Darpa Dalana: Introduction

Our next few blog posts aim to introduce the Darpa Dalana, a celebrated and fascinating poem on human pride in its manifold forms which will be published by Rasāla later this year.

The Darpa Dalana is an unusual poetic work in classical Sanskrit from 11th century Kashmir composed by Kemendra, a clever satirist whose biting wit has captured the attention of many a modern reader. The poem’s 587 verses are spread over seven sets of vicāras or thoughts. These dwell on the main causes of man’s arrogance: family, wealth, learning, beauty, power, charity and sanctimony. All need to be understood and discarded for a better life. This translation – by the career diplomat A.N.D.Haksar, ten of whose previous translations from Sanskrit literature have been published as Penguin Classics – is perhaps the first time the work has been rendered in full into English.

The first chapter narrates the story of Tejonidhi, an arrogant and cruel Brahmin who learns – from a she-mule – that he is in fact the bastard son of a low-caste tailor who seduced his young mother when her husband was busy with some religious observance.

Harsh words about womenkind may ruffle more than a few feathers, as these spoken by Tejonidhi’s mother herself as a prelude to her explanation of how her son was conceived:

देहप्रदाः प्राणहरा नराणां भीरुस्वभावाः प्रविशन्ति वह्निम्

क्रूराः परं पल्लवपेशलाङ्ग्यो मुग्धा विदग्धानपि वञ्चयन्ति ६६

‘[Women] give man birth,

but take away his life.

Their nature is timid,

but they will enter a fire.

Soft of limb,

they hurt cruelly.

Though artless

they deceive even the wise.’

Still, feminists may rest assured that it is Tejonidhi himself who comes off the worst.

As with subsequent vicāras, Kemendra ends this chapter with sage words of advice:

सम्मोहपातालविशालसर्पस्तस्मान्न कार्यः कुलजातिदर्पः

शमक्षमादानदयाश्रयाणां शीलं विशालं कुलमामनन्ति ८१

Do not obsess over a family name,

it is but a snake slithering in empty bluster’s morass.

Restraint, forgiveness, generosity, compassion,

these are the hallmarks of real class.

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This is the first post in the series on the Darpa Dalana. To learn more about the Rasāla edition, and/or to purchase a copy of the print or eBook please click here.

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