kuvalayānanda 1: visual multivalence

by Jahnabi Barooah

अमरीकबरीभारभ्रमरीमुखरीकृतम् ।
दूरीकरोतु दुरितं गौरीचरणपंकजम् ।।१।।
कुवलयानन्दे

May the lotuses that are Gaurī’s feet,
resonant with buzzing bees on the dense braids of worshiping goddesses,
remove all difficulty. ||1||

The Kuvalayānanda “Joy of the Water-Lily,” composed in the 16th century by Appayya Dīkṣita, is one of the most influential texts of literary theory to emerge from the Sanskrit intellectual world. It defines over a hundred figures of speech. I read about one tenth of this text in a course on Advanced Poetic Sanskrit in Fall 2014 at Harvard University. I will be revisiting, and re-translating this text over the next few months. Since the text is concerned with defining figures of speech, I will attempt to point them out in my analysis.

Turning to the verse, there are two complex images in it. The first line contains a compound adjective which qualifies the agent. This is the last word in the verse, ‘gaurī-caraṇa-paṇkajam’ which literally means ‘gaurī-feet-lotus.’ The last line alone reads: may gaurī-feet-lotus remove all difficulty. Now, feet (subject of comparison) are often compared to lotuses (object of comparison), but this is not a regular comparison. The agent in this verse is given the property of removing difficulty, which only Gaurī’s feet are capable of doing. Thus, the lotuses are transformed into Gauri’s feet for the action to take place. This is a figure of speech that Appayya defined as ‘parināma,’ meaning transformation.

Now I turn to the compound adjective, ‘amarī-kabarī-bhāra-bhramarī-mukharī-kṛtam’ which literally means goddess-braid-dense-bee-buzzing. Since we are concerned with lotuses–>Gaurī’s feet, there are at least three ways to interpret the compound. 1) There could be actual bees buzzing over Gauri’s feet. Why are the bees there? The bees are attracted to the fragrance of the thick braids of the goddesses’ who are bowing down to Gaurī’s feet. 2) There are no bees in actuality. Rather the quality of bees is superimposed onto the goddesses’ braids. The image in this scenario is of goddesses bowing down to Gaurī. But there is a complication. Since the braids (subject of comparison) cannot buzz, they have to transformed into bees (object of comparison) first. This too, would be the figure of speech ‘pariṇāma’ but the opposite of kind described earlier. 3) The bees are buzzing over Gaurī’s feet, attracted to their fragrance. The quality of goddesses dense braids is superimposed onto them. So, no goddesses are bowing down to Gaurī in actuality, just the image is conjured through the metaphorical identification.

In my translation, I have opted for the first interpretation, but I believe the other two (especially the second) are equally plausible. In my opinion, the first conjures the most poetically evocative image. I love the image of bees buzzing around a woman’s braids.

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