Thursday, May 22, 2014

Citra-kavitvani Foreword

Rupa Gosvāmī's citra poems with the commentary of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa translated by Matsya Avatāra dāsa

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 Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī deserves to be honored as one of the greatest poets of all ages due to the monumental importance of his works in the history of Sanskrit poetry and dramaturgy. In the Stava-mālā, a major selection of his poems later collected by Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, we can appreciate in every line the extension of his wisdom, the subtlety of his language, the sweetness of his mood, and above all, the depth of his unalloyed devotion to his beloved Lordships – Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. In the core of the Stava-mālā, we find a collection of twelve verses in the citra-kavitva genre in which the author distinctly displays his poetical dexterity in a most astounding way. Just as Lord Caitanya’s philosophy emphasizes variety in oneness, it is appropriate to say that although Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s poems are all exquisitely beautiful and dazzling, the citra-kavitva verses are particularly impressive and charming. In fact, due to their amusing constructions, they can even attract people who have never had an interest in poetry.

Sanskrit is by nature a highly poetic language. This is deduced by the mere fact that the Vedas exist eternally in perfect metrical patterns. The vast majority of both the revealed scriptures and the human compositions consist of poems in innumerable forms of versification, even in the case of books on medicine or civil law. Śrīla Vyāsadeva and Ādi-kavi Vālmīki gave preference to the anuṣṭup, a thirty two syllable verse, while later poets explored unlimited varieties of meters from one up to several dozen syllables per quarter. Versification became even more elaborate when besides syllables, the poets started to divide the quarters according to moraes, units based on the length of the phonemes. The number of figures of expression (alaṅkāras) and the genres of composition developed considerably from century to century, and at some point poetry became a very sophisticated art accessible only to highly educated brāhmaṇas and royalty. To write became a challenge for new authors and to understand became a challenge for the readers. Some exceptional works are the “Rāma-kṛṣṇa-viloma-kāvyam” of Daivajña Sūryakavi (14th century AD) in which the first line of each verse is repeated exactly in the second line in reverse order – one way narrating the pastimes of Lord Rāma, and the other way those of Lord Kṛṣṇa; “Rāghava-yādava-pāṇḍavīyam” of Cidambara (16th century AD) in which the same verses can be interpreted as simultaneously narrating the incidents of Rāmāyaṇa, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Mahābhārata; “Rāghava-pāṇḍavīyam” of Venkaṭādhvarī (17th century AD), which reading forwards narrates the Rāmāyaṇa pastimes, and when read backwards narrates the Mahābhārata pastimes. Among the most difficult kinds of compositions is the multifold citra-kavitva genre, which has been in vogue for at least two thousand years. Mahā-kavis like Bhāravi (c. 6th century AD), Māgha (c. 7th century AD) and Śrīharṣa (12th century AD) indulged in it in their works. Among Vaiṣṇava poets, Vedānta-deśika’s (14th century AD) works are perhaps the most astonishing. Being challenged to do so, within a few hours of a single night he composed the “Pādukā-sahasram”, one thousand and eight verses praising the sandals of Lord Raṅganātha. The collection contains forty citra-kavitva verses that are breath taking.
 Although Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī had hundreds of years of tradition and many renowned poets behind him, he far surpassed many of them by the mere fact that instead of the usual mundane love theme, he depicted the loving pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa and His dearmost devotees. Such poetical descriptions emanating from the heart of a mahā-bhāgavata have the potency to give great pleasure to the Lord and His devotees and therefore they deserve to be venerated and recited just like the Vedas and Purāṇas. Yet to thoroughly relish the innumerable rasas that flow in these poems, a good command of Sanskrit language is an unavoidable pre-requisite.

In the introduction to his Pada-kaustubha, Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa compares the Sanskrit grammar to a vast ocean of nectar – unless one dives in it, he won’t be able to know the flavors hidden there. It is remarkable that in the beginning of his commentary to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s citra-kavitva verses, Śrīla Vidyābhūṣaṇa prays to the Lord for the capacity to understand these verses, so difficult that they are. Had he not clarified some of the poems, it would have been much more difficult for the later Vaiṣṇava generations to grasp the intended meaning.  Nevertheless, given the complexity and character of the genre, we should keep in mind that his commentary is not meant to be exhaustive and that other scholars may eventually present other valid interpretations to these very same verses and highlight other poetic features as well. To bring solace to those who are not able to read the original, Matsya Avatāra dāsa presents here a very brilliant translation in elegant vernacular for both the verses and the Sanskrit commentary. This edition elucidates all the intricacies of the versification and the meaning of every word and thus makes easily accessible some of the gems from the nectarean ocean of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s poetry.
                                       Baladeva Dasa