Saturday, November 26, 2011

'The Razor's Edge' & Kathopanishad

A few months back, I picked up 'The Moon and the Sixpence' by W. Somerset Maugham. Soon after, I started my studies of Upanishads. The more in depth the studies got, the more I wanted to buy books by Maugham. Bought one last week as well.

I had absolutely no clue that both were linked somewhere. Sometimes things just happen.

I found out today that the epigraph for the famous twentieth century novel 'The Razor's Edge' (1944) by     W. Somerset Maugham comes from Kathopanishad.

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.
Katha-Upanishad, 3.14
.....So begins the novel.


Maugham met Maharshi Raman in his Ashram in Tamilnadu in 1938. The character of Larry Darell is based on American Mining Engineering Guy Hague who had spent time in Ramana Ashram as well.

The original statement goes as follows: 

उत्तिष्ठ जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत | क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति || (1.3.14) (uttiShTha jAgrata prApya varAn_nibodhata | kShurasya dhArA nihitA duratyayA pathas_tat_ -avayo vadanti || ) - which means "Rise, awaken, seek the wise and realize. The path is difficult to cross like the sharpened edge of the razor (knife), so say the wise."

NOTE: I always mispronounced 'Maugham'. In his own words about how his name is to be pronounced, says Maugham, "My name rhymes with waugham, as in 'a waugham day.' "

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A funny Shlok

आपाण्डुराः शिरसिजास्त्रिवली कपोले
दन्तावली किलिता न च मे विषादः ।
एणीदशो युवतयः पाथि मां विलोक्य
तातेति भाषणपराः खलु वज्रपातः ॥

My temples are grey. My cheeks are without the rows of teeth within. My body is wrinkled. This doesn't bother me much. But when those doe-eyed young women call me Taat (a father figure/grandfather), it hits me worse than a lightning.

Men will be men across millenia :)

Childhood memories of Subhashits

Subhashitani = Guiding mandates on how the practical world is or should be

चिता चिंता समाप्रोक्ता बिंदुमात्रं विशेषता।
सजीवं दहते चिंता निर्जीवं दहते चिता॥1॥

Chita and Chinta are two words separated by just a dot (in the devnagari script). While Chita (pyre) burns just the dead, Chinta (worry) burns the living ones to death.

आयुषः क्षण एकोऽपि सर्वरत्नैर्न न लभ्यते।
नीयते स वृथा येन प्रमादः सुमहानहो ॥2॥

You cannot trade or buy back even a second of time when it has run out, with all the jewels in the world. So, to simply waste time when you have it is the biggest mistake of all.

सत्यं ब्रूयात् प्रियं ब्रूयात् न ब्रूयात् सत्यमप्रियं।
प्रियं च नानृतं ब्रूयात् एष धर्मः सनातनः॥3॥

Speak the truth. Speak the things which are nice to hear. Do not speak the truth in a way that is harsh. Do not say sweetly, what is not the truth.

अभिवादनशीलस्य नित्यं वॄद्धोपसेविन:।
चत्वारि तस्य वर्धन्ते आयुर्विद्या यशो बलम्॥4॥

Those who are polite and treat elders with respect, are blessed with age, knowledge, fame and power in return.

शनैः पन्थाः शनैः कन्था शनैः पर्वतमस्तके ।
शनैर्विद्या शनैर्वित्तं पञ्चैतानि शनैः शनैः ॥ 

Slow should be the pace of the travel, so should be the sewing. Unhurried should be the climbing of a mountain. Knowledge and furtune should be acquired at a slow pace as well.

वनानि दहतो वन्हेस्सखा भवति मारूत: |
स एव दीपनाशाय कृशे कस्यास्ति सौहॄदम् ||

When a raging fire is engulfing a forest, the wind becomes its friend and partakes in the magnitude of the destruction. But the same wind is its enemy when the fire is just a small flame. Who wants to befriend the weak?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why we love the ones we do?

Brihadaranyaka Upnishad of Yajur Ved is the oldest Primany Upnishad available. The setting of the texts is in the forest hence the name which means Brihadaranyaka (great-wilderness) Upnishad in Sanskrit

It was written by Rishi Yagnyavalkya of Mithila in the times of Gupta Dynasity around 320-500 CE (appx.). He had two wives. Katyayini and Maitreyi. Katyayini was adept at managing the household whereas Maitreyi was a scholar of Brahmhavidya.

Yagnyavalkya decided to renounce the world. He called both his wives and told them of his decision.

Maitreyi questioned him about why he wished to burden them with what he himself wished to renounce (worldly possessions). She was more interested in knowing why he wished to go and what would bring them the liberation that he was in quest of as well.

End of the conversation between Yagnyavalkya and Maitreyi in the 5th statement of the 4th chapter of the 2nd part of the Upnishad (Br. 2.4.5) brings to light a universal truth-

आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति 
 - Not for the sake of the beings are the beings loved, but they are loved for the sake of self.

It means that attachments are born of the conviction that this particular object or this particular person can bring me happiness. Conclusions born of this erroneous belief give rise to various likes and dislikes.


If 'I love you' or 'I love this' were indeed for the happiness of the other person or object then when the person or the object went away, we would be happy for them because there alone lies their happiness. But we are not. We are sad for our grief. Our loss.

Personal fullness (internal peace which has no gradation) is the motive for all things we love. It is not for the other person whom we profess eternal love to but for our very own self that we impose our love onto others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nature of the seekers - Bhagvad Gita

चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ [७.१६]
चतुर्विधा = 4 types of, भजन्ते = pray, मां = me, जनाः = people, सुकृतनः = of virtuous deeds, आर्तः = hurt, the afflicted, जिज्ञासु = the seeker of knowledge, अर्थार्थी = seeker of wealth or materialistic things, ज्ञानी = the one who is learned, भरतर्षभ = of Bharat Dynasty

Here in the 16th Shloka of Chapter 7 of Bhagvad Gita, is defined the nature of a Bhakta (devotee/seeker).

Four classes/kinds of people take to prayers. Prayers here are thoughts positive in nature which look outward of oneself for relief. It is not necessarily a hymn or chanting. It could be addressed to anyone you hold in high regard & faith (teacher, parents, seniors, king, nature, deities etc.) in the form of a heartfelt request for help.

First one is आर्तः - someone who is in any kind of pain. The afflicted one, who is overwhelmed with anxiety, worry and sadness. As anxiety, worries, hurt, afflictions are nothing but a state of mind and born out of our very own thoughts which are negative in nature; a good way to counter them would be to put forth our very own thoughts which are positive in nature. It is not easy to think of positive thoughts when one is in the numbness of pain, hence a prayer (admission of surrender and asking for support) is the starting point. It is an easy antidote to all the mental negativity and helps us bear with it till our sense of reasoning and analysis is back.

Second is जिज्ञासु - the seeker of knowledge. The one who wants to learn.

Third is अर्थार्थी - the one who seeks material success.

Fourth is ज्ञानी - the learned one. The one who has understood the truth. Just because his prayers (of any kind) have been answered doesn't stop him for being a seeker. It is just like being a traveller who remains a traveller even when he has reached his destination.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Goethe on Shakuntala

Abhigyanshakuntalam is a seven act play written by the renowned Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidas (around 4 CE). It is based on the story of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, foster daughter of sage Kanva. It deviates from the original story mentioned in the epic Mahabharat in two aspects.

One - in the original story Dushyant is ashamed of his jungle escapade with the hermit girl Shakuntala and refuses to accept her as his pregnant wife (despite their marriage in the forest according to the Gandharva ceremony) when he gets back to the city. Kalidas introduces the curse of irascible sage Durvasa in his play, thus softening and building up Dushyanta's character. Durvasa's curse on Shakuntala does not exist in the original texts of Mahabharat in this regard.

Two - Kalidas has also tempered down Shakuntala's characterisation by presenting her as a shy, demure, compassionate and fatalist possesing heavenly beauty. This is quite contrary to the bold and outrightly strightforward Shakuntala of Mahabharat who agrees to marry Dushyanta only on the precondition that the son he has from her would be the future king, no one else. She also doesn't hesitate to the narrate herself, the story of her birth as a result of the union of sage Vishwamitr and heavenly nymph Menaka out of wedlock.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, German poet, dramatist, biologist, theoretical physicist and polymath expressed his admiration in 1792 for Shakulntala as:

Willst du die Blüthe des frühen, die Früchte des späteren Jahres,
Willst du, was reizt und entzückt, willst du was sättigt und nährt,
Willst du den Himmel, die Erde, mit Einem Namen begreifen;
Nenn’ ich, Sakuntala, Dich, and so ist Alles gesagt.

—Goethe
Wouldst thou the young year's blossoms and the fruits of its decline
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed,
Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala! and all at once is said.
—translation by E.B. Eastwick 

It means - If you wish to see the young flowers of Spring and the ready to pluck fruits of Summer at once; or if you wish to see that object which pleases, hypnotises, delights and quenches you at once; or if you wish to see the earth and heaven in one look; I invoke the name of Shakuntala and all quests are answered at once.

Heinrich Heine's posthumus work in 1869 brings to our notice an important fact. In the chapter 'Thoughts & Ideas' he wrote "Goethe made use of Sakontala at the beginning of Faust". Goethe's 'Vorspiel auf dem Theater' (Prologue to the Theater) of Faust is inspired from Shakuntala where an actor/director comes on stage and flatters the audience of their wisdom and cultured disposition to seek their blessings and patronage (though the audiences were quite different in both eras).

Friday, October 14, 2011

MALAVIKAGNIMITRAM by Kalidas

Kalidas is a celebrated Sanskrit poet and dramatist who is believed to have lived around 4 CE.

He wrote three plays - Abhigyan Shakuntalam, Vikramovarshiyam and  Malavikagnimitram.

Malvikagnimitram was the first one in the series. This is a 5 Act play about the love-story  of King Agnimitra of of Vidisha from the Shunga dynasty (presumed to have ruled Magadha around 152 BCE) and Malavika, who is the maid to the chief Queen Dharini. He falls in love with her when he sees her portrait. His childhood friend Gautam (Vidushak - court entertainer) is his partner in crime. Gautam and Malavika's friend, a fellow handmaiden Bakulavalika, help the couple avert the wrath of the queens Dharini and Iravati. Here is how the story unfolds -

Act I

Two learned sclolars Ganadas and Hardatt are arguing amongst themselves so as to settle the issue of who is a better mentor and pundit in the field of dance & drama. This serves as an excellent backdrop for King Agnimitra who is besotted by the portrait of a chambermaid named Malavika standing next to Queen Dharini in the royal painting, to summon her without making his desires obvious.

Malavika is a student of Guru Ganadas. One of his best proteges. If ever there were to be a competition, he would showcase her and no one else. This fact was known to the court entertainer Vidushak, Gautam. He was Agnimitra's childhood friend and quite aware of his love-struck king's secret infatuation. He sets up a contest between the two gurus hoping to get to see Malavika for real.

All this is being planned as other royal orders of going into a battle with the King of Vidarbha are carried out. Wardens of the King of Vidarbha had captured his cousin, prince Madhavsen, who was to enter into a matrimonial alliance with his royal brother. Madhavsen's sister had escaped by disappearing in the confusion of the capture.

Kanchuki, chief of the inner chambers of the Palace arranges for the dance performances while another minister Amatya Vahtak gets busy with military preparations.

The King insists that Parivrajika Kaushiki (Madhavsen's minister Sumati's sister), who has renounced the world should be present during the dance contest. Her decision would be decisive, not that of the other queens who were an audience too.


Act II

Vidushak Gautam's plan is a success. Guru Ganadas has chosen Malavika to perform as his chief disciple. She performs a quartet written by Sharmishtha in the form of a Chhalik playact. Her beauty is described in detail and the king is unable to take his eyes off her. Her voice is as sweet and innocent as her looks. She sings the part of a beloved yearning for her lover. The King feels as if she is calling out to him. Before he can say anything, the performance ends.

The young danseuse had left quite an impression. Gautam reliases that there was one expresson that she had failed to enact which the King was waiting for impatiently. He hadn't seen her smile. Being a court jester, Gautam quips about something. Everyone laughs. The King, the Queens, the Ministers, Teachers.

Malavika had taken the exit bow and was about to leave when she smiles gently. Just a glimpse of her teeth and shy eyes do their magic. The King is happy.

He is not interested in the other teacher, the performances of his pupils or the contest anymore. His purpose was served. He saw Malavika for real. He wonders how he can get out of enduring another dance recital by someone he didn't wish to see. This is when Vaitalik arrives. Vaitalik is a 'stuti pathak' by profession. A bard. His job is to sing praises of the King. He announces that it is lunch time now and all must rise for the meal. Agnimitra and Gautam look at it as divine intervention and rush out of the recital chambers.

Act III

Kaushiki's maid Samahitika and Madhukarika (caretaker of the Queens garden) are discussing the final outcome of the dance competition and Malavika's undisputed victory as they walk about, collecting lemons for Kaushiki. Everyone knows that the King has a soft corner for the new pretty chambermaid.

Underneath the Golden Ashoka tree stand Malavika and Bakulavalika who have been sent there by the chief queen Dharini to perform the ceremony of dohada so that the tree flowers soon. The chief queen is unable to take part in the ritual herself as her feet hurt after a fall from the swing. The queen has promised Malavika that if the tree blooms within five days of the ritual, she would grant her a wish. Bakulavalika adorns Malavika's beautiful feet with red pigment aalata and also conveys King's love-message which has been passed onto her by Vidushak Gautam.

The younger queen Iravati has invited King Agnimitra to the royal garden to welcome the onset of spring by sharing a ride with her on the swing. She sends him Kurbak flowers and waits for him in the pleasure-garden with her lady in waiting Nipunika.

The King wonders how he can hide his true emotions and not let Iravati know that his affections belong somewhere else now. Gautam advises that he shouldn't withdraw from his other wives even though his heart wishes none from his harem. They head towards the pleasure-grove.


The King, Gautam, Bakulvalika, Malavika, Iravati, Nipunika come face to face in the garden.

Act IV

Vidushak brings the news of Malavika and Bakulavalika's imprisionment in the underground dungeons by the chief queen Dharini. Strict orders are in place not to set them free unless someone brings the order of their aquittal by producing the seal of her ring Nagmudrika. Queen Iravati and her maid Nipunika have done their job of informing the chief queen of the clandestine meeting of forbidden lovers in the pleasure-grove. Queen Dharini is furious and refuses to show any signs of mercy.

The king decides to meet queen Dharini in her chambers. She is nursing her hurt feet with red sandalwood paste. Parivrajika Kaushiki keeps her entertained by telling her stories. Summoning his wits, Gautam decides to help the King in getting Malavika released from the prison.

Gautam feigns a snake-bite. He is sent to the royal physician Dhruvasiddhi. Chaos and commotion takes precedence in the chief queen's quarters. Everyone is eager to be of some help. The door-keeper informs that the physician requires any talisman which has an image of a snake to perform the ritual of Udakumbhavidhana, which can invalidate the deadly poison.

Dharini gives her ring as it has an image of a snake without knowing the real purpose it was asked for.
The ring is shown to the keepers of the dungeons and Malavika is free again.

Act V

The Ashoka tree is in full bloom within five days. The chief queen is obliged to fulfill her promise of granting Malavika one wish. She is very happy as her son, prince Vasumitra has won the battle that had arisen out of capturing of the Ashvamedha Horses. The King of Vidarbha had surrendered as well.

Everyone is assembled under the Ashoka tree.

Two maids who have been brought from Vidarbh desh as performers recognise Malavika as their princess. Madhavsen's sister is Malavika, who was in the hiding for so long after her brother's capture. The story unfolds. Kaushiki explains how all this came about.

Queen Dharini knows that her husband secretly loves Malavika. Now that it has been established that Malavika is of royal birth as well, the Chief Queen gifts her maid to him which in turn also serves as granting Malavika one wish which she had promised.

                                                                   THE     END

Note: You can read the book at Malvikagnimitram - English Translation by C.H. Tawney
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