Maharṣi Vālmīki's sense of humour - part 3

There is a uniqueness in hāsya as opposed to the other rasas. It is enjoyed by one and all. This rasa has the power of entertaining everyone from small kids to old people. Irrespective of their vocation, whether one is a beggar, a servant, an officer, a merchant, a householder or a mendicant, everyone can enjoy it. This is not the case of the other rasas. The śṛṅgāra cannot be understood by small kids while the elderly might be disinterested. It is forbidden for the sannyāsīs. The same is the case of vīra, it cannot be enjoyed by many. Many people don’t want to read anything which deals with karuṇa. The same is the case of other rasas too. But I’ve never found any man or woman who doesn’t enjoy hāsya. I’ve never seen any haters of hāsya. Even in the direst of times if someone speaks something humorous, at least of the time being it gives happiness. The aestheticians emphasize by saying, ‘शृङ्गारप्रभवो हास्यः’ i.e. śṛṅgāra is the reason/origin of hāsya. Their opinion is a bit equivocal. Difficult to substantiate. We can say hāsya originates from being lively or joyful. Without being in such a condition it would be difficult for someone to be naturally humorous. The import might be that śṛṅgāra would be joyfulness of mind.

We can see some examples of humor,

भिक्षो मांसनिषेवणं प्रकुरुषे किं तेन मद्यं विना
मद्यं चापि तव प्रियं प्रियमहो वाराङ्गनाभिस्सह ।
वेश्या द्रव्यरुचिः कुतस्तव धनं द्यूतेन चौर्येण वा
चौर्यद्यूतपरिग्रहोऽपि भवतो भ्रष्टस्य का वा गतिः ॥

Seeing a sannyāsī near a meat market a gṛhastha (householder) is surprised and asks him thus!

G - O bhikṣu! Do you consume meat?
S - Without liquor how tasty would it be!
G - O so you like to have a drink too!
S - Not unless in the company of prostitutes!
G - O you like them too, but they demand money, where do you get money?
S - Either by gambling or stealing
G - So you do these things too?
S - What other choice do a fallen one have? 

The answers given by this imposter of a sannyāsī queue up in a line to generate humor.

कमले कमला शेते हरः शेते हिमालये ।
क्षीराब्धौ च हरिः शेते मन्ये मत्कुणशङ्कया ॥

Lakṣmī sleeps in a lotus (in a pond),  Hara sleeps in the Himalayas, and Hari sleeps in the milky ocean. Probably frightened of bedbugs!

मशका मत्कुणा रात्रौ मक्षिका भिक्षुका दिवि ।
पिपीलिकाश्च भार्याश्च पीडयन्ति दिवानिशम् ॥

Mosquitoes and bedbugs torment in the night, flies and beggars torment during the day, ants and wives torment both day and night!

Such funny verses are in plenty in Sanskrit literature. These are standalone verses. Appropriate for quoting as per the situation. To develop humor in poetry the poets bring in hāsya. In the plays (dṛśyakāvya i.e. to be seen) there is a vidūṣaka whose primary purpose is to generate hāsya. In the other poems (śravyakāvya i.e. to be heard/read) the poet brings in the hāsya like lightning! This depends on the nature of the poet. In the real world, everyone cannot generate humor well. But everyone can enjoy it. It is the same in the case of the poets too. Poets like Kālidāsa, Bhāsa can bring in hāsya. But others like Bhāravi, Bhavabhūti, Murāri have not even bothered about its existence, both in their plays and poems. The vidūṣaka have no role in their plays. This applies across languages.

An example from Kālidāsa’s magnum opus Kumārasambhavam - Pārvatī is performing the most rigorous of the tapas to please Śiva and marry him. Even though satisfied, Śiva wants to test her and so comes in the form of a brahmacārī and taunts her. He says that Śiva isn’t a befitting groom for her. Here is something which he says as one of his reasons.

दिगम्बरत्वेन निवेदितं वसु ।
वरेषु यद्बालमृगाक्षि मृग्यते
तदस्ति किं व्यस्तमपि त्रिलोचने ॥

‘If we consider his looks, he is Virūpākṣa (with an eye on his forehead)!. His digambaratva (covered by the quarters, i.e. being naked) announces his wealth! O doe-eyed one! Does he possess even one quality befitting of a groom which people ask for?’

There is a pithy maxim describing the desirable qualities of a groom.

कन्या वरयते रूपं माता वित्तं पिता श्रुतम् ।
बान्धवाः कुलमिच्छन्ति मिष्टान्नमितरे जनाः ॥

‘The bride seeks handsomeness, the mother-in-law thinks about his financial status, the father-in-law thinks about education, the relatives seek a noble lineage, the others are worried about a sumptuous meal.’

In Abhijñāna-śākuntalam, Duṣyanta is in love, but Śakuntalā isn’t a princess but a girl who has been brought up in the āśrama. When he informs his friend Vidūṣaka that he is in love, he reacts like this.

यथा कस्यापि पिण्डखर्जूरैरुद्वेजितस्य तिन्तिण्यामभिलाषो भवेत् ॥

Someone who has been eating the sweet dates for a long time would be bored of the excess sweetness and would long for the tamarind! Your situation is similar!

Coming back to the present context, maharṣi Vālmīki in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam has provided ample scope for all the nine rasas and have woven them beautifully. The aṣṭādaśavarṇanās (eighteen varieties of descriptions) mandated to be present in mahākāvyas are also present in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam. This is an ideal worthy of emulation to all poets. Hence it has been hailed as ‘paraṃ kavīnāmādhāram’ i.e. the foundation of great poets/poesy.

The fun and leisure Śrī-rāmā and devī Sītā experiences now and then in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam constitutes śṛṅgāra. Once devī Sītā is kidnapped, there is an extensive description of vipralaṃbha-śṛṅgāra (śṛṅgāra in separation). On one side it is Śrī-rāmā longs for his beloved while on the other side devī Sītā pines for the reunion, the descriptions of their trials have reached the peak of vipralaṃbha. There is no other instance in the whole Sanskrit poetry which deals with vipralaṃbha of such noble characters in such extensive fashion. We see the appearance of vīra during the killing of the rākṣasas Khara and Dūṣaṇa. Yuddha-kāṇḍa has more raudra than vīra. In the laments of Tārā and Mandodarī, karuṇa has been given its due. The examples of adbhuta can be seen in the bridging of the ocean and the crossing of the ocean by Hanumān and in the exploits of Kuṃbhakarṇa. Bībhatsa finds its place in the description of people like Kabandha. Śānta is present the description of the tapas performed by Viśvāmitra and the descriptions of Agastya.

This is the third part of the multi-part translation of the Kannada book "Valmiki Munigala Hasya Pravrtti" by Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Dr. N Ranganatha Sharma. Thanks to Dr. Sharada Chaitra for granting us permission to translate this wonderful work. The original in Kannada can be read here



Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  



Raghavendra G S is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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