Naiṣadhīya-carita is considered the touchstone of scholarly poetry. Śrī-harṣa (12th cen. CE), its author, takes delight in proclaiming that he composed this work to ward off lesser mortals:
ग्रन्थग्रन्थिरिह क्वचित्क्वचिदपि न्यासि प्रयत्नान्मया
प्राज्ञम्मन्यमना हठेन पठिती मास्मिन् खलः खेलतु।
I have wilfully made many parts of this work knotty—no neophyte who thinks high of himself should play with it. Only those who have their knots of ignorance untied by the grace of Gurus may enjoy my composition replete with aesthetic relish.
He is supposed to have remarked on a different occasion:
साहित्ये सुकुमारवस्तुनि दृढन्यायग्रहग्रन्थिले
तर्के वा मयि संविधातरि समं लीलायते भारती।
शय्या वास्तु मृदूत्तरच्छदवती दर्भाङ्कुरैरास्तृता
भूमिर्वा हृदयङ्गमो यदि पतिस्तुल्या रतिर्योषिताम्॥
Whether it is a tender subject in poetry or an intricate treatise on logic, Sarasvatī cooperates with me as if with Brahma himself. With a husband who has captured her heart, the wife is thoroughly satisfied in any setting—be it a soft mattress or grass-covered ground.
Jayadeva (12th cen. CE) is an acknowledged master of the song in Sanskrit. His expression is synonymous with mellifluousness. Although he is a devotional poet with a fondness for sweet-sounding words, he does not fall behind in composing grandiloquent verses of self-assertion. Here is one such verse:
साध्वी माध्वीक चिन्ता न भवति भवतः शर्करे कर्कशासि
द्राक्षे द्रक्ष्यन्ति के त्वाममृत मृतमसि क्षीर नीरं रसस्ते।
माकन्द क्रन्द कान्ताधर धर न तुलां गच्छ यच्छन्ति भावं
यावच्छृङ्गारसारं शुभमिव जयदेवस्य वैदग्ध्यवाचः॥
Till the time Jayadeva’s learned words spread the positive essence of love, Honey, give up the thought that people will think about you; Sugar, you will remain hard and unsavoury; Grape, nobody will turn towards you; Ambrosia, you’re as good as dead; Milk, you turn into water; Mango, give out wails of despair; Lips of the beloved, understand you’re no match and withdraw!
Let us now bask ourselves in the warm pride of Kolācala Mallinātha-sūri (13th cen. CE), the commentator nonpareil:
वाणीं काणभुजीमजीगणदवाशासीच्च वैयासिकी-
मन्तस्तन्त्रमरंस्त पन्नगगवीगुम्फेषु चाजागरीत्।
लोकेऽभूद्यदुपज्ञमेव विदुषां सौजन्यजन्यं यशः॥
I am a thorough master of ontology, Vedānta philosophy, Vedic hermeneutics, grammar, and epistemology. The little fame scholars possess is a mere product of my modesty!
One might not fathom the width and depth of Mallinātha’s erudition by reading the translation. The Sanskrit original, however, presents a clear picture, for Mallinātha uses complicated verb forms to impress upon readers the prodigiousness of his learning. Aorist verb forms such as ajīgaṇat, avāśāsīt, araṃsta, and ajāgarīt are enough to make even an accomplished grammarian tremble!
Vedānta-deśika (13th–14th cen. CE) was a well-known poet and philosopher. He is reverentially addressed as kavi-tārkika-siṃha (the best among poets and logicians). By the age of twenty, he had attained mastery over several branches of knowledge and had taught Śrī-bhāṣya of Rāmājujācārya thirty times! A panegyric verse popular in literary circles supposedly relates to him:
काव्येषु कोमलधियो वयमेव नान्ये
तर्केषु कर्कशधियो वयमेव नान्ये।
तत्त्वे विनिश्चितधियो वयमेव नान्ये
कृष्णे समर्पितधियो वयमेव नान्ये॥
It is only me and nobody else who has equal and consummate felicity in delicate poetry, rigid logic, ultimate philosophy, and devotion to Kṛṣṇa.
Śaṅkara-miśra (14th cen. CE) was a child prodigy. He went on to master several branches of knowledge. He was known by the honorific Mahāmahopādhyāya. When he was a boy of five, Śiva-siṃha, the ruler of his province, asked him to recite a verse. He immediately replied, “Should I tell you my own composition or should I recite a verse from memory?” The king was visibly surprised. He asked, “You’re just a boy. How can you compose verses?” Śaṅkara-miśra said with a smile:
बालोऽहं जगदानन्द न मे बाला सरस्वती।
अपूर्णे पञ्चमे वर्षे वर्णयामि जगत्त्रयम्॥
O King, the cause of happiness in the world, I may be young, but the Sarasvatī within me is not! My age has not crossed five, but I can describe the three worlds with my poetry!
Vāmana-bhaṭṭa-bāṇa (14th–15th cen. CE) hailed from Koṇḍavīḍu, a princely state in Andhra. In his prose poem Vema-bhūpāla-carita, he says:
बाणादन्ये कवयः काणाः खलु सरसगद्यसरणीषु।
इति जगति रूढमयशो वामनबाणोऽपमार्ष्टि वत्सकुलः॥ (1.6)
“Travelling on the path of aesthetically appealing prose, every poet except Bāṇa-bhaṭṭa turns blind”—this is a commonplace accusation. I, Vāmana-bhaṭṭa-bāṇa, will bring back fame to prose writers!
Ananta-bhaṭṭa (15th cen. CE) is the author of the well-known work Campū-bhārata. At the end of this work, he says:
वाचामनन्तसुकवेर्वसुधैव मूल्यम्॥ (12.34)
My words are fragrant like a bunch of lotuses and forceful like the current of Gaṅgā who adorns the locks of dancing Śiva. Bursting forth like waves of nectar, they dissolve the fame of all my enemies. Indeed, the whole world is the price of my poetry!
Uddaṇḍa-śāstrī (15th cen. CE) was a towering scholar of grammar, logic, philosophy, and literature. He migrated from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. Visiting the courts of many kings in search of patronage, he once went to the far-famed Vijayanagar kingdom. Unfortunately, the king who ruled in that period was not a connoisseur of the arts. It is unlikely that he was a patron of poets and scholars. As was his wont, Uddaṇḍa recited a few panegyric verses. But the king’s response to these was lukewarm. The frustrated poet immediately composed the following verse:
मा गाः प्रत्युपकारकातरतया वैवर्ण्यमाकर्णय
श्रीकर्णाटवसुन्धराधिप सुधासिक्तानि सूक्तानि नः।
वर्ण्यन्ते कविभिः पयोनिधिसरित्सन्ध्याभ्रविन्ध्याटवी-
झञ्झामारुतनिर्झरप्रभृतयस्तेभ्यः किमाप्तं फलम्॥
O King, the Lord of Karṇāṭaka, you do not want to hear my lucid poems filled with nectarine imagery. You perhaps fear that you are not rich enough to felicitate poets like me. But I insist—lend me an ear; harbour no fear! Poets describe river, waterfall, forest, sea, night, sky, tornado, sun and the like. What do they get in return?
The king must have indeed felt thrashed upon listening to this. If a verse like this does not evoke admiration for poetry, nothing ever will. At once, this is an indicator of the self-complete autonomy of great poetry and the ever-alert confidence of scholar-poets.
Damodara-bhaṭṭa, a lad of twelve, saw Uddaṇḍa decked up in eye-catching attire, followed by a host of attendants. The boy, however, was all by himself and ordinarily dressed. Making this the subject of his verse, Damodara went hammer and tongs at Uddaṇḍa:
न च्छत्रं न तुरङ्गमो न वदतां वृन्दानि नो वन्दिनो
न श्मश्रूणि न पट्टबन्धवसनं न ह्यम्बराडम्बरम् ।
प्रेङ्खद्वीचिपरम्परापरिणता वाणी तु नाणीयसी॥
I have no paraphernalia comprising royal fans and umbrellas. I am not surrounded by a host of horses. Flatterers are always away from me. I have neither a moustache nor fancy apparel to flaunt. All I have is speech resembling the torrential gushing of ambrosia carried on swaying waves that emerged when the mighty Mandara mountain churned the ocean.
Having thus established his poetic prowess, he went on to record his scholarly attainments:
वेदं बह्वृचमध्यगीषि कवितामप्यादृषि व्यापृषि
न्याये व्याकरणं व्यजैषि विषमे वैशेषिके क्लेशिषि।
मीमांसामपि पर्यवैषमुभयीं व्याख्यं च साङ्ख्यं स्मृती-
रभ्यास्थं श्रदधां पुराणपदवीं योगे च पर्यश्रमम्॥
I’ve studied the Ṛgveda and am good at composing verses. I have a deep understanding of Nyāya and Vyākaraṇa. I’ve delved deep into Vaiśeṣika, which is indeed a hard nut to crack. I have mastered Pūrva-mīmāṃsā and Uttara-mīmāṃsā and can write a commentary on Sāṅkhya. I have studied the smṛtis, stories from purāṇas and Yoga.
शब्दव्याकृतिनर्मकर्मणि पटीयस्ता तव स्याद्यदि
त्वं कस्यापि पदस्य भद्रय दृढां द्राक्प्रक्रियोपक्रियाम्।
मीमांसारसमांसला यदि गिरो न्यायोऽपि कोऽपीर्यतां
तर्के वा यदि कर्कशोऽस्यनुमितिं कामप्यनल्पीकुरु॥
If you are an expert in the etymology and structure of words, pick a word and tell me your thoughts about its etymology. If you have digested the tenets of Mīmāṃsā, expound on one of its aspects. If you have mastered logic, state your arguments and establish the validity of a means of inference.
कुर्वे गर्वोद्धतस्य प्रतिवदितुरहं भारतीमप्यसाध्वीं
साध्वीं साध्वीमसाध्वीं बुधवरसमितौ लक्षणेन क्षणेन।
मानाभासं प्रमाणं प्रमितिगतिवशादप्रमाणं प्रमाणं
सच्चासत्तत्तथासन्निशमयत बुधा मच्चरित्रं विचित्रम्॥
With my learning, I can prove a right argument wrong and quickly demonstrate incorrect arguments to be correct. I can show that a pramāṇa (means to validate knowledge) is no pramāṇa at all and hold up what isn’t a pramāṇa to be a convincing one. I can prove that a thing that actually exists has no existence and prove a non-existent thing to be existent. O Scholars, behold my unique skill!
 Naiṣadhīya-carita, 22.152
 Naiṣadhīya-carita (vol. 1), p. 3 (preface)
 Gīta-govinda, 12.12
 Saṅkalpa-sūryodaya, 1.15
 Gaurī-digambara-prahasana, p. 9 (preface)
 Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 25 (fn.)
 Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 27 (fn.)
 Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 28 (fn.)
 Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 28 (fn.)
 Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 28 (fn.)
This verse indicates that one can, by the force of logical argument, prove or disprove absolutely anything. If winning the debate is the sole objective, debaters can rise or sink to any extent just to bolster their argument. In the parlance of Nyāya-śāstra, this kind of debate is termed ‘jalpa.’ If one debates purely to gain knowledge or refine his / her understanding, the discussion is called ‘vāda.’ Contrarily, if the debate takes place only to sling mud at the people involved, it is called ‘vitaṇḍā.’ Since scholars debate in royal courts mostly to win and thereby gain fame, we can safely slot their arguments under ‘jalpa.’ For a detailed analysis of the nuances of debate, ref: Sāhityada Caturmukharu (Kannada), pp. 105–136, and Vāda in Theory and Practice.
To be continued.