A Touchstone for Dhvani

Dhvani, the power of suggestion, has been held as the most powerful poetic tool by Indian aestheticians. It is the chief instrument through which we achieve impersonality and experience rasa.

Appayyadīkṣita, in his work Citramīmāṃsā, cites a single verse that exemplifies dhvani:

स्थिताः क्षणं पक्ष्मसु ताडिताधराः
पयोधरोत्सेधनिपातचूर्णिताः ।
वलीषु तस्याः स्खलिताः प्रपेदिरे
चिरेण नाभिं प्रथमोदबिन्दवः ॥ (5.24)

This verse is taken from the fifth canto of Kālidāsa's epic poem Kumārasaṃbhavam, wherein Pārvatī observes austerity in order to win the love of Śiva. Realizing that she cannot win him over with physical appearance, she reproaches her own beauty and takes to penance. Donning a hermit garb, she puts off her jewelry and sits cross-legged in meditation. The six seasons come and go but she remains unstirred. After the sweltering summer, first drops of rain fall on her and it is this picture that the poet paints for us in the present verse.

Resting on her eyelashes, the first drops of rain briefly pause
They then strike her lower lip and rupture upon falling on her elevated breasts
Tripping through the (three) folds on her waist, they gradually
Come to rest at her navel

At first glance this verse appears to be the description of a girl’s beauty, for which Sanskrit poets have an unparalleled, ill-gotten reputation. However, a discerning eye, while appreciating the description of physical beauty, will not stop at that but proceeds to behold Pārvatī as a yoginī par excellence. Appayyadīkṣita does exactly that.

He draws a parallel from Yoga that describes the posture for meditation:

नासाग्रन्यस्तनयनः संवृतास्यः सुनिश्चलः ।
ध्यायीत मनसा देवमुरो विष्टभ्य चाग्रतः ॥

With eyes fixed on the tip of the nose,
Mouth closed, chest raised high,
And sitting motionless, one should,
With devotion, meditate upon God

Superimposing this with the verse from Kumārasaṃbhavam, he explains the yogic implication: For the raindrops to rest only momentarily on the eyelashes, her eyes should be half closed, with the sight firmly fixed on the tip of her nose. This would not be the case if her eyes were either fully open or fully closed. The raindrops would have entered her mouth if it were to be open, but that is not the case; they fall on her lower lip, indicating that her mouth was closed. If her posture was crooked—with the back bent, signifying listlessness—the raindrops would not have met her breasts. Having fallen on the folds of her waist, they would have taken a different course, never reaching the navel. Further, if she were not motionless, the sequential journey of the raindrops—from the eyelashes to the folds—would be impossible.   

This explanation only adds to the beauty of Pārvatī; it does not subtract. Her thick, long, and smooth eyelashes that curl up at the tip hold the drops of rain for a moment before they fall. Her lower lip was so tender that even the feeble touch of a raindrop was for it a huge blow. The rain proceeding from her lips does not fall between her breasts, indicating that they were large and touched one another. They were also hard, for the raindrops split upon meeting them. The three graceful folds on her stomach formed a ladder of sorts for the raindrops to climb down into her deep navel.

Mallinātha, the celebrated commentator, had identified the dhvani in this verse as related to Pārvatī’s beauty many years before the composition of Citramīmāṃsā. However, the aucitya (propriety) in Appayyadīkṣita’s observations far exceeds that in Mallinātha. Since aucitya in poetry works as a method of logic and decides the fate of dhvani—its acceptance or rejection—Appayyadīkṣita’s views hold water. That he could grasp such a dhvani that even escaped the eagle-like eyes of Mallinātha speaks volumes of Appayyadīkṣita’s sahṛdayatā.

Progressing steadily in her inward march of austerity, Pārvatī grew unconcerned to uddīpanavibhāvas – external stimulating factors. The exquisite scent emanated from the earth when it rains after a long gap—petrichor—attracts everyone, especially young girls. That Pārvatī was unmoved by even this suggests that she was in the state of samādhi.  

Only a ṛṣi-kavi can create such a verse!


  1. Citramīmāṃsā. Tirupati: Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, 1999. pp. 25-26
  2. Kumārasaṃbhavam. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, 2011




Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature, and philosophy. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.

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