This post is part of a series on the Kokila Sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri, to read the introduction click here. An edition of the poem with an English translation will be released shortly by Rasāla, a kāvya imprint I have just set up. Please click here for more details or get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
The koel continues his descent through the ghats until he reaches Kottayam, just a few kilometres from the coast but nevertheless in the foothills. This was the kingdom of the Puralī kings, an important dynasty. The kingdom originally had its headquarters at Peravur, which you pass through on the way from Kottiyur among a glittering array of enormous new churches, bizarre statues (including one in which a bewinged Jesus is running a sword through Satan, who is already ablaze, in a sort of cross between St George slaying the dragon and Paradise Lost illustrations) and Jesus posters. During Uddaṇḍa’s time, Kottayam was the kingdom’s capital and lent its name to the dynasty as a whole. Later, the capital shifted to Pazhassi and the kings became known as the Pazhassi rajas. Kottayam is now a village just outside Kuthuparamba called Kottayampoil but in the poem it is a city which, like others that the koel will visit, boasts huge skyscrapers and pretty girls.
इत्थं भक्त्या पुरमथनमाराध्य लब्धप्रसादः
कृष्टः कृष्टः पथि पथि सखे केरलीनां कटाक्षैः।
फुल्लारामां प्रविश पुरलीक्ष्माभृतां राजधानीम्॥1.44
Worshipping Ṥiva, destroyer of fortresses, with devotion thus you will receive his prasāda. Drawn hence by the glances the ladies of Kerala throw at you from every pathway, my friend, enter the capital of the Puralī kings, its gardens abloom, whose tall mansions drive the clustering stars to follow a higher trajectory.
The main attraction, though, is the king’s daughter, Svātī, to whom Uddaṇḍa dedicates two verses. Svātī is the only non-divine woman in the poem other than the hero’s wife who receives so much attention – and praise.
केलीयानक्वणितरशना कोमलाभ्यां पदाभ्या-
मालिहस्तार्पितकरतला तत्र चेदागता स्यात्।
स्वाती नाम क्षितिपतिसुता सेवितुं देवमस्याः
स्वैरालापैस्तव पिक गिरां कापि शिक्षा भवित्री॥1.47
If the king’s daughter, Svātī, should happen to come there – her girdle ringing as she springs along on soft feet, hand in hand with her friends – to worship the Lord, she will learn a thing or two about singing from your twittering, koel.
स्वेदच्छेदच्छुरितवदनां श्रोणिभारेण खिन्नाम्।
श्चञ्चच्चिल्लीचलनसुभगान् लप्स्यसेस्याः कटाक्षान्॥1.48
As she approaches – her waist bent as if shrinking from the weight of her breasts and her face patterned with drops of sweat, weary of carrying her heavy hips – sprinkle her with the nectar of the buds collected with your beak. In return she will throw you inviting looks that leap from under her trembling eyebrows.
Possibly in connection with this eulogy, some scholars credit Uddaṇḍa with a poem called the Svātīmuktaka, fifty verses in praise of this same princess which purport to be from her lover, and there are stories that link the two as lovers. Unni in his edition of the Kokila Sandeśa dismisses this attribution but these two verses coupled with the one below which celebrates Svāti’s father, King Hariścandra, and the family in general suggests a link of some sort between Uddaṇḍa and the Pūralis.
येषां वंशे समजनि हरिश्चन्द्रनामा नरेन्द्रः
प्रत्यापत्तिः पतग यदुपज्ञं च कौमारिलानाम्।
युद्धे येषामहितहतये चण्डिका सन्निधत्ते
तेषामेषां स्तुतिषु न भवेत् कस्य वक्त्रं पवित्रम्॥1.45
King Hariścandra was born to Puralī stock. It was they, my winged friend, who restored and introduced the Kaumārila teaching*, and in battle Caṇḍikā stands beside them to destroy their enemies. Is there anyone who would not be purified by voicing their praise?
*This is a reference to the philosophical teachings of the mimāṃsa school, and specifically those of Kumārilabhaṭṭa.
One of King Hariścandra’s descendants won great fame by resisting the Mysore king in the 18th century. A recent film about his life – Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja – was the best grossing film in Malayalam cinema and his tomb is on the Wayanad tourist route. (Wayanad is the district of Kerala into which Thirunelly and Kottiyoor fall). In all other respects though Kottayam seems to have slipped into obscurity, eclipsed partly by its more famous southern namesake – a region near Trivandrum in southern Kerala.