Caturvidhābhinaya in the Kumārasambhava - Part 4 - Devas and Brahmā

This article is part 4 of 9 in the series Caturvidhābhinaya in the Kumārasambhava

Sagra 2

The second sagra of Kumārasambhava starts with the devas going to Brahmā seeking his help in vanquishing the demon Tārakāsura.

In the verse 2.2, the poet achieves multiple purposes. While in nāṭya, it would be easy to see how many devas went to the abode of Brahmā and who they were, just with them entering on the stage, this has to be achieved by poet through words. He says that the group of devas was like a pond filled with lotuses. Later, when Brahmā addresses the prominent among the devatās, we come to know the characters present, their physical features and body mannerisms.

In verse 2.2,  the poet would like us to imagine the fading out of colour and brightness in the devas face, as they are being tortured by Tārakāsura. As though to suggest the effect of vaivarṇya, the poet brings in two contrasting colours – the coming of Brahmā which is akin to the brightness of the Sun and the grey faces of the devas –

तेषामाविरभूद्ब्रह्मा परिम्लानमुखश्रियाम्।

सरसां सुप्तपद्मानां प्रातर्दीधितिमानिव ॥ 2.2

An imaginative connoisseur many also bring to his mind that at night, when the sun is away, dew drops get accumulated on the petals of the lotus and with the sun coming in the morning, he wipes away the dew drops and brings new lease of life with his rays of hope. It would not be out of place here to imagine either perspiration or tears (sveda or aśru) on the faces of the devas, which would soon find respite with the appearance of Brahmā. In fact, Mallinātha captures this in a nutshell in his commentary on the verse, when he says – “सूर्योपमानेन तेषां म्लानिहरणत्वं सूचितम्”. In such instances, where the poet uses an alaṅkāra (like the upamā here), the sāttvikābhinaya gets suggested and the connoisseur can mentally extrapolate within the limits of aucitya and fill in the gaps. The poet actually tells more through what is left untold, when he strikes a balance! This effect certainly would not have come if the poet had explicitly said that the devas lacked lustre and their faces were all dull due to depression.  

By extrapolating the imagery, the connoisseurs also get a feel of the softness and fragrance of the faces of the devas, akin to the same features of a lotus. This is the strength of using alaṅkāras in kāvya and nāṭya might need to grapple with gestures and sequential presentation of ideas to bring this effect.


The devas then greet Brahmā with a stuti. A profound segment of vācika then comes about (2.4 to 2.15) – the devas see the Para-brahman in the Caturmukha-brahmā.

The Creator of the Universe and the lord of the personification of speech - Vāṇī, begins his vācika. As per the commentator, Mallinātha, the primordial poet - purāṇa-kaviḥ gave the best expression for the four-fold speech – parā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī emerging from his four face.  These are the very faces from with the four Vedas emanated. The verse 2.17, more or less summarises the nature of true vācika – spoken word.

पुराणस्य कवेस्तस्य चतुर्मुखसमीरिता ।
प्रवृत्तिरासीच्छब्दानां चरितार्था चतुष्टयी ॥ 2.17

This sublimity and profundity of the nature of speech can only be captured through the verbal medium of artistic expression – kāvya. [1]

Brahmā, at the outset observes that they have lost their original brilliance. He asks –

किमिदं द्युतिमात्मीयां न बिभ्रति यथा पुरा।

हिमाक्लिष्टप्रकाशानि ज्योतींषीव मुखानि वः ॥ 2.19

While the poet brought the effect of sāttvika through his own words, i.e., in kavipraudhokti in the verse 2.2. stated above, he employs kavi-nibaddha-praudhokti in the next few verses to make the characters of his creation speak.

How can a poet bring the effect of vaivarṇya, i.e., change of colour through words? He will need to state what it was before and what it has come to be currently. He does exactly this through the first half of the verse. Brahmā asks – “How come the sparkle of the past currently seems to have disappeared in you all?” The poet however, also wishes to make us understand the magnitude of the change. The original brightness of the faces of the devas was akin to that of luminous objects (Sun, Moon, Stars and the Fire) and now there seems to be (grey) mist blocking their radiance. It is quite an intriguing fact that while in verse 2.2, the poet describes them as supta-padmas, with Brahmā coming and their faces brightening up a bit, they are हिमाक्लिष्टप्रकाशानि ज्योतींषीव!

It is not just their faces that had lost lustre, but their āhārya too! The poet extends the effect of loss of sattva to inanimate objects as well – wonder if this can be achieved in nāṭya at all!

In verse 2.20, the poet says through the words of Brahmā that Indra’s vajrāyudha no longer has its former radiance and does not let out the multi-colour rainbow. In other words, the weapon has lost its ability to vanquish enemies and to bring colours of joy to the world. What’s more, Varuna, the world regulator and vanquisher of enemies, carries a noose which looks like a serpent which has lost all its valour (and venom, possibly) due to a spell cast on it. The noose which is supposed to instil fear in the hearts of the wrong-doers is itself like a half-dead snake!

Kālidāsa adds some āṅgika too to the pen-portrait that he is painting to tell us the state of the devas. In 2.23, Brahmā, looking at Yama says

यमोऽपि विलिखन्भूमिं दण्डेनास्तमितत्विषा।

कुरुतेऽस्मिन्नमोघेऽपि निर्वाणालातलाघवम् ॥ 2.23

The wielder of the sceptre of discipline appears to have hung his head low (in shame and sorrow, of course!) and scratches the ground with his sceptre, which is reduced in form to a burnt piece of charcoal used for writing. The poet brings in dynamism here. Moreover, looking down in shyness and scratching the ground with toes is something that is natural for women and suggests their shyness. Here, Yama, the embodiment of Self-regulation and Death has been reduced to the state of a meek female and his object of brilliant power is diminished in lustre akin to a torch that is put out

The twelve Ādityas have become so cool, or rather, cold that their brightness is can as easily be gazed at as one would regard a painting.  2.24. The heat and light of the Ādityas are gone! The Martus are walking with faltering steps (have long forgotten their swift speeds of flying)– an element of āṅgika here too! 

Brahmā, who is quite surprised at this unexpected dullness of all the devas and their paraphernalia, wants to know what has caused such greyness in their lives. He almost hints that there is nothing more than creation that he can do and it is their duty to safeguard whatever he has created.

तदब्रूत वत्साः किमितः प्रार्थयध्वं समागताः ।

मयि सृष्टिर्हि लोकानां रक्षा युष्मास्ववस्थिता ॥ 2.28

As the devatas had even lost their voice to give words to their trouble, Indra, their leader gets into action; and his action is merely to softly pass on the ball to their Guru Bṛhaspati’s court. He does so only with a gentle and slow movement of all his hundred eyes towards the Guru. He does not have words to speak to Brahmā or to the Guru. Bṛhaspati, who is known to have mastered language can at least attempt to express their unified wish to Brahmā – the master of speech, speaking to the Creator of Speech!

To be continued...


[1] No sculpture, painting, music, dance or a complete theatre performance can depict an abstract concept with such impact. The same would apply to profound arthāntaranyāsas and epigrammatic statements such as - “विकारहेतौ सति विक्रियन्ते येषां न चेतांसि स एव धीराः” and also rhetorical questions such as “केनापि कामेन तपश्चचार” – these would be hard to translate into stylized or non-stylized abhinaya. Nāṭya, nṛtya, śilpa and citra will need to embody emotions and concepts through characters; pure music is way too abstract to capture a philosophical concept. Even if translated such profound statements are translated into nāṭya or nṛtya , they lose their punch and charm. Kāvya is the only medium which can act as a golden mean between the extremes of the abstract and concrete and also work at the extremities. This can potentially be achieved through applied music, i.e., lyrical music too. There too, the presence of the literary element is adding the charm. It is, in fact, hard for any other form of art to capture speech issuing out from four faces, each facing a different direction.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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