Kavi Samaya: Elephants in The Sky

The two famous Buddhist mahākāvyas of Aśvaghoṣa, Buddhacarita and Saundarananda, are generally more concerned with extolling dharma than love (indeed Kāma, Love incarnate, is the Buddha’s arch-enemy).  In the latter particularly though there are some beautiful passages, such as when the Buddha takes his errant younger brother to see the apsarases in heaven.

The following verse from the Saundarananda marks the auspicious occasion of the birth of the Buddha, which is accompanied by a shower of flowers.  Flower-rain is very much standard fare upon occasions such as this, but here Aśvaghoṣa attributes it to the diggajas, the eight elephants that stand in each of the eight cardinal directions upholding the earth.


सूर्यरश्मिभिरक्लिष्टं पुष्पवर्षं पपात खात् ।

दिग्वारणकराधूताद् वनाच्चैत्ररथादिव ॥

A shower of flowers

impervious to the heat of the sun

fell from the sky –

as though from Citraratha’s* heavenly grove,

as the elephants that stand in each quarter of the sky

shook them to the ground with their trunks.


*Citraratha is one of the gandharvas, semi-divine beings (and yes the originators of the famous gandharva style of marriage), under Kubera who guards this particular garden.


2.54 Saundarananda of Aśvaghoṣa

(The image above is a representation of the traditional view of the cosmos in which Śeṣa, king of the snakes, supports Viṣṇu incarnated as a tortoise, who in turn supports the diggajas. We’re not sure of the source of this illustration nor whether it is copyrighted so if anyone has any more information they are welcome to contact us.)

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