kuvalayānanda 6: definition of upamā (simile)

by Jahnabi Barooah

उपमा यत्र सादृश्यलक्ष्मीरुल्लसति द्वयो: ।
हंसीव कृष्ण ते कीर्ति: स्वर्गङ्गामवगाहते ।।६।।

an upamā (simile, I suppose is a good equivalence) is that through which the beauty of resemblance shines between two objects. for example, like a goose, o kṛṣṇa, your fame bathes in the milky way. ||6||


The Milky Way in the night sky.

This is Appayya Dīkṣita’s definition of an upamā. To understand what he means, let’s analyze his example. Addressing Kṛṣṇa, it says that his fame bathes in the Milky Way just like a goose. In the Sanskritic imagination, fame is white, and we know that geese and the Milky Way are white in the natural world. A goose is naturally white, and its whiteness is further intensified by plunging into the Milky Way. Through this comparison, the poet conveys the unparalleled nature of Kṛṣṇa’s fame and glory.

Note from his definition that an upamā is necessarily beautiful, poetic, elegant. There is nothing like a bad upamā. It is natural to question according to whom, this comparison is beautiful. Regarding this matter, Appayya clarifies in his commentary that it is beautiful as long as it delights a connoisseur–a subjective matter, we are likely to think. This brings us to a contested point. What kind of a discipline is poetics? While Appayya was one among many intellectuals who tried to systematize it, that is, make it close to a science like grammar, there were many who maintained that the study of poetry could not attain such a status.

Appayya Dīkṣita will say more about the different kinds of upamās shortly after.