Around Samasyā-pūraṇa: Analysing Literary Creativity - 4

This article is part 4 of 9 in the series Samasyā-pūraṇa

There is another variety of poetic challenges in which every foot of a verse is composed by a different poet. The one who composes the first line has the responsibility to provide enough room for other poets to develop on the idea. Metrical feet should ideally grow in complexity and culminate in the fourth line. Doubtless, all four lines should be self-complete, and the verse, taken as a whole, should appear as a single unit. We provide a couple of examples of this type taken from Bhoja-prabandha.

The following is a verse about the setting sun and the activities prevalent during the time:

परिपतति पयोनिधौ पतङ्गः

सरसिरुहामुदरेषु मत्तभृङ्गः।

उपवनतरुकोटरे विहङ्गो

युवतिजनेषु शनैः शनैरनङ्गः॥[1]

Sun is going down in the ocean; bees are settling down in lotuses; birds are coming back to their nests. And the lord of Love slowly steps into the hearts of women.  

Bhoja composed the first line and was followed by Bāṇa and Maheśvara. Kālidāsa gave the final flourish. A beautiful rhyme at the end of each foot and the figure of sense sahokti (spontaneous occurrence) have embellished the verse. Each line develops on the idea of the previous one, with the fourth foot being the most abstract. Kālidāsa has masterfully converted the previous three lines into stimulants of love (uddīpana-vibhāvas) and has suggested its ālambana-vibhāva, the beloved. 

The next verse is about the setting moon:

अरुणकिरणजालैरन्तरिक्षे गतर्क्षे

चलति शिशिरवाते मन्दमन्दं प्रभाते।

युवतिजनकदम्बे नाथ मुक्तौष्ठबिम्बे

चरमगिरिनितम्बे चन्द्रबिम्बं ललम्बे[2]

When stars fade out because of the radiant rays of the rising Sun, when the cool morning breeze moves gently, when love-struck lasses unlock their lips from their beloveds’, the moon moves on to the setting mountain.

Bhoja gave the last line as the challenge and the poets Bhava-bhūti, Daṇḍi, and Kālidāsa respectively composed the three lines starting from the first. Like in the previous verse, Kālidāsa has converted the lines other than his into stimulants of love (uddīpana-vibhāvas).

The following verse is a modern example of the same sort:

कादम्बिनी वलति विष्णुपदे विचित्रा

मालेव कृष्णतुलसी ग्रथिता विधूता।

एनामुदीक्ष्य विमना पथिकस्य कान्ता

वृन्दावनार्चनपरा समयं न वेत्ति

Dark clouds are thickset in the sky, just like a garland of Kṛṣṇa-tulasī. Seeing this, a traveller’s wife loses track of time in worshipping Vṛndāvana.

Shankar Rajaraman gave the last line as a challenge and R. Ganesh, Shankar Rajaraman, and Sudheer Krishnaswamy Kesari respectively composed the other three lines beginning with the first. The verse bases its idea on the fact that travellers return home just before the advent of rains. Upon seeing the onset of clouds, the wives of travellers would be lost in thoughts of uniting with their husbands. While the first two lines are complete in themselves and are a tad disconnected to the challenge-line, the third one has beautifully given the verse a befitting completion. 

We shall now proceed to analyse poetic challenges posed and solved during Avadhānams. Syntactic challenges come first. 

Śabda-cchala—Syntactic Challenges

Since solutions to challenges of this sort invariably involve syntactic jugglery—particularly at the end of the third foot termed kīlaka-sthāna—it is impossible to capture their nuance in translation. We are therefore compelled to use the original Sanskrit phrases in translations of the following verses and explain them separately.

“Two monks kiss the moon-like face of a girl”:

छन्दश्शास्त्रज्ञानां पिङ्गलकेदारभट्टजयकीर्तीनाम्।

मतमनुसृत्य वदामः शशिवदनायां चकास्ति यतियुगमिलनम् (R. Ganesh)

Going by the tenets established by masters such as Piṅgala, Kedāra-bhaṭṭa, and Jaya-kīrti, we declare this as a fact of Prosody—the meter Śaśi-vadanā has two caesurae.

The performer has masterfully rid the challenge of its vulgarity by reading yati as ‘caesura’ instead of ‘monk’ and ‘śaśi-vadanā’ as a kind of meter instead of ‘moon-faced girl.’ Śaśi-vadanā is a meter that has twenty-one syllables per line. It is popularly known as Campaka-mālā and has two caesurae in each foot.

“Sītā sought the help of Śakuni, the master gambler”:

रक्षोऽधमेन मुषिता वक्षस्ताडनपुरस्सरं साश्रुमुखी।

रक्षार्थमात्मनो हर्य्-अक्षबलं शकुनिमाजुहाव जनकजा (R. Ganesh)

When Rāvaṇa abducted Sītā, she, clasping her chest and with tearful eyes, desperately looked for a saviour. She sought the help of the kite Jaṭāyu who was as powerful as a lion.

The solution has elements of pada-pūrvārdha-cchala, sandhi-cchala, and śleṣa-cchala: ‘Hari’ is added to the word ‘akṣa-bala’ (one whose strength is gambling) to get ‘haryakṣa-bala’ (one who is as strong as a lion), which suits as an adjective to Jaṭāyu. In the challenge, ‘Śakuni’ refers to the infamous gambler of Mahābhārata. The poet has punned on it to mean a bird. Contextually, it means Jaṭāyu, the good samaritan.   

“A female Cakravāka bird longs for moonrise”:

बन्दीकृतेऽर्के दशकन्धरेण

सदा स्थिते चन्द्रमसि स्थिरायाम्।

वधं विधातुं किल तस्य राम-

चन्द्रोदयं वाज्छति चक्रवाकी[3]

With Rāvaṇa holding all planets captive, there is no chance for the Sun to shine and the moon to wane. Expectant of the demon’s death, the Cakravāka female longs for Rāma-candra’s advent.

The challenge is based on the poetic convention that Cakravāka bird-couples are separated during night. Although this could have been tackled from the artha-cchala vantagepoint, the poet has approached it from the śabda-cchala perspective. The word ‘Rāma’ is added at the beginning of the challenge-line to form the metaphorical compound Rāma-candrodaya (the rise of Rāma-moon). Since there is a rule in Sanskrit prosody that dictates that expects a caesura to be present at the end of each line, there is not much scope to compose semantic solutions to this challenge. A compound can be broken at the end of odd lines (only if the break is after a complete word); but independent words cannot be split. However, in South Indian languages, violating the caesura—irrespective of word-split—is accepted. Such an apparent metrical flaw is considered an embellishment and is termed khaṇḍa-prāsa in Kannada.

“The wise Arjuna married Karṇa’s daughter”:

धर्मात्मजं द्रुपदजां परिदृश्य तस्मा-


पश्यंस्तदीयपृथुसुन्दरमीक्ष्य चक्षुः-

कर्णात्मजामुदवहद्विबुधोपि पार्थः[4]

Having seen Yudhiṣṭhira and Draupadī in their private, intimate moment, Arjuna went on a pilgrimage to atone for his sin. While travelling, he was drawn to Ulūpī. Thus, Arjuna, wise though he was, married Cakṣuḥ-karṇātmajā.

Anyone would be perplexed upon reading the challenge. Why would Arjuna marry his archenemy’s daughter? The performer has cleverly solved this by using the word ‘cakṣuḥ-karṇa,which means a snake. Cakṣuḥ-karṇātmajā here refers to Ulūpī. That the poet was able to use this word in an extempore verse is as much a mark of his erudition as it is a testimony to his impeccable presence of mind. The verse, however, has a flaw. The word ‘sundara’ that is a part of the phrase qualifying Videśān, is erroneous; it should be ‘saundarya.’

[1] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #161

[2] Ibid., verse #320

[3] Śatāvadhāna-sāramu, p. 10

[4] Avadhāna-bhārati, p. 51

To be continued.




Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.


Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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