Around Samasyā-pūraṇa: Examples

This article is part 2 of 9 in the series Samasyā-pūraṇa

A note about the translation of verses:

In translating Sanskrit into English, we had to chart our course through a thoroughly challenging terrain. The reason for this is not hard to seek: the two languages have widely differing modalities of structure and substance. Sanskrit bears a stark resemblance with gold: it is naturally radiant and eminently malleable. And in translating it into English—in trying to fashion ornaments of it—we could not help corrupting it! Indeed, this is a problem that bedevils all translations.

All we have tried to do is to retell the content of the original without injuring its intent. Translations are only meant as crutches—to assist the uninitiated. Our prose, we know, is hopelessly vapid before the sunlit perfection that is Sanskrit verse. We crave your indulgence.

We can now examine a few samasyās. The underlined line is the poetic challenge:   

राजाभिषेके मदविह्वलाया

हस्ताच्च्युतो हेमघटो युवत्याः।

सोपानमार्गेषु करोति शब्दं


A maiden full of excitement rushed to witness the crowning of a king. Slipping from her hands, a golden pot rolled on the stairs with a ringing sound—ṭaṇṭaṇṭaṭaṇṭaṇṭaṭaṭaṇṭaṭaṇṭam.

A string of syllables that has no meaning whatsoever is posed as the challenge. There exists an entire genre of challenges of this sort, with famous examples such as gulugugguluguggulu (Bhoja-prabandha), and huṃhuhuṃhuhuhuhuṃhuhuhuṃhu (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra). Although these meaningless syllables do not have a space-time constraint, they are bound by certain cultural and linguistic conditions. And this brings down the scope of solutions.

Next comes a far-famed challenge from Bhoja-prabandha. It is in the form of a generic statement: ‘To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means.’ Its solution includes a specific statement that substantiates the challenge. Evidently, the figure of sense in the verse is arthāntara-nyāsa. Bhoja-prabandha records multiple solutions to this challenge, which has triggered the imagination of many poets. While the challenge by itself is rather simple, poets have striven hard to come up with solutions to beautifully justify the home-truth it expresses.

In the following four solutions, a keen reader can grasp progressive increment in beauty. Every verse employs a far more telling analogy than the previous one. Ideas sequentially progress from the concrete to abstract, reaching the zenith in the verse about Manmatha.

घटो जन्मस्थानं मृगपरिजनो भूर्जवसनं

वने वासः कन्दादिकमशनमेवंविधगुणः।

अगस्त्यः पाथोधिं यदकृत कराम्भोजकुहरे

क्रियासिद्धिः सत्त्वे भवति महतां नोपकरणे[2]

Born in a pot, wearing a bark, living in woods, eating raw bulbs, surrounded by a retinue of wild beasts, Agastya shrunk the whole vast ocean to fit his palm. To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means. 

रथस्यैकं चक्रं भुजगयमिताः सप्त तुरगा

निरालम्बो मार्गश्चरणविकलः सारथिरपि।

रविर्यात्येवान्तं प्रतिदिनमपारस्य नभसः

क्रियासिद्धिः सत्त्वे भवति महतां नोपकरणे[3]

Sun’s chariot has but a single wheel; its seven horses are controlled by snake-reins. Its path is precarious and the charioteer, a cripple. Unaffected, he traverses the boundless sky every day. To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means.

विजेतव्या लङ्का चरणतरणीयो जलनिधि-

र्विपक्षः पौलस्त्यो रणभुवि सहायाश्च कपयः।

तथाप्येको रामः सकलमवधीद्राक्षसकुलं

क्रियासिद्धिः सत्त्वे भवति महतां नोपकरणे[4]

Armed with an army of apes, Rāma had to cross the ocean on foot, conquer Lanka, and defeat the mighty Rāvaṇa. Unfazed, he single-handedly razed the entire rākṣasa race. To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means. 

धनुः पौष्पं मौर्वी मधुकरमयी चञ्चलदृशां

दृशां कोणो बाणः सुहृदपि जडात्मा हिमकरः।

स्वयं चैकोऽनङ्गः सकलभुवनं व्याकुलयति

क्रियासिद्धिः सत्त्वे भवति महतां नोपकरणे[5]

Manmatha has a floral bow that has bees as the string and quivering glances of girls as arrows. He is himself bodiless and his accomplice is the cold, lifeless moon. Even so, he effortlessly throws the three worlds into agitation. To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means.

As different from the previous solutions, which are based on various mythological ideas, the following solution stems from the very situation in which the challenge is posed—the art of Avadhānam. This doubtless evokes a sense of awe in the onlookers.


विना मन्त्रग्रन्थव्यवधिरचानासाह्यमनिशम्।

वधानी सोल्लासं तरति वितरत्याशुकविताः

क्रियासिद्धिः सत्त्वे भवति महतां नोपकरणे[6] (R. Ganesh)

Faced with a whirlwind of testing challenges posed by a hundred uncompromising questioners, an avadhānī cheerfully composes extempore verses as answers to them all, without the help of magical spells or stationery. To succeed, great men rely on their innate spirit, not mere means. 

The next verse is also culled from Bhoja-prabandha. The challenge-line says, “How is it, O Pestle, you do not sprout fresh leaves?”

जगति विदितमेतत्काष्ठमेवासि नूनं

तदपि च किल सत्यं कानने वर्धितोऽसि।


मुसल किसलयं ते तत्क्षणाद्यन्न जातम्[7]

It’s well known you’re made of wood and were raised in wilderness. But despite the tender touch of a lotus-faced girl, how is it, O Pestle, you do not sprout fresh leaves?

The solution is based on a pet motif of Sanskrit poets: the tender touch of a beautiful woman is enough to bring to life even a lifeless object. Dohada exemplifies this idea. A popular verse[8] lists ten plants and trees imagined to blossom by various acts of charming girls. 

The following three challenges were posed to Kāvya-kaṇṭha Vāsiṣṭha-gaṇapati-muni:

“Daughter-in-law takes off her upper garment and seeks unison with her father-in-law”:

हिडिम्बा भीमदयिता निदाघे घर्मपीडिता।

स्तनवस्त्रं परित्यज्य वधूः श्वशुरमिच्छति[9]

Hiḍimbā, Bhīma’s wife, unable to bear the heat of summer, casts off her upper garment and craves for [wind], her father-in-law.

Hiḍimbā removed her upper garment in the hope that a passing breeze might cool her. After all, Vāyu, the wind god, was her father-in-law!

“Once in a year, Gaurī avoids looking at her husband’s face”:

चतुर्थ्यां भाद्रशुक्लस्य चन्द्रदर्शनशङ्कया।

वत्सरस्यैकदा गौरी पतिवक्त्रं न पश्यति[10]

Every year, on the fourth day of śukla-pakṣa in the month of Bhādra-pada, fearing that she might catch sight of moon, Gaurī avoids looking at her husband’s face.

According to the Hindu calendar, Gaṇeśa-caturthi falls on the fourth day of śukla-pakṣa in the month of Bhādra-pada. Seeing the moon on that day is considered inauspicious according to tradition. Śiva carries the crescent moon on his head and thus, Gaurī avoids looking at him.

“Ant kisses the moon’s orb”:

सतीवियोगेन विषण्णचेतसः

प्रभोः शयानस्य हिमालये गिरौ।

शिवस्य चूडाकलितं सुधाशया

पिपीलिका चुम्बति चन्द्रमण्डलम्[11]

When Śiva was lying on the slopes of Kailāsa, lamenting the death of his wife, an ant, wanting to savour lunar nectar, kissed the moon’s orb.  

Amara-candra Sūri, the author of Bāla-bhārata, solved one hundred and eight poetic challenges in a day. One among them is, “a girl does not sing during night”:

श्रुत्वा ध्वनेर्मधुरतां सहसावतीर्णे

भूमौ मृगे विगतलाञ्छन एष चन्द्रः।

मा गान्मदीयवदन्स्य तुलामितीव

गीतं न गायतितरां युवतिर्निशासु[12]

“Having heard my sweet song, the deer (which appears as the spot on the moon) might descend to earth. The spotless moon will then resemble my face! This should never happen.” Thinking so, a girl does not sing during night.

The solution is based on an observation that music attracts deer. Amara-candra has given a fresh spin to the old and trite idea of comparing the moon to a girl’s face. The ingenuity of the idea, coupled with hetūtprekṣā alaṅkāra (fancied reasoning), has invested great charm to the verse, so much so that it does not seem like the solution to a challenge, but instead reads like an independent verse! 

[1] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #317

[2] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #168

[3] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #169

[4] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #170

[5] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #171

[6] Śatāvadhāni-racanā-sañcayana, p. 320

[7] Bhoja-prabandha, verse #265

[8] स्त्रीणां स्पर्शात् प्रियङ्गुर्विकसति वकुलः सीधुगण्डूषसेकात्
पादाघातादशोकः तिलककुरवकौ वीक्षणालिङ्गनाभ्याम्।
मन्दारो नर्मवाक्यात् पटुमृदुहसनाच्चम्पको वक्त्रवाता-
च्चूतो गीतान्नमेरुर्विकसति च पुरो नर्तनात् कर्णिकारः॥

[9] Vāsiṣṭha-vaibhava, p. 29

[10] Vāsiṣṭha-vaibhava, p. 29

[11] Vāsiṣṭha-vaibhava, p. 29

[12] Bāla-bhārata, p. 11 (preface)

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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Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...