Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 11

While Parivrājaka seems to be miffed, he is also compassionate enough to reconcile that Śāṇḍilya being in this ephemeral world is bound to be behave that way! The verse which describes his rationale while not being as brilliant as Bhartṛhari can well be a part of an extrapolated vairagya collection.

देहो रोगनिधिर्जरावशगतो लीनान्तकाधिष्ठितो
यो नित्यप्रतिघातरुद्धविषयस्तीरे यथा पादपः।
तं लब्ध्वा सुकृतैरनेकगुणितैर्देहात्मना विस्मितो
मत्तो यो बलरूपयौवनगुणैर्देीषान्न तान् पश्यति ॥३॥

[The body is indeed the treasure of maladies, slave to the old age, on the brink of death which lies hidden.
It is battered continuously like the tree which stands on the river bank about to be uprooted.
Even though it is earned by great amount of good deeds, mesmerised and
intoxicated by strength, looks and youth, one doesn’t realise it’s flaws]

A very good phrase लीनान्तक is used, which says that death is hidden inside us. This is immediately followed by the introduction of the disciple Śāṇḍilya. His introduction is at its idiomatic best and any translation would pale in comparison.

प्रथममेवाहं करटकशेषसमिद्धे निरक्षरप्रक्षिप्तजिह्वे कण्ठप्रसक्तयज्ञोपवीते ब्राह्मण्यमात्रपरितुष्टे कुले प्रसूतः । ततो द्वितीयमस्माकं गृहेऽशननाशेन बुभुक्षितः प्रातरशनलोभेन शाक्यश्रमणकं प्रवजितोऽस्मि । ततस्तत्र दास्याःपुत्राणां एककालभक्तत्वेन बुभुक्षितः तमपि विसृज्य चीवरं छित्वा पात्रं प्रतोल्य छत्रमात्रं गृहीत्वा निर्गतोऽस्मि । ततस्तृतीयमस्य दुष्टाचार्यस्य भाण्डभारगर्दभस्संवृत्तः । कुत्र खलु कुतः खलु गतो भगवान् । एष दुष्टलिङ्गी प्रातरशनलोभेन एकाकी भिक्षामाहिण्डितुं गत इति तर्कयामि ।

[Firstly I was born in the lineage which sustained (lit. fuelled by) itself by leftovers of the crows in death ceremonies, having tongues which have never uttered (lit. thrown out) a single meaningful syllable, whose brāhmaṇya is limited to and sufficed by the yajñopavīta (sacred thread) which adheres to their necks. Secondly due to paucity of food, greed for breakfast made me take the vows of buddhism and become a mendicant. But due to those bastards’ one meal per day rule, I deserted it, I tore my robes, threw away my begging bowl and ran away only with the umbrella. Thirdly I ended up being the donkey bearing the burden of this vile preceptor. Where has he disappeared? This imposter of a preceptor, greedy to partake of breakfast alone has left me and has gone begging I presume!]

In this passage the phrases करटकशेषसमिद्धे, निरक्षरप्रक्षिप्तजिह्वे, कण्ठप्रसक्तयज्ञोपवीते, ब्राह्मण्यमात्रपरितुष्टे, एककालभक्तत्वेन, भाण्डभारगर्दभः are very good constructions which were and still are used to great effect in Sanskrit. The fact that they sustained their living by attending death ceremonies alludes to the fact that one need not be a learned person for that, which continues to be so till this day.

Also contrast Śāṇḍilya’s claims with the Nāgasena from Matta-vilāsa, where he being a bauddha bhikṣu is extremely satisfied with the sumptuous food he gets from the merchants but has complaints about other tenets, one can claim that buddhism during the time of this prahasana was far more genuine compared to the setting of Matta-vilāsa.

Regarding निरक्षरप्रक्षिप्तजिह्वे Lockwood and Bhat has the following note (numbered 14 in their edition)

“14. In some communities there is, at the beginning of a child’s education, a ceremony in which a letter or letters are gently traced on the child’s tongue with a gold object (a ring or some such thing). Śāṇḍilya’s remark indicates that his family never observed this ceremony, and thus implies that they were illiterates.”

While there is a custom in which the child is made to trace letters (particularly starting with ॐ) either on cloth or rice we are not aware of any such tradition where letters are traced on the child’s tongue.

Again we see that Parivrājaka seems to genuinely care about his disciple and assures him not to be afraid even though he has failed to keep up. In many places he refers to him as tapasvī, which means a pitiable soul. He also seems to be extremely patient which we see time and again throughout this play. Most of the verses uttered by him have parallels in philosophical texts like the bhagavadgītā, Ramaratnam in his thesis provides the verses in the bhagavadgītā and other texts which serves as the inspiration of the verses uttered by Parivrājaka, one can refer to that to see the parallels, here instead we shall try to highlight other aspects.

Śāṇḍilya comes straight to the point by asking about what is his way of arranging for food in the world full of festivities and fanfare. This starts an interesting conversation which goes on for a long time till it is somewhat interrupted by the appearance of Vasantasenā later. Parivrājaka replies to this query saying that he partakes food only from what good people give him, not caring about bouquets or brickbats, crossing the worldly lake unperturbed by the crocodile-like vices. Ramaratnam opines that this metaphor involving the crossing of the worldly lake might have been inspired by the lines ‘मारुतिस्सागरं तीर्णः संसार इव निर्ममः’ (Raghuvaṃśa 12.60), while it may be so, but it still comes as a distant second! With this verse and the previous quoted verse, we the readers are assured that Parivrājaka seems to be a genuine yogin and not a charlatan. We also see that there are very few lines of svagata or soliloquy for the Parivrājaka showing that he is transparent. Śāṇḍilya also has very few svagata lines showing he also has no problems stating his opinions however wrong they may be!

Śāṇḍilya on the other hand declares that he is orphaned and he has become his disciple just to fill his stomach and he is not at all interested in knowledge! When Parivrājaka asks why he says so, he turns his instructor’s words on its head saying dishonesty leads to bondage, so he is stating the truth! Śāṇḍilya is no dullard but definitely streetsmart when it comes to his interests! When Parivrājaka says that the fruits are obtained if we do karma without desires and selfish motives, Śāṇḍilya is irritated with all the nonsense about this ‘non- attachment’ He is also not convinced that anyone can attain such a thing. When Parivrājaka says it is attainable he again retorts back asking then why is Parivrājaka angry about his behaviour time and again. Parivrājaka replies that the cause for his anger is Śāṇḍilya not willing to learn. Śāṇḍilya pulls out the trump card saying that how can a ‘liberated’ person be bothered whether he learns or not. Parivrājaka says that since it is beneficial to the disciple he beats him without being angry!

This is the eleventh part of the multi-part essay on "Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas". Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh, Shashikiran B N and Hari Ravikumar for reviews and valuable inputs.



Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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