Veda and dice?

The general impression is that Veda hymns, teeming with praise for the divine, contain power within them to invoke any God they may so will. May as well be. Once in every while, though, one stumbles upon something different. For example, a poemthe that contains the shreds of oscillating conscience shorn off an addict in a rehab.

Oh, don’t jump out of your chairs – yet. I do not claim that they had rehabilitation centers matching the ones existing today. However, once you let go of initial disbelief, you will see the glimpses of all: the awareness of a gambler that the morbid attraction to gambling is a fruit of his hunger to get high on the sight of rolling dice, his knowledge that he has abandoned his unblemished  wife (no blame game here), his awareness of all the ensuing evils – strangers fondling his wife, social ostracization, his guilt, envy, and finally, his utterly hopeless submission to the dices, taking a vow that he (the gambler) will never covet wealth. That is a signature consciousness of a decision that he commits to the vice knowingly, in full awareness of consequences.

You see no hand of the unconscious, though Psychological insight, clear as daylight is written all over it.

In the end, the gambler also resolves that he will give up gambling, and take up farming – from consciousness to consciousness, just the hemisphere changes.

And changes how. Another story suggests that the seer of this sukta was himself this addict he talks about (explains the clear narration of a gambler’s perspective). He was ‘taken away’ – incarcerated? You can taste his pain of rejection when you read his words – it is his own people who are asking that the gambler be taken away. If he stops gambling, his friends go away. See the oscillation and ‘stuckness’??

However, it is this person who was accepted as a Rishi, and he also became a Purohita of a king. Now piece the jig-saw. The missing pieces are not really missing. One may infer (debatably?) that a fallen person got accepted and promoted to the apex of a social pyramid.

Psychotherapy and psychology may not include poetry. But poetry is potent enough to remain a moving poetry while containing guilt, anguish, insight, reflection, observation, and knowledge of the truth. Cut and dry it as psychology, psychotherapy or more, as you like it – or, as you can chew it.

See the Mandala 10, Sukta 34 of Rigveda. It contains 14 verses. This Sukta or a poem, also known as the “gambler’s lament”, is by Kavaṣa Ailūṣa.

The brief translation of the verses is as follows:

The wobbling [dice] born on tall trees in windy places, rolling on the dice-board, give intoxicating pleasure to my heart. The dice from the Vibhīdaka tree, the one that keeps [gamblers] awake, delights me, like the drink of soma from the Mujavat mountain. (1)

She [my wife] neither got angry nor felt ashamed of me [on the contrary], she was cordial towards my friends and towards me. For the sake of addiction to dice, I have abandoned my devoted wife! (2)

The mother-in-law hates [the gambler], the wife keeps him away, and the destitute does not find a comforting friend. I do not find any happiness for a gambler, like the value of an old and worn-out horse. (3)

Others fondle the wife of the one whose wealth the powerful dice has coveted. The father, mother, and brothers say of him, “We don’t know him, bind him and take him away!” (4)

When I resolve that I will not play with these (dice), then I am abandoned by my departing friends. And the tawny (dice) that are thrown down (on the board) make a rattling sound, I go towards the place where they are thrown, like a paramour (drawn to the meeting place with her lover). (5)

His body glowing, the gambler enquiring (about the gambling den), goes to it, thinking “I will win”. On the casting of the moves by his adversary, the dice stoke his desire. (6)

Dice are indeed goads that torment and destroy, and cause remorse and agony. For the winning gambler, they are like sons who keep sucking wealth (from a wealthy father), and for the loser, they, covered with honey destroy him again. (i.e. his wealth and his reputation). (7)

Their group of fifty-three cavort (on the board), like the god Savitṛ, true to his word. They do not bow down even to the anger of the infuriated, even the king bows down to them! (8)

They roll downwards and spring upwards, without hands they overpower the one with hands! Though being cold to touch, cast on the board, they are glowing charcoals that burn the heart! (9)

The abandoned wife of the aimlessly wandering gambler is tormented and so is the mother. Indebted and fearful, desiring wealth (by any means), he approaches the homes of others by night (to steal). (10)

The gambler burns with envy on seeing a woman, another’s wife and his well-established dwelling. He yokes the tawny horses in the morning and the sinner sinks down (exhausted) when the fire dies out. (11)

(O dice)! Whoever is the commander-in-chief of your hordes, the king, the foremost of your tribe, I bow to him with ten fingers (i.e. joined palms) facing east, and I will not covet wealth – this I say truthfully. (12)

O gambler! Do not play with dice, engage in farming, enjoy the wealth gained thereby, considering it to be sufficient! There (in farming) are the cattle, there is your wife (i.e. you will find happiness in them), that is what the Lord Savitṛ has told me. (12)

(O dice!) Make us your friend, soothe us, do not deal with us using unbearable ferocity! May your fury rest in our enemy and may another (i.e our enemy) fall into the grip of the tawny (dice). (14)

Translation: Vedavedanga

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No fixation on language, just fascination with what it holds

Mahabharata says something very interesting:

युगान्तेऽन्तर्हितान् वेदान् सेतिहासान् महर्षयः।
लेभिरे तपसा पूर्वमनुज्ञाताः स्वयंभुवा।।

युगान्ते=at the end of epoch/era, अन्तर्हितान्=disappearing वेदान्=Vedas (2nd Vibh.) स+इतिहासान्=along with history, महर्षय:=sages, लेभिरे=gained, तपसा=with Tapas, पूर्वम्=as before, अनुज्ञाता:=known, सयंभुवा=spontaneous

[On the merit of their prior Tapas, the sages spontaneously gain back the Vedas*, which disappear at the end of each epoch. When regained, they are intact as they were known before, complete with the history.”]

These wise words assure that the precious knowledge harvested by generations will be lost at the end of every major era. But, knowledge is never truly lost. Those who have been engaged in seeking it will gain it back along with its history as before.

What Mahabharata does not say is *where* will the knowledge reappear.

Will it appear back in the same land as it is lost from? Perhaps not.

So, let the languages as the conduits and repositories of knowledge, flow. Let others learn ours and let learn others’. Let’s not bicker over compulsory-this and compulsory-that. Let us expose our children to more and let the choose what they truly love. Let them grow along with the repositories of what is beautiful, profound and valuable.

Are we ready?

* A number of scholars of etymology have related the word “veda” to the root “विद्” that in turn has been known to mean ज्ञान/Gyan/Knowledge, लाभ/Labh/Gain and सत्ता/Satta/Authoritative system

So, you think you appreciate poetry? (1)

The subtitle of this blog is: Let alone write it.


Disclaimer first: This is no derision or discounting of the poets. Nor am I pouring cold water on the enthusiasm of aspiring poets or those who believe they are poetry connoisseurs. But as I was reading an old guide for poets, I realized that poetry needs to be savored at so many levels, and this ancient guide may come in handy. But, before you read on think of your favorite poem.

The modernists everywhere would love to to tear down the last bastions of everything, but not everything not-modern needs to be torn down. May be it appears that bastions make some spaces less inclusive, but simplification and overcrowding spaces does not necessarily bring in excellence.

Today I share these guiding principles from the first chapter by Mammata (मम्मट). He began his treatise on the science of poetry thus:

नियतिकृतनियमरहितां ह्लादेकमयीमनन्यपरतन्त्राम ।
नवरसरुचिरां निर्मितिमादधती भारतीकवेर्जयति ॥

Meaning, glorious is the poet’s language that is unrestrained even by the Nature’s laws, that is soaked in joy alone as it rejoices in nine Rasas, and depends on none as it grasps the Creation.

So, even before we go on to the why and how of the poetry, there is an eye opener. The language of a poet (or why not a writer, too?) is not supposed to be bound by the nature’s laws – let alone the social laws and norms. It may use any of the nine Rasas as the poet wishes, and need not be mindful of what is or isn’t acceptable to powers that be. This language is meant only for joy. If you can’t find your joy in it, leave it. for the writer, too – if the ultimate outcome of poetry is not joy, don’t try it at home. Poetry is never meant to be a seed of battles and blackenings.

Okay, coming back to the point.

The first chapter is short. And Mammata talks about why people write and read poetry, what is at the source of poetry and what kind of poetry is excellent, fair and poor. Here’s what he says:

काव्यं यशसेSर्थकृते व्यवहारविदे शिवेतरक्षतये ।
सध्य: परनिर्वृतये कान्तासम्म्तिलयोपदेशयुजे ॥

Meaning, people write poetry for fame, wealth. People read poetry so that they can know the ways of the world and can find relief from the evil. People read and write poetry for ridding their minds of all other things and for lessons (giving and taking) in the same gentle, loving and persuasive ways that a loving wife does.

Where is the genesis of poetry?

शक्तिर्निपुणता लोकशास्त्रकाव्याध्यवेक्षणात ।
काव्यज्ञशिक्षाभ्यास इति हेतुस्तदुद्भवे ॥

There is only one ingredient, and that is a combination. None alone works, and a few strong ones do not elbow others out. A poet should have a combination of (1) poetic ability (2) skill (3) study of the evolution of society,science, and poetry, and (4) practice under someone who knows how to write poetry (Chanakya would take no.4 a step further and say that the teacher should be an expert par excellence).

So – if one has this one ingredient, how should one know that the creation is good? HEre it goes:

तददोषौ शब्दार्थौ सगुणावनलंकृती क्वापि ।
इदमुत्तममतिशयिनि व्यङ्ग्ये वाच्याद्ध्वनिर्बुधै: कथित: ॥

Poetry should have words and sense (meaning), be free from faults, and be endowed with merits and excellence of style, which may at times be un-bejewelled by figures of speech. It is excellent, so the wise say, if the implied or suggested meaning is superior to the expressed or primary meaning.

If the suggested/secondary/implied meaning is weaker than the expressed or primary meaning, then the poetry is medium, or fair in quality.

Finally, however flawless, however ornamented, but if the described meaning is there only meaning there is on the verse, then it is the worst kind.

I can’t even recall without straining my memory when I last read something with deeper, only slightly veiled, second layer of meaning – of sense. Mammata says that when you savor that poetry, the subtle meaning bursts (Sphot in Sanskrit) upon you and covers you in delight.

I have tried to indulge myself in writing poetry in the past. But I do not remember if I wrote anything with deeper, secondary meaning that is different from the flat description that the text provides. May be it is not for all of us – to make poetry flawless, full of merits, ornamental and laden with layers of meaning.

Now recall the poem you thought of a while ago. What layers of meaning does it have? Or, as a reader, you just got your belly full by reading the apparent meaning? Is subtlety there? Would you want to look for deeper meaning?

If we do not have high benchmarks – not just for poetry, then we succumb to something similar to what is a traffic-jungle in Ahmedabad.

I was telling a friend that there should be traffic signals at every intersection in Ahmedabad. The friend said that there was no point of doing so because no one would follow that in Ahmedabad. But I believe if you don’t install signals assuming no one would look at them, no one actually would. If you have the signals, some day, someone would.

I am not saying poetry today is a lawless jungle, but it can surely be a source of more (challenge) and joy.

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States of mind in separation: lens of Sanskrit literature

If you read Vikramorvashiyam or Raghuvansh, you will come across monologues full of agony, anguish and a deep sense of loss – in Vikramorvashiyam, by King Pururava, who went into the state of उन्माद or near-madness at the loss of his beloved Urvashi, and in Raghuvansh by the  King Aja who cried inconsolably, mourning his wife in a heart-wrenching विलाप.

Description and demonstration of emotions in the condition of विप्रलंभ or separation from the loved one is an essential part of creation of रस or essence in Sanskrit literature and performing arts. I explored a little further to find about ten possible states of mind of a person who is separated from a loved one:

Ten States of mind in separation (c)margieparikh

Ten States of mind in separation (c)margieparikh

The first four sages seem easier to endure, and seem to be occurring to all who experience love for someone (or something?). Fifth one, of उद्वेग or anxiety looks like a threshold, after which the states of mind get successively darker until termination with unconsciousness and death. Suicide in lost love is not unheard of, but the ninth state of जडता or insensitivity is the one that provokes thought. Aren’t we capable of जडता without really falling deeply in love? We can demonstrate this state of mind with or without loss of love.

Don’t we live under the environment of controlled sensitivity to protect ourselves, rightly from the excesses of उद्वेग, विलाप उन्माद and such?

How much of protection and safe-being are desirable, and how much of a full taste of human existence is essential? Would you say it is essential to at least have had a taste of mad craving for someone, uncontrolled crying and longing to the extent of decommissioning one’s self from the rest of one’s lifespace? If yes, how much, for how long?

If there is a known shade of भाव – literally, ‘state of being’- generated by experience, leading to रस – essence of human existence, probably not all of it might be savored first hand – but I wonder if one can savor something vicariously – say, through literature –  if one has never experienced it.

Next question – suppose one passes to the dark side of pining in separation and grieving for the lost one, how long does one stay there, and what happens next?

How does one keep the cycle moving, so that one reunites with the loved one, those in love, renew what they share and discover new love?

I guess healing is not only for the hurt, afflicted or sick beings. It is a critical process of regeneration of anything that  lives – not Shringara, not Shanta, not Karuna rasa is the supreme one. It is the Rasa of Regeneration that is the essence of life. How does one create it and permeate one’s life with it, makes a great, epic story.

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!