An Award from the President’s Office

Dr Shankar, Rasala’s General Editor, is one of those unassuming geniuses who quietly do some of the best work in their field.  Most of us who know him quickly realise just how talented he is as a Sanskritist.  Sanskrit poetry is complex, dense, rigidly structured and requires a knowledge of all kinds of topics that would overwhelm even University Challenge champions, but to Dr Shankar it comes as easily and naturally as a mother tongue.

It is then a great happiness that his talent has now been recognised at the national level with the Maharshi Badrayan Vyas Samman award, announced by the President on Independence Day.  Press release here.

Congratulations Dr Shankar, it really couldn’t have been better deserved.

Darpa Dalana: Pre Orders

As India gasps for breath under the stifling heat of both the summer and fiery politics, it is perhaps an appropriate time to dive into the refreshing reality of Kemendra’s Darpa Dalana. The Darpa Dalana, or The Ending of Arrogance, takes no prisoners as its author, a controversial and provocative satirist from 11th century Kashmir, exposes and demolishes all types of human failings. This edition, Rasāla’s latest book, includes the original Sanskrit text alongside a fluent part-prose, part-verse translation by the well known career diplomat turned translator, A.N.D. Haksar.

More details about the Darpa Dalana can be found on here.

As with Translating The Divine Woman, we are using a print-on-demand model. This does make things a bit more expensive so for you our faithful followers we would like to once again offer a discounted pre-order price of Rs 270 or £8. The list price thereafter will be Rs 350 or £10. If you would like to pre-order one of these books at the lower price, please send an email to venetia@rasalabooks.com by 10th May with the postal address to which you would like it sent.

Darpa Dalana: Ladies in Love

The five and sixth chapters of the Darpa Dalana deal with pride in heroism and charity respectively. The fifth chapter tells the story of a mighty and proud king who finally finds his match in battle in a pair of sages, while in the sixth we are introduced to the famously generous Yudhiṣṭhira and the golden mongoose to demonstrate that giving should be measured by intentions rather than gems.

Here is a verse from the latter:

प्राप्तुं स्वर्गवराङ्गनास्तनतटस्पर्शातिरिक्तं सुखं

दत्तो मेरुरपि प्रयाति तृणतामात्मोपकारेच्छया

आपन्नार्तिविलोकने करुणया श्रद्धासुधापूरितं

सत्त्वोत्साहसमन्वितं तृणमपि त्रैलोक्यदानाधिकम् २७

For a gift made for one’s own benefit,

in order to obtain

pleasures to top even those of caressing

the breasts of ladies in paradise,

though as great as Meru’s mountain,

is worth no more than a blade of grass.

But a blade of grass given gladly

with compassion, faith, and the best of intentions,

at the sight of others’ sufferings,

is greater than the gifting of the triple world.

In the seventh, and final chapter, Kemendra moves into another gear. Suddenly, we have left behind the hard-hitting but spartan didacticism that prevailed in the previous chapters and we find ourselves in the realm of ornamental kāvya, with Śiva and Pārvatī high up in the Himalayas. The longer metre and flowery language, replete with kavi samaya (the poetic conventions that mark the magical world of kāvya apart from reality), do not though lessen the bite with which Kemendra satirises his prey – here sages who have spent thousands of years mortifying their bodies to attain liberation, unsuccessfully.

Śiva, who is the undisputed master of tapas or austerities, demonstrates to Pārvatī that the reason the sages are still struggling is because they have not yet cleansed themselves of desire and hatred. To do this, he assumes the form of a ravishingly beautiful young man, and, strolling into the ashram, brings the sages’ wives to their knees:

तासां तदालोकननिर्निमेषा दृष्टिः परं कर्णपथप्रविष्टा

उत्सृष्टलज्जाविपुलाभिलाषादसूचयन्मुग्धमृगीविलासम् ४६

तासां तदर्चारभसोत्थितानां स्रस्तांशुकोत्कम्पिघनस्तनीनाम्

नवेन कामेन खलीकृतानां जृम्भाभवोऽभूद्भुजयोर्विलासः ४७

As [the sages’ wives] gazed unblinking at him – all shame forsaken in the intensity of their desire – their eyes grew large like those of beautiful does, tapering at the edge to their very ears. They scampered up to welcome him, breasts trembling, veils slipping. Dizzy with a passion they had never before experienced, they started to yawn and stretch.

The poet then turns our gaze to the sages, who are apoplectic, and proceeds to describe their furious – and amusing reaction – to the god’s arrival. Happily for them, at Pārvatī‘s request Śiva removes their delusions. Nevertheless, Kemendra has made his point:

प्रशान्तोऽन्तस्तृष्णाविषमपरितापः शमजलै

रशेषः सन्तोषामृतविसरपानेन वपुषः

असङ्गः सम्भोगः कमलदलकीलालतुलया

भवारण्ये पुंसां परहितमुदारं खलु तपः ७३

Penance calms the heat of inner craving

with the water of tranquility,

and the body with endless draughts

of the nectar of contentment.

One can enjoy without getting attached

like the drop of water on the lotus leaf.

In this wilderness called life, though,

penance is great only when it serves others.

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This is the last 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. To read the previous posts, please click here.

Darpa Dalana: Fair and Lotus

The fourth chapter of the Darpa Dalana satirises the pride people take in their physical appearance and contains plenty of salutary lessons for today’s beauty-obsessed world. The poet intersperses the tale of this chapter with some appropriately delicate stanzas. Here is the opening verse:

पद्मोपमानां दिनसुन्दराणां कोऽयं नृणामस्थिररूपदर्पः

रूपेण कान्तिः क्षणिकैव येषां हारिद्ररागेण यथांशुकानाम्

What makes people arrogant

with beauty? It is transient.

Men are like lotuses which stay

looking good for just a day.

Beauty’s glow is for a moment,
as turmeric dye upon a garment.

And towards the end, Kemendra further elaborates this idea of human beauty being like the lotus:

प्रातर्बालतरोऽथ कुड्मलतया कान्ताकुचाभः शनै

र्हेलाहासविकाससुन्दररुचिः सम्पूर्णकोषस्ततः

पश्चान्म्लानवपुर्विलोलशिथिलः पद्मः प्रकीर्णेऽनिलै

स्तस्मिन्नेव दिने पङ्ककलिलक्लिन्नस्तटे शुष्यति ७३

A tender bud at dawn, the lotus resembles a girl’s breast,

it blossoms further as if smiling in the full bloom of youth;

then it begins to fade, trembling unsteady in the breeze,

only to lie sodden with mire, withering on the bank – all in one day.

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This is the fourth 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. To read the previous posts, please click here.

Darpa Dalana: Poets as Pimps

Chapter three of the Darpa Dalana – on learning and knowledge – is quite close to home for Kemendra, a poet, writer and scholar par excellence himself. Nevertheless, he dives straight in:

कविभिर्नृपसेवासु चित्रालङ्कारहारिणी

वाणी वेश्येव लोभेन परोपकरणीकृता १०

वादिभिः कलहोदर्कतर्कसम्पर्ककर्कशा

वाणी क्रकचधारेव धर्ममूले निपातिता ११

साधुतेजोवधायैव तार्किकैः कर्कशीकृता

वाणी विवादिभिः क्रूरैः सौनिकैरिव कर्तरी १२

Poets are like greedy pimps that prostitute the muse of language – decking her up with flourishes and tropes and reducing her to a means for their patrons’gratification. In the hands of debators, the muse of oratory turns into a sawblade, whetted on the grindstone of polemic, that strikes at the very root of dharma. Arguing logicians sharpen their words like the cruel butcher’s cleaver to intimidate the innocent.

In the course of this chapter, Kemendra has Indra railing against various perversions of learning almost all of which we immediately recognise. Here is one on plagiarism:

परसूक्तापहारेण स्वसुभाषितवादिना

उत्कर्षः ख्याप्यते यस्याः किं तया चौरविद्यया ३९

‘That which asserts its excellence

by stealing others’ compositions,

and proclaiming them as one’s own;

what is such learning, but plain theft?’

The long story that is narrated exposes the folly of not one but five learned scholars in a kind of internecine domino effect, warning the reader that learning without the attendant maturity of thought and feeling is worthless.

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This is the third 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. To read the previous posts, please click here.

Darpa Dalana: Money, Money, Money

In the course of a long lecture delivered by a noble-hearted wife to her miserly husband in the Darpa Dalana‘s second chapter on wealth, this verse stands out as particularly relevant to our times:

प्रभूतलाभलोभेन प्रयुक्तार्थस्य सर्वतः

भूर्जदृष्टेन तुष्टस्य नष्टबुद्धेर्धनेन किम् ४४

‘What is it for one who has

lost his mind, spent all his money

out of greed for some great profit,

and now just has a piece of paper

for his satisfaction?’

The miser soon dies – due to lack of medical attention (he didn’t want to waste money) – and Kemendra takes a wicked pleasure in describing him reborn as a unfortunate wretch:

अन्धः कुब्जः कृशः खञ्जः कुष्ठी स्थूलगलग्रहः

समूह इव दुःखानां तस्यास्तनयोऽभवत् ७७

A catalogue of miseries, he was a blind, scrawny, leprous, lame dwarf with a fat growth on his neck.

This boy ironically tries to beg from the deceased miser’s house and is beaten away from the door at the instruction of Candana, the miser’s son. Buddha then arrives to put him out of his misery, and offer Candana, and us, some salutary advice:

दत्तं वित्तं करुणानिमित्तं लोभप्रवृत्तं कृतमेव चित्तम्

यैः सञ्चयोत्साहरसैः प्रनृत्तं शोचन्ति ते पातकमात्मवृत्तम् १११

‘Those who immerse their mind in greed,

do not share their wealth, have no compassion,

are only moved by making money

at which they dance joyfully –

they come to regret their lives as downfall beckons.’

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This is the second 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. To read the previous posts, please click here.

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.