Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘Subhashitaratnakosha 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.

5. Subhāṣitaratnakośa in Kuntaka’s treatment

Generally anthology is a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler, and the literary works may include short stories, plays, songs etc. Most of the anthologies in Sanskrit are compilation of verses from various sources. The authorship of some of the verses found in them can be assigned to a definite poet or a definite source, but the sources of a majority of verses in the anthologies are completely unknown. So from this it can be assumed that the verses may have been either transmitted orally or its original source may have been irretrievably lost. The exact categorization of anthologies is really not an easy task because there are numerous anthologies of the same name. Among them some are anonymous too. There may be same verses in different anthologies. The uncertainty of date, authorship and the work from which it is taken etc. makes this categorization more crucial. The only notable feature of anthologies is that they preserve a wide variety of small poems of various known and unknown poets which would otherwise have been irrecoverably lost. Another notable feature of anthologies is that all verses found in them are not of unknown poets, but they also contain verses from the unpublished works of famous poets. From this, it is clear that we have lost numerous great compositions of some early poets. It is very difficult to preserve all the knowledge of the past properly, though there are different types of preservative techniques from very early periods. It is well known that the information about numerous lost works is available only through valuable quotations and anthologies.

In Sanskrit literature, there are large numbers of anthologies. They are the collections or compilations of poems from various authors from various literatures. But it is unfortunate that there are some uncertainty about the name and authorship of the anthologies. In some anthologies there is no exact information about the author and the work from which the poem was taken, but some anthologies give such information. Many lost lyrics and didactic poems came to light only through some anthologies. Padyāvalī of Rūpagosvāmin, Subhāṣitahārāvalī of Harikavi, Padyaveṇī of Veṇīdatta, Vidyākarasahasraka of Vidyākaramiśra, Subhāṣitasudhānidhi of Sāyaṇa etc. are some of the name of the anthologies other than the anthologies cited by Kuntaka in his Vakroktijīvita. Kuntaka take few verses from the anothologies like Subhāṣitaratnakośa, and Gāthāsaptaśatī. Details about Kuntaka’s evaluation of verses from these anthologies are given below.

It is interesting to note that apart from śatakas other stray verses are taken from anthologies like Subhāṣitaratnakośa and Gāthāsaptaśatī. Some other stray verses cited by Kuntaka are later compiled in some anthologies like Subhāṣitāvalī, Saduktikarṇāmṛta, Śārṅgadharapaddhati, Sūktimuktāvalī.

Subhāṣitaratnakośa is the earliest available anthology. It is also known as Kavīndravacanasamuccaya. At the beginning there is neither any information regarding the name nor any further details about this anonymous work. It is compiled by Vidyākara, a Buddhist monk of Bengal. It is most probably compiled at the end of the 10th century C.E or at the beginning of 11th century C.E. This compilation contains five hundred and twenty five (525) verses of one hundred and thirteen poets.[1] It is arranged into different sections known as vrajyas. The authors who have cited verses from this compilation are Mayūra, Vākpatirāja, Rājaśekhara, Kuntaka etc. This anonymous work was hidden in the form of a manuscript in Nepal in 12th century C.E.

The editor of this compilation, F.W Thomas, gave the title Kavīndravacanasamucchaya to this anonymous work. The first verse of this anthology starts with the word as nānākavīndra-vacanāni. It is believed that most probably this prompted the compiler to name the anthology as Kavīndravacanasamuccaya. This anthology gives information about some rare poets like Vallaṇa, Buddhākaragupta etc. No information about these poets can be found in any other source material. One portion of the work gives information about Buddha and another part gives description about Avalokiteśvara. The remaining sections deal with the topics as found in other anthologies like love, conduct of life, description of summer and the rainy season etc. Most of the poets of this anthology belong to the time before 10th century C.E. The edited text of Subhāṣitaratnakośa of D.D. Kosambi and V.V. Gokhale contains 1738 verses of different poets. Kuntaka cites five verses from this anthology and quotes some of these verses more than once.

The verses of Subhāṣitaratnakośa used by Kuntaka for substantiating different situations are given below.

The definition of poetry of Kuntaka is as follows:-

śabdārthau sahitau vakrakavivyāpāraśālini/
bandhe vyavasthitau kāvyam tadvidāhlādakāriṇi//

Kuntaka gave the expansion of the word bandhe of this definition as:-

vyāpāraśālī vākyasya vinyāso bandha ucyate//

The diction or bandhaḥ means a brilliant use of sentence by heightening the general qualities like grace (saubhāgya) and sensuous beauty (lāvaṇya) of both the word and meaning. According to Kuntaka, grace (saubhāgya) brought out by the selection of most appropriate words or by some other element through his poetic skill. Sensuous beauty (lāvaṇya) means beauty of the proper use of syllables and words.

As an example to this, Kuntaka cites a verse of Subhāṣitaratnakośa (465th verse).

datvā vāmakaram nitambaphalake līlāvalanmadhyayā prottuṅgastanamaṃsacumbicibukam kṛtvā tayā māmprati/
prāntapotanavendranīlamaṇimanmuktāvalīvibhramāḥ sāsūyam prahitāḥ smarajvaramuco dvitrāḥ kaṭākṣacchaṭāḥ//

“Placing her left hand on her broad hip, his waist turning archly, stretching forward her high breast and with her chin toughing the shoulder, she threw at me longingly two or three flashes of side looks. They bore the grace of a pearl necklace with blue sapphires strung at the edges and brought love-fever on me.”

Here a simple glance of a young lady towards her lover is very poetically portrayed by the poet. Here Kuntaka’s selection of Vidyākara’s verse is proper for this situation because the selection and arrangements of the syllables and words are highly aesthetical.

The use of letters like the combination of sparśa or mute consonants with the last consonant of their group, the medium length compounds, the combination of ‘r’ and ‘ṇ’ with short vowels, harmonious diction etc. helps the reader to relish śṛṅgārarasa.

mūrdhni vargāntyagāḥ sparśā aṭavargā raṇau laghū/
āvṛttirmadhyavṛttirvā mādhurye ghaṭanā tathā//

In the edited text of Subhāṣitaratnakośa of D.D. Kosambi and

V.V. Gokhale this verse has some variant readings, which is as follows:-

dattvā vāmakaram nitambaphalake līlāvalanmadhyayā
  vyāvṛttastanamaṅgacumbicibukam sthitvā tayā mām prati/
  saprema prahitāḥ smarajvaramuco dvitrāḥ kaṭākṣacchaṭāḥ//

The emendation made by Kuntaka does not make any drastic change from the original meaning but they surely made the verse more beautiful through small changes like ‘prottuṅgastanamaṃsacumbicibukam’ instead of ‘vyāvṛttastanamaṅgacumbicibukam’ and ‘sāsūyam prahitāḥ’ instead of ‘saprema prahitāḥ’ etc. For bringing extreme charm to a verse undoubtedly high breast is really beautiful than the separated breast so ‘prottuṅgastanam’ , the change made by Kuntaka is apt than ‘vyāvṛttastanam’. ‘Aṅgacumbicibukam’ means the chin touching the limbs and Kuntaka specifies the body as amsa, it is much realistic because at the time of turning the face the chin can only touch the shoulder and not any other part of the body. Here the changes will really help to increase the overall beauty of the verse.

The next verse of Subhāṣitaratnakośa is taken as an example to the expansion of tadvidāhlādakāriṇī, which is defined by Kuntaka as:

tadvidāhlādakāritvam kimapyāmodasundaram//

According to Kuntaka, the ultimate delight of poetry is something beyond the three elements of poetry like vācya or meaning, vācaka or word, vakrokti or artful expression. Kuntaka takes the following verse as an example to substantiate his argument.

haṃsānām ninadeṣu yaiḥ kavalitairāsajyate kūjatāmanya ko'pi kāṣāyakaṇṭhaluṭhanādāghargharo vibhramaḥ/
te sampratyakaṭhoravāraṇavadhūdantāṅkuraspardhino niryātāḥ kamalākareṣu bisinīkandāgrimagranthayaḥ//

“The tapering buds of lotus-bulbs are in full bloom in the lotus ponds. They are now rivalling in their beauty the small sprouting tusk of a young cow-elephant. It is by swallowing these that swans acquire a unique shrillness of note in their songs, the astringent taste clearing their throats (like medicine).”

The beauty of this verse undoubtedly lies not only in its words, meaning or in artful expression, the beauty of this verse is unique and beyond these three elements.

Kuntaka sometimes says that there is no need of further explanation of a verse for a sensitive reader and never substantiates how this verse became charming. The reason for this may be either that particular verse was very frequently used one in his time or was cited many times in any of the famous texts. Thus being a sahṛdaya himself, he would have avoided the mere explanation of the charm of the verses. Kuntaka cites this verse in three other situations for explaining the quality named grace (lāvaṇya), and also for explaining phonetic figurativeness and sentential figurativeness.

There is a variant reading of this verse in the second line, which is as follows:-

kāṣāyakaṇṭaliṭhanādāghargharo nisvanaḥ//[9]

Here the word ‘liṭhanād’ may be the error done by the poet or scribe or someone else and instead of ‘nisvanaḥ’, Kuntaka uses the word ‘vibhramaḥ’ because this is suitable to the just previous word ‘āghargharo due to alliteration.

Kuntaka has given ten different definitions for the variegated style. Among them, he says that:-

pratīyamānatā yatra vākyārthasya nibadhyate/
vācyavācakavṛttibhyām vyatiriktasya kasyacit//[10]

It means that where something cannot be expressed directly, it communicates with suggestive sense. It is completely distinct from the communicative use of meanings and the denotative use of words.

For instance:-

vaktrendorna haranti bāṣpayasām dhārā manojñām śriyam
  niśvāsā na kadarthayanti madhurām bimbādharasya dyutim/
tasyāstvadvirahe vipakvalavalīlāvaṇyasamvādinī
  chāyā kāpi kapolayoranudinam tanvyāḥ param puṣyati//[11]

“No streaming tears besmirch the pleasing charm of her moon like face. No sighs disturb the sweet sheen on her lips so red as the bimba fruit. During this separation from you, only the colour of the maiden’s cheeks is changing, day by day, to resemble most the pallid glow of faded lavālī flower.”

Here a companion of a heroine telling the hero about the condition of the heroine in his absence. Such suggestive statement creates a suspicious state of mind in hero. The suggestive way used by the poet is noteworthy. Here the poet makes it clear that the heroine is not wasting time by shedding tears or making sighs and her beauty is increasing gradually. In this way the poet very easily and brilliantly creates the suspicious state of mind in the hero through the words of her companion. The selection of such beautiful verses by Kuntaka is really notable.

Here there is variant reading only in the last word of the last sentence. In the original text, ‘param śuṣyati[12] can be found instead of ‘param puṣyati’ . The suggestiveness can be created only through the word ‘puṣyati’. If the poet says that the beauty of her cheek is decreasing day by day because of the searation from her lover, there will not be any suggestive sense in this verse. So the apt and beautiful change made by Kuntaka is appreciable.

Another verse cited from this anthology is as follows:-

śvāsotkampataraṅgiṇi stanataṭe dhautāñjnaśyāmalāḥ
  kīryante kaṇaśaḥ kṛśāṅgi kimamī bāṣpābhasām bindavaḥ/
kiṃcākuñjitakaṇṭharodhakuṭilāḥ karṇāmṛtasyandino
  huṅkārāḥ kalapañcamapraṇayinastruṭyanti niryānti ca//

“O gentle maid, why is it that these drops of your streaming tears, darkened by the collyrium washed by them, are made to break up into particles as they hit the region of your bosom made billowy by heaving breaths? How is it that your moans, resembling the cuckoo’s notes in sweetness, bathing the hearer’s ears with heavenly music, and uneven by forced suppression on the throat, are breaking loose and bursting out?”

Kuntaka cites this verse in two contexts. First, he cites this as an example of metaphorical figurativeness (upacāravakratā), the division of lexical figurativeness (padapūrvārdhavakratā) because in the first line on the basis of general similarity the liquid nature like billowy is applied to the solid bosom. Kuntaka then cites this example for showing the nature of sensuous beauty (lāvaṇya) of the variegated style (vicitra mārga). The nature of sensuous beauty of the variegated style is that there must be a harmonious combination of words, absence of the elision of final aspirates and also have short syllables preceding conjunct consonants. In the third line the short syllable ‘ku’ is used before the conjunct consonant ‘ñji’ and ‘ka’ before ‘ṇṭha’ and also ‘pa’ before ‘ñca’ in the fourth line etc. Thus it is clear that the selection of the verse for these particular situations is apt.

In the original text the variation is only in a single word of the third line, there the poet uses ‘śrotrāmṛta’ instead of ‘karṇāmṛta’. This simple change is apt because the word śrotrāmṛtam is difficult to pronounce and surely the soft word karṇāmṛtam makes this verse more attractive.

The last verse cited by Kuntaka from this anthology is:-

teṣām gopavadhūvilāsasuhṛdām rādhārahasākṣiṇām
  kṣemam bhadra kalindaśailatanayātīre latāveśmanām/
vicchinne smaratalpakalpanamṛducchedopayoge'dhunā
  te jāne jaraṭhībhavanti vigalannīlatviṣaḥ pallavāḥ//[14]

Here Kṛṣṇa asks Uddhava after reaching Dvārakā from Ambāṭī that “How do they do, those bower-huts, o friend, on the banks of river Yamunā? Those who were the companions of the sports of cowherdesses and those witnessed Rādhā’s amours. Now that none will pluck them soft to turn them in to beds of love. I am afraid that all those fresh green leaves do lose their greenness and become old”.

Kuntaka cites this verse as an example of sentential figurativeness (vākya vakratā). The essence of the poetic elements like subject, embellishment and sentiment needs poetic skill. Among them embellishment deserves utmost necessity of poetic skill, otherwise it would look like a bare figure of speech in poetic descriptions. Kuntaka cites this example to indicate the subject or facts being beautified by artistic skill of a poet. Actually this verse discusses about a mere subject relating to common life like a bower-hut and it is very difficult to add any sentiment in it. But the author of this verse makes this ordinary subject very attractive by his poetic skill. In the second udyota of Dhvanyāloka, Ānandavardhana cites this to substantiate that the nonsentient things become attractive by adding sentient nature to them.

From some works, Kuntaka cites only very few verses. In such situations it is really a difficult task to make a clear idea about Kuntaka’s opinion of that particular text as a whole. But from the works of Kālidāsa, Bhāravi etc. he cites numerous examples and it becomes helpful to assess an overall opinion of Kuntaka about that text. Difficulty of such assessment will be more in the works like anthologies, because it is only a compilation of verses of different poets. So sometimes only one verse of a single poet is available and this will not be sufficient to evaluate that poet. Kuntaka’s minute observation of the individual verses has helped him to select the most suitable verse in various situations. This shows Kuntaka’s perfection in the art of criticism and poetic analysis.

Kuntaka has chosen some of the beautiful verses found in Vidyākara’s anthology. From these, it is clear that Kuntaka has a positive attitude towards the verses included in the anthology of Vidyākara. He has unveiled the beauty of many of the verses found in it and his selection of verses for each situation seems appropriate. Such keen evaluation of Kuntaka is really laudable.

Apart from these anthologies Kuntaka cites three verses from one famous Prakrit anthology named Sattāsi or Gāthāsaptaśatī. Brief information about the text and the verses of it are given below

Footnotes and references:


S.N Dasgupta, and S.K. De, History of Sanskrit Literature, pp.412-413.


K. Krishnamoorthy, op.cit,p.6.


ibid, p.38.




Ganganatha Jha. Kāvyaprakāśa of Mammata, p.311.


Vidyākara, Subhāṣitaratnakośa, (Ed). D.D. Kosambi and V.V. Gokhale, p.54.


K. Krishnamoorthy,op.cit,p.39.















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