Footprints of Scholarly Temerity in Sanskrit Literature - 4

This article is part 4 of 7 in the series Footprints of Scholarly Temerity in Sanskrit Literature

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।

श्रद्धाराद्धगुरुश्लथीकृतदृढग्रन्थिः समास्वादय-

 त्वेतत्काव्यरसोर्मिमज्जनसुखव्यासज्जनं सज्जनः॥[1]

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॥[2]

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॥[3]

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।

वाचामाकलयद्रहस्यमखिलं यश्चाक्षपादस्फुरां

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![4] 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॥[5]

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॥[6]

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॥[7]

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॥[8]

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॥[9]

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॥[10]

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!

[1] Naiṣadhīya-carita, 22.152

[2] Naiṣadhīya-carita (vol. 1), p. 3 (preface)

[3] Gīta-govinda, 12.12

[4] Saṅkalpa-sūryodaya, 1.15

[5] Gaurī-digambara-prahasana, p. 9 (preface)

[6] Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 25 (fn.)

[7] Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 27 (fn.)

[8] Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 28 (fn.)

[9] Kokila-sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa, p. 28 (fn.)

[10] 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.




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.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

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...