Posts tagged ‘Bhojadeva’

June 27, 2011

[Part 2] M F Husain in a New Light: A Hindu Art Perspective

by Sarvesh K Tiwari


“किम्प्रमाणं?”, demanded an intrigued Bhojadeva.

Bhojadeva, the best exemplar of that Hindu intellectual and cultural flowering, upon which an iron curtain was drawn by the marauding ruffians, as the AchArya of mAnasa-taraMgiNI so astutely puts it, should stand in need of no introduction to the learned Hindus.  The rAjan had once commissioned a grand shivAlaya to be constructed, in a new metropolis that he was founding, of which he was himself both the urban planner and the architect, and which metropolis, or whatever has become of it, is known today as Bhopal.  Now, when Bhojadeva had grandly and exuberantly renovated the shivAlaya-s of faraway lands not even in his domain, like the famous shrines of kedAranAtha, somanAtha, pashupatinAtha, and a famous shivAlaya in the kashmIra country of which nothing is left anymore, then certainly this one had to be so grand and mesmerizing as to rival, even surpass, the beauty and power of those in the draviDa country constructed by his friend and ally the choLa rAjan.  Thus a battery of architects and masons, painters and sculptors, from all over bhAratavarSha, was engaged at Bhoja’s grand shivAlaya project.

The rAjan once rode out to inspect the works in progress.  One artist from gujarAta country was busy sculpting the shiva-gaNa-s at the shrine, and had just finished his work on an important member of the shiva-shAsana, bhR^iMgI.  But seeing what the artist had sculpted, Bhoja was intrigued, shocked.  The artist had depicted him to be starving like a beggar, in tatters almost naked, reduced to mere skeleton with eyes bulging out of sockets, staring in the direction of mahAdeva.

And the learned rAjan, himself the author of the best handbook on Hindu shilpa, chitra, engineering and more, samarAMgaNa sUtradhAra, did not like nor understood the artist’s idea.  He was irritated, and naturally so, it was after all the most ambitious shrine that he was dedicating to his iShTadevatA.  So the King demanded of the artist, “किम्प्रमाणं?”, what is the proof of your concept?

The startled artist struggled and muttered out some explanation in apabhraMsha tongue, some incoherent explanation, which made no sense to the learned man who had to his credit the composition of eighty-four books, all on different subjects as diverse as medicine and grammar, engineering and yoga,  politics and poetics.

A good artist gets used to speaking eloquently through his brush and through his chisel-hammer, so much and so often, that the common faculty of articulation often escapes him, it becomes less and less relevant to him.  What the artist tried to explain could not convince Bhoja, who got even more irritated.

One poet from Bhoja’s retinue named dhanapAla decided to intercede.  He examined the art, conversed with the artist, and then articulated the artist’s concept through this following poem:

दिग्वासा यदि तत्किमस्यधनुषा तच्चेत्कृतं भस्मना
भस्माथास्य किमङ्गना यदि च सा कामं पुनर्द्वेष्टिकिम।
इत्यन्योन्यविरुद्धचेष्टितमहो पश्यन्निजस्वामिनो
भृङ्गी सान्द्रशिरापिनद्धपुरुषं धत्तेस्थिशेषंवपुः॥

[Since mahAdeva is digambara, (who lives naked and depends on his begging bowl), which property has he (like a vaishya) to protect by keeping a Great Bow as he does? And if he does keep a bow (like a kShatriya), what need has he to smear the ashes (of shmashAna) upon his body (like a sanyAsI)? And if indeed the ashes he must smear upon him, why take a wife (like a gR^ihastha)? And if a wife he must keep, why vanquish the (poor) kAmadeva? Looking at, contemplating upon, but unable to comprehend these and the other great mysteries and ironies in the nature of his Lord mahAdeva, has bhR^iMgI become crazy and malnourished like this (and that, is the concept of the artist.)]

Bhojadeva again examined the art for a few moments in this new light, then smiled apologetically at the artist, “अहो महोदय, गुणाढ्यो शिल्पिनो भवान्!” : “Ah Sir, a good artist you are!”, and thanked the poet for explaining the concept.

This is part of the oral mass of legends of Bhojadeva, a version of which comes to us recorded by the jaina historian merutu~Nga in his chronicle prabandha-chintAmaNi, and the semi-finished, vandalized, grand shivAlaya of Bhoja lies in ruin on the outskirts of Bhopal, almost as a telling memorial to what became of that Hindu intellectual flowering.

There are two layers of difficulty before any artist who wants to say either something new or something old in a new way.  The first is, since he has departed from the prevailing grammar and conventions, he requires help from a sympathetic articulator to let his work communicate with his audiences.  In absence of this, his art is only able to intrigue and irritate, even agitate, the intended audience. So that is the first difficulty: the audience may not understand what he or she says; this difficulty of the artist in the above legend is solved for him by the poet.

And then there is a second difficulty.  Since he is proposing something new, which may be different from the general aesthetic sense and taste of the audience and differ from the prevailing conventions, it may not be liked by them; this difficulty of the artist in the above legend is solved by the aesthetic liberality of the connoisseur, Bhojadeva.

In context of Husain, he is faced with both of the above challenges.  At first, his visual grammar, as we had attempted to demonstrate in the previous part, is entirely his own, is modern, although the spirit of his art is quite Hindu, rooted in the Hindu ethos.  But being modern, it is difficult to be understood, and what Husain direfully needs but does not find, unlike the fortunate sculptor in the legend, is that sympathetic poet, who can articulate and help bridge the communication gap between his art and his audiences.  Which art critic and scholar was, and is, in the field, with one foot firmly grounded in the Hindu tradition and the other in genuine and indigenous modernization, with points of references not in Cézanne and Matisse, but in chitra-sUtra and Abhinava Gupta, to do this articulation for any modern Hindu chitrakAra?

Recall Husain’s lamentation, that there had been no such writer after Ananda Coomaraswamy.  Indeed there has been no other Coomaraswamy after Ananda Coomaraswamy, no other Dasgupta after Prof Surendra Nath Dasgupta, no other Hiriyanna after Mysore Hiriyanna.  And that lamentation is even more relevant for the education of the artists themselves into our deeper roots and intellectual discovery.  For a fertile progress, art too needs a productive and firm intellectual ground.  On sand can grow cacti, not nAga-champA.

As to the second difficulty, far from the demands that any genuine modernization of Hindu art makes of its audiences, we find no  rasaj~na dhurandhara like Acharya Abhinava Gupta nor the powerful yet learned kalA-vichakShaNa connoisseurs like Bhojadeva Pramara and Krishnadeva Raya.  Indeed, not even a depression of their footmarks survive on the mud of the Hindu intellect, or so it seems to our eyes, wrong as we desperately hope to be proved in our pessimist assessment.

So those are the challenges, that can easily lead to confusion for any modernist artist of Hindu art.  And we speak  not for Husain — he is only a medium for us to highlight the plight of the Hindu chitrakalA tradition, a genuine revival of which had begun by such stalwarts as Acharya Nandalal Basu, but has since floundered.

We had tried to understand Husain’s tendencies and visual grammar in the last part, by exploring some of his paintings as are directly related with the Hindu themes, keeping the controversial ones deliberately aside, so as to not prejudice our purview.  And what we had found there was that there indeed is something lot more to his work than is popularly misunderstood.  The artist does not show any general tendency of either being a pervert or being an anti-Hindu, two explanations that are often given to explain his controversial paintings.  Far from it, we saw his tendency to be quite respectful, even positively honourable, towards Hindu culture, shows his concern for its survival and well-being.  And this came across not in one or two of his works, but in a large bulk: we had seen some Fifty-Seven compositions of his in last part, and not from any skewed time series: we have seen the samples representative of all decades of his career beginning with 1950s.

And therefore, the explanation of his controversial paintings, to be either from his motive of insulting the Hindu icons and faith, or of his being a pervert, do not reconcile well with what we saw.  Even a u-turn theory is not plausible to explain any change in him, since it was a consistent trend in what we saw.  And then, it is the controversial ones that are few and that are limited in clusters: both theme-wise and time-wise, rather than his Hindu-respecting paintings.  Therefore it is these controversial ones that we are forced to look again to see why Husain painted those, and what could have been his true motive.  In other words, should not, and could not, there be some other and better explanation of his motive behind those controversial paintings, which reconciles with his much larger positive work that we have seen in the last part?

That exploration would be the aim of this part.  That is, to understand his controversial paintings in a new light, in light of this hypothesis that he was neither a pervert and nor was he an iconoclast (known in the western art as Dadaists), and therefore might perhaps have a better motive when painting those controversial ones too.  This is a hypothesis of course, which we shall test keeping in mind the principles of sAmAnya nyAya darshana of testing a hypothesis, and for the subject matter itself we shall bear in mind the approach as given in the Hindu Chitra Shastra-s in its spirit.

Now, at this point we must pause to make a disclaimer and a suggestion.

The writer of these lines himself finds those controversial Husain paintings as outrageous and offending to himself.  The writer is neither concerned with, nor intends to, justifying those paintings.  His scope is limited only to understanding why and how the painter did those.  To UNDERSTAND and not to APPROVE is the motive of the writer.  If the reader finds difficulty in drawing a line between “Understanding” (as dhanapAla did) and “Approving” (as bhojadeva did), and/or, the reader has either not read the previous part in its entirety, or is not convinced by the writer’s conclusion, that is, that the painter entertained a respectable attitude towards Hindu culture, then we should thank our sudhI reader and suggest him/her to consider stopping here.


It is no accident that when the Adikavi of Kannada, Mahakavi Pampa, wanted to inaugurate a new poetic era that marked departure from old Kannada to new in the tenth century, he composed ‘samasta-bhArata’, a rendering of mahAbhArata.  It is also no coincidence that similarly in Telugu a century later, it was the rendering of mahAbhArata that heralded the beginning of a new era of Telugu by the worthy poet Nannaya, followed by Tikkana and finally Errana.  A century after Errana, the Adikavi of Oriya language likewise, Sarala Dasa, when decided to inaugurate poetry in Oriya in the fourteenth century, it is no accident that he too looked up to mahAbhArata alone, and produced its adaptation in Oriya, famed as ‘sarala-mahAbhArata’.  And it is also no accident that in modern Hindi likewise, at the beginning of the last century, it is the bhArata alone towards which the first modern Hindi poet Maithili Sharana Gupt looked, when he produced on it dozens of his poetic tomes including ‘jaya-bhArata’, ‘nahuSha’, ‘jayadratha-vadha’, ‘ajita’, ‘anagha’, ‘vaka saMhAra’, ‘sairandhrI’, ‘hiDimbA’, ‘vikaTa-bhaTa’, ‘shakuntalA’, besides his magnum opus ‘sAketa’, a unique retelling of rAmAyaNa by lakShamaNa’s wife urmilA who remained behind during the exile of her husband.  It is with help from our epics alone that the National Poet steered the direction of Hindi poetry, convincingly and for always, towards a new poetic standard of modern Hindi true to her saMskR^ita roots and free from the imperialistic residues of arabi-farsi.  And it is no accident that the poetry in the laukika saMskR^ita itself was inaugurated in the hoary past, as the tradition goes, with nothing else but the composition of rAmAyaNa by vAlmIki, the Adikavi (and Hanuman).

None of these cultural movements making use of itihAsa as their base were accidents, for our itihAsa-s are the living breaths of a living civilization.  Homer recoils from revealing himself to West that has severed its umbilical chord with its spiritual ancient, no matter how many Alexander Popes translate him how many ever times in howsoever beautiful ways; Homer is, for West, dead.  But not so the vyAsa and vAlmIki for the Hindus: our itihAsa-s are living itihAsa-s, they are our own story for today and tomorrow, for us that is why vyAsa is a chira~njIvI, he is immortal, and so is hanumAn, and that is why they have always been our bedrock on which to build any new awakening, any new cultural renaissance; for us the itihAsa-s are our divine blessings, and itihAsa-s are prANa of our civilization!

So, now, like in the verbal languages, surely would it not be the itihAsa-s alone which should also breathe prANa into modernizing our visual language?  And it was certainly done in past by Hindu artists many times, last well-known case being at the time of Akbar by the Hindu painters from Rajasthana and Jammu and Kayastha artists in collaboration with the Persian painters, when Akbar, newly departed from Mohammedanism, wanted to bring about a new Hindu renaissance.  (Some of their product is gathering dust in the museums of Jaipur and Kolkata, while the bulk is smuggled away, decorating those of London and Smithsonian)

Whether or not conscious of any of these facts, more likely not aware of these, for whatever reasons Husain was seriously drawn towards Ramayana and Mahabharata, and wanted to depict both of the epics in their entirety, from back to back, in his own visual language.  And this he did, first through over two-hundred paintings on bhArata and over a hundred on rAmAyaNa, spending more than a decade beginning in mid 60s, and then he revisited both of the epics, twice again in his career.

Now whatever be the artistic merit of that work, which is not of relevance to us at the moment, what seems certain is that as far as the artist was concerned, it seems he thought this was his most important work.  We see that in 1971 when Husain was invited to exhibit select paintings of his in Europe side by side Picasso, it is twenty of bhArata paintings that he prepared and exhibited.  And when he had to ceremoniously paint a canvas with Picasso looking on, it is a collage depicting representative scenes from the different parva-s of bhArata that he painted.  So whatever be the worth of his paintings, at least for him his work on the itihAsa-s was his signal and the deepest work.

This below is the cover sheet of the leather binding that he designed for his first set of visual retelling of mahAbhArata:

Cover Sheet with Quote by C Rajagopalachari

In the above cover, we can clearly see Husain trying to establish his work in the Hindu tradition.  For the svasti-vAchana, a famous R^ig-vaidika vAkya from the first maNDala is written on the top.   The format of the cover is shown as if it were a leaf from a tADa- or bhoja- patra manuscript.  The colour scheme is deliberately black and white to appear like a hoary work.  Title is given first in devanAgarI and then in English, but atop the English characters is given the nAgarI horizontal bar, a gesture to remind that the attempted modernization is not altogether imported mindlessly.  Beneath it is the familiar figure of the grandsire.  Further down are some written words.

The written words are a homage and an acknowledgement by the painter to Shri Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, whose books Ramayana and Mahabharata, as we came across the painter saying in an interview, were his constant companions from which he used to daily read a chapter.  And that would explain why it is to pay his gratitude, that Husain quotes a passage from his book ‘Mahabharata’ and prints it in imitation of Rajaji’s own handwriting, complete with an imitation of his signature ‘C. Rajagopalachari’.

Rajaji’s books were, it seems, Husain’s chief references and main sources.  But let us also see what else was going on when he began these paintings.


In the preface to the first edition of his Ramayana in 1957, Rajaji wrote:

“The sophisticated may be inclined to smile where I have often paused in the narration to moralise. To such I must point out that when I wrote the original of these pages I had in my mind always my very young readers.”

But right in the next decade, when Husain began his work on the itihAsa-s, we see that the Hindu zeitgeist had already departed from being satisfied with simplistic understanding of the epics laced with varjanA and moralisation.  We can see that the time now was to revisit the itihAsa-s in the original and revise our understanding, explore deeper layers of meanings, re-interpret the narratives, rediscover their values, and contextualize our sense of our itihAsa-s, without being afraid of sophistication and complexity; the  “very young readers” of Rajaji were now researchers and retellers.

Already in the same decade we see legendary poet Ramdhari Singh Dinakar rendering Mahabharata in a modernist Hindi poetry ‘Kurukshetra’, through which he questions the validity of the Gandhian pacifism and non-violence extremism.  Same poet was to next produce his ‘Rashmi-Rathi’ a poetic rendering of bhArata entirely from karNa’s view-point.  Harivansh Rai Bachchan was experimenting with a metrical ‘Jana-Gita’, an imaginative imitation in language and style of Tulasidas, of how the bhakta-kavI would have modernized bhagavad-gItA had he picked his pen for it like on rAmAyaNa.  Amrit Lal Nagar was writing his famous ‘Manasa Ke Hansa’ to enter the mind and psychology of the epic-writer himself.  History-novelist Chatursen Shastri was writing his epic-novel ‘Vayam Rakshamah’, a Ravana’s narrative of Ramayana, a bestseller for over a decade.  Sumitra Nandan Pant in his ‘Purushottam’ and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala in his ‘Ram Ki Shakti Puja’, were seeing Rama as a vulnerable mortal who, by his higher consciousness and commitment to Dharma, rather than due to any super-natural reason, becomes for us an inspiration more than a God-incarnate to be worshipped.  Narendra Kohli was writing his famous epic-novel ‘abhyudaya’ where Ramayana is as if a contemporary event, and Rama and Sita as if our neighbours who rise above the rest by their relentless struggle to uphold the values.  In a similar vein was writing Bharat Bhushan Agarwal his novel ‘Agni Leek’, as well as an important modern poet Naresh Mehta his ‘Sanshaya ki Ek Raat’, where epics are shorn of all miraculous elements, and their characters have their frailties and weaknesses and doubts and come from our own contemporary mundane world; their events are for us to read as our own story.

It is only because we are more conversant with the literature of Hindi that we give these examples from that language, but otherwise the literary spheres of her sister and cousin languages too were not isolated; the same zeitgeist was making waves there too.  Thus we find that in Marathi, Shivaji Sawant was writing  ‘Mrityunjaya’ in the same decade, a modern re-interpretation of the Great bhArata from karNa’s view-point, and we see Satyajit Ray attempting to make bhArata’s modern re-interpretation in Bangla, a project which he could not finish, though there was already the shadow of Draupadi on his ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955) earlier, and in Kannada we see the worthy pen of S L Bhyrappa already outstanding in contribution to the same milieu, his magnum opus ‘Parva’, rediscovering Draupadi for modern contemporary context, was to arrive in the same decade of 70s.

And in music also, we see that in the same decade, Mukesh was singing Rama Charita Manasa in an entirely new way, departing from how it was traditionally sung, and by using new tunes and musical techniques, so wonderfully amplifying the rasAnubhava of the original to amazing depths.

They were all genuine national avant-garde of 60s and 70s.  Reader should note that this was the cultural current with which Husain found himself connected, not with the leftists who were at this time creating their phony “peoples literature” subsidized by the Soviet.  To see what the leftists were doing in field of art, reader may find on internet the dadaist art of F N Souza, especially the likes of his ‘shakti’, ‘blue goddess’ and such paintings and sketches.  That is genuine iconoclasm.

We can see the influence of this national zeitgeist on Husain’s thinking, who too was to see his kR^iShNa as a revolutionary statesman and a founding father, as we saw him do in a painting in the last part.  We should bear in mind all these currents in middle of which Husain was painting the epics, while influence of Rajaji on him being the utmost as it was, his books being his chief reference and sources.

Then what went wrong?


His most controversial and provocative paintings include one where Husain has shown Hanuman with a figure of a copulating couple, one where naked Sita is seated near Ravana’s thigh, one where Hanuman is shown without a head, and then the one where naked Sita is shown on Hanuman’s tail.

Those who were saying that these were not outrageous, were either not healthy in their minds, or were not Hindus, or in all likelihood they were perverse Hindu-haters.  These paintings are genuinely offending.

But there is this curious question that intrigues our mind.  Why only in these paintings did Husain do what he did, since after all he has painted other paintings where Hanuman and Rama and Sita are present.  See for instance these following three paintings of his, from three different decades, and three different styles:

[Hanuman a Trimurthi, 1968; depicting Hanuman as devotee of Rama-Sita, and as a warrior and a sage]

Hanumans Proposal to Sita, 1979

[‘Hanuman’s proposal to Sita’, 1979; depicting Hanuman proposing to Sita to take her away from the captivity to Rama. Rama is represented with male motif up-triangle. Signed in Tamil]

Hanuman as Superman

[‘Hanuman as Superman’, early 1990s, depicting Hanuman by borrowing the simile of Superman, he is like him tearing his outer self to reveal the inner self. That Hanuman is a superhero, but that beneath the superhero identity is a devotee to Rama-Sita.]

All of the above, and more, are quite respectful portrayals.

It is therefore, and considering his larger work as we saw in the last part, that we are no longer convinced with the simple explanation of his motive in those paintings, that he just wanted to denigrate Sita and Hanuman and therefore he did it deliberately through those outrageous paintings, or that he was a pervert. We must seek some other explanation, some other understanding, which is what we shall now do.

And it is unfortunate, unfortunate for Husain, that all of these paintings come from that single place in the epics, which is the most sacred part of the most sacred kANDa of our most sacred itihAsa.  At our place, and we believe it would be the same custom in other regions too, no major work would be taken up by the Hindus without first reciting the sundara kANDa of either Valmiki or Tualsidas, and if that were not possible, then at least that part where Hanuman is himself narrating his exploits in a first person narrative.

And sacred as it is, sundara kANDa is also aesthetically the most powerful portion of all of our literature, not only within the Ramayana, but we dare say, of the entire corpus of both the Ramayana and Mahabharata put together!  Maybe perhaps of all our literature put together, both sacred and profane!

Why do we say so?  We say so by its most complex and most powerful rasa-vinyAsa, which is almost like a magic, an unmatched literary wonder!

Here, there are not one or two, but six rasa-s out of nine (or eleven as per Bhoja), which are in close play, all at once, and if not simultaneously then in an extremely close proximity and in interrelation to each other.  And in these six here, are included all those four exclusive rasa-s, that are called in our nATya philosophy, utpatti-hetu rasa: those which give birth necessarily to some other rasa.  And three out of these six, are of absolutely equal strength, which hang in perfect balance taking help of the other three minor rasa-s.  And then all of these rasa-s are together made to reach a perfect crescendo at a point, as is simply unmatched anywhere else.  But let us understand this.

Let us understand this, for without this we shall not be able to understand the biggest crime, the biggest foolishness, the biggest folly, the biggest failing, and the biggest offense of M F Husain of his entire career, the crime which cost him, as it should have, very dearly.  And there is more than depicting Sita naked — that is only at the surface — the real problem of those paintings is at a deeper level.

So, in the original vAlmIki narration, first we have the karuNa rasa (pity), driven by the plight of Sita, serving which in equal strength is the viyoga-shriMgAra rasa (love-separation), driven by Sita’s longing and pining for Rama.  That is the first pair.

Then we have the bhayaMkara rasa (terror), driven by the tyranny of Ravana, assisting which is bIbhatsa rasa (revulsion/hatred) driven by his immoral insatiable lust, which vAlmIki paints wonderfully.  This is the second pair.

Then, we have the equally strong vIra rasa (bravery) led of course by Hanuman himself, assisting which in equal measures is the raudra rasa (anger, outrage).

Thus, here we have got three pairs of rasa combination: karuNa+viyoga-shriMgAra; bhayaMkara+bIbhatsa; and vIra+raudra.

That in itself is not unique, after all we have in bhArata, the kIchaka saMhAra, and we have many others, but what is unique is the actual effect, which let us try to further understand.

If the rasa-vinyAsa was not already complex, what is more is that the three poles of these rasa-pairs are equally strong and equally dominant.  We have the respective proponents of each rasa-yugma — Sita, Ravana, and Hanuman — at once being the strongest characters and highest embodiments of the respective bhAva-lalana.  Who can ever be a better nAyikA than Sita, and which woman suffers a plight more acute than hers?  And who can ever be a worse and a more powerful villain than the ten-headed tyrant?  And who can ever be a better super-hero than mahAvIra?  And so strong they are, that they are indeed the very archetype and role-models of the respective rasa-bhAva!  And in comparison to each other, they are equally powerful too, able to stand up to one another by their respective strengths.

And there is still more.  The rasa-s mix so intricately and so rapidly as if we were on a roller-coaster of emotional anubhUti; in a quick succession the rasa-s influence, ignite, subdue each other and we are quickly transmitted from first to the other to the next sthAyI bhAva.  And all of this is packed so compactly in so little transition time — all events occur in a short span of a few hours — that  the entire sundara kANDa itself is the smallest portion of Ramayana going by the number of verses and the second smallest by the number of sarga-s!  So, all of those rasa transitions take place very rapidly, very powerfully, in a very short span.

And then there is the best of the best, that is the crescendo of all the rasa-s, which vAlmIki detonates in our hearts, in the central scene of the sundara, that is, when the three embodiments of the respective rasa-s actually come together in the same act, physically at the same place: the Ravana-Sita dialogue overheard by Hanuman; that is the point of controlled explosion of deepest rasAnubhUti in our hearts!  Till this point, vAlmIki carefully builds up the three streams of rasa-s, one of pity+longing with Sita’s description and lust+terror of Ravan’s description, and the vIra rasa through the bravery and strength of Hanuman, beginning with his being reminded of his latent powers by jAmbavanta, less than a day earlier.  And then, with all these rasa-s having been separately built to their utmost maturity, vAlmIki makes them collide at once, and still in a very controlled way, from which he creates a massive build up of outrage which then we live through and then pour through Hanuman’s audacious deeds in the rest of the sundara.  That scene in itself is therefore unmatched, perhaps ever in all of our literature; or so is our opinion.

And that is why we say that this is the most complex portion of perhaps all the literatures that we have; no wonder its very name is “sundara”, aesthetic, kANDa!

And that is why Sundara Kanda also does in us the most powerful, most potent catharsis!  Sacred as it is, it is also a cure, a visarjana, a nistAraNa, a cleansing and a pathological treatment of many of our inner ills lying dormant in our subconscious!  Not without a higher wisdom did our ancestors ask us to do pArAyaNa with sundara kANDa before beginning a major work!!  It is not a drama, and if it is, it is a divine drama indeed!!

And this is the scene, painting of which, in the way he did, has sunk M F Husain for ever and always, from which it is impossible for him to ever redeem himself.  And we are interested in understanding how and why.  If one thinks he simply wanted to denigrate Sita so he did what he did, well, we shall not contest anyone’s opinion, but in our mind we can already see something else going on here.

We have asserted that this scene as vAlmIki has created, as a point of controlled detonation of rasa, is unmatched, and we can observe this, by reviewing how our literary stalwarts have treated it.

mahAkavi kAlidAsa is the very emperor of saMskR^ita poetry, close to whose ability nobody ever came after him, perhaps in any language we might say.  How does kAlidAsa, who has churned out such a powerful literature, treat this scene in his raghuvaMsham?  kAlidAsa avoids going there at all; limited as his scope is, he is done with this scene in one single shloka in the twelfth sarga of raghuvaMsham.  And then too, not by any direct uddIpana, but by utilizing his famous arsenal of upamAna, to describe the situation of Sita being like a saMjIvanI suffering entanglement in a cobweb of poisonous creepers.

mahAkavi bhavabhUti, the master dramatist, is second only to kAlidAsa in the eloquence, elevation of diction and rasa-yojanA.  And bhavabhUti shrinks altogether from going there at all.  He bypasses the whole scene, by simply having the events indirectly known to the audiences through a dialogue between Trijata and Malyavan, in the opening act of the sixth a~Nka of his mahAvIra-charita. (On a little study of one act of this a~Nka from the standpoint of Hindu drama, reader may see our earlier note on it).

Our favourite poet Tulasidas, the very moon of Hindi poetry, cuts down three out of the six rasa-s, tones down the remaining three, and wraps up the Ravana-Sita dialogue in a meagre ten chaupais and only one doha, without getting into that crescendo of rasa at all.  And this he does on purpose.  What is more, a sujAna poet as he is, he buffers the scene on two sides, purposefully, to further mild down the effect on the audience; on the preceding side with shAnta rasa through a dialog between Hanuman and Vibhishana, and on the succeeding side with hAsya, by mocking the Rakshasas at the hands of Hanuman’s deeds.

Two renowned poets decide to go there.  mahAkavi bhaTTI in saMskR^ita language, and mahAkavi kamban in Tamil.  And what do they do?

bhaTTI dares, but he is careful not to disturb the complex chemistry of vAlmIki.  He follows the lead of vAlmIki like a child being led by his father holding his finger, and almost exactly retells what vAlmIki has told, in the eighth chapter of his poetry rAvaNa-vadha, only changing the meters and the alaMkaraNa.

And so does mahAkavi kamban.  He honestly tells us that he is now daring to go there, and then strictly follows vAlmIki, actually translating to Tamil what vAlmIki has said in saMskR^ita, including his metaphors and similes, and adds his own only to further embellish.

And all these stalwarts did wisely, being totally conscious of the enormity of the task, and knowing the wonder that sundara kANDa of vAlmIki is.  And vAlmIki himself lets Hanuman handle the situation and narrate a large part of it — after all Hanuman is himself the ablest poet and wisest grammarian ever.  And in mahAbhArata, vyAsa does no different: he has Hanuman himself narrate this AkhyAna when he would meet bhImasena in the araNya.

Therefore, “where the angels fear to tread, the fools rush in”, this proverb comes to mind seeing a foolhardy M F Husain daring to attempt this crescendo of rasa on his canvas.

And what does he do?


As in drama, so in painting.  bharata muni instructs the dramatists and play-writers in his nATya-shAstra, to first practice painting.  And mArkaNDeya reciprocates the sentiment in chitra-sUtra, “विना तु नृत्यशास्त्रेण चित्रसूत्रं सुदुर्विदम”, that without knowledge of drama, painting is extremely difficult to grasp.  And it is no accident that our best filmmaker Satyajit Ray was a good painter too, and our first filmmaker Dada Saheb Phalke was, few people know, an artist-assistant of Raja Ravi Varma!  A good painter has to, he must, thoroughly understand the nuances of drama, for painting is but another expression of the same aesthetic principles in a condensed form.  Sage mArkaNDeya says in his pravachana, “यथा नृत्ये तथा चित्रे”.

Reader may recall the concerned painting, that is, one of Sita, Ravana, and Hanuman.  We are not going to put that and the other such ashubhadA chitra-s up on our blog.  An ashubhadA chitra, which will bring only misfortune to one who paints it, one who sells it, one who buys it, one who displays it, and one who sees it.  To the painter it has already sent the ruin of a long career; and the buyer, a well-known American art collector from Boston, died in a car accident hardly months after buying these ashubhadA paintings we are talking about; this we incidentally learnt during our research.

But we digressed.  What is the visual design of the painter, and what does he want to do?

Looking at the visual design, it seems, painter is wanting to follow the same rasa-yojanA and the same transitions as done by vAlmIki.  He divides the canvas to three almost equal spaces, not geometrically but optically, and wants to dedicate each to the three proponents representing each of the rasa-yugma-s mentioned earlier.

His plan is to follow the transition scheme in the same order, that is, first the plight, then the tyranny, then ending up in outrage.  And he wants to do this by taking the viewer’s eye in that sequence from right to left.  Why not usual left to right, this we shall soon see.

He first catches the viewer’s eye on the right by the naked Sita.  By this he hopes to perform a strong uddIpana of emotional energy, that is of plight.  But this vibhAva that he uses, is very loud and very uncontrolled uddIpana, and therefore a very loud and uncontrolled emotional energy instantly appears.  However what the painter wants is that it would be that of the sthAyI-bhAva of plight which should emerge, but loud as the uddIpana is, what ends up happening is that it is not the mood of plight that appears in mind, rather it is of outrage that does.  We shall return to this; for now let us see what else he visually plans.

Next, the painter has seated the figure of Sita on the left thigh of the central and the largest figure, that is of Ravana.  This is what is both an Alambana vibhAva to enhance the mood of plight, as well as, a stimulation for vyabhichArI-bhAva, that is, transition to the next mood, that is of tyranny.  So by seating her on the left thigh of the tyrant, the painter’s plan of transition is from the first, that is plight, to the second, that is tyranny.  And for this transition, Husain is hoping of using a known Hindu convention.  Showing one’s left thigh to a para-strI or asking her to sit on it, is mark of the highest dishonour that is possible in our world to a woman — recall the sabhA-parvan where Duryodhana invites Draupadi to sit on his bare left thigh — and this convention the painter wants to invoke here, as a vyabhichArI-bhAva, to transit the viewer’s mood from plight to tyranny.  It is only for using this cultural convention that the painter paints the painting from right to left and not his usual method of left to right.

Then next, he has the central figure, that is of Ravana, in ugliness and ghastliness, frontally confronting the audience, by doing which, the painter hopes this figure to face the wrath of the viewers mood of tyranny and then outrage, that he hopes will now emerge.

Now, if the contact of the left thigh was painter’s plan of vyabhichArI-bhAva, transition from plight to tyranny, he also inserts an active interaction between the two by introducing what is an anubhAva, a deliberate stimuli, of Ravana raising his right arm to hit Sita, as vAlmIki says.  By this, the painter hopes to make a close loop between the plight and tyranny, amplifying both, and resulting in further generation of outrage by this interaction.

And then, in order to transit to the third rasa-yugma, he makes Ravana lean to his right, as if to face Hanuman, who is here shown in form of a monkey (as says vAlmIki), shown in anger, ready to pounce on the former.  Painter gives an isolated area to Hanuman, and a lot of blank space in that area, and it is in a bright colour, matching the colour of Sita.  By this plan, the painter wants the subconscious mood of anger to finally flow and gather here, and then from here, get pointed through Hanuman pouncing at Ravana, towards Ravana.

This is his visual design.  But this all is what the painter *hopes* to do.  What he ends up doing is terribly different.

In the first place, the uddIpana through naked sItAdevI, fails to evoke plight.  And this we say after totally detaching ourselves from thinking that she is even Sita.  Even if she is not Sita, and an ordinary woman, or not even an ordinary woman but just a shadow, the female figure does not evoke plight, it first provokes disgust and then outrage in itself.  And this happens on its own, without requiring either the Alambana of she being seated on the left thigh or requiring the anubhAva of striking right arm.  Both of which though, further amplify the outrage.  So, the first mistake from rasa standpoint: a very loud uddIpana, an uncontrolled uddIpana, and wrong type of uddIpana.

Next, the three rasa poles are supposed to adequately counter-balance and support each other.  However, in this composition, in comparision to the first rasa-yugma, which in itself ends up in a wrong bhAva, the other two poles are not strong at all.  Which is why the emotional energy, that is quite strong, refuses to follow the transition plan that the painter has created to take the audience from the first mood to the next.  The transition of vyabhichArI-bhAva is too weak in comparision to the uddIpana of first.

Then, therefore, resulting from the above two, an unending loop of outrage alone remains active, which does not, can not, follow the outlet that the painter has planned for it, since the outlet is too weak to control the intensity of mood that has been evoked; intense as it is, it is also uncontrolled; the painting fails to channelise this energy of outrage through Hanuman’s figure onto Ravana, as the painter was hoping.  And therefore, the anger remains, it keeps building, going into no catharsis, and as a result therefore, it has to go into and towards the painting itself, and then towards the painter himself.  And it is a very active painting, therefore even more anger is what it generates.

Finally, there is another very unforgivable element on the canvas, that is, there is an unmistakable sensuousness about it.  Where is that coming from and why, this is also significant to explore, but that we shall do in detail, a section later.

Now this is what is called an utkaTa painting.  In chitra-shAstra, such utkaTa chitra-s are prohibited from being displayed, excepting certain situations.  Otherwise, filled with powerful negative energy, they only bring ruin and misfortune to all concerned.  And this painting is a living exemplar of it, and a lesson for the aspiring Hindu art modernists.

Then the next two offending Husain paintings of this context are easily understood.  One with Hanuman without a head, is the next in sequence, and is to narrate Hanuman’s remorse after having mindlessly burnt the city in his outrage.  In vAlmIki’s narration, the plight of Sita has so overtaken Hanuman’s mind, filling it with utter outrage and extreme anger, that the plight of Sita becomes more powerful than Sita herself.  So angry is Hanuman by the plight of Sita that while burning the city he forgets all about Sita.  But it recurs to him after he has done his deed, and then he becomes remorseful, he curses himself, he calls himself a fool and a sinner.  He calls himself a monkey to have not thought that Sita also might get hurt in this fire.  And the plight of Sita that was his anger so far is now his remorse.  He contemplates whether Sita would have gotten burnt in the fire he has lit, then thinks that to be impossible, but still returns to Ashoka Vatika to check if Sita is alive.  This is vAlmIki’s way of shamana of raudra-rasa, extinguishing the outrage, by re-invoking karuNa rasa through remorse.  That is what the painter wants to depict, and there is nothing much to explain in it.  Headlessness to show Hanuman’s extremely reckless outrage, the mudrA of his left palm, to show his astonishment with himself at his deed.

The last offending painting of this sequence is where figure of Sita is on Hanuman’s tail.

(Most people who were defending Husain have not even understood the painter’s concept, and were defending him!  We read an article by one gentleman, who teaches in an American university, where he says in support of this painting that this scene depicts Hanuman’s proposal of carrying Sita back to Rama!  There can be no more ignorance and lack of imagination than that!)

In painter’s concept, this painting is meant to be in context of Hanuman leaping across the ocean from Lanka back towards his comrades waiting on this side of the shore, and while he is doing that, his mind is occupied by no other thought but that of the plight of Sita, which is not anger anymore but is a lingering pain.  And in painter’s visual design, he wants to depict it like this.  The figure of Hanuman is shown leaping from left to right, but while in air his face is looking back to Lanka.  His eyes are looking back towards the horizon thinking of Sita. His face is painted in ash-colour, and his face is in deep sad thought.  And a figure of Sita is stuck on the tail.  But this is a shadow of Sita, as depicted in the first painting, and it is in an ash colour matching Hanuman’s face.  What did the painter plan by this?  Why Sita on tail?  This is what Husain imagined:  While Hanuman’s tail was burning with which he had burnt the city, he had felt no pain in his outrage (vAlmIki has Hanuman wonder why his burning tail causes him no pain.  He says it is by the grace of his father, of Rama, and of Sita).  Now the outrage is gone, and the pain should return, but so engrossed is Hanuman’s mind contemplating at the plight of Sita, that it is this pain of Sita’s plight, not the physical pain of his burnt tail, that is lingering in his mind.

Now this is what the painter *thought*.  But the result, besides being outrageous anyway, does the similar mistakes as we understood in the first, the most important being in our opinion, of an uncalled for, unpardonable, and unmistakable sensuousness on the canvas.  To that account we shall return.

The last of the list, and from the same context, is the portrait of Hanuman where Husain depicts a copulating couple in the background.  Reader may recall a painting we had shared in the last part, where Hanuman is shown as an infant in the center of a Yin and Yang formed by a masculine and feminine body, to depict the make up of Hanuman’s personality of having both the sides as equally dominant.  In this painting, and by using the context of the sundara kANDa, painter wants to say something else about Hanuman in a similar vein.

This is his concept:  Hanuman is the perfect Urdhvaretan, he is the perfect bramhachArin, and with this, he is also a perfect vIryavAn, he is mahA-vIryavAn, that his every hair, every strand, every pore, is full of vIrya, that a drop of his perspiration is sufficient to procreate makaradhvaja, his son, Hanuman not even being aware of him.  And the painter wants to use the context of sundara kANDa, that context when searching for Sita, Hanuman enters Ravana’s palace and the inner chambers that night.  He does not like it, it is against dharma, but Hanuman has to go through seeing all the hundreds of women that are sleeping in Ravana’s rooms.  And he has to bear with all the ghastly lust of the female demons that he sees there.  And he is not in the least affected by it, he does not even feel disgust, only pity.  In the painting the couple shown are a rakshasa pair, they are in a dAnavI copulation.  Then there are some complex metaphors used in the painting, like a mountain or a desert, and there are more things, which we do not understand.  It is because the painter wants to separate the metaphors from the real narrative, that he creates a separate section on canvas by dividing it in two horizontal areas.  Top is the real Hanuman, everything in the bottom a metaphor.  In top he borrows the idiom from Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’, by showing a small Vinci-like shoulder-projection around Hanuman’s shoulders: to say Hanuman is the embodiment of the Perfect Man imagined by Vinci.  In bottom, besides the rAkShasa couple, there is also a small projection ejecting from the navel of Hanuman.  This is to show him having fathered a son, makaradhvaja, without maithuna:  the projection from naval to remind of the mAnasa birth.  Both of the separate events take place the day Hanuman spent in Lanka, first while searching for Sita, and second after arsoning the city.  Since the painting is too complex, painter also creates a separate verbal description in a frontispiece painting that accompanies the set.

But before moving on to the next part of the discussion, we would want to emphasize one important point to those who would listen to us.

mahAkavI bhAsa’s popular drama dUtavAkyam is about kR^iShNa going as a peace-emissary to kaurava-s to avoid the war.  There is a scene in the drama, in which duryodhana has commissioned a large painting which shows the scene of draupadi’s dishonour as described in sabhAparvan.  And to show kR^iShNa down, duryodhana invites him to see the painting.  kR^iShNa is a kalA-vichakShaNa, a learned critic, who knows the depths of art.  The painting is so large that it takes bhR^itya-s to unroll the rolled canvas before duryodhana and kR^iShNa.  Duryodhana, to insult kR^iShNa, praises the painting; after all draupadI was a sister to kR^iShNa.  kR^iShNa however does not take offense, far from it, he rather studies the art.  Then like a vichakShaNa should, says yes this is a good work of art, there is beauty in it, there is life in it, but let me tell you something more, this is ashubhadA, it will bring ruin.  And duryodhana obediently orders the painting to be removed.

We do not understand the depths of the art, but we can safely say this.  That, all of these paintings, especially the two of Sita, as well as the last one described, are, in our opinion, terribly ashubhadA chitra-s, inauspicious paintings.  They are utkaTa, which have negative active energy.  And they are not dead paintings, they have some prANa, like most of Husain’s paintings.  One may call it superstition, and we are superstitious, but our shilpa and chitra and nATya shAstra-s all tell us that if a chitra or shilpa or poem or drama can do good, a bad one can also do a terrible harm.  And these paintings can only bring misfortune to also those who display it or see it.  We shall suggest the well-meaning but ignorant people who have splashed the digital images of these paintings all over the websites and blogs and social media, to remove those bad ones for ever.  The actual paintings themselves are nowhere on the display.  After the terrible death by a car accident of their owner, an American leather businessman, who had bought these directly from the painter, we understand that these paintings are now in possession of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, and there, these are not on display but in the curator’s vault for over a decade now.  One should let those remain buried there, and let their digital images better be removed from the Internet-sphere too.  This is of course our own opinion, addressed to those who would listen.


In those paintings it is not the nudity, but a peculiar sensuousness that disturbs our mind; sensuousness is not at all of the sacred variety, which a sane Hindu would instantly understand, but sensuousness with an unmistakabe tinge of profane concupiscence that we can feel is apparent in these paintings.  There is more than the physical form that offends; it is in the psychic element of these paintings.  And it is this same element that comes across also in those scrawl paintings of devI-s.  But it is most amplified in these sundara kANDa paintings.  But why?  Why so?

We think the answer lies at two levels: in sundara kANDa and in Husain.

We had mentioned earlier the complex and wonderful aesthetic arrangement of the sundara kANDa by vAlmIki.  Every sentence, every word, every syllable of the kANDa is a magic.  Even the message of Rama that Hanuman delivers to Sita, is the highest example of a love-letter that can ever be written, that Sita faints hearing what Rama has said to her.  Every gesture that any character makes is full of layers of meaning.  Every simile and every metaphor of vAlmIki elevates our mind to some other universe.  It is so beautiful.

And, however, it is also easy for an unprepared reader or listener to go astray if not cautious, not prepared.  The rasa, especially where the sthAyI-bhAva of lust is invoked, is built very carefully by vAlmIki.  It is present but very well controlled by the great poet.  And it is to sub-serve a great purpose.  And still, it is possible for an unprepared audience, to not receive a complete catharsis, and not receive the right flavour of rasa as is intended in the text, rather get waylaid by own saMvega, impulses, and go astray.

And this is the reason, perhaps, to our mind, why Sant Tulasidas prays right in the preface of his sundara kANDa like this:  “भक्तिं प्रयच्छ रघुपुङ्गव निर्भरां मे, कामादिदोषरहितं कुरु मानसं च”.  This is the last line of a beautiful prayer to Rama that he has written in saMskR^ita to inaugurate his sundara kANDa.  And do notice what he asks from Rama.  He asks devotion for himself, and for the book he is writing he asks it to be free from Lust and such defects — kAmAdi-doSha-rahitaM kuru mAnasaM cha —  here “mAnasa” has a dual meaning, it refers both to the mind, as well as to the name of his book, Rama Charita Manasa.  And why does Tulasidas think of asking this before starting his sundara kANDa? Because he is not only a self-realized master and bhakta, but he is also a clever rasa~jna poet.  He knows the potential trouble a wrong understanding of sundara-kANDa can cause for the audience.

Rajaji likewise, before beginning to translate vAlmIki’s sundara kANDa, also makes this caution quite explicit, and wants his reader to become prepared and alert before getting into this:

“As one reads or listens to this sacred story, one should form a mental image of Seeta in her present state.  One can imagine the agony of despair of any good woman who has by misfortune fallen into the power of a lustful man.  What must be the state of Seeta, daughter of Janaka and the wife of Raamachandra, in such a predicament?  To appreciate Vaalmeeki’s metaphors and similes in this context, one should purify one’s heart and fire it with piety.” [Raamaayana by C Rajagopalachari, 1st ed, PP 218]

That is a wise counsel, a sagacious advice.  For, while there is lust carefully treated by vAlmIki, it is by our own faults we might misunderstand it.  And there can easily be a gap between the rasa as depicted by vAlmIki and as received by a reader.

And this is explained in detail by the rasa-shAstra dhurandhara AchArya abhinava gupta, who gives us seven reasons why those “vIta-vighnAH pratItiH” can happen.  And three of those seven, we find relevant here in how it could have resulted in distortion of Husain’s imagination.  First, “प्रतिपत्तावयोग्यता सभावनाविरहुः”, one is incapable of grasping the deeper meaning and getting into the bhAva of the writer; second, “स्वगतत्वनियमेन देशकाल विशेषावेशः”, one’s mind is limited by the limitations imposed by the difference of time and space between him and the writer; and lastly but most importantly, “निजसुखादिविवशीभाव”, that one is helpless by his temperamental inclinations like pleasure etc, therefore receives the rasa in his way, not the way it was meant.  This last is very important.

Though Husain perhaps intended well, he picked a very complex subject to begin with, which his art was not up to, but what is more, waylaid by his own temperamental sensuality, he ended up doing blasphemy.  This is our considered opinion, the learned reader is free to draw his or her own.

Could he have not known what he had done?  To this, we think no he could not have immediately known what he had done.  A poet and an artist needs someone else to guide him.  In our chitra-shAstra, there is an important step after a painting is complete.  The ancient Hindu chitrakAra used to take his paintings to the experts, kalA-vichakShaNa-s, for a review.  They used to study the art and critique it for the benefit of the artist and the audience, providing not only their judgement on artistic worth, but also guidance to the painter from their deeper depths of understanding of art.  In our times, who were/are the critiques with whom Husain would have worked?  Perhaps those, who have no idea of Hindu aesthetics, Hindu rasa-shAstra, Hindu chitra-shAstra, for whom only Cezanne and Matisse are the guides.

However, we think Husain had realized his mistake after the controversy had begun.  And he was doing his prAyashchitta by painting the rAmAyaNa all over again in a hundred new paintings.  That is how an artist can do the prAyashchitta.  And that was his last project, noncommissioned, when the daivI niyati did not let him complete it.  We shall perhaps come to see in future his paintings from his unfinished rAmAyaNa series.

But we should explore this sensuality in Husain, which led him astray, just a bit more, which will also explain the other cluster of his controversial paintings, the scrawl like sarasvatI etc.


Few people know that Shri Aurobindo was, besides other things, also an accomplished art critic.  In his journal Arya, he used to regularly write columns on Hindu Art.  And he had also written at least two books dedicated to the rejuvenation of a genuine Hindu art, entitled “Basics of Indian Art” and “Significance of Art”, and he used to be in communication with Ananda Coomaraswamy and E B Havell on one hand and the svadeshI artists on the other.

In the early 1920s, Abanindranath Thakur once painted a composition titled ‘Bride of Shiva’.   The way it was painted had angered some.  An album of this painting and others of Abanindranath was brought before Aurobindo in Pondicherry to take a look.  The conversation that took place in the March of 1926, was recorded by a disciple in his diary and published as follows.

Sri Aurobindo: Are these pictures of Abanindranath his latest ones? They have given me a peculiar impression.

Disciple: They are his paintings and portraits since 1923.  Do you find that he has deteriorated?

Sri Aurobindo: No. But they all seem to be from the vital world. Of course, all Abanindranath’s paintings are from the vital world. But this time they appear to come from a peculiar layer of the vital plane.  I felt something like that vaguely, so I asked the Mother and she pointed out that it was the colouring which was responsible for the feeling or impression.

Disciple: We have many paintings of Nandalal dealing with Puranic subjects. But I find one or two are failures.

Sri Aurobindo: In Nandalal’s paintings you find the background of a strong mental conception; while Abanindra-nath’s paintings are from the vital world.  I would like to see some of his earlier works. My idea is that in Abanindra’s case the inspiration from Ajanta is not so strong as that of the Moghul and Rajput schools.

Disciple: Of late he has been leaning more towards the Moghul school. Besides, he has been changing his technique so often that it is very difficult to say which style has really impressed him. His subjects may be such as to suggest Mahomedan influence.

Sri Aurobindo: I do not think that the impression is due to the subject at all. It is due to the peculiar layer of the vital plane to which the pictures belong. For instance, take his “Bride of Shiva”. It is an Indian — a Hindu subject.  But it is not the bride of Shiva at all in his painting.  If at all it is Shiva’s bride, it is “the bride of Pashupati”: Shiva’s bride from the vital plane.

[Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, by A B Purani]

A good painter must paint by being in manomaya koSha, if not vij~nAnamaya.  In case of M F Husain, he is all about vital plane, all his paintings are the paintings from the lower prANamaya kosha.   Half of his 20,000 plus paintings are all about horses — unbridled, unsaddled, uncontrolled horses — stampeding and running amuck, tirelessly!  The other paintings where they are not running, it is because they are hurt and injured!  This painter was all about vital!  Never forget the vaidika and aupaniShadika imagery of horse which R^iShi dayAnanda and Shri Aurobindo used to explain as to mean prANa or senses.

And this painter was all about prANa.  Remember he lived to be over 95.  And he was about lower prANamaya.  And he was about mUlAdhAra.  Remember that besides the horses, of what remains, half the paintings are all of gaNesha.  gaNesha, the gatekeeper and the lord over mUlAdhAra.  This was Husain’s default base.  And gaNesha was his devatA in real sense.

We don’t think, he meant insult to sarasvatI when he painted those scrawl paintings, he just did not have access to sarasvatI, and being an artist he did want that access.  His sarasvatI was his frustration.  This is not sarasvatI, can not be even the basest level of sarasvatI.  And the painter knows that she is not sarasvatI, that is why the painter writes her name in bold!  Painter is convincing himself, even as he knows she is not sarasvatI.  The whole cluster of those three scrawl paintings are out of this artistic-spiritual frustration, and all of those he had painted at the same time in middle of 1970s.

And in middle of 1970s, having finished the first set of mahAbhArata and rAmAyaNa, Husain was interested in doing yaugika and tAntrika paintngs.  In this he would of course not succeed, but his paintings of those period show what he was doing.  He was painting bhairavI, he was painting uchcHiShTa gaNesha.  We also have come to see a mixed media, a photograph of a painting over a photograph, that is from 1975.  In this we can see Husain painting over a photograph of his own sitting naked in siddhAsana.  And he shows his mUlAdhAra flared up.  We shall not be able to put that picture here for obvious reasons.  Then there is another painting of gaNesha, which he titled ‘Frolicking Ganesha’, where Ganesha plays amuck with a canvas that is in the painting, on which there is woman’s sketch.  In the same period, same year, he also painted this below, which he had left untitled:

Untitled (Gandhis Sexual Experiments)

Notice the above, though it is untitled, it is clearly about Gandhi’s experiments with his bramhacharya/sexuality.  His upper garment is slipping away.  His right palm is restrictive, prohibitive, and doubtful.  And mUlAdhAra is symbolically highlighted with dark sphere.

All of this, we think, tell us about that phase when he did those things, and of course he was always driven by sensual energies; that was his base.

And he tried to atone for having sinned, having blasphemed.  He then painted dozens, maybe hundreds, of paintings with devatA-s, and respectfully, never doing that folly again.  This is how an artist can atone in our opinion.  Not by verbal apologies but visual.


We think we can conclude here, we are convinced in our mind that he was not an anti-Hindu, and to denigrate the Hindu deities on purpose was far from his motive on those paintings, offending as those are.  That is our opinion.

We can conclude here, but let us end with two of his 1971 paintings from his first set on the great bhArata.  These two were in the set which he displayed before Picasso.

Mbh Chariot of Arjuna

We have already seen a couple of Husain’s depictions of pArtha-sArathi theme in the last part. This is another of them, and is here to narrate one episode from the last day of the war, when as soon as returning to the camp arjuna descends from his chariot, it explodes. kR^iShNa then explains to arjuna that his chariot had already been destroyed by the arrows of karNa several days back, but that it was by his yoga-bala that he had sustained it for arjuna.  We see in the painting, the concentric elliptical-like shapes encircling the chariot which is held in balance by the playful elephant that is holding the cosmic ball, that there is a bigger chariot than that is visible to arjuna. arjuna is shown as astonished. Elephant stands for the kR^iShNa’s yoga-bala here. Smoke flying away reminds of the exploded ratha.

Mbh End of War

This is the last in the mahAbhArata set.  In this the painter has depicted the period of re-construction after the war is finished. On the right most section we see yudhiShThira depicted as a sagacious monarch, his left palm is shown in a mudrA as if contemplating and discoursing on policy and dharma. In the left sections we see many figures, but the gANDIva of arjuna and gadA of bhIma are most visible, the smaller figures are of the youngest pANDava-s; Arjuna’s right arm is shown as if pushing a boundary with his bow, representing the series of conquests by the four brothers in four directions.  In the central section the female figure represents draupadI, who is as if in conversation with a bird that has alighted on her left shoulder, representing that she has at last found peace after the whole sequence of tragedies. There are some bruises on her body, but those are fading.  We see a small falling figure in blue, near her thighs, showing that the tragedies were like a labour pain to deliver a new era.  The kaliyuga.

January 2, 2011

Yoga Asana, the Ancient Hindu Legacy

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

||नमो योगाय योगेश्वराय योगसिद्धाय योगशास्त्राय योगाधिराजाय नमो नमः||

आलोक्य सर्व शास्त्राणि विचार्य च पुनः पुनः, इदमेकम सुनिष्पन्नम योगशास्त्रम परम्मतम

We have seen in the previous part how the identity of pata~njali, about which Hindus have never had doubts, is maliciously obliterated by the western commentators of yoga.

Having obfuscated yoga-sUtra and having reduced its author to obscurity, next our western scholars say the following to reject the ancientness (and indigenousness) of yogAsana, an important pillar in the edifice of yoga:

“…The text usually cited as the definitive source for Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but the familiar poses that are part of Hatha Yoga are generally traced to Shiva cults, the god Shiva being its founder. The problem that is being swept aside is that exact dates cannot be assigned to any of these texts…” – Deepak Chopra

“…But these texts say nothing about the physical “positions” or “postures” that distinguish contemporary yoga. The postures developed much later, some from medieval Hatha Yoga and Tantra, but more from nineteenth-century European traditions such as Swedish gymnastics, British body-building, Christian Science, and the YMCA, and still others devised by twentieth-century Hindus such as T. Krishnamacharya and B. K. S. Iyengar, reacting against those non-Indian influences.” – Wendy Doniger

We are reminded of the remark of Prof. Surendranatha Dasgupta on such western yoga scholars in one of his lectures on Yoga to the students of Calcutta Univerity several decades back: “(These) unsympathetic and shallow-minded scholars lack the imagination and the will to understand the Indian thought and culture of its past.”

But even a very sympathetic scholar and a Hinduphile Dr. Koenraad Elst colludes with the general view of the above scholars when he says:

“…the description of these specific techniques is found in the Hatha Yoga classics which do not predate the 13th century: the Gheranda Samhita, the Shiva Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika… There too, a number of asana-s or postures is described, though important ones now popular in the Western (and westernized-Indian) yoga circuit, particularly standing ones, are still not in evidence even in these more recent texts. In the Yoga Sutra, they are totally absent. Patanjali merely defines Asana, ‘seat’, as ‘comfortable but stable’… I don’t think any other asana postures except those for simply sitting up straight have been recorded before the late-medieval Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and such.” – Dr. Koenraad Elst

Let us examine.

Having commented upon the yama-niyamau, pata~njali describes Asana, the third great limb of the yoga, in the following three yoga-sUtra-s:

sthira sukhamAsanam (2.46), prayatnashaithilyAnantyasamApattibhyAm (2.47), and tato dvandvAnabhighAt (2.48).

The view of Dr. Elst, that “pata~njali merely defines Asana as ‘seat’, ‘comfortable but stable’”, seems very simplistic reduction of the first sUtra sthirasukhamAsanam. Had Asana just meant so little as to merely mean a “comfortable but stable seat”, was it really worth enumerating as one of the limbs of the aShTA~Nga yoga? Would it not be pretty obvious to a rAjayoga student to anyway naturally take a “comfortable but stable seat” for practicing yoga? Why formulize upon Asana at all?

Indeed, the word “Asana” in simple saMskR^ita, in itself means to sit comfortably, according to its vyutpatti: “Asyate Asate anena iti Asanam” (deriving from the same dhAtu from which English ‘sit’ and ‘seat’ also came). That a sUtra-kAra of pata~njali’s fame, who scrupulously economizes on even half of the short vowels (as he says in the mahAbhAShya), should spend not one but three precious sUtra-s to Asana, when all he meant by it merely was a “comfortable but stable seat”, is hard to fathom. pata~njali must have a deeper meaning when he says sthirasukhamAsanam. What does he signify by the specific indication of ‘sthira-sukha’ in the sUtra, when ‘Asana’ itself would be sufficient had his intention been such a basic meaning as suggested?

The traditional Hindu wisdom says that deciphering the sUtras without help of an authoritative commentary, and better still under the guidance of a siddha preceptor, is fraught with the danger of gross errors for laymen. We refer therefore to the authorities of how they decipher what pata~njali implies in this first sUtra?

vyAsa explains the meaning of pata~njali here by considering the joint of “sthirasukha” and “Asana” to be the karmadhAraya samAsa, making the sUtra mean, “That Asana is here called Asana which yields sthira-sukha i.e. unwavering delight”.

AchArya shaMkara in his own TIkA explains this sUtra as, “yasmin Asane sthitasya manogAtrANAmupajAyate sthiratvam, duHkham cha yena nAbhavati tadabhyaset.” [Practice is recommended of that Asana which leads the practitioner’s mind to immovableness and constancy, and does not cause any discomfort.]

vAchaspati mishra in the eighth century explains this sUtra in his tattva vaiShAradi as, “sthiram nishchalam yatsukham sukhAvaham tadAsana”: Asana is that which yields a comfort that is lasting, stable, and unwavering. (Although vAchaspati also treats the samAsa between sthira and sukha as bahubrIhi: “sthiram sukham yena tat”).

But the clearest explanation of the sUtra comes from our favourite scholar, bhojadeva the learned rAjan: “Asana, the posture. Posture without motion. One that leads the practitioner to the not-flickering and lasting comfort. Only that type of Asana is Asana-proper, counted as one of the eight limbs of yoga.”

So, all these eminent authors on yoga understand pata~njali’s instruction to not mean just any “comfortable but stable seat”, which by definition ‘Asana’ anyway is, but specifically an Asana that gives the sthira sukha to the yogAbhyAsI helping him reach a concentrated mind; such an Asana alone is called yogAsana. Like ‘chitta’, pata~njali is not defining ‘Asana’, as he considers Asana to have been already understood earlier, he is only adding these further qualifications to it.

But is Wendy Doniger right when she says that the old texts including YS “say nothing about the physical “positions” or “postures” that distinguish contemporary yoga”, a view which Dr. Elst and Deepak Chopra seem to share? What about Chopra’s opinion when he says that the “the familiar poses are generally traced to Shiva cults”?

Let us explore this next.

Contrary to the above assertions, we find that ancient authorities mention the yogAsana-s, referring to them by name. Even the fairly antiquated commentaries of the pata~njali’s yoga sUtra itself, preceding the haThayoga dIpikA and gheraNya saMhita etc. by several centuries, already explain that Master pata~njali particularly implied these same standard “postures” when he instructed upon Asana in the yoga-sUtra.

Consider the oldest available commentary on yoga sUtra by vyAsa. The author ends his explanation of pata~njali’s ‘sthira-sukham-Asanam’ with a list of the names of Asana-s, “…tadyathA padmAsanam bhadrAsanam vIrAsanam daNDAsanaM sopAshrayaM parya~Nkam krau~nchaniShadanam, hastiniShadanam, uShTRa niShadanam, samasaMsthAnaM sthirasukham yathAsukham cha ityevamAdIni”, that is, “Asana like the padmAsana or the bhadrAsana, vIrAsana, daNDAsana, or (squatting ) postures like parya~Nka or sopAshraya, or postures named after krau~ncha bird, or the Camel posture or the Elephant posture, or samAsana, or any other comfortable (instructed) posture which provide sthira sukha”.  This elaborate list, though not exhaustive as the author says these are examples, is from at least as old as the 6th century if not older.

Explaining the same sUtra of ‘sthirasukhamAsanam’, AchArya shaMkara also concludes his explanation of pata~njali’s instruction with, “…tadyathA shAstrAntara prasiddhAni nAmAni padmAsanAdIni pradarshyante”, meaning “…that is, for example, those well known postures explained in the other shAstras, like the padmAsana etcetera.”] He even desribes, out of these, padmAsana, bhadrAsana and daNDAsana in instructive details.

An astute reader cannot fail to notice the casualness shown here in mentioning the representative names of the postures, when both the above authors refer to a few names of the Asana-s, followed by ‘Adi’, etcetera, meaning that the reader is anyway easily familiar with them.

Also observe the words AchArya shaMkara uses above, “prasiddhAni nAmAni”, explicitly signifying that many Asanas were already famous by specific names and were not worth repeating there.

Besides the above, further note the important word he uses, ‘shAstrAntara’. It is significant that shaMkara not only refers to these postures as famous, but also says those are ‘shAstrAntara’, or explained elsewhere beyond the yogasUtra or by the “other shAstra-s”. Of course we have no means at present to say which other shAstra he was referring here, but probably some older material no more extant.

In an entirely different book, that is the celebrated bramha-sUtra-bhAShya, AchArya shaMkara further refers to the Asana postures in a similar vein when he says, “ata eva padmakAdInAmAsana visheShANAmupadesho yogashAstre”: “…This is why yoga-shAstra particularly prescribes the postures like padmAsana etcetera…” (See BSB 4.1.10 under ‘smaranti cha’)

Still elsewhere, and very significantly, AchArya shaMkara alludes to the yoga darshana and its development from the vaidika roots. In the same bhAShya talking about yoga system what strikes his mind as uniquely characteristic of yoga, is its elaborate system of Asana! AchArya remarks: “AsanAdi-kalpanA-purassaram bahu-prapa~ncham yoga-vidhAnam shvetAshvataropaniShAdi dR^ishyate” [“Such emphasis on postures and related amplified prapa~ncha, one can already sense in the (old) upaniShada-s such as that of shvetAshvatAra etcetera”]

This is a very important testimony we get from the AchArya that even as far back as in his time, he understood the importance of the elaborate system of Asana postures to have gone back to the ancient upaniShada times, and their development being of a very obscure antiquity.

We return again to the genius bhoja rAjan, who, still a few centuries before the haThayoga classics that are available to us, enumerates some specific yoga postures. Having explained the meaning of sthirasukhamAsanam, he ends his statement by saying, “padmAsana-daNDAsana-svastikAsanAdi | tadyadA sthiraM niShkampaM sukhaM anudvejanIyaM bhavati tadA tadyogA~NgatAM bhajate”, meaning,”…such as padmAsana, daNDAsana, svAstikAsana etcetera. When the (practice of) a posture (advances, it) becomes (a vehicle) yielding of a stable unwavering sukha and is not uncomfortable (anymore). That is when it becomes, that much-praised limb of the (eight) yoga a~Nga-s, the blessed Asana.]

Here rAjA bhoja also interprets pata~njali to have really meant the specific yoga postures, giving here the names of postures such as padma, daNDa, and svAstika Asana-s. And he also adds an “Adi”, etcetera, to mean that already there must be a long list of very famous and commonly known Asana-s which he felt no need to elaborate upon beyond ‘etcetera’. The above shows, we think, that in light of these ancient authorities, we can take it that pata~njali did imply specific postures that are understood as standard yoga Asana-s, and not just any comfortable seat.

But already, even much before pata~njali himself, the Asana-s were already quite well known and practiced, as AchArya shaMkara said. We find an attestation from the Great bhArata of his observation, that the concept of Asana, that is the specific yoga postures, in the technical sense of it, was already an integral part of spiritual practice of ascetics. From the araNyakaparvan the 3rd book of mahAbhArata:

bhR^igor maharSheH putro ‘bhUch chyavano nAma bhArgavaH
samIpe sarasaH so ‘sya tapas tepe mahAdyutiH
sthANubhUto mahAtejA vIrasthAnena pANDava
atiSThat subahUn kAlAn ekadeshe vishAM pate
sa valmIko ‘bhavad R^iShir latAbhir abhisaMvR^itaH
kAlena mahatA rAjan samAkIrNaH pipIlikaiH (MBh 3.122.1-3)

[“A son was born to the great bhR^igu, chyavana by name. And he, of an exceedingly resplendent body, began to perform austerities by the side of a lake. And, O Son of pANDu, O Protector of men! He of mighty energy assumed the Posture known as the Vira, in it being quiet and still like an inanimate post, and for a long period remained immobile at the same spot in the same posture. And as a long time elapsed he was swarmed by the ants turned into an anthill covered with the creepers growing upon it.”]

In the anushAsana parvan, the thirteenth book:

vIrAsanaM vIrashayyAM vIrasthAnam upAsataH
akSayAs tasya vai lokAH sarvakAmagamAs tathA MBh 13.7.13

[“He who performs tapscharya-s sitting in the vIrAsana posture, by going to the secluded dense forest (where only the braves dare tread) and sleeping on the (hard rock,) the bed worthy for the braves, he attains to those eternal regions where all the objects of desire are fulfilled (or desires are nullified)”]

(In above, we differ in translating the verse from how the learned paNDita shrI K M Ganguly translated it. He takes the first line in sense of gaining martyrdom on the battlefield assuming the posture of vIrAsana.)

At yet another place in the same anushAsana parvan, mahAdeva is describing to umAdevI the routine of tapasyA that the ascetic siddha yogi-s perform:

yogacharyAkR^itaiH siddhaiH kAmakrodhavivarjanam
vIrashayyAm upAsadbhir vIrasthAnopasevibhiH
yuktair yogavahaiH sadbhir grIShme pa~ncatapais tathA
maNDUka-yoganiyatair yathAnyAyaniShevibhiH
vIrAsanagatair nityaM sthaNDile shayanais tathA
shItayogo ‘gniyogashcha chartavyo dharmabuddhibhiH (MBh 13.130.8–10)

[“Observant of the excellent ordinances relating to Yoga, having alleviated the passions of lust and violence, seated in the posture called vIrAsana in the midst of four fires on four sides with the sun overhead in summer months, duly practising what is called mANDUkya yoga, and sleeping on bare rocks or on the earth, these men, with hearts set upon dharma, expose themselves to the extremes of cold and warm (and are unaffected by the duality).”]

Not only do we find evidence in mahAbhArata therefore, of the importance given to the postures, specific postures, we should also observe that much before pata~njali, mahAbhArata already describes the yoga praxis in great detail. In the anushAsana parvan, it even describes the aShTA~Nga-s of yoga and even lists the famous teachers of sAMkhya and yoga, in which list pata~njali does not figure. This also means that the yoga text in the bhArata was pre-pata~njali and that by the time of pata~njali, yoga was quite a very well founded practice, its Asanas included.

In the early classical saMskR^ita literature also, we find the Asana-s mentioned. The Emperor of saMskR^ita poetry, mahAkavi kAlidAsa, already names the yaugika postures. He mentions vIrAsana in his raghuvaMsham by name (13.52) and also beautifully describes the siddhAsana through a verse. Ancient drama mR^ichcHakaTikA, going back to the BCE age, also describes yoga posture (see the opening chapter).

Dr. Elst has wondered why only sitting postures characterize or at least dominate the yogAsana-s, speculating that this is to do with the climatic conditions: that the Chinese postures being in standing position because it is wet and cold out there, whereas Hindu ones being in sitting position because of the warm climate here.

But the observation is inaccurate. Indeed we have enough textual and non-textual records of Hindu Asana-s also in standing, half-standing and leaning postures too from fairly old periods. mahAbhArata itself attests to this at multiple places, too numerous to recount, that standing postures were common for tapashcharyA. We find many ancient frescoes, murals, and bas-relief from old temples displaying the yoga postures in the standing position, see for instance the pallava temple carvings at mahAbalIpuram, dated to the 600s, depicting arjuna, bhagIratha and other characters (including a charlatan cat), to be performing the ascetics standing in the classical postures like the tADAsana and vR^ikShAsana. There are many other sources that attest to the postures in standing position, particularly for performing the tapascharyA, more specifically recorded by the early nAstika grantha-s, and both the bauddha and jaina texts record the standing postures.

vR^ikShAsana mahAbalIpuram

mahAvIra’s austerities in pristine tADAsana is all too famous. Also important to note is that the jaina-s carefully record that bhagavat mahAvIra acquired his siddhi while he was in a specific yoga posture known as the godohanAsana (see image), so called because it resembles how one milches the cow.  godohanAsana remains a classical standard yoga posture.

mahAvIra in godohanAsana

We further find traces of standard yoga postures in standing, half-standing, or leaning positions in other extra-yaugika special interest groups such as those in nATya and the practitioners of the Hindu martial arts, both of which are concerned with and utilize the standard yoga postures. The dhanurveda texts, variously titled and differently dated, tell us about specific Asana-s to be employed for specific purposes. The most complete, last redacted in the present form by around the 13th century but obviously containing much older material, the dhanurveda of vyAsa, tells the archers to assume one of the Eight Asana-s while shooting the arrow, each of which except the last, is in standing and half-standing posture. It describes each Asana and even mentions them by well known names such as the Asana-s of vishAkha, padma, and garuDa. Other and older Hindu martial art texts such as those contained within the purANa-s or bauddha pAlI sUtra-s inform us about the specific standing postures useful for practicing malla and other yuddha vidhA-s.

Coming to the climate part, yoga authors specifically mention that the Asana, by one of its very purposes, takes the body of the practitioner beyond the effects of climate and other such dualities. Explaining the last yoga sUtra on Asana, “dvandvAnabhighAt”, rAjan bhoja explicitly gives the example of climate, saying when the practitioner has perfected the yogAsana, the very effect of it is that Asana makes his body transcend and withstand the effects of extreme climate, both warm and cold.

To summarize, what the foregoing discussion aimed to show is that Asana had already acquired a technical sense during mahAbhArata, and even before, from upaniShadic times. That pata~njali does not need to define Asana itself, but simply add more specific qualifiers to it, also shows that the concept of specific Asanas was already a common knowledge. Such names of Asanas as padmAsana, daNDAsana, bhadrAsana, svAstikAsana, and vIrAsana, vajrAsana etc. were so very common and well known among the Hindus already from very early days. By as early as the 6th century we find the yoga authors not only mentioning them by name, but in a sense that it was such a common knowledge that simply indicating a few names appended by ‘etcetera’ is sufficient to indicate them all.  We also see that even these ancient Hindus were conscious about much further antiquity of the system of postures for yoga, as even AchArya shaMkara remarks about its obscurely ancient origins and wide popularity and recognition already by the time of the old layer of the upaniShada-s.  We also noted that the Asana-s, the postures, is what he takes as being a general identifying characteristic trait of the yoga system.  There are old records of not only sitting but standing, half-standing and leaning postures being practiced, and that the yoga authors were particular about Asana being for the very purpose to make the body of practitioner withstand the worldly dualities like the hot and cold climate.

The hindU-dviTa vultures delegitimizing the Hindu legacy of yogAsana remind us of how the legacies of our glorious cousins the Hellenes of Greece were also robbed away, how the fanatic pretamata first undermined, then outlawed, and finally secularized as its own, the ancient spiritual gymnast-athletics and its kumbha-like deeply spiritual festival of Olympic that was celebrated to honour the dyauspitR^i. Lamentably the perished Hellenic civilization would be unable to reclaim the Olympic from what it has now been vulgarized and secularized into. But the Hindu civilization is still alive, so far at least, to call yogAsana its asset, happy to share with the world, but as its very own ancestral civilizational and spiritual legacy.

January 12, 2010

Some legends of bhojadeva

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Many legends of rAjan bhojadeva pramAra allude to widespread erudition of the common man of his reign; many tales portray carpenters, potters, ironsmiths, tailors, field-labourers and even thieves having stunning knowledge of saMskR^ita and poetic talent.

Once, goes one such legend, a criminal condemned with capital punishment by the nyAyAdhyakSha was brought before bhoja for final hearing. Having heard the case bhoja asked the convict whether he had any plea before he delivered his verdict.  The criminal, as is anticipated in the bhoja legends, responded with:

भट्टिर्नष्टो भारविश्चापि नष्टो भिक्षुर्नष्टो भीमसेनश्च नष्टः
भुक्कुण्डोहम् भुपतिस्त्वम् च राजन भानां पंक्तावंतकः सम्प्रविष्टः

bhaTTi has died, so has bhAravi; bhikShu is dead, so also bhImasena;
(Now watch out) O rAjan, yamarAja seems bent on consuming away the “bha-” vya~njana sequence (by the svara order a-A-i-I-u-U- etc), and with bhukkuNDa, that is me, about to be executed, you, bhUpati bhojadeva, might be the next one on his list! 

Poetic audacity ensured clemency to the saMskR^ita-speaking convict.

Once his tailor taking measurements for making a waistcoat, uttererd this prAkR^ita pada:  “bho.a.ehu gali kaNThula.u bhaNa keha.u paDihA.i / ura lachcHihi muha sarasati sIma nibaddhi kA.i”  [O bhojadeva, (shall I) say how I see your neck? As if a boundary drawn between the realms of lakShamI residing in your heart and of sarasvatI in your mouth!]

prabandha chintAmaNi mentions that once traveling bhoja passed by an inn in his kingdom, and desirous of knowing how it was kept by the innkeepers, he went inside.  It was managed by a lady named sItA and her daughter vijayA.  The senior innkeeper impressed bhoja with her erudite poetry and was welcomed to join his retinue of the learned poets, and vijayA who was as splendid at poetry as striking she was in her looks, eventually won bhoja’s heart and became her favourite.  One conversation is given:  bhoja uttered, “suratAya namastasmai jagadAnanda-dAyine” [Bow to lovemaking, giver of pleasure to the worlds] to which she replied, “AnuSha~Ngika-phalaM yasya bhojarAja bhavAdR^ishAH” [which brings the births of the likes of bhojadeva.]  This is similar to the conversation of samasyA-pUrti between bhoja and another young poetess in appreaciation of whose looks bhoja remarked, “asAre khalu saMsAre sAram sAra~NgalochanA” [Of this baseless world the only essence is those with the bow-like-eyes (women like you)], to which pat came the reply, “yasyAM kukShau samutpanno bhojarAja bhavAdR^ishaH” [whose wombs give birth to the likes of bhojarAja] 

Once, says PC, bhoja taught his parrot to repeat ‘eko na bhavyaH’ [Only this one is not good], and asked his favourite vararuchi (the author of metrical vikramacharita and others) to go compose a convincing reply before the end of the day, on completion of which a great reward awaited.  As the fate would have it he just could not find the right words and he was sitting by uttering these words near a field where the cows of an elderly shepherd were grazing.  The shepherd approached him and asked what the matter was.  vararuchi told him.  Now the old man said that he could provide the best answer to this and let vararuchi have the reward, only if varachuti took him to the king, and carry his pet dog on his shoulders as the shepherd was too old to carry it himself.  vararuchi did as told, and before bhojadeva the shepherd recited a pada that meant that, “Causing even a learned brAhmaNa to carry on his own shoulders the dog of a shepherd, the greed for money and fame is the one thing that is no good!”

In another legend, bhoja was once riding his horse when he saw an elderly timber-seller carrying an apparently heavy burden on his shoulders, so he asked him, in “broken” saMskR^ita, whether the burden was not too heavy for the old man.  To this, the man sadly replied with a hemstitch in immaculate saMskR^ita, “Not anymore O moon-like bhojadeva, now that I have an even heavier burden on my heart!  That our beloved rAjan either himself speaks ashuddha bhAShA or likely thinks that we do.”  After apologies from bhoja, the man was greatly rewarded.

The great mammaTa of kashmIra country said about bhoja:  “Scattered at night from the strings during kAmakeli from the bedrooms of the learned / pearls from being swept in the morning by the careless housemaids used to reach the streets/ where in reflection of the redness of AlatA from the feet of the young girls playfully walking / used to delude the parrots who chewed on them thinking to be pomegranate seeds / such was dhArA, and such its king bhojadeva whose generosity and scholarship created such happy days.” (kAvyaprakAsha 10.505)

October 16, 2008

rAjA bhojadeva and rAma setu

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

This interesting reference to rAma setu comes from one of those trifling and forgotten episodes, which although insignificant in detail, change the course of history.

One dark night a contingent of armed men, under a crimson flag decorated with golden garuDa, the royal insignia of mAlava country, was swiftly riding on the wild banks of vetrAvatI (betavA) along with a prisoner and an execution-warrant.

Despite being a mighty ruler of mAlava, with boundaries stretching between chambal in north to godAvarI in south, paramAra mu~njadeva was living with a sense of insecurity from a young prince, a nephew of his own and hardly a teenager. This prince, bhoja his name, was quickly gaining many admirers among paNDita-s and Generals alike. Despite being inflicted with a terrible brain tumor, he was proving himself to be a rare talent of both shastra and shAstra, hard to say which his better forte was. All the influentials of the kingdom were foreseeing the promise of the chakravartin-crown kissing his brows. Envy and alarm having taken possession of the king’s better judgment, he at last decided to liquidate this potential danger to his throne, and ordered his trusted guards for a secret execution, for which the prince was now stealthily being taken into the woods on the banks of betavA in thick of that night.

The young victim of royal envy was composed to bravely meet his end, and after his prayers to vAgdevI and mahAkAla of ujjayinI, the youth had only one last wish. Once the executioners return back to the capital, they should pass on a message to his king-uncle, which he scribbled upon a cloth in form of a chhanda, his last, and apocryphally, in his own blood:

mAndhAtA sa mahIpatiH kR^ita-yugAla~NkAra-bhUto gataH
seturyena mahodadhau virachitaH kvAsau dashAsyaAntakaH
anyechApi yudhiShThira prabhR^itayo yAtA divaM bhUpate
naikenApi samaM gatA vasumatI manye tvayA yAsyati

{An emperor like mAndhAtA passed who came to grace satya-yuga. Next yuga saw another great who constructed even a setu over ocean to destroy the ten-headed devil, and he too passed. Yet in the next age came yudhiShThira of mighty fame. While all those great monarchs departed in their respective eras, the earth did not accompany any of them. It seems likely O Emperor that she might finally go with you when your own time comes.}

Having scribbled these last lines of his life, bhoja was now ready to meet his death.

But little did he know that destiny had other plans for him.

Seeing an unnecessary and wasteful end to such a talented prince, a ray of mercy arose in the heart of the commanding officer. At his risk, and in his hope against hope, he decided to put off the execution by a day and leaving bhoja in custody of his men, he rushed to the capital and delivered the message to the King. The King, reading the lines, was so moved that all his envy was washed away now by guilt. When the commander informed him that prince was still safe, he was overjoyed and not only did he himself bring bhoja back, but also declared him the heir in preference over his own sons.

And indeed it would seem destiny had other utility of bhoja when it inspired him to scribble that chhanda on the banks of betavA that night and saved his life. For, it was then that hundreds of miles away on the shores of the Oxus and Syr-Dariya, barbaric hordes of turuShka-s and Usbecs, having recently equipped themselves with the zeal of Islam, were gathering storm to pour down upon the Hindus, for the first time inside India-proper to the east of Indus.

It was bhoja, who had now become the mighty ruler of mAlava when the savage marauders from west and now followers of Quran, marching under the banner of mahamuda of gazna, invaded gujarAta which was on bhoja’s south-western neighborhood and ruled by an enemy prince. When bhoja heard of the sack and desecration of somanAtha, even in the domain of his enemy, he immediately marched with his army and that of his neighbours to punish Mahmud. And chroniclers, both Hindu and Muslim, record that bhoja meted out such harsh retaliation on the returning army of turuShka-s and Usbecs, marching in pursuit of Mahmud all the way upto Indus, destroying entire Muslim enemy that was met on the way and crushing invaders so completely, that never again in his life Mahmud dared to set his eyes to the east of Indus. The complete annihilation befell the branch of forces of Quran that had wandered northwards beyond the banks of Ganga, and this ensured that India was safe from Islamic invasions for almost 150 years to come. No wonder bhaviShya purANa remembers bhoja as the slayer of muhammad, and alludes to prophet appearing to bhoja in dream and giving him his confessions of creating a corrupt dharma.

And that chhanda which bhoja wrote that night mentioning rAma setu, was not to be his last after all. During the long fifty-five years of his reign, despite being always on the battlefield he did compose numerous works varying greatly in nature, spanning across the subjects of philosophy to politics, poetry to civil architecture, and much more.

(The basic story as well as the said chhanda is recored by biographer merutu~Nga in his prabandha-chintAmaNi)

September 26, 2008

The Hoax Called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – 3: Vikrama, Poetics and Upanishada

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

In the previous parts (1:hitopadesha, 2:pa~nchatantra and chANakya) we have seen how the ancient texts of nIti have treated the aphorism of vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM.  In this concluding part, we shall survey the rest of the sources where this shloka has appeared and understand the contexts of its usage.

vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in vikrama-charita

Very few monarchs come close to finding a comparable place in the Hindu subconscious, which even after the elapse of a millennium, the memory of legendary bhojadeva paramAra of dhArAvatI commands. Unlike others confined to the pages of history, his legacy lives on in so many ways, in urban proverbs and rural songs, in crude jokes and scholarly legends, or in massively popular folklores inspired by siMhAsana-battIsI aka dvA-triMshata-puttalikA-siMhAsanam or vikrama-charita, which to this date are the favorite of rural storytellers.

First composed probably during the reign of bhoja in the eleventh century CE, or more likely shortly afterwards, this collection of thirty-two tales eventually became so popular that these were transmitted very early, as early as 1305, to even far away Mongolia and thence to Russia and Germany, so that even today ‘Arji Buji’ (from rAjA bhoja) is a hero in Mongolian folklore, and at least one story of Grimms’ collection of German tales is based on this work too.

The framework of the collection is such, that in its each tale bhoja tries to ascend a throne belonging to the legendary vikramAditya, supported by a base of thirty-two statuettes.  In each attempt, one of the statuettes would recite to him a story about the greatness of vikramAditya and demand bhoja whether he was up to him in virtue.  Hearing the tale bhoja would silently step back from the throne in humility, until the very end of the work when he would be proclaimed entitled to the throne by the very decree of Gods, a symbolic way of the author to claim for bhoja the same pedestal in glory as that of vikramAditya the chief hero of these tales.


It is in this popular work that we find our next stop for the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, and at last here it is seen definitely in a positive sense. There are six major recensions found of vikrama-charita: a most common southern recension, manuscripts of which are found mostly from Andhra; a metrical recension with entire text in anuShtubha meter; a prose-only brief recension; two individual jaina recensions in devanAgarI mostly from central and western India; and finally a recension of vararuchi. Then there is another popular collection of tales spawned by vikrama-charita: twenty-five vetAla fables known as vetAla pa~nchaviMshati or vetAla pachIsI, the germs of which are found in one of the 32-siMhAsana tales itself.

Among all the six recensions, VK can be sited in three, coming in three separate stories.

In the southern recension mostly in Telugu manuscripts, the shloka appears in the opening of a tale called sarvasva-dakShiNA-yaj~na-varNanam recited to bhoja by the third puttalikA named suprabhA. Here the VK shloka is a very different variant from the popular one:

अयं निजः परोवेति विकल्पो भ्रान्तचेतसाम
पुनस्तूदार चित्तानां वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम (वि.च, आन्ध्र, ३.१)

ayaM nijaH paroveti vikalpo bhrAnta chetasAm
punastUdAra chittAnAM vasudhaiva kuTumbakam (VC, Andhra, 3.1)

This tale which opens with VK is about vikramArka’s bravery in renunciation. He once decides to perform a grand ya~jna in ujjayinI, in connection of which he dispatches a brAhmaNa towards south to invite Sea-God. While Sea-God did not come, he returned the brAhmaNa with a gift of four rare magical gems for vikrama, each of which had a different magical quality. By the time this envoy returns back to ujjayinI, the yaj~na is completed and the king has donated everything he had to others. Having nothing left with him, he would ask this brAhmaNa to accept any one of those gems whichever he chose. An interesting debate would ensue between the brAhmaNa, his wife, son and daughter-in-law, about which one of the four gems should be kept. In the end they being undecided, vikrama would generously grant them all the four gems, even though he had no wealth left with himself and was in need.

In the jaina recension, the shloka of VK appears in an intriguing tale known as paropakArAya-svadehAhuti-dAna, recited by suprabhA who is here the seventeenth statuette. This tale too is about the magnanimity of vikrama and his generous disposition. In this story, there is a certain ruler of an insignificant fiefdom who once overhears the praises of vikrama and inquires as to why vikrama was so great. He is told that it was because of his generosity in donations. In jealousy the ruler decides to perform his own enterprise of donations, but having not sufficient income he would think of generating wealth through tantra-prayoga. He contracts a group of sixty-four yoginI-s to perform a certain anuShThAna which every time conducted would produce for him a certain amount of gold. However each time he would have to give up his body in an arduous prayoga at the end of which the yoginI-s would resurrect him with a new body. This painful exercise was undertaken a few times while vikramAditya came to learn about it. So one day when the prayoga was on, at the right moment vikrama would appear at the scene and jump into flames. The yoginI-s would be greatly pleased and after resurrecting him, they would grant him a desired boon. The story climaxes with vikrama’s generosity, when he appeals to yoginI-s to grant wealth to the jealous ruler without having to repeatedly undergo that ordeal.

In yet another jaina recension, and a quite late one written by paNDita shubhashIla gaNi in 1437 CE, the standard shloka of VK recurs in yet another story where it represents the justice of vikrama.

In the other recensions the shloka is simply absent.  Incidentally, bhojadeva also composed (or commissioned) a compendium of subhAShita-s attributed to kauTilya, titled chANakya-rAjanIti-shAstra, and VK is not found in the versions we have seen so far.

VK appears this way in vikrama-charita, representing the generosity and justice of the king, and yet, not in any sense of universal brotherhood as is commonly misunderstood these days.

vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in Classical Poetics

Now, if the authors of various recensions of vikrama-charita decided to quote VK to highlight the magnanimity of their hero, it must have surely been a popular shloka by their time representing the sentiment of generosity.  Indeed VK has appeared in all of these, explicitly in sense of being quoted from some reference.  If so, where could that be from?

We have to understand that by the time of their composition, the art of poetics in saMskR^ita literature had been transformed into a proper discipline of science.  Precision in characterization of each emotion, appropriateness of expression, accuracy in usage of right meters for specific purposes, acceptable tolerance of liberty with grammar in poetry, how and when new words can be coined if at all – these had become commonplace knowledge among not only saMskR^ita literati but even broader elites.  A few distinct, independent, and competing schools of thought on poetic discipline had already evolved and matured such as the vaidarbha, kAshmIraka and gauDIya schools.

And as far as quoting from a common text is concerned, we should remember that by this time, the system of yellow-pages-like encyclopedic anthologies of subhAShita-s, the free floating, orally transmitted, public domain maxims, adages and aphorisms, had also become quite popular. Such anthologies, often called kosha-s or saMgraha-s were not only useful to common users to enhance their expression in speech, but also certainly referred by the dramatists and prose-writers such as those of vikrama-charita, to quote suitably according to the mood and situation of the context.

subhAShitAvaliH of vallabhadeva is one such grand collection with thousands of such poetic phrases coming from dozens of poets, and classified under various topics.  It lists the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM as an ideal expression of audArya, the sentiment of generosity, in its following variant:

अयं बन्धुः परोवेति गणना लघु चेतसाम
पुंसामुदार चित्तानां वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम (उदाराः, ४९८)

ayaM bandhuH paroveti gaNanA laghu chetasAM
pumsAmudAra chittAnAM vasudhaiva kuTumbakaM (subhAShitAvaliH, udArAH, 498.)

vallabhadeva has listed VK as third in the sequence under ‘generosity’ (ironically, next to the section on niggardly misers). vallabhadeva hands us another very significant lead by assigning the authorship of this shloka to udbhaTa bhaTTa an eighth-century poet from kAshmIra, who was an important milestone in the progress of kAshmIraka brand of poetics, the development of which began with bhAmaha and completed in mammaTa.

Now let us then examine where exactly and in which context udbhaTa might have uttered this verse.  Of all that is available anymore from the pen of udbhaTa, and he is said to have composed at least three major works, we are unable to find the shloka of VK. We do know through his contemporaries that he composed bhAmaha-vivaraNa a commentary on bhAmaha, kumara-sambhava a kAvya, and kAvyAlaMkAra-sAra-saMgraha, a treatise on recommended expressions and embellishments in poetry. Of these the first two are lost and not extant anymore — the first one probably falling to disuse after mammaTa had delivered the last word on the subject, and kumara-sambhava probably drowned in competition to the mahAkAvya of same title by the emperor of saMskR^ita poetry. However, his kAvyAlaMkAra-sAra-saMgraha is still extant besides other snippets of his, quoted by writers such as indurAja the teacher of savant abhinavagupta in his laghuvR^itti, or indeed like the three verses of his preserved by vallabhadeva in subhAShitAvaliH from where we came to him.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that udbhaTa might have used the shloka of VK is some works which are lost to us, although we have no means of knowing the context in which he would have used VK. But we do know that he would have been only quoting this shloka and not have been its original author as claimed by vallabhadeva, since more than a full millennium before udbhaTa, viShNUsharman had already quoted it in pa~nchatantra.

Talking of poetry and talking of vikramAditya and bhoja, another name that naturally springs up in our minds is bhartR^ihari, the maverick elder brother of vikramAditya. bhartR^ihari’s three famous volumes of a hundred shloka-s each, nIti-shatakam, vairAgya-shatakam, and shR^iMgAra-shatakam, are very widespread and commonly found. Although the contents of shataka-s vary between various versions of theirs, the sholka of VK is not found in any of these that we have seen so far except for one edition compiled by Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi. [bhartR^ihari-viracita-shatakatrayAdi-subhAShita-saMgraha, D.D.Kosambi (1948.)]. However, considering the overwhelming evidence of VK being absent in a vast majority of various recensions of bhartR^ihari’s trayI, it seems more sensible to conclude that it must have been an interpolation in this single source where kosambi sighted it. Besides, as the earlier works already quote this shloka, that rules out its authorship to bhartR^ihari.

vasudhaiva kuTumbakam in upaniShada

So far we have seen hitopadesha and pa~nchatantra, compendiums of aphorisms of kauTilya and bhartR^ihari, Andhra and jaina recensions of vikrama-charita, encyclopedic anthology by vallabhadeva and through him the snippets of udbhaTa. Nowhere, not in the least, do the authors of any of these works ever claim to be the origin of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam. In every single instance, the verse has been explicitly quoted as a remark often appended with ‘as has been said’.

But there is one and the only one exception to this where this shloka comes as a natural, inherent and intrinsic part of the base text, and that is why we had kept that source to be examined in the end.

In the seventh adhikaraNa of the second chapter of shrI-bhAShyam, the prominent and most celebrated commentary on bramha-sUtra, AchArya rAmAnuja is critiquing the philosophies of kApAla, kAlamukha and pAshupata schools of shaiva mata-s in its thirty-sixth sUtra. There, he quotes in support of his arguments the first line of a rather less known and referred upaniShada – mahopaniShada (“eko ha vai nArAyaNa AsinnabramhA neshAnaH… sa ekAkI na ramate” MU1.1). Now this upaniShada, although not as much circulated or read as the others, is certainly not devoid of authenticity and importance. For, we also find many other classical vedAntins making references to mahopaniShada, including but not limited to yamunAchArya in puruSha-nirNaya, nArAyaNArya in tattva-nirNaya, and yAdavaprakAsha in his commentary on the bhagavadgItA, to mention but a few.

The shloka of vasudhiava-kuTumbakam, a slightly different variant of it, is to be found in this mahopaniShada as the seventy-second shloka of its sixth chapter. Here instead of ‘ayaM nijaH paroveti’, the shloka reads as ‘ayaM bandhurayaM neti’ (‘this is a friend and that one not’), while the rest of the anuShTubha remains the same.

To understand the total meaning and context of VK here, quoted below are the shloka-s 70-73 from its sixth chapter:

उदारः पेशलाचारः सर्वाचारानुवृत्तिमान
अन्तःसङ्ग-परित्यागी बहिः संभारवानिव
अन्तर्वैराग्यमादाय बहिराशोन्मुखेहितः
अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं

भावाभाव विनिर्मुक्तं जरामरणवर्जितं
प्रशान्त कलनारभ्यं नीरागं पदमाश्रय
एषा ब्राम्ही स्थितिः स्वच्छा निष्कामा विगतामया
आदाय विहरन्नेवं संकटेषु न मुह्यति
(महोपनिषद ६.७०-७३)

The above text is describing the lakShaNa and behaviour of great men who are elevated to the coveted brAmhI sthiti of spiritual realm. The above says:

“(That elevated one in brAmhI sthiti) is generous, always clean in behaviour, in accordance to the established norms of conduct, and free from all attachments in life. From inside, he has renounced everything, even though outwardly he would appear to carry out worldly duties (like any other mortal. However, unlike) the small hearts of (ordinary) people (who discriminate by) saying ‘This one is a friend and that one a stranger’ these (great men in brAmhI-sthiti) are of magnanimous hearts and embrace the entire world as their own family. They have gained liberation from all constraints of ordinary life, like old age and death; their fires (of klesha-s) have become extinguished; and in them no attachment finds any shelter (anymore). Such (Listen O best amongst the brAhmaNa-s, are those who have achieved) the status of brAmhI sthiti, the absolutely pure; that which is beyond all cravings and sufferings. Equipped with such attributes they freely roam (the earth), without knowing any calamity.”

Not a recommendation or prescription of any sort, not an ideal or a goal for soceity to acheive, having nothing to do with anything outside the realm of individual spirituality, and simply a statement on the very nature of the bramhavetta-s of highest attainment.

Closing Remarks

We had set out on an excursion into the forest of saMskR^ita literature, to figure out where does the famed verse of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam come from, what was the sense and context in which the ancient AchArya-s had uttered it, and whether they ever meant this shloka to mean a recommendation for unconditional universal brotherhood or a principle of state. We also wanted to figure out the origin as well as transmission of the shloka through the periods of Hindu history.

1. mahopaniShada (6.72) uses the shloka to describe one of the lakShaNa-s of brAmhI-sthiti of highest level of spiritual progress. As we noted earlier, mahopaniShada is the only text where the shloka of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam is the natural and intrinsic part of the rest of the text, whereas in others the shloka has been quoted as an explicit quotation. We have therefore a very strong reason to comfortably believe that this upaniShada might be the original source of this shloka.  Indeed, by the very nature, upaniShadakAra-s, tend to be original except for quoting the passages of or retelling the themes from veda-s or at times from other upaniShada-s, but never from any external literature, whereas the reverse can be seen very often.  Besides, an upaniShada quoting an already popular shloaka and in a natural sense of its integral text is unimaginable.  Indeed the upaniShada having VK and so many early texts as the pa~nchatantra quoting it, itself would support an early date for this part of the mahopaniShada if not whole.

Besides, so many of vedAntin commentators especially of vaiShNava bent, quoting it in their works supports its popularity: in shrI-bhAShyam (2.7.36) by rAmAnujAcharya (~1080 CE), in puruSha-nirNaya by yamunAchArya, in tattva-nirNaya by nArAyaNArya, in a commentary on the bhagavadgItA by yAdava prakAsha, and a complete commentary on mahopaniShada by sha~nkarAnanda (~1300 CE).

The AchArya of mAnasataraMgiNI suggests that the parts of mahopaniShada might actually have predated mahAbhArata, as supported by not one but two references to the mahopaniShada in the nArAyaNIya section of the shAnti parvan as follows:

महोपनिषदं मन्त्रम अधीयानान स्वरान्वितम
पञ्चोपनिषदैर मन्त्रैर मनसा ध्यायतः शुची || १२.३२५.२
इदं महोपनिषदं चतुर्वेद-समन्वितम
सांख्ययोगकृतं तेन पञ्चरात्रानुशब्दितम || १२.३२६.१००
(नारायणीय, शान्तिपर्व, महाभारत)

It does seem likely that the pre-mantramArga pA~ncharAtra vaiShNava-s had a mahopaniShada that was the core of the text that today survives under that name, and VK might be present in that ur-text of mahopaniShada.  This would also mean that a such a mahopaniShada was in place before it became widely popular and viShNusharman quoted it.

2. pa~nchatantra (5.3.37) has it come from a declared fool who is killed by his naivety, suggesting it as a symbol of impracticality. This text was certainly written towards the end of the mauryan empire.  In political sphere, smaller janapada-s were witnessing a revival along side foreign invasions. In social sphere, jaina, bauddha and vaiShNava mata-s were witnessing popularity.  It must have been under such politico-social conditions, and in response to the pacifist tendencies, that viShNusharman must have warned against the tendency represented by vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, by making it an utterance of a fool who dies from his naivety itself.

3. hitopadesha (1.3.71) goes a step further along the same lines as pa~nchatantra, and clearly demonstrated through two satires, its usage by subversionists as well as tendency of gullible to fall for it.   It also praises the realist heroes that are not influenced by VK-speech.

Immediately preceding to its composition, one should also notice the southern version of pa~nchatantra-s mentioning a similar message in their tales, an iconographic representation of which was even sculpted on the bas-relief of the mahAbalIpuram temple by the pallava-s, an image of which is presented in the end of this article.

4. kauTilyan compendiums don’t have VK, except for two minor recensions, and kauTilyan thought is incompatible with what is generally understood as the sentiment of VK.

5. 8th century udbhaTa bhaTTa might have quoted it in some poetical work that is no more extant, and therefore we don’t know its context.

6. subhAShitAvaliH (udArAH.498.) lists this as a subhAShita for its poetic value in representing kindness.  Also important to note is that by this time, people had already forgotten the source of the shloka, as vallabhadeva mistakenly attributes its origin to eighth century kashMiraka poet udbhaTa, not knowing that it was present even in such popular texts as the pa~nchatantra.

7. The three recensions of vikrama-charita (Andhra 3.1, Jaina 17.3, Jaina-shubhashIla 6.270) quote VK to stand for generosity and justice, but still not any universal brotherhood.

Now we can safely conclude by saying that this shloka, snatched away from the original contexts as mahopaniShada presented it in, and disregarding how hitopadesha and pa~nchatantra and vikramacharita have used it, when it is sited by politicians and policy-makers as an ancient authority of liberalism and internationalism, the shloka is no more than a hoax.  When our scholars site this shloka as an evidence of some sort of an ancient Hindu vision of utopic universal brotherhood, the shloka is again no more than a hoax.  And when we hear our religious preachers sermonise using the shloka for people to follow the ‘principles’ of vasudhaiva kuTumbakam, the shloka is no more than a hoax in that context too.


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