Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 5

When Devasomā interrupts to say this isn’t the way of buddhists or jains (अर्हन्त can apply to both), Satyasoma scolds them saying that they are fools who contradict their own stand by saying pain leads to pleasure while thinking that the nature of the effect is the same as that of the cause. During this and even later, it is evident that Satyasoma even though drunk and unsteady still has a sharp intellect which hasn’t been affected by the drinking, even while drunk his logic is incisive. Dejected by even uttering the ways of the buddhists he wants to purify his mouth by drinking! The audience by now would have no doubt about how convenient the tenets are which he follows!

This is followed by a description of Kāñcī. There are many more descriptions of cities in Sanskrit literature which are better, but this short description does give an idea about how prosperous it was during those times, full of festivities. By bringing in the sound of clouds the Rainy season is hinted at, by the flowers the Spring also seems to be in mind, followed by a reference to Manmatha. The verse which follows though has something intriguing to say.

अनतिशयमनन्तं सौख्यमप्रत्यनीकं
समधिगतसतत्त्वा मेनिरे यन्मुनीन्द्राः।
तदिह निरवशेषं दृष्टमेतत्तु चित्रं
यदुत करणभोग्यं कामभोगात्मकं च॥९॥
[What those venerable sages conceive-
They who know the truth behind-
As bliss, unsurpassed, endless, unique.
Here it is found all complete
But strange it is sensual, indeed!
To be enjoyed through the senses.]

Translation by NP Unni

Contrast this with the profound verse in the seventh act of Abhijñānaśākuntalam

प्राणानामनिलेन वृत्तिरुचिता सत्कल्पवृक्षे वने
तोये काञ्चनपद्मरेणुकपिशे धर्माभिषेकक्रिया ।
ध्यानं रत्नशिलातलेषु विबुधस्त्रीसंनिधौ संयमो
यत्काङ्क्षन्ति तपोभिरन्यमुनयस्तस्मिंस्तपस्यन्त्यमी ॥७.१२॥

[In the vicinity of the wish fulfilling trees, the sages control their breaths, they perform abhiṣeka in the waters brimming with the pollen from the golden lotuses, they sit on gem studded surfaces, and exercise control over their senses in the presence of the divine beauties. Where others desire to go to enjoy the fruits of their tapas, these sages perform tapas there.]

where the sages are doing tapas in heaven, the place of enjoyment (bhoga), to attain it everyone else undergoes rigorous tapas. Here the premise is flipped on its head, by saying what the sages seek, the everlasting bliss, actually is present here itself in Kāñcī and not just that, it can and should be mandatorily enjoyed only through senses!

Next we see the description of the tavern where they arrive to have another drink. The description, though in prose, gives comparison of the tavern to a yajñabhūmi.

एष सुरापणो यज्ञवाटविभूतिमनुकरोति। अत्र हि ध्वजस्तम्भो यूपः। सुरा सोमः। शौण्डा ऋत्विजः। चषकाश्चमसाः। शूल्यमांसप्रभृतय उपदंशा हविर्विशेषाः। मत्तवचनानि यजूंषि। गीतानि सामानि। उदङ्काः स्रुवाः। तर्पोऽग्निः।सुरापणाधिपतिर्यजमानः।

[The tavern is the yajñabhūmi. The signpost is the yūpa (sacrificial post). The liquor itself is soma. The drunk people are the purohitas. The drinking goblets are the camasas (bowls). The roasted meat serves as the side dish for the havis. The slurred speech is the yajus (prose) utterances. The songs are the sāman. The bags containing the liquor are the ladles. The thirst is the sacred Agni. and the owner of the tavern is the yajamāna.]

Contrast this with the verse from the first act of the Veṇisamhāram by Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa where a similar comparison occurs.

चत्वारो वयमृत्विजः स भगवान्कर्मोपदेष्टा हरिः
संग्रामाध्वरदीक्षितो नरपतिः पत्नी गृहीतव्रता ।
कौरव्याः पशवः प्रियापरिभवक्लेशोपशान्तिः फलं
राजन्योपनिमन्त्रणाय रसति स्फीतं यशोदुन्दुभिः ॥ १.२५ ॥

[The four Pāṇḍava brothers are the purohitas, Hari himself is the one who conducts it and instructs them. The king Yudhiṣṭhira is the yajamāna who has taken the vow of undertaking the yajña which the war, the queen, Draupadī is the one who has taken the vow to conduct it, the kauravas are the sacrificial animals, the alleviation of the dishonour and the sorrows faced by our beloved is the result. The war instruments are played to call other kings for this ceremony.]

One can observe that the situation in Veṇisamhāram is a grim and decisive one which would result in the destruction of innumerable people and the gravity of such situation is enhanced by such a verse, the character there is the mighty Bhīma who is itching to destroy his cousins the kauravas. But while the comparison is similar, the situation here is so trivial that it makes a mockery of the seriousness of a yajña.

Thus we see two examples where subverting either the idea by flipping it on its head or subverting the situation to bring it down to a trivial level is employed effectively to generate humour.

The description of the drunken antics in the tavern doesn't add much. But the description of the liquor itself leads to a nice verse.

मिथ्या त्रिलोचनविलोचनपावकेन
भस्मीकृतां मदनमूर्तिमुदाहरन्ति ।
स्नेहात्मिका तदभितापवशाद्विलीना
सेयं प्रिये मदयति प्रसभं मनांसि ॥१०॥
[Incorrect indeed what they say
That fire from Śiva’s third eye
Burnt to ashes the form of Kāma
But, liquified into oil by heat
Oh dear! It inflames the mind perforce]

Translation by NP Unni

A nice kāvya-liṅgālaṅkāra (poetic reason) is employed to say Manmatha became madya. Sneha means oil and also friendship. Solids converting into liquids due to heat and both Manmatha and liquor being intoxicating has been effectively used in this verse. Devasomā says that Śiva who always thinks about the welfare of the world would never do something which would destroy the world. Such a positive, assuring thought which would have been befitting in some profound situation, is used here in a trivial sense restricted to the only thing they currently hold dear! Liquor!.

Only when the liquor is offered does Satyasoma observe that he does not possess his kapāla. Devasomā suggests by Āpaddharma they can have it served in the horn. Āpaddharma or the dharma which can be followed in exceptional cases has been treated in detail in many of the dharmaśāstras and smṛtis. By this we also learn that Devasomā also seems to have some knowledge in the dharmaśāstras and smṛtis. While the pair doesn’t seem to be worried about the other dharmas to be followed, they conveniently remember the Āpaddharma portions. Again such behaviour has been used by the author to highlight the degeneracy of the era in an ironical manner. This is extended further when Satyasoma takes the title ‘kapālin’ literally and thinks that just because he has lost his kapāla he ceases to be ‘kapālin’. Though he realizes his folly in the very next instance.

This is the fifth 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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