Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘Harivijaya in Kuntaka’s treatment’ of the study on the evaluation of Sanskrit literature with special reference to Kuntaka and his Vakroktijivitam from the 10th century CE. This study reveals the relevance of Sanskrit poetics in the present time and also affirms that English poetry bears striking features like six figurativeness taught by Kuntaka in his Vakroktijivita, in which he propounds the vakrokti school of Sanskrit literary criticism.

The literary analysis of Kuntaka includes vast fields like dramas, kāvyas, anthologies etc. It also includes verses from some Prakrit works and few unknown Prakrit verses. The Prakrit mahākāvyas were written on the model and the influence of Sanskrit mahākāvyas. Most of the characters in Prakrit mahākāvyas are from the real life of the people. Some important Prakrit mahākāvyas are Setubandha or Rāvaṇavaho by Pravarasena written in between 4th century C.E and 5th century C.E, Kumārapālacarita of Hemacandra Sūri, Kaṃsavadha, Uṣāniruddha etc. Setubandha is considered to be the first and ornately fulfilled mahākāvya written in Mahārāṣtri Prakrit. Rāmapāṇivāda is the author of Kaṃsavadha as the evidence available from its colophons. Based on some linguistic and stylistic similarities between Kaṃsavadha and Uṣāniruddha, it is surmised that Rāmapāṇivāda is also the author of Uṣāniruddha too. Rāmapāṇivāda was born in 17th century C.E in south Malabar. There are also some other Prakrit mahākāvyas available only through some poetic works but not in detail. They are Arjunacarita of Ānandavardhanācārya, Kuvalayāśvacarita, Śauricarita of unknown authorship etc. The Prakrit works mentioned by Kuntaka are a mahākāvya named Harivijaya of Sarvasena, a historical mahākāvya named Gauḍavaho of Vākpatirāja and also an anthology named Gāthāsaptaśatī of Hāla.

Harivijaya is a completely lost work and very little information about it is available through some citations in the works like Sarasvatīkaṇṭābharaṇa and Śṛṅgāraprakāśa of Bhoja.[1] It is a Prakrit mahākāvya of Sarvasena written in Mahārāṣtri Prakrit. In the beginning of his Avantisundarīkathā Daṇḍin mentions about Harivijaya and comments that Sarvasena, the author of Harivijaya is most probably identical with the king Sarvasena, the founder of the younger branch of the Vākāṭakas.[2] If this is true, the date of Harivijaya can be assigned to the beginning of the 4th Century C.E. It is the only work ascribed to him.

Kuntaka cites a single verse from Harivijaya in the third unmeṣa as an example of sentential figurativeness. He opines that writing poetry is not a ridiculous job and has given a definition about it that it should delight the connoisseur. He adds that the adornments like upamā, rūpaka etc. will never add any charm to the subject matter as if the paintings on an improper canvas, if the subject matter is not excellent or attractive. Then Kuntaka compares the subject-matter with a damsel because she wears only some ornaments at the time of taking bath, leading ascetic life, during separation from her husband and also at the end of amorous sports. In such situations the natural beauty of the damsel is really attractive. Likewise when the poet starts to describe the natural beauty of the content there is no need of any adornment to it. That is why poets depict the subjects like budding youth of a girl, the advent of the spring season, its enrichment and its completion etc. without adding any figures of speech. In such natural depictions, the poets use only their extreme skill of the spontaneous overflow of their sentential figurativeness. For illustrating it Kuntaka cites a verse from Harivijaya.

The verse is as follows:-

sajjayati surabhimāso na tāvadarppayati yuvatijanalakṣyasahān/
abhinavasahakāramukhān navapallavapatralānanaṅgasya śarān//[3]

“The month of spring keeps ready but does not fling the arrows of Cupid, with sharp heads of new mango buds and feathers of fresh leaves, at young women that targets are.”

Here it is clear that there is no need of any figurativeness for the beautiful description of this spring season. Here if the poet takes any deliberate attempt to incorporate any figurativeness for showing his skill in using them, it will surely spoil the natural beauty of this verse. So Kuntaka’s selection of this verse for this particular situation is apt and beautiful.

In the third udyota of Dhvanyāloka, Ānandhavardhana says that a poet can add new sentiment to a plot taken from any epics deviating from the main sentiment of that particular epic for avoiding the impropriety found in it and also for making the context more attractive. As an example to this he mentioned the works of Kālidāsa, Harivijaya of Sarvasena and his own mahākāvya named Arjunacarita.[4] Abhinavagupta makes it clear in his locana by saying that the description of marriages of the kings like Aja in Raghuvaṃśa and the description of Arjuna’s pātālavijaya in the Arjunacarita are not seen in the epics.

Likewise he says about Harivijaya that,

harivijaye kāntānunayāṅgatvena pārijātaharaṇādinirūpitamitihāseṣvadṛṣṭamapi.’[5]

Moreover Ānandhavardhana cited the verse given above and says that this is from Sarvasena’s Harivijaya. The words of Ānandavardhana are the only evidence which ascribes this verse to Harivijaya and this verse is not available in the works like Śṛṅgāraprakāśa and Sarasvatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa of Bhoja. Ānandhavardhana cites this verse as an example of kavinibaddha vaktṛ prauḍhoktimātraniṣpannaśarīraḥ, one of the division of suggestiveness found in the arthaśaktyudbhavānuraṇanarūpavyaṅgyadhvaniḥ.[6] From this it is clear that both Kuntaka and Ānandavardhana cite the same verse almost for the same concept.

Apart from this verse, Kuntaka mentions about Sarvasena at the time of discussing the styles or mārgas. Here after refuting the divisions of styles made by early rhetoricians Kuntaka establishes his own method. According to him there are three poetic styles, they are tender (sukumāra), variegated (vicitrā), and intermediary (madhyamā). Kuntaka opines that the poetic style is based on the nature of the poet and not on the places of the poet as opined by the early rhetoricians like gauḍī, pāñcālī etc. The tender style is that which was followed by the master poet Kālidāsa. Kuntaka compares the poets who move through the elegant or tender style as the bees moving through the forest full of blossomed flowers.

He has included the poet Sarvasena also as the follower of this tender style.

sahajasaukumāryasubhagāni kālidāsasarvasenādīnām kāvyāni dṛśyante, tatra sukumāramārgasvarūpam carcanīyam iti.’[7]

This is really an appreciation of Kuntaka about Sarvasena because he compares him along with the master poet Kālidāsa. These things show that Kuntaka also has a positive attitude towards Sarvasena and his work.

These things obviously indicate that Sarvasena and his work have got an enviable position in Sanskrit literature. It is also clear that this Prakrit mahākāvya almost satisfies all the needs of a mahākāvya. It is unfortunate that many famous poets and their works have now been lost. We came to know about some poets and their verses only through some anthologies and citations. The notable contribution of some rhetoricians like Ānandavardhana, Kuntaka, Bhoja etc. is that the information about some lost works came to the light only through their citations. Moreover the appreciation by the famous rhetoricians like Ānandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Kuntaka gave wide popularity to the composition of Sarvasena.

Footnotes and references:


Bhoja in his Sṛṅgāraprakāśa cites from three Prakrit mahākāvyas named Rāvaṇavijaya, Harivijaya and Setubandha. The metre known as skandaka is found to be widely used in Prākṛt mahākāvyas and these three poems are also written using the same metre. This really helps to find out the verses of these mahākāvyas from the works of Bhoja. Among them the one which is completely available is the Setubandha also known as Rāvaṇavaho of Pravarasena written in the first half of the 5th Century C.E. Unfortunately only one verse is traced out as the verse of Rāvaṇavijaya, the work of an unknown author from Sṛṅgāraprakāśa. Approximately 125 verses can be traced as the verses of Harivijaya from the works of Bhoja. —— At the time of discussing the definition of mahākāvya, Bhoja quotes certain instances from Harivijaya likes nagaravarṇanam yathā HarivijayaRāvaṇavijayā-Śiśupālavadha-Kumārasambhavādau, nāyakavarṇanam yathā Harivijaya-Raghuvaṃśādau, arkāstamayavarṇanam KumārasambavaHarivijaya-Setubandhātau, prayāṇam tridhā-svaśaktyapacaye, paravyasane, abhimatārthasidhaye ca/ Here abhimatārthasidhaye yathā Viṣṇoḥ parijātaharaṇāya Harivijaye, ṛtuvarṇane śaradvasantagrīṣmavarṣādivarṇanāni Setubandha-Harivijaya-RaghuvaṃśāHarivaṃśādau etc. Such profuse use of citations from Harivijaya by Bhoja is really an appreciation of this work. The same things are also cited by Hemacandra in his Kāvyānuśāsana. —— The theme of Harivijaya is the forcible removal of the pārijāta tree from the heaven by Lord Kṛṣṇa for pleasing his wife Satyabhāmā. Once Kṛṣṇa offers a garland of pārijāta flowers to Rukmiṇī without being asked by her. This arouses anger and jealousy on Satyabhāmā. For pleasing Satyabhāmā, Kṛṣṇa fights against Indra for getting the Pārijāta tree and then brings the tree and plants it in front of the mansion of Satyabhāmā. This story is found in the works like Harivaṃśa, Viṣṇupūrāṇa and Bhāgavatapurāṇa with small variations. But in these works, Kṛṣṇa’s attempt in appeasing the anger of Satyabhāmā (kāntānunayatva) is not seen. It is really a beautiful and innovative theme of Sarvasena, because he incorporates the sentiment of love both in union and in separation in an attractive manner in this kāvya deviating from the epics. This innovation of Sarvasena makes him acquire the appreciation of some rhetoricians like Ānandhavardhana and Abhinavagupta.


V.M. Kulkarni, Bhoja and The Harivijaya of Sarvasena, p.8.


V.M. Kulkarni, loc.cit.


Acārya Jaggannath Pathak, Dhvanyāloka, p.368.




Acārya Jaggannath Pathak, op.cit,p.275.


K. Krishnamoorthy, op.cit,p.66.

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