Jarasandhavadha Mahakavyam

by Pankaj L. Jani | 2010 | 82,365 words

The English translation of the Jarasandhavadha Mahakavyam: a Sanskrit epic poem written by Goswami Hariraiji. The story revolves around the story of Krishna’s vanquishing of the Magadha King, Jarasandha. The soul message of this epic Jarasandhavadha is “where there is righteousness there is victory”. The sources for this story include the Mahabhar...

Part 6 - The Great Tradition of Sanskrit Mahakavya

The Jarasandhavadha Mahakavyam has been considered as a great epic in Sanskrit. The poet, a worshiper of Lord Shri Krishna, describes in detail how Jarasandha was killed and Yudhishthira performed the Rajsuya Yajna under the able guidance of Shri Krishna who happens to be the Mahanayak of this 'Mahakavya'. It has all the requirements of a Mahakavya as prescribed by the Sanskrit scholars.

In the tradition of Lakshana Granthas, the role of Acharya Bhamah is very significant in the subject concerning critical appreciation of a Mahakavya, and who is next only to Acharya Bharata. The later Acharyas accepted the characteristics prescribed by him with slight modifications here and there. Specifying the characteristics of a Mahakavya, Acharya Bhamah wrote that epic is divided into cantos, its subject is profound with its hero being great or characterized by quiet gallantry and loftiness of conduct. Its language is witty, its story is devoid of unnecessary elements or matter and in spite of being rhetorical, it is based on morality.

In addition to the description of mantra, messenger, marching, war and the rising of hero in the end, it also contains beautiful description of seasons, rising of moon, garden and mountains. Even though Mahakavya contains all these things described above, it is neither complex nor inexplicable. It always contains meaningful message. It has all the five divisions of drama and stages of work. Such poetry depicts the nature of people and contains all poetic sentiments.

The definition given by Dandin who belonged to the sixth century is simple and concise -

(Kumarsambhava of Kalidasa. M.R. Kale. Intro. ii)

According to Dandin, Mahakavya is a creation divided in cantos. It contains words of benediction, praise or greetings and outline of the story at the beginning. The subject of an epic is historical or based on the real story of a gentleman. It contains the description of sublime, virtuous, clever hero’s attainment of four human pursuit’s viz. Virtue, Wealth, Sensual pleasures and Salvation. It contains the description of a city, ocean, mountain, season, moonrise, sun-rise, and garden, messenger, marching and rising of the hero. It includes dalliance, intoxication, and enjoyment of love, separation, marriage and birth of a son. It has mantra, messenger, marching and rising of the hero.

The Mahakavya is enriched with rhetoric, extensive and aesthetic and emotional content. The Cantos should not be comprehensive; story must contain interesting events and should include elements like description of twilight, there must be a change of meter at the end of the Canto. The Mahakavya containing the above characteristics serves the popular interest and has lasting effect till the end of an era.

Mahakavya contains a productive or non-productive poetic story. It may contain interludes (intermediary stories), whose objective is to give boost to the main story. Mahakavya is divided into Cantos and contains a story full of dramatic elements. It depicts the entire life and it contains a heroic deed or any important incident. The poet builds up the story based on this incident with rhetoric description, illustration of Nature and different worldly and divine depictions. The mundane descriptions include that of Nature, garden and city, while the divine includes description of Gods and heaven. The hero of a Mahakavya is born as a Brahmin, is meritorious, a warrior, desirous of conquering the whole world, a great valiant. He is powerful, sagacious, tactful King. Mahakavya will have a villain and description about his lineage. It depicts victory of the hero and defeat of the villain.

The attainment of four human pursuit’s viz. Virtue, Wealth, Sensual pleasures and Salvation is dealt as an objective and Mahakavya contains all poetic sentiments. The speciality of Acharya Rudrat is the usage of aesthetic sentiments. In Mahakavya, along with the praise of hero’s lineage, beautiful depiction of his city is included. Epic contains divine and natural elements; it may not contain unnatural incidents involving humans.

According to Acharya Bhamah the important elements of an Epic are–(1) Division into Cantos (2) Great and profound subject (3) Sublime hero (4) Interpretation of four classes (5) Rising of the hero (6) The element of righteousness (7) Drama’s characteristic-Five divisions (8) Inclusion of nature of people and various sentiments (9) Prosperity-Description of Moonrise, Seasons etc. Generally we find all these elements in the Sanskrit Mahakavyas.

The history of Sanskrit literature has a great tradition of the 'Mahakavya'. Besides the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the best written epics are the Kumarsambhava and the Raghuvansha by Kaalidas, the Buddhacharita and the Saunadernanda by Ashvagosh, the Kiratharjuniyam by Bharvi, the Ravanavadha by Bhatti, the Shishupalvadha by Magh and Shri Harsh’s the Naishadhcharit.

The above mentioned poetic works have been considered as great epics having all or most of the characteristics of an epic. It should be borne in mind that these -elaborate rules were evolved after a minute examination of all available specimens. The works of early poets like Kaalidasa will not therefore be found to conform strictly to the definition given above, nor is it necessary that they should do so, provided they follow the broad lines laid down.

These epics open with a verse or verses expressive of a salutation to a deity, or a blessing conferred on the readers, or a hinting of the subject-matter. The subject chosen by the poets of these epics is profound, with its hero being great or characterized by quiet gallantry and loftiness of conduct. The object of these compositions is the attainment of the four aims of human pursuit—i. e., Virtue, Wealth, Sensual pleasures and Salvation. The hero is either a divine personage or a kshatriya of noble descent and possessed of the qualities of a 'Dhirodattta' Hero. In the Raghuvamasha it has for its theme a number of Heroes, but they are all Kshatriya princes sprung from the same race.

In addition to the description of mantra, messenger, marching, war and the rising of hero in the end, the poems also contain beautiful description of seasons, rising of moon, garden and mountains. They also describe, at more or less length, such incidents and topics as twilight, the rise of the sun and the moon, the night, the evening, darkness, the day, morning, noon, hunting, mountains, seasons, forests, oceans, the union and separation of lovers, ages, heaven, cities, sacrifices, battles, invasions, marriage—ceremonies, advice, the birth of a son.

It is very difficult to present the characteristics even of a few important epics or to discuss at length the significant traits of these epics. In order to understand the great tradition of the Sanskrit epics I restrict my discussion to the limit of five important epics and that too in brief.

The Kumarsambhava by Kalidasa: Kalidas has been considered as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit Literature. He is indisputably the greatest master-mind in Sanskrit poetry. The Kumarsambhava has been acclaimed as one of the best epics written in Sanskrit. M.R. Kale writes in Kumarsambhava of Kalidasa, "The Kumarsambhava or 'the poem descriptive of the birth of Kumara', has all the requirements of a Mahakavya and is classed as such by Sanskritists. The hero of this poem is a divine being, and one of the Dhirodatta class." (KK -xxvii)

This epic contains seventeen cantos (sarg) and each canto is named after the most important event described in it. Each canto contains minimum forty six 'shlokas'. Sixth 'sarg' has ninety five shlokas. The hero is Lord Shiva who possesses all the qualities of a 'Dhirodatta Nayak'. It contains words of benediction and outline of the story at the beginning.

The epic begins with the description of the Himalayan mountains and goes on to the marriage of Shiva Paarvati, birth of Kumar, the killing of the demon Tarkasur which are described in an interesting and beautiful style. The poem concludes with an account of the destruction of the demon Taraka, the object for which the god of war was born. The purity and splendour of the Himalayan mountains and the beauty of the forest with the advent of spring, (king of seasons) deep meditation of Shankar, Rati’s weeping, the meditation of Paarvati, newly married family, children’s mischief and war description is fascinating.

Shiva and Parfait's marriage was not only for the enjoyment of love or sexual passion. The treatment of love described in ‘Kumarsambhava’ is of a different class. Till the time of Kalians, all poetry depicted that men were attracted towards women, but for the first time in Kumarsambhava, the poet has depicted a woman trying to attract and allure man. The poet has proved that love does not depend on physical beauty. When Paarvati’s incomparable beauty and arrogance of Kaamdev could not distract Shiva’s attention. Through Paarvati’s deep meditation Shiva became her slave.

According to Doctor Keith the Kumarasambhava has a lot of diversity, bright imagination and enlightened feelings and moves interestingly towards modern thinking. In the poetry, a beautiful diffusion of feelings and imagination is present. The dominant theme in this poem is the ‘Essence of Beauty.’ Incidents and deceptions are beautifully described. In this epic the loftiness of feelings and weeping of Rati after the death of her beloved Kaamdev, are very heart wrenching.

Maurice Winternitz writes in the History of Indian Literature,

“The thoughtful fervour, the splendour of images and the choice of expression do make us feel that we are enjoying here a genuine composition of Kalidas”. (HIL - 59)

Traditionally Kalidasa is known as a poet of the ‘essence of beauty.’ In the essence of beauty he describes incidences and co-incidences very well and in the ‘Kumarasambhava,’ the minute details of Paarvati’s gracefulness, while meditating in the rain has been interestingly described. Though Kalidas has intelligent artistry over women’s beauty, yet his essence of beauty is within the limits of decency and sobriety. The poet has compared the close relationship of Shiva-Parfait with that of the ocean and Baghirathi. He has shown their compliance with each other. He is a man of a few but measurable words. Through Narada, Parfait took the name of Shankar in the form of her husband, the poet describes very beautifully Paarvati’s innate shyness, decency and happiness. To express a story in few words we come to understand the artistic knowledge of Kalians.

A.A. Mac Donell writes,

“The Kumara-Sambhava, or the 'Birth of the Wargod,' consists, when complete, of seventeen cantos. The first seven are entirely devoted to the courtship and wedding of the god Siva and of Parvati, daughter of Himalaya, the parents of the youthful god. This fact in itself indicates that description is the prevailing characteristic of the poem. It abounds in that poetical miniature painting in which lies the chief literary strength of the Indian. Affording the poet free scope for the indulgence of his rich and original imaginative powers, it is conspicuous for wealth of illustration”.

(Origin and Development of Sanskrit Literature. 222)

The Raghuvansha Mahakavyam is also a very popular Sanskrit epic written by Kalidasa. The story of the ‘Raghuvansham’ is taken from the story of Valmiki’s the Ramayan. Kalidas has very clearly shown his gratitude towards him. But at every step, changes in this poetry, proves the poet’s efficiency. This epic contains nineteen cantos (sarg) and each canto is named after the most important event described in it. Except eighteenth and nineteenth canto each canto contains minimum seventy 'shlokas'. Twelfth canto contains one hundred and three 'shlokas'. The hero, Lord Rama possesses all the qualities of a 'Dhirodatta Nayak' but it has more than one hero. It contains words of benediction and outline of the story at the beginning. Kalidas begins the epic with the prayer of Lord Shiva.

Maurice Winternitz writes in the History of Indian Literature,

“Another great epic of Kalidas is the Raghuvamsa,”The History of the Family of Raghu", in which the poet describes the life and achievements of Rama and also those of his predecessors and successors. The first nine cantos are devoted to the four immediate predecessors of Rama, Dilipa, Raghu, Aja and Dasharatha; then in cantos X-XVI he describes, fairly in agreement with the Ramayana, the career of Rama, Kalidasa does not conceal the fact that he found his inspirations in the great epic of Valmiki. However, he does not let himself off into a competition with the adikavi. He has narrated the actual Rama-tale very briefly, so briefly that the cantos of the Raghuvansha devoted to this theme are just a neat: abridgement of the seven books of the Ramayana. On the other hand, his genius has an entire range providing new opportunities for originality, particularly in the cantos devoted to Raghu and Aja.”

(HIL - 62)

Dilip Singh’s dialogue, Indumathi’s Swayamvar (ceremony of selection of bridegroom by a princess) the cries of Aja, and the air travel of Ram and Sita, and Sita’s helplessness when sending messages to Rama are some of the episodes which leave indelible marks on the hearts of all. Ajas’ inconsolable weeping due to Indumati’s death is very popular in Sanskrit Literature. In the example, the forsaking of Sita by the agitated Rama is brought forth by using the beautiful imagery (Vipralabh Shringar). The separation of lovers in the war episode of Rahgu, Aja and Rama, he brings out the essence of bravery well. After denouncing worldly pleasures, Vashisht and Vaalmiki accept the hermitage in a very peaceful manner. Besides that, he has brought forth the essences of fear, sorrow, strangeness, humour and affection and they are placed correctly.

Being enamoured by his comparisons, the critics conferred the title of 'Deepshikha Kalidas’ (the line of lamps). In like manner, in the ‘Raghuvansham’ the poet has compared pregnant, defeated and sad Sita with the last phase of the moon. Kalidas’ comparisons are taken from all the different fields of sacred literature, spiritual, grammatical and poetical books and from nature.

In his poems Kalidas has not presented women as a beauty object. She is every thing to man and not just a companion in holy rights. Just as a yajna is incomplete without 'dakshina' in the same way a man is incomplete without his wife.

Maurice Winternitz writes,

“The fact that both of the epics of Kalidasa belong to the most famous productions of court-poetry is proved..... The epics of Kalidasa surpass all later epics in matter of simplicity of language and scrupulous avoidance of subtlety." (HIL - 67)

The Buddhacharita: The ‘Buddhacharita’ is a beautiiful piece of art by Ashvaghosha. In this piece of work, the image of the poet and poetic perfection is predetermined. When compared to other epics it is evident here that the genius and the grace are very admirable.

This epic is divided into two parts and each part contains fourteen cantos. In all it contains twenty eight cantos (sarg) and each canto is named after the most important event described in it. Except tenth and seventeenth canto each canto contains minimum fifty 'shlokas'. Twelfth canto contains one hundred and twenty 'shlokas'. The hero of this epic is Lord Buddha. The first canto presents the birth of Lord Buddha.

Sometimes the description is very heart piercing. Women are attracting Siddharth. Kamdev is trying to attract him with lust, but Siddharth remains very steady. Through Nand’s baptism in the Buddha’s religion, uncertain psychological condition and the shaving of his head, the poet has described his psychological condition very minutely.

Like the Ramayan and the Mahabharata, there is an elegant coordination of proprietary and sweetness and his descriptions are guiding, lively and natural and there is a very effective description of instability of youth and life. Like feelings, the modulation of language also has made this epic musical. Affected by the teaching of a great person like Buddha, Nand’s condition has become like a monk. Like Kalidas, Ashvaghosh has analised human psychology very beautifully.

The epic ‘Buddhacharita’ depends upon the holy Bauddha granth the Lalit Vistar, but the description in that subject is professional and compact. The first five chapters depict Buddha’s enlightenment and leaving his house, the 6th and 7th chapters are about his leaving to the forest for meditation, the 8th chapter is about the weeping of Yashoda and in the 9th chapter the search for Buddha is depicted. In the 10th chapter after obtaining the knowledge of truth, Siddharth's departure to Magadha and the 11th chapter deals with the abuse of lust, in the 12 chapter he goes to Maharishi Aradh who teaches him the spiritual knowledge. In the chapter 13th Kamdev tries to distract Buddha from his meditation and gets defeated. In the 14th chapter Buddha receives complete enlightenment.

The poet has experimented with the ornamentation of words and their meanings, similarity, comparison, inspiration, attitudes and playing of words, arrangement of double meaning words in their proper places. In every verse the ornamentation and its meaning is very systematic and his verses are natural and applicable at all times. In Buddha’s philosophy Ashvaghosha has taken the help of vivid poetry in the place of complicated and uninteresting principles because he has openly accepted that beautiful poetry has easy access to the human heart.

The Shishupalvadham: This epic is composed by Magha. There are twenty chapters (sargs) in the Shishupalvadha and it is counted in trio (Kirath, Shishupalvadha and Naishdhcharit). The plot is taken from the seventy-fourth chapter of the tenth 'Skandh' of the Shrimadbhagvat and from the thirty third chapter to forty fourth chapter of the Sabhaparva of the Mahabharata. Goswami Hariraiji has followed the model of the Shishupalvadham by Magh.

This epic contains twenty cantos (sarg) and each canto is named after the most important event described in it. Each canto contains minimum sixty eight 'shlokas'. Nineteenth canto contains one hundred and twenty 'shlokas'. The hero, Lord Shri Krishna possesses all the qualities of a 'Dhirodatta Nayak'. It contains words of benediction and outline of the story at the beginning.

The medium of presentation has been decorated with the description of enmity / rivalry between Krishna and Shishupal and the killing of Shishupal by Krishna, that the poetry has taken an incomparable position in the Sanskrit literature. The supreme sage Narada has prompted Krishna to kill Shishupal by narrating about his terrorism in his previous birth. Balram and other Yadavas get ready to engage in war immediately, but on the advice of Uddhav, Krishna along with his soldiers starts to take part in Yudhishthir’s royal religious ceremony -the Rajsuya yajna.

On the way they halt at the Raivathak Mountain. The poet has described in detail about the Raivathak Mountain, sunset, moonrise and sensuous acts of Yadavas in the night, water games, cocktail parties etc. Yudhishthira is paying his respects to Krishna while paying homage before reaching Indraprastha. Shishupal is opposing this act and got ready to fight. There is a battle between both the regimes and in the end Krishna beheads Shishupal with the 'Sudharshan Chakra'. After his death, the light from Shishupal’s body merges with Krishna.

In the Shishupalvadha by Magh and Bharvi’s Kiratharjunaiyam, there is a lot of resemblance in both the epics. For instance plots have been taken from the Mahabharata. Both start with the word ‘shree’. The first chapter is filled with dialogues about politics. In the first epic there is dialogue between Kirath and Yudhishthira and in the second one, between Narada and Krishna. In the second chapter they talk about politics. In the Kirath, great sage Vyas is guiding the Pandavas and in the Shishupalvadha, Narada is guiding.

In both, the description of seasons, mountains, flower admiration, water games, morning beauty, dusk, moonrise, camping, wine and cocktail parties has been vividly expressed. In the 10th chapter of Kirath, the Apsaras (heavenly bodies) try to attract Arjuna and in the Shishupalvadham in the 13th chapter, the description of women attracting Krishna is almost similar. In the 15th chapter of Bharvi and the 10th chapter of Magh, the use of picture poems shows their perfection. In the Kirath, Shiva takes the form of Kirath and sends messengers to insult Arjuna, while in the Shishupalvadha, Shishupal sends messengers to insult Krishna. In the end in the Kirath there is a fight between Shiva and Arjuna and in the Shishupalvadha the fight is between Krishna and Shishupal.

Maurice Winternitz writes,”The Kiratarjuniya served as model for Magha's epic the Shishupalavadha, that is likewise esteemed as one of the most important pieces of poetry.... Magha attempts to surpass his model Bharavi in each one the devices and affectations of subtlety. Like Bharavi in canto IV of the Kiratarjuniya, Magha tries to show his skill in metrics in canto IV of the Shishupalavadha. Whilst Bharavi has used only 19 different types of metres, Magha uses 23 of them.

Again like canto XV that is devoted to the description of the battle and shows artificiality, alliteration and play of words at the most in the Kiratarjuniya, Magha introduces in his canto XIX, that is devoted to the description of the battle, more and more similar complicated devices.

“Here we find verses that give a second meaning when read from 'below, of which the syllables which read according to different devices form all sorts of figures in zigzag way, in a circle etc., and verses in which only particular consonants occur,... He too has drawn his material from the Mahabharata, and that from the section on the slay of Shishupala by Krisna. The poet, however, is not entirely dependant upon the legend as he finds it in the Mahabharata. His main interest lies in descriptions and sketches, that get into motion with predilection towards the erotic domain... Like a good poet, on both, word and meaning... In the matter of selection of his similes Magha tries to be as much original as possible. Magha is also a master of play of words and in the use of expressions having two meanings.”

(HIL - 73,74)

The Kirath Arjunaniyam: After Ashvaghosh and Kalidas, Bharivi’s name occurs in the list of epic composers. After Kalidas, the tradition of epics took a new turn where the artistic aspect was more dominating than the feelings.

Morris Winternitz writes,

“In Indian manuals of poetics he is always included among the greatest poets. His epic Kiratarjuniya, according to the unanimous verdict of the Indians, belongs to the best type of classical poetry. The theme of the 18 cantos of the epic consists of the story of the battle of the hero Arjuna with the god Siva, who assumed the form of a Kirata. But the narration is not if any importance whatsoever. The real importance of the poem lies in interlaced descriptions, magnificent metaphors and similes and mastery in handling of the language, that reaches its highest point notably in canto XV."

(HIL - 71)

In the Kiratha Arjunaniyam the saint Vyas told Arjuna to leave for Indrakil Mountains to obtain Pashupath weapons. Heavenly beings also could not distract him. In the end Shiva takes the form of Kirath and to test Arjun he fights with him on the top. In the end he feels happy with his bravery and courage and gives him the Pashupath weapons. Though the episode of the poem is very limited it extends to Chapter 18th.

All the qualities of an epic are shown in the Kiratharjunyiam by describing seasons, mountains the sunrise and sunset, dusk, moonrise, marital love and alcoholism, playing in the water, flower admiration, wars etc. In spite of all the descriptions, the story moves forward smoothly. Because of these qualities the Kiratha Arjunyiam has got its own special place in Sanskrit Literature. The essence of bravery dominates the poem. Draupadhi, Bhima, Arjuna episodes are filled with expressions of bravery. In the Kiratha Arjunyiam, the maturation of war is at its highest peak. In the whole Sanskrit Literature such vigorous and violent poems are not found.

Bharvi’s characterisation is also very beautiful and effective and every actor posses special qualities. Burning in the fire of degradation, inspiring for the war Draupadhi, Bhima hating the petition, poet Yudhishthira, fearless Arjun meditating and immoral Duriyodhan etc. are unforgettable characters.

In the Kirath Arjuniyam the dialogues are unparalleled. Conversation between Draupadhi and Yudhishthir, Bhima and Yudhishthira, and Indra and Arjuna, Pashupath and Arjuna are very predominant. While describing the helpless condition of Yudhishthira and his brothers and prompting her husband by making use the tactful words (Draupadhi) Not only are her statements argumental or worth discussing but at the same time, they also express the feelings of anger, helpless condition, self esteem, psychological esteem of the woman and moral duty. She reproaches Yudhishthira. Bhima’s speech indicates his self respect, bravery and self confidence, but the whole atmosphere changes because of Yudhisthira's sober and courageous statement.

Like Kalidas, Bharvi’s language is not that easy, sweet and blissful, but very firm, effective and full of serious meaning along with sweetness and vigour. Because of that his language is compared to a coconut whose outer shell is hard but the inside is sweet. Large compound sentences are not used but the grammatical laws are followed.

Bharvi has used 13 different stanzas very cleverly in his poems. (Vanshith) is his most favorite stanza. All scholars have agreed that Vansithya is useful in describing politics. Likewise, (Kiratarjuniya) epic, because of its famous quality, has a special place in the Sanskrit literature. It is included in trio - Kiratarjuniyam, Shishupalvadha and Naishghcharit.

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