Friday, July 29, 2011

Better than the best

श्रेष्ठेभ्यो श्रेय: |

In the superhit 1965 Tamil movie Thiruvilayaadal (Divine Sport), there is a classic scene where the poor poet Dharumi brings a poem for a prize announced by the Pandya king. Nakkeeran, the court poet, happens to doubt the authenticity of the composition. (It was indeed given to him by Shiva and was not Dharumi's original). Dharumi reacts sarcastically -

"பாட்டெழுதி பேர் வாங்கும் புலவர்கள் இருக்கிறார்கள். குற்றம் கண்டு பிடித்து பேர் வாங்கும் புலவர்களும் இருக்கிறார்கள்"
"There are poets who become famous by their own effort. And there are poets who just criticize others and become famous".

But then the world owes much to artists whose claim to fame is only critiquing/commenting somebody's work. Take Mallinaatha for example, without his significant and monumental commentary it would be impossible to understand meghadhUtam or shishupaalavadha. So much so that Mallinaatha says "माघे मेघे वयम् गत:" (Life's gone in reading maaghakaavya and meghadhUtam). There are geniuses who create phenomental stuff and then we need mediators to such geniuses to expound it for us ordinary mortals. Or take Panini vs Patanjali. Panini's pataakhi-sounding pratyaahaara-s like ढक्, डुप्, दप्, घञ्, क्ङित्, तिप्, थस् sounds could only be expounded by a genius like Patanjali. We need a Hardy and several more, just to decipher us the genius of Ramanujan. Some cant stand that - like George Polya, the Hungarian mathematician who refused to get caught in Ramanujan's theorems, for the fear that he would spend his life just proving them, and never discover anything of his own.

शिशुपालवध is no doubt one of the greatest mahakaavya-s. Among the pancha mahaakaavya-s it is considered the greatest. A famous subhaashitam says that माघ has the exceptional qualities of all three poets कालिदास, भारवि and दण्डिन्.

Think about shishupaala for a moment. Forget that he is a villain, thats a simplistic view. He consistently challenged Krishna's superiority, for whatever reasons. He showed scant respect for Krishna, repeatedly insulted him and asked others during the raajasUya-yajna "Isn't there one person who is worthy of honor than this shepherd?". People like shishupaala are not incidental, and are not coy to challenge superiority, no matter who it is. Similarly, Nakkeeran challenged the poem of Dharumi. From Dharumi's point of view, Nakkeeran criticized him. But Nakkeeran challenged the poem, the one written by Lord Shiva himself. The greatness of art is strengthened only if it can withstand any challenges. So it is only natural someone challenged the superiority of Maaghakaavya. And such a challenger was Vadiraja Tirtha.

Like several Sanskritam literature works, this one too is hardly heard of, except in a few elite circles. I had earlier mentioned that it is only our loss not savoring the Sanskritam language of scriptural literature. There appears to be a lot of noise around "secular" Sanskritam literature, whatever that means, side-lining the beauty of the language shining in other fields.

Vadiraja Tirtha is no ordinary poet. He has produced a prodigious amount of work in several fields - kavya, stotra, stuti, travelogue, commentaries, logic, cosmology and a lot more. Some of his works run into thousands of verses. And yes, living for a full 120 years (1480 to 1600 CE) helped him too! And he ensured a productive life. This event is recorded in the biography book shri vaadiraaja guruvara-caritaamRuta:

तत: पुण्यपुरीम् प्राप्तो भेरीताडनपूर्वकम् । काव्यश्रेष्ठं माघकाव्यं गजमूर्ध्नि पूज्यते ॥
इत्याघोषितमाकर्ण्य सभापतिमवोचत । अस्मत्पुरे महाकाव्यमेकम् श्रेष्ठं प्रकाशते ॥
दीयते समय: कश्चित् दर्षयिष्ये परीक्ष्यताम् । अङ्गीकुर्वति विज्ञौघे गुरु: एकोनविंशता ॥
दिवसै: एकदिवसे हि एकसर्ग क्रमेण स: । रुक्मिणीश महाकाव्यं निर्ममे सुरसाकरम् ॥
अवेक्षणाय विदुषां संसदं प्रैषयेत् सुधी: । परिषत्सा परीक्षाय विस्मित आनन्दपूरिता ॥
रुक्मिणीश महाकाव्यमुत्तमं माघतोऽपि च । इत्याघोष्य च सम्मान्य प्रार्चयत् कविसत्तमम् ॥
कवीनाम् कुलमध्ये हि तिलक: अयम् इति प्रथाम् । ख्यापयामास विदुषां परिषद्गुणमोदिनी ॥
(श्रीवादिरज गुरुवर चरितामृतम् ३.४.१०)

The verses are very simple and pretty straight-forward to understand.

"Once in पुण्यपुरी (modern Pune), the best of kaavya namely Maghakaavya was about to be honored on elephant's head. Hearing this, Vadiraja said to the scholars there "Before you honor the kaavya, listen to one kaavyaa written in our place. If some time is given, I will show you and you can verify it yourself. Vadiraja wrote one sarga per day for the next 19 days and completed the work rukmiNIsha vijaya ("The Victory of Lord of Rukmini"). The scholars read and were stunned and filled with joy. They declared रुक्मिणीश विजय to be better than माघकाव्य. They declared Vadiraja as a "tilaka" (foremost) among the poetic society."

An important contention of Vadiraja was that the title of the book is about "killing" shishupala and invokes negative thoughts, while Rukminisha vijaya is about the "victory" of Krishna, which evokes positive feelings. The name of the kavya itself is mangala. One cannot argue with that point though.

Replete with अलङ्कार, अनुप्रास, यमक, चित्रपद, a variety of छन्दस्  and lot more that a tiny mind like mine cannot comprehend, Rukminisha Vijaya is as delightful to read as shishupaalavadha.

When India loses in a close match, commentators have a cliche for consoling - "cricket is the winner". Borrowing that, we could say whatever may be the reason behind the two kaavya-s, Sanskritam is the winner :-). जयतु संस्कृतम् |

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