From शोक to श्लोक, रघुवंश and गीता: poetry wins!

Manuscript with a cover depicting Shakuntala

Manuscript with a cover depicting Shakuntala

So fascinating is the journey in the world of Sanskrit literature!

It’s a journey into contrasting ideas that launch a storm of thoughts.

One day I am exhorted not to grieve (मा शोचितुमर्हसि) and another day I an shown how grief results into an undying epic (सोSनुव्याहरणद्भूय: शोक: श्लोकत्वमागत:).

So – what trumps – the example from Geeta or Ramayan?

Here is my take.

Geeta starts with  the विषाद-युक्त अर्जुन, who is first scolded (क्लैब्यं मा स्मगम: पार्थ) and then schooled by कृष्ण as:

1. Don’t be given to grief “मा शोचितुमर्हसि” (मा + शोचितुम् + अर्हसि = you should not be unhappy (over this)).

2. Reach a state where pain does not perturb you दु:खेष्वनुद्विग्नमना: (= दु:खेषु +अन् + उद्विग्नमन:)

3. Transcend dualities (द्वन्द्वातीतो)

Lesson: While you still experience pleasure and pain, have likes and dislikes, do not be moved by them.

While a lot of homework is still ahead of me in this matter, I come across the parallel translation of रघुवंश – which is a महाकाव्य, an epic.

रघुवंश is based on the वाल्मिकी रामायण, but did you know that the original story does not have many ‘stories’ including that of सीता त्याग?

कालीदास –  the master creator has taken the basic plot and then adapted it so amazingly that the original that ended with return of Rama to Ayodhya, is now understood to extend into Sita being left into the forest, giving birth of the princes there and ultimately entering the earth. उत्तर रामचरित has taken रघुवंश as a base, and thus we believe it to be part of the original Ramayana! Amazing.

Well, how did Ramayan occur?

Out of grief.

Valmiki was not so withdrawn or controlled or balanced at the moment he saw one of the two birds engaged in love-making, hit by the arrow of a hunter. He ended up saying one shloka and then proceeded to write Ramayan. We all read about this event in our primary schools.

See how Kalidas talks about it:

निषादविद्धाण्डजदर्शनोत्थ: श्लोकत्वमापध्यत यस्य श्लोक: (रघु. १४-७०)

निषाद+विद्ध= hit by a hunter (usually of Nishaad community)

अण्डज+दर्शनोत्थ (arisen from the sight of the bird)

श्लोकत्वम्+आपध्यत (attained the form of a shloka)

यस्य= whose

शोक: = pain


Your pain/regret/angst/pathos/grief/remorse/deep sadness (look up the thesaurus) can be a source of beautiful, undying poetry of the order of an epic.


The curse to the hunter came from such profound source that वाल्मिकी himself spoke it again and again. He then said,

शोकार्तस्य प्रवृत्तो मे श्लोको भवतु नान्यथा।

=Let this shloka that was born while I was engaged in deep pain, be never lost.

Valmiki then shared the shloka with his students, they all spoke it several times, and..:

समाक्षरैश्चतुर्भिर्य: पादैर्गीतो महर्षिणा ।

सोSनुव्याहरणद्भूय: शोक: श्लोकत्वमागत: ॥ (वाल्मिकी रामायण, बालकाण्ड, २-४०)

 समाक्षरैश्चतुर्भिर्य: पादै: = in four Padas each made of same number (8) of letters (अनुष्टुप छंद)

गीत: महर्षिणा = sung by the great sage

स: + अनुव्याहरणात् + भूय: = that by repetition became

शोक: श्लोकत्वम् + आगत: = remorse that attained poetic form


What I make out of these two different stories is that I can follow the Geeta-directed path and attain the state it considers ultimate: Transcendence, the ability of remaining active within this world without becoming attached to it, and not being given to the dualities – after several re-births.

but taking an undying epic and transforming it so beautifully and elegantly that the adaptation is believed y as ‘the’ story?????

I don’t think I can ever attain it in all my births.

I will forever be awe-struck by the ability of Kalidasa to imagine, mould that imagination with beautiful metaphors and vivid descriptions and render in a way that persuades the reader to believe that THAT is what actually happened.

I am a fan!


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