Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 4 – Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha and Pèruṅkadai

This article is part 4 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

The Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha is peppered with light-hearted and sweet humour here and there. The work also delineates profound lives of the common men and is devoid of vulgarity. There is hardly any content that can classify as immoral or inappropriate. The descriptions that come as a part of the stories are apt, elevating and not very elaborate. The poet employs alaṅkāras that are not complex and are easy to comprehend. The story of Vatsarāja that occurs in this text is more beautiful compared to the Kashmir recension and is nicely worded and  well structured. The conversations that occur in the episodes connected with Vatsarāja are well sculpted and can easily compete with those of a grand novel.

The work has several verses which would qualify under the vaidarbhī-guṇa defined by Daṇḍī. There are verses which specially fall under Daṇḍī’s definition for the madhura-guṇa – ‘sānuprāsa-rasāvaha’. Here are a few instances:

तमालालम्बिदोलान्तर्विलसन्तीं कुमारिकाम्।
कालिन्दीह्रदसङ्क्रान्तां लोलामिन्दुकलामिव || 3-3 ||

अचिरस्थापितस्फीतभङ्गुरस्निग्धमूर्धजा।
नलिनीकोकिलकुला तन्वी चूतलतेव सा || 7-11||

तत्रापश्यं पुरद्वारान्निर्यान्तीं जनतामहम्।
चित्रालङ्कारसंस्कारां वाचं कविमुखादिव || 8-1||

अथालिकुलनीलाग्रविलसत्कुन्दकाननम्।
आलवापरिक्षिप्तमूलमुद्यानमासदम्||16-8||

तस्याः स्वकान्तिपरिवेषपटाभिधानं
नेत्रप्रभाप्रकरसारितहर्म्यगर्भम्।
उत्कृष्टविस्मयविमोहितमानसेन
रूपं निरूपयितुमेव मया न शक्यम् ||16-93||
 
विद्याचाराध्यमानापि दुःखेन परिचीयते।
भक्त्या मातुः सपत्नीव निसर्गकुटिला हि सा || 17 - 35||

The above are beautiful both in structure and meaning!

प्रक्षालनाद्धि पङ्कस्य दूरादस्पर्शनं वरम् (15- 56) - This popular saying is also from the same work.

We don’t know why this great work of poetry almost went into oblivion for long. The fame that the works of Kālidāsa acquired and the love for scholarship the writers and readers of these days seem to have developed – are these the reasons for the work to take a back seat?

Pèruṅkadai

There is a large literary work containing stories in Tamil, which is perhaps more ancient than the three works mentioned (in the earlier articles). The work is called ‘Pèruṅkadai’ (also Pèruṅgadai; literally means ‘big story’). The following is a segment extracted from the Introduction of L Gundappa’s work Udayana-carita-saṅgraha:

It is quite a well-known fact since long that there is a work called ‘Peruṅkadai’ in Tamil which contains the story of Udayana. ‘Pèruṅkadai, Kòṅguveḻ mākkadai, Udayaṇan-kadai, Kadai’ is a phrase often quoted in ancient writings and commentaries (suggesting that all these are synonymously used). We weren’t able to lay our hands on the work for quite a few years. Just as the nāṭakas written by Bhāsa have come to light in the recent past, Pèruṅkadai too was discovered recently, just by chance.

The great scholar from Tamil Nadu, Mahāmahopādhyāya Dr. U Ve Swaminatha Iyer unearthed a palm-leaf manuscript of this treatise; he critically edited the manuscript, cleaned up the text, and had it published.

Pèruṅkadai’ is the Tamil version of Bṛhat-kathā. There are several differences between this work and Sanskrit works such as the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. In certain aspects, there seems to be similarities between the Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṅgraha and this work. In the Sanskrit texts, the story of ‘Vidyādhara-cakravartī’ (Emperor of Vidyādhara) Nara-vāhana-datta is given more importance; Udayana’s story is narrated primarily because he’s the emperor’s father. But in the Pèruṅkadai, Udayana's story takes center-stage. Nara-vāhana-datta’s story appears in only one out of the six kāṇḍas (Ujjayinī-kāṇḍa, Lāvaṇa-kāṇḍa, Māgadha-kāṇḍa, Vatsava-kāṇḍa, Nara-vāhana-kāṇḍa, and Tòravu-kāṇḍa) of the work. In the Sanskrit treatises mentioned earlier, we find references to Śaivism and in the Pèruṅkadai, we find references to Jainism. We can call the ‘Pèruṅkadai’ as the third (Dākṣiṇātya/Southern) recension of the Bṛhat-kathā.

The extant Pèruṅkadai is incomplete. The first thirty-one adhyāyas are complete; a portion of the thirty-second chapter and the concluding portion of the treatise (the end of Nara-vāhana-kāṇḍa and the entire Tòravu-kāṇḍa) hasn’t yet been found.

The story of Udayana that appears in the Pèruṅkadai has a lot of similarities with the Udayana story that appears in the plays of Bhāsa. This has been discussed in great detail in the translation of the play Pratijñā-yaugandharāyaṇam.

The composer of this work is a small-time chieftain named Kòṅgu-veḻir who lived in Kongu Nadu. He patronized several scholars and spent his time in the joyful sport of knowledge. The initial and final sections of the treatise being unavailable, it is not possible to say anything much about the composer of the work or the original sources he consulted. The original Bṛhat-kathā appears to have influences of Śaivism while the Pèruṅkadai has influences of Jainism, so Dr. Swaminatha Iyer suggests that the latter is not taken from Guṇāḍhya’s Bṛhat-kathā but from some Sanskrit text that retells the same stories but from a Jain point of view. He further estimates that the said Sanskrit retelling belongs to the period of King Durvinīta of the Gaṅgā dynasty, given that the influence of Jainism was strong in Gaṅgā-nāḍu and considering the widely accepted notion that the Gaṅgā king Durvinīta who ruled Talakāḍu [Mysore district] in the sixth century CE had the Bṛhat-kathā translated from Paiśācī-Prākṛta to Sanskrit.

Dr. Swaminatha Iyer rendered the story of this treatise in prose in his work ‘Udayaṇan sarittiras-surukkam’ (‘A Short History of Udayana’). The story contained in those sections of the Pèruṅkadai that are unavailable seems to have been reconstructed (in a summarized form) with the help of two works – a Sanskrit treatise popular among the Jains, known as ‘Uditodaya Kāvya’ and a Tamil treatise called ‘Udayana-kumāra-kāvyam.’


The Kannada Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī

There is a certain treatise in Kannada, which is a Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī ‘composed by Gūḍarapalli Harirāma-śāstri.’ The full name of this treatise is ‘Śṛṅgārādbhuta Jharī Citra Bṛhatkathāmañjarī’ or ‘Saundaryādbhuta Jharī Citra Bṛhatkathāmañjarī.’ In this, the king of Ujjayinī, Vikramāditya defeats the Betāḻa; then takes him along with his (Vikramāditya’s) minister Bhaṭṭi and goes to an island called Maṇipura; defeats the queen of the island, Padmāvati as well as her younger sisters Līlāvatī, Kaḻāvati, and Bhogavati, and then marries them all. They, without speaking to him, undertaking absolute silence, sit with a veil separating them from him.

The rule of the game is to defeat them, to do that, one should make them speak thrice. Vetāla fuses himself in the animals and birds present in the screen, starts narrating a fascinating story and stops abruptly. Notwithstanding their curiosity, they speak once in a Yāma (a period of three hours). asking the king to make Vetāla continue the narration. The prologue of the book says that the source/inspiration is a work by Vararuci in Sanskrit.

Therefore this book has no connection to the work of Guṇāḍhya containing the stories of Nara-vāhana-datta and Udayana the king of Vatsa. There is some resemblance with Viṣama-śīla-laṃbaka. Likewise in Vikramārka-caritā there are stories describing the magnanimity of Vikramāditya.

Bṛhat-kathā-kośa

In sanskrit there is a work called ‘Bṛhat-kathā-kośa’ written by Hariṣeṇa (931 C.E.). There is no connection between this book and Bṛhat-kathā. It consists of 157 stories from Bhagavatī-ārādhanā related to Jainism. It also contain the 19 stories present in the Vaḍḍārādhane[1] of Kannada (129-144). We can also see stories from Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, some subplots and stories containing moral values borrowed. Likewise there are many such collections of stories related to Jainism, Kathā-kośas, Kathā-kallolinī, Kathā-samuccaya etc. Just in the way they have used Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata in these stories, they have also used the Bṛhat-kathā.which was popular. They have modified them to suit their needs.[2]

To be continued...

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj,  Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.

Footnotes
 

[1] Both are based on the same source, possibly a Prakrit commentary on Bhagavatī-ārādhanā… We have no evidence to attribute the authorship of Kannada stories to Śivakoṭi… We do not know who the author was… can be assigned with the broad but definite limits of 898-1403 C.E.., probably to the eleventh century C.E..,---Introduction to Brhatkatha Kosa by Dr. A. N. Upadhye.

[2] In other words, though they (the stories) are genuine fragments of Indian folklore, they have been edited by some Jain theologian for the purpose of edification of the votaries of that religion.----C. H. Tawney : Preface to The Kathakosa More than the Buddhists, the Jainas were at pains to appropriate to themselves all the favourite popular themes from Brahmanical and general Indian literature, so as to be in a position thus to offer their adherents within the fold of their own religious community, all they could find elsewhere too---Winternitz : Indian Literature, Vol. II, p. 486.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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