Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 14

We quote the translation of  the verse uttered by Yamapuruṣa as rendered by Lockwood and Bhat to further the discussion.

श्यामां प्रसन्नवदनां मधुरप्रलापां
मत्तां विशालजघनां वरचन्दनाद्राम् ।
रक्तोत्पलाभनयनां  नयनाभिरामां
क्षिप्रं नयानि यमसादनमेव बालाम् ॥२३॥

“Dusky young woman with sweet speech and lovely face,
Broad hips, body painted with excellent sandal paste,38
Passionate, bright pink lotus eyes, most pleasing grace,
I’ll carry her soul to Yama’s place. (23)

38. In early times, Indian women often went undraped above the waist. Designs in sandal paste decorated their breasts. See also line 172.”

The note number 38 by Lockwood and Bhat is not the whole truth, while women would be undraped in privacy, in public this wasn’t the case. They repeat this further in note 49 too, which we quote.

“49. In the seventh century, A.D., when this play was first staged, Ajjukä was obviously undraped above the waist, and her breasts would have been decorated with designs in sandal paste. This was a common practice in those days.”

Just because a character in the play describes sandal paste designs on a woman’s breast doesn’t mean she roams around half-naked. Such designs have been described by a lot of poets in their works. Such blanket statements have caused a lot of misconceptions especially when it is evident that such practice is totally against modern sensibilities. Such extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence which the authors fail to provide. They take sculptures to be an evidence for their claim, but sculptures are creative representations and are not always realistic, also sometimes it is done to highlight bodily features. It can’t be extended universally. We shall provide just one literary evidence contrary to their claim from Abhijñānaśākuntalam of Kālidāsa (Act I), when Śakuntalā feels that her upper garment is too tight (अतिपिनद्धेन वल्कलेन नियंत्रितास्मि) she blames priyamvadā who replies to her saying its not her fault but its the fault of Śakuntalā’s youth (अत्र पयोधरविस्तारयितृ आत्मानो यौवनं उपालम्भस्व)!

Coming back to the present discussion, when Vasantasenā is about to pluck some shoots of aśoka, Yamapuruṣa assumes the form of a snake and bites her. By the time they realise, Vasantasenā collapses. Śāṇḍilya relays the news to his preceptor who seems cold hearted and says that her time has come and so she has departed. Vasantasenā asks Parabhṛtikā to convey her last respects to her mother and also embrace Rāmilaka on her behalf!

Yamapuruṣa describes the path to his destination which is towards the southern direction which is the direction of Yama and he reaches Citragupta who sits under a banyan tree.

Śāṇḍilya is at once filled with sorrow and laments that the courtesan has left her body. Parivrājaka corrects him and drives home the all time truth saying that, everyone is fond of their life and hence none wants to give it up, rather it is the life itself which discards the body. Śāṇḍilya scolds him with words which again showcases some of the routine rebukes present in the language. Few are of particular interest, कूरशकट - a cart filled with vegetables, someone who is just there to eat but not react like normal human beings, an animal,  मुधामुण्ड - one with his head shaven in vain, i.e. even though a sannyāsin he seems to be not having compassion. Not satisfied by calling him names he also says that he’ll call hundred and eight names which is an idiom still used even today when one wants to scold someone. When Parivrājaka seems to be indifferent, he starts crying that she is his relative (स्वजन), the preceptor seems surprised, so he continues to explain saying that she also is like a sannyāsin who isn’t attached with anyone! Such statements from Śāṇḍilya conveys the reader that he isn’t as foolish as it seems, rather he is cunning but lazy! It is interesting to note that he doesn’t have the same attitude even towards his preceptor whom he is trying to follow! We don’t see him calling the Parivrājaka as स्वजन later.

Despite his preceptor’s reservations, he goes near Vasantasenā and laments calling her a sweet singer, Parabhṛtikā is initially surprised, she asks what he is doing! He replies that he has been just overcome by compassion! She gathers that he being a sannyāsin is compassionate to one and all! He holds her feet and when asked why, he replies that he is so sad that he can’t differentiate between her head or her feet and describes her beauty saying that he is indeed unlucky to not have enjoyed it when she was alive.

Parabhṛtikā thinks that he will not desert Vasantasenā and request to look after her while she goes to fetch Mātā. Śāṇḍilya says that he indeed is like a mother to everyone who is orphaned! While this emotion, if true, is really profound and is supposed to be how a sannyāsin should be, here we know that it is just hyperbole!

Parivrājaka still seems to worry about his disciple’s learning and asks him to study! He instead asks if there is any solution for Vasantasenā’s situation. Parivrājaka offers a course on medicine! Śāṇḍilya snaps back saying all his learning is just sinful. This is when Parivrājaka decides to enter Vasantasenā’s body using his supernatural power of ‘parakāyapraveśa’ the reason he gives is also worth listening, he says even though one should remain unattached, here for the sake of the welfare of the disciple whatever he wants to undertake is harmless and hence has the approval of the great masters of yoga. With this reasoning he enters Vasantasenā’s body.

As soon as Vasantasenā gets up she calls Śāṇḍilya, who however doesn’t think for a moment how she knows his name and instead is happy that she is calling him! Immediately she withdraws herself scolding him not to touch her with unwashed hands. He expresses his surprise saying, ‘Oh she is so pure!’ She then tells him to come and resume his studies which enrages him. He thinks, ‘She too talks about studies!’ let me go back to the Parivrājaka only to see him lying motionless.

This is the fourteenth 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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