Rasa and Imagination in Classical Indian Poetry

This article is part 3 of 3 in the series Emotions & Imagination in Classical Indian Poetry

III

We shall now turn to the role of idiomatic language in poetry. As we all know, idiom is the life of any language. It is the hallmark of a great poet to employ idioms in his verses. At the same time, this is also a challenge, as idioms are generally easier to fit into a prose passage. Here are a few examples from languages other than Sanskrit:

कैअवरिहिअं पेम्मं
णत्थि व्विअ मामि माणुसे लोए |
ह होइ कस्स विरहो
विरहे होत्तामि को जिऐ ||

kaiavarihiaṃ pemmaṃ
ṇatthi vvia māmi māṇuse loe |
ha hoi kassa viraho
virahe hottāmi ko jiai ||

This is an extraordinary verse (2.24) from Gāhā-satta-saī, a Prakrit work of unparalleled beauty compiled by King Hāla Sātavāhana. Here, perhaps, a young lady is lamenting over her failed love, and is sharing her bitter but valuable realisation with her aunt. She feels that there is nothing like pure love in this world. If it were not to be so, no one would have been victims of love failure, and no one would have lived through it. There is no deliberate employment of imagery or exuberant metrical diction, but this verse arrests the minds of all of us by its simple and straightforward nature of idiomatic expression. It is verily conversational and has the unmistakable flavour of spontaneity.

அருளும் அன்பும் நீக்கித் துணை துறந்து
பொருள் வயின் பிரிவோர் உரவோர் ஆயின்
உரவோர் உரவோர் ஆக
மடவம் ஆக மடந்தை நாமே.

aruḻum anbum nīkkit tuṇai tuṛandu
poruḻ vayin pirivōr uravōr āyin
uravōr uravōr āga
maḍavam āga maḍandai nāme.

Here is a beautiful verse (v. 20; Pālai tiṇai) from Kuruntogai, one among the classics of Sangam literature of Tamil. This particular poem is penned by the poet Kōpperuñcozhan. Like Gāhā-satta-saī, the immortal classic in Mahārāṣṭri Prakrit mainly contains love poems, the Agam section of Sangam poetry is full of refreshingly beautiful Śṛṅgāra. The love depicted here is simple, deep, natural, and haunts the hearts of all connoisseurs of poetry. In this touching poem, the heartbroken heroine is making a grand estimate of herself against her past lover. She says, “Having cast aside all the tender feelings of love, he has gone on a treasure-hunt. Well, the wise shall become wiser by amassing wealth; but I, a fool, shall forever remain foolish.” Who can ignore the natural tone of idiom in this verse?

ಕಲಿತನದುರ್ಕು ಜವ್ವನದ ಸೊರ್ಕು ನಿಜೇಶನ ನಚ್ಚು ಮಿಕ್ಕ ತೋ-
ಳ್ವಲದ ಪೊಡರ್ಪು ಕರ್ಣ ನಿನಗುಳ್ಳನಿತೇನೆನಗುಂಟೆ ಭಾರತಂ |
ಕಲಹಮಿದಿರ್ಚುವಂ ಹರಿಗನಪ್ಪೊಡೆ ಮೊಕ್ಕಳಮೇಕೆ ನೀಂ ಪಳಂ
ಚಲೆದಪೆಯಣ್ಣ ಸೂೞ್ಪಡೆಯಲಪ್ಪುದು ಕಾಣ ಮಹಾಜಿರಂಗದೊಳ್ ||

kalitanadurku javvanada sorku nijēśana naccu mikka to-
ḻvalada poḍarpu karṇa ninaguḻḻanitenenaguṇṭe bhārataṃ |
kalahamidircuvaṃ hariganapppḍe mokkaḻameke nīṃ paḻaṃ
caledapeyaṇṇa sūŕpaḍeyalappudu kāṇa mahājiraṅgadoḻ ||

This is a well-known verse (10.23) from the Kannada classic Vikramārjuna-vijayam of poet Pampa. Here, the epic-character Bhīṣma is replying to the haughty remarks of Karṇa who is not in favour of an aged person being appointed the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. With all calmness, Bhīṣma acknowledges the bravery, youthful pride, and military glory of Karṇa. At the same time, he makes it clear that the historic battle is against the mighty hero Arjuna. He ends with a ring of caution in the guise of assurance that one and all is going to get his due in this adventure. But the implied meaning is that nobody will emerge victorious. This is most effectively executed thanks to the idiomatic nature of the verse. The absence of other embellishmenst has no negative influence on the total import of the verse.

ಧರೆಯ ರಾಜ್ಯಸ್ಥಿತಿಗೆ ಸುತರವ ತರಿಸುವರು ಗಾಂಧಾರಿಗಾ ಪು-
ತ್ರರಿಗೆ ಸುತರಾ ಸುತರ ಸುತರಾ ಸುತರ ಸೂನುಗಳು |
ಧರೆ ಪರಂಪರೆಯಿಂದಲತ್ತಲೆ ಸರಿವುದೀ ನಿಮ್ಮಡಿಗೆ ದರ್ಭಾ-
ಸ್ತರಣ ಸಮಿಧಾಧಾನವೇ ಕಡೆಗೆಂದಳಾ ಕುಂತಿ ||

dhareya rājyasthitige sutarava tarisuvaru gāndhārigā pu-
trarige sutarā sutara sutarā sutara sūnugaḻu |
dhare parampareyindalattale sarivudī nimmaḍige darbhā-
staraṇa samidhādhānave kaḍegendaḻā kunti ||

This is a well-chiselled verse (1.4.28) from Kumāravyāsa’s Karṇāṭa-bhārata-kathā-mañjarī, the greatest epic-poem of Kannada. The context is again an episode from the Mahābhārata, where Pāṇḍu, a prince turned into an ascetic, is chided by his consort Kunti. She, having heard the news that Gāndhārī, Pāṇḍu’s sister-in-law, is pregnant and would become a prospective queen-mother, comes to her husband and pours out her discomfort at his taking to asceticism. This has been inimitably told by the poet in an idiomatic way. This verse is full taunts. She says that Gāndhārī has already conceived and the empire would eventually go to her sons, and their lineage will take over the power forever. But, Your Highness here, will find contentment in performing sacrificial acts and ritualistic austerities. The powerful idiom here lies in the usage of “Your Highness”, which obviously means the opposite. This is termed as atyanta-tiraskṛta-vācya-dhvani in the vocabulary of Ānandavardhana. Added to this, the phrase Sutarā sutara sutarā sutara sūnugaḻu in the original is untranslatable into English, and this speaks volumes about the idiomatic power of the original language.

ఇమ్మన్నాడయిదూళ్ళు భీష్ముడు గరుండేదో విధిన్ సంధి కా-
నిమ్మన్నాడు విచిత్రవీర్యతనయుండేలా విరోధమ్ము పో-
నిమ్మన్నాడటు మీద కర్ణుని మోగమ్మీక్షించి పోందేమి పో-
పోమ్మన్నాడు సుయోధనుండనుగుతుమ్ముల్ రోమ్ములుబ్బింపగన్ ||

immannāḍayiduḻḻu bhīṣmuḍu guruṇḍedo vidhin sandhi kā-
nimmannāḍu vicitravīryatanayunḍelā virodhammu po- |
nimmannāḍaṭu mīda karṇuni mogambīkṣiñci pondemi po-
nimmannāḍu suyodhanuṇḍanugu tammul rommulubbimpagan ||

In this verse (1.3) from the epic-fragment Vijayaśrī, the twentieth century Telugu poet Jandhyāla Pāpayya Śāstri speaks about the whims and fancies of the Kuru rulers in a strikingly idiomatic way. One can see the reactions of Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and Duryodhana to the proposal of peace-making. The beauty is that the whole thing is narrated in the words of Kṛṣṇa. Hence the added wit and the wordplay around the phrase immannāḍu. The nuances of it are almost untranslatable into any other language, and there lies its distinct idiomatic flavour. Apart from the idiom, no other literary charm is aimed at by the poet. This by itself is good enough to take the verse to great heights of rasa.

हिमगिरि के उत्तुंग शिखर पर बैठ शिला की शीतल छाँह,
एक पुरुष भीगे नयनों से देख रहा था प्रलय प्रवाह |
नीचे जल था ऊपर हिम था एक तरल था एक सघन,
एक तत्व कि ही प्रधानता कहो उसे जड़ या चेतन ||

himgiri ke uttuṅg śikhar par baiṭh śilā kī śītal chām̐h,
ek puruṣ bhīge naynoṃ se dekh rahā thā pralay pravāh |
nīce jal thā ūpar him thā ek taral thā ek saghan,
ek tatv ki hī pradhānatā kaho use jaḍ yā cetan ||

Here are the opening lines of the modern Hindi epic Kāmāyanī authored by Jaishankar Prasad. This is a lucid but powerful construction, quite natural to neo-classical Hindi. Though there is no great specific idiom or striking imagery, the whole diction and the tone of the poem is quite arresting as a spoken tongue. Here, the colossal deluge, being witnessed by Manu, the sole survivor, on the peaks of the mighty Himalayas, makes a lasting impact on the minds of the readers.

IV

To conclude, we shall take up the aspect of diction. Here, all the elements of classical versification like the meter, imagery, and idiom work together to realise rasa in the light of dhvani and aucitya. To be precise, vakratā, the soul of diction both in terms of sound and sense, will end up in the rapture of aesthetic experience termed rasa. That is why it would be hard to isolate a single aspect of beauty from an aesthetically successful poem. However, for the purpose of analysis, we are compelled to examine verses on a piecemeal basis. Here are three such examples from classical Sanskrit poetry.

क्षुत्क्षामोऽपि जराकृशोऽपि शिथिलप्रायोऽपि कष्टां दशा-
मापन्नोऽपि विपन्नदीधितिरपि प्राणेषु नश्यत्स्वपि |
मत्तेभेन्द्रविभिन्नकुम्भपिशितग्रासैकबद्धस्पृहः
किं जीर्णं तृणमत्ति मानमहतामग्रेसरः केसरी ||

kṣutkṣāmo'pi jarākṛśo'pi śithilaprāyo'pi kaṣṭāṃ daśā-
māpanno'pi vipannadīdhitirapi prāṇeṣu naśyatsvapi |
mattebhendravibhinnakumbhapiśitagrāsaikabaddhaspṛhaḥ
kiṃ jīrṇaṃ tṛṇamatti mānamahatāmagresaraḥ kesarī ||

In this poem (v. 29) from Nīti-śatakam, the author Bhartṛhari drives home the self-esteem of the noble even at times of acute difficulties, by picturing an old lion in distress, which refuses to graze grass. A lion, in spite of being hungry, lean, old, weak, distressed, and hanging on to dear life, would not live on grass, because it has a great deal of self-respect. It tears apart the temples of intoxicated elephants and devours their flesh. Will it stoop so low as to feed upon withered grass? The first half of the verse, with all its uncompounded words, suggests the pathetic state of the old lion, whose vital organs are loose and disfigured. Its difficulty is heightened by the use of the indeclinable api six times. This is contrasted with a compound-word spanning the whole of third line, bubbling with many labials—mattebhendravibhinnakumbhapiśita-grāsaikabaddhaspṛhaḥ—and suggesting the rich mouthful of flesh won through the lion’s valour that it used to consume. The concluding line heralds the home-truth in an interrogative way, again highlighting the towering spirits of people with self-esteem. The idiomatic beginning of this line and the cascading tone of the vowels at the conclusion are particularly noteworthy. The whole verse is a classic example of Anyokti, which is revealed through the figure of speech Aprastuta-praśaṃsā. We can also identify an element of Viamālaṅkāra. Added to this, the Vaidarbhī-rīti in the first half is contrasted with that of Gauḍī in the second. The total effect is of course of Pāñcālī. It is obvious that the guṇa ojas’ reigns supreme in the second half, while ‘prasāda’ is clear in the first half. The nature of any Anyokti lies in its feature of subordinated suggestion, termed as guṇī-bhūta-vyaṅgya, and this leads to rasa in gradual course. The nature of rasa in this poem is of Mānavīra, ably supported by Karuṇa and Adbhuta. Thus, in a classical measure of four lines, we have so much to analyse, understand and appreciate, even at a cursory glance.

तीरे तरुण्या वदनं सहासं
नीरे सरोजञ्च मिलद्विकासम् |
आलोक्य धावत्युभयत्र मुग्धा
मरन्दलुब्धालिकिशोरमाला ||

tīre taruṇyā vadanaṃ sahāsaṃ
nīre sarojañca miladvikāsam |
ālokya dhāvatyubhayatra mugdhā
marandalubdhālikiśoramālā ||

In this verse from Bhāminī-vilāsa (p. 53), the poet Jagannātha suggests the beauty of a damsel – more so of her lotus-like face. All he does here is to describe the confusion of baby bees in oscillating between two lotuses, one real and the other lotus-like – the face of the beautiful girl. In the first line, the poem speaks about a smiling lady by the lake, while the second reveals a fully bloomed lotus in it. Hence the confusion of the bees! But the poet, while doing so, crafts choicy words in such a way that the similarity between the freshly bloomed lotus and the cheerful face of the lady is suggested by the very sound. This is clear in the back-to-back rhyming words present in the first half of the verse. The confusion of the bees is made believable by making them innocent infants. Even the sound-pattern in that portion of the verse hints at it. We notice that a beautiful Bhrāntimadalaṅkāra (artistic confusion) is working behind this musical treat. The diction of this verse is mainly Pāñcālī in nature, and the Guṇī-bhūta-vyaṅgya is quite evident. Of course, Śṛṅgāra is the rasa, mainly relying on camatkāra.

रात्रिर्गमिष्यति भविष्यति सुप्रभातं
भास्वानुदेष्यति हसिष्यति पङ्कजश्रीः |
इत्थं विचिन्तयति कोशगते द्विरेफे
हा हन्त हन्त नलिनीं गज उज्जहार ||

rātrirgamiṣyati bhaviṣyati suprabhātaṃ
bhāsvānudeṣyati hasiṣyati paṅkajaśrīḥ |
itthaṃ vicintayati kośagate dvirephe
hā hanta hanta nalinīṃ gaja ujjahāra ||

This is a sublime verse (Vairāgya-śatakam, v. 38) of Bhartṛhari depicting the ephemeral nature of life. It is an Anyokti based on the figure of speech Aprastuta-praśaṃsā and describes the thoughts of a bee that is entrapped in a lotus during night. The bee has a conviction that the night will vanish and the sun will rise and make the lotus bloom. Alas, even when this sentence is not complete, a wild elephant plunged into the pond and crushed the lotus. How volatile is this life! Every syllable in this verse is loaded with suggestion and aesthetic relevance: rātri (meaning night), is obviously short in the eyes of the bee. Hence, it has to elapse soon, while the day is long. Morning is all the more beautiful and brilliant (suprabhātaṃ). The sun is luminous (bhāsvān), signifying hope. The blooming of the lotus is an act of joy, which is a mark of its glory (paṅkajaśrīḥ). Our bee is supremely confident about the future and its own powers of prediction. This is indicated by the affirmative future-tense verbs such as gamiṣyati, bhaviṣyati, udeṣyati, and hasiṣyati. We should not ignore the identical metrical and phonetic pattern in these verbs, which, apart from their sense, have so much to suggest in terms of sound. When everything is going on fine, fate has already disposed the propositions of the bee, and this is powerfully suggested in the second half of the verse. The Sati-saptami (present continuous tense) words, indicating the transitory nature of the bee’s wishful thoughts, are sarcastically juxtaposed with the Liṭ-lakāra (indirect perfect past tense) form of the final verb ujjahāra, the ruthless act of the elephant in rut. The sound-patterns representing the lotus and the wild act of the elephant are evidently contrasting. Above all, the whole verse being composed in the melodious Vasantatilaka meter, well-known as a morning muse, is ironical to the dark fate of the bee. As an extended climax, the nonspecific nature of caesura in this meter suggests the unpredictability of death that engulfs the whole creation. Thus, as we go deeper and deeper, this small verse becomes a fountainhead of endless contemplative joy rooted in the paramount rasa Śānta. This of course is the final abode of all Art Experience.

This would be sufficient to show that emotions, guided by imagination, create a great world of aesthetic glory in the lore of classical poetry. To a learned connoisseur well-initiated in all the nuances that this system expects, Joy is perennial. Wisdom, its obvious by-product, is but a bonus.

 Bibliography

  1. Bhartṛhari Śatakatrayam (New Delhi: Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 2002)
  2. Uttararāmacaritam of Bhavabhūti. Ed. M R Kale (New Delhi: Motilala Banarasidass, 2002)
  3. Hanumannāṭakam (Varanasi: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, 1967)
  4. Raghuvaṃśam (New Delhi: Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 2011)
  5. Paṇḍitarājakāvyasaṅgraha (Hyderabad: Osmania University, 1957)
  6. Veṇisaṃhāra. Ed. M R Kale (New Delhi: Motilala Banarasidass, 1936)
  7. Gāhāsattasaī (New Delhi: Motilala Banarasidass, 1983)
  8. Vijayaśrī (Guntur: Jandhyala Papayya Shastri, 1963)
  9. Kāmāyanī by Jaishankar Prasad (Jodhpur, 2005)
  10. Kalittogai (Madras, 1926)
  11. Vikramārjunavijaya of Pampa (Bangalore: Kannada Sahitya Parishat, 1977)
  12. Karṇāṭabhāratakathāmañjarī of Kumāravyāsa (Mysore: Prasaranga, Mysore University, 1974)

Concluded.

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.