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   Kashmiri Writers

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Sanskrit Kaavya of Kashmir

Prof. P.N. Pushp

Sanskrit Kaavya or poetical composition contributed by Kashmir is quite considerable  not only in quantity but in quality also. It is so in spite of the fact that much of the stuff presented in most of the so-called mahaakaavyas is conventional, pedantic and even banal; for, these defects and blemishes are more than compensated by the departures registered by writers from Kashmir, particularly in narrative verse and realistic depiction.

It is indeed a grim irony that most of the Sanskrit writers of Kashmir referred to by Kshemendra, Kalhana and Mankha as their predecessors or contemporaries are, today, mere names for us. We, for instance, hear of a Mahaakavi Chandra flourishing in the reign of Tunjeena alias Ranaaditya (c. 319 A. D.) whose play attracted large audiences from all classes of people. Abhinavagupta also recognised him as a fine playwright. Yet no work of his has come down to us. Of the stray verses ascribed to him in anthologies the best is the one that ends with the immortal line


['Darling, the time-gazelle, once gone, cannot return.']

Another great poet whose works must have positively enriched Sanskrit poetry is Mentha or Bhartrmentha, a rare genius, as is borne out by the stray verses of his, preserved for us by theoreticians like Kshemendra and anthologists like Vallabhadeva. His mahaakaavya, Hayagreevavadha was held in high esteem even by his royal patron, Maatrgupta, a poet in his own right.

More than a dozen kings of Kashmir are said to have made a mark in the domain of Sanskrit verse also, Jayaapeeda and Harsha being the most prominent of them. Against the background of this royal participation in Kashmir's literary activity it is not difficult to grasp the significance of Bilhana's remark that in Kashmir poetry grew as luxurianly as Kunkuma or saffron:


The earliest work that reveals some purple patches of literary value is the Neelamata Puraana (c. 600 A. D.); yet it can hardly be regarded as a kaavya. The earliest Sanskrit kaavya in Kashmir has, therefore, to be recognised in the Arjuna-Raavaneeyam of Bhoomaka (c. 650 A D.), which appears to be patterned on the Bhattikaavyam. Though described (in the colophon) as a mahaakaavya the work is primarily intended to illustrate the rules of grammar as formulated in the Ashtaadhyaayee of Paanini. Most of the twenty seven sargas of the composition are styled according to the Ashtaadhaayee paadas such as gaankutaadipaada and bhoovaadipaada; while the content is worked out on the theme of the skirmish between Raavana and Kaartaveeryaarjuna, in about 1500 verses. Like the Kiraataarjuneeya of Bhaaravi it starts with the auspicious word shree:


Despite the limitations imposed by the basic objective (of illustrating
Paaninian sootras) Bhoomaka has presented quite a lot of readable stuff.

Yet, by and large, it appears that Sanskrit writers in Kashmir concentrated more on the critical aspect than on the creative, till the ninth century. The only notable exception is that of Udbhata who flourished in the reign of Jayaapeeda (779 - 813 A. D.). He preferred to illustrate his views on poetic ornamentation (as formulated by him in his Kaavyaalankaara-saara-samgraha) with his own poetic composition, Kumaarasambhava, imitating, of course, the Kalidasan classic. Surprisingly enough, the theoretician poet fairly succeeds in giving us a sizable number of poetic pieces which cannot be dismissed as a poor copy of the Katidasan masterpiece. The local colour introduced by Udbhata is thematically appropriate and artistically satisfying. Of particular interest in this connection are the pieces describing the advent of autumn or depicting Shiva's amorous solicitude for the distraught Gauree, soon after Kaama was consumed to ashes by the unrelenting flame leaping out from Shiva's third eye. It is a pity that only 95 verses of the work are preserved in the Kaavyaalankaara-saara-samgraha, and the remaining portion has not so far been recovered.

Another poet of eminence who adorned the court of Jayaapeeda is Daamodaragupta whose Kuttineematam effectively leavens pornography with realistic touches of wit and satire, and appropriately depicts the melieu in which the erotic adventures are periscoped. The theme centres round the prospective courtesan Maalatee, of Vaaraanasee who approached the veteran Vikaraalaa for expert advice. The seasoned procuress reveals to the lovely aspirant various tricks of trade, relating to her a number of illustrative tales. An outstanding feature of the coverage is a sort of running commentary on the stage performance of Harsha's Ratnaavalee; and particularly charming is the description of the Spring Festival of Cupid, a riot of colourful abandon. The 1058 verses of this unusual composition are of absorbing interest not only for the authentic peep it offers into the psychology of extramarital relations, but also for the artistic handling of the theme. The performance is all the more remarkable for freedom from inhibition despite the poet's express assurance at the end that a perusal of the poem will positively save the reader from falling into the snares of pimps, scoundrels and procuresses. Daamodargupta's command over the language is extraordinary without being pedantic, as is clear from the following verse where pedantry has been tastefully warded off:


Wearing a garland she is a Sragdharaa; fair-faced, she is a Suvadanaa; delightful, she is, who is a Praharshinee; with a delicate waist she is, no doubt, a Tanumadhyaa; whom does she not impress as a Ruchiraa? Sweet of speech she is, indeed a Subbaashinee.

To the VIII century may also be ascribed the Sragdharaastotram of Sarvajnamitra who, in 37 verses (of the Sragdharaa metre) propitiates Taaraa in the deenaakrandana style, making a clean confession of his sins and weaknesses, and striking an intimate note like


[Don't you see I am being severally and collectively driven along by my own weaknesses such as deceit, envy, pride, and similar mean forces, like a monastry camel, each and everybody's property?] or,


[Does a physician, with all his ample compassion, withhold treatment from one even though on brink of death?]

The Tibetan tradition recorded by the Pagsam-jon-sang may be substantially correct that Sarvajnamitra, 'though born in Kashmir was a student of the monastry at Nalanda in Magadha where he became a great master of sciences'; for, the commentator on his work describes himself as 'Raajaguru Pandita Bhikshu Shri Jinaraksita of the Shreemad Vikramasheela Mahaavihaara'. No wonder that the stotra has become part of the Tibetan Tangyur, like a few other works by Kashmiri scholars, particularly those by the Kashmirian Pandit teacher Ravigupta. Among the Tibetan renderings of these is one by the great Kashmirian Pandit Shaakya Shree Bhadra, in 21 small chapters.

Such was the literary landscape in the VIII century Kashmir before the court epic appeared as a formal mahaaakaavya. The mahaakaavya in Kashmir, in fact, flourished after its decline in most other parts of the country; hence the dismal fact that it suffered decadence in the prime of youth. Nevertheless, the reign of Avantivarman (855-84 A.D.) gave a positive fillip to it. Of the poets that belonged to his court, Ratnaakara had already finalised his Haravijaya at the court of Jayaapeeda, for the colophon describes him as 'Shree-Baala-Brhaspati-anujeevin' (a protege of Jayaapeeda alias Baala-Brhaspati). A few years before Avantivarman ascended the throne, the mahaakaavya in Kashmir seems to have registered a bold departure in the Bhuvanaabhyudaya of Shankuka. The poem, according to Kalhana, was a historical composition on the fierce battle between Mamma and Utpala (c. 850 A. D.) in which


'the flow of the Vitasta was held up with the corpses of the valient warriors failing on the battlefield.' The loss of such an unusal work is, therefore, really tragic.

The earliest mahaakaavya (in Kashmir) that has survived, however, is the Havavijava (of Raajaanaka Ratnaakara) which apparently is modelled on Magha's masterpiece, the Shishupaalavadha. The plot, obviously, is Pauraanika: Shiva's victory over Andhakaasura whom he destroys in deference to the wishes of the gods oppressed by the demon. The treatment of so slender a thread of narrative in as many as fifty cantos (totalling up 432l verses), could hardly be possible without disproportionate paddings and digressions loosely held together under the pedantic pretext of developing the mahaakaavya elements. Even the main theme the poem has had to wait till the VI canto and to get sidetracked by a preoccupation with conventional 'war debates' (cantos IX-XVI) and an obsession with erotic trivialities (cantos XVII-XX, XXII-XXVIII). What has a ring of authenticity in Bhaaravi's Kirantaarjuneeya, and manages to evoke admiration even in Maagha's Shishupaalavadha, becomes here, a vain display of laboured wordmanship. Even the large variety of metres employed by the 'mahaakavi' cannot retrieve the poem; nor can occasional flourishes of exquisite language (matching the sound to the sense) justify the poet's boast:


Nevertheless, the work contains 3 number of fine specimens that speak highly of Ratnaakara's talent (which, unfortunately fell a victim to conventional application). Here are a few outstanding cameos of nature depiction


('The disc of the rising sun shining red like fresh blood on the altar-like cliff of the sun-rise top looked like the 'labour-bed' on which the Glory of early dawn is delivering sharp.')


('In the evening, when the solar disc was hanging on the sunset peak and the fullmoon was emerging on the sunrise-cliff, the Glory of the firmament appeared holding two bronze cymbals, as if keeping time with the twilight-dance of Shiva.')

It was this verse that earned the poet the title 'Taala Ratnaakara', on the analogy of 'Deepashikhaa Kaalidaasa', 'Aatapatra Bhaaravi' and Ghantaa Maagha'


(`While that nectar﷓emitting moon was embracing the Lady Night, 
whose garment of darkness had slipped away,
her friends, the quarters smiling bright with faces 
shimmering in the rays as slender as the lotus fibre ﷓ bits silently stepped away.')

Ratnaakara's Vakrokti﷓ parrcaashikaa also suffers from banal word mongering, though brilliant repartees like the following are not wanting either:


Shivaswaamin, Ratnaakara's junior contemporary at Avantivarman's court, appears to have been equally prolific in turnout of verses in a large number of metres; but his Kapphinaabhyudaya is content with only 20 cantos in which he chooses to spin out a mahaakaavya based on a simple Avadaana story. According to this Buddhist legend the Master intervenes in the bloody feud between the king Prasenajit of Sraavasti and the king Kapphina of Leelaavatee (in the Vindhyas). When, on hearing the Buddha's sermon, Kapphina expresses his desire to enter the Samgha, the Master advises him, instead, to practise selfless discharge of duties as a dedicated ruler.

Shivatvaamin seems to have drawn upon Maagha as well as Ratnaakara; and the striking similarities are not confined to the structural frame﷓work of the poem but cover both the form and the content, and often border upon apparent plagiarism. Yet, like Ratnaakara, he too has a number of good verses to his credit, and unlike Ratnaakara, evinces command over simplicity of expression also, as in:


Among other pieces of high literary merit Shivasvaamin gives us a very spirited description of the enraged assembly in which the chieftains are portrayed wringing their hands in fury at the aggressive designs of the foe. The episode, no doubt, reminds us of similar scenes in the Kiraataarjuneeya and the Shishupaalavadha; but Shivasvaamin is no cheap imitator. His profound originality is quite refreshing at times. In the episode just referred to, for instance, the war﷓council protests against the policy of procrastination and apathy, and pleads for immediate drastic action:


The fact that Shivaswaamin has taken pains to excel both Maagha and Ratnaakara in literary gymnastics called chitrabandha (alone with pratilomaanuloma, sarvatobhadra and ekaakshara etc.) is only an index to the literary fashion of the age, despite the awe﷓inspirihg advocacy of dhvani (poetic suggestion) by Aanandavardhana who also belonged to Avantivarman's court. Of the four works of Aanandavardhana, refered to by him in his Dhvanyaaloka, Arjunacharita and Madhumathanavijava appear to have been in Sanskrit while the other two, Vishhamabaanaleelaa and Harivijaya were in Parkrit. Since none of these has come down to us we are not in a positiion to see how far the poet had himself practised what later on preached in his Dhvanyaaloka. The tesimony of his Deveeshataka, however, is rather hostile; for, in this work, his extreme preoccupation with the chitrabandha is shocking at times. Did he develop his views on dhvani after he had seen through the alankaara and the reeti schools of Indian poetics?

The Dhvani theory, naturally, sounded quite perplexing to the traditionalist poets and poetasters, some of whom did fairly well in their own old way. A near contemporary of Aanandavardhana was the celebrated Jayantabhatta whose Nyaayamanjaree, a landmark in Indian Nyaaya literature, also is enlivened by poetic expression here and there; but what is more important from literary point of view is the Aagamadambara, in which he dramatises in four acts the religeo-social predicament of his times, the reign of Shankaravarman (883-902 A. D.). Quite a number of verses in the play are of high poetic merit in the non-conventional context of satire and caricature (which was earlier attempted by Daamodaragupta and, later, carried forward by Kshemendra and, to a considerable extent, by Kalhana also). This, for instance, is how he presents the sarcastic remark of a non-believer:


God is, here, ridiculed as 'the son of a barren woman, bathed in the mirage-waters, bearing sky-flowers on the crest of his head, and carrying a bow made of the horn of a hare'.

Jayantabhatta's son, Abhinanda versified the main story of Baana's Kadambaree, and as is obvious from the title of his work, Kadambaree-kathaa-saara, he narrated the romance without caring to go into detailed description of romantic settings. His narration, nevertheless, has advantage of ease and lucidity, a glaring contrast to the florid, highflown and involved diction of the recognised masters that has preceded him. His approach, however, is more pauraanic than poetic. The only other poet to render the Kaadambaree in verse was Kshemendra (whose Padyakaadambaree is no more extant).

The poetic element chose a new mode of expression in the works of Kshemendra; but in the context of a mahaakaavya it emerged in Vikramaankadevacharitam of Bilhana. He had by that time become the Vidvaapati at the Chaalukyan king, Vikramaaditya VI Tribhuvanamalla (1076-1127 A.D.) at Kalyaana in (Karnaataka), with all its shortcomings as a historical document, this poem of his registers a bold departure from the earlier mahaakaavyas: it dovetails objective facts of history into imaginative improvisations of court culture. Such an experiment had, earlier, been successfully carried out in prose by Baanabhatta, but Bilhana was the first to try it in verse. Probably it was his example that was followed up by Jalhana (C. 1103 A. D.) in his (now lost) Sompaalacharita (glorifying the exploits of Somapaala, the dashful military governor of Raajapuree, breaking away from Uccala). The model was, perhaps, considerably improved upon by Kalhana in his (now lost) Jayasi rhaabhyudaya which appears to have, later on, been incorporated into the Raajataranginee itself. 

Bilhan has been generally lauded for his command over the diction characterised as vaidarbheereeti, which he himself describes as


'a cloudless shower of ambrosia for ears, the native-land of Sarasvatee's elegance.' This type of felicity is, no doubt, there even in his hyperbole


Yet, his descriptions are often charming and true to life as, for instance,
that of his own village Khonamoosha (present day Khonmuh) or, the description of Aahavamalla's death, a fine piece of simple pathos. This emotional richness of Bilhana's verse reaches its climax in his Chaurapanchaashikaa, a master-piece of elegant lyricism to which we shall turn again in proper context. An outstanding feature of the Vikramaankadevacharitam, though not an intrinsic
element of the 'mahaakaavya', is the poet's description of his native land as well as his trip abroad through Mathura, Vrindaavana, Kaanyakubja, Prayaaga, Vaaraanasee, Daahala (Bundelkhand), Anhilvaada (Gujarat), Somanaatha, Raameshvaram and Kalyaana. He seems to have left the Chaalukyan court before his patron led an expedition to and beyond the Narbada in 1088 A. D.

Like Bilhana, Mankha also has incidentally offered us revealing glimpses into the Kashmir of his times (c. 1140 A. D.), in the third and the last (XXV) cantos of his Shreekanthacharitam which, again turns to a shiva-legend for the frame-work of his 'mahaakavya'. He sems to have led a tirade against sycophancy in court poetry, and exclaims with pride that he has not flattered anybody except
Shreekantha. Equally significant is his reaction against the growing
tendency of the age to overburden verse with decorative artifices, and also his strong plea for a sympathetic and unbiassed study of all genuine poetry:


Hence his emphasis on the utility of literary meets and discussions:


He had actually submitted his own composition to the assemblv of the learned at the house of his older brother (Alankaara), and delighted at the superb recitation of 'his enthralling verse', the discerning audience were 'moved to tears of joy':


Most of the poets mentioned by Mankha in connection with this assembly have been eminent in their own way. Thus, Loshhthadeva, master of six languages, is known to us by his Deenaakrandanastotra which he composed while at Varanasi; Jalhana sought to immortalise his patron, the saandhivigrahika of Raajapuree (present day Rajauri) in his Somapaalacharitam (no more extant); Shambhoo Mahaakavi wrote Anyoktimuktaalataa and Raajendrakarnapoora, a 75-verse panegyric of his patron, Harshhadeva (1073-1101); and Kalyaana (whom Buhler has rightly identified as Kalhana), is the celebrated author of the Rajataranginee. 

The only notable composition of the court-epic type, attempted after the Rajataranginee is the Prtthveeraajavijava of Jayaanaka, which celebrates the elusive victory of the Chaahamaana king Prithveeraaja over Shabab-ud-Din of Ghaur in 1193 A. D. In the thirteenth century, however, Jayaratha ingeniously wove a number of Shaiva myths and legends into a 'mahaakaavya' of as many as
32 cantos, namely the Haracharitachintaamani. The work betrays symptoms of a religious psychosis manifesting itself in a narrow sectarian outlook, threatening the deviationists with dire metaphysical consequences.

This much about the conventional kaavya or mahaakaavya in Kashmir. As to the lyric which reached its full bloom in Bilhana's Chaurapanchaashikaa, quite a large number of stray verses of lyrical quality are quoted in various works on poetics, and anthologies. Kshemendra, in particular, cites a sizeable number in his handbooks on poetics and metrics. Of these, Bhallata has been highly praised for his Shataka, by Abhinava, Kshemendra and Mammata. He was preceded by Muktaakana and his brother Chakrapaala. Loshtaka has already been mentioned in connection with his Deenaakrandana. Abhinavagupta's reflective hymns, despite their mystic content, are characterised by a robust outlook on life; and remind us of Shankaraachaarya's spiritual rhapsodies. But, unlike Shankara, his emphasis is on an integrated personality in which the material and the spiritual blend in harmony; and therefore, he sings,


'Renounce naught, cling to nothing, enjoy ourself unruffled, howsoever circumscribed you be.'

Abbinava's preceptor had already sought to synthesise philosophical subtlety with devotional fervour in his Shivastotraavalee. This very spiritual lyricism had earlier appeared in the Sragdharaastotram of Sarvajnamitra and later, in the stavachintaamanee of Bhatta Naaraayana. Centuries later it reappeared in the Stutikusumaanjalee of Jagaddhara (c. 1350 A. D.) and coursed through the minor works of Baka (XV cent.), Aananda (XVI cent.), Avataara (XVII cent.), Saahib Kaula (XVII cent.) and Gopaala Raajaanaka (XVIII cent.) Shilhana's Shaantishataka (c. 1200 A. D.) is apparently an imitation of Bhartrharee's Vairaagyashataka. A few gems of lyrical lustre are there in narrative works also as, for instance, in the works of Kshemendra, particularly his Manjarees and the Dashaavataaracharita. But the brightest gem of lyrical verse in Kashmir is, as pointed out earlier, the Chaurapanchaashikaa of Bilhana, a real masterpiece of elegant lyricism. Each of the 50 stanzas of this tender romance 
of a young teacher with his sweet pupil, a princess begins with ‘adyaapi, an enchanting word of reminiscence, and depicts in simple melody an amorous scene of the lovers' romantic encounters, against which the pathos of a love-lorn heart becomes all the more haunting. Here, for instance, is an unforgettable glimpse, though a little blurred in transmission:

'Even today, I see her 
confused and bashful 
love-lorn and bewitching; 
her hair standing on end; 
looking behind the scenes into the mirror 
while I stood still beside her.'

But let the original text also speak 


Over and above the poets and the poetry talked of so far it was in the works of Kshemendra, Somadeva and Kelhana that Kashmir made the most significant contribution to Sanskrit poetry. These poets of the XI and XII centuries contributed positively new trends and currents, while their predecessors had mostly contributed stray works and verses on traditional lines.

The most outstanding of these, no doubt, is Kshemendra (990-1065 A. D.) who was almost as versatile a genius as his preceptor, the celebrated Abhinavaguptaachaarya. His works numbering over thirty comprehend a large variety of topics and aspects of life and literature. His Kalaavilaasa, Deshopadesha, Darpadalana, Samayamaatrkaa, and Varmamaalaa are unique in respect of their social content and sustained satire, while his Dashaavataaracharita, in spite of its conventional theme, is a strikingly original composition, in terms of its relevance to the times. Even the Avadaanakalpalaa and the three Manjarees (of the Raamaayana, the Mahabhaarata and the Brhatkathaa) are in reality distinct kaavyas in designs as well as execution, despite a number of structural flaws and technical shortcomings. These negative considerations should not be allowed to obscure the positive value of the literary transformation brought about by the poet in these manjarees.

Many of Kshemendra's works like the Chitrabhaarata, Kanaka-jaanakee, Shashivamsha, Laavanyavatee, Muktaavalee, Padyakaadambaree, and Vaatsyaayanasootrasaara, are lost to us; yet the verses cited from these in his Auchityavichaaracharchaa, Kavikanthaabharana and Suvrttatilaka, are enough to convince us of their significance for the literary history of Kashmir.

Even apart from this quantitative contribution of Kshemendra, however, his name stands out as a unique phenomenon in Indian literature because of his satire, of which earlier poetry offered no better than a few scattered instances, Kshemendra was a sharp critic of matters, men and manners, and at the same time possessed not only a keen sense of humour, but also an uncanny knack of presentations. His wit sharpens the edge of sarcasm. His mastery over language and idiom further equipped him for the unique role he was destined to play in the domain of Sanskrit verse. He was fully conscious of the social significance of this role as is clear from an introductory verse of his Deshopadesaa:


'Put to severe ridicule one does not take to evil ways; 
hence my conscious endeavour to do him good.' 

In spite of his occasional gusto for the niceties of erotics, he has managed to escape the snares of literary wantonness. He has no pretention to artistic detachment, either, on which conventional Sanskrit verse has waxed so eloquent, calling it 'akin to divine bliss' (brahmaananda-sahodara). Nor does he suffer from aesthetic snobbery that makes much ado about pretty nothing. He, in fact, more than once seeks to remind us of his utilitarian outlook on poetry, and his moral tone rings clear in assertions like:


'Kshemendra has composed these lovely verses
capable of defending righteousness.' (Narm. 8.4)

Satpaksha-rakshaa-kshamam is, certainly, an unequivocal statement of the objective aimed at Kshemendra, accordingly, undertook to caricature the kaayastha only to ridicule social and administrative corruption:


Asked to depict the kaayastha 'of the past', for the sake of 'fun' he incidentally unmasked the socio-administrative bunglings of the age, the reigns of Samgraamaraaja (1004-1029 A.D.), Ananta (1029-64 A.D.) and Kalasha (1064-84 A.D.). 

In the Kalaavilaasa too he strikes a similar note. While describing the thousand and one viles of rogues and scoundrels he wittily warns:

'These guiles should, no doubt, be understood,
but not practiced.' 

Satire according to Kshemendra is, thus, an effective social weapon which, rightly wielded, proves a pleasing deterrent; and this, invariably, is the express intention of his Deshopadesha, Narmamaalaa, Darpadalana, Kalaavilaasa, Samayamaatrkaa and Sevva-sevakopadesha which are predominantly satirical. Even his Dashoavataaracharita is enlivened by poignant ironies of life that make the pauraanik myths relevant to the age. Almost all these works are replete with vivid caricatures of a wide cross-section of the life around the poet. In these literary cartoons he exposes sham and pretention, fraud and hvpocricy, avarice and vested interest. He has a dig at quacks and busybodies, bullies and sychophants, wanton women and henpecked husbands, pimps and procuresses, opportunists and exploiters, priestly jugglers and superstitious followers, hoaders and middlemen, moneylenders and deposit-grabbers, backbiters and blackmailers, mercenaries and commission-agents, voluptuous nuns and lustful monks, and last but not the least, the Unrelenting kaayastha.

Time and again, he takes these whimsical and avaricious agents of allround exploitation to task; and, who would not agree with him when he depicts them as:


'Deaf to the bewailings of the poor sufferers,
blind with the pride of power and pelf,
dumb for justice and black of heart-
the rulers are always busy exploiting people.'

He describes them as 'the submarine are that dries up the ocean of national wealth.' It is, in fact, they that have 'devoured the whole populace'; for they are 'entrenched in a hundred viles'. The bumper crop in its prime like the full moon was devoured in a trice by the Raahu-like vieeful divira (the clerk) and these very 'robbers in disguise' had 'denuded the earth of her rich treasures'.

One clearly hears the heart of Kshemendra beat in his spontaneous outburst like:


'Ah populace, where will you go 
when the mean, petty and ambitious backbiter
mad after wealth 
has occupied the seat of power!’

The whole personality of the kaayastha is anatomised by him as:

'bhoorja-record-bannered messengers of death, 
devilish experts in counting and discounting,
visiting the world and smashing the masses
with vehement punishments.' (Kalaa. 5.12)

The expression, 'bhoorja-dhvaja, (the birch-bannered) is an appropriate characterization of the filemongers equipped with the unrelenting red tape. (And don't we find them alive and kicking even today?). These kaayasthas were clever experts at forgery, misappropriation and embezzlement, and in the words of Kshmendra:


`They turned the plus into a minus by just depriving it of a single stroke'. The 'Almighty Pen' of the kaayastha was highly dreaded by the common folk `who looked upon the crooked syllables scribbled by him' in his vicious records as 'coiled serpents infesting the tops of bboorja trees'. The drop of ink dripping from the kaayastha's pen reminds the poet of `the collyrium﷓tinged tears of Moths earth plundered by the tyrant'.

But the kaayastha is not the only devil to be reckoned with He is, no doubt, the most prominent of a gang of social maraud ere whose palms are always poised for tips:


'The populace has been annihilated by (the unholy combine of) the minister, the military chief, the gate officer and the priest, whose palms are always outstretched for bribes.'

Against the background of this bungling by kaayastha bureaucracy (or should we not call it Kaayasthocracy?) it is not difficult to appreciate Ksbemendra's depiction of the common man's sad plight. The callousness of the stiff﷓necked kaayastha presents a glaring contrasts to the humiliated looks of a demoralised servant humbling himself to dust before his lord. 'While bowing before his master, the servant chances to see his belly, the root cause of humiliation,
and in discomfiture looks at the earth as if to seek refuge.' 'What an irony of fate! Obsessed by the stubbornness of hope the servants bear their folded bands upon their brows like a standard of servility; remorse agitates their hearts, and yet flattery dances on their lips.'

The following picture of a job﷓hunter reminds us of his modern counterpart who goes about knocking at unwelcome doors in search of employment:

'Severely scolded by the sturdy﷓armed gatekeeper that blocks the way, 
gnashing his teeth out of rage at the callous creak of the doors, 
the servant is eager to get in even through the tightly pressed legs of the man on duty 
by bending his back; 
and he enquires of the dumb out﷓going comrades if there is any chance of his getting in'.

And there is caustic sarcasm in this running commentary of his:

'His eye fixed at the door, his hands folded,
his tongue devoted to flattery, 
his head bent low ---
Ah, the servant has dedicated every limb of his 
to social﷓service’

Verily the servant is as blind as the master: ‘one out of arrogance, the other out of avarice: dehumanised by riches or poverty, who cares to look at whom ?'

The cartoon of a hoarder (whose tribe is not extinct yet) even today makes an interesting study in unrelenting malevolence:

'The greedy hoarder has, indeed, forgotten the all-
devouring time also;
why, otherwise, shouldn't he sell the paddy 
stored some sixty years ago ?
He dances round in glee whenever the rains fail 
or it rains too much.
The miserly fellow pines for a severe famine
occasioned by a rise in food prices.'

Kshemendra's verse is compact of such literary cartoons of unfailing social appeal. He has not forgotten even his own fellow-workers, but has tellingly screened the peevish arrogance of an upstartish scholar 'who gets headache the moment he hears of others' rise.'

Thus, though mostly burlesque, Kshemendra's satire quite often touches great heights of artistic excellence. Nevertheless, on appropriate occasion, it tends to become lampoon, and sometimes even borders on vulgarity, narrowly escaping the clutches of pornography. Absurd buffoonery, however, is seldom permitted by him to mar the dominant tone of decency. A few jarring notes here and there, of course, sound intolerable; but these lapses are temperamental rather than technical, and deviations are generally deliberate. Parody, caricature, ridicule, lampoon, irony of contrast, antithesis and anecdotal fun, all are there in him, very competently employed to suit the genius of his satire; and herein lies his forte as a literary debunker.

His Brhatkathaamanjaree, however, is doubtlessly surpassed in craftsmanship by the Kathaasaritasaagara of Somadeva, a junior contemporary of his, who about 1070 A. D. presented to the world one of the finest collections of tales strictly in accordance with the original (paishaachi) text of the Brhatkathaa. In his preamble he talks of his primary concern about 'facilitating comprehension of the tangled web of the narrative' rather than about 'display of literary sophistication' (perhaps a dig at Kshemendra's Manjaree). Yet, he calls his work "a compilation of the essence of the Brhatkathaa':


Somadeva has covered the wholel range in 24,000 verses, comprising 18 lambakas spreading into 154 tarangas, all severally and collectively contributing to the ‘Ocean of the Streams of Stories'. The vast expanse of the Ocean comprehends tales of myth and mystery, wit and wisdom, fad and folly, fun and frolic, love and ambition and adventure, meanness and magnanimity, cowardice and chivalry, greed and gratification, envy and jealousy, tact and strategy, campaign and intrigue, hate and infatuation, creed and dogma, feud and fraternity, trust and betrayal, faith and frivolity, solicitude and allergy, chastity and easy virtue, rape and rescue, prudery and recklessness, fetish and sagacity, divinity and devilry, and much more. They tell not only of bird and beast, but also of adventurous lovers, intriguing wives, fastidious vampires, puzzling ghouls, obliging giants, considerate profligates, callous brothers, scheming step-mothers, unsuspecting stepsons, guileful bawds, alluring pimps, resisting ladies, stubborn beauties, succumbing simpletons, self-sacrificing idealists, exploiting self-seekers, and such other typical, individuals, covering quite a wide cross-section of human behaviour and social panorama. All this is done in a highly pleasing manner weaving story out of story, so that interest in what follows is effortlessly sustained. The language used is lucid and the style appropriate, taking full advantage of the situation or the context, and yet steering clear of conventional ornamentation. This very simplicity of effective narration, perhaps, helped the Kathaasaritsaagara in gradually superseding the Braatkathaa as well as the Brhatkathaamanjaree, so much so that, in course of time, it became the foundational source-material for translation in other languages. The first Persian rendering (in Kashmir) was prepared at the instance of Sultan Zain al-Abideen (mid XV cent.), under the title Bahar al Asmaar (wrongly regarded by some scholars as a rendering of the Raajataranginee). A few lines from such a vast treasure of views and perspectives can at best present just a limited sample or two. Nevertheless, here they are:


(Naravaahanadatta felt progressively agitated like the ocean, as she (Madanamanchukas) digit by digit, gradually developed into a full blown beauty like full moon.)


(Evil often rebounds on the person intending to perpetrate it on others, like a ball repeatedly tossed on to the wall.)

The work is replete with well-turned phrases and expressions like the following that have acquired a proverbial ring:

1. Krtaghnaanaam shivam kutah ? (I.3.44)
2. Yaa vasyaabhimataa moorkha suroopaa tasya saa bhevet. (I.5.51)
3. Bhadrakrt bhadramaapnuyaad abhadram chaapyabhadrakrt. (III.6.212)
4. Upapradaanam lipsoonaamekam hyaakarshhasaadhanam. (V.1.119)
5. Aapadi sphurati prajnaa yasya dheerah sa eva pi. (II.4.41)

Another remarkable feature of Somadeva's narrative art in economy of strokes to conjure up setting and atmosphere relevant to the theme.

The art of narration carried to such a high pitch by Somadev, was, no doubt, there in his contemporaries and predecessors also a good deal, and was put to maximum advantage by his successors too, but only as a secondary tool. Kalhana's Raajataranginee, for instance, has a number of stories embedded into the Historical narrative. His literary contribution, nevertheless, is qualitatively different: it lies in realistic depiction of the grim socio-political life of the land, not in chronological isolation or dynastic seclusion of the ruling powers be has used as practical framework for his 'kaavya', but in a perpetual flux of cause and effect (despite the occasional reference to mysterious intervention of destiny, individual as well as collective), Kalhana's has been a unique experiment. It is unique in the sense that before him no classical poet had cared or dared to take such a vast historical canvas into his poetic sweep. Kalidaas’s canvas was confined to the Raghu dynasty - Bilhana preoccupied his poetic fancy with the loves and conquests of his patron; while Kalhana wove his ‘poem’ out of the total continuum of his historical awareness. The weak links here and there, particularly in the earlier tarangas call for no apology; these are understandable in terms of his limitations, material as well as intellectual. These are there despite his resolve to ensure authenticity of statement, (to use his own term: bhootaarthakathanam) by dint of personal observation, documentary evidence, objective inference and plausible conjecture.

Kalhana's keen historical sense and sharp critical talent, matched by his flexible imagination and fine sensibility, despite his failings and shortcomings, cannot but be recognised as a telling differential of his work. He is fully conscious Of his responsibility as a historian; but at the same time he bows to the innate greatness of the poet’s creative faculty, and emphatically asks: 'Who else but poets as creators, adepts in charming creativity, have the calibre to bring the past to our very eye?' 'Charming creativity' (:ramya-nirmaana, in the poet's own words), certainly, has got to be wedded to what he has called ‘bhootaartha-kathana,' (authenticity of statement). It appears that Kshemendra's Nrpaavalee (not extant) which Kalhana consulted but did not very much admire as history, must have been rich enough in candid and realistic depiction, like his other works. What, however, provoked Kalhana to censure it must have been its tendency to fictionalize factual situations, Kalhana in this respect, was an anti-thesis of Kshemndra. Yet, his account of times he has dealt with is not merely a matter-of-fact narrative, but a portrayal with poetic insight particularly of the period nearer his own. His chronicle is rich in glimpses of the socio-political setup of the times, and numerous are the realistic pictures of the distress caused by famine, food and frost, as well as by avaricious opportunists, unscrupulous self-seekers, and wicked mischief-mongers that ruined the lovely land of which he was so and proud. His devastating denunciation of all these antisocial elements is inspired by dignified indignation quite in keeping with the spirit of 'impartiality' he had adopted as his poetic credo; for to him it meant neither connivance nor indifference, but a fair assertion based on objective analysis of situations. To make such stuff the subject-matter of poetry, therefore, is no mean achievement.

The whole work, in fact, has been conceived by him as an organic whole, all the eight tarangas flowing severally collectively one into the other as well as all together. Various rasas are found here emerging in various situations and then merging into the shaanta, the dominant rasa. It, goes to Kalhana's credit that, unlike mahaakavis who create scope for a particular rasa in a poem. Kalhana simply ‘uncovers' a particular rasa in a situation and appropriately manifests it in creative treatment, without getting bogged down in conventional technicalities. Here, for instance, is the portrayal or a famine caused by an untimely snowfall, a piece complete in itself, and yet forming an integral Part of the contextual whole:


'Unexpectedly in the month of Bhaadon all of a sudden 
there was a heavy snowfall 
on the fields covered with autumn crop (of paddy) 
ripening fast. 
It appeared as if Kaala (: Time, the Destroyer), 
was out to annihilate the universe; 
Into it sank the crop, along with peoples' 
hope of survival. 
Then came the disaster of a dire famine,
like the rampart of Niraya (the child of fear and death), 
the hell, 
thronged by dismal hordes of ghost-like famished men.
The tormented (victims, distressed by hunger, anxious to fill 
their (empty) bellies, all, 
forgot love for wife, affection for son and regard 
for father...........’

Unlike most other contemporaries of his, Kalhana does not revel in offering mere types of character. He delineates individuality even in those that belong to typical groups. In this respect he appears to be at his best while presenting complex personalities like Ananta, Kalasha, Harsha, Uchchala, Sussala and Jayasimha and even Didda who was not so near him in point of time. The lame-footed queen surprised her subjects when she successfully broke through all the barriers set up by her swarming enemies, and Kalhana describes her achievement very crisply thus:


'The lame-footed (queen) whom none would suspect of 
the strength to go across a puddle, 
displayed the mettle of Hanumaana in crossing the ocean 
of hostile swarms.’

The Raajataranginee abounds in masterly descriptions of matters, men and manners. Even campaigns and expenditions, invasions and confrontations, are graphically described with rich details of topography and terrain, without jeopardising literary excellence. The campaign of Dugdhaghaata may be cited here as one of the many events which are so graphically described that while reading the lines we feel as if we are being treated to a running commentary.

The tradition so gracefully set up by Kalhana in 1148-50 A. D. was followed by Jonaraaja in his sequel to Raajataranginee, about three centuries later with admirable efficiency. He seems to have secured better intensity in his work perhaps because of the narrower range of his chronicle, which covers, more or less, the earlier period of the enlightened Sultan Zain al Aabideen's life (1417-59 A. D.) against the gruesome background of his predecessor's bigotry and the depredations by marauders like Zulqadr Khan and desperadoes like Renchan. This is how Jonaraaja depicts the citizens' panic at the unholy combine of these marauders;


'They were rich in foodstuffs and had resorted to shady nooks 
like snakes having abundance of fruit and rest in shade. 
But they dreaded Dulcha (;Zulqadr Khan) below, and Renchan 
on the hill above, 
like the snakes afraid of the rapid current of water below 
and the storm on the hill above.' 

And when Dulcha left, the surviving citizens come out of their hide-out like frightened rats; but the threat of Renchan was still there, as if the 'sunset peak with its lofty cliff was obstructing movement of the moon after it had just escaped the 'Raahu's grip.' Talking of the tyranny on the eve of Zain al Aabideen's accession, Jonaraaja observes:


'Wicked people belonging to his faith worked havoc
with the spiritual tradition of Kashmir,
as the storms do with trees, or locusts with paddy-crops.'

Zain al Aabideen's genuine solicitude for his subjects irrespective of colour, caste or creed, warms up his heart


'His policy, excelling in quality, dulled the peoples yearning
for kings of yore,
like sugar of a superior quality that alleviates longing
for the sugarcane juice.’
He went on restoring the old administrative conventions
that had disappeared, 
just as Spring rejuvenates the creepers blasted by winter. 
In him dwelt, indeed, in new accord,
qualities both sublime and awesome. 
Where else but in the ocean do we find together
nectar, and poison, fire and water? 
That king broke up the arrogant, and uplifted the low, 
as if he were levelling down the
ups and levelling up the downs,
preparing thereby the soil, the earth, for sowing
seeds of his reputation.'

Unfortunately Jonaraaja died in 1459 A. D. leaving his chronicle unfinished, but his brilliant pupil, Shreevara who was a very intimate associate of the King, wrote the third Raajataranginee which is far superior to his preceptor's work, and at times closely approaches the sublimity or Kalhana's composition. He also seems to be very much concerned about the people’s welfare. Here, for instance, is the description of a famine caused by an untimely snowfall:


‘It appeared as if the earth was trying to cover her face
with a white sheet of snow;
How could she afford to look (helplessly) at the people
afflicted with the scourge of a famine ?
Day and night, throughout, long unending processions
of people begging for food
entered houses hoarding food-grains
as if arrows were (incessantly) going in.'

And, here is an account of flood occasioned by successive rains:


'The bubbles (of rain-water) rise like wicked serpent-hoods
bent upon doing rain-mischief, 
eager to take away the bumper crop.
The sound of showers falling through the tree-foliage
created the impression
that the trees, out of solicitude for the people
were shedding tears and crying aloud.
The turbulent waters in turmoil had really run amuck: 
they knocked down the high, they lifted up the low.'

Shreevara's chronicle (1459-77 A. D.) is a rich storehouse of such apt and effective description of pleasure trips, social festivals, bitter quarrels and fateful mishaps. The poet's intimacy with his patron had stood him in good stead, no doubt; but it was his keen observation and good taste that conditioned his artistic choice. The masterpiece of a letter from the distressed king to one of his sons, deserves being quoted in full for its urgent pointedness in terms of poetic appeal.


‘Son, I am in grave crisis, so hard to tide over 
that none else but you can save my life.
The moment you see my letter, sit up if lying down, 
stand you up if sitting, ran if already up. 
Yes, what else? Painful to hear. Nonetheless, 
the sooner you come the better would you achieve 
your end.

If you do not come quick enough 
while I am precariously alive, 
What use if you do come to me when I have left the world?' 

Describing the festival of music and dance at Vejibror (then known as Vijayeshvara-kshetra) he remarks:

'While being treated to the performance of music and dance 
the ears and the eyes argued to each other:
I have enjoyed it more than you.'

A revealing glimpse of the Dal Lake offered by Shreevara, incidentally, gives us a peep into his unostentatious diction and approach too


'Reflected within its waters, trees appear as weeds, 
mountains as tortoises, 
and towns like (underworld) habitation of Naagas. 
People enjoy the sight of paddy-clusters 
on the floating fields 
bending low as if to just inhale the fragrance 
of the lotuses (growing in the crystal waters of the Dal).

Shreevara had the additional advantage of being a scholar of Persian and (perhaps) Arabic too, as is clear from the colophon of his Kathaakautuka (written in 1505 A. D.):


This work of his, in fact, is a Sanskrit rendering of Mulla Jaami's Persian masterpiece, Yoosaf-Zulaikhaa; yet he has very creditably adapted the Persian conceit to the needs of the Sanskrit atishayokil (hyperbole) and domiciled the alien idiom, as far as possible. Here is a typical piece from the work, describing the heroine's unique bcauty:


'Wonderful, indeed, in her two opposites are seen 
the day in her complexion, the night in her tresses.
The star-necklace decorates her conch-like (lovely) neck, 
as if the stars have come to serve the moon, the face.'

The Persian mystical tradition of discerning the real in the phenomenal, too has been rendered in the true Indian fashion as seeing, 'vairaagya' in 'anuraaga' or 'yoga' in 'bhoga'.


And that indeed is the moral of this romantic poem. But no poet after him seems to have gone beyond him attempting such an artistic synthesis of the Persian and Sanskrit romances. The Delaa-rama-kathaasaara of Bhattaahlaadaka (c. 1500 A. D.) nevertheless, draws upon a source and tradition other than Indian. He takes the story of Delaaraana, a courtesan, from the 'Muslim' lore and retells it briefly in Sanskrit with the express aim of 'delighting the minds' of those that could not read it in the original:


Despite his artificial diction imitating the decadent models Aahthdaka stands out as a good entertainer. He avoids monotony by varying the metre according to the contexual need and also by naturalizing the details without making them banal as, for instance, in cantos 11 and 12. In the former he describes the garden of Delaaraama, while in the latter he describes the head-to-top loveliness of the courtesan. His sense of proportion speaks throughout the 404 verses of the story told in 13 cantos, the length varying between 22 and 56 according to the demand of subject-matter; while catholicity of outlook is apparent from the very opening verse serving the purpose Of a Mangdlaacarana 


'May the greatness of that benevolent Divinity of yours 
always protect you, 
Who is best worshipped with the excellent flowers 
of homage 
rather than with incense and the lamp.'

No more poems like this, exploiting non-Sanskritic sources have come down to us though the catholic spirit of worship, in the true tradition of Kashmir Shaivism has, all along, inspired many a hymn, including the highly philosophical ones by Saahib Kaula (c. 1700 A.D.).

The tradition of writing poetical chronicles, however, lingered on, till the conquest of Kashmir by Akbar (c. 1586A.D ), and Praajyabhatta in collaboration with his pupil, Shuka, wrote the fourth Raajataranginee. Though they could not make much advance in poetic expression, yet from the thematic point of view their chronicle is not utterly devoid of lovely pieces of narration and portrayal, which are quite in line with Kashmir's contribution to Sanskrit poetry.

After Shuka's Rajataranginee, the only works worth mentioning are the Durbhiksha-taarodayaasta of Ishvara Kaula on the severe famine of 1878 A. D., and the Jitamalacharitam of Shukadeva Shastri, on the martyrdom of Baba Jito. Among other literary curiosities, however, reference may be made to memoranda in Sanskrit verse like that submitted by Kashmiri Pandits to Ranjit Deva of Jammu, the Sanskrit rendering of stray persian verse as attempted, for instance, by Raajaanaka Gopaala, or Raajataranginee sequels attempted by late Professor Govind Razdan. 

This, then, in brief is an account of the Sanskrit Kaavya of Kashmir.


1. KCSP:
Kashmir's Contribution to Sanskrit Poetry (by P. N. Pushp) published in The Poona Orientalist, Vol. XV, No. I-IV, 1951 (which has been quoted by Dr. K. S. Nagarajan in his thesis, Contribution of Kashmir to Sanskrit Literature, 1970, without using any quotation marks or caring to acknowledge in the footnotes). 
2. RT (: Raajataranginee), II.16.
3. Abhinavabhaaratee, XIX.
4. Subhaashitaavalee (Ed. Peterson), 1629.
5. Shreekanthacharita, (of Mankha), II.53
6. RT, III.260-62.
7. KCSP, P-93, fn. II-18.
8. VC (Vikramaankadevacharita), XVIII.16.
9. BORI (Poona) Collection Ms 184/1875-76.
10. KSS (Kaavyaalankaara-saara-samgraha), BSPS NO.LXXIX, pp.5-13.
11. KSS, Pp.26.54.
12. RT, IV.40-46.
13. KM (Kuttaneematam Kaavyam), B.I., Cal., Vv. 792-940.
14. KM, Vv. 885-897.
15. SS (Sragdharaa-stotram), ASB, Cal. , Introd. XXIX.
16. SS, P. 50.
17. SS, Introd., V, Para 8.
18. RT, V. 32-34.
19. RT, IV. 102-104.
20. HV (Haravijaya), Prashasti. 7.
21. KB (Kapphinaabhyuditya), XVIII.
22. VC, XVIII. 70-78.
23. VC, IV. 83-85.
25. Quoted from Bilhanacharits, Verse 94.
26. KCSP, Pp. 101-105; and Sik (Satire in Kashmir I) published in Kashmir Research Biannual No. 2 (Old Series), Pp. 13-28h.
27. NM (Narmamaalaa), I.146. 
28. KV (Kalaavilaasa), V.11.
29. KV, V. 7. 
30. SeSe (Sevyasevakopadesha), 11-12. 
31. SeSe, 53.
32. SeSe, 22.
33. SeSe, 3. 
34. DD (Darpadalana), II. 33-34. 
35. Satire in Kashmir I, Pp. 28a-28f. 
36. Eadaoni, P.402, as quoted in Blochmann's Badaoini & His Works Pp. 141-142.
37. See, for instance, Upakoshaa (I.4) or Siddhakaree (II.5).
38. RT, III (for Durlabbavardhana's story), or VIII (for Vanik).
39. RT, I.4 and I.46.
40. RT, I.13.
41. RT, VII. 1171-12000.
42. Serialised in the Shree Patrikaa (of Shreenagara).

Additional Reference Material :
1. Cultural Heritage of Kashmir (by S. C. Banerji), Cal., 1965.
2. Contribution of Kashmir To Sanskrit (by Dr. K. S. Nagarajan), Bangalore, 1970.
3. Glimpses of Kashmiri Culture, Series I & II (by Prof K. N. Dhar), PRI, SGR.



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