The Peoples' Poet
by Prof. K. N. Dhar
Sanskrit poets and literary
luminaries have been often accused of oriental hyperbole. It may be conceded
that by and large such devotees of Muse did indulge in some kind of exaggeration
which became nauseating at times; such kind of poetic fancy becomes pronounced
when they had to extol their patrons, heroes or even their beloveds. Kings whose
munificence made such kind of poets as mercenaries, so to say, have been equated
with the lord of the gods - Indra, while they bad no intrinsic merit of their
own. People at large have been by-passed and no direct reference has been made
to them. Even the prince among poets Kalidasa has revelled in the description of
Raghu or Dilipa but has forgotten altogether his snbjects over whom they ruled.
Aja sheds torrents of tears for his beloved wife Indumati, but not a single drop
has been reserved for the underdog whom he exploited to live in luxury.
Happily for us, a Kashmiri Brabmin "Ksemendra"
by name has striven to wash off this stigma attached in general to Sanskrit
poets and has tried his versatile pen on the people in general. This is not a
mean achievement in the context of the standards and norms of poetry-writing
prevalent at that time. Even the Rhetoricians had laid it down that the hero of
a Mahakavya should be a god, saint or a man of exceptional attainments. To rise
in revolt against such time-honoured conventions needs self-confidence of
highest order. Ksemendra did not err in his duty towards his brethren and though
being a rebel did initiate a very healthy trend in the sanskrit literary
tradition. He made heroes and heroines of ordinary mortals in flesh and blood -
the courtesan, the clerk, the miser and many others culled from ordinary life.
He did not believe in portraying the ideal, at the same time not being averse to
it. He in a most realistic manner could feel the ground underneath his feet. The
throbs, sighs, sobs, joys and sorrow of the man in the street have been woven in
dexterous verse pulsating with innate sincerity by him only to point out that
the distance between the "ideal" and the "actual" needs to
be bridged, and perfection being an adage only found in text books on morality,
approximation to that ideal should guide us as to the inherent merit or
otherwise of the people of whom he was one.
In an extant reference to Ksemendra found in Kalhana's
Raja Tarangini, his talent as a poet has been praised but his acumen for
historicity played down:
"Because of somewhat carelessness, not a single
fraction of the Ksmendra's Nrpavali is free from blemishes, even though it is
the work of a poet."
Kalhana having seen the "list of kings" could
glean mistakes in it from the point of view of a chronicler, but unfortunately
this book was lost to the posterity, hence no judgement whatsoever can be passed
on it except relying on Kalhana who acknowledges Ksemendra's right tn be a poet.
However, in the Colophon to the 'Samaya Matrika', Ksemendra has written that he
finished that work during the reign of Ananta in the 25th year of the Laukika
era. Again in "Suvratta - Tilakam" he reiterates that he wrote in the
reign of king Ananta and finally in 'Dasavataracaritam' he says that he finished
this assignment in the reign of Kalasha, son of Ananta, the year being 41
Saptarsi era. So it is abundantly clear that he did at least see the rule of two
kings- Ananta and his son Kalasha. Again in his 'Bharatamanjari' he has alluded
to his being the pupil of Abhinavagupta from whom he learnt Alamkara Shastras.
The date of this shaiva philosopher and commentator - Abhinavagupta cannot be
later than 1014 A.D. because he wrote his bigger commentary on the Pratyabhijna
Darshana in 1014 A. D. At that time Ksemendra studied at his feet. So we can
safely assume that Ksemendra must have been born at least 20 or 25 years before
this date so as to develop his comprehension in receiving the tuition from
Abhinavagupta. Hence his date of birth c n roughly be placed in the last quarter
(towards its end) of the 10th century. His explicit mention of Ananta and his
son Kalasha only might give some clue as to his death or retirement from
creative literature. He does not mention any other king after Kalasha which
proves that he was not destined to see the reign of the successor to Kalasha.
The year in which he finished the "Dasavatarcaritam" has been given as
41 Saptarsi era which corresponds to 1066 A. D. After this date he either sought
respite from literary pursuits or was cut short in life by death. He went to
Tripuresha mountain for spending his old age there and probably breathed his
last at the Ashrama he had built over there. King Kalasha reigned from A.D. 1073
- 1089 and it can fairly be assumed that Ksemendra cast off his corporal frame
after A D. 1066 and not in any case later than A.D. 1089. Between these two
limits his date of death can be cogently placed. This Tripuresha or
Tripureshvara was held in great reverence in olden days as Kalhana alludes
repeatedly to it for its sanctity. King Avantivarman also passed his last days
on this Tirtha. Nilamata purana also mentions it as a place of piligrimage. This
has been identified as 'Triphar' on route to Mahadeva shrine, some 4 miles from
the headworks of the present 'Harvan' to the North-East A stream known as
Tripuraganga is still visited by the piligrims going to Mahadeva which flows
close to modern Triphar. Even though it has lost its fame now, yet Shrivara has
mentioned about a 'Annasattra' started by king Zain-ul-Ab-Din (Bud Shah) at this
Tirtha. This may be the permanent 'Langar' of those days started for feeding the
needy and might prove that during the Muslim rule also it had retained its
renown as a holy place.
Ksemendra unlike other Sanskrit poets does not feel shy
of publicity. In the colophons of his various works he acquaints us fully with
his lineage; piecing together all these facts given by the author himself, we
can conveniently build his family tree. His grandfather's name was 'Sindhu'
being the son of 'Narendra' a minister of Jayapida, grandson of Lalitaditya.
He was a very strong and benevolent king of Kashmir and
was named Vinayaditya also especially on his coins. His father's name was
Prakashendra. He seems to have been born in affluence as the family surname of 'Indra'
most eloquently testifies to. His father was of very liberal disposition and
made handsome gifts to Brahmins. He subscribed to Shaiva cult hence installed
many Shiva lingas at Svayam near Nichihama in present Handwara Tehsil, and spent
some 25 lakh rupees for endowment purposes. Like his father Ksemendra also built
an Ashram at Triphar and retired there in his old age. His son was 'Somendra'
and being talented like his versatile parent wrote an introduction to the "Avadana-Kalpalata".
Fortunately for us, the family tree of Ksmendra
unmistakably illustrates that this family had preference for Sanskritic names
and not local names, whose meaning at present cannot be made out like those of
Kalhana, Bilhana and Mamatta, etc. "Khema" in Sanskrit means
"eternal happiness"' and Indra means a "lord". So the name
taken together means "Lord of eternal happiness, which he really was, as
his compositions fully portray. He did not confine this happiness only to
himself but dispensed it profusely among his fellow-countrymen by composing
humorous skits and witty character sketches in "Deshopadesa" and
"Narmamala". He lived perfectly up to his name.
His versatile genuis has flowered in many directions.
Dr. Keith called him a polymath while Dr. Stein' has appended the epithet
polymister with his name. This tribute goes a long way in establishing that he
did not confine himself to a single form of literary expression but tried his
pen over many other forms with equal force and effect. However, in all humility
he calls himself 'Vyasadasa' the servant of Vyasa of Mahabharata fame. Knowledge
has given him humility in every sense of the word. Even though like Vyasa he was
a prolific writer, yet he refrains from equating himself with him; he does scale
the virgin heights of literary expression, yet does not boast about this but
ascribes it to the blessings of Vyasa whose slave he becomes willingly. The ego
in him remains subdued as should be the case with every literary giant.
However, it is to be conceived rightly that though
Ksemendra's father was a devout Shaiva and he himself received tuition from
Abhinavagupta - a Shavitie stalwart - yet he got converted to Vaishnavism by the
efforts of Somapada. It also seems that he had more respect for this
Somabhagvata than even for Abhinavagupta. Moreover, he kept his mind open and
studied Bhuddism also. Perhaps his awake intuition first of all thought of
including Buddha among the ten incarnations of Vishnu. Some faint echoes of
ridiculing Shaivism can also be gleaned from his compositions especially in 'Deshopadesha'
and 'Naramamla'. But despite all his flirtations with Shaivism, Vaishnavism and
Bhuddism, he was a firm believer in the religion of Shrutis (Vedas) and Smritis.
Before we proceed to discuss his literary acumen as a
polymath, it seems pertinent to refer to a controversy raised by Prof Peterson
regarding the identity of Kesemendra and by mistake confusing him with Kshemraja
- the renowned commentator of Shaiva lore. However, on second thoughts he
revised his earlier opinion, and in this way the dust raised by this confusion
got settled. Perhaps this wrong inference is due to the fact that both these
Kshemaraja and Ksemendra acclaim Abhinavagupta as their teacher. Ksemendra has
provided a veritable hint as to his real identity as much as he prefixes the
epithet "Vyasadasa" invariably with his name while Kshemaraja does not
have any such appellation. The latter is silent about his pedigree but the
former has written profusely about his lineage. Hence it can be easily
understood that the two have had separate identity.
Broadly speaking Ksemendra's immense literary
activities can be divided into four distinct traits:
a) As a condenser of very lengthy epic -literature and
other religious Kavyas.
Under the first head, his summaries of Ramayana,
Mahabharata, Brhatkatha of Gunadya, 'Deshavatarcharita' and 'Baudha-vadanakalpalata'
are note worthy.
b) As a Historian.
c) As a satirist.
d) As a writer on Rhetorics, poetics and metres.
By epitomizing the Brhatkatha written originally in
paishachi, he did a great service to the literary tradition of Sanskrit
literature. The original having been lost, but Ksemendra's translation into
Sanskrit has served admirably to retrieve that irreparable damage, and so he is
looked upon as the originator rather than the translator of this famous
story-1iterature. Soma Deva Bhatta also prepared a second version of Brhat Katha
in Sanskrit after him which proves that this kind of literature on the pattern
of Arabian Nights had become very popular with the people.
Brhat Katha Manjari deals with amors and heroism of
various kings especially the king Udyana. It has nineteen Lamabakas (cantos).
The poetry employed is not of high order and in the words of Dr. Buhler may be
called "verified prose". Ramayana Manjary and Mahabharata Manjari are
obviously the shorter versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata - the epic literature
of India respectively. In the latter a glaring omission is perceptible. He has
altogether omitted the chapters 342-353 of the Shanti Parva. On a perusal of the
Ramayana Manjari it is quite clear that he follows Valimiki in a most faithful
way and has even alluded to minor incidents be it by a single phrase or a single
sentence. So, how this striking omission can be explained? Perhaps in the
eleventh century the Shantiparva did not form the part of Mahabharata and might
have been interpolated subsequently.
One fact comes to surface while discussing the Manjari
literature of Ksemendra. He retains the original name of the text he has chosen
for being summarized and appends the word 'Manjari' to it. "Manjari"
might mean a sprout, cluster of blossoms, a flower-bud or a creeper. In this way
he has very intelligently suggested that his smaller edition is like a creeper
to the original and imposing tree of Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. He has like a
deft gardener prunned the extraneous and redundant foliage around these trees
and carved out of these a cluster of blossoms, even though smaller in volume,
but all the more prettier in appearance. As a translator of Brhat Katha, his
translation from Paisachi into Sanskrit was definitely subservient to the
contents of the original. He could not take any liberty with it; with such
shortcomings even, Ksemendra's mastry over Sanskrit is unblesmished. So it is
wrong to judge his poetic prowess from his "Manjari" literature. His
independent works only can be the touch-stone to test his talents as a poet. We
will come to this point later.
'Baudhavadana-kalpa-lata', is a collection of Jataka
tales. On the authority of the poet's son "Somendra" Ksemendra
composed only 107 Pallavas (chapters), to which his worthy son added one more,
making it the auspicious number of 108. Unfortunately the first 40 Chapters of
this compendium were lost but luckily were retrieved from its Tibetan
translation, when Shakya - Shri a Kashmiri Pandit presented a copy of it to the
Lama of Tibet in 1202 A.D. He got it translated into Tibetan some seventy years
after i.e. 1272 A.D. Ksemendra also acknowledges the debt of one 'Virya Bhadra'
an authority on Buddhistic texts who assisted him in composing this treatise.
"Dashavatarcharita" as the name suggests
contains anecdotes regardjng various incarnations of Vishnu; though Ksemendra
does display a rare kind of ingenuity in dealing with this religious topic, yet
it cannot be termed to be his original work; first 9 cantos are definitely
derived from Puranas. Novelty of conception is discerned in the 7th canto
wherein "whole of the Ramayana is narrated with Ravana as the central
figure". The result is quite happy and vividness of description adds to its
charm. This novelty of conception is further more witnessed in his extolling
Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu. The inherent attitude of an Indian thinker
believing in synthesis is seen at the work here. Herein the Hindu view of life
assimilating all that is good from any source whatever, has come in handy to the
poet. So, the rebel against Hinduism as such - the Buddha has been admitted to
the fold of Hindu pantheon which proves not only the catholicity of Hindus but
also their wakefulness.
When the symbol of revolt-Buddha was equated with Rama,
Krishna etc. the edge of proselytisation started by his followers got blunted.
The wind was taken out to their sails, not by force, not by persecution either,
but by owning him. In this way Hindus got one more incarnation and propitiated
him in the form he detested the most. His followers definitely stood to lose in
the bargain while Hindus gained everything - their culture, their way of
thinking remaining in tact. Imperceptible erosion took place in the other camp
and consequently this very religion had to either get amalgamated in the Hindu
fraternity, or live in self-exile.
As a historian no estimate of his can be built as his
"Nrpavali" (the list of Kings) has been lost even though Kalhana did
consult it for writing, his Tarangini. However, Kalhana has not been fair to
him. He admires his acumen as a poet, but derides it as a historian. However, it
is to be conceded that Kalhana while enumerating the sources of the historical
data on which he built his cbronicle, does mention his "list of kings"
which must have commanded some respect in his time, and to justify the writing
of his "Tarangini" pointed to the defects in the former "Nrpavali".
In this connection it is to be remembered that even though Ksemendra undertook
to write the "list of kings" but his heart definitely lay with the
underdog. So he treated it in a slip- shod manner. In course of time, Nature
respecting his conviction, consigned the book to some forgotten corner, hence
was lost. His innate progressive outlook would have compiled a "Janavali".
The "List of people" instead of "The list of kings". Perhaps
to atone for this omission he wrote a number of books which do definitely come
under the caption "Janavali". Royal patronage he did not want as he
was sufficiently affluent himself, so could not bring himself to cater to the
moonish caprices of kings.
Kalavilasa may be considered the best work from the
fertile pen of Ksemendra. This book consists of ten cantos and in the very first
canto "Muladeva" the arch cheat is introduced and the rest of the book
is devoted to the tips given by him to his pupil Chandragupta the caravan
leader's son. Each canto deals with vanity, greed description of courtesans, the
character of the clerk, arrogance the description of Music, description of
various cheats, and lastly exposition of all the arts. As is clear from the
titles of cantos, the poet does not refrain from exposing the weakness inherent
in the society at that time. The cheats, courtesans, Kayasthas and goldsmiths
epitomizing the deceit in themselves corrupt the society with the aid of vanity,
greed and arrogance. His play on the word ('mud') arrogance which was spelt as
('dum') restraint in the Krta - age deserves mention. In Kali - age the sequence
of syllables has changed places 'dum' becoming 'mud'.
Moreover, useful information about the currency in
vogue at that time is also given in this book. While describing the character of
miserly trader he calls him a a thief in broad day light. Having plundered the
customers by guile or flattery during the day, he very reluctantly parts with
three cowries for house-hold expenses. It seems clear that the cowries were in
use as a medium of currency in his time - and that also of the lowest
denomination. He calls cowries as a (Shvetika) being of white colour also.
Narrating the novel deceptive ways of gold smiths who have faulty balances for
weighing gold and possess sixty four arts of cheating the people, he alludes to
their birth, and says that they were previously nibbling at the Meru mountain as
mice and cursed by gods for this insolence were born as goldsmiths on this
The title of this composition means the charm or
pastime of arts- the art of deception, cheating, enticing, seduction, and
About the depraved woman, he has this castigation:
"Eluding her own husband like a fawn, tasting the
hospitality of another tree (not her own husband's), by nature a low-born vamp,
displays false coquetry, crooked she-serpent, can be faithful to none".
In the same vein the prostitute is condemned as
"In this way, having many hearts, many tongues,
many hands, and many tricks of seduction, in reality without truthfulness; no
body can know the prostitute in essence."
About the innocence of men he has this satirical
"The astrologer calculating in the sky as to when
the moon will enter its sixteenth mansion, does not know anything about his wife
who is attached to the amors of various serpents (bad charactered men)."
The Kayastha (the scribes clerk) who held very
important post in old Kashmir and like a 1eech drank the blood of people has not
escaped his chastisement.
"The handwriting (of Kayastha) is crooked, (fradulent,
so that the actual entries made into his books are not deciphered) looking like
the snares of the death-god. The Kayasthas sit on the file of the birch bark
(files) like serpents in a charmed circle (drawn by a conjurer)."
Samayamatrika may be also called the finest composition
from the versatile pen of Ksemendra. Herein the poet lays bare the seductive
amors of prostitutes and their enticing acumen. In the colophon to this book the
poet calls it ('subhashitam') by which its didatic import is suggested. The
caption of the book a compound consisting of ('Samaya') time and ('Matrika')
mother, when taken together, may mean the "mother of the time" in that
age. It was not the chaste or the virtuous lady but the ensnaring vamp - the
prostitute who ruled over the hearts of men. The times were not in any way
flatteringly punctuated with piety but besmeared with sinful conquetries of the
prostitutes; by bringing them to the fore and also alluding to their ghastly
end, the poet does reform the society. Some critics have found Ksemendra guilty of low-taste, vulgarity and only narrating the bad points in the society.
However it is to be remembered in this context that Ksemendra in the first
instance does not claim to be a religious preacher. He writes what he actually
sees and feels. If the society was rampant with vulgarity, low taste and other
evils, how could the poet be blind to these? The degradation in the society
could not have remained hidden even if Ksemendra had tried to make the use of
"idealistic" rather than the "realistic" approach to life.
The filth and the mud in the society would after all raise its head had
Kesmendra covered it with the sweet smelling roses of his imagination even. By
screening these from public view would have all the more multiplied their
intensity, hence by portraying these, the society at large hanging its head in
shame, could have thought of reform in right earnest. Hence the poet's intention
is to reform and in no way to present the deformation of society. Hence the use
of the ('subhashitam') at the end of book is quite justified. Negatively if the
darkness is explained in full detail, the positive reaction to it would be
light, more light. As the title of the book suggests, it is a compound of
'Times' and 'Matrika' (mother) object of respect. In a sarcastic manner the
author wants to convey that the harlot is the "mother of the times" or
more respected and sought after individuals in the society, while actually the
Matrikas should have been propitiated. The moral and mental fibre of the people
at that time was so base that instead of engaging themselves in "Matrika
Pujananam" they wasted time and money in enjoying prostitutes. Hence in the
very beginning of this treatise, Ksemendra very rightly says:
Moreover, towards the end of this composition Ksemendra
himself justifies the title by saying:
"In course of time (by the curse of the time) that
(Kankali) - the mother was transformed into an artificial beauty by Kalavati,
associating this treatise with her name, I, Ksemendra has arranged it (into
cantos)". This book also furnishes geographical data about the old salt
route (salt has been always imported into the Valley) and a hospice named 'Panchala-Dhara-Matha'
on it. Later on this very route and hospice were rennovated by the Mughals
connecting the Valley with the plains via Pira-Panchal range. This book of
verses is divided into eight cantos (Samayas). Herein the initiation of one 'Kankali'
into the hierarchy of prostitutes and her various sojourns have been described.
The agent for introducing her to a senior-in-trade grown up lady- hence unmarketable
is naturally the hair-dresser- among men the barber (hair-dresser)
is the most wicked.
Charucharya is actually a century of verses in
Aaushtubha metre. According to the author the main purpose of writing it is to
teach law and polity by way of a moral couched in the first line of the verse
and followed by an illustration in the second. The illustrations are mainly
drawn from epics and Puranas.
'Deshopdesha' contains updeshas (advice) in eight
cantos regarding his innate feelings about the customs and notorious characters
in the society. In the opening verses of this book the author craves for the
indulgence of the readers in not construing any other meaning into his use of
biting sarcasm, but only to bear with him, because he would like to reform the
society through this medium:
"Being ashamed very much and not goaded by the
defects (in the society), it is my attempt to reform the people through mirthful
The characters he has chosen for his chastisement are
the the villain, the miser, harlot, the bawd, the sexy rogue; the Gouda students
having come to Kashmir for receiving tuition and the old man's marriage etc.
The harlot epitomizes in his words: -
"In her speech honeyed-sweetness, in her heart the
blade of a razor, the prostitute is like a sharp edge of an axe ready to cut at
the roots of her paramours."
Even though being at the right side of sixties, she
polishes her face with beauty - aids like a girl in teens, verily at the
commencement of the iron age, she must have taken nectar along with crows.
About the foreign students especially from Gauda
Pradesha (Bengal), he has this left-handed compliment:
"He demands more vendibles, but gives very little
as the price, so the vendor in the morning stands before him like a local Kali
(to recover the balance). "
Presumably the student given to vile practices could
not be coaxed into paying the actual price being under the influence of liquor
on the preceding night. He would have cooked up a brawl and even wounded the
vendor with his knife.
Moreover, the psychology of a miser has been
graphically woven by him in these words:
"The miser seeing a relation of his having come to
his house of his own will, under the excuse of an altercation with his wife vows
not to take anything."
When the host is observing a fast, more so under
protest, how could the guest expect hospitality there. So, he takes up to his
heels and in this way, the miser gets rid of him. Furthermore, Ksemendra tries
to philosophise on his over-all behaviour :
"The dry-as-dust miser's words can never be sweet.
How can be loveliness on his face when there is no salt even in his
house-hold." Herein, the poet has played on the word 'salt' which in its
abstract form may mean beauty also.
In this way, he has not spared any such despised
character in society.
The Kashmiri Bhatta (Pandit as known now) having fallen
from his high pedestal and addicted to vice has been painted by him as
"The initiated Bhatta (Kashmiri Brahmin) bent upon
taking liquor, being addicted to Vamachara by which the pride of his own clan
has been set at naught, with a plate of fish in his hand, approaches the house
of his teacher (for reading scriptures)."
This description of a Bhatta very lucidly brings home
to our mind the levity obtaining in the highest caste at that time. Having
forsaken the right path of worship and taking to Vamachara, he has to observe
the 'panchamkaar' (five MS) rule, and is so bashless that he does not care two
hoots for the prestige of the community to which he belongs.
The old man's infatuation for a young girl has been
very aptly summed up by the author as follows :
"The old man begs for a virgin (in marriage) like
a miser for wealth." The undertone in this simile is purposely condensed by
the author by comparing the lust for a virgin of a dotard with the lust for
money by the miser - who will never use it but simply keep it imprisoned in his
coffers, only to feed his eyes upon.
'Narma-Mala' or a garland of humour and wit is actually
a complement to the 'Deshopdesha.' It is divided into three Parihasas (Jokes).
The main target in these is the Kayastha- clerk- who is painted most black. He
revelles in dismantling temples, teasing Brahmins, and encouraging bribery. His
life full of vice lands him into the prison ultimately, and all his ill-gotten
riches and property are confiscated. His end is most tragic.
The "Then" and "Now" of the
Kasyastha has been very wittily condensed in the following verse:
"(In former days) his wife used to drink the
begged scum in a broken and second-hand stone bowl. She now takes the
musk-scented wine in silver goblets.
Under the fourth head, Ksemendra as a rhetorician and
writer on poetics and metrics composed Kavi Kanthabharana (The necklace of a
poet) and Auchitya Vicharaeharcha (an account of propriety ) and Suvratta
tilakam ( the crest of good metres ) deserves special mention. As the titles of
these compositions reveal, the first is a short treatise on the making of a poet
for which divine as well as human effort is necessary. The second declares the
"propriety' as the soul of poetry. The age-long predominance of Rasa
(sentiments) has been subordinated by him to Auchitya (propriety). The third
obviously is a work on metres. Twenty four metres are described, discussed and
illustrated by him in all.
Besides these, a host of books on other subjects has
been ascribed to Ksemendra. Late Pt. Madhusudan Kaul Shastri enumerates as many
as thirty one compositions from his versatile pen.
However, to build his towering image as a peoples'
poet, only such uncontroversial treatises as have been classified under different heads earlier, are sufficient.
Without mincing words, it would be expedient to judge
him as a poet first and afterwards the subject he chose as a vehicle for his
poetic talent will merit discussion. The most accepted definition of poetry from
Eastern point of view is by Kavi Raja Vishwanatha when he says that even a
single sentence containing Rasa (flavour or sentiment of relish) may be called
poetry. Further to pin-point the importance of Rasa he defines it as which
tinkles or which is relished is called Rasa. With other constituents such as
'embellishments', 'qualities', etc, Rasa is acknowledged by one and all as the
soul of poetry. Herein obviously the emphasis is on the content of poetry.
Ksemendra himself defines poetry as containing "Auchitya"
propriety. According to him propriety has been defined as :
"An embellishment is a real embellishment when
applied at the proper place, and Gunas (merits) are actually merits when they
up-bold the norms of propriety. So it is clear that Ksemendra does not subscribe
to Rasa theory of poetry and makes bold to give his own definition. He actually
makes the poetry purposeful. Furthermore in a poetic composition when different
Rasas (sentiments) are intermixed propriety alone can preserve their flavour, if
this kind of discretion is not employed, then the composition would only be a
counterfeit mixture of sentiments. The author lays emphasis on the existence of
propriety in each word, sentence, figures of speech, verbs, syntax, gender,
number, adjective, tense and even on other outer limbs of poetry (Kavyangas)
i.e. environment, time, intuition, thought and nomenclature.
Therefore the difference between the Rasa school and
the definition of poetry given by Ksemendra is that the former is subjective in
essence and the latter is objective in comprehension. The Advocates of Rasa did
definitely include propriety in merits and impropriety with blemishes.
But Ksemendra like a realist does mark the frontiers
between the two, because his judgment is objective. Before testing his merit as
a poet by his own standards or by Eastern norms of criticism, it will be
feasible to define poetry and also the making of a poet from western point of
Wordsworth defines poetry "nothing less than the
most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest to being able to
utter the truth." Herein this celebrated poet under-lines the truth which
should deserve to be the subject of poetry. Another famous poet Shelley while
defining poetry in a general way takes it to be the expression of imagination.
Coleridge makes it as anti-thesis of science having for its immediate object
pleasure not truth. Herein the emphasis is laid on the pleasure which should
flow from a poetic composition. Thomas Carlyle declares poetry to be
"musical thought". This definition is perhaps in consonance with that
given by Dr. Johnson when he says that "poetry is metrical
composition." Both these definitions pertain to the form of poetry-other
than prose. Edgar Allan Poe also echoes the same feeling when according to him
poetry is "the rhythmic creation of beauty."
W. H. Hudson sees poetry "as an interpretation of
life through imagination and feeling."
However, from the perusal of all these definitions it
is clear that poetry as such is a metrical composition pulsating with
imagination and feeling its goal being to interpret the truth or to provide
pleasure. In this way the form of poetry being musical and metrical and its
content either the truth or the pleasure, have been properly and proportionately
located. By comparing this definition with that of the Indian critics it is
patent that these are in line with the protagonists of 'Rasa' theory which
definitely tinkles the emotions. With regard to Ksemendra we have to note the
didactic import in his poetry which he proclaims from the house-top. Therefore,
the question arises whether a poet can be a moral teacher. He has to translate
his feelings and emotions faithfully as they ooze forth in his heart and to
preach morality through this medium is justified or not. To this knotty problem
Sir Philip Sidney provides a cogent answer. In his "Defence of poetry"
he says that a poet is a 'maker'; the Indian counter-part being 'Srishta' having
the same meaning. So, it can be safely inferred that the poet does not express
what already exists, but he invents - precisely the 'ideal' for the imitation of
the reader in general. He (Sidney) further contends that the world created by
the poet is surely better than what exists reality. In the same way fiction
sounds truer than the fact. The contention of Sir Sydney to put squarely is,
that poet is actually a moral teacher, but Ksemendra while admitting this in
toto, does not believe in his painting the ideal and thereby reform the
'actual'. He would like to proceed from the 'actual' like a revolutionary and
would like the reader to assess for himself 'what should have been' from 'what
it is.' What he preaches on Morality is simply suggestive and not direct.
Perhaps his approach is more realistic than Sir Sidney who would like us to go
to the 'Real' via 'ideal'. Ksemendra believes in treating the 'Real' with its
imperfections, and all the time beckoning us in undertones, and not directly, to
have an eye on the 'perfect ideal'. "What should not be" can be very
efficiently emphasized by "what actually is."
His conviction about the function of propriety in
poetry comes to his succour in this dilemma. Propriety according to him is
nothing but a real representation of life as it obtains. Had he painted it
otherwise, it would have amounted to impropriety. Hence his candid portrayal of
society is an illustration of propriety in its all shades of meaning. He would
not like to pass on a counterfeit society for a genuine one. He believes in
calling spade a spade and not confusing dross with gold. While discussing the
attributes of a poet, Ksemendra in his 'Kavi Kanthabharna' has unambiguously
laid down that a poet-in-the making should not seek the guidance of a logician
or a grammarian because they hinder the flowering of good poetry. He is alive to
the fact that good poetry should in no case get fettered in grammatical
technicalities or the mental drill of logicians. It should flow like an
uninterrupted stream. Moreover, he even goes to the extent of saying that a poet
- in-the making "should neither go a - begging nor stoop to vulgarity in
his narratives". His imaginative faculty should not be wanting in anything
and should not fall below the established norms of good-taste. So, it is clear
that Ksemendra as a teacher on poetry and also as a poet does strike a happy
mean between the precept and the practice; for this he has chosen the vehicle of
A satire has been defined as a piece of writing which
ridicules the follies and wickedness of mankind, of a class of people or of an
individual. As has been made clear in the preceding pages his emphasis is on the
individual - different units of society who are a veritable cancer for its
healthy growth. Hence his chastiment pulsating with sarcasm and irony does not
border on vulgarity. It is a faithful representation of life. It can safely be
asserted that his poetry is not a revolt against life in any sense of the word.
The moral standards as should have been existent in the society - which actually
are not there - form the dirge of his poetical compositions. Like Mathew Arnold
he believes that 'poetry is at bottom a criticism of life.' Morality and ethical
values do form an inextricable woof and warp of the texture of society, hence
the poetry of revolt would be revolt against life itself. So, he does not revolt
against it, but lays it bare with pungent sarcasm and seemingly 'Mirthful
laughter', only to relieve its grim effect on his readers.
In the same way Ksemendra's poetry cannot be a accused
of being- the poetry of paradox. In a paradox the self-contradictory or absurd
element is somewhat more pronounced than the truth it contains; our poet does
not believe in the 'paradoxical' approach to poetry, but in its stead, prefers
the direct approach which is easier to comprehend. He does not want us to solve
riddles or puzzles.
Hence it is clear that his 'satire' does not subscribe
either to 'revolt' or to 'paradox', in their stead, he transfers his innate
feelings to the reader without any pretensions whatsoever.
It has been contended that satire is best suited to
prose. In it the appeal is made to reason, judgement, "it cannot be
heightened by being garnished with an appeal to emotion''. However, our poet has
employed the more difficult medium of poetry, hence his task to produce the
desired effect is more arduous tban those of the prose-writers in this field.
Perhaps for this very reason some critics bave called his poetry as versified
prose. As has been shown earlier, this is sheer injustice to our poet. Like a
true satirist he has to subjugate his emotions to the compelling reality around
him. The wings of his imagination do get clipped consequently, so his poetry may
not touch the high water-mark of Kalidasa - who has no such shortcomings and his
emotions are free to take any direction whatsoever. Even then Ksemendra has
yoked his poetic prowess admirably well to the exposition of the real by
contrasting it with the ideal. For a satirist the method of contrast is
indispensable. He may feel piqued at times wilh the gulf between the real and
his dreams, yet his anger has to be screened under a mask of 'Mirthful-laughter'
as Ksemendra would say himself. The satirist has to don the mantle of a moralist
though he may not like it. His insistent beckoning to ideal - appealing to
the sense of right and wrong - unconsciously bestows on him the status of a
moral teacher. He cannot escape from it. Hence, in his poetry the aesthetic
content is naturally subservient to the moral one. Even having such
discomfitures for the full flight of his imagination, Ksemendra has tried his
hardest to introduce aesthetic pleasure into it according to his own norms of
propriety, as discussed earlier. His satire does show the poet in him. His
compositions are even now relished with the gusto of a lyric vibrating with
emotions and have never been treated as codes on Morality. Perhaps this popular
reaction to his satire is a sufficient compliment to his genius as a poet of no
The very first verse of samaya Matrika introduces him
as a poet by his own right :
"He who has conquered three worlds by his
exciting, stormy, yet formless weapons; I salute him the flower-bowed cupid, for
his surpassingly wonderful prowess'.
Whenever his imaginative faculty is not under the
curbing thumb of content, or is free to take strides at his own will, he definitely
touches the high water mark of poetic fancy. The poet in him remains
subdued not that he lacks proper imagination, by the compelling nature of the
subject he has chosen, and the vehicle of shloka metre which cannot admit of any
elaborate treatment because of its comparative shorter span. His vocabulary is
so rich that he looks like a living Dictinary; hence he could readily and easily
weave a particular situation or feeling out of the inexhaustible fund of words
at his command. Words flow from his pen spontaneously and at times he does not
feel diffident to use the local Kashmiri words also, perhaps to give his
compositions a native colouring and flavour: "The flute-player has the
Veena and the "tumbak" on his shoulders".
To make its Kashmiri usage more emphatic, he also uses
the word 'Nara' with it. In this context many such Kashmiri words even the
idioms can be gleaned from his works e.g. 'Tala' in the sense of Sanskrit 'palater',
Gharaghara, representing the roaring sound of clouds in Kashmiri. Not only this
but even the Kashmiri colloquial taunts and abuses have also been reproduced by
him faithfully in sanskrit.
To crown all? his similes and other, figures of speech
are not only apt but also homely. He does not believe in ethereal poetic fancy
but has emply drawn from daily life. His personal experience and observation
make his diction all the more realistic. His delineation of nature:
"The starry night keeping vigil having become
disgusted with the fatigue caused by its sporting with the white rays (off the
moon), gradually gets emaciated, being anointed with the morning dew, as if with
Describing Moonlight the poet portrays a bewitching
scene with its enthralling effect with the help of very simple words:
''The lord of the night (the moon) a white parasol of
cupid, the unblurred mirror made of crystal for the lady of "space",
the white Tilaka of the damsel of Night, shone resplendently.
While describing the beauty of the city (presumably
Srinagar) he has to say :
(In that city) where the musical notes of the pretty
swans is all the more made sweeter by their devouring flesh lotus-stalks, which
(musical notes) getting diffused in the lotus-groves sound like the jingling of
anklets of goddess Lakshmi.
About the content of Ksemendra's writings, we have made
it amply clear that he chose the ordinary man or woman with his or her all
weaknesses as his subject. The choice of such a subject was in itself
revolutionary at that time when fixed norms were laid in this behalf by the
Rhetoricians. Ksemendra not only rebelled against such hackneyed, standards but
provided his own thesis for rhetorics and criticism in 'Auchityavicharacharcha'
and ' Kavikanthabharna'. He showed the path to progressive trends in literature
in those hoary times when dogmatic approach was the order of the day. Some ten
centuries after him the humanily woke to the necessity of ushering in
progressive outlook in literature, more especially after the Russian revolution
of 1919. In a way Ksemendra combined in himself the charateristics of a prophet
and a poet. He brought down the poetry from the ethereal heights to the matter
of fact and real dimensions.
The style which he employs deserves some mention before
we close this paper. Style is defined as a mode of expression and we shall have
to examine as to how Ksemendra acquits himself in this field. We know already
that he uses very simple words, avoids lengthy compounds and ambiguous epithets.
His appeal is direct. He does not believe in traversing zigzag when shorter
routes are available; with the use of simple straight and chiselled words he
produces the maximum effect. This is his immortal contribution to Sanskrit
literature. He lives to the maxim propounded by Coleridge "best words in
best order" by any standards whatsoever. Moreover, the mode of expression
he employs has his own indelible imprint on it. Regarding this trait in style J.
Middleton Murray has observed "A style must be individual because it is the
expression of an individual mode of feeling." Some sixty years after him
another Kashmiri Soma Deva Bhatta also tried his pen on epitomizing Brhatkhatha;
it can easily be understood from the comparison of the two that Ksemendra has
his own style which could not be imitated by Soma Deva. His own Kashmiri
Retotician Vamana, a protaganist of Riti School has said:
"Riti is a special arrangement of words; Riti is
the soul of literature."
Ksemendra's writings do possess the "special
arrangements of words", he does not waste a single word, but knows fully
well "that these are two edged tools, if not used well, these can
bite" as very aptly said by Anthony Trollope. Ksemendera's mastry over the
language is perfect. He very prudentially uses a particular word to project a
certian context and meaning. His selection of words is superb. T.S.;= Elliot has
said "The poet has not a "personality" to express but a
particular medium", which obviously connotes style. Ksemendra's style is
neither artificial nor wanting in anything. It is to quote wordsworth -
"Man speaking to man?" and to make this definition more
representative, Ksemendra added the words "about the man" to it.
These words represent Ksemendra in all his shades. In
his prolific writings he performs the mental surgery of the Man, locates the
disease and points towards its eradication. He with child-like innocence and
simplicity employs the most direct language only to talk to man like a man,
because his aim is to beckon to him :
"Alas, seeing always the deer in the trap in the
jungle, even then the deerlings get into the crooked snares."