Footprints of Scholarly Temerity in Sanskrit Literature - 2

This article is part 2 of 7 in the series Footprints of Scholarly Temerity in Sanskrit Literature


Cāṭu literally means ‘pleasing,’ ‘entertaining,’ and ‘endearing.’[1] Modern dictionaries explain it as pleasing or graceful words of discourse, flattery; agreeable, sweet or coaxing speech; flattery, especially of a lover to his sweetheart. The root of the word cāṭu (caṭe varṣāvaraṇayoḥ) draws our attention to the swiftness of its appeal and its ability to attract and amaze the hearts of connoisseurs. Cāṭu verses are traditionally classified as rāja-cāṭu and priyā-cāṭu—verses used to praise kings and please women, respectively.

The literary tradition of Telugu has preserved a wealth of verses under the cāṭu genre. So is the case with Sanskrit. Kannada, unfortunately, does not have many cāṭu verses. It only has compositions that deal with religion, philosophy, and worldly wisdom, such as vacana, kīrtana, pada, and tripadi.

Let us now sample some examples of āśu-kavitā.

Kālidāsa once went to Kuntala-deśa as an envoy of his patron Candragupta Vikramāditya. Kadambas ruled over Kuntala in that time; Bhagīratha was the emperor. Bhagīratha was known for his insolence. Mindless of Kāḷidāsa’s poetic genius, he planned to insult the envoy by not offering him a seat. Accordingly, no chairs were in sight when Kālidāsa entered the court. The great poet was not oblivious to Bhagīratha’s antics. He at once grasped the king’s intention and composed the following verse to mock him. Unabashed at the king’s haughtiness, he recited the verse and sat on the ground, bold and dignified.

इह निवसति मेरुः शेखरः क्ष्माधराणा-

मिह विनिहितभाराः सागराः सप्त चान्ये।


धरणितलमिहैव स्थानमस्मद्विधानाम्॥[2]

Here resides Meru, the mightiest of mountains; here flow the seven seas with their burdens relieved. This resplendent earth, with Ādi-śeṣa’s hood as its base, is indeed the befitting seat for us.

Upon hearing this, Bhagīratha was overcome by shame. He apologised for his mistake and honoured Kālidāsa. Set in the Mālinī meter, this verse bears the stamp of a typical āśu-padya. Though composed impromptu, it has no grammatical and prosodic blemishes. Au contraire, it is adorned with a beautiful figure of speech—parikara (several significant epithets are employed one after the other to give force to a statement)—and qualifies to be a cāṭu-padya.

Let’s move forward by a dozen of hundred years and shift our focus to Tamil Nadu.

Accān-dīkṣita was Appayya-dīkṣita’s grandfather. Once, when he visited the Varada-rāja temple in Kāñci, Kṛṣṇa-deva-rāya had come there with his wife. Accān-dīkṣita immediately composed this clever verse describing the queen’s regal beauty:

काञ्चित्काञ्चनगौराङ्गीं वीक्ष्य साक्षादिव श्रियम्।

वरदः संशयापन्नो वक्षःस्थलमुदैक्षत॥[3]

Glittering with gold, the queen looks exactly like Lakṣmī. Looking at her, Varada, the deity Viṣṇu, grows doubtful and looks searchingly at his chest.

This witty verse employs sandehālaṅkāra (poetic suspicion) to convey that the queen’s beauty was similar to that of Lakṣmī. Thanks to this, Accān-dīkṣita came to be known as Vakṣassthalācārya.

Let’s come further forward in time to the twenty-first century.  

Out of concern, an elderly scholar once told R Ganesh: “I see you’re indulging too much in composing constrained verses. I fear this is at the cost of pure poetry. Think about it.” As immediate assurance, Ganesh composed the following verse:

कूटालङ्कार दूरं चर विकटरटच्छब्दजालोत्सर त्वं

चाटूक्ते दृक्पथान्मद्व्यपसर सहसा स्वस्ति ते चित्रकाव्य।

शान्तोऽस्याडम्बर त्वं कविसमय नमस्ते निरस्तानुरागो

युष्मास्वात्मानुभूतौ सहजरसपदे याम्यहं जीवकाव्ये॥[4]

Cryptic figures of speech, keep away! Bombastic segments of sound, leave me alone!  Merely witty statements, quickly vanish from my sight! All patterns of constrained poetry, give me respite! Exhibitionism, damn you! Poetic conventions, I bid farewell to you! This moment forward, I pledge to plunge into the poetry of life, the fount of inartificial joy, which indeed is the basis of you all. 

The strength of this verse lies in its immediate impact. To achieve this, it makes use of Sanskrit’s natural idiom along with appropriate intonations[5]


Āśu-kavitā is indeed the composition of extempore verses, but the speed is such that a consummate scribe can write down the verses. If the poet composes verses with such swiftness that the scribe cannot put them down on paper at all, that kind of impromptu poetry is termed atyāśu-kavitā. Our tradition records the names of several poets who could compose hundreds of verses within an hour. Madhura-vāṇī, a seventeenth-century poetess, could compose hundred verses within twelve minutes! [6]. Śrīnivāsācārya, a nineteenth-century poet, hailed from Ālavaṭṭi, a hamlet in Karnataka. He could compose hundred verses in twenty-four minutes[7]. Ratna-kheṭa Śrīnivāsa-dīkṣita hailed from Jiñjī that is in the present-day Tamil Nadu. He used to write a complete treatise within a single day[8]. Veṅkāmātya, an eighteenth-century poet from Mysuru, could compose an entire work within twenty-four minutes[9]! These are all Sanskrit poets.

Telugu, Kannada, and Tamil also have similar poets. Upon witnessing such feats, onlookers might doubt the extemporaneity of the composition. They might think that the poet is reciting verses from memory. Hard though they might seem to believe, nobody can disaffirm the veracity of these compositions. A competent poet invests lasting aesthetic beauty not just in verses composed leisurely, but also in those composed extremely swiftly.

Scholarly Triumph

If we are to ascertain the reason for sabhā-kavitva, it is the irrepressible desire of poets to defeat other poets and scholars—vidvad-vijigīṣā. This entails not just winning over scholars by presenting a relentless stream of infallible arguments, but also capturing the hearts of connoisseurs through tasteful poetry.

Haughty scholars are likely to roar in the following manner:   

            प्राज्ञानामेव राज्ञां सदसि न सहते जल्पमल्पेतरेषां

क्षुद्रेष्वाक्षेपमुद्रां न खलु गणयते डिण्डिमः सार्वभौमः।

भाङ्कुर्वद्भेककुक्षिम्भरिषु भयभरोद्भ्रान्तभोगीन्द्रसुभ्रू-

भ्रूणभ्रंशी किमम्भःफणिषु पतगराट्सम्भ्रमी बम्भ्रमीति॥[10]

I am Ḍiṇḍima and I do not tolerate the blabber of towering scholars in royal courts! Will I ever pay heed to the criticisms levelled by the lay? Does Garuḍa, who has destroyed the foetuses of great snakes, take pride in killing a water-snake that has feasted on frogs?

They might also exhibit supreme self-confidence like Lolla Lakṣmīdhara:

वयमिह पदविद्यां तन्त्रमान्वीक्षिकीं वा

यदि पथि विपथे वा वर्तयामः स पन्थाः।

उदयति दिशि यस्माद्भानुमान्सैव पूर्वा

न हि तरणिरुदीते दिक्पराधीनवृत्तिः॥[11]

As for grammar, epistemology, and tantra, the way in which I lead them—right or wrong—is their destiny! The direction in which the Sun rises is identified as East. But the Sun is not obligated to follow the directions of any direction!  

These two kinds of poets are hot-headed; they do not give two hoots for connoisseurs. They care little to evoke aesthetic rapture in people of taste. There exist other scholars who take a different stand.  They say:

किं कवेस्तस्य काव्येन किं काण्डेन धनुष्मतः।

परस्य हृदयं भित्त्वा न घूर्णयति तच्छिरः॥[12]

An arrow shot by an archer and a poem composed by a poet must both pierce the heart and jolt the head. If not, it is no arrow, and it is no poem.

Jigīṣā (desire to win) of these poets assumes the form of impressing a ring of connoisseurs. In all these three kinds of poets, a great aspiration paves the way for poetry.

[1] चाटुः, चटति, भिनत्ति मनस्तोषां मोदवाक्यैरिति प्रियवचनं तत्पर्यायः (Śabda-kalpadruma, p. 440); चाटूक्तिः प्रियकथने (Vācaspatya, p. 2909); प्रियबाहुल्ये चतुः चाटुः (Śabda-ratnākaramu, p. 13); प्रेयः प्रियतराख्यानम् (Kāvyādarśa, 2.275); चाटुषु प्रेयोऽलङ्कारस्य वाक्यार्थत्वे ...  (Dhvanyāloka, 2.5 vṛtti)

[2] Aucitya-vicāra-carcā, p. 139

[3] Citra-mīmāṃsā, p. 63

[4] Kannaḍadalli Avadhāna-kalè, p. 18

[5] For more such verses, refer Stories behind Verses

[6] तत्तादृग्घटिकार्धनिर्मितशतश्लोकीफणिग्रामणीः। (Rāmāyaṇa-sāra-tilaka, 3.96)

[7] निःशङ्कं घटिकाशतं कवयिता। Ref: Saṃskṛta Kavicaritre (Kannada), vol. 2., p. 584

[8] प्रतिदिनप्रबन्धपरमेश्वर। (Bhāvanā-puruṣottama, Act 1)

[9] घटिकाप्रबन्धरचनाविदग्ध। Ref: Kannaḍa Citra-kāvya (Kannada), p. 19

[10] Pādukā-sahasra, p. 6 (preface)  

This verse is a part of a larger debate between Ḍiṇḍima and Vedānta-deśika. Readers interested in the episode may consult Stories behind Verses, pp. 251–55

[11] Saundarya-laharī, p. 203

[12] Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra, p. 37

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.

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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...