प्रसादवन्तो न कृशानवन्तु परन्तु विश्वावसवन्तु सन्तः
(prasādavanto na kṛśānavantu parantu viśvāvasavantu santaḥ)
"May the good men be pleased, and not 'Kṛśānu' my work; instead may they 'Viśvāvasu' it". Note the sonorous internal rhyme of '-nt' sounds. The quoted words are used as verbs, a very curious construction. It is often noted that English has a remarkable dexterity with its verbs -- for example, it's barely been a few years since it became commonly known, and yet "to google" and "to facebook" seem perfectly normal. Sanskrit too has this flexibility. Here, the verbs are created from proper names. So what does 'Kṛśānu'-ing or 'Viśvāvasu'-ing something mean? Read on!
This chapter’s phrase is taken from the Viśva-guṇādarśa Campū ("Mirror to the world's qualities") of Veṅkaṭādhvari. Veṅkaṭādhvari was a southern poet who lived about 400 years ago, near the city of Kanchi. He was a very religious-minded Sri-vaishnavite scholar of the Vadakalai school. He is most famous for his Lakṣmī-sahasraṃ, modeled on Pādukā-sahasraṃ of Vedanta Deśika, whom he greatly admired. He is also the author of the Rāghava-yādavīyaṃ, one of several "anuloma viloma kāvya" (two-way) works in Sanskrit: when read normally, it relates the story of Rama, but when each verse is read backwards, the story of Krishna!
The Viśva-guṇādarśa-campū is a very interesting collection of ideas, some implemented for the first time in Sanskrit literature. It relates the conversation of two Gandharvas (celestial beings) who are roaming all over India in their flying car. One of them, Viśvāvasu, is an eternal optimist who sees only the good in everything. His friend, Kṛśānu is a perennial pessimist and sees only the worst in everything. As they hop from place to place, the poet uses his characters to describe the good and bad in what they see, from places to mythical characters to stereotypes of various regions and professions. Clearly assigning roles to the two characters allows the poet to free himself of having to judge or balance his opinion, and to deliver with full force on both sides. What's more, it helps the poet give a complete picture without getting lost in valuations. In some cases though, it's clear that he enjoyed one side more than the other, usually the negative one!
What becomes apparent very early on is that Veṅkaṭādhvari is a brilliant filigree artist. He excels at the level of words, sounds and internal rhymes. It is also evident that he is a learned poet, and more importantly, a learned man's poet: masterly use of rare grammatical forms, unconventional sentence constructions and complex puns pervade the work. The very prominence of these traits, however, automatically highlight the conspicuous lack of some other good ones. For example, while he excels at micro-artistry, it becomes evident that the poet is no architect. His pair of characters hop around haphazardly all over the country, sometimes covering its entire length in just a couple verses, while sometimes not even moving past two tiny temple-towns over several tens! Contrast this with the meticulous attention to reality in the Meghadūta: not only is the path of the cloud precisely that of a real monsoon, even the locations and flowering of plants is correctly synchronized! Next, while Veṅkaṭādhvari impresses with his scholarly wordplay, the bulk of the subject-matter is distinctly tied to religion, customs and their practice, and his prejudice is sometimes visible. However, on the whole, the work comes out on top and is a valuable addition to Sanskrit literature.
Let's now delve in, and consider a typical dialogue. The pair is flying over Ayodhya, and Viśvāvasu praises Rāma. Kṛśānu immediately shoots back:
वर्षीयान् अपि जानकी-सहचरो मातुस् सपत्न्या मुदे
सम्पन्नं रथ-हस्ति-पत्ति-तुरगैस् संत्यज्य राज्यं निजम् ।
विन्दन् हन्त घनं वनं कथम् असौ न स्याद् अयुक्त-क्रियो ?
गव्यं दुग्धम् अपास्य पास्यति जनः को वा यवागू-रसम् ? ।43।
varṣīyān api jānakī-sahacaro mātuḥ sapatnyāḥ mude
sampannaṃ ratha-hasti-patti-turagaiḥ saṃtyajya rājyaṃ nijam |
vindan hanta ghanaṃ vanaṃ katham asau na syād ayukta-kriyo ?
gavyaṃ dugdham apāsya pāsyati janaḥ ko vā yavāgū-rasam ? |43|
"Even though he was the elder one (and so had a legitimate claim to the throne), just to please a stepmother,
He abandoned his well-endowed kingdom,
And went away into the dark forest, and that too with Sītā -- how can he not be labelled foolish?
Who would throw away fine milk and choose weak rice gruel?"
("stepmother" is actually "mother's co-wife" in the original, which makes the distance even longer; note the internal rhymes apāsya-pāsyati, ko vā-yavāgū)
This may seem like cherry-picking only convenient facts to make an argument, but that's what Kṛśānu's character does. And let's be honest, how many times have we not criticized someone, especially someone we favour, for 'missing opportunities to win' even if there was an ethical trade-off? The choices of historical characters like Prithviraj Chauhan are debated to this day, very much along these lines. "All that theory is fine, but in the real world..." -- how many such lines of justification have we not seen? Kṛśānu is pointing out that a similar motivated reasoning can be applied even when judging a character like Rāma. A little while ago, Kṛśānu had said:
कामं जनास् सन्तु गुणाभिरामाः क्षमा-तले सन्तु युगान्तरेषु ।
कलौ युगे ऽस्मिन् गुण-लेश-वन्ध्यास् सर्वे ऽपि सर्वेतर-दोष-भाजः ।30।
kāmaṃ janāḥ santu guṇa-abhirāmāḥ kṣamātale santu yuga-antareṣu |
kalau yuge asmin guṇa-leśa-vandhyāḥ sarve api sarva-itara-doṣa-bhājaḥ |30|
"Fine, there may be some people here and there, maybe once in a millennium, who delight in positive qualities. [But my dear friend], in this Kaliyuga, everyone, though bereft of even a fleck of virtue, is busy finding everyone else's faults!"
We don't know about you, gentle reader, but Kṛśānu appears more endearing to us than Viśvāvasu at this point!
Viśvāvasu, however, has a fitting response:
गुरोर् असत्योक्ति-निरास-हेतोस् स्वराज्यम् अग्र्यो ऽपि स रामचन्द्रः ।
तृणाय मेने निपुणायते न फणाभृद्-इशो ऽपि पणायितुम् तं ।46।
guroḥ asatyokti-nirāsa-hetoḥ svarājyam agryo api sa rāmacandraḥ |
tṛṇāya mene nipuṇāyate na phaṇābhṛd-iśo'pi paṇāyitum taṃ |46|
(again note the internal rhymes, tṛṇāya...nipuṇāyate, phaṇābhṛd...paṇāyitum-tam)
"In order rid his father of the infamy of having not kept his word, Rāma considered even the mighty kingdom to be a mere blade of grass. It is for this resolve, that even the thousand-headed ādiśeṣa finds himself short when praising his qualities".
Indeed, it is the act of defining one's unique space, and being answerable to a set of principles, that decides a man's character. Merely responding to events as they happen, and opportunistically profiting from them may give one access to some enjoyments. But we instinctively know that that we crave for a higher state of being, one guided by principles. From Alexander to Marcus Aurelius to Suleiman Kanuni, even the greatest conquerors of men have hankered after it. Rama's actions exemplify this higher state.
Viśvāvasu then says,
तथापि तदीय गुणार्णव-कण-एकदेश-कोटि-तम-अंश-कला-मात्रं इदं अत्रभवता श्रोतव्यम् ।
tathāpi tadīya guṇārṇava-kaṇa-ekadeśa-koṭi-tama-aṃśa-kalā-mātraṃ idaṃ atrabhavatā śrotavyam |
"[Even though my capabilities fall short], You should listen to this tiny fraction of a bit of a portion of his ocean of virtues". Note that the pair are very cordial to each other no matter how divergent their views, and humorously poke each other from time to time -- atrabhavān is a respectful term for "you". Their disagreements don't seem to affect their goodwill or estimations of each other at all!
He then goes on for about 20 verses describing Rāma using metaphors that occupy half a sloka each. Some samples:
"The cool-shadowed resting tree for weary travelers on the path of saṃsāra" -- perfectly describes how Rāma and the Rāmāyaṇa are sources of strength and relief to millions of people even today.
"The dousing torrent of water to the forest-fire of Bhārgavā's anger". Note the internal rhymes.
"The mighty fire to the knotty bamboo grove of the wicked Mārīca". Again, the internal rhymes are meticulously constructed!
The pair continue to hop on, and make some interesting observations. When flying over Gujarat for example, Viśvāvasu is amazed by the beauty of the women there. Kṛśānu promptly shoots back, "Certainly, they are most beautiful. But what kind of men are these, that abandon such beauty and go searching for mere wealth to foreign lands?". The stereotype of the commercial-minded, widely-traveled Gujarati was popular even back then! Viśvāvasu then retorts,
मन्दमनीय! स एष पुरुषाणाम् गुणविशेषः, न तु दोषः!
mandamanīya! sa eṣa puruṣāṇām guṇaviśeṣaḥ, na tu doṣaḥ!
"You dolt, that's not a fault, that's a great quality!" and adds:
देशे देशे किम् अपि कुतुकाद् अद्भुतं लोकमानः
संपाद्यैव द्रविणम् अतुलं सद्म भूयो ऽप्यवाप्य ।
संयुज्यन्ते सुचिर-विरहोत्कण्ठिताभिस् सतीभिः
सौख्यं धन्याः किमपि दधते सर्व-सम्पत्-समृद्धाः ।118।
deśe deśe kim api kutukād adbhutaṃ lokamānaḥ
saṃpādyaiva draviṇam atulaṃ sadma bhūyo'pyavāpya |
saṃyujyante sucira-viraha-utkaṇṭhitābhiḥ satībhiḥ
saukhyaṃ dhanyāḥ kimapi dadhate sarva-sampat-samṛddhāḥ |118|
"They go to many foreign lands, see many wonders and learn how the world works;
they earn lots of money, and come back home as rich men.
They get together with their wives, whose love for them would have greatly increased in their separation;
They have every kind of wealth, the blessed ones!"
An abundance of worldly wisdom, money and love -- Viśvāvasu sure has a point! The poet understood very well that worldly wisdom was of a very different nature than wisdom from books, tradition or philosophy. Travelling and overseas trade, even then, were sources of great wealth. And what to speak of the great foresight at escaping the fate of husbands hen-pecked because of over-familiarity? One almost hears the poet's own wistful sighs in these words, being from a very traditional family from the deep south. This masterpiece from an anonymous woman would get bipartisan agreement from his characters, we’d wager:
"Men are like fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it's our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something which you'd like to have dinner with"!
Later on, when flying over the Golconda-Hyderabad region, Kṛśānu remarks that the place is overrun by invading hordes of Muslims of the time, who have destroyed temples and deny the Vedas. It is here that the poet elevates the work to another level: Viśvāvasu has a word about even their good qualities! This kind of an impartiality for such a religious-minded scholar is extraordinary indeed, and is a testament to the power of the observational structure he has chosen:
पिबन्तु मदिराम् अमी परितुदन्तु देशान् अहो
हरन्तु पर-सुन्दरीम् अपलपन्तु वेदान् अपि
तथापि च मृधाङ्गणे तृणवद् एव मुक्त्वा तनुम्
हठाद् विदधते मरुत्-पुर-कपाटिकोद्घाटनम् ।164।
pibantu madirām amī pari-tudantu deśān aho
harantu para-sundarīm apalapantu vedān api
tathā api ca mṛdhā-aṅgaṇe tṛṇavad eva muktvā tanum
haṭhād vidadhate marut-pura-kapāṭikā-udghāṭanam |164| (pṛthvī metre, 17 syllables per line)
"Let them drink liquor, loot the land, kidnap women and deny the Vedas. But on the battleground, they lay down their lives as if they were mere blades of grass, and forcibly enter the same warrior's heaven [that we have ourselves conceived]!"
The magnanimity in thought appears at several other places. Later on, when they are flying over Madras, which already had a sizable European presence, Kṛśānu dismisses the Europeans by an allegation familiar even now, "they are not even clean". Viśvāvasu isn't swayed:
प्रसह्य न हरन्त्यमी परधनौघम् अन्यायतः
वदन्ति न मृषावचो विरचयन्ति वस्त्वद्भुतम् ।
यथा-विधि कृतागसा विदधति स्वयं दण्डनम्
गुणान् अवगुणाकरेष्वपि गृहाण हूणेष्वमून् ।264।
prasahya na haranti amī para-dhana-ogham anyāyataḥ
vadanti na mṛṣā-vaco viracayanti vastu-adbhutam |
yathā-vidhi kṛtāgasā vidadhati svayaṃ daṇḍanam
guṇān avaguṇa-ākareṣu api gṛhāṇa hūṇeṣvamūn |264| (pṛthvī metre, 17 syllables per line)
"They do not take away property by unjustly using force. They don't lie, and produce amazing technology. They are never arbitrary when delivering justice even to one of their own, and follow their rules. Even though they are full of faults, you have to accept these qualities"
This chapter’s phrase appears in the very last verse of the work:
प्रकाश-दोष-प्रचुरे ऽप्यमुष्मिन् ग्रन्थे मदीये करुणानुबन्धात् ।
प्रसादवन्तो न कृशानवन्तु परन्तु विश्वावसवन्तु सन्तः ।597।
prakāśa-doṣa-pracure api amuṣmin granthe madīye karuṇānubandhāt |
prasādavanto na kṛśānavantu parantu viśvāvasavantu santaḥ |597| (upajāti metre, 11 syllables per line)
"Even though this work is filled with all kinds of faults, because of their kindness to me,
May the good men be pleased, and not 'Kṛśānu' my work; instead may they 'Viśvāvasu' it"
The poet's framework serves him to the very end, right down to his sign-off verse!
A PARTING THOUGHT
This chapter’s featured work is a fine mixture of observation and judgment. While keen observation is always unconditionally welcome and enriching, judgment is a much thornier topic. Instructing others based on judgment is even more so:
परोपदेशे पाण्डित्यं सर्वेषां सुकरं नृणां ।
धर्मे स्वीयम् अनुष्ठानं कस्यचित् तु महात्मनः ॥
paropadeśe pāṇḍityaṃ sarveṣāṃ sukaraṃ nṛṇāṃ |
dharme svīyam anuṣṭhānaṃ kasyacittu mahātmanaḥ ||
"When it comes to advising others, everyone's a Pandit. However, when it comes to practicing what is preached, only a rare great soul succeeds.