The backdrop of the Srikanthacarita and the Mankhakosa

by Dhrubajit Sarma | 2015 | 94,519 words

This page relates “Preface” as it appears in the case study regarding the Srikanthacarita and the Mankhakosa. The Shrikanthacarita was composed by Mankhaka, sometimes during A.D. 1136-1142. The Mankhakosa or the Anekarthakosa is a kosa text of homonymous words, composed by the same author.


Kāvya or literary composition in Sanskrit is classified broadly into three heads viz. gadya (pure prose), padya (pure poetry) and miśra (admixture of the two). Depending upon its length and some other characteristics, padya is again subdivided into mahākāvya or epic and khaṇḍakāvya or lyric. In the history of classical Sanskrit literature, the mahākāvyas occupy a very prominent position. Viśvanātha Kavirāja, in his Sāhityadarpaṇa., chapter VI, gives a detailed description about the characteristic features of a mahākāvya. As for example, Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa is a mahākāvya. Similarly, the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita of Maṅkhaka is another mahākāvya from the standpoint of the canons laid down for a mahākāvya by the ālaṃkārikas. Being a student of Sanskrit sāhitya, I wanted to study kāvya further, after my post-graduation and M. Phil. degree, at the University of Gauhati. My respected supervisor Prof. (Dr.) Dipak Kumar Sharma, Vice-Chancellor, Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit & Ancient Studies University, Nalbari, former Director of College Development Council and Professor of Sanskrit Department of G.U, had advised me to study the works of Maṅkhaka, a renowned poet and lexicographer of the 12th century Kashmir valley. The very name mahākavirājarājānakaśrīmaṅkhaka, called by Maṅkhaka himself, the appellation karṇikāramaṅkha, his birth-place Kashmir, the crown of India, attracted me so much to study the life and works of the poet.

The Śrīkaṇṭhacarita was composed by Maṅkhaka, sometimes during A.D. 1136-1142. It describes the destruction of the three cities of gold, silver and iron, in the sky, air and earth, built for the demons by Mayāsura. Eventually, at the request of the gods, Lord Śiva burnt to ashes, these cities, along with the demons inhabiting therein. Maṅkhaka was one of the foremost poets of Kashmir, flourished after Kṣemendra. Maṅkhaka was also known as Maṅkha or Maṅkhuka. His father was Viśvavarta, whose name is mentioned with great reverence in the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita. Maṅkhaka’s brother was Alaṃkāra or Laṅkaka, a poet and a minister. Maṅkhaka’s other two brothers were Śṛṅgāra and Bhṛṅga. Maṅkhaka was the youngest of all. He and his two elder brothers were not only scholarly persons, also they held high positions in the administration of Kashmir. Śṛṅgara held the office of vṛhattantrādhipati. Maṅkhaka’s grandfather was Manmatha. Ruyyaka, the renowned rhetorician was his preceptor. Both the preceptor and the pupil were protege to king Jayasiṃha, son of king Sussala. King Jayasiṃha ruled from A.D.1127-1159. There is no difficulty in deciding the time of Maṅkhaka. In the history of Sanskrit literature, Maṅkhaka is one among those few poets, those who have furnished detail autobiographical references. A remarkable feature of Maṅkhaka is that in the last canto, the poet has given references of some poets, predecessors or contemporaries. Again, the poet does not make us acquainted, only with the names of the scholars but also tells us the branch of knowledge, in which every scholar was an expert. At the very beginning of his work, Maṅkhaka has mentioned about his another treatise Maṅkhakośa. Maṅkhaka has written a commentary on Ruyyaka’s Alaṃkārasarvasva. Besides commenting on the kārikās of Ruyyaka, Maṅkhaka himself had written some Alaṃkāra-sūtras. The Śrikaṇṭhastava has been ascribed to Maṅkhaka as another work by him. Its example is found in the Alaṃkārasarvasva. Besides these, some other works are also attributed to him viz., the Alaṃkārasarvasva, a commentary on the Alaṃkārasarvasva, the Sāhityamīmāṃsā, Nāṭakamīmāṃsā, Harṣacaritavārtika, Vṛhatī and Vyaktivivekavicāra (-vyākhyāna). The Śrīkaṇṭhacarita is a voluminous work, having twenty five cantos. The first canto records the salutation of the poet to Lord Śiva and other divinities as well. The second canto gives description of the merit of the good and demerit of the wicked persons. Canto III provides description of the country (in the present context, it denotes Kashmir, the homeland of the poet) and the lineage of Maṅkhaka, the poet. In canto IV, Maṅkhaka gives a fine description of the mountain Kailāsa. Canto V gives a pen-picture of Lord Śiva, as found in the mythological accounts. The description of the spring season is found in canto VI of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita. In canto VII, Maṅkhaka is found to have described the swinging sports enjoyed by Hara and Gaurī, when the spring season was in full swing. In canto VIII, the poet gives description of flower plucking by Pārvatī and Her female attendants. Canto IX provides a charming description of the water sports of Lord Śiva, Pārvatī and the celestial damsels. In canto X, Maṅkhaka describes the evening twilight. Canto XI gives a description of the moon. Canto XII continues the description of the moon and its impact upon Nature and on rest of the living beings. In canto XIII, the poet has described the decoration of extraterrestrial females with different ornaments, ointments, flowers, fumigation and attires and also draws a sketch of union with their lovers. Canto XIV presents a description of wine-drinking of the celestial females, along with their lovers and its effects on them. The poet describes the amorous activities of the celestial youths in canto XV. In canto XVI, there is the description of the dawn, besides, there is the reference of coming of the gods, Vidyādharas, Kinnaras as well as the Gandharvas and the bard’s singing of panegyric, in praise of Lord Śiva. Canto XVII gives a description of the meeting of Lord Śiva with the gods, regarding the oppression of the Tripuras. In canto XVIII, the poet draws a sketch of the agitation of the Gaṇas, on hearing the miserable condition of the gods, by the torture of the demons. Canto XIX gives a description of the expression of the enthusiasm of the Gaṇas, to fight with the demons as well as it narrates the discussion of Śiva with the gods, about the annihilation of the demons. In canto XX, Maṅkhaka gives a description of the construction and preparation of the chariot of Śiva, by the gods to fight with the demons. Herein canto XXI, the poet describes the march of the troop of Śiva’s army towards the Tripuras. Canto XXII contains the description of the agitation, preparation and coming out of the demons from their respective cities to fight with the gods’ army. In canto XXIII, Maṅkhaka gives a full-length description of the battle between the army of the gods and the demons. In canto XXIV, Maṅkhaka gives a picturesque description of the burning of the Tripuras. In canto XXV, Maṅkhaka gives a description of the scholars and poets of his time. This canto is actually an appendix to the poem, wherein, the poet has recorded the expertise in different branches of knowledge and other personal accomplishment of thirty-two scholars before the assembly of whom, he puts his poem for a review. From the twenty fifth canto, it is known that Maṅkhaka has forwarded his work to the scholars and administrators for their approval. There did a meeting held, comprising of thirty-two members, in the residence of Alaṃkāra, his brother. The group of scholars listened to his work with utmost attention and afterwards Maṅkhaka’s poetry was lauded with appreciation. This criticism upon Maṅkhaka’s poetry establishes the fact that the practice of scholarly and social debate and exchange of ideas was in vogue during Maṅkhaka’s time of Kashmir. There is a complaint heard very often that there is lack of historical sense and information in Sanskrit literature. But this complaint has been nullified as Maṅkhaka has made us equipped with valuable and detailed historical descriptions of the then Kashmir. Firstly, the date of several poets and scholars can be determined from the information provided in the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita. As for example, the time of Ruyyaka, Maṅkhaka’s own time is determined from the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita. Again, we also become familiar with the names of two ambassadors. From the presence of ambassadors in Kashmir, it becomes evident that Kashmir had friendly political relations with other provinces. It has been noticed that Maṅkhaka strictly adheres to the norms of a mahākāvya, however, it slightly hinders in exhibiting his creativity. Even then, these restrictions of rhetoric regulations are unable to destroy the poet’s poetical calibre and Śrīkaṇṭhacarita bears unmistakable mark of the expertise of Maṅkhaka as a composer of a mahākāvya. His mahākāvya is also noticed to be based on the Purāṇas and the whole range of Purāṇic literature has left influence on his poem. The poem becomes successful in giving pleasure to its learned readers also.

Again, the Sanskrit koṣa texts or the Sanskrit lexicography had a very old origin. It primarily means dictionary or lexicon. The lexicographers always emphasize that they have written their works, for the utilization of the poets. Thus, the study of the koṣas is closely associated with that of the kāvyas. The Maṅkhakośa or the Anekārthakośa of Maṅkhaka, is a koṣa text of homonymous words. It has been named after its author Maṅkhaka. Besides, as it is a collection of words, having more than one meaning, therefore, it is known to be the Anekārthakośa. Excepting the Amarakoṣa, the Maṅkhakośa has occupied a unique position, almost unparalleled in the realm of Sanskrit koṣa texts. This lexicon was popular even at the contemporary period of Maṅkhaka also. From this, the popularity of the Maṅkhakośa can be easily inferred. Thus, the Maṅkhakośa was a very popular koṣa text in Sanskrit, seriously studied, analyzed and quoted in the works of subsequent writers.

From the study of the poem and the koṣa work, it has been observed that the author of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita and the Maṅkhakośa bears singularity as a kavi and a koṣakāra. Hence, a study has been made, with focus upon Maṅkhaka’s literary activities.

Title of the dissertation:

Maṅkhaka, a Sanskrit literary genius: an introspection in the backdrop of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita and the Maṅkhakośa.


To assess the Sanskrit māhakāvyas and the koṣas, in a brief way.

To critically examine the poetic elements of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita, in the light of the rules framed by the Sanskrit rhetoricians.

To examine the information on socio-political condition of the author’s time.

To assess the success or otherwise of Maṅkhaka, as a composer of a mahākāvya and a koṣa.


Our study is based on the following hypotheses -

That Sanskrit literature has a long and varied tradition of the mahākāvyas and the koṣas.

That Purāṇic literature is contributing a lot towards the enrichment of Sanskrit creative literature.

That Maṅkhaka is a poet and a lexicographer, endowed with expertise as a composer of a mahākāvya and a koṣa.


Descriptive as well as analytical methodologies are adopted for our study.

The present dissertation comprises six chapters. The first chapter, which is a introductory one dwells upon the kāvya, its meaning and scope, divisions of kāvya, mahākāvya and its features, Sanskrit mahākāvyas, some prominent Kashmiri Sanskrit poets, Maṅkhaka’s genealogy and date as well as his works. The second chapter deals with the adherence of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita to the norms of a mahākāvya, the source, title, theme of the poem. The summary of contents of all the cantos, the innovations and deviations, made by the poet as well as literary genius of the poet are also dealt with in this chapter. The rīti, rasa, guṇa, chandas, alaṃkāra, kavisamaya, delineated in the poem are discussed in the third chapter. Therein also taken up for discussion, the topics like examination of the language from literary perspectives, impact of previous poets upon Maṅkhaka, commentary on the poem, merits and demerits of the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita. Again, the habits and customs, dress and decoration, food and drink, beliefs and superstition, recreations and pastimes, caste system and occupations, flora and fauna, geographical information, religious data, administration and warfare, historical data, philosophical ideas depicted are the subject of discourse in the fourth chapter. The fifth chapter deals with the Sanskrit koṣa texts in general. In this chapter, it is also intended to throw some light on the topics like the authorship and date of the Maṅkhakośa, the structure of the contents, style of the text, commentary, specialities of the Maṅkhakośa as a koṣa text and its comparison with other koṣas. An overall idea about the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita and the Maṅkhakośa is sought to be presented in the last chapter i.e. the sixth chapter. An attempt has been made here to sum up all that have been previously analyzed and thereby to establish the literary genius of Maṅkhaka.

In preparing the thesis, my study is based on the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita of Maṅkhaka, with the Sanskrit commentary of Jonarāja, which is published by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, 1983(Reprinted). Again, I also depend on the Maṅkhakośa of Maṅkha, edited together with extracts from the Commentary and three indices, by Theodor Zachariae, Kashi Sanskrit Series no. 216, which was published by Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi, 1972. Besides, the references cited in this work to the Śrīkaṇṭhacarita and the Maṅkhakośa, pertain to those editions. Furthermore, at one hand, heavy workloads of job and on the other hand, with scanty resources and unavailability of adequate materials, translations etc., it really appeared insurmountable for me to proceed, however with the inspiration of my able guide Prof. (Dr.) Dipak Kumar Sharma, blessings of my parents, well-wishers and grace of Lord Śiva, I somehow managed to complete the task. I am fully aware of the inadvertent shortcomings. At this moment, I feel, it was rightly said by Jayantabhaṭṭa, the great Naiyāyika, that what else, we are capable of creating new thing, so one is entreated just to observe the strikingness or variation of mode of expression here- kuto vā nūtanaṃ vastu vayamutprekṣituṃ kṣamāḥ/ vaco vinyāsavaicitramātramatra vicāryatāṃ/

With these prefatory words, most humbly, I present the dissertation for assessment, to the scholarly world. It would be my reward, if the learned readers of my thesis, finds something valuable and interesting.

At last, I retire my pen, with the following words of Kālidāsa

mandaḥ kaviyaśaḥprārthī gamiṣyāmyupahāsyatāṃ/
prāṃśulabhye phale lobhādudbāhuriva vāmanaḥ/

(Dhrubajit Sarma)

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