Sahitya-kaumudi by Baladeva Vidyabhushana

by Gaurapada Dāsa | 2015 | 234,703 words

Baladeva Vidyabhusana’s Sahitya-kaumudi covers all aspects of poetical theory except the topic of dramaturgy. All the definitions of poetical concepts are taken from Mammata’s Kavya-prakasha, the most authoritative work on Sanskrit poetical rhetoric. Baladeva Vidyabhushana added the eleventh chapter, where he expounds additional ornaments from Visv...


Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Sāhitya-kaumudī covers all aspects of poetical theory except the topic of dramaturgy. All the definitions of poetical concepts are taken from Mammaṭa’s Kāvya-prakāśa, the most authoritative work on Sanskrit poetical rhetoric. Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa added the eleventh chapter, where he expounds additional ornaments from Viśvanātha Kavirāja’s Sāhitya-darpaṇa and from Pīyūṣa-varṣa Jayadeva’s Candrāloka.

The title Sāhitya-kaumudī literally means “moonlight on literature.” In usage, a word which means “light” is used in the title of a book to signify that the book sheds light on the said topic. The word sāhitya means literature and is a synonym of kāvya (poetry). Sometimes poetical rhetoricians use the term alaṅkāra (lit. ornament) as a synonym of kāvya. Thus Sanskrit poetics is technically called Alaṅkāra-śāstra (the science of poetry), and a poetical rhetorician is called an Ālaṅkārika.

Sanskrit poetical rhetoric is an essential aspect of Vedic culture: Throughout Vedic texts, philosophy is mixed with poetry. According to Bharata Muni, dramaturgy arose from an aspect of Vedāṅga (auxiliary Vedic scriptures).[1] Rājaśekhara says the knowledge of poetics forms a seventh Vedāṅga. In his opinion, the science of kāvya is necessary to correctly interpret Vedic texts.[2] The usage of words in Vedic texts is reflected in the theory of Sanskrit Poetics, because Kālidāsa and other writers of masterpieces took inspiration from Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas and because Daṇḍī and other poetical rhetoricians classified the literary devices used by those renowned poets.[3] Another foundation of Sanskrit poetics is Nāṭya-śāstra.

There are two broad varieties of poetry: Poetry based on the concept that the ego is the self, and poetry based on the notion that the soul is the self. Sāhitya-kaumudī treats of both varieties: Although devotional poetry is prevalent in this treatise, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa selected some verses from Kāvya-prakāśa and from Sāhitya-darpaṇa to nicely illustrate the theory. Devotional poetry, bhakti-kāvya, is the highest type of poetry because it is founded upon the transcendent reality: The soul is real and the Lord is real. Bhakti is the path of the heart. Learning the poetical theory sheds light on the subtleties in Bhāgavatam.

Thus devotional poetry is founded upon the philosophy in Vedic scriptures. Vaiṣṇavas follow the scriptures, whereas Śaṅkarācārya rejects Vedānta-sūtra. Vyāsadeva implies that the soul is real: kartā śāstrāthavattvāt, “The soul is a doer, because the scriptures have a purpose” (Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.31). Śaṅkarācārya says Vyāsa is mistaken. In his commentary on: yathā ca takṣobhayataḥ, “[The soul is a doer] in two ways, like a carpenter (by volition and through instruments: transcendental senses)” (Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.38), Śaṅkarācārya writes: yat tūktaṃ śāstrārthavattvādibhir hetubhiḥ svābhāvikam ātmanaḥ kartṛtvam iti tan na, “It was stated with several reasons, beginning from śāstrārthavattvāt (Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.31), that the doership of the soul is inherent: That is wrong” (Śārīraka-bhāṣya 2.3.38).[4]

Similarly, commenting on the sūtra beginning: aṃśo nānā-vyapadeśād anyathā cāpi, “The soul is a part of God on account of various statements, and otherwise as well (a soul is simultaneously different and nondifferent from Brahman[5])” (Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.41), Śaṅkarācārya writes: jīva īśvarasyāṃśo bhavitum arhati yathāgner visphuliṅgaḥ. aṃśa ivāṃśaḥ, nahi niravayavasya mukhyo’ṃśaḥ sambhavati, “A soul must be a part of God, like a spark is a part from a fire. The word aṃśa actually means “like an aṃśa.” A main part of what is partless cannot possibly exist” (Śārīraka-bhāṣya).[6] In the jargon of commentaries, this interpretation by Śaṅkarācārya is the fault called utsūtra-vyākhyāna (digression). Many commentators do this, but here Śaṅkarācārya goes overboard by whimsically adding a word to the sūtra.

P.V. Kāṇe explains:

To give one glaring example, the sūtra ‘aṃśo nānā-vyapadeśāt’ (Vedānta-sūtra II.3.43) is explained by Śaṅkarācārya as aṃśa iva, while several other commentators take the sūtra as it is without adding any word and criticize Śaṅkarācārya for the result of his taking such liberties in order to make the meaning of the sūtra square with his philosophy of the Absolute.[7]

Śaṅkarācārya’s followers find no problem with this denial of Vyāsa’s authority: They argue that Śiva is superior to Vyāsa. Or else they say that Bādarāyaṇa is not Vyāsa. However, the Bhāgavatam says Vyāsa is called Bādarāyaṇa. Moreover, the ideas in Vedānta-sūtra are not Vyāsa’s invention: They are sourced in the scriptures. Vedānta-sūtra is both a summary of and an explanation of the Upaniṣads. Vyāsa’s statement is confirmed therein: vijñānaṃ yajñaṃ tanute. karmāṇi tanute’pi ca. vijñānaṃ devāḥ sarve, brahma jyeṣṭham upāsate. vijñānaṃ brahma ced veda, tasmāc cen na pramādyati. tasyaiva eṣa śarīra ātmā. yaḥ pūrvasya, tasmād vā etasmād vijñāna-mayāt, anyo’ntara ātmānanda-mayaḥ. tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ, “Vijñāna (consciousness) (a soul) does a sacrifice and executes the rites as well.[8] All the demigods worship vijñāna Brahman, the eldest. If one knows that vijñāna is Brahman, and if one does not deviate from that, then he casts off the sinful reactions in the body and fulfills all his desires. This body of vijñāna is the soul of the manomaya-kośa (the mental functions). The ānanda-maya (Paramātmā) is the inner soul of the vijñāna-maya (the soul)” (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.5). Vyāsa explains: ānanda-mayo’bhyāsāt, “The ānanda-maya [is Paramātmā,] because of a repetition” (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.12). The ānanda-maya is Paramātmā, and not the soul, because the soul is vijñāna-maya, since vijñāna had just been described as Brahman (transcendental): A soul is a minute spark of Brahman. The repetition referred to in the sūtra is the fact that the term ānanda (bliss) is used: That is repetitive because ānanda is also an aspect of the soul, since the concept of vijñāna includes the notion of ānanda. Brahman is the one essence of consciousness and bliss: vijñānam ānandaṃ brahma (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad Commenting on Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa writes: cid-rūpo ya ānandaḥ, “Bliss is the form of consciousness (Sāraṅga-raṅgadā 1.1.3). He describes the soul as follows: cit-sukhaika-raso’pi puruṣo’nādi-karma-vāsanayā prakṛti-sthaḥ, “Although a soul is the one essence of consciousness and bliss, a soul is in the material world because of beginningless karma and subconscious tendencies of a material nature” (Gītā-bhūṣaṇa 13.21).

In regard to Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.38, mentioned above, Viśvanātha Cakravartī says the senses of a devotee’s spiritual body are transcendental.[9] This is the sum and substance of the sūtra: vihāropadeśāt (Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.32). In that regard, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa cites this passage: evam evaiṣa samprasādo’smāc charīrāt samutthāya paraṃ jyotir upasampadya svena rūpeṇābhiniṣpadyate. sa uttamaḥ puruṣaḥ. sa tatra paryeti jakṣat krīḍan ramamāṇaḥ strībhir vā yānair vā jñātibhir vā nopajanaṃ smarann idaṃ śarīram. sa yathā prayogya ācaraṇe yukta evam evāyam asmin śarīre prāṇo yuktaḥ, “In the same way, he, being very serene, departs from this body, reaches the supreme Light and becomes established in his own form; he is the topmost soul. He travels there—while laughing and playing and taking pleasure—either with women, vehicles or kinsmen (other liberated souls), but he does not remember this body born from the contact of man and woman. Thus the soul is the life force yoked to this material body, like a horse or an ox is yoked to a cart” (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 8.12.3) (Govinda-bhāṣya 2.3.32). In addition, the Upaniṣads say the soul is a doer in a dream.[10]

The Upaniṣads often use the term ātmā to denote the soul: prāṇavo dhanuḥ śaro hy ātmā brahma tal lakṣyam ucyate, “It is said that oṃkāra is the bow, the soul (ātmā) is the arrow, and Brahman is the target” (Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 2.2.4). The purport is that the soul is not an upādhi of Brahman. Even the followers of Nyāya philosophy accept that ātmā has two categories: Paramātmā (the Soul) and jīvātmā (the soul): jñānādhikaraṇam ātmā. sa dvi-vidhaḥ, paramātmā jīvātmā ca (Tarka-saṅgraha 2.8).

Instead of repeatedly stating that Vyāsa is wrong, Śaṅkarācārya prefers to repeatedly contradict himself, hoping that his readers will be ignorant enough to overlook his self-contradictions. For instance, elsewhere Śaṅkarācārya does not deny that a soul is simultaneously different and nondifferent from Brahman, in his commentary on the sūtra, ubhaya-vyapadeśat tv ahi-kuṇḍala-vat, “However, on account of both kinds of statements (regarding bheda and abheda), [the relation between Brahman and the souls is] like the relation between a snake and its coil” (Vedānta-sūtra 3.2.28). Vyāsadeva also gives the analogy of a ray and its source: prakāśāśraya-vad vā tejastvāt (Vedānta-sūtra 3.2.29).

Therefore bhakti is the highest path, and the science of Sanskrit poetics gives us the key to unlock the meanings of the scriptures. In addition, poetry is based on a roundabout mode of expression: Studying poetry gives us the frame of mind to read the signs in day-to-day life. The Lord communicates indirectly: parokṣaṃ mama ca priyam, “An indirect mode of expression is dear to Me also” (Bhāgavatam 11.21.35).

Over and above that, we obtain a higher taste by the power of bhakti-kāvya, and as a result mundane passion gradually loses its charm:

reme tayā cātma-rata ātmārāmo’py akhaṇḍitaḥ |
kāmināṃ darśayan dainyaṃ strīṇāṃ caiva durātmatām ||

Kṛṣṇa enjoyed with that gopī although He is complete: He, an ātmārāma, delights in Himself, thus by contrast He showed the wretchedness of lusty men and the bad nature of materialistic women” (Bhāgavatam 10.30.34).

The self is the soul. Knowing poetical theory is conducive to a higher relishment of bhakti-rasa. There is a tradition in Sanskrit poetics.

Dr. Sushil Kumar De expounds:

When a new work is published, it is submitted to and approved by assemblies of experts, as we are told by Maṅkhaka, Rājaśekhara and others. It was obviously expected to answer all the demands of theory, although it was by no means an easy test; for style, says an Indian stylist, is like a woman’s virtue which cannot bear the least reproach. The public likewise possessed or were expected to possess a certain amount of theoretical knowledge; for the rasika or sahṛdaya, the man of taste, the true appreciator of poetry, must be, according to the conception of the Sanskrit theorists, not only well read and wise, and initiated into the intricacies of theoretic requirements, but also possessed of fine instincts of aesthetic enjoyment. The poet naturally liked to produce an impression that he had observed all the rules, traditions and expectations of such an audience; for the ultimate test of poetry is laid down as consisting in the appreciation of the sahṛdaya.[11]

Footnotes and references:


mā vai praṇaśyatām etan nāṭyaṃ duḥkha-pravartitam |
mahāśrayaṃ mahā-puṇyaṃ vedāṅgopāṅga-sambhavam || (Nāṭya-śāstra 36.50).

The six Vedāṅgas are: śikṣā (pronunciation), chandas (prosody), vyākaraṇa (grammar), nirukta (etymology), jyotiṣ (astrology), and kalpa (rules for fire sacrifices).


upakārakatvād alaṅkāraḥ saptamam aṅgam iti yāyāvarīyaḥ, ṛte ca tat-svarūpa-parijñānād vedārthānavagateḥ. yathā, “dvā suparṇā sayujā… [Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 4.6]” (Kāvya-mīmāṃsā 2). Similarly, in his Bāla-Rāmāyaṇa, Rājaśekharawrites: nigamasyāṅgaṃ yat saptamam (10.74).


pūrva-śāstrāṇi saṃhṛtya prayogān upalakṣya ca |
yathā-sāmarthyam asmābhiḥ kriyate kāvya-lakṣaṇam || (Kāvyādarśa 1.2)


In Śārīraka-bhāṣya, the number is2.3.40 (Brahma-sūtra-śāṅkara-bhāṣyam, Vāsudeva Śarmā (ed.). Varanasi: Caukhamba Vidyabhavan, 1998). That sūtra is number 2.3.38 in Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s edition of Vedānta-sūtra.


A soulis different from Brahman in quantity—a soul is minute whereas Brahman is infinite—and a soulis nondifferent from Brahman in quality: Each one has the same nature of transcendence (sat-cid-ānanda).


Here Śaṅkara goes against the Lord’s statement: mamaivāṃśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ (Bhagavad-gītā 15.7).


Kane, P.V. (1998) History of Sanskrit Poetics, p. 173.


This is an explanatory verse: brahmārpaṇaṃ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃ brahma-karma-samādhinā, “The offering is Brahman. The oblation is Brahman and is offered in the fire, which is Brahman, by Brahman (a soul). Only Brahman (Viṣṇu) is to be attained by one who has a complete absorption in the activities of a Brāhmaṇa” (Bhagavad-gītā 4.24).


yair eva bhaktānāṃ dehaḥ siddho bhavati, “…by which [transcendental senses and sensory objects] the bodies of the devotees is brought about” (Sārārtha-darśinī 3.25.33).


sa hi kartā (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.3.10); eṣa hi draṣṭā spraṣṭā śrotā ghrātā rasayitā mantā boddhā kartā vijñānātmā puruṣaḥ (Praśna Upaniṣad 4.9). However, a soulis not a doer of material activities in the waking state: ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate, “One who thinks ‘I am doing this’ is bewildered by false ego” (Bhagavad-gītā 3.27).


De, S.K. (1988), History of Sanskrit Poetics, Vol. II, p. 44.

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