?&*!”$%^*!!! What in blazes is this! Forget the meaning, how do you even pronounce this monstrosity?! Read on to find out, but if you’ve somehow managed to not get your tongue into knots trying to say this line aloud, you’ll have seen that it is in perfect śārdūla-vikrīḍita metre :-)
It seems, gentle reader, that we’ve been going soft on you! The last two chapters featured simple, beautiful śloka verses that almost didn’t need a translation, and even before that, we’d been featuring one verse after another to highlight the simple beauty of Sanskrit. Where, we hear you ask, is the storied bombast of Sanskrit’s ornateness that has frightened away poor students for centuries? Where is that oppressive harshness of sound which has been compared to the crackling of burning reeds? Where, in short, is the paisa vasool, if one cannot stupefy and terrorize one’s audience by the sheer power of one’s stentorian (and incomprehensible) speech?
Fear not! In this chapter, we’ll feature three verses that should amply suffice to scare away pretty much everybody. The first one is by Śoṇādrinātha Ḍiṇḍima Bhaṭṭāraka (whose name itself seems like it could do it), a famous court poet of the Vijayanagara empire, when he was asked what he thought of taking up a public challenge:
उक्ति-प्रत्युक्ति-मार्ग-क्रम-परिचयवान् अस्ति कश्चिद् विपश्चिद्
यद्यस्मिन् स्वस्ति तस्मै; बुध-वर-समितौ बिभ्यद् अभ्यागतो ऽभूत् ।
-भ्रूण-भ्रंशी किम् अंभः-फणिषु पतगराट् सम्भ्रमी बंभ्रमीति ॥
ukti-pratyukti-mārga-krama-paricayavān asti kaścit vipaścit
yadi asmin svasti tasmai; budha-vara-samitau bibhyat abhyāgato abhūt |
-bhrūṇa-bhraṃśī kim aṃbhaḥ-phaṇiṣu patagarāṭ sambhramī baṃbhramīti ||
“If there is anyone in this august audience, who is well-versed in the path of argument and counter-argument, let him come forth trembling -- I wish him well [and will take him on; I don’t care to argue with fools]!
After all, does a silly water snake, content to fill its belly with croaking frogs, excite the passions of the mighty Garuḍa (eagle), whose mere sight causes the wives of even the terrible serpent-king to miscarry out of fear?”
Garuḍa is so powerful that even the wives of the serpent-king feel unsafe when he’s in sight; will such a great Garuḍa even bother to fight with some silly water snake? The poet seems to suggest that he too, similarly, won’t bother to even engage with lesser poets!
This verse is in the long Sragdharā meter with 21 syllables per line. Just say it out aloud -- especially the third and fourth lines -- and even if one doesn’t understand a word of Sanskrit, one would feel that something very mighty is being said :-)
From displays of might, we’ll move on to farce. In Mammaṭa’s Kāvya-prakāśa, when classifying verses, he writes that ‘decorative’ verses are the lowest form of poetry. As an example, he cites this:
मृच्छन्-मोह-महर्षि-हर्ष-विहित-स्नानाह्निकाह्नाय वः ।
द्रोहोद्रेक-महोर्मि-मेदुर-मदा मन्दाकिनी मन्दताम् ॥
mṛcchan-moha-maharṣi-harṣa-vihita-snāna-āhnikā ahnāya vaḥ |
droha-udreka-mahormi-medura-madā mandākinī mandatām ||
Just read that aloud for a minute -- it sure sounds like something very major is going on! But if we dig into the meaning,
“May Mandākinī (another name for Gaṅgā) instantly remove your weakness.”
That is the entire message of the verse, for which one has to wait till the last line! The rest is simply three adjectives that describe this Gaṅgā -- svacchanda-ucchalad-accha-kaccha-kuhara-chāta-itara-ambu-cchaṭā-
mṛcchan-moha-maharṣi-harṣa-vihita-snāna-āhnikā “On whose banks the sages happily perform their daily prayers, having their delusions washed away by the beautiful sparkling water dashing against the cavities by the bank”, udyad-udāra-dardura-darī “Whose cavities are full of big croaking frogs” and dīrgha-adaridra-druma-droha-udreka-mahormi-medura-madā “Whose pride is swollen by the waves caused by the massive trees falling in”.
Mammaṭa thought this was a poor verse because there was no point to the grand adjectives being used. In fact, the adjectives only sounded grand -- they were actually just talking of frogs and dead trees and people performing their daily prayers, a very routine thing!
But what would poor Mammaṭa say if he was to learn that in about a millennium from his time, this very same structure, of a loud, bombastic and profound-seeming exterior and a trivial and silly interior, would become the celebrated norm of political discourse? That profound cogitations of economic vision would eventually turn out to be measured in units of gas cylinders, energy policy in promises of coal-blocks to Ayurvedic firms and madams of public houses, and national intelligence strategy in acquiring diplomatic passports for spouses? Maybe he would have conferred exalted praise on it being a futuristic dhvani-kāvya of the highest perspicacity!
Moving on, we have a familiar poet, Veṅkaṭādhvari (who we had featured in chapter 28), having his character Kṛśānu complain about grammarians in his Viśvaguṇādarśa-campū. Just to be helpful, we’ve decided not to sully the verse with modern annoyances like hyphens or punctuation, and instead present it as it would appear on a traditional palm-leaf:
लोपोव्योर्वलिवृद्धिरेचियचिभंदाधाघ्वदाप्छेचटेरि त्यब्दानखिलान्नयन्ति कतिचिच्छब्दान्पठन्तः कटून् ॥568॥
vasmastāhaśicaṣṭunāṣṭurataiṅśaścho 'ṭyaco 'ntyādiṭi | lopovyorvalivṛddhireciyacibhaṃdādhāghvadāpchecaṭerityabdān akhilān nayanti katicic chabdān paṭhantaḥ kaṭūn ||
Before you read any further, it might be a fun exercise to just to see how long it takes to READ this verse out aloud correctly, forget the meaning :-)
The meaning is actually quite simple:
“ [3 lines of sounds that are evidently familiar to Sanskrit grammarians]
-- they spend all their years reciting such harsh sounds!”
This verse is a real gem because those sounds are not arbitrary -- they are all sūtras from Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī! The first 3 lines are entirely made up of sūtras directly taken from the primordial grammar text of Sanskrit, something every grammarian uses every day! Here is the same verse with the individual sūtras, separated out:
"टिड्-ढ-अण्-अञ्-द्वयसच्""चु टू""ङसि-ङसोस्""तिप् तस् झि सिप् थस् थ मिप्
वस् मस् ता""हश् इ च""ष्टुना ष्टुर्""अत इञ्""शश् छो ऽटि""अचो ऽन्त्यादि टि"।
"लोपो व् य् ओर् वल् इ""वृद्धिर् एचि""य् अचि भं""दा धा घ्वदाप्""छे च""टेर्"
इत्यब्दान् अखिलान् नयन्ति कतिचिच् छब्दान् पठन्तः कटून् ॥
"ṭiḍ-ḍha-aṇ-añ-dvayasac" "cu ṭū" "ṅasi-ṅasos" "tip tas jhi sip thas tha mip
vas mas tā" "haś i ca" "ṣṭunā ṣṭur" "ata iñ" "śaś cho 'ṭi"-"aco 'ntyādi ṭi"|
"lopo v y or val i" "vṛddhir eci" "y aci bhaṃ" "dā dhā ghvadāp" "che ca" "ṭer"
iti abdān akhilān nayanti katicit śabdān paṭhantaḥ kaṭūn |
There are a total of 15 sūtras referred to here. If you’re interested in what aspects of grammar they refer to, we’ve ferreted out their references and included links below to an English translation. Be warned though, Pāṇini not light bedside reading!
4.1.15, 1.3.7, 6.1.110, 3.4.78,
6.1.114, 8.4.41, 4.1.95, 8.4.63, 1.1.64,
6.1.66, 6.1.88, 1.4.18, 1.1.20, 6.1.73, 6.4.143
There are about 4000 of these sūtras in Pāṇini’s work, and they were (are) expected to be memorized by every serious student of Sanskrit grammar. Pāṇini’s work defines rules for the correct usage of Sanskrit, at a level of detail and advancement that is unapralleled in the history of languages. Countless people have spent their entire lifetimes studying it. Take for example the longest of the sūtras in this verse -- 3.4.78 -- "tip tas jhi sip thas tha mip
vas mas tā". This is actually a fragment of the full sūtra, which goes, “tip tas jhi sip thas tha mip vas mas ta ātām jha thās āthām dhvam iṭ vahi mahiṅ”. This sūtra defines the verb endings for the simple present tense, for example, as in “bhavati bhavataḥ bhavanti”. The extra consonants at the end (tip, tas) are pre-defined codes that dictate how the ending will apply to different kinds of verbs. In English, we apply verb conjugation rules somewhat by familiarity. For example, we know that the past tense of ‘find’ is ‘found’, so any verb that ends in an ‘-ind’ is likely to have its past tense as a modification to ‘-ound’. This works for, say, ‘bind’, but not for ‘mind’, for which we create an exception. Pāṇini takes this kind of thinking and refines it tremendously, giving a very systematic approach, codified in sūtras like this one. We will explore some of this work in a future chapter.
Veṅkaṭādhvari’s brilliance is in using those very sūtras to compose a nice śārdūla-vikrīḍita verse. To those who don’t know them, it sounds harsh and painful -- exactly the effect the poet wants to convey. To those who do recognize them, it is a wonder that they can be strung into metre. All bases are covered :-)
A PARTING THOUGHT
At one point, the study grammar was held in such high regard that it was often a career choice for thousands of people. As with any such large community, grammar began to be seen as an end in itself, rather than a tool to understand language. We had mentioned in an earlier chapter on Bhaṭṭi (chapter 31) that Sanskrit’s grammar could be compared with an enormous kitchen that had every kind of applicance available; it turns out, many people were simply polishing and re-arranging tools in that kitchen, without using it to cook anything! Kṛśānu offers a similar critique in the next verse:
सूत्रैर् पाणिनि-कीर्तितैर् बहुतरैर् निष्पाद्य शब्दावलिम्
वैकुण्ठ-स्तवम् अक्षमा रचयितुं मिथ्या-श्रमा शाब्दिकाः ।
पक्त्वा ऽन्नं महता श्रमेण विविधा-पूपाग्र्य-सूपान्वितम्
मन्दाग्नीन् अनुरुन्धते मितबलान् आघ्रातुम् अप्यक्षमान् ॥570॥
sūtraiḥ pāṇini-kīrtitaiḥ bahutaraiḥ niṣpādya śabdāvalim
vaikuṇṭha-stavam akṣamā racayituṃ mithyā-śramā śābdikāḥ |
paktvā annaṃ mahatā śrameṇa vividha-āpūpa-agrya-sūpa-anvitam
manda-agnīn anurundhate mitabalān āghrātum api akṣamān ||
“Using Pāṇini’s sūtras of all sorts, these grammarians (śābdikās) create an enormous mass of sound. But that effort is pointless -- they’re not even capable of composing a verse on Vaikuṇṭha [a very obviously well-known object]!
They’re like someone who has cooked a fantastic meal with all kinds of soups and side-dishes,
but who simply doesn’t have the hunger to even smell its goodness!”
This critique transports beautifully to any kind of isolated specialization, which is again one of our celebrated norms today!