Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Somadeva’s “Yasastilaka”

Prof. P. Goswami

By Prof. P. GOSWAMI, M.A.

Somadeva Suri, the Jaina theologian, mentions that the writing of his kavya “Yasastilaka” was completed in 959 A.D., on the day when the Rashtrakuta emperor Krishnarajadeva was extending his sway at Melpati (North Arcot) after having vanquished the Pandya. Chola, Chera, Sinhalese and other kings. Though he makes mention of Krishna Ill, his work was not composed at Manyakheta, the Rashtrakuta capital, but at an obscure place called Gangadhara, which seems to have been the capital of a prince named Vagaraja, the eldest son of a Chalukya chief, a tributary of Krishna III.

Somadeva probably owed no allegiance to any potentate. He was primarily a Jaina Acharya. But he took great interest in political affairs and in his “Nitivakyamrita” he pays homage not to any king, but to the State!–“Atha dharmarthakamaphalaya rajyaya namah.” His fame rests on the romance “Yasastilaka” which reveals the manifold aspects of his genius. As has been observed by Sj. K. K. Handiqui, who has made an exhaustive study of the work in his “Yasastilaka and Indian Culture” (1949) 1: “He is a master of prose and verse, a profound scholar with a well-stocked memory, as authority on Jaina dogma, and critic of contemporary philosophical systems. He is a close student of the art of government, and in this respect his “Yasastilaka” and “Nitivakyamrita” supplement each other. He is a redactor of ancient folktales and religious stories, and at times shows himself an adept in dramatic dialogue. Last but not least, he is a keen observer of men and manners. The position of Somadeva is, indeed, unique in Sanskrit literature.”

Whatever his other activities might have been, Somadeva was a theologian, and tarka or disputation was his true vocation. Like many intellectuals of his age he spent a good deal of his energy in disputations with scholars of rival faiths. He had titles like Tarkikachakravartin and Vadibhapanchanama. He himself tells us in one of the opening verses of “Yasastilaka” that just as cow yields by eating grass, similarly his intellect produced the beautiful utterances of his poetical composition by feeding on the dry logical studies to which he had devoted himself since his childhood.

“Yasastilaka” might be characterised as a domestic tragedy. The story, which is woven around the motif of infidelity, may here be given in outline: Maradatta, the young ruler of Rajapura was told by a Tantric teacher that if he propitiated the goddess Chandamari with human sacrifices, he would be able to conquer the Vidyadharas. He accordingly made arrangements for the worship of the goddess. His guards came upon two young Jaina ascetics, a boy and a girl, and enticed them into the temple of Chandamari. The young children were not moved at the terrific atmosphere which prevailed within the temple and began speaking to the king. The king, who was already softened at the sight of the two tender faces, set aside his sword and began to listen: “In the city of Ujjayini ruled the king Yasorgha. Chandramati was the consort of Yasorgha, and Yasodhara was the name of the royal child. Finding his hair greying one day Yasorgha gave orders for the coronation and marriage of his son and renounced the world. Yasodhara was duly married and anointed king.

“The young king had a happy spell of time till, one midnight, when he was not quite asleep, he observed that his consort Amritamati slipped away from his side and, putting on the clothes of her maid, quickly went out of the royal chamber. The king shadowed Amritamati and found her making love to an elephant-driver named Ashtavanka, an ugly cripple. He however did not wish to create a scene and came away quietly. A dark depression overcast his mind and he felt disgust for women and worldly pleasures. But he told his mother that he had an evil dream. His mother tried to dispel his mental gloom by advising him to sacrifice all kinds of animals to their tutelary goddess. Yasodhara had already felt a revulsion at animal sacrifice but was nevertheless persuaded by his old mother into sacrificing a cock made out of flour. In the meantime Amritamati came to sense that perhaps her guilt had been detected and determined to strike before her husband could strike her. She proffered to sacrifice herself to counteract the evil effects of her husband’s dream, and further begged that her husband and her mother-in-law should partake a banquet at her residence after the worship of their tutelary godess was over.

“The duplicity of Amritamati only added to the king’s depression and his disgust for her. He, however, after the completion of the worship went to her place and along with his mother, son and daughter-in-law, partook of the food served out. The food was poisoned and took immediate effect, only Amritamati cried aloud in grief and, feigning to droop on her husband’s bosom, strangled him to death.”

After this there is a description of the rebirths of Yasodhara and Chandramati and their sufferings because they had sacrificed a cock, though artificial. The ascetic boy concludes that he Abhyaruchi and his sister Abhayamati were but reincarnations of Yasodhara and Chandramati and were then disciples of the sage Sudatta.

This long narration visibly softened Maradatta and he became Eager to meet Sudatta and turn his disciple. Sudatta came of his own accord to the prospective convert and commenced a long discourse on Jaina doctrines...

So the story has a religious bias and is meant to teach Jaina doctrine. The story has analogies in earlier as well as later literature. The chief interest in it centres round the figure of Amritamati, who belongs to the ‘vadhaka’ or murderess type of wife. The story of Yasodhara has been retold in another Jaina work, in Pushpadanta’s “Jasaharacriu,” belonging to the tenth century. Numerous poems dealing with the same subject are also found in the succeeding centuries in Old Gujarati, Old Hindi, Tamil and Kannada.

As has been observed this romance is a mine of information. First might be mentioned Somadeva’s comprehension of the spirit poetry. The true poets are those whose words make familiar things unfamiliar, and unfamiliar things familiar!

“Ta eva kavayo loke yeshan vachanagocharah
sapurvo ‘purvatamartho yatyapurvah sapurvatam.”

This somehow reminds us of the compact of Wordsworth and Coleridge who aimed at a similar objective. The attitude of Somadeva to poetry seems to be modern, for, as he says, poetry must be judged as poetry and the critic must not expect to find in it what does not properly fall within the scope of poetry. Further, learning is not necessary for the appreciation of poetry.

In the description of Yasodhara’s life as a king, one comes across a series of observations applicable to the routine of a medieval court. The functions of royal officers like the Sandhivigrahi and the Mantri are discussed in detail. One of the functions of the Sandhivigrahi is to announce the arrival of envoys from foreign courts with presents typical of their countries. The Sandhivigrahi is a sort of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. There is a good deal about the evils of ministerial corruption. Verses dealing with such corruption ar an approach to the little political satire that we have in Sanskrit: “Like a mirage in a desert, the ministers daily deceive those (thirsty) deer, the simpletons. Outwardly they have charming manners, but inwardly they are good-for-nothings.” “A minister executes a task even by violent means when it serves his purpose. But when it serves the purpose of another, he simply says: The king has so many ministers; what authority have I?” The following is a satire on an evil minister named Pamarodara: “Thy miniater appears in an endless variety of roles. He is himself creator and destroyer both. He is himself the speaker and the poet, the dancer and the clown!” One is reminded of Dryden’s characterisation of Zimri. Spying seems to have been done on ministers, for the evil nature of Pamarodara is revealed through the mouth of a spy. The ideals of kingship are detailed at length.

The view of women is amusing: “Discrimination between men and women is valid in respect of physical activity. But women are superior and men inferior in intellectual activity.” Women are not to interfere in matters which properly belong to men’s sphere, their minds being extremely fickle and superficial.

The account of the regiments of Yasodhara throws light on the composition of medieval armies. Yasodhara had regiments also from the North. The Tirhut regiment was fond solely of war and devoted to manoeuvres incidental to naval combats. All the troops of this regiment were disturbed by the Gauda soldiers who had long tufts of hair, the extremities of whose teeth were worn out by constant chewing of flattened rice (chira) and whose mouths were tinged red with betel. The Gauda soldiers were by nature irascible and hurled abuse at the bystanders, being ashamed of stumbling on account of their long clocks reaching to their feet.

A large number of verses discuss food in relation to health and physical well-being. Certain kinds of food are recommended for particular seasons. For example, on hot days one should take Sali rice, Moong soup containing ghee, lotus stalks, fresh shoots and bulbs, fried barley flour, sherbets, curd mixed with sagar and spices, cocoanut-milk, and water or milk with plenty of sugar. Along with food comes examination with a view to finding out whether it is poisoned. The fear of poison seems to have been genuine, for various illustrations are cited to show how kings were murdered with poison. Danger lurks in presents sent by rival courts or in letters sent by enemies.

The lighter side of Yasodhara’s court life is represented by dance exhibitions in the court theatre in connection with the Purvaranga ceremony accompanied by hymns to Sarasvati. There were court festivals like the Mahanavami, the Dipotsava, the Spring Carnival and the worship of Makaradhvaja, the god of love. The Rangapuja which formed a part of the Purvaranga ceremony was probably devoted to Sarasvati.

Various cults and worships find mention in “Yasastilaka.” Jainism itself was influenced by local customs, for there were Jaina practices like the burning of the dead and the offering of rice-balls to the crows on the tenth day after death, as also belief in ghosts and spirits and the worship of various deities. In his attacks on various non-Jaina faiths Somadeva not only throws light on the religious conflicts of the time but also hands on information on the different branches of Saivism. Brahmanism and Buddhism. He casts strictures on the “stupid customs” of popular Hinduism. He observes that if the Pitris have gone to earthly or heavenly abodes, they cannot have any use for annual offerings of rice-balls, which are actually eaten by Brahmanas and crows. He does not have much to say on the Pancharatra system or the Vishnu cult. Probably Saivism wielded greater influence than Vaishnavism at the time. Buddhists are mentioned first among certain communities who recommended the eating of flesh. It is obvious that his statements on the non-Jaina cults have to be taken with a grain of salt. “Yasastilaka” contains some reviews of various schools of thought associated with the cults current at the time.

The section called “Samasta.-samaya-siddhantavabodhana”–“elucidation of the doctrines of all schools” is a collection of philosophical tenets current in the tenth century. This section deals in particular with the theories of salvation propounded by the different school of thought, followed by critical remarks on the opinions recorded by the author. The references to the various schools of thought should be of interest to the historian of Indian philosophy. There is a lot of information on Buddhists, Vedantists. saivas, Samkhyas, Barhaspatyas, Naiyayikas, Pasupatas, Kaulas, etc. There were two distinct schools of Vaiseshika philosophy, Saiddhanta and Tarkika, and “the former sohool laid stress on the worship of Siva and faith in him, while the latter represented the orthodox school with emphasis on Dharma and the knowledge of the categories” (Handiqui, p. 218)…The review of the different schools of thought illustrates the Jaina standpoint but it is also an independent attempt at philosophical criticism.

“Yasastilaka” is indeed a veritable compendium of information on a wide variety of subjects. The references that it has made to earlier works and authors have great chronological value in the literary history of India. For example, the allusion to Gunadhya seems to suggest that the lost “Brihatkatha” was extant in the Deccan in the tenth century. There are legends and tales scattered throughout the book. These should have interest for the folklorist. One of the tales alludes to Radha and Narayana. References to Radha in works earlier than the tenth century are few and far between.

“Yasastilaka” is a “champu kavya” and its prose is interspersed with verses on a variety of subjects. It is thus an anthology of kavya poetry. The present essay might be wound up with a verse typical of a disputant like Somadeva Suri: “The bravery of a person without weapons is useless; just so the mastery of the Sastras is futile in the case of a person without eloquence. The gems of learning may flash in plenty in the ocean of one’s mind, but, without eloquence, they can never edify the minds of the wise. Like the beauty of women, the outward manifestation of learning causes delight. The inner existence of either matters little. What is the use of investigating things beyond the range of the senses?”

1 Published by Jaina Samskriti Samrakshana Sangha, Sholapur.

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