माषानश्नामि मातुल ।
पिबामि दधि माहिषम् ॥
There is an apocryphal tale about Sriharsha. It says that he appeased Vindhya-vasini-devi and gained exceptional scholarship. Armed with this, he set out to write treatises on various shastras, and even tried his hand at poetry. But things turned out in such a way that every word he wrote became unintelligible to the people around him. Even the most learned of men could not understand his works. Deeply saddened by this, Sriharsha prayed to the devi again. He wanted appreciation from the people; and to this end, he fervently prayed for his intellect to be dimmed. The devi, generous as ever, granted his wish. She taught him the trick to accomplish this. Sriharsha began to observe the same obediently.
It didn’t take long for the word about this to spread far and wide. It reached Sriharsha’s uncle (some say he is Mammata, the celebrated aesthetician from Kashmir) too, and he came to his nephew to learn about the events. Intrigued, he questioned him. Sriharsha composed this verse as a reply:
To dim my intellect, o uncle,
I eat masha grains.
Seated beneath a canopy of bimba fruit,
I consume buffalo-curds
It is well-known that masha (black gram) and curds have a dulling effect on the consumer. Upon continued consumption, even the most energetic of people is sure to turn lethargic and lifeless. Sriharsha had to resort to this!
Having gone through the dumbing-down cycle many times, Sriharsha took to writing again. It is needless to say that his best was behind him. The works he composed in this semi-active state – Naishadhiya-charitam and Khandana-khanda-khadya – have come to be recognised as the benchmarks of scholarship in their genre.
Sriharsha is said to have composed many other works: Sthairya-vicharana, Vijaya-prashasti, Gaudorvisha-kula-prashasti, Chinda-prashasti, Arnava-varnanam, Shivashakti-siddhi and Nava-sahasanka-charita-champu. Names aside, we do not know anything about them. Perhaps the reason for this is – as none of his contemporaries could understand the works, they stayed a good distance away from them and soon the works vanished into oblivion.
Translated from Kannada by Shashi Kiran B. N.
(The original article is from the anthology Kavitegondu Kathe.)