Friday, May 04, 2007


Sanskrit lovers the world rejoice! You have nothing to lose but some $$$ and the lost world of 100 old texts to win.

For the Clay sanskrit Project has undertaken an enterprise which when completed will result in the translation of countless old Sanskrit texts. Among them two of my all time favorites: Dandin's Dashakumaracharita (What Ten men did) and Vishakadatta's Mudrarakshasham (Rakshasa's Ring).

A few years ago I came across Dashakumaracharita in a book titled Three Novels from Ancient India. Translated by Vishwanath Naravane this volume contained, apart from Dandin's work, Subandhu's Vasavadatta (not to be confused with Bhasa's Swapna Vasavadatta) and Banabhatta's Kadambari.

I remember quite enjoying Dandin's plot. In contrast to the trials, travails and tears of separated lovers of the other two works, Dasha.... is a refreshing take on life in the 6-7th century. Easy and witty, Dandin's language and world both seem eons away from Subandhu's Vasavadatta. However nobody could be a match for the ornately decorative that is Banabhatta's Kadambari where every sentence, para and stanza seems to bursting with all that is excessively ornamental and highly artificial. A simple scene of maidens working in a palace thus becomes a delightful display of the richness of imagination.

That is not to say, of course, that Dandin wasn't a master of ornamental or stylish prose. In the introduction to the translated work, Naravane tells us how in one of the chapters of Dasha...., the narrator's lips are bruised from kisses of his beloved; so Dandin has him telling his story without a single word containing pa, pha, ba, bha. Yet the language flows so freely that this omission would easily escape the reader.

It is this breezy witty and easy going style of Dasha.... that makes it enjoyable even today. The story revolves around the adventures of Prince Rajavahana and his nine friends. In the course of their exploits which take them into different lands within Bharata or Aryavarta, we get a glimpse of life in the 6-7th century A.D. Interestingly the figures in this kaleidoscope are not limited to kings, princes, sages, ministers, singers. There are thieves, killers and cheats. Women figure prominently throughout the stories, as courtesans, prostitutes and also as virtuous characters. None of these are mutually exclusive categories either. For instance one of the young men Apaharavarman falls in love with a Rajamanjari, the daughter of a courtesan and sister of another. However despite of being born in a courtesan's home and performing music and dance for all she is a virtuous woman and "is indifferent to money and insists that she will not allow any man to hold her hand except in marriage".

Another prince Upaharavarman falls in love with a queen married to an evil king. These men are shown extolling the virtues of their beloved but not before dashing off a silent prayer to Madana, the god of love. So here we have Upaharavarman reeling off to Kalpasundari,

"The curve of your eyebrows is more enchanting than his (Madana's) bow; your lips are prettier than his saffron coloured flag; your slender arms are more graceful than his staff of flowers. Your glances are more powerful than his flowery arrows, your curls than his bowstrings. Moreover your fragrant breath is sweeter than that of Cupid dearest friend, the south wind. "

The other young men in the story, sons of the king's ministers and counselors, with such sweet sounding names as Pramati, Mitragupta, Mantragupta, Vishruta, Arthapala, Somdatta amd Pushpodbhava all have stories to recount. Each man different, each experience distinct. In a world full of opportunity. It is a world where young people (read men) set out to win battles, enjoy new surroundings, indulge in romance, make wealth albeit by dubious means, satiate their senses with food and drink and music and dance and licentious relationships. And all this without a single rant on ethical values or religious compunctions.