Anyokti: Sleight Of Hand, Sting Of A Bee

by Suhas Mahesh - Jun 20, 2015 10:40 PM +05:30 IST
Anyokti: Sleight Of Hand, Sting Of A Bee

This time on Kāvya– anyoktis. What are they? Read on.

सोढप्रौढहिमक्लमानि शनकैः पत्राण्यधः कुर्वते
सम्भाव्यच्छदवाञ्छयैव तरवः केचित्कृतघ्नव्रताः ।
नामन्यन्त तदातनीमपि निजच्छायाक्षतिं तैः पुन
स्तेषामेव तले कृतज्ञचरितैः शुष्यद्भिरप्यास्यते ।।
(Acalasimha)

Some trees are so ungrateful
that, desiring a better cover,
they one by one discard the leaves
that bore the brunt of frost.
The trees care not that thus they lose their shade;
nor that the leaves, more grateful,
even in their dying
lie at their feet
(Translation by D.H. Ingalls)

Little did Poet Acalasimha know that a millennium later, his verse would come to nicely outline the conduct of an upstart politician in Delhi! This verse belongs to a very delicious genre called anyokti– talking about one thing, while subtly pointing at another. They often come packed with a wry tone that makes for very enjoyable reading. The anyokti also provides a shield for poets behind which they can take jabs at the scumbags amongst the powerful. And who doesn’t take delight in such condemnation? But the best part is that anyoktis don’t get preachy (unlike traditional nīti subhāṣhitas), while still packing a powerful message. Lets take a look at another verse, this time from Bhallaṭa—

निस्साराः सुतरां लघु-प्रकृतयो योग्या न कार्ये क्वचिय्
शुष्यन्तोऽद्य जरत्-तृणादि॰अवयवाः प्राप्ताः स्वतन्त्रेण ये ।
अन्तःसार-पराङ्मुखेन धिग् अहो ते मारुतेनामुना
पश्य! अत्यन्तचलेन सद्म महताम् आकाशम् आरोपिता ।।

Altogether hollow, flimsy and useless
these little bits of straw—
Alas! look how they are raised to the skies
by the fickle wind which cares not for quality.

How many such pieces of straw have we not seen? Lifted by the winds of luck, bribe, birth or flattery to positions of undeserved greatness. Riding the winds to raise oneself from one position to the next and one Padma award to another. Meanwhile, those of actual gravitas languish below. Our Sanskrit Universities are also deeply entrenched in this rot, as Chamu Krishna Shastry has lamented in his writings. Hopefully, we will see some winds of change in the coming years. A Sena poet, Mādhavasena gives such floating straw a more caustic dressing down—

यच्-चण्डाल-गृहाङ्गणेषु वसतिः कौलेयकानां कुले
जन्म स्वोदरपूरणं च विघसैः न स्पर्शयोग्यं वपुः |
तन् मृष्टं सकलं त्वयाद्य शुनक क्षोणीपतेः आज्ञतः
यत् त्वं काञ्चन-शृङ्खला-विलयितः प्रसादम् अरोहसि ||
(Mādhavasena)

That you lay about in slums,
That you lived on leftovers,
That you were too filthy to be touched—
All this is history, little dog.
Now upon the order of the king
You ascend the palace with a golden chain.

Golden or not, a chain is a chain. Freedom is the price the dog pays for his royal status. He is now lead around by his master and licks his feet for scraps. However, it is to the credit of canines that they prefer freedom to fame, when given an option. But enough talk about scoundrels. The good men— what’s happening to them?

किं जातोऽसि चतुष्पथे घनतरच्छायोऽसि किं छायया
सन्नद्धः फलितोऽसि किं फलभरैः पूर्णोऽसि किं सन्नतः ।
हे सद्वृक्ष सहस्व सम्प्रति सखे शाखा-शिखाऽकर्षण-
क्षोभा-मोटन-भञ्जनानि जनतः स्वैः एव दुश्चेष्टितैः ।।
(Bhallaṭa)

Ah, good tree!
Why were you born at a crossroad?
And why are you so shady?
On top of this you bore fruit?
And you want to bend down too?
Suffer now, my friend,
For your own misdeeds,
As people drag, shake, bend
And break your branches.

A very heart-rending scene indeed. This is perhaps India’s tragic previous millennium expressed in four lines. One is reminded of “two arrows” that pierce Bhartṛhari’s heart— “The good man sunk in suffering” and “the rogue in favor with the king”. In this vein, Bhallaṭa’s exquisite work— Bhallaṭa-Śataka— contains a hundred fine anyokti verses. The power of the anyokti really lies in the fact that it guides the readers towards conclusions, without spelling it out for them. As a result, the readers are left with a sense of “ownership” that makes the anyokti a didactic tool par excellence. We see one last verse from Bhallaṭa, before we move onto other pastures—

कस्यानिमेषनयने विदिते दिवौको लोकादृते जगति ते अपि वै गृहीत्वा ।
पिण्डप्रसारितमुखेन तिमे किं एतद् दृष्टं न बालिश विशद्बडिशं त्वयान्तः । ।

Who has unwinking eyes
Except the heaven-dwelling gods?
Endowed with these on earth, O stupid fish,
Why did you not detect the hook entering within
As your mouth opened for a morsel?
(Translation by Somadeva Vasudeva)

Bhallaṭa’s fish has the sympathy of the citizens of new Delhi! We now go back in time and land in Mughal India, where a very haughty poet is serving in the court of Shah Jahan—

दिगन्ते श्रूयन्ते मदमलिनगण्डाः करटिनः
करिण्यः कारुण्यास्पदमसमशीलाः खलु मृगाः ।
इदानीं लोकेऽस्मिन् अनुपमशिखानां पुनरयम्
नखानां पाण्डित्यं प्रकटयतु कस्मिन् मृगपतिः ॥

The formidable tuskers are all far away;
Only these pitiable she-elephants are here.
And the deer? The less said the better.
On whom is this king of beasts to show
the unparalleled prowess of his claws?

This is the colorful Jagannatha Panḍitarāja, boasting about his own unparalleled erudition. Clearly, he did not consider modesty a virtue! He was always sure to have a panegyric handy when he went patron-hunting. He presented the work jagadabharana to Jagat Simha of Mewar. Some time later, he cleverly changed a few phrases and presented the same to Shah Jahan! And some time later, the same work was recycled for Prāṇanārāyana of Kāmarupa! There are many other stories about this colorful man, which I save for another day. But all his flattery did not save from the wrath of Aurangzeb. He had to flee to Kāmarupa (Assam) and take shelter there—

पुरा सरसि मानसे विकचसारसालिस्खलत्
परागसुरभीकृते पयसि यस्य यातं वयः।
स पल्वलजलेऽधुना मिलदनेकभेकाकुले,
मरालकुलनायकः कथय रे कथं वर्तताम् ।।

The swan that spent its youth
Amongst blooming lotuses
In the pollen-scented Mānasa Lake—
How can it now stay, tell me!
With these croaking frogs?

Not exactly a nice sentiment to express against the ruler who has provided you asylum. But Jagannatha was used to an opulent lifestyle and as he pointed out vainly —

दिल्लीश्वरो वा जगदीश्वरो वा मनोरथान्पूरयितुं समर्थः |
अन्यैर्नृपैर्यद् परिदीयमानं शाकाय वास्याल्लवणाय वा स्यात् ||

The Lord of Delhi, or the Lord of the World
Only these two can fulfill my desires.
Whatever comes from others,
that suffices only for salt and vegetables!

We may fault Jagannatha’s flamboyant nature, but we cannot fault his poetry. His works stand as an exemplar for effortless, fluid and euphonic versification. This is a feature that can be enjoyed only by those who are conversant with Sanskrit. However, essence of the poetry still stands accessible in translation. We will take leave of Jagannatha with one last verse—

अयि दलदरविन्द स्यन्दमानं मरन्दं
तव किमपि लिहन्तो मञ्जु गुञ्जन्तु भृङ्गाः ।
दिशि दिशि निरपेक्षः तावकीनं विवृण्वन्
परिमलमयमन्यो बान्धवो गन्धवाहः ॥

Ah, Blooming Lotus!
These bees drink your nectar
and buzz happily around you.
Well, let them. But remember—
The silent wind that spreads
your fragrance far and wide
—he is your true friend.

It seems quite ironic, for Jagannatha himself was a buzzing bee, moving from patron to patron! But I think we will all agree that Jagannatha’s observation about sycophants remains true to this day. Roughly around Jagannatha’s time, there was another great poet— Nīlakaṇtha Dīkshita— who wrote a century of anyokti verses, anyāpadeśaśataka.

Together, Bhallaṭa, Jagannatha and Nīlakaṇṭha can be said to form the great triad of anyokti verses in Sanskrit. We will return to the theme of anyoktis later to visit verses from Nīlakantha. We must also take a moment to appreciate how difficult it is to write verses of this nature. It requires tremendous talent to be able to juxtapose ideas of one arena onto another, without sounding efforted. Try it, if you don’t want to take my word for it. I leave you, for the first time, with a Prakrit verse in honor of these wonderful poets (and our wonderful poetic tradition)—

जा ठेरं व हसन्ती कइवअणंबुरुहबद्धविणिवेसा।
दावेइ भुअणमंडलमण्णं विअ जअइ सा वाणी॥

Glory to Speech! She sits in the mouths of poets
laughing at the creator as she creates the world anew.

Suhas Mahesh is an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Science. Blissfully wedded to Physics during day, he ekes out time to woo language at night. His other interests include Carnatic music, hobbyist electronics and history.
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