Corruption in government hypocrisy in religion, avaricious greed in business: these are some of the targets of Kshemendra’s one thousand year old satires. So are superstition and sexual obsession anomalies in education and a host of other ills of the time. Written by a celebrated name in classical Sanskrit literature these little known exposes of eleventh century find resonance in India even today.
Kshemendra lived in Kashmir circa 990-1070 CE. His literary output over at least three decades includes still studies works on poetic and prosody apart from devotional and didactic verse mordant social satire and a lost history of the kings of Kashmir. Eighteen of these works were recovered in the past century and another sixteen are known through citations. They have established Kshemendra as an important name in classical Sanskrit literature and a prolific and multifaceted writer on a wide variety of subjects.
A.N.D. Haksar is a well known translator of Sanskrit classics. Education at the universities of Allahabad and oxford he was for many year a career diplomat serving as the Indian high commissioner to Kenya and the Seychelles minister to the united states and ambassador to Portugal and Yugoslavia. Haksar translations from the Sanskrit include the shattered thigh and other plays tale of the ten princes hitopadesa, simhasana dvatrimiska, Subhashitavali and Kama Sutra all published as penguin classics.
Satire is seldom associated with Sanskrit in the current popular perception of the ancient language as one mainly of religion and philosophy. Prominent among its satirists is Kshemendra the celebrated writer from Kashmir. Little translated his work is virtually unknown today outside the world of specialists. These were among the reasons for the translations presented here. Others are the brilliance and modern readability of Kshemendra satire their contemporary resonance and the picture they provide of common life in Kashmir a thousand years ago.
The Satire in Sanskrit
Though relatively few examples are cited in some scholarly accounts the tradition of satire in classical Sanskrit is old and distinct. The earliest known of such works date to around the first century CE. They are Ubhayabhisarika by Vararuchi and Dhurtavitasamvada by Ishvaradatta a loose rendition of whose respective titles would be both girls stepping out and the dialogue of a conman and a libertine. A third is Padmaprabhritaka or the lotus gifts attributed to shudraka authors of the celebrated third century play Mircchakatika or the toy cart.
A three are of the type bhana or causeries. The setting of the first two is pataliputra then the royal capital near modern Patna. The third is set in Ujjayini another important city. All satirze the urban lifestyle. Their characters include the parasitic libertine the courtesan and her mother a nun and a enuch a merchant and an actress a rich banker son a swindler couple an actor and a drama student a tutor and a grammarian and a poet and a chief of thieves. The description spell out the foibles and the follies of metropolitan life as well as the social skills needed to deal with them.
The tradition continues with Shyamilaka Padataditaka or the Kick of about the fifth century CD. The work covers a cross section of people in another imperial city also including princes generals court official and a Greek courtesan apart from more common folk. This form of writing remained popular in later centuries according to present academic opinion and there are many examples of it such as the twelfth century karpuracharita by vatsaraja and the anonymous Vitanidra or the Parasite sleep of about the fourteenth century from Mahodaya in Kerala.
Kshemednra is a major figure in Sanskrit. He lived in Kashmir in the eleventh century CE and unlike many authors from ancient India has left some personal details in his various works a few of which are also dated. Collated and cross checked with other sources such as Kallahna a history of Kashmir the Rajatarangini written a century later they provide an outline of his life and work.
The earliest dated in Kshemendra works corresponds to 1037 CE and the last to 1066 CE indicating virtually three decades of literary activity. Most of it took place during the region of king Ananta (1028-63 CE) in Kashmir. Kshemendra name him as the ruler of the time in five of his works. A sixth name his son and successor Kalasha (1063-88 CE). It is surmised that the writer birth education took place before and during the time of Ananta grandfather and predecessor King Sangramaraja. His own dates are estimated as roughly between 990 and 1070 CE.
Kshemendra was born into an old cultured and affluent family supposedly descended from Narendra a minister of the ninth century king Jayapida. His grandfather was Sindhu perhaps a high official of this name that Kalahna mentions. His father Prakashendra was a wealthy and pious man who devoted himself to religious rites and philanthropy. In describing these Kshemendra gives a tender account of his death in ecstasy while at prayer. His own son somendra, continued the family scholarly tradition by adding material to one of his father works.
Kshemendra education was in keeping with this background. He mentions studying literature with the foremost teacher of his time the celebrated Shaiva philosopher and literary exponent Abhinavagupta who was active in Kashmir till about 1015. Two other teacher he names are the poet Gangaka and the preceptor soma. The second appears to have initiated him into vaishnava studies. A third was Manjubhadra or Viryabhadra a distinguished scholar from Nepal with whom the studies Buddhism. His erudition was thus both varied and vast. He eulogizes two ancient poets; the sages valmiki and Vyasa the traditional composers of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. His early work includes verse abridgements of both epics. Devoted in particular to the author of the second he often uses the epithet Vyasadas the servant of vyasa for himself.
Apart from the rulers of the time Kshemendra names some contemporaries associated with his writing. The two abstracts of the epics were prepared at the insistence of his friend the Brahmin Ramayasha and his first dated work an abridgement of Gunadhya now lost Brihatkatha at that of the scholar Devadhara. The Buddhist monk Nakka encouraged his later retelling of the jataka tales. A well known work on poetics was composed for Udayashimha the son of his friend Ratnasimha the ruler of Vijayapura. This prince himself a poet is mentioned by Kshemendra as his student and quoted in another of his works. A second student he quotes there is the prince Lakshmanditya.
Despite his princely friends and students Kshemendra does not seem to have sought or received royal patronage as was the case with many men of letters in that age. While he refers with due courtesies to reigning monarchs in some of his works in others there are neither such references nor any eulogies indicative of Patronage. The overall impression the works convey is that of an erudite and observant person of independent opinions and means who engaged in literary and intellectual pursuits for their own snake.
Kshemendra’s work was earlier known only from quotations in some anthologies and a reference in the Rajatarangini. In modern times its first manuscript was discovered by A.C. Burnell at Ranjore in 1871. This was the Brihatkathamanjari the abridgement of the lost work already mentioned. In the succeeding half century indologists G. Buhler, A. Stein B. Peterson S.C. Das and M.S. Kaul located manuscripts of his other works at different times mainly in Kashmir. So far eighteen of these have been found and their texts edited and printed. Another sixteen are known at least by title from reference or quotations in the discovered texts but still remain lost. A list of all these works is given after the notes.
Of the now available works there are the already mentioned abstracts of the Ramayana the Mahabharata and the Brihatkatha respectively. Academic opinion considered them the product of Kshemendra early years. The last mentioned bear a date corresponding to 1037 CE. Three other works deal with poetics and prosody. Still regard as important contributions to these fields they also provide valuable information about other writers in Sanskrit. Four are satires on contemporary life. Three of these are offered here; one I have translated earlier. Of the remaining eight five are didactic work on conduct and policy and one a manual of rituals. Finally there are two devotional works: kshemendra long poetic narration of the Buddha former lives and good deeds dated to a year corresponding to 1052 CE and his verse account of the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu dated to 1066 CE and regarded as the last of his known compositions.
The sixteen works known only through reference and quotation include some plays and long poems a satirical novel a possible retelling in verse of Bana’s Kadambari and what seems from the title a commentary on the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana. Also in this list is Kashemendra history of Kashmir the Nirpavali which Kalhana described as the composition of a poet but decried as full of errors. While some of these works can perhaps be described with interesting details culled from the material available further search for their manuscripts will hopefully continue.
The existing Kshemedra corps reflects a profile and multifaceted writer. In the tradition of earlier Kashmir savants like Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta he was both a notable poet and a seminal theorist of poetry. Though modern scholarship has generally lauded his contributions as manifold and important it has tended to stress the historical and literary significance of his works on poetics. A wider view has also been expressed. For K.M. Panikar, Kshemendra was perhaps the most comprehensive mind of his time who wandered in every field including satire with distinction. For A.K. Warder he stand in the first rank of satirists and invites us to enjoy the multiple balanced world of legends and the bitter reality of contemporary society… for these we recognize him among the greatest Kavis.
The Present Satires
The satires presented here in translation are Narma Mala or A garland of Mirth in a free rendition of the title; Kalavitlasa or a Dalliance with deceptions; and despadesa ore Advise from the countryside. All three are composed in Sanskrit verse. The first consists of 406 stanzas the second of 551 and the third of 304. The translation of all these is based on the original texts edited and published by Osmania University Hyderabad in 1961. Most of the text has been rendered in prose for greater clarity and narrative continuity and cohesion. The concluding stanzas in all cases, and a few others of a descriptive or gnomic nature have been translated in verse of convey some flavor of the original.
The three satires have stylistic similarities but differ in form and content. Narma Mala could be a modern novella: it has a well developed storyline that progresses smoothly from a beginning to a middle and an end in its three chapters. Kalavilasa has the traditional structure of stories flowing from a based story generally two in the longer and one in the shorter of its nine illustrative chapter with the tenth devoted to a didactic survey. Desopadesa has no overt narrative but consists mainly of aphoristic pen pictures in which to quote a contemporary scholar the character and scenes presented are so vivid that they tend to turn into stories.
The style in all these works is marked by directness and economy. The narrative is terse and the imagery brief and pointed sometimes brutally so. The action is generally fast paced except in paced except in passages of didactic elaboration. There are few scenic or allegoric descriptions in the conventional manner and the verbal ornamentation in the Kavya style of the period is largely absent. An exception s Kshmendra propensity for using puns to give double and satirically contrasting meaning to his words and even verses. A suitable translation of such slesha into another language is always difficult. In some cases it has been explained with additional language in the endnotes.
Another stylistic feature is Kshmendra usage of unusual word and compounds some untraceable in standard dictionaries and other whose meaning occasionally needs inference. According to a recent stud he does not he shrink from spicing his language with vulgar expressions. Though the first part of this comment needs more linguistic investigation some of the vocabulary Kshmendra uses while providing a contrast to the conventional classical idiom pose challenge to decorous translation.
These satires are set in the contemporary society of Kashmir. Some characters recur: the hypocritical priestly guru the corrupt government official the miserly and greedy merchant or banker the courtesan with her retinue the lascivious widow or housewife and sharp professional practitioners such as the doctor or the astrologer. Once character needing some explanation is the vita here translated as the parasitic libertine. He is a pleasure loving man about town often impoverished and reduced to acting as courtesan agent. Some others who feature only in one satire include interesting types like the monastic scholar the foreign student and the rich old man with a young wife.
Unlike some of Kshmendra other compositions none of these three satire bears a date. According to one scholarly opinion Kalavilasa is perhaps one of Kshemendra earliest works tough on vague stylistic ground it is usually supposed that Desopadesa is earlier. Any chronological judgment would of course be speculative in the absence of data. Kalavilasa gives the overall impression of a style more nuanced and courtly than that of the other two works where it is sharper more irate and acerbic. Whether this reflects in any way a progressive hardening of Kshmendra view or a change the other way round can only be guesswork with our present information.
The century prior to Kshemendra was a time of alternating periods of political stability and turbulence in Kashmir. Kalhana history written just two hundred years later carries a detailed account of both. The accession of a new dynasty under sangramaraja began with another transitional phase when his army sent to assist the neighboring Shahi kingdom in modern Afghanistan against Sultan Mahumd of Ghazni was defeated by the invader. Mahmud later also advanced on Kashmir but then turned back. Meanwhile continued on Kashmir but then turned back. Meanwhile the new monarch consolidated his rule a process that continued under his grandson the king who was Kshemendra contemporary.
Despite internal power struggles aggravated by an influential landed gentry and groups of mercenary forces Kshmendra time seems to have been one of relative Kshemendra time seems to have been one of relative tranquility and prosperity in Kashmir. He refers to the kingdom as in the forefront in Kashmir. He refer to the kingdom as in the forefront prosperous land adorned by savants and sages. Its rich life is evident from Kalhana account supplemented by other literary and archaeological evidence. Trade and agriculture flourished. Temples and monasteries were built; there was contact with other lands and people. Travel to and from other region may still considerable especially to trade in salt of which there was no local production and for higher studies which attracted foreign students.
It was also a time of substantial literary activity in Kashmir. Somadeva a younger contemporary followed Kshemendra abstract of the Brihatkatha with his own retelling some thirty years later. Prepared for his patron Kalasha mother queen suryamati this was the celebrated Kathasaritsagara. It is generally considered much better reader than the earlier abridgement though it may be it may be less faithful to the now lost original.
Among Kshmendra other junior contemporaries was the Writer Bilhana author of Vikramankadevacharita the biography of a southern king in Karnataka and the romantic poem Chaurpanchasika. Another was the rhetorician Mammata who wrote the famous and still studied work on poetics Kavyaprakasa. Two other were Kshemaraja and Bhaskara both student of our satirist old teacher Abhinavagupta and respected commentators on Shavia philosophy in separate works. That Sanskrit literature continued to flourish a century later is evident from the poet Mankha account of a literature soiree one also attended by Kalhana. From these and other such details it would appear that Kashmir was far from being a cultural backwater then as it would be in later time but was rather then as it would be in later times but was rather in the vanguard of Indian culture with notable contributions to every aspect of its life. Written in this ebullient age Kshemendra satires are also remarkable in their focus not only on the ruling elite but on the lives of more people in society at large.
This is satire on the bureaucracy of the time. It introduces the class with a wicked legend about its origin and then narrows the focus to an existing hierarchy of its members and their activities. Finally it narrates the rise and fall of a village officer in a setting enlivened by pungent portrayals of his superiors and subordinates his wife sister and children tutor and a religious rites conducted at his home by a guru with a motley retinue.
The story begins with the ironic assertion that king Ananta his people by removing the corrupt officials who are now no more than a memory. The author uses the word Kayastha to denote bureaucrats in general. According to academic opinion the term in ancient Kashmir did not signify any particular caste but was applied generally to officials in the king service. Kshemendra caustic comments about their greed for money inhuman extractive measures and dishonest habits are echoed in Kalhana later history too. According to one study such behavior is also reflected in works of Sanskrit literature from other regions. In is not very difficult for present day readers to judge its resonance in our times.
The opening tale of this work has a rich merchant requesting an expecting to instructs his son so that the young man does not fall prey to deception. The tales that follow elaborate on this theme with accounts of hypocrisy and greed lust and intoxication and of the deeds of courtesan and bureaucrats singers goldsmiths and other swindlers. Most of the tales are further embellished with one or two sarcastic stories. The final chapter is didactic survey of all the arts good and bad.
The expert at the beginning of this satire is the legendary king of thieves Muladeva whose god is money. This hero also known form other literature was the supposed author of a now lost work on burglary some of the tales that follow have also been traced to other sources. The story of vasumati had one version in the western Brihatkatha and the story of chayvana in the Rigvedasamhita (VII.71.5). the verse about the drops of ink from the bureaucrat pen (chapter 5.7) is telling enough to have found a place in later anthologies the enumeration of official trickery in the same chapter supplements the accounts in Narma Mala as well. The topic of priestly humbug is also echoed in that work as it is in Desopadesa along with those of the cunning courtesan and the greedy miser.
This work has been described as the broadest in scope of these satires (which) provides an introduction to the others. It consists of seven chapters with separate portrayals of the villain the miser the courtesan the bawd the parasitic libertine the student and the old man with a young wife. The eighth and final chapter has snide snapshots of the guru and an assortment of people who come to him. Many would seem etched from real life. of particular interest are the student from a foreign land the down at heel libertine and the nirguta a low grade former official here loosely rendered as the pensioner. The tone of this satire is markedly bitter. The tow verses that follow its epilogue presented in the translation as a postscript ma possibly have a bearing on this. The historical background known from Kalhana is that king Ananta abdicated power to his son Kalasha and there was then a period of mutual conflict between the two culminating in the former suicide. According to a modern commentator it is difficult to resist the idea that king Kalaha is blind with arrogance in the city and the abdicated Ananta is the bull in the village in these stanzas. Also that our author may be among the admirers bold in speech though the same scholar acknowledges that all is speculation.
Translation and Acknowledgements
Scholarly translations of the three texts each by a different academic have taken place at various institutions in recent decades. The present work is intended to bring these ancient but still vivid and perceptive satires before the public readership of today. It Endeavour’s to combine fidelity to the original with the requirements of modern English usage. The bulk of it is in prose for reason already explained but stanza numbers from the original verse text have been indicated with in brackets at the end of each paragraph to facilitate reference where needed.
The subheadings within the chapter of Narma Mala are renditions of those that appear in the original text except the first two in chapter one and last four in chapter three which I have devised and added to facilitate reading. In Kalvilasa the first subheading in each chapter is a rendition of that chapter title in the original the rest I have devised and added to facilitate reading. In Kalavilasa the first subheading in each chapter is a rendition of that chapter title in the original the rest I have devised. In desopadesa all subheading are in accordance with the original but I have introduced the last two to indicate the epilogue and the postscript. There is some inconclusive scholarly debate over whether the subheading in the Sanskrit texts of Narma Mala and desopadesa are later interpolations. Whatever its eventual outcome they have been retained here for ease of reading. For the same reason the use of diacritics has been confined to the textual references in the introduction and the Notes.
I have profited from the account of these satires in Dr A.K. warder monumental work Indian Kavya Literature the translation of the satires into Hindi with comments on contemporary society by Dr Moti Chandra and the monograph on Kshmendra by Dr Braj Mohan Chaturvedi. Other useful works are the pioneering Kshmendra studies by Dr Surya Kanta and the more recent study by Dr Uma Chakraborty. For a background of the period I have relied mainly on Dr S.C. Ray early history and culture of Kashmir and Kalhana Rajatarangini translated by R.S. Pandit. Also invaluable was the glossary of difficult words used by Kshemendra appended to the already mentioned Sanskrit text brought out by Osmania University.
I am grateful to R. Sivapriya Managing editor penguin books India for the initial discussion on this work and for giving me extended time to complete it. Thanks are due to Sushma Zutshi Librarian India international centre New Delhi and her colleague Shafaili Bhatt for their help in enabling my access to the original texts and a variety of reference material and to sunil Kumar Sharma of the same library for preparing the photocopies. I acknowledge also the work of Ameya Nagarajan of Penguin Books India in copy editing the typescript. The Kalavilasa translation was revised at the home of my daughter sharada and complete at that of my son vikram and daughter in law Annika to all of whom I send my love and thanks. Lastly but most of all I thank my dear wife Priti for her patient support always helpful criticism of the drafts and unfailing encouragement for which no words can ever be adequate.
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