Friday, July 10, 2015

Mula-Ramayana: A Vaisnava Sanskrit Reader

Śrī-Śrī-Sītā-Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Hanumān, the presiding deities of the Palimaru Maṭha, Udupi, installed by Śrī Madhvācārya (1238-1317).

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          Once upon a time, while the sage Vālmīki was performing austerities on the bank of the river Tamasā, Nārada Muni appeared before him and narrated a summary of the Rāmāyaṇa, called the “Mūla-rāmāyaṇa” or the Original Rāmāyaṇa. This is the very first chapter in the Bāla-kāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and it consists of the main episodes of Śrī Rāma’s pastimes summarized in one hundred verses. The text  itself suggests that the meeting of the sages took place some time after Śrī Rāma had defeated Rāvaṇa and before He became the king of Ayodhyā. After hearing the Mūla-rāmāyaṇa, the sage Vālmīki composed thousands of Sanskrit verses to elaborately narrate all the incidents in this great epic. Accepted as avatars of Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva respectively, Śrī Rāma and Hanumān are some of the most beloved among the divinities in Hinduism and are worshipped in thousands of temples all over the world.  For many centuries, Vālmīki has been known as the ādi-kavi, the first poet, and his Rāmāyaṇa is considered by many as the most ancient poem, so famous in the Indian subcontinent that its story line is known in nearly every house. After the Mahābhārata, Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa is the second greatest Sanskrit epic and it has influenced the philosophy, religion and culture of India for centuries. It remarkably influenced the later Sanskrit poetry, drama and literature, and inspired many poets to write their own versions of the epic, among which some of the most notable are Kālidāsa’s Sanskrit mahākāvya “Raghu-vaṁśa,” written in the 5th century C.E., and Tulasīdāsa’s “Rāma-carita-mānasa,” written in Avadhī in the 16th century, which became so popular in North India.
          Although in its present form the whole Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa text contains approximately twenty four thousand verses, many scholars hold the view that a good number of these were interpolated. Some even consider the whole Uttara-kāṇḍa a later addition not written by Vālmīki. There are indeed substantial differences between the several recensions of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, and even the Mūla-rāmāyaṇa appears with a different number of verses in different editions. Despite these discrepancies, the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa maintains its status as a sacred scripture and is venerated by millions.
          As the “Mūla-rāmāyaṇa” has been used as a text book in innumerable colleges and schools all over India, I prepared this bilingual translation intending to fulfil the needs of a broad range of students. The grammatical analysis here is not meant to be exhaustive but to present the basic morphological classification of the vocabulary and some elements of the syntax. The word-for-word meaning was done with the help of three traditional Sanskrit commentaries: Govinda-rāja’s Rāmāyaṇa-bhūṣaṇa, Nāgojī Bhaṭṭa’s Rāmāyaṇa-tilaka and Śiva-sahāya’s Rāmāyaṇa-śiromaṇi. The prose order (anvaya) of the Sanskrit texts was done according to the way the verses were interpreted and translated, but readers should bear in mind that there are other possible variations. For didactic purposes, the English and Hindi translations are mostly literal. Yet, to avoid compromising the natural flow of the language, some grammatical permutations are also found. For instance, some sentences which in the original text are in the passive voice, so common in Sanskrit, were translated in the active voice in English. The names of the seven kāṇḍas (sections) are not in the original but were added here for easy reference.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Krishna Balarama Citra-kavya

I had been wondering what I could give to Krishna and Balarama in Their 40th anniversary. It is not exactly easy to choose a gift for a couple of boys Who own all of the universes with everything inside, including ourselves, especially if we have the ambition of giving Them something that They don’t have. After some deliberation, I realized that there is indeed something They don’t have: I never wrote any verses glorifying Them. In the morning, I went to the temple and prayed, “Whatever I can offer You is just like worshipping the Ganges with Ganges water, so if You wish me to write anything, please give me inspiration.” In the afternoon, I had a look at some books of Sanskrit poetry to decide which genre to choose. Among dozens of different Citra-kavyas, poems in the form of pictures, it was not difficult to select one for Balarama: Hala-bandha, the plough formation! I quickly looked at some examples and they seemed quite simple, so I just moved on to find one for Krishna. Despite the great variety of pictures, none of them appealed to me. Moreover, it should be something that He likes. If I am going to give Balarama a plough, it makes sense to give Krishna a flute. I looked far and wide for an instance of a citra-kavya in the form of flute. Fruitless. A Google search also resulted in zero entries. Well, if I intended to do something original, this seemed to be the opportunity. After thinking a bit about how a murali-bandha (flute formation) should be, it became apparent why it was not done before: all citra-kavyas have pictures with a variety of shapes which allow the composition to be very intricate with many turns and crossings, while a flute is simply too straight. Maybe a good contrast with Krishna. Anyway, I had to conceive a new set of rules to write a poem in the form of flute in such a way that the features expected in a citra-kavya would also be present.   
Since a flute is straight like a line, it appeared to be a good idea to have a verse which could be read the same forwards and backwards. Yet merely this wouldn’t suffice, for there is already such kind of poems, which are called anuloma-pratiloma. To better represent a flute, I decided that eight notes (which in Sanskrit are called sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni) should be used as in an ascending scale when read forwards, and as in a descending scale when read backwards. After drawing a diagram with sixteen notes evenly spaced and seeing the sixteen empty spaces to write a thirty two syllable verse, I was puzzled and wondered if this would be feasible. In the evening, I went again to see Krishna and Balarama, “Thanks for the idea. It was really great. Now, I am clueless about how to finish it, so please help me in that.” At night, I spent some time analyzing the diagram, but I couldn’t make a single word fit anywhere. In the morning, I went to the temple again, but this time I thought better to address the matter to Srimati Radharani, “Radhe, I would like to give some nice verses to Your beloved Krishna and Dauji, and you are the best person who could help. Even Sarasvati emanates from a mere particle of your splendor, so please let me find the right words.” It took a few hours of work, but by the evening it was ready.


सवरिर्भुगक्षमश हे पवधम निर्वस ।

सवनिर्मधवप हे शमक्षगभुरिर्वस ॥


he pava-dhama nir-vasa |

 sa-vanir ma-dhava-pa he

 śam akṣa-ga-bhur ir vasa ||

sa – with; vari – giver of gifts; ṛbhu – demigods; ga – planets; kṣama – favorable; śa –happiness; he – O; pava – purification; dhama – O Kṛṣṇa, Who is beautiful like the moon; nis – the entirety; vasa – resting place; sa – with; vaniḥ – wish; ma – time; dhava – master; pa – protector; he – O; śam – happily;  akṣa-ga – going before the eyes; bhuḥ – being;  iḥ – Cupid; vasa – keep on dwelling.

“O Kṛṣṇa, sanctifier of the world! You are always favorable to the inhabitants of all the planets of the universe, including the demigods, who are able to give all sorts of material favors, and You bring happiness to everyone. O Lord of time, protector of the devotees! The whole existence rests within You, the Cupid of Vṛndāvana. Please remain dwelling happily here, being present before our eyes according to Your own will.”

Balarama’s plough was still to be composed. Somehow I was thinking that it would be a way easier and faster, but after a better look at some examples and the rules, I was a bit scared. In the next day, despite of several hours of struggle, I couldn’t get anything substantial. Several times I had a brilliant line in mind, but it wouldn’t fit the meter, and I had to start over again. In the evening, I told Balaramaji, “I know I am at fault for taking for granted that it would be easy to give you a gift, so please don’t baffle my wish.” In the next morning it was ready. The rules are as follows. It should start with three syllables which can be read the same forwards and backwards, followed by other five syllables which are also read in the same way. After this there must be one syllable which will be shared in three places, and then the verse should end with four syllables to be read the same forwards and backwards.


जयजहन मन्दाम  मदामन्नहरेहि रे ।रेवतीकान्त वन्दे त्वां  सीरसर रसरसी ॥

jayaja-hana mandāma 
 madāmann ahar ehi re |
revatī-kānta vande tvāṁ 
sīra-sara rasa-rasī ||

jayaja – Yamarāja, the son of the sun god, death personified [1];         
hana – annihilator;    mandā – with a pot,   ama – going around; madāman –  O intoxicated one; ahar – every day; ehi – appear; re – O;   revatī-kānta – beloved of Revatī; vande – I worship; tvām – You; sīra – with a plough; sara – moving around; rasa-rasī – enjoyer of rasa.

 “O beloved of Revatī, I worship You! You move around intoxicated carrying a plough and a pot of honey, but you are the annihilator of death and the enjoyer of rasa. Please appear to us every day of our lives.”

[1] In Sanskrit works, the names of Yama are often used as a synonyms of death, and Lord Viṣṇu and His expansions are therefore also called Yama-ghna (destroyer of death), Yama-ripu/ Yamāri (enemy of death),  etc.