In pre-modern India, ‘Sāhitī-samarāṅgaṇa-sārvabhauma’ was a title conferred upon people who contributed in equal measure to the fields of literature and warfare. Our country boasts of a long list of achievers known for their physical and intellectual might, the significant ones being Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Yashovarma, Bhojaraja, and Krishnadevaraya. Bhoja is one of India’s least celebrated kings. This reveals a poverty of gratitude, which is one of the unfortunate ills of present-day India.
During 11th century CE, paramāras, a class of people, formed the lowest rung of society. Hailing from this background, Bhoja rose to the status of a supreme emperor. A self-made, fiercely independent person, he ruled over central India for a long period of forty-five years. He was the one king who could contain the invasion of barbaric hordes headed by Muhammad Ghazni. Bhoja’s death marked the beginning of India’s downfall.
Bhoja had an active interest and expertise in a wide range of subjects, including but not restricted to literature, grammar, architecture, lexicography, aesthetics, music, dance, dramaturgy, history, philosophy, astrology, polity, ayurveda and sculpture. A man of extraordinary energy, he authored eighty-four texts taking the names of his eighty-four honorific titles. Products of original, creative thinking, these texts are far from being superficial; on the contrary, each work is a thorough investigation of its subject. They invariably attract the attention of every serious student in their respective fields. Caṃpū Rāmāyaṇam is one such work.
Caṃpū Rāmāyaṇam is perhaps the finest specimen in the campū genre of Sanskrit literature, which is a mixture of prose and poetry. Four other works that are popular in this format are: Anantabhaṭṭa's Bhāratacaṃpū, Veṅkaṭādhvari's Viśvaguṇādarśacaṃpū, Somadeva's Yaśastilakacaṃpū (or Trivikrama Bhaṭṭa’s Naḻacampū), and Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita's Nīlakaṇṭhavijayacaṃpū. Pedantic in structure and artificial in poetic content, these works cannot be readily savoured. The advantage of campū is that it offers an opportunity to make the best use of both prose and poetry. The eye-catching, heart-warming incidents in the course of a story are presented in the form of verses, and prose is used for background narration. While prose passages do not draw attention to themselves, verses capture the poet’s astute observations, thus breaking the monotony in narration.
Known for its effortless style, chaste diction, and novel imageries, Caṃpū Rāmāyaṇam is the best Sanskrit work that has the story of Rāmāyaṇam as its subject. Bhoja was the first writer who tried to narrate the complete story of Rāmāyaṇam in the form of an independent poem. It follows the original to a minute degree, so much so that the first word of the first verse in all cantos except the Bālakāṇḍa is the same as the original. If a person wishes to familiarize himself with the idiom of classical Sanskrit and learn how to employ different meters, figures of speech, and poetic conventions, then Caṃpū Rāmāyaṇam is the kāvya to pick. For connoisseurs of classical Sanskrit poetry, it is surely a delightful read. An important shortcoming of this kāvya is that it does not do justice to the sublimity of Vālmīki's work, in terms of characterization and delineation of emotions. Although this shortcoming clearly brings down the merit of the work, it does not undermine all its qualities. This work is unfortunately unfinished, as Bhoja passed away after composing five cantos. Many poets of a later period tried their hand at composing the Yuddhakāṇḍa portion of this work; Lakṣmaṇasūri is the most famous among them. It became a fad and a matter of pride for poets to write the Yuddhakāṇḍa. Some even boasted of composing it within the span of a single day. None of their works, however, are satisfactory. At best, they remain as feeble echoes of Bhoja’s muse.
Sundarakāṇḍa, as its name suggests, is a beautiful portion of Rāmāyaṇam. It records the adventures of Hanūmān as he attempts to locate Sītā. Crossing the ocean, he enters the city of Lanka, where he sees her held captive in the Aśokavana. He gently approaches her, speaks of her husband’s well-being, and assures her freedom in the near future. He then proceeds to instill fear in the heart of the enemies by wreaking havoc. When struck by Indrajit’s astra, although he is not bound by it, he pretends like he is, only to take a closer look at the city and its army. He is then taken to Rāvaṇa.
This encounter between Hanūmān and Rāvaṇa has not caught the attention of many Sanskrit poets. The ones who wrote on the theme of Rāmāyaṇam—both dramatists and writers of epic poems—have skimmed through this portion hurriedly, perhaps the sole exception being Abhinanda. Bhoja, however, has presented this situation very well. The conversation between Hanūmān and Rāvaṇa is one of the brilliant episodes in this kāvya.
Here, the meter employed is Vasantatilakam, which has fourteen syllables in one line. It is a niryati meter, in that it does not have a caesura anywhere in the four lines, but for the pādānta-yati. Interestingly, it is also the longest meter that does not have a yati. Having a near equal distribution of short and long syllables, it is one of the grandest meters of Sanskrit. Its gati, rhythm, is natural to the language and so it can create and sustain the ambiance of a variety of moods. Bhoja is particularly well-known for his felicitous handling of Vasantatilakam. In this episode, he uses this meter to not just describe Rāvaṇa but also compose Hanūmān’s reply. The situation demands the use of a forceful meter and Vasantatilakam is just that. Also noteworthy is Bhoja’s choice of style. He appropriately uses ornate compound words that are the hallmarks of pāñcālī and gauḍī style.
Bhoja describes how Hanūmān saw Rāvaṇa in a set of four verses, which are collectively known as kulaka:
सोऽयं ददर्श दशकन्धरमन्धकारि-
He saw Rāvaṇa, the one who tested the mettle of his muscles
by lifting the mighty Kailāsa mountain, the abode of Śiva himself
His upper garment was adrift by the continuous fanning
by divine damsels, his captives from Indra’s station
The first two lines present a picture of strength and valour, while the next two suggest tenderness and idyllic romance. It is the hallmark of a great poet to juxtapose seemingly opposite moods. Bhoja does exactly that – he brings in the moods of vīra (heroic) and śṛṅgāra (love) and proceeds to creature adbhuta (wonder) by intermixing the two. The heroic mood is heightened by the description of Rāvaṇa’s strength: it was so immense that he used to exercise his muscles by lifting the Kailāsa mountain! This mood takes a different shape in the next part of the verse where his strength is described in a roundabout way. Not caring for sensitivities, Rāvaṇa had the damsels of the divine world as his servants. They used to fan him gently and ensure his comfort. By saying that his upper garment was adrift by the wind fanned by beautiful women, the poet has subtly suggested śṛṅgāra. This served to boost Rāvaṇa’s ego further and he did not really find contentment in the company of those women. So it is appropriate to say that the rasa presented here is an ābhāsa, distortion, of śṛṅgāra. The fact that the women were brought to his palace against their will hints at karuṇa (pathos).
The next verse is a picturesque description:
रेखाभिराममिव वासवनीलशैलम् ॥
He was dark-complexioned, and his white teeth were shining
Behind crimson lips. He appeared majestic like the blue-hued Indranīla
Mountain, which forms the backdrop of a silvery moon
Encircled by an array of scarlet clouds during dusk
By employing the figure of speech upamā (simile), the poet has compared Rāvaṇa with the Indranīla mountain. The common feature between the two is the dark hue – Rāvaṇa was dark-complexioned and it is a poetic convention that this particular mountain is deep blue in colour. At a deeper level, the simile also suggests that Rāvaṇa was unshakeable in battle and his might was as massive as a mountain. The other two hues, white and crimson, equated with his teeth and lips respectively, introduce a new facet of his personality. Though he is intimidating most of the time, his majestic demeanor surely evokes admiration.
The next verse is a treat to the ears and is best enjoyed by reciting it out loud.
The mighty tusks of diggajas that forcefully struck his chest
During times of war, fractured upon contact and stuck right there
With severe scars, he appeared like the expansive ocean, with
The moon’s light reflected on its lilting waves
No translation can fully capture the śabdālaṅkāra (figure of speech referring to sound) of this verse. Upon reciting it out loud, our appreciative imagination takes an auditory dimension and the meaning of the verse reveals itself to us without much effort from our part to understand. Building upon the ambiance of the heroic mood, the poet compares Rāvaṇa to an expansive ocean in this verse. The aptness of this comparison cannot be overstated, for nothing is mightier than the ocean. It is a mythological belief that eight gargantuan elephants hold the earth upright in eight directions. Rāvaṇa, in the course of his numerous fights with the Gods, had to face these mammoths. Not only did he face them, he also defeated them effortlessly. His chest was dotted with the remains of the tusks of elephants that struck him during wars, forming heroic scars. Figures of speech of both sound and sense have contributed to heighten the effect of the heroic mood. The extra addition of reflected moonlight refers to his ten radiant faces. This suggests a certain calmness and composure.
The poet’s creative imagination soars high in the next verse in which he beautifully uses utprekṣālaṅkāra (poetic fancy):
निःश्रेयसप्रणयिनीं पदवीं निरोद्धुं
जित्वा यथेच्छमभिषिक्तमिवान्धकारम् ॥
He, the fulfilment of the sins of the three worlds,
Was an insurmountable barrier on the path of mokṣa
It was as if darkness, having won over the sun and the moon,
Was anointed as the supreme monarch
This is pure, classy poetry. The two parts of the verse compete with each other to render it beautiful. Rāvaṇa’s character is so effectively portrayed by describing him as the fulfilment of the sins of the three worlds that no amount of descriptions of his heroic exploits could have created this effect in the minds of readers. Rāvaṇa’s mindset was such that he wanted every beautiful thing on the face of the earth to rest with him. He thought of them as objects he could use, abuse, and finally throw away. This attitude coupled with his other demonic instincts made him a barricade to mokṣa. Although he had won over the sun and the moon, he was blind to the resplendent ātmajyoti, the light of the Self. As stated by Bhagavadgītā,
न तद्भासयते सूर्यो न शशाङ्को न पावकः ।
यद्गत्वा न निवर्तन्ते तद्धाम परमं मम ॥
Neither sun nor moon nor fire
can illuminate that state
It is my supreme abode and having reached there,
You will not return.
A similar concept is seen in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad. The idea is that spiritual power will eventually vanquish him, and this is the reason for him being equated with darkness itself. What is the obvious consequence of darkness being anointed as the emperor of the universe? There would be no light anywhere, and the dynamics of the world would be reduced to low-spirited drudgery. The poet’s flight of imagination that is seen here is inimitable.
Rāvaṇa sees Hanūmān:
सोऽपि प्लवङ्गमभिवीक्ष्य समीरपुत्रं
चित्रीयमाणहृदयः पिशिताशनेन्द्रः ।
नन्दीश्वरः स्वयमुपागत इत्यमंस्त ॥
The lord of demons saw Hanūmān
And his heart was struck by trepidation
Baffled, he thought of him as Nandi, who had
Cursed him when he tried to lift the Kailāsa mountain
When Rāvaṇa tried to lift the Kailāsa mountain in the past, Nandi, one of Śiva’s attendants, stopped him. When a fierce verbal exchange between them followed, Rāvaṇa mocked at him by saying, “Your mouth is just like a monkey’s.” Furious, Nandi cursed him that the cause of his downfall will be a monkey. As soon as Rāvaṇa heard of Hanūmān’s adventures and set his eyes upon him, he was reminded of Nandi’s curse. Not just that, he was so overcome by fear that he mistook Hanūmān to be Nandi himself. A mere monkey had flummoxed the greatest emperor of the world. This, seen in the light of Rāvaṇa’s description as an invincible warrior, brings to light the magnitude of Hanūmān’s heroic exploits in Lanka.
As noted earlier, Bhoja closely follows Vālmīkirāmāyaṇam. The idea of this verse is present in the original:
किमेष भगवान्नन्दी भवेत्साक्षादिहागतः ।
येन शप्तोऽस्मि कैलासे मया सञ्चालिते पुरा ॥
In the next few verses, Hanūmān speaks to Rāvaṇa and urges him to return Sītā to Rāma. He says:
मत्रोपरुद्ध्य रघुवंशपतेः कलत्रम् ।
वस्त्रेण बद्धुमविनीत कथं यतेथाः ॥
You have held captive Rāma’s wife, whose
unsullied character is celebrated throughout the world
O unruly one! How do you intend to enwrap in a cloth
the burning fire raised from the altar of yajña?
The poet says that Rāvaṇa’s attempt to hold Sītā captive is as futile as trying to bind fire with a piece of cloth. It will catch fire itself and turn into ashes within no time. By describing the fire as vaitānavedijanita the poet has displayed his mastery over art, for Sītā was born in a land meant to be the altar of yajña. There is another adjective that qualifies fire: pavamānabandhu. Hanūmān is the son of vāyu and the close connection between fire and air is well known. The suggestion here is that Sītā is related to Hanūmān and his devotion to her is unquestionable. Come what may, he will marshal all his strength to free her.
The next verse employs dṛṣṭāntālaṅkāra (analogy) to further prove that Rāvaṇa’s attempts are both mindless and pointless.
बद्धादरोऽपि परदारपरिग्रहे त्व-
मिक्ष्वाकुनायककलत्रमनार्य मा गाः ।
वाताशनोऽहमिति किं विनतासुतस्य
श्वासानिलस्य भुजगः स्पृहयालुतालुः ॥
Kidnapping other’s wives is your pastime, I’m aware
Be that as it may; don’t approach Sītā, you wretched creature
Does a snake, although it is proud of living off air,
wish for the air that the giant Garuḍa breathes?
It is a convention among Sanskrit poets to describe snakes as living off air. Bhoja uses this kavi samaya (poetic convention) as an analogy in this verse. Rāvaṇa’s lasciviousness was hanging at the extreme limit. He had made it a pastime to kidnap other’s wives. Even so, his desire for Sītā appears naïve. How? A snake, though it consumes air as food, never wishes for the air that Garuḍa, the lord of the vultures, breathes, for it would mean coming face to face with death. Rāvaṇa’s situation is similar. His venomous nature is brought out well by comparing him with a snake. The word spṛhayālutālu is an amazing construction and speaks volumes of Bhoja’s abilities as a veritable wordsmith.
Enraged by these words, Rāvaṇa ordered his soldiers to kill the monkey at once. Vibhīṣaṇa, his prudent brother, advised him against it, as the scriptures do not sanction the killing of an emissary. The ensuing story is well known.