A Story for a Verse – Mankha

एतद्बभ्रुकचानुकारिकिरणं राजद्रुहोऽह्नः शिर-
श्छेदाभं वियतः प्रतीचिनिपतत्यब्धौ रवेर्मण्डलम् ।
एषापि द्युरमा प्रियानुगमनं प्रोद्दामकाष्ठोत्थिते
सन्ध्याग्नौ विरचय्य तारकमिषाज्जातास्थिशेषस्थितिः ॥

Mankha, the great poet from Kashmir, wrote his epic-poem Srikanthacharitam and presented it in an august assembly. He even won critical acclaim for it. Then arose a desire among the scholars present there -  having witnessed Mankha’s skills in composing exquisite poetry while sitting comfortably at home, they were curious to know how he would compose extempore poetry.

Then, a great grammarian Suhala, an envoy of Govindachandra, the king of Kanyakubja, composed two lines of this poem and posed it as a challenge. Mankha was to compose two more lines building on the original idea and complete the poem. The theme is of sunset.

The setting sun with crimson rays seems to be just like
 A culprit’s head having reddish hair – cut off and
 Falling in the direction west.
Eager to join her husband Sun, the day-lady has
Entered the funeral pyre in the form of evening hue.
All the stars are her burned-out ashes.

To be noted here are the puns: raja means both king and the moon, kashtha implies direction and wooden logs. These words have been employed here to bring a special effect. Comparing the sun’s red rays to reddish brown hair is itself rare. Suhala here has taken the idea one step forward and created a context around it – that there was a culprit, and his head was cut off. This accounts for the red hair. To build on such an idea is not simple; doing it impromptu is all the more difficult.

Mankha did a brilliant job. Taking a cue from the previous two lines, he figured that the day was coming to an end. He then likened it to a lady who has just lost her husband.  Having lost meaning in life, she kills herself by entering a pyre. He used the setting established in the first two lines to convey this idea: The red hue of evening becomes the pyre, and burned out ashes turn into stars. Sheer brilliance!

This verse reads like a beautiful composition of a skilled artist. Even a trained eye cannot see two hands at work here. This is the hallmark of great poetry.

Translated from Kannada by Shashi Kiran B. N.
(The original article is from the anthology Kavitegondu Kathe.)

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.

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