the pen name of an Abhira king from the third century CE, either Indranigupta, or Shivadatta, father of Ishvarasena.
- Banerjee, Biswanath (1999). Shudraka. Makers of Indian Literature. New Delhi, India: Sahitya Academy. p. 4. ISBN 81-260-0697-8.
- Bhattacharji, Sukumari History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Sangam Books, London, 1993, ISBN 0-86311-242-0, p.93
- Farley P. Richmond (1993). Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 55–57. ISBN 9788120809819.
- Warder, Anthony Kennedy (1990). "Chapter XX: Drama in the +3 ; Śūdraka; Contemporary Lyric Poetry". Indian Kāvya Literature, Volume 3 (second ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 3. ISBN 81-208-0448-1.
- Banerjee 1999, p. 9 citing Konow, Sten (1920). Das Indische Drama (in German). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 57.
- Ryder, Arthur William. Translator. The Little Clay Cart (Mrcchakatika): A Hindu Drama attributed to King Shudraka, Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 1905.