Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita – Satirical and Didactic Poems

This article is part 6 of 7 in the series Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita


A Summary of the Story

Written in the campū style with a mixture of prose and poetry, this work is based on the mythological story of how the sage Durvāsas gifted a wreath of flowers to Indra, how Indra disrespectfully placed it on his elephant’s head, how the beast crushed the wreath beneath its feet, how the angry sage cursed Indra that he would lose his glory, how the gods, now weakened by the effect of the curse were defeated in battle by their enemies, the Asuras, how Indra heard the divine voice of Śiva  urging him to stay incognito, how, according to the advice of Bṛhaspati, their preceptor, the gods left for the Mandara mountain, how they spent their days meditating there, how Bṛhaspati informed them after several thousand years that their troubles would soon end, how the gods, along with Bṛhaspati approached Brahma’s Satyaloka, how Brahma asked them to approach Viṣṇu for succor, how Viṣṇu asked them to first make friends with the Asuras and then churn the milky ocean with the Mandara mountain for a churning rod and the serpent Vāsuki for a rope so that they could obtain ambrosia and become immortals by drinking it, how Bṛhaspati made friends with Śukrācārya, the preceptor of Asuras, how the gods and demons came together to lift the mountain Mandara, how when lifting the mountain proved to be an arduous task, Bṛhaspati created a whirlwind to uproot it, how the two parties flung it in to the ocean, how the Asuras fetched the serpent Vāsuki to tie it around the mountain, how the Asuras caught hold of the snake’s mouth and the Devas, its tail, how the shaky mountain was steadied on the back of the primeval tortoise, how when the poison Hālāhala emerged from the thousand mouths of Vāsuki, the gods and Asuras prayed to Śiva  to protect them from it, how Śiva consumed the poison, how Pārvatī held his neck to prevent her husband from swallowing it, how Śiva’s throat turned blue as a consequence, how the gods praised Śiva for protecting the world from the fearful venom, how as the churning continued, several gems including the elephant Airāvata, the horse Ucci¦¾ravas, the cow Kāmadhenu, the five wish-yielding trees, the moon’s crescent, the Apasarases and the goddess Śrī  appeared, how the king of the milky ocean appeared along with Dhanvantari who held the pitcher of ambrosia in his hands, how the Asuras snatched the pitcher away, how when Bṛhaspati was trying to make a truce with the Asuras, a beautiful damsel appeared before them, how she agreed to distribute a small portion of the ambrosia to the gods before giving a larger share to the Asuras, how she told them to sit in two separate lines with their eyes closed, how she cut the neck of Rāhu and Ketu, two Asuras who strayed in to the line of Devas, how she was put down the empty pitcher after distributing ambrosia to the gods alone, how she was praised by the gods who now regained their strength, how the Asuras opened their eyes only to learn that they had been cheated by Viṣṇu who had appeared in the form of a damsel, how Viṣṇu ordered the gods to drive away the Asuras by their might, how the Asuras who were defeated made  the nether world their abode and how at the end of their churning mission, the god dismissed Vāsuki after praising him, how they hailed lord Śiva and how they again crowned Indra the king of heaven.

The poets Mastery over Prose and Poetry Alike

The poet has exhibited his wide range of literary talents in delineating the story and describing various episodes with a touch of humor here and there. His command over prose comes out superbly in this work which has been divided in to five chapters called āśvāsas.

दृष्ट्वा कौस्तुभमप्सरोगणमपि प्रक्रान्तवादा मिथो
गीर्वाणाः कति वा न सन्ति भुवने भारा दिवः केवलम् ।
प्रक्रान्ते गरले द्रुते सुरगणे निश्चेश्टिते विष्टपे
मा भैष्टेति गिराविरास धुरि यो देवस्तमेव स्तुमः ॥

When they saw the gem Kaustubha and the damsels, Apsarases, emerge from the ocean, the gods argued with each other about possessing them. These petty gods, and they are plenty of them, are heavens burden to say the least. When a frightening poison emerged, the gods ran hither and thither and the universe came to a halt. And then there appeared a God who, with these words Dont panic took the lead. Let us praise him alone. (Verse 1.2)

The following is a partial translation of a prose passage that describes Amarāvatī, heaven’s capital –

There is a certain city called Amarāvatī It is the abode of Lord Indra whose lotus feet are worshipped by gods and demons alike. It is the place where gods live. It is home to many a wonder. It is a mine of gems and the very pinnacle of sensual pleasure. What more can we say?  Even words cannot grasp it. Since it is situated in the sky which has no support whatsoever and since it has doors everywhere, there is no need to raise a foundation, no need to build a doorstep, no need to construct a dome and no need to dig a moat but still, so as to not abandon a tradition, they have built a wall around it. And within it is a palace called Vaijayanta which has neither a storey nor a staircase. It is peopled by those who can move about anywhere at will and have no reason to grow any food because the ambrosia which they drink fills their stomachs. Furthermore, since trees like the Mandāra can provide them with whatever jewels and clothes they aspire for, one neednt sell or buy anything there and therefore the market places are just names.  Thats all. Here one can see all those sages who while they lived on earth, had mortified their bodies by performing severe penances, freed their minds of desire, fear, anger and envy and who had no inclination for objects of sense. And where can you see them - with Apsarases of course.  (Prose 1.2)

Short Woks of Nīlakaṇṭhadīkita - Satirical and Didactic Poems


Literally translated as “A farce on the age of kali”, this century of verses, along with his other work, Sabhārañjanaśataka, are ample proof of the fact that Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita is a satirist par excellence. In this work, which explores the evil effects of the present epoch, Kaliyuga, the poet makes debaters, teachers, physicians, astrologers, rich men, relatives, money-lenders, backbiters, hypocrites, misers and even poets, the butt of sarcasm, humor and irony. All the 102 verses in this poem employ the simple śloka or anuṣṭubh meter, aptly suited for making witty comments. Some of these verses are translated below –

असम्भ्रमो विलज्जत्वमवज्ञा प्रतिवादिनि ।
हासो राज्ञः स्तवश्चेति पञ्चैते जयहेतवः ॥

There are five ways by which one could win a debate in the court not being panicky, letting go of shame, ignoring the opponent, laughing loudly and praising the king. (2)

वाच्यतां समयोऽतीतः स्पष्टमग्रे भविष्यति ।
इति पाठयतां ग्रन्थे काठिन्यं कुत्र वर्तते ॥

 “Its already time. Keep studying and things will become clearer in the future To those that teach their students in this manner, wherefore pain? (8)

यदि न क्वापि विद्यायां सर्वथा क्रमते मतिः ।
मान्त्रिकास्तु भविष्यामो योगिनो यतयोऽपि वा ॥

If we are so dumb-witted that nothing at all can stimulate our minds, we shall try these options practicing witchcraft, becoming yogis or renouncing the world. (10)

आयुःप्रश्ने दीर्घमायुर्वाच्यं मौहूर्तिकैर्जनैः ।
जीवन्तो बहु मन्यन्ते मृताः प्रक्ष्यन्ति कं पुनः ॥

If someone wants to know how long he would live, the astrologer must always say that he will live a long life. Those who actually manage to live long will praise him. Those who die will not come back to argue. (16)

नातिधैर्यं प्रदातव्यं नातिभीतिश्च रोगिणि ।
नैश्चिन्त्यान्नादिमे दानं नैराश्यादेव नान्तिमे ॥

The physician should neither calm not frighten his patient excessively. In the former case, an absence of worry and in the latter case, an absence of hope, will make him not pay for the consultation. (24)

वर्णयन्ति नराभासान् वाणीं लब्ध्वापि ये जनाः ।
लब्ध्वापि कामधेनुं ते लाङ्गले विनियुञ्जते ॥

Those that employ their gift of poesy to the service of men with no merits are like those fools who even after procuring the wish-fulfilling cow of heaven use it for pulling a plough (38)

अन्तकोऽपि हि जन्तूनामन्तकालमपेक्षते ।
न कालनियमः कश्चिदुत्तमर्णस्य विद्यते ॥

Even death waits for ones life-span to end but the money-lender follows no rule as regards time. (51)

अध्यापयन्ति शास्त्राणि तृणीकुर्वन्ति पण्डितान् ।
विस्मारयन्ति जातिं स्वां वराटाः पञ्चषाः करे ।

All that one needs to be able to give lectures on every subject, not care a bit for the learned and forget ones past are a few pennies in the pocket (68)

शुष्कोपवासो धर्मेषु भैषज्येषु च लङ्घनम् ।
जपयज्ञश्च यज्ञेषु रोचते लोभशालिनाम् ॥

The miser likes these the most Among religious observances, a complete fast, among treatment methods, postponement of a meal and among ways of worshipping god, chanting. (75)

प्रस्थास्यमानः प्रविशेत्प्रतिष्ठेत दिने दिने ।
विचित्रानुल्लिखेद्विघ्नांस्तिष्ठासुरतिथिश्चिरम् ॥

A guest who wants to stay long in the house of his host must get ready to leave every day but when just about to leave, he must return back and narrate the different bad omens he encountered on his way (81)

परच्छिद्रेषु हृदयं परवार्तासु च श्रवः ।
परमर्मसु वाचं च खलानामसृजद्विधिः ॥

The creator has placed the hearts of wicked men in others defects, their ears in others talks and their speech in others secrets. (98)


Unlike the preceding work which is dominated by satire, this poem, “Entertaining the court”, is partly satirical and partly didactic. It has 105 verses in total, all composed again in the śloka meter. The poet begins by describing how an ideal assembly of scholars should be. He then proceeds to praise (and in some cases make fun of) knowledge, poesy, sweet talk, liberality, courage, polity, fate, virtue, forgiveness, peace, morality, richness, family life and kinghood. Some of these verses are translated below –

सन्ति सर्वविधा मर्त्या न सन्त्येके विपश्चितः ।
असूर्येणैव लोकेन किं तेन विषयेण नः ॥

There is this place where there are all kinds of people but no scholar whomsoever. Like a world without the sun, such a place means nothing to us. (2)

अन्धा विद्वज्जनैर्हीना मूका कविभिरुज्झिता ।
बधिरा गायकैर्हीना सभा भवति भूभृताम् ॥

A kings court is blind without scholars, dumb without poets and deaf without singers. (18)

काणाः कमलपत्राक्षाः कदर्याः कल्पशाखिनः ।
कातरा विक्रमादित्याः कविदृग्गोचरं गताः ॥

Seen through the eyes of a poet, even the squint-eyed become lotus-eyed, misers become the wish-fulfilling trees of heaven and cowards become super heroes. (21)

बलिनो बलिनः स्निह्यन्त्यबलं तु निगृह्णते ।
दावं दीपयते चण्डो दीपं व्याहन्ति मारुतः ॥

The strong befriends the strong but suppresses the week. A gale kindles the forest-fire but puts off the candle. (45)

अधीयते विजानन्ति विरजन्ति मुहुर्मुहुः ।
नात्यन्ताय निवर्तन्ते नरा वैषम्यतो विधेः ॥

 If fate is not on your side, you will learn the scriptures, understand them and renounce the world, over and over, but still not attain final liberation. (61)

कालः सदागतिरपि स्थायीव परिचेष्टते ।
चण्डमारुतवद्विश्वमधरोत्तरयन्क्षणात् ॥

Though always on the move, time, like a whirlwind, appears to be stagnant but it can turn the world topsy-turvy in a moment. (66)

धर्मो नर्मसखः कामो गुरुस्तत्त्वोपदेशिने ।
भटः सङ्गररङ्गेषु सचिवोऽर्थसमार्जने ॥

A best friend in matters of love, a teacher in imparting the knowledge of truth, a soldier in the battlefield and a minister in helping one acquire wealth thats what Dharma is. (81)

कर्मज्ञानं च मोक्षाय कर्मण्यर्थोऽधिकारिता ।
अतोऽर्थेनैव कैवल्यं न कैवल्येन लभ्यते ॥

How can the scriptures, whose every word is rich in meaning, forbid the acquisition of wealth? (88)

भुञ्जते यत्सुखं धीरैरप्रमत्तैर्गृहाश्रमे ।
स्वर्गस्तस्याङ्गसम्पूर्तिरपवर्गोऽस्य नित्यता ॥

If you add a bit here and a bit there to the joy of an alert and wise householder then thats what is the joy of heaven and if thats enduring, you know you have attained liberation. (98)

न राजानं विना राज्यं बलवत्स्वपि मन्त्रिषु ।
प्राणेष्वसत्सु किं देहश्चण्डवातेन धार्यते ॥

Even able ministers cannot save a kingdom that has no king. Strong winds cannot bring back to life a body bereft of its vital breath. (101)



Dr. Shankar is an 'ashtavadhani,' psychiatrist, poet, and Sanskrit scholar. He is a master of a complex poetic form in Sanskrit known as 'chitrakavya.' He translated Gangadevi's Madhuravijaya and Uddandakavi's Kokilasandesha into English.