Kavi Samaya: Poetic Conventions

In the next few verses of the week, we’d like to introduce you to some of the marvellous poetic conventions (kavisamaya) of Sanskrit poetry.  So elaborate and extensive are these that they form a sort of parallel universe, in which birds feed on moonbeams and raindrops, mountains spew out jewels and women dispatch arrows from the bow of their brows.  We call this the wonderful world of kāvya.

Over the next few weeks, in no particular order, we will try to give our readers a glimpse of this world through verses that use various kavisamayas. We start with one of the most famous: that lotuses bloom at the rise of the sun and close at its setting.  The other half of this convention, not captured here, is that waterlilies bloom at the rise of the moon and close before dawn.  (Unrestrained by reality, lotuses in kāvya often have a thousand petals.)


एकद्विप्रभृतिक्रमेण गणनामेषामिवास्तंयतां

कुर्वाणा समकोचयद्दशशतान्यम्भोजसंवर्तिकाः ।

भूयोऽपि क्रमशः प्रसारयति ताः संप्रत्यमूनुद्यतः

संख्यातुं सकुतूहलेव नलिनी भानोः सहस्रं करान् ॥

‘One, two, three, four…’,

the lotus

had closed her ten-hundred petals

as if counting the rays of the setting sun.

Now she unfolds them once again

in the same order

anxious as it were

to check that those same rays

as they crest the horizon

still number a thousand.


From the second act of the Anargharāghava by Murāri

(For some reason we cannot fathom, every space in the Sanskrit verse above has been marked with a box. Hopefully this is a temporary WordPress glitch; please bear with us until we can banish the boxes.)

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