Alaṅkāra-śāstra’s Debt to Early Indic Resistance Against Islam - 3

This article is part 3 of 5 in the series Alankara-shastra and Islam

Tenth Century CE

With the continuing decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, Arabs continued to hold only a small part of Sindh even after 300+ years since their first attack on Bhārata.[1] The empire and the army of the mighty Gurjara Pratiharas were continuously knocking on the borders of Sindh and only an incredulous lack of foresight seemed to have held them back from annihilating the Islamists in Sindh.[2] However, the beginning of the tenth century would see the commencement of the steady decline of the Gurjara Pratiharas and this would open the path to Bhārata again through the gap in Sindh. It was now only a matter of time before a strong Muslim warlord would exploit it.

            In these last few decades of the imperial rule of Gurjara Pratiharas, there lived a shining star of Indian Aesthetics, Rājaśekhara, who graced the courts of Emperor Mahendrapala-I and Emperor Mahipala. And so, he must have lived between the last half of the ninth century CE and the first half of the tenth century CE. He was an accomplished scholar and poet, with mastery over multiple dialects of Prakrit. Although he has composed multiple plays, he is best known for his encyclopaedic work Kāvya-mīmāṃsā, a work known to have contained eighteen adhikaraṇas or chapters. Unfortunately, only the first chapter called kavi-rahasya has come down to us. Yet, it provides us sufficient evidence to understand why Rājaśekhara influenced so many of his successors. To be fair, he did not advance Alaṅkāra-śāstra in any meaningful way. But, he provided perspectives and explored ideas that no one else even thought about.[3] And so, he remains dear to any student of Alaṅkāra-śāstra. Although he was a chronological successor of Ānandavardhana, we do not find any reference to either Dhvanyāloka or the concept of dhvani in the available segment of Kāvya-mīmāṃsā. However, it remains an unrivalled classic and inspired many aestheticians of the future like Hemacandra, Māṇikyacandra, Maṅkha, Bhoja, Mahimabhaṭṭa, Vāgbhaṭa, and Kṣemendra, among others.[4]

            In Udbhandapura, after the death of Lalliya Shahi, his son Toramana was side-lined and the throne was usurped by rebels led by Srisamanta. However, the minister of Kashmir, Prabhakara, marched into Udbhandapura and reinstated Toramana on the throne. Prabhakara also rechristened Toramana as Kamaluka. Fardaghan, the governor of Zabul under Amr ibn Layth (879 CE–900 CE), the brother and successor of Saffarid Ya’qub ibn Layth, plundered Sakawand, a place of Hindu pilgrimage, which was within the kingdom of the Shahis. Although Kamaluka wanted to avenge it, he did not do so after news of heavy Muslim mobilization reached him. The loss of Zabul had started to matter right away, well within a decade or two. However, Kamaluka seems to have been largely successful in holding on to his domains and seems to have supported and propped up Hindu rule in Ghazni and Gardez through a line of kings called Lawiks. Kamaluka was succeeded on the throne by his son Bhimadeva. He gave his daughter in marriage to Simharaja, king of Lohara. Their daughter, Didda, later married Kshemagupta, who ruled Kashmir between 950 CE and 958 CE.[5] Other than speculating around these details, there is no other proof about the dates related to Bhimadeva. However, it can be conclusively inferred that he held the Shahi kingdom together for the first half of the tenth century CE.

            While the Shahis were consolidating after the death of Lalliya Shahi, Ānandavardhana’s concept of dhvani was to begin undergoing a threadbare analysis by multiple generations of Aestheticians. Bhaṭṭanāyaka is generally accepted as the first major opponent of dhvani. He must have lived immediately after Ānandavardhana and must have lived mostly during the first half of the tenth century CE. He is known to have written a work titled Hṛdayadarpaṇa, which was supposed to have been dedicated to demolishing the concept of dhvani. Abhinavagupta, in his Locana, pointedly addresses Bhaṭṭanāyaka’s questions, with thinly veiled sarcasm at times. Although Bhaṭṭanāyaka got it wrong with dhvani, elsewhere, he has made valuable contributions to the philosophical analysis of rasa, building on the work of Bhaṭṭa-Lollaṭa and Śrīśaṅkuka. He introduced the revolutionary concept of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, which introduced the concept of sublimation or universalisation of emotions as the basis of rasa. He explained the process of realization of rasa using three vyāpāras (processes): abhidhā, bhavanā, and bhogīkaraṇa, in the same order. According to him, abhidhā (primary, external meaning), which also include lakṣaṇā (secondary, implicit meaning), will convey the meaning of an art piece at an intellectual level; bhavanā-vyāpāra refers to the phenomenon where the emotive meaning is realized by the vibhāvas catalysing sādhāraṇīkaraṇa of the emotions intrinsically present inside every spectator; finally bhogīkaraṇa is the phenomenon where the spectator immerses himself in these universalized emotions and enjoys them with a predominance of sattva (sattvodreka). This state is described as nothing like any worldly pressure and is described as similar to brahmānanda. Because of this contribution, especially the concept of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, Bhaṭṭanāyaka shall forever merit a spot in the annals of Alaṅkāra-śāstra.

            The end of Bhaṭṭanāyaka’s life probably coincided with the end of Shahi Bhimadeva’s life. After Bhimadeva, Shahi power seems to have passed peacefully to a member from outside the family, by the name of Jayapala, from the region of Punjab. By the time Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja Jayapaladeva ascended the throne, sometime in the early part of the second half of the tenth century CE, momentous geopolitical events were unfolding across Bhārata. As already observed, Kashmir was in terminal decline. The mighty Gurjara Pratihara empire had disintegrated into multiple smaller kingdoms – chief among them being the Chahanamas of Rajputana, Paramaras of Malwa and Chandellas of Kalinjara. The Rashtrakutas were also practically finished. At this time, according to Ferishta, the kingdom of Jayapaladeva extended “ length from Surhind to Lumghan, and in breadth from the kingdom of Kashmeer to Moultan.” On the western border of the Shahi empire, a major power, which would eventually finish off the Shahis, was taking shape. In 963 CE, Alptigin, a Turkish slave of the Samanids, defeated the last of the Lawiks and established the Ghaznavid empire. After the death of Alptigin, and a period of instability, his son-in-law Sabuktigin ascended the throne of Ghazni by 977 CE. For the rest of the century, Jayapaladeva would lead the last great stand of the frontier Indic kingdoms against the Islamists, which would consume not just himself, but two subsequent generations of his family also.

            Around the time Jayapaladeva was settling down on the throne of Udbhandapura, down in Kashmir, Queen Didda, the grand-daughter of Shahi Bhimadeva, was beginning her nearly five-decades-long rule of relative peace in civil-war-torn Kashmir. In this island of peace, two contemporary stars, Abhinavagupta and Kuntaka, would begin their works which would provide a meaningful culmination for nearly two centuries of labour in Alaṅkāra-śāstra. In all probability, Kuntaka was a senior contemporary of Abhinavagupta. While all aesthetic labour in the poetic stream till his time concentrated on analysing and appreciating a poetic work from the point of view of a connoisseur, Kuntaka decided to address the other half of the equation, the one involving the creative genius of the poet and how it is the reason behind creating the beauty that a connoisseur would subsequently enjoy. For this reason, his work Vakroktijīvita, deserves to enjoy a place of pride alongside Dhvanyāloka. He revived the concept of vakrokti, first described by Bhāmaha, and elevated it to the level of a profound philosophy and called it kavi-vyāpāra-vakratā. Guṇa, rīti, dhvani, alaṅkāra and the other concepts prevalent in his time were absorbed under the single umbrella of kavi-vyāpāra-vakratā. He generalized vakrokti as any expression of beauty involving sound and sense, which is the product of the creative genius of a poet. He explained multiple layers of vakratās like varṇa-vakratā, pada-vakratā, vākya-vakratā, prakaraṇa-vakratā, and prabandha-vakratā (novelty of expression at the levels of letter, word, sentence, episode, and an entire work). Also, by relying on the creative genius of the poet for all aspects of beauty, he argues that classification of poetic works as uttama, madhyama, and adhama (best, mediocre, and bad) by relying on concepts like guṇa, rīti, alaṅkāra, dhvani, guṇībhūtavyaṅgya, and citra and the likes, is a rather subjective endeavour. This way, Kuntaka condensed the concepts of guṇa-rīti as the natural manifestations of the creative genius of the poet. Also, he revived the concept of alaṅkāra by declaring that for anything to become an alaṅkāra, it has to be a beautiful manifestation of the creative genius of a poet. In other words, there is no beautiful expression not involving the creative genius of a poet. Since there is no limit for creative genius, there is no limit to the possibilities of alaṅkāra. Thus, he established vakratā as an inevitable member of the rasa-dhvani-aucitya-vakratā quartet.

[1] According to Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra, “The accounts of Arab travellers in India of the tenth century CE viz., Abu’l-Qasim Ubaydallāh ibn ’Abdallāh ibn Khordadbeh [ibn Khurdadbih] (912 CE), ’Abū al-Ḥasan ’Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ’Alī al-Mas’ūdī (915 CE), Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm bin Muḥammad al-Fārsī al-Iṣṭakhrī (951 CE) and Muḥammad Abū’l-Qāsim ibn Ḥawqal [ibn Haukal] (976 CE) – all speak of only two independent Arab principalities with Mūltān and Mansūrah as their capitals.”

               According to Al-Mas’ūdī, “When the unbelievers march against Múltán, and the faithful do not feel themselves strong enough to oppose them, they threaten to break their idol, and their enemies immediately withdraw.”

               Al-Iṣṭakhrī, writing in about 951 CE, corroborates this: “Multán is a city about half the size of Mansúra. There is an idol there held in great veneration by the Hindus, and every year people from the most distant parts undertake pilgrimages to it, and bring to it vast sums of money, which they expend upon the temple and on those who lead there a life of devotion ... When the Indians make war upon them and endeavour to seize the idol, the inhabitants bring it out, pretending that they will break it and burn it. Upon this the Indians retire, otherwise they would destroy Multán.

[2] Commenting on this period of Sindh, Dr. D C Ganguly makes a lengthy observation which is worth reproducing in its entirety: “The real matter for surprise, however, is that the vestige of Arab authority continued in Sindh for 300 years. Even according to the testimony of Muslims, the Pratiharas could have easily conquered Multan that guarded the flank of every possible route which a future Muslim conqueror from the outside would have to follow. That they were deterred from doing this by the fear that the holy images at Multan might be broken by the Muslim ruler of the place, only shows a lack of foresight and statesmanship and a deplorable want of rationality on the part of the Hindu leaders. If they had possessed even a general knowledge of the political condition of the lands immediately outside the borders of India on the west, they would have made serious efforts to defend India against the almost inevitable danger of Muslim invasion. The first steps in this direction should have been to drive away the Muslims from the petty principalities which they still held in Sindh and to establish a strong garrison in Multan and other strategic places in the Punjab. The Shahis and the Pratiharas were both powerful ruling dynasties who could have easily accomplished this task. But they did not do so. Either they were ignorant of the new political situation created by the rise of strong Muslim states on the frontiers of India, and of the consequent dangers threatening their country, or they were too parochially minded to take a broad view of the interests of India as a whole. This, however, can hardly apply to the Shahis, who were too near the danger to ignore it and whose own interest, in this case, coincided with that of India. The united stand made at a later date by the Indian chiefs on the invitation of the Shahi rulers proves that a real sense of patriotism was not altogether absent in them. We can, therefore, only conclude that the lack of knowledge of the outside world, or failure to grasp the real significance of contemporary events, was the principal cause of the indifference of the Hindu chiefs to the great danger that was destined to overwhelm them at no distant date … The danger was brought home to the Shahi rulers by the foundation of the state of Ghazni in the last quarter of the 10th century CE. Ere long the inevitable conflict broke out and the Shahi rulers were worsted in the fight. Then the horrors of Muslim invasions, inspired by greed and animated by fanatic religious zeal and iconoclastic fury, were let loose on the fair temples and cities of India.”

[3] In the segments titled kāvya-puruṣotpatti and sahitya-vadhū-pariṇaya, he gives a puranic-style introduction to the origins of poetry. He also talks about types of poets, kāvya-racanā-samādhi, types of kāvya-pāka and more. In pāṭha-pratiṣṭhā-adhyāya, he deals with the styles of talking and reciting prevalent among different people. In the eighth and ninth chapters, he talks about the things that help augment poetry. He further talks about the lifestyle, daily routine and gatherings of the court poets of his time. He also discusses the phenomenon of poets getting influenced by the past masters by classifying it into three categories: śabda-haraṇa, artha-haraṇa, and śabdārtha-haraṇa. He then deals with the concept of kavi-samaya or poetic conventions. In the last two chapters, he talks about the knowledge that poets need to possess about different places, times, and cultures.

[4] The fact that we have such a small segment of this work available, despite its widespread fame and despite being the creation of a distinguished poet and preceptor in the imperial court of the Gurjara Pratiharas, tells us of the kind of destruction and barbarism that was visited upon them by subsequent Muslim invasions. This can be considered as the literary equivalent of the temple ruins that we can see in the Bateshwar and Baroli temple complexes which are all that remain of the Imperial legacy of the mighty Gurjara Pratiharas.

[5] Interestingly enough, Didda would be the last ruler of Kashmir for any meaningful length of time. Her influence on Kashmir, directly or as regent lasted between 958 CE and 1003 CE. Despite her flaws, and there were many of them, she held Kashmir together for nearly half a century. In this endeavour, her link to the Shahis must have played a very large part. So, it can be argued that, apart from guarding the borders, Shahis were also responsible for holding up Kashmir when it was practically in a civil war.

(The author expresses deep gratitude to Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh for his insights into Alaṅkāra-śāstra over the years and for his critical review of this essay. Likewise, the author is also grateful to the young scholar Sri B N Shashi Kiran for his review and editing assistance.)

To be continued.




Vasuki is an electronics engineer and an IT professional. He is also a Sanskrit poet with a keen interest in Indian classical music and allied arts.

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