Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘Conclusion to Chapter 3’ 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 mahākāvyas cited by Kuntaka in Vakroktijīvita are Raghuvaṃśa, Kumārasambhava, Śiśupālavadha, Kirātārjunīya, Gauḍavaho, Harivijaya, Hayagrīvavadha and Rāmacarita. Among them there are six poems other than those of Kālidāsa. Kuntaka had cited fourteen verses from Kirātārjunīya and seven from Śiśupālavadha. Two Prakrit poems cited by him are Gauḍavaho and Harivijaya. He cites three verses from Gauḍavaho and one from Harivijaya. He just cites the name of Hayagrīvavadha and Rāmacarita for showing lack of beauty in straight forward titles given to a composition. He also indicates the impropriety in the title Śiśupālavadha. But at the same time he does not indicate the impropriety in the titles Gauḍavaho and Harivijaya. They also signify the topic of the composition through straight forward titles.

Kuntaka explains four vakratas except lexical and grammatical figurativeness by citing verses from both Kirātārjunīya and Śiśupālavadha. Among the mahākāvyas it is only from Śiśupālavadha and Kirātārjunīya, Kuntaka take instances for substantiating both contextual and compositional figurativeness. These can be seen as attempts to assess the entire composition. A comprehensive approach is adopted by Kuntaka while analyzing these types of figurativeness. The work as a whole is taken and the components which add to its beauty are analyzed by Kuntaka. From these two kinds of figurativeness, Kuntaka’s deep insight into both Kirātārjunīya and Mahābhārata is well revealed. Moreover he had cited few verses from both these mahākāvyas to substantiate different varieties of sentential figurativeness. The verses cited for explaining the figures of speech like dīpaka and the varieties of lexical figurativeness from these two mahākāvyas are remarkable. These are some similarities found in Kuntaka’s evaluation of these two masterpieces.

At the same time there is a notable difference in the observations of Kuntaka on these two mahākāvyas. Kuntaka selects fourteen verses from Kirātārjunīya and its half from Śiśupālavadha. The striking difference is that the great critic, who has boldly criticized even the master poet Kālidāsa, does not criticize and does not point out any impropriety in Bhāravi’s Kirātārjunīya. This reveals Kuntaka’s acceptance of Bhāravi and his work. Kuntaka’s observations become a valuable guide in revealing the literary merit of this mahākāvya. At the same time Kuntaka, is never shy of pointing out the impropriety found in Śiśupālavadha. Actually there is no need to assess Kuntaka’s acceptance of a text based on his appreciation and criticism. He does not conceal his deep sense of admiration towards Kālidāsa though pointing out some impropriety hidden in his compositions.

In Kirātārjunīya, Bharavi’s innovative concepts like the selection of Arjuna as a hero and beautiful depiction of arm fight between Arjuna and Kirāta are really apt. The persuasive words of Kirāta towards Arjuna to fight against him and the portrayal of Śiva as a rival are also significant. Moreover his observation on single verses selected for illustrating figurativeness related to synonym, figurativeness of concealment etc. are also really beautiful. No other critic tries to highlight these beautiful facts hidden in it, Kuntaka unravels the essence of poem for the connoisseurs. It is interesting to note that in the first unmeṣa, Kuntaka compares a verse of Bhāravi with a verse of an unknown poet. The verse starts with kramādekadvitriprabhṛtiparipāṭīḥ prakaṭayan etc. The same verse is in the anthology named Saduktikarṇāmṛta of Śrīdaradāsa with a little change in the beginning as asāveka instead of kramādeka and is ascribed to Rājaśekhara. But the available texts of Rājaśekhara do not have this verse. This makes to assume that either this is his stray verse or it is written by some other Rājaśekhara.

The critic’s eye of Kuntaka analyses the beauty of figure of speech, use of epithets etc. found in the verses of Śiśupālavadha. At the same time Kuntaka boldly points out the impropriety of Māgha. Māgha gave a lengthy description of the journey in ten cantos. Most of the other critics except Kuntaka appreciate such attempt of Māgha as he describes the recipe of mahākāvya in unique and innovative style. But Kuntaka firmly points out that such long description of Dvārakā is really improper. The bold opinion presented by Kuntaka is highly remarkable because such a long description contribute nothing for the further development of the sentiment at hand. He also suggests simple and beautiful solution to rectify the impropriety while discussing an example of the figure of speech named dīpaka. Kuntaka also points out the lack of charm in the title of this poem. He says that the straight forward titles like Śiśupālavadha etc. do not create any charm. Thus Kuntaka thrice points out the impropriety of Śiśupālavadha.

The Prakrit mahākāvyas, from which Kuntaka selects verses, are used to discuss the sentential figurativeness. Kuntaka cites a single verse from Harivijaya for substantiating sentential figurativeness. Moreover he cites the name of Sarvasena along with Kālidāsa as practitioner in tender style. Apart from sentential figurativeness, Kuntaka cites an instance from Gauḍavaho also for illustrating the variety of lexical figurativeness. As in Harivijaya, Kuntaka does not quote the name of the author of Gauḍavaho anywhere in Vakroktijīvita. Though Gauḍavaho is not divided in to cantos like other mahākāvyas, it fulfils almost all other requirements that are essential for a mahākāvya. Selection of one or two verses from a literary work reveals Kuntaka’s perfection of choosing most suitable verses from each and every context. He could have depended only on the works of master poets like Kālidāsa, Bhāravi, Māgha etc. But avoiding such impropriety Kuntaka goes through all major and minor works of Sanskrit literature and extracts most apt verses in every context. Moreover apart from other rhetoricians Kuntaka tries to evaluate the works completely. It is clear from the text Vakroktijīvita that Kuntaka has the boldness to criticize even the master poet Kālidāsa. Undoubtedly these things make Kuntaka unique in the history of Sanskrit literature.

Kuntaka does not cite Naiṣadha of 12th Century C.E as it is of later origin. He does not cite any verses from the famous mahākāvyas like Buddhacarita and Saundarananda of Aśvaghoṣa. He also avoids some other mahākāvyas like Bhaṭṭikāvya of Bhaṭṭi, Setubandha of Pravarasena etc. It is well known that there are some great resemblances between the works of Kālidāsa and Aśvaghoṣa. Kuntaka may also have a firm belief about the priority of Kāidāsa like most of the other Sanskrit poets. Moreover the aim of Aśvaghoṣa was to propagate theory of Buddhism through his compositions. Suppose these may be the reasons for the avoidance of the works of Aśvaghoṣa.

The speciality of mahākāvyas is that they take a small portion from some epics or something else and develops it in an innovative way to delight the connoisseur. This is what all the western and eastern poets do. Homer did not depict the complete story of the Troy war in his works like Iliad and Odyssey. He has chosen a small portion from it and developed it in an attractive manner. The poets should take utmost care in avoiding the unpleasant and improper things that may lessen the beauty or quality of the poem and the hero. Moreover in mahākāvyas the poets brilliantly incorporate matters of polity. This will be useful to some princess those who are reluctant to read texts like Manusmṛti, Arthaśāstra etc. This is what Kuntaka said through one of the purposes of poetry. No other rhetorician takes such pains to go through all fields of literature for the perfection of the composition of his poetics text as done by Kuntaka.

The story of a mahākāvya either gives the detailed account of a single hero or numerous heroes of the same race. Though not as a whole, the main sources of mahākāvyas in Sanskrit and Prakrit are Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Among the mahākāvyas mentioned above, Kuntaka does not vehemently criticize anyone. He has just pointed out few improprieties found in Śiśupālavadha which really brings forth Kuntaka’s keenness in observation. Kuntaka’s skill in selecting the compositions of the both famous and novice poets and evaluating them without any bias is really marvelous. It is the beauty of literary work that matters to Kuntaka. The notable contribution of the rhetoricians like Kuntaka, Bhoja etc. is that the information about some lost works came to light only through citations. So their contribution to Sanskrit literature is indispensable. Kuntaka has not only given information about the lost Prakrit kāvyas but also other numerous lost works like Udāttarāghava, Puṣpadūṣitaka, Māyāpuṣpaka, Abhijñānajānakī, etc. So the study of Kuntaka’s evaluation of literature deserves a unique position in the realm of Sanskrit.

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