Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘Subhashitavali 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.

4. Subhāṣitāvalī in Kuntaka’s treatment

The author of Subhāṣitāvalī is Vallabhadeva. He wrote this text being inspired by Śārṅgadharapaddhati of Śārṅgadhara. This anthology has three thousand five hundred and twenty seven (3527) verses in one hundred and one sections or paddhatis. The verses of this work discuss about different seasons, love, beautiful natural sceneries, wisdom of the world, witty sayings etc. The verse of this anthology is from more than three hundred and sixty poets. Vallabhadeva is one among the numerous poets of this anthology, but it is not certain if these verses are his own or taken from earlier compositions. It contains more than eight verses from Jānakīharaṇa of Kumāradāsa. It possesses great importance in literary history. It is believed that Vallabhadeva is a Kashmirian and most of the poets of this composition are from North India. Vallabhadeva cites Johnarāja, a contemporary writer of Sultan Zainalabdin of Kashmir who lived in between 1417-67 century C.E. From this it is assumed that Vallabhadeva lived after this period and the date of Subhāṣitāvalī is mostly assigned to 15 century C.E.

It is notable that there is another anthology of the same name of Śrīvara, son or disciple of Jonarāja. It sometimes get confused with the Subhāṣitāvalī of Vallabhadeva. Both these works belong to the same period. This anthology contains stanzas of more than 380 poets.

Some important verses cited by Kuntaka are later compiled in Subhāṣitāvalī of Vallabhadeva. They are given below. Kuntaka cited a verse to illustrate that both word and meaning make poetry. A small deficiency of either word or meaning will never spoil the charm of poetry.

For showing this, Kuntaka uses the word ‘sahitau’ or ‘togetherness’ in his definition.

tatoruṇaparispandamandīkṛtavapuḥ śaśī /
dadhre kāmaparikṣāmakāminīganḍapāṇḍutām//[1]

This is the first verse under the title ‘atha prabhātavarṇam’ of Subhāṣitāvalī. This verse means that the full moon which gradually lost its reddishness attains the pallor of the cheek of a lady lover, who becomes slim due to love sickness. Here through the comparison of paleness of the moon and the cheek of the lady lover, the poet uses the arthālaṅkāra or adornments of thoughts. The śabdālaṅkāra or adornments of expression is also satisfied by the use of lāvaṇya, the beauty of the proper use of syllables and words. Kuntaka cites the same verse also as an example of upamā in word expressed through predicate (ākhyātapadapratipādyapadārthopamā).

Kuntaka cites the second example of this anthology as his first variety of figurativeness named phonetic figurativeness. It is familiar that the poetic world stands as unique from the ordinary world through the artistic use of language by efficient poets with their poetic genius. Like-wise the beauty in the arrangements of syllables will surely act as nectar to the sahṛdayas. There are different varieties in this phonetic figurativeness.

The repetition one, two or more syllables at particular interval is one of its varieties.

eko dvau bahavo varṇā badhyamānāḥ punaḥ punaḥ/
svalpāntarāstridhā soktā varṇavinyāsavakratā//[2]

The example of it is given below:-

prathamamaruṇacchāyastāvattataḥkanakaprabhas-tadanu virahottāmyattanvīkapolataladyutiḥ/
prasarati tato dhvāntadhvaṃsakṣamaḥ kṣanadāmukhe sarasabisinīkandacchedacchavirmṛgalāñchanaḥ//

“At first reddish, then golden yellow, later like pale cheek of a maid love-lorn, next as white as a lotus shoot just cut, the rising moon goes on to remove darkness”

This verse is undoubtedly perfect example of phonetic figurativeness. Such beautiful arrangement of syllables is called as ‘alliteration’ by ancient theorists. Here the repetition of ‘ma’ in ‘prathamamaruṇa’ ‘tta’ in ‘virahottāmyattanvī’ and ‘la’ in ‘kapolataladyutiḥ’ etc. are some of the instances of alliteration found in this verse.

Yet another verse found in this anthology is as follows:

vrīḍāyogānnatavadanayā sannidhāne guruṇām baddhotkampastanakalaśayā manyumantarniyamya/
tiṣṭhetyuktam kimiva na tayā yatsamutsṛjya bāṣpam mayyāsaktaścakitahariṇīhāri netratribhāgaḥ//

“In the presence of elders, she stood abashed with downcast face; her buxom breasts heaved and shook. Yet she swallowed her agitation and turned on me a tearful glance revealing only a third of her gleaming eye lovely like that of a deer in fright. Was it not a tantamount to tell her telling me -remain?”

Kuntaka cites this verse as an example of viśeṣaṇavakratā, one of the divisions of padapūrvārdhavakratā. Here the epithet used by the poet of the eyes of a heroine because of her embarrassment due to presence of elders is that ‘the eyes of a deer in fright’. It is clear from this verse that the beauty of this verse depends on the beautiful epithet used by the poet. The apt and beautiful selection of this particular verse for this situation by Kuntaka is really appreciable. He again cites the same verse as a variety of kriyāvaicitryavakratā, which is another division of padapūrvārdhavakratā in the same way.

Another verse from Subhāṣitāvalī is as follows:-

ittham jaḍe jagati ko nu bṛhatpramāṇa-karṇaḥ karī nanu bhaveddhvanitasya pātram/
ityāgata jhaṭiti yo
linamunmamātha mātaṅga eva kimataḥ paramucyatesau//[5]

“In such an insensitive world, who else is there with ear so large and hand so long to deserve my musical plea? so thinking did the bee approach him. But the elephant at once blotted him out. After all, is he not a Mātaṅga, (‘butcher’ as well as ‘elephant’) what more need we say”

Kuntaka cites this verse as an example of figurativeness related to synonym (paryāyavakratā), one of the variety of lexical figurativeness (padapūrvārdhavakratā). Through this variety, Kuntaka says that the primary meaning can be beautified with the support of some other beauties like paranomastic beauty (śleṣa) etc. Here the word ‘mātaṅga’ directly indicates only an elephant, but paranomastically it also denotes abutcher (caṇḍāla), which is a non-contextual meaning. This type of vakratā will also create a special charm like the metaphorical identification called ‘the Punjabi is a bull’. In such situations, the relation between the contextual and non-contextual meaning should be either of epithet or of simile.

This is what Anandavardhana in his Dhvanyāloka states that:-

ākṣipta evālaṅkāraḥ śabdaśaktyā prakāśate/
yasminnanuktaḥ śabdena śabdaśaktyudbhavo hi saḥ//[6]

“Only that instance wherein is present a figure that is not expressed directly by any word but solely by the suggestive power of the itself, should be regarded as suggestion based on the power of the word.”[7]

Kuntaka also cites the above mentioned verse as an example of figurativeness related to gender (liṅgavaicitryavakratā). In this verse the poet uses two different genders to denote a single idea in order to make the sentence more attractive. In the second line the poet uses karṇaḥ karī for making the verse attractive. Here in a single sentence, the poet has used both the masculine and feminine gender for creating beauty through figurativeness related to gender. Thus this verse is best example for both the figurativeness related to synonym and figurativeness related to gender.

Kuntaka cites yet another verse as an example of one of the varieties of vicitra mārga or the variegated style propounded by Kuntaka. In this variety, Kuntaka says that the poets sometimes adds one or more figures of speech in a single verse without being satisfied by the charm of that particular verse just like adding beautiful pearls on a garland.

Here the two figures of speech used by the poet are rūpaka and sandeha.

kim tāruṇyataroriyam rasabharodbhinnā navā mañjarī līlāprocchalitasya kim laharikā lāvaṇyavārāmnidheḥ/
udgāḍhotkalikāvatām svasamayopanyāsaviśrambhiṇaḥ kim sākṣādupadeśayaṣṭirathavā devasya śṛṅgāriṇa//[8]

Here the poet asks in a suspicious manner that “Is this perchance a new tendril brimming with fresh juice sprung forth from the tree of youth? Or is it a little wave from the ocean of grace thrown up in its gentle undulation? Or is it the instructor’s rod in the hand in the hand of the love-god who is out to give lessons in his subject to persons overwhelmed by longing”.

Here the two figures of speech like rūpaka and sandeha make the verse more attractive. He cites the same verse five times in this text but always uses it to explain the figure of speech mentioned in it in different places for discussing sentential figurativeness.

Yet another verse cited by Kuntaka is given below.

āsvarlokāduraganagaram nūtanālokalakṣmīm vyātanvadbhiḥ kimiva sitatām ceṣṭitaistenanītam/
apyetāsām dayitavirahe vidviṣatsundarīṇām yairānītā nakhapadamayī maṇḍanā pāṇḍimānam//

“From paradise to the netherworld what is there left unwhitened by your deeds ever new to the eye? They have whitened even the ornamental nail marks on the bodies of your enemy’s wives parted from their lovers.”

Kuntaka cites this verse as an example of figurativeness related to expressive techniques (vṛttivaicitryavakratā).

avyayībhāvamukhyānām vṛttīnām ramaṇīyatā/
yatrollasati sā jñeyā vṛttivaicitryavakratā//

This is the definition given by Kuntaka for the figurativeness related to expressive techniques. The beauty of vṛtti where the adverbial compound or avyayībhāvasamasa like kṛt, taddhita etc. shines forth is known as figurativeness related to expressive techniques.

In the verse mentioned above, the word pāṇḍimānam used in the last line creates a unique beauty of vṛtti rather than the synonyms of its likes pāṇḍutva, pāṇḍutā etc.

naikatra śaktiviratiḥ kvacidasti sarve bhāvāḥ svabhāvapariniṣṭhitatāratamyāḥ/
ākalpamaurvadahanena nipīyamānamambhodhimekaculakena papāvagastyaḥ//[11]

“Capacity is not limited to an individual. All beings on earth exhibit high and low degrees of capacity by nature. That is why Agastya was able to empty in one sip the ocean itself to exhaust which the submarine fire struggles for ages.”

This is an example of one of the varieties of figurativeness related to verb (kriyāvaicitryavakratā). In this variety one subject excels in an action from the other subject doing the same action. In the above verse, Agastya drank the ocean in a sip using his constant determination and effort. This really creates an unexplainable beauty related to verb rather than the same action performed by the submarine fire. Kuntaka has cited large number of verses from this anthology.

Yet another one describes as follows:

kim hāsyena na me prayāsyasi punaḥ prāptaścirāddarśanam keyam niṣkaruṇa pravāsarucitā kenāsi dūrīkṛtaḥ/
svapnānteṣviti te vadan priyatamavyāsaktakaṇṭhagraho buddhvā roditi riktabāhuvalayastāram ripustrījanaḥ//[12]

“Oh ruthless one, why all these teasing, there is no meeting between us for a long time and again should not be part from me, why you would like to live in faraway places and who is the one living far away attracting you, lamenting thus, the wives of your enemies embraced their beloveds in dream and but once they wake from their sleep, they cried loudly seeing their empty hands.”

Ānandavardhana cites this verse as an example of śuddha type of rasavadalaṅkāra. According to him, rasavadalaṅkāra is of two types śuddhaḥ and saṅkīrṇaḥ. Separable union of subordinate rasas or alaṅkāras from the dominant sentiment in rasavadalaṅkāra is known as śuddhaḥ and their inseparability is known as saṅkīrṇaḥ. It is found in locana as ‘śuddhaḥ iti, rasāntareṇāṅgabhūtenālaṅkārāntareṇa vā na miśraḥ āmiśrastu saṅkīrṇaḥ’.[13] Here the sentiment karuṇa is subordinate to the eulogy of the king and the two sentiments are well explicit and are not inseparably mixed with each other. But according to Kuntaka, rasavad is always an alaṅkārya and not an alaṅkāra. Thus Kuntaka says that the main sentiment of this verse is none other than karuṇa or pathos.

In the second pariccheda of his Kāvyādarśa, Ācārya Daṇḍin has given the definition of three figures of speech named preyas, rasavat and ūrjasvi through a single verse.

It is given below and it shows that preyas means pleasing speech.

preyaḥ priyatarākhyānam rasavad rasapeśalam/
ūrjasvi rūḍhāhaṅkāram yuktotkarṣam ca tat trayam//[14]

After refuting that rasavat is not an adornment but an adorned, Kuntaka objects the figure of speech named preyas almost in the same manner. He refutes the opinions of earlier rhetoricians and establishes that preyas is also not an adornment but an adorned.

He then cites following verse for proving his point.

indorlakṣma smaravijayinaḥ kaṇṭhamūlam murāriḥ diṅnāgānām madajalamaṣībhāñji gaṇḍasthalāni/
adyāpyurvīvalayatilaka śyāmalimnānuliptā-nyābhāsante vada dhavalitam kim yaśobhistvadīyaiḥ//[15]

“The moon’s spot as well as Śiva’s throat, Lord Viṣnu’s body and the temples of the elephants of the quarters dripping inky ichor. All these appear pitch black as ever before. O lord of the earth! say, what then has your fame whitened, as it spreads?”

In this verse, the sweet praise (of the king) or preyas is adorned and ‘ironic praise’ (vyājastuti) is adornment. There is no need to doubt the existence of the two figures of speech like ‘merged figure’ (saṃsṛṣṭi) and the ‘mixed figure’ (saṅkara) here because of the presence of preyas and vyājastuti. He again cites this verse at the time of discussing vyājastuti.

In the third unmeṣa, Kuntaka discusses rasavadalaṅkāra in a different perspective. He says that the figure of speech which functions like rasa as it permeates poetry with rasa and creates poetic delight to the connoisseur is called rasavadalaṅkāra.

It is defined as:-

rasena varttate tulyam rasavattvavidhānataḥ/
'laṅkāraḥ sa rasavat tadvidāhlādanirmiteḥ//[16]

One of the examples of rasavadalaṅkāra is given below.

aindram dhanuḥ pāṇḍupayodhareṇaśaraddadhānārdranakhakṣatābham/
prasādayantī sakalaṅkamindumtāpam raverabhyadhikam cakāra//[17]

“The lady autumn with white bosom (also-cloud), bearing thereon the rainbow like a lover’s new nail-cut; and wooing the moon, spotted as he was roused the ire (heat) of the burning sun!”

The natural beauty of autumn is the dominant subject described here. The poet modifies it beautifully with the help of utprekṣā which in turn helps in making the verse rasavat. Utprekṣā is an alaṅkāra which signifies things in a suggestive way avoiding the direct denotations like ‘as though and like’ etc. Here the poet makes the prominent meaning more attractive by using the word ‘spotted’ (sakalaṅkaḥ) with paronomasia (śleṣa) and also saying ‘white bosom (cloud) bearing the rainbow like a lover’s new nail cut’ etc. with both paronomasia and simile by supporting utprekṣā. Moreover the poet also says that by pleasing the spotted one, she roused the jealousy of another lover. In this way by incorporating the behavior of an unjustifiable woman using the figure of speech metaphor (rūpaka), the poet again adds an extreme charm to this verse. Here too the dominant figure of speech is utprekṣā and the other figures like simile are subordinate to it.

Here Kuntaka perfectly explains how this verse is apt to this particular context. This is one of the major features of Kuntaka, which is not found in other rhetoricians. They just cite a verse without explaining their aptness to the context. But a drawback of Kuntaka is that he did not follow the same method throughout his text and sometimes says that it needs no further explanation because a sahṛdaya can grasp it without explanation.

Kuntaka cites the yet another verse as an example of a figure of speech named ‘praise of the inapposite’ (aprastutapraśaṃsā).

Kuntaka defines it as:-

aprastutopi vicchittim prastutasyāvatārayan/
padārtho vātha vākyārthaḥ prāpyate varṇanīyatām//
yatra tatsāmyamāśritya sambandhāntarameva vā/
aprastutapraśaṃseti kathitāvasāvalaṃkṛtiḥ//

Here sometimes the unintended subject came to be depicted by describing the beauty of the intended subject.

When the particular intended meaning is expressed through the word meaning or sentence meaning by the similarity of the unintended and intended subjects or by any other relation is known as ‘praise of the in apposite’ (aprastutapraśaṃsā).

chāyā nātmana eva yā kathamasāvanyasya niṣpragrahā grīṣmoṣmāpadi śītalāstalabhuvi śparśonilādeḥ kutaḥ/
vārttā varṣaśate gate kila phalam bhāvīti vārtteva sā drāghimṇā muṣitāḥ kiyacciramaho tālena bālā vayam//[19]

“When there is no shade for itself, how can it provide shade to others? When the scorching summer comes, we can’t have cool breeze below that tree. They talk that it bears fruit after a hundred years are passed, but it is nothing but loose talk; alas how long, we have been deceived by the mere height of the palm-tree.”

Here the poet brilliantly depicts some weakness of a palm tree without directly denoting the bad qualities of an intended person through some of their similarities. Thus the poet beautifully incorporates the figure of speech named aprastutaparaśaṃsā. Moreover this figure of speech also helps to avoid the impropriety in blaming the person directly.

Kuntaka cites yet another verse as an example of sūkṣmālaṅkāra. Kuntaka does not consider sūkṣma as an alaṅkāra. Bhāmaha also says that hetu, sūkṣma, leśa are not adornments because they do not have any aesthetic turn of speech at the time of assigning the entirety of an idea.

Then Kuntaka cites the kārika given by Bhāmaha.

hetuśca sūkṣmo leśo'tha nālaṅkāratayā mataḥ/
samudāyābhideyasya vakroktyanabhidhānataḥ//[20]

Daṇḍin in his Kāvyādarśa given the definition for the figure of speech sūkṣma as:-

iṅgitākāralakṣyo'rthaḥ saukṣmyāt sūkṣma iti smṛtaḥ//[21]

Minute expressions of self opinion through the facial or physical gestures is known as sūkṣmālaṅkāra. Most of such gestures are used when something that is improper to be conveyed in the presence of elders like conveyance of the secret meeting time between the lovers etc.

The example given for it is as follows:-

saṅketakālamanasam viṭam jñātvā vidagdhayā/
hasannetrārpitākūtam līlāpadmam nimīlitam//[22]

This verse means that by understanding the mind of her secret lover that he was eager to know their meeting time, the clever damsel closed her toy-lotus as giving message with a smiling glance. Through this the heroine beautifully conveyed that the evening is the proper time for their meeting through closing the lotus by standing in front of the elders. It is taken as an example for sūkṣmālaṅkāra by earlier rhetoricians. But Kuntaka does not accept this view. He says the subject described in the verse itself is the adorned. Thus it cannot become an adornment.

Dhvanyāloka has the same verse wherein Ānandavardhana says that,

“A context wherein one meaning is made to suggest another by taking the assistance of denotative power will not be an instance of this type of (arthaśaktyudbhavo nāmānusvānopamāvyaṅgya dhvaniḥ) suggestion”.[23]

He cites the above mentioned verse as an example to it. In this verse the suggestive element is the closing of the lotus and it is expressed through words. So it does not come under the division of suggestion (dhvani) according to Ānandavardhana.

Kuntaka’s selection of stray verses has helped in regaining the name of some lost works or some rare poets. Their literary merits were also recognized by such evaluations. It is doubtless that in the case of stray verses the contextual analysis is difficult. But the verses selected by Kuntaka for each and every situation is apt and beautiful and the absence of the contextual analysis never lessons the charm of any verse in any context. Most of the verses in them have their own uniqueness.

Footnotes and references:












Acārya Jaggannath Pathak, Dhvanyāloka, p.251.


K.Krishnamoorthy,op. cit,.p.73.












Acārya Jaggannath Pathak, op. cit,.p.203.


Acharya Ranchandra Mishra (Ed.).op.cit,p.180.


K.Krishnamoorthy,op. cit,.p.155.






ibid,p. 182.




P.V.Nagananda Sastri, Kāvyālaṅkāra of Bhāmaha, p.49.


Acharya Ranchandra Mishra (Ed.).op.cit,p.175.


K.Krishnamoorthy,op. cit,.p.242.



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