The backdrop of the Srikanthacarita and the Mankhakosa

by Dhrubajit Sarma | 2015 | 94,519 words

This page relates “Some prominent Kashmiri Sanskrit poets” 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.

Part 5 - Some prominent Kashmiri Sanskrit poets

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. The very word Kāśmīr, as if, refers to all that is beautiful. Kashmir or Kāśmīr is said to be the heaven on mundane earth. Nature has enriched Kāśmīr with all her cherished treasures. The landscape of Kāśmīr and all its environments are outstanding. With its lakes brimming with water, the snow-covered mountains beaming in sunshine, the trees full of fruits and flowers, all these cause a thrill and delight in the minds of its spectators.

The word Kāśmīr, according to some has been originated from kasamīra, which means a land from which water (ka) is drained off by wind (samīra). In Sanskrit, the word kāśmīra, in neuter gender, means saffron that grows in Kāśmīr. Again, the people of Kāśmīr, call themselves and their language as Koshur or Kāshur as well as name the land as Kashir. The Ṛgveda (Ṛgveda., X. 75. 5) mentions a river Marudvṛdhā, whose identity with the present Maruwardwan of Kashmir has not yet been established. Anyway, the earliest reference to the place of Kashmir and its people has been, perhaps contained in Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī (Aṣṭā) and in the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali. The Mahābhārata (II. 27. 17) was acquainted with the people of this place and their kings.[1] The Vāyupurāṇa (Vāyupurāṇa, XLV. 120), Viṣṇupurāṇa (Viṣṇupurāṇa, IV. 24.18) etc. knew the Kashmir as a northern nation. In the Bṛhatsaṃhitā of Varāhamihira and Ratnāvalī of Harṣavardhana, reference has been made respectively of some Kashmirian tribes and Kashmirian saffron. Again, foreign writers, like Ptolemy has referred to Kaspeira, which is equated to Kashmir. Che-mong, Fa-yong, Hiuen Tsang etc. also left some accounts of the geography and religious condition of this land.

Along with these, writers like Al-Masudi, Al-Qazwini etc. have given us some information. Marco Polo, also left an account of Kashmir in the middle of thirteenth century.[2]

The state of Kashmir is situated roughly between 32 ͦ 17ʹ and 36 ͦ 58ʹ N, between 73 ͦ 26ʹ and 80 ͦ 30ʹ E. It extends a little over 82,000 square miles. The valley of Kashmir, with an average altitude of 6000 feet above sea-level, is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges and dotted with rivers and lakes.[3] Kashmir has been a cradle of many races, whose language and cultural patterns were fused into a composite group. This is borne out partly by historical records and party by linguistic evidence. The vocabulary of Kashmirian language has some Sanskrit words, but the language itself is not primarily Sanskrit. It belongs to the Dardic group which branched off from the parent Aryan group and had a parallel development with Indo-Aryan. In some cases, it shares the characteristics of both the Indo-Aryan and the Iranian. Again, of the political history of Kashmir from the earliest times, the Rājataraṅgiṇī of Kalhaṇa is the principal source. However, regarding the pre-Aśokān period, this work contains more of fiction and fancy than of fact. There was a long history of kings of Kashmir, who were the patrons of many poets, who had created innumerable literary creations. From the literary works of Kashmir, we get a picture of the then society of the land of Kashmir also.

From the hoary antiquity, the country of India produced poetical compositions in abundance. Especially, in case of Sanskrit poetical works, India is very much rich. Far ahead is the place of Kashmir in contribution to the Sanskrit literary productions. Not only in quantity and variety, in case of quality also, the land of Kashmir contributed immensely. The Kashmirian poets have left practically no facet of life, outside the ambit of their writings. As is the case with Bāṇa (bāṇocchiṣṭaṃ jagatsarvaṃ), the Kashmirian poets have left nothing untouched for subsequent poets. Poetical works covering a wide diversity of themes viz. historical, religious, devotional, didactic, romantic, satirical and even pornographical as well as philosophical treatises, expounding the views of a distinct school of Śaivism that developed in Kashmir, works dealing with poetics and music, anthologies and lexicons, the works of the prolific writer Kṣemendra, specially the Bṛhatkathāmañjarī and Somadeva’s Kathāsaritsāgara (Kathāsaritsāgara) -all these and many other works on diverge topics, touching upon various aspects of human life constitute a rich legacy of which, any part of India may feel proud.

Kashmir is famous for two kinds of literary works viz. historical and pornographical. It is said that, if Kashmir had not produced any other species of kāvya, then also, these two genres of composition would have immortalised Kashmir. There is a complaint heard very often that Indian writers have neither historical sense nor such works. This stigma has been removed by the historical monument of Kalhaṇa. Though there are exaggerations and legendary accounts, even then, the Rājataraṅgiṇī contains important and indispensable materials for the political as well as social history of Kashmir. This unique literary composition written in Sanskrit language furnishes a detail picture of Indian kings and queens, officials, chiefs and common men-such as that we do not get anywhere else. Kalhaṇa stands as a colossus in the history of Sanskrit literature and to a considerable extent, removes the slur relating to the paucity of historical writings in India.


Dāmodaragupta virtually created a literary genre, by composing the pornographical work called the Kuṭṭanīmata. Here, satirical and didactic materials have been also mixed. Kuṭṭanīmata or the advice of a bawd has been written in kāvya style.[4] It represents an old procuress giving professional advice to a young harlot. The main theme of the advice is that the art of feigned love, by which to attract rich people with the sole objective of fleecing them. The work is a combination of the didactic and satiric elements. In the form of an unsavoury theme, the author draws some social pictures, which are true to life. Dāmodaragupta acquired recognition as a poet, which is evinced by the citation of his verses, in works on rhetorics and anthologies. Again, this poetical composition possesses importance also from the point of view of literary history in its depiction of the representation of Harṣavardhana’s Ratnāvalī, the drama.


Kṣemendra surnamed Vyāsadāsa was in the court of king Ananta of Kashmir (A.D.1029- 1064). He mentioned at the end of the biographical notes added, in his Rāmāyaṇamañjarī, that he was a Kashmirian (kaśmīresvabhavat…). Kṣemendra was a prolific writer.[5] He wrote many works; among them are some important didactic poems and narrative abstracts of older poems. His Rājāvalī is a history of Kashmir like Kalhaṇa’s Rājataraṅgiṇī Bṛhatkathāmañjarī, Rāmāyaṇamañjarī and Bhāratamañjarī are epitomes of the Bṛhatkathā, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata Among his works, known only by name are Śaśivaṃśamahākāvya, Amṛtaraṅgakāvya, Avasarasāra, Muktāvalī etc. Among his known and printed works are Avadāna-kalpalatā, Nītikalpataru, Lokaprakāśakośa, Sevyasevakopadeśa, Nītilalatā, Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa etc. Cārucaryā is a śataka of moral aphorisms, which gives a quaint and pleasing picture of virtue’s ways of pleasantness in the Kashmir of his time. Again, Caturvargasaṃgraha is a concise exposition of the four great motives of human activity-Duty, Wealth, Love and Salvation. His Suvṛttatilaka (Suvṛttatilaka) is a well-known treatise on metrics. In Samayamātṛkā, Kṣemendra gives among other stories, an amusing account of the wanderings of his chief courtesan Kankalī, through the length and breadth of Kashmir. The numerous places, which form the scene of her exploits, can all easily enough be traced on the map. More than once, curious touches of true local colour impart additional interest to these references. To Kṣemendra’s poem we owe, for example, the earliest allusion of the Pir Pantsal Pass (Pancaladhara) and its hospice (maṭha). There too, we get a glimpse of the ancient salt trade, which still follows that route with preference. Again, Lokaprakāśa supplies us with the earliest list of Kashmir paragaṇās. Kṣemendra’s another most valuable treatise is the Aucityavicāracarcā, a book on literary criticism and rhetorical style. His illustrations are sometimes his own and often taken from eminent poets, whose names he gives. Among the poets mentioned are Padmagupta alias Parimala, Dharmakīrti, Rājaśekhara, Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa, Chandraka, Medhāvirudra etc. These illustrations form as it were an anthology. When he gives the date of composition for instance, of the Samayamātṛkā as the 25th year of the Kashmir cycle, or A.D. 1050, he furnishes a regular landmark in the history of Sanskrit literature.[6]

Didactic and satiric poems:

In the field of didactic and satiric poems, Kṣemendra’s name stands out most prominently. It has been already mentioned about the Samayamātṛkā of Kṣemendra. It is consisting of eight chapters and relates the story of a young courtesan, Kalāvatī, a novice in her profession. In this work, the poet depicts a picture of the moral delinquency prevailing in contemporary Kashmir. Indeed this work occupies an important position among the satirical works in Sanskrit.

The Darpa-dalana (crushing of pride) of the same writer is a work of the didactic-satiric type. It is consisting of seven sections called vicāras. Each section begins with some verses of moral lesson, contained in it, which is again illustrated by an anecdote. Kṣemendra’s style, in this work is simple. Though the didactic element predominates, yet satire is not absent. The Cārucaryā of Kṣemendra consists of hundred verses, purporting to inculcate morality and good conduct. As in Darpa-dalana, here also, the poet displays his inexhaustible fund of knowledge of the myths and legends.

Kṣemendra wrote the Sevyasevakopadeśa in just sixty-one verses. It contains the poet’s reflections on the relation between the master and the servant and incidentally seeks to give advice to both. The style of this brief work resembles that of the other works of this kind. Within the brief compass of sixty-one verses, the poet uses a variety of metres, thereby testifies to his poetic talent.

The Deśopadeśa of Kṣemendra consists of eight sections called upadeśas. This book reveals Kṣemendra’s undoubted capacity for satire. Kṣemendra’s Narma-mālā (series of jests) consists of three sections called parihāsas. Like the Deśopadeśa, to which it is a complementary work, the Narma-mālā draws a picture of the contemporary society of Kashmir.

The Kalāvilāsa is an interesting work, composed in ten cantos. It describes the various modes of deceit practiced by people in different walks of life. In this work, Kṣemendra has been found as a keen observer of the ways of the world. His observation was perhaps based on the contemporary society of Kashmir, Nevertheless, these are true in all climes and ages.

he Caturvargasaṃgraha of Kṣemendra consists of four chapters. The four ends of human life. viz. Dharma (virtue) Artha (wealth), Kāma (love) and Mokṣa (salvation) are praised in these chapters, in order.

The Nītikalpataru attributed to Kṣemendra, in its extant form consists of 138 sections. The subject-matter of the work, as the title suggests is Nīti, which has been defined at the outset as divine sight (divyaṃ cakṣuḥ) and transparent intellect (amalaprajñā). The work is a repository of information, collected from works like the Mahābhārata, the Bṛhatsaṃhitā, the Smṛti works of Parāśara, Mārkaṇḍeya, Manu, Yājñavalkya and the Kathāsaritsāgara.[7] To the class of didactic poems belongs also the Mugdhopadeśa (advice to the naive), in sixty-six verses by Jalhaṇa, of the 1st half of the 12th century A.D. The author was probably influenced by Kṣemendra, in writing this little treatise. It contains warnings against the wiles and snares of harlots.

To Bhallaṭa is attributed the Bhallaṭa-śataka consisting of about 108 verses in a variety of metres, nothing is known about the poet beyond the fact that he is stated in the Rājataraṅgiṇī (verse 204) to have flourished under the Kashmirian king Śankarvarman (A.D. 883-902). Verses from this kāvya have been quoted by Abhinavagupta (in the commentary Locana), Kṣemendra (Aucitya-vicāra-carcā), Kuntaka, Mammaṭa and Vallavadeva-all Kashmirians. The verses of this work are elegant and free from the artificialities that usually disfigure the poems of this age. In well-turned verses, the poet lays down his reflections on the ways of the world. The Śānti-śataka is attributed to one Śilhaṇa or Śihlaṇa. Though we know nothing of the personal history of this poet, however, his name is typically Kashmirian. The poem is divided into four chapters.


Kashmir, the land of learning, produced several witers of great eminence and outstanding contributors to Sanskrit literature as a whole.[8] So many court-epics[9] have been written in the land of Kashmir. Most of them were composed in glorification of Lord Śiva and thus, herein this land of Kasmir, Śaivism got a firm hold both as a cult and philosophy. One of the striking features of the court-epics composed in Kashmir is the tremendous size of them.

Kṣemendra (in A.D. 1037) wrote his Bhāratamañjarī. It is one of the few Sanskrit kāvyas dealing with the Mahābhārata as a whole. The poet has naturally followed the Kashmirian recension of the great epic. Designed to be an abstract of the Mahābhārata, it is composed in eighteen books, which in the fashion of the original, are called the parvans. Undoubtedly, the Bhārata-mañjarī is a monument to Kṣemendra’s erudition and industry. A work similar in nature to the Bhārata-mañjarī, is the Rāmāyaṇa-mañjarī of the same author. It is a unique work as it, for the first time, gives an abridged version of the entire Rāma story.

His Daśāvataracarita (A.D. 1066) describes and extols each of the ten incarnations of Viṣñu in separate cantos. The most noteworthy of the epitomes, produced by Kṣemendra is the Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī written in the 1st half of the 11th century A.D. Divided into eighteen cantos named lambakas, it is consisting of over 7000 verses. Along with the Kathāsaritsāgara of the Kashmirian Somadeva, it represents the lost north-western version of the Bṛhatkathā, traditionally attributed to Guṇāḍhya.

The Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī like the other Kashmirian version of the Bṛhatkathā and its Nepalese version, describes the adventures of Naravāhanadaṭṭa, son of Udayana. Another abridgement of the Bṛhatkathā is Somadeva’s Kathāsaritsāgara (the ocean of the streams of stories). This book has been written between A.D. 10631082. Somadeva’s style is limpid and free from needless elaboration. Of Somadeva’s personal history we know very little.

To Kashmir belong one Abhinanda, son of Jayantabhaṭṭa, the Naiyāyika. Abhinanda’s Kādambarīkathāsāra is a versified abridgement of Bāṇabhaṭṭa’s prose-romance called the Kādambarī In eight cantos, this work belongs to the class of poetical works composed in the age of decadence. Abhinanda’s work is quoted by Abhinavagupta, Kṣemendra and Bhoja. The Bodhisattvāvadāna-kalpalatā, consisting of forty-eight pallavas (chapters) was written by Kṣemendra. Ratnākara wrote the Haravijaya, a mahākāvya in fifty cantos, also two small poems entitled Vakrokti-pañcāśikā and Dhvanigāthā-pañcikā.

Śivasvāmin composed the Kapphanābhyudaya, in twenty cantos, another mahākāvya produced in the land of Kashmir. Persian sources encouraged some poets of Kashmir to write poems under the patronage of Muslim rulers such as Muhammad Shāh. As for example, Śrīvara composed his Kathā-kautuka in A.D. 1505, on the basis of the well known story of Yusuf and Zulaikhā, as narrated by Mullā Jāmi. In this work, there is blended Śiva cult with Persian story. This poem is consisting of fifteen chapters or kautukas, wherein, the last one glorifies Lord Śiva.

There was another work based on the Persian source named Delarāmā-kathāsāra, consisting of thirteen cantos, written by Rājānaka Bhaṭṭa Āhlādaka.

Devotional poems:

Along with above mentioned poems, there were several devotional poems[10] written by some Kashmirian poets. Some of them are–Ānandavardhana’s Devī-śataka, a poem written in hundred verses in praise of Pārvatī, the goddess, Utpaladeva’s Stotrāvalī, of twenty hymns, an eulogy of Śiva, Kalhaṇa’s Ardhanārīśvara-stotra, in eighteen verses, the Īśvara-śataka of Avatāra and the Śāmba-pañcāśikā of an anonymous poet, probably of Kashmirian origin, the Sragdharā-stotra of Sarvajñamitra, the Devī-nāma-vilāsa of Sāhib Kaula, the Bhāvopahāra of Cakrapāṇinātha and Stavacintāmaṇi of Bhaṭṭanārāyaṇa etc.

There were some miscellaneous poems[11] also, produced in Kashmir, such as the Rājendra-karṇapūra, an eulogy and the Anyokti-muktā-latā, written by Śambhu etc.

Footnotes and references:


Banerji, Sures Chandra, Cultural Heritage of Kashmir, page 3


Ibid., page 4


op cit., Banerji, page 4


Ibid., page 57


Sharma, Dipak Kumar, Kṣemendra’s Rāmāyaṇamañjarī: An Apprising Note, Surabhāratī, No. 8, 2001-02, pages 80-81


Krishnamachariar, M., ‘History of Classical Sanskrit Literature’., page 173


Ibid., page 77


Shyama Damraju, Contribution of Kashmiri poets to the Sanskrit literature, Śodholekha-saṅcayanikā, page 81


Ibid., Shyama Damraju, pages 83-96


Ibid., Krishnamachariar, M., pages 96-99


Ibid., page 102

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