Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A spatial palindrome sloka

It is often not hard to imagine in a seemingly infinite compendium of Sanskrit Literature, there are some gems just lying hidden only to be discovered.

Such gems may be simple yet attractive alliterations, double/triple or even quadruple meanings for each word, split-word meanings or the most amazing - containing some mathematical pattern.

My dad recently gifted me the सुमध्व विजय महा काव्य (Sumadhva vijaya or The Successful Travel of Sri Madhvacharya) book by a great scholar named श्री नारायन पण्डित (Sri Narayana PaNdita). This book must have been written around 13th century CE. This book has about 1008 slokas, but the same content has been briefed to 32 slokas by the author himself. I thought it must be a routine Sanskrit text, with plenty of slokas in it. But to my surprise, among several others, I found one gem of a sloka which just shines like a brilliant diamond. See for yourself.

समानया यानमास मायया ततयायमा ।

नयासना नासयान यातनाललनातया ॥

Interpreting a Samskrita verse can be a daunting task. The main reason being Samskrita sentences, broadly speaking, do not have implicit order. This characteristic is very typical of inflexional languages. Add to that a poetic license that could let one place in any place they want to fit the metres (chandas).

However for understanding the sloka, there are a few simple rules. The first and foremost is called the पदच्छेद (padaccheda, lit. cutting of words). The next is to find the verb and then the associated subject. When a verb is not present, an "is"/"exists" is assumed implicitly. Then one should find the accusative object(s). Third is to find the qualifying attributes of the object. These are adjectives. Finally, one could dissect the rest of the cases and make a meaningful sentence.

Lets start with the word splitting.

समानया या अनमा आस मायया ततया अयमा ।
नयासना न आस या न यातना अललना अतया

And here is the word by word meaning:

या That philosophy (of Sri Madhvacharya) which
समानया is established with the true propositions (yukti)

ततया vyAptamana
मायया by the illusion (mAyA)

अनमा आस cannot be refuted.
अयमा This incomparable philosophy

नयास is true by itself
न आस न and is not unexisting (that is, it is true for sure)

अतया By the opposing philosophies
अललना unhappiness (misery)

यातना the tamas causing
(भवति) happens

Whew! I say. I need his help for my GRE to pass the logical tests. Ok, lets not go into the actual philosophy perse. We understand in general that Sri Madhvacharya's philosophy is superior to Maya theory. Lets not go further for now, but just appreciate its beauty. At first glance, it pretty much looks there is some poetry going on. A few repeated syllables could be a good indication of some alliteration. But there is more to it.

The first thing to notice is that in each quarter, the second word is the syllabic-reverse of the first word. That is,

samAnayA := syllabic_reverse(yAnamAsa).

Same applies to other quarters. Which means, each quarter is a palindrome. "samAnayA yAnamAsa" is a palindrome by itself.

No big deal, you say. There are thousands of Sanskrit examples like this! Good, I'm glad there are :-).

Now let me write each quarter of the verse in a row, and then repeat the same in reverse order.

स मा न या या न मा स
मा य या त त या य मा
न या स ना ना स या न
या त ना ल ल ना त या
या त ना ल ल ना त या
न या स ना ना स या न
मा य या त त या य मा
स मा न या या न मा स

Now read the verse, in the following order:

  1. Start from top-left, horizontally, going left to right. (then move to next row)
  2. Start from top-left, vertically, going top to bottom (then move to next column).
  3. Start from top-right, horizontally, going from right to left.
  4. Start from top-right, vertically, going from top to bottom.
  5. Start from bottom-left, horizontally, going from left to right (then move to previous
  6. row)
  7. Start from bottom-left, vertically, going from bottom to up (then move to previous
  8. column)
  9. Start from bottom-left, horizontally, going from right to left.
  10. Start from bottom-left, vertically, going from bottom to top.

You should be seeing the pattern now. It reads same in every direction!

Now what do we call such a 'palindrome' ? A symmetric spatial palindrome is probably an apt description!

Well the real question is "what else is out there?"


Anand said...

Nice informative and exciting post on a multi-level palindrome in sanskrit literature. This is a rich language and our creative poets have utilised everything to give a very fine literature. Paadhukasahasram by vedanta desika is also one such text where chitra kavi is predominant in one of the sections.

Shiva said...


This is quite fascinating. I enjoyed reading the "A spatial palindrome sloka". I wish that you have informed me about this blog earlier. Anyway, I can catch up slowly.

I have one question. You stated on the article, "We understand in general that Sri Madhvacharya's philosophy is superior to Maya theory. ".

Is this your opinion or are you stating it as a fact? I am interested to know why you feel Sri Madhvacharya's philosophy is superior to Maya theory. And I am not sure when you said "maya theory", whether you meant the whole philosophy of Advaita or particular teachings of Sri Adi Shankara.

Can you please clarify?


Vasu Srinivasan said...

@Shiva: My bad not informing you about the blog earlier.

I am certainly not qualified to say which philosophy is superior to which. Historically, each of them is an avatara (Shankara of Dakshinamurti, Ramanuja of Adi Sesha and Madhva of Hanuman,Bhima) and very much revived Sanatana dharma. The superiority statement is a translation of the sloka itself.

Back to Spatial or Planar palindromes, there are 2 other instances - one by Vedanta Desika in his Paduka Sahasram and another by Magha in his Sishupalavada.

There is another fascinating work called Raghava-Yadaveeyam by Venkatadhvari Kavi which comprises of 30 slokas, reading sloka forward is story of Rama, reading backwards is story of Krishna.

pradeep acharya said...

V nice post. I really liked the way you brought the palindrome aspect into the light.
Another special thing which Bannanje Govindacharya (a great scholar in Sanskrit ) has noticed is the following.
If u observe the 54th shloka of 10th sarga,

dhanya MAhyatha NAkinaamahitha-hrud-baaNAssamoJAsya yo
madhwo DWAsthadhuRAgamoogryahimagushrihiKAAmamaaYAAmihrit |
vishnum VIshwa-jaYApradham sa hi namanseeVYAM susouKHYAM mudha
dhaakshyachriidharamaamayaadhivirahii yogii suhrut sarvada ||
Observe the BOLD letters . This is called CHAKRABANDHA.
In this shoka,consider first 3 lines(PAADHA)--> if we join 3rd and 17th letters we get "MADHWAVIJAYAAKYAM"(name of the book).
also, if we join 6th and 14th letters we get "NAARAYANAAKYAM"(name of the author).
Forgive my inexperience/inability to write the whole thing in sanskrit language.

Vasu Srinivasan said...

@pradeep mahodaya: Yes Im aware of the cakrabandha in that sloka as mentioned by Bannanje. There are other citra-bandha-s too in madhwa vijaya. I hope to blog some of them soon.