Archive for the 'verses, quotes, excerpts' Category

Call for Poetry Submissions

Rasāla, a new Sanskrit publishing venture I have just set up, will be bringing out an anthology of poetry on the night, entitled ‘Śarvarī’.  For this, we would like to invite all Sanskrit enthusiasts to submit verses – either their own compositions of those of their favourite poets.

The best 108 verses submitted will be published in the 2012 Rasāla anthology. Those whose verses are selected for the anthology will be duly credited; they will also each be given a free copy of the book.  Those verses not selected will be published on Rasāla’s website.


Full details are given in the announcement below (in English and in Sanskrit). Please visit the Rasāla website for more details and to see the verses submitted so far.




Call for Poetry Submissions


Rasāla is a new Sanskrit publisher which publishes India’s most beautiful forgotten poems alongside contemporary English translations.  We would like to invite you to submit verses – either your own compositions of those of your favourite poets – for the annual Rasāla anthology. This year’s anthology is entitled ‘Śarvarī’ or ‘Night’.


Submitted verses should be on the theme ‘Night’ – for instance descriptions of the sunset, moonrise and onset of darkness; the meeting of lovers by night; the blooming of waterlilies and so on.  You are encouraged to send verses which are artistically beautiful – imbued with rasa and rich in figures of speech – as opposed to those focused more on morals or instruction.


Please send your submissions either to or, by post, to Rasāla, A303 Raheja Regent, 35 Coles Road, Fraser Town, Bangalore 560 005.  Phone: +91 997230 5440. Please note your name and contact details and also include the name and any other details of the poet whose verses you are submitting.


The best 108 verses submitted will be published in this year’s Rasāla anthology. Those whose verses are selected for the anthology will be duly credited in the book; they will also each be given a free copy of the book.  Those verses not selected will be published on Rasāla’s website.


For more information, please visit


रसालाख्यं नूतनसंस्कृtतप्रकाशनं भारतवर्षस्यादृष्टपूर्वाणि विस्मृतानि सुन्दरतमानि च काव्यान्यांग्लभाषायानूद्य प्रकाशयति । भवन्तो रसालप्रकाशनस्य पद्यावल्याः कृते स्वरचितानि पद्यान्यन्येषां कवीनां (प्राक्तनानामधुनातनानां वा) च पद्यानि प्रेषयेयुरित्यस्माकं सविनया प्रार्थना । अस्याः पद्यावल्याः ’शर्वरी’ति नाम अस्माभिर्दत्तम् ।

पद्यानि रात्रिसम्बद्धानि भवितुमर्हन्ति – यथा सुर्यास्तचन्द्रोदयतिमिरादीनां वर्णनम्, रात्रौ कामिनोः समागमः, कुमुदादीनां विकास इत्यादि । पद्यानि रसमयानि अलङ्कारचमत्कारयुक्तानि भवेयुः । यथाशक्ति नीत्युपदेशसहितानि पद्यानि वर्जनीयानि । प्रति पद्यानि प्रेषयेयुः | aअथवा Rasāla, A303 Raheja Regent, 35 Coles Road, Fraser Town, Bangalore 560 005.  Phone: +91 997230 5440  प्रति पद्यानि प्रेषयेयुः | स्वसन्देशपत्रे नामसङ्केतसम्पर्काणां सूचना दातव्या । कवेर्नामाद्यपि तत्रैव दातव्यम् ।


एतेषां प्रेषितानां पद्यानां मध्ये १०८ उत्तमानि पद्यानि शर्वरीनाम्न्यां रसालपद्यावल्यां प्रकाशितानि भविष्यन्ति । येषां पद्यानि पुस्तकार्थं चितानि तेषां नामाद्यपि पुस्तके लिखितं भविष्यति । तेभ्यः पुस्तकमेकमपि दीयते ।  यानि पद्यानि पुस्तकार्थं न चितानि, तान्यपि रसालप्रकाशनस्य अन्तर्जालस्थाने प्रकाशिष्यन्ते ।

इतोऽपि विज्ञप्तिप्राप्तये कृपया पश्यतु ।


Kokila Sandesha Bonus Post

This post is part of a series on the Kokila Sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri, to read the introduction click here

लक्ष्मीजन्मस्थितिमनुपमैः पूरितां रत्नजालै-

र्भूभृद्गर्भां प्रकटितकलेशोदयश्लाघ्यवृद्धिम् ।

पाथोराशेस्तनुमिव परां मन्यमानो विशालां

यामध्यास्ते स खलु निगमाम्भोजभृङ्गो रथाङ्गी ॥ १ ॥

Discus-wielding Viṣṇu himself,

bee to the Vedas’ lotus,

lives here

seemingly in the belief that this sprawling city is another vast ocean.

For both are the birthplace of Wealth herself,

both are filled with jewels that know no comparison,

both are home to the pillars of the earth,

and while the rise of its artists magnifies the city,

it is the rise of the moon that magnifies the ocean.*   Uttarabhāga – Verse 1

*Lakṣmī, the goddess of wealth, was born in the ocean and it is full of the jewels produced when the ocean was churned to produce amṛta.  Bhūbhrt, literally ‘that which bears the earth’, is often used to denote a mountain or a king; both are meant in this case.  The ocean swells at the rise of the moon.

By Uddaṇḍa’s account, the city to which his wife belongs, Chendamangalam (Sanskritised as Jayantamaṅgalam), is not only as vast as the ocean but also its match in wealth.  Whether or not Chendamangalam, pronounced Chennamangalam, was ever quite as grand as the poet describes it is today one of those quiet Keralan villages with almost as many people as temples.

In fact, Chendamangalam’s most famous residents date from after Uddaṇḍa’s time.  The Paliath Achans, who were appointed as hereditary prime ministers to the Kochin kings and ruled much of this area in their own right, lived here in the large Paliam Palace.  The palace and other parts of the Paliam ancestral home are currently being renovated – in a project undertaken partly by the large Paliath family, several of whom still live here – and will soon be opened to the public.

Uddaṇḍa doesn’t mention the Paliath family – writing as he was a couple of hundred years before it rose to prominence – but he does describe the Viṣṇu temple which is one of the many temples now under the Paliam trust.  Local report has it that this temple moved Uddaṇḍa so much that he raised his hands to pay his respects to God – one of only two occasions when he did this, the other being at the Rajarajeshwara temple in Taliparamba.

Uddaṇḍa describes the temple as being “on the bank of the Cūrṇī river” (now the Periyar) but the river is now some distance away.  Local historian Mr Manoharan believes that the river used to run alongside the temple, just to its north, but changed its course to move further north.

The site of the home of Uddaṇḍa’s wife, Śrīdevī, is also uncertain.  The Mārakkara household, or Mārakkaḷ as it is now known, is still recognised as the family into which Uddaṇḍa married.  Family tradition holds that one of the reasons the scholar-poet came down to Chendamaṅgalam was because of the report of the Mārakkara family’s great learning.  The other reason cited is that Uddaṇḍa’s friend, another of the poets from the Zamorin’s court, Chennas Namputiri, was from this area and indeed gave his name to the town.

According to the poem, the house lies to the south of the temple.  Today’s Mārakkara family is based south-west of the temple, but at a little distance.  Instead, a plot adjacent to the temple, which now hosts a recently built house, may have been the original site.

The Kokila Sandeśa has a detailed description of the house and its grounds. It has a jewelled fence that encloses a golden central building; an ornamental pond lined with rubies; mango, champaka, sandal wood and kuravaka trees; and an emerald apartment where the poet’s wife loves to be.

Not much of that would have survived even if the description owed less to poetic licence, although the present Mārakkara house does have two ponds – one for bathing, and the other a yakṣī- or nāga-kolam (pond) – and an aśoka tree housed alongside shrines to propitiate the nāgas.  (Nāgas or snakes play a very important role in Kerala. The current residents remember how the local astrologer, when consulted about moving one of the shrines, told them that according to the snakes it was the family who were guests living upon their land.  One owner ignored the traditional nāga-worship to his peril;  he was eventually chased out of the house by them.)

The house’s owners tell the story of how Uddaṇḍa came to write the Kokila Sandeśa:

Uddaṇḍa used to travel a lot, even after marrying, to participate in debating competitions and visit his scholar-friend. Perhaps towards the end of his life he went back to his village near Kanchipuram and was, due to failing health, unable to travel back to his wife in Chendamangalam.  It was then that he composed the Kokila Sandeśa as he pined for her.  Whether the couple was ever reunited – whether they ever did enjoy full days of each other’s company against a backdrop of roaring monsoon clouds – is not recounted.

तीर्णप्रायो विरहजलधिः शैलकन्याप्रसादात्

शेषं मासद्वितयमबले सह्यतां मा विषीद ।

धूपोद्गारैः सुरभिषु ततो भीरु ! सौधान्तरेषु

क्रीडिष्यावो नवजलधरध्वानमन्द्राण्यहानि ॥ ६१ ॥

By the grace of Pārvatī, daughter of the mountain,

we have almost crossed this sea of separation.

Only two months remain.

Be strong, my little one,

don’t give up!

Then we shall pass whole days in play

upon balconies steeped in incense,

my timid thing,

days ringing with the deep murmur of fresh rainclouds. Uttarabhāga – Verse 61

Rasāla, a kāvya imprint I have just set up, will be bringing out its edition of the Kokila Sandeśa alongside an English translation in the next couple of months.  Please click here for more details or get in touch:


Many thanks to Narendran Paliath and his parents; Mr Sreekumar and the residents of Mārakkara; and Mr Manoharan for showing me round Chendamangalam and bringing alive the koel’s final destination.

Mahodayapuram – Kokila Sandesha 8

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:

रम्यां हर्म्यध्वजपटमरुद्वीजितब्रध्नयुग्या-

मग्रे पश्याञ्जनखलपुरीमाश्रितां शङ्करेण।

यत्राश्लिष्टो वरयुवतिभिश्चुम्बति स्विन्नगण्डं

चूर्णीवातः प्रिय इव रतिश्रान्तिमास्यारविन्दम्॥1.88

Up ahead you’ll see the charming city of Añjanakhala where the mansions’ fluttering flags act as fans for the sun’s horses and which is home to Ṥaṅkara.  The breeze from the Cūrṇī river returns the embraces of the city’s beauties, kissing their sweat-streaked cheeks as a lover the lotus face of his beloved, creased with exhaustion after their love-making.

The koel is to fly slightly inland after crossing the Nīlā or Bharatapuzha river.  His first stop is the home of Uddaṇḍa’s scholarly friends, the Payyūr Bhaṭṭas, to whom he should offer a poetic composition as a gift – possibly this very poem itself. (This echoes the offering Lakṣmīkdāsa’s messenger in the Ṥuka Sandeśa makes to Kālī at the Kodungallur temple; the Ṥuka Sandeśa, which was written a little before this poem, covers the southern half of Kerala before ending just north of Kodungallur and there is thus considerable cross-over in the two poems’ description of this area.)  After the Payyūr Bhaṭṭas’ house, which is in a village today known as Porkulam, the koel visits in rapid succession Vṛṣapura, Valāyālaya and Saṃgamagrāma – Thrissur, Urakam and Irinjalakuda respectively.

The koel’s penultimate stop is Mahodayapura, the ancient capital of Kerala under the Kulaśekhara kings, the second Chera empire.  Mahodayapuram must have been a grand city – the Ṥuka Sandeśa describes its mighty army and overlordship of other Kerala kings – but it is surprisingly hard to establish where exactly it stood.

The two sandeśa kāvyas both describe a Kālī temple, Mahodayapuram and the Cūrṇī or Periyar river on whose banks the city stands.  From the order in which the two messengers – who are flying in opposite directions, the parrot of the Ṥuka Sandeśa is travelling from southern Kerala up the coast – cross these three, it is clear that the temple is north of the city, which is itself north of the river.

In the Kālī temple just before the city Uddaṇḍa describes how Ṥiva’s attendants the bhūtas are prevented from sacrificing a bull by Vijayā.  This is the Bhadrakālī temple at the centre of Kodungallur. Animal sacrifice used to be a large part of the worship here but was latterly banned, although tethered goats still bleat just outside the main entrance.

Although in the Kokila Sandeśa the temple is clearly outside the city, the Ṥuka Sandeśa is more ambiguous and some locate Mahodayapuram in Kodangallur itself, a largeish town 30 odd kilometres above Kochin.  Others say that the lost port city of Muziris was Mahodayapuram. Muziris, which has attracted so much attention of late that there is now a Muziris Heritage Project run by the Kerala government, was a huge trading port frequented by the Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Chinese.  Recent archaeological evidence though places it about 10 kilometres south of Kodungallur in a village called Pattanam – perhaps shortened from Muziripattanam.  Recent finds from a site there include a plethora of amphora fragments, and a Tamil-Brahmi inscription that seems to indicate early Jain influence.  The port’s importance though seems to have suddenly diminished, perhaps due to an earthquake or as a result of the flooding in 1341 of the Periyar which changed the river’s course.   It is exciting stuff and has already been spun into a Michael Wood BBC documentary.  Most probably, though, Muziris was distinct from Mahodayapuram, acting as the empire’s major port city rather than its capital just as it had for the earlier Cheras.  At any rate, following the Chola king’s attack on Mahodayapuram in the 12th century, the entire Kulaśekhara empire fizzled out.  So by the time of Uddaṇḍa and Lakṣmīdāsa, both Mahodayapuram and Muziris must have been shadows of their former selves.

Unni identifies Mahodayapuram as Tiruvanchikulam, which seems to fit with the description in both the poems.  The Tiruvanchikulam temple is about two kilometres south of Kodungallur.  It is a quiet Ṥiva temple – thus “home to Ṥaṅkara” (verse 1.88 above) – said to have been built in the 11th or 12th centuries and thus accorded protected-monument status by the government archaeological department.   The Cūrṇī river is about a kilometre south of the temple.  It is hard to imagine this little hamlet – which has almost become a suburb of Kodungallur – as the Kulaśekhara kingdom’s capital but as Herodotus notes the fortune of cities is in perpetual flux.

The Cūrṇī, which features prominently in both the sandeśa poems, is a massive river crossed by means of two long bridges; there is an island in the middle.  Chinese fishing nets stand alongside the river’s banks, at the edge of the dense palm trees that flank all water bodies in this part of India.

सा च प्रेक्ष्या सरिदनुपदं यत्र कल्माषितायां


रक्ताः पद्माः कुवलयवनीसाम्यमापद्यमाना

विज्ञायन्ते स्फुटमहिमधामोदये जृम्भमाणे ॥ 1.89

And that river is worth seeing.  In her waters, slowly mingling with the musk washed off the necks of Mahodayapura’s girls as they bathe, red lotuses are transformed into clusters of blue water lilies. It is only when the sun starts to spread its warm light that they can be seen for what they are.

The koel’s final stop lies across this mighty river at Jayantamaṅgalam known today as Chennamangalam.

तीरं तस्याः प्रति गतवतो दक्षिणं तत्क्षणं ते

देशः सर्वातिशयविभवो दृक्पथेतः प्रथेत।

तां जानीया दिशि दिशि जयन्ताख्यया ख्यायमानां

प्रत्यादिष्टत्रिदिवनगरप्राभवां प्राप्यभूमिम्॥1.92

The moment you cross towards the river’s southern bank, the richest of all lands will stand revealed.  That is your destination, the city which eclipses the city of the gods in her splendour, known the world over as Jayanta.

The Viṣṇu temple in Chendamangalam (mentioned several times in the poem) – reproduced with kind permission from Paliath Narendran.


Thus ends the koel’s journey and this series of posts.  Thank you to all those who helped, including Dr Shankar, Professor Unithiri, Professor Rajendran, Harunga Isaacson, Isaac Murchie, Mr Lakshman and all those who helped me at the temples.

Triprangode and Tirunavaya – Kokila Sandesha 7

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:

Sixty five kilometres down the coast, the koel reaches the land of Prakāśa, literally the ‘bright’ land, from which Kālī herself has been tamed by the continuous Vedic recitation.  This is the stretch in between the towns of Tirur and Ponnani, through which the huge Nīlā or Bharatapuzha river flows out into the Arabian ocean.

There are three temples that the hero bids his messenger visit as he flies through.  The first is the temple of Ṥiva which the poet calls Ṥvetāraṇya and is today known as Thripangode temple. Ṥiva is worshipped as Mṛtyuñjaya, ‘conqueror of death’, because it was here that he dispatched Yama, god of death, in a towering rage, as the local priest explains:

The sage Mṛkaṇḍa, who lived next to the nearby Tirunavaya temple, was a great devotee of Ṥiva’s and in response to his prayer for a son, he was offered the classic choice – a boy glorious but short-lived or ordinary but long-lived.  Like others, he chose the former and was blessed with a perfect son, Mārkaṇḍeya, who was destined to live until the age of 16.  On his 16th birthday, Yama came to take Mārkaṇḍeya.  The boy first ran to Viṣṇu in the Tirunavaya temple but Viṣṇu urged him to turn to Ṥiva for protection.  He ran the three kilometres to the Ṥiva temple – right through the centre of a huge al tree that stood in front of the temple and which split in half to let him through – and embraced the Ṥivaliṅga. Yama, in hot pursuit, hurled his deadly noose which settled around the liṅga Mārkaṇḍeya was hugging.  Incensed at this attack on his devotee and his very form, Ṥiva rose in terrible anger out of the liṅga to slay Yama with his triśula or trident. Mārkaṇḍeya was saved – and lives on eternally as a 16 year old youth – and four new Ṥivaliṅgas sprung up to mark the three (large judging by the distance between each) steps the god had taken after killing Yama and the place where he then settled, which thereafter became the main temple.

To the right, just outside the temple gate, is a moss-covered pond in which Ṥiva washed his bloody triśūla.

The poem describes his blood-stained feet:

सेव्यं शम्भोररुणमुरसस्ताडनाद्दण्डपाणेः

पादाम्भोजं शिखरितनयापाणिसंवाहयोग्यम्।

येनाक्रान्ते सति गिरिपतौ लोष्टमानास्यचक्र-

श्चक्रन्दाधःकृतभुजवनो रक्षसां चक्रवर्ती॥1.71

Worship Ṥambhu’s lotus feet, stained red from trampling on Yama’s chest, which Parvatī massages with her hands. It was these feet which made the rakṣasa king cry out, squashed as he was beneath the mountain lord, his many heads heaped up in a circle and his clustering arms crushed to the ground.

The Mṛtyuñjaya-homa remains one of the two most important rituals at the temple.  It is perhaps to this rite that the poet refers when he talks of how a glimpse at the god’s face here secures a devotee freedom from death.

The last shrine devotees visit as they do their circuit of the temple is dedicated to Navamukunda, the Viṣṇu of the neighbouring Tirunavaya temple.  Here they give thanks to Viṣṇu for directing Mārkaṇḍeya to Ṥiva.

The Tirunavaya Navamukunda temple – which Uddaṇḍa calls Nāvākṣetra – is next on the koel’s route.  This spot is called Trimūrtisaṅgamasthāna – the spot where all three forms of God come together – because in addition to the Viṣṇu temple there is a (rare) Brahma temple and a Ṥiva temple on the opposite bank of the river, both of which are clearly visible from Tirunavaya. It is also an important spot for pitṛ-karman rites (as was Thirunelly) which are held on certain days of the year and attract lakhs of pilgrims, but the temple’s main claim to fame is the Mamankam festival that used to be held here.  The temple stands right on the northern bank of the Nīlā river, just a few kilometres from the river’s mouth, and was thus perhaps a logical place to hold a festival whose mythical origins and divine significance pale in comparison to its influence on trade and politics.

The festival traces its roots back to a 28-day concord of the gods, convened by Bṛhaspati once every 12 years.  It was at originally called Mahāmāgha, the great (festival) of the month of Māgha, which in the vernacular became Mamankam.  An article written by the current Zamorin of Calicut (see Calicut post) in 2006 notes that it is difficult to ascertain the date of the first festival.  At any rate by the 9th century AD, when the famous Ceraman Perumal divided up his kingdom and ran away to Mecca, the festival seems to have become a sort of royal election in which the surrounding kings would meet, discuss the performance of the last ruler’s 12 year term, and pick a new leader.  The Valluvanad kings inherited the temple overlordship, and thus control of the festival.  According to the current Zamorin’s account, his forbears, despite their great power and wealth, were unable to beat the Valluvanad king and sought to discover the source of his great strength.  On learning that it was the royal family god at Angadipuram who rendered him invincible, the Zamorin prayed to this same god and was soon victorious in what are now referred to as the Tirunavaya wars in the fourteenth century.  Thus the Zamorins won control of this temple and the politically and commercially important festival.

Instead of coming to pay his respects to the Zamorin as overlord as other local leaders did, the defiant Valluvanad raja sent four leading men to kill the Zamorin.  They were duly killed by the Zamorin’s guards but it became a tradition for the men of these families to attempt this assassination at every festival, both to avenge their fathers’ and grandfathers’ deaths as well as to reclaim overlordship from the Zamorin.  British accounts of these attempts – which never succeeded – describe the tragic suicide missions.  The festival continued until the 18th century when Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan attacked Kerala and sacked the Tirunavaya temple.  The temple was rebuilt by one of the Zamorins – both the Tirunavaya and Tripangode temples still fall under the Zamorins, along with 30 other temples in this region.

For the hero, though, the Mamankam festival of his patron (which he suggests will be in full swing when the koel visits; although Māgha is in śiśira, the season that precedes vasanta, so even if it happened to be the right year the timing is slightly off) is of mainly of interest because it will have brought his wife here, along with many other Keralan ladies.

साकं कान्तैर्मिलति ललितं केरलीनां कदम्बे

मत्प्रेयस्याः प्रियसख महामाघसेवागतायाः।

पायं पायं मुखपरिमलं मोहनं यत्र मत्ताः

प्रायोऽद्यापि भ्रमरकलभा नैव जिघ्रन्ति पद्मान्॥ 1.73

As a gaggle of Kerala ladies tremblingly meet their lovers, I know that right now the boisterous bees, driven wild as they drink again and again of the intoxicating scent of my wife’s mouth – for she too will have come for the Mahāmāgha festival – won’t even notice the lotus’ fragrance.



The original Ṥivaliṅga at Triprangode is said to have been constructed in the 9th century and is decorated with beautiful but crumbling murals – restoration would cost 4 lakhs so they are being left to deteriorate.

Calicut – Kokila Sandesha 6

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:

After the diversion to Sampadgrāma and the Kola capital, the koel now heads due south along the coast to where his destination, Jayantamaṅgalam, lies, 280 odd kilometres away.

मुक्ताजालैर्धवलपुलिनं वीचिमालाविकीर्णैः

कूलाध्वानं कुसुमिततरुस्निग्धमालम्बमानः।

देशाद्देशं व्रजसि कुतुकोत्तानमुग्धाननानां

वामाक्षीणां नयनचुलकैः सादरं पीयमानः॥1.63

Hug the coast, lustrous with fresh blossom, its sandbanks white with the mass of pearls scattered there by successive waves.  As you travel from region to region beautiful naïve young women, lifting up their questioning faces, will drain deep draughts of you with rapt eyes.

His next stop is Kozhikode – better known by the old British name Calicut – which Uddaṇḍa Sanskritises as Kukkuṭakroḍa (literally ‘hen’s lap’ following the Malayalam).  The poet’s description of Calicut includes some of the best verses of the poem and celebrates the city as a whole rather than any particular site or temple.

गेहे गेहे नवनवसुधाक्षालितं यत्र सौधं

सौधे सौधे सुरभिकुसुमैः कल्पितं केलितल्पम्।

तल्पे तल्पे रसपरवशं कामिनीकान्तयुग्मं

युग्मे युग्मे स खलु विहरन् विश्ववीरो मनोभूः॥

Where in every house there is a freshly whitewashed balcony, on every balcony there is a bed laid out for love with scented flowers, upon every bed there is a pair of lovers mastered by passion, and within every couple the mind-born God of Love who conquers all ranges at will.

Calicut was the city in which Uddaṇḍa won patronage and great acclaim.   His patron, Mānavikrama, is thought to have ruled in the 15th century and was himself a scholar and author.  Mānavikrama was the head of the powerful Zamorin or Samoothiri clan which had risen to prominence following the collapse of the Chera kingdom in the 12th century.  Many stories and much debate surround the Zamorins’ rise. The Keralotpatti’s version is that a favoured chieftain of the last Chera king (who, the legend goes, converted to Islam and ran off to Mecca) was granted the wasteland that now forms Calicut.  At any rate, by the 13th century the Zamorins were a force to be reckoned with and became the most powerful rulers in Kerala for several centuries, fighting with the Kolattiri kings among others.

Mānavikrama, whom Kunjunni Raja says was “one of the greatest patrons of literature that Kerala has ever produced” famously had a circle of 18 and a half scholars in his court, including Uddaṇḍa and others such as the Payyūr Bhaṭṭas whose house the koel will soon visit.  The half was Punam Namputiri, a native of the Kola region where the koel has just come from who was accorded such status because he was a Malayalam rather than a Sanskrit poet.

Thanks to the port established at Calicut, the Zamorins became fabulously wealthy.  The port became a major trading centre, particularly for spices (lending Calicut its epithet as ‘City of Spices’), and appears in many travellers’ writings, including those of the 14th century Ibn Battuta.  The city’s sea-borne wealth becomes in the poem the expression of the sea’s love for his daughter who has settled in Calicut:

यत्र ज्ञात्वा कृतनिलयनामिन्दिरामात्मकन्यां

मन्ये स्नेहाकुलितहृदयो वाहिनीनां विवोढा।


नौकाजालं मुहुरुपहरन् वीचिभिः श्लिष्यतीव॥1.67

*Unni’s edition has tattadvīpa instead of tattaddvīpa as above

There I can picture the rivers’ husband – his heart overwhelmed with love for his daughter Indirā who, he knows, has made her home here – continuously proffering fleets of boats groaning with heaped up jewels gathered from hundreds of different islands dotted here and there, and hugging the city with his waves as it were.

The port at Beypore, one of the sub-ports of Calicut and a historical ship-building site, is a few kilometres outside the main city.  Boats of all sizes come to the small port today but only the multicoloured oil drums come close to the vision of gem-rich splendour of Uddaṇḍa’s description and piles of such incongruous cargo as septic tanks and industrial metal parts make for an altogether more prosaic aspect.

The city was also famous for the Revati Patthanam that was established by the Zamorins as a way of making amends for their aggression towards the trustees of the Tali Shiva temple, and thereby free themselves of the curse that was stripping the dynasty of all progeny.  The Patthanam was thus set up in the 14th century – and so called because it started on the day of the Revatī nakṣatra or star – and became a great draw for scholars, including Uddaṇḍa, from all over South India. The contest is still held at the Tali Shiva temple and includes prizes for scholars of logic, philosophy and grammar.  It was here that Uddaṇḍa, after many years of unparallelled success on the debating floor, was given his comeuppance by the precocious Dāmodara.  Among the many verses and stories from the competition between these two scholars that tradition has handed down is the challenge issued by Uddaṇḍa to his young adversary to disprove the statement that his (Dāmodara’s) mother was chaste. The 12 year old extricated himself by quoting a verse from the Ṛg Veda that maintains a wife is in fact enjoyed by Soma, Gandharva and Agni before she is given over to her husband. No doubt a more effective rejoinder than that usually made in such verbal duals in pubs, bars and streets the world over.

It was this temple too that hosted the first performance of Uddaṇḍa’s only other major work, the Mallikāmāruta.  Yet oddly this temple finds no mention in Uddaṇḍa’s description of the city, despite his close association with it.  The absence of any reference to Mānavikrama, his contemporaries at the Zamorin’s court or the temple leads some scholars to suppose Uddaṇḍa wrote the poem early on in his career before he had become so acquainted with Calicut and its inhabitants.  The familiarity with Kerala that is so evident though argues against this and Uddaṇḍa does describe the Zamorin family as a whole at least as brave, powerful rulers.

As with Kanchipuram, the poet’s hometown, the koel will have to tear himself away from the city:

कृष्ट्वा दृष्टिं कथमपि ततः कौतुकानां निदाना-

दुड्डीयेथाः पथि विटपिनां पुष्पमाध्वीं लिहानः।

हारं हारं मदनपृतनाकाहलैः कण्ठनादै-

रुत्कण्ठानां जनपदमृगीलोचनानां मनांसि॥1.69

Hard though it may be given the city’s array of wonders, drag your eyes away from there and fly onwards, feeding upon the nectar of the trees along the way.  With your calls, the drumbeat of Love’s army, bewitch the hearts of the doe-eyed girls of each region as they gaze up at you.

Taliparamba and Ezhimala – Kokila Sandesha 5

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:

After the city of Koṭṭayam, the hero asks his messenger to take a small diversion to Sampadgrāma towards the north of Kerala, just as Kālidāsa’s yakṣa urges the cloud to take a circuitous route in order not to miss Ujjain.

दिग्यातव्या यदपि भवतो दक्षिणा रक्षणार्थं

मत्प्राणानां पुनरपि सखे पश्चिमामेव यायाः।

धूतारामं मुकुटतटिनीमारुतैस्तत्र शम्भोः

सम्पद्ग्रामं यदि न भजसे जन्मना किं भृतेन॥

Even though you need to head south if you are to save me from death, my friend, fly a little further still to the west.  If you don’t visit Sampadgrāma while you’re there, where the breezes from the Mukuṭa river bestir the gardens, this life will have been a waste.

Unni notes that Sampadgrāma was “was one of the opulent villages of ancient Kerala”, as its name ‘sampad’ ‘wealth’ and ‘grāma’ ‘village’ suggests.  It is today known as Taliparamba or Perincelloor and houses the famous Rajarajeshvara temple, whose founding myth is told as follows:

Three Ṥivaliṅgas, created from the dust produced by the churning of the sun mixed with amṛta (a divine nectar), were presented by Parvatī to three kings.  The kings were to install the lingams somewhere where no death had occurred.  The first king, Māndatha, after a long search, found the current spot and thus installed it there.  However the lingam eventually sank into the ground and the second king, King Muchukanda, again decided upon this spot to establish his lingam.  It too sank.  The third, King Shatasoma, came to the same spot and, seeing the lingam begin to sink even as he installed it, took the help of the legendary sage Agastya to keep his lingam above ground.  It worked and, with the combined power of three Ṥivaliṅgas, the place thus became a major temple.

This temple too is connected to Paraśurāma, who had it renovated by heaven’s architect, Viśvakarma.

Rāma also worshipped at this temple on his way back to Ayodhyā after defeating Rāvaṇa.  Out of deference to him – as an incarnation of Viṣṇu – devotees here do not enter the namaskāra-maṇḍapa where he worshipped.

सौधैस्तुङ्गैर्हसदिव सुधाक्षालितै राजताद्रिं

तेजोराशेः प्रविश भवनं धूर्जटेरूर्जितं तत्।

पार्श्वे पार्श्वे परिचितनमस्कारजातश्रमाणां

क्ष्मादेवानां क्षणमन्भवंस्तालवृन्तस्य लीलाम्॥1.51

Enter that mighty abode of the resplendent dreadlocked Ṥiva with its whitewashed turrets that seem to mock the silver mountain Kailāsa and for a moment or two enjoy the refreshing breeze from the fans of the Brahmins who are gathered on every side, resting after their customary namaskāras.

This temple is also the scene of several stories about our poet, Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri. As a notice board tells visitors even today, he was one of the most famous – possibly the original – recipient of the illustrious Kuttumparam award for excellence in a given field.  This award ceremony is held in a small structure on the right of the main gate of the temple and the prize consists of a large gold bracelet, the vīraśṛṅkhala, awarded by a unanimous vote by the temple leaders.

The poet seems to make no reference to this but the very fact he spends nine verses describing this temple, far longer than any other, suggests a partiality.  This partiality may also be attributed to another story which tells how Uddaṇḍa, who worshipped divinity in its most impersonal aspect as nirguṇa Brahma (Consciousness uncharacterised by any of the qualities we know and understand) and thus not in the habit of paying his respects to God embodied in a statue, found his palms spontaneously come together in prayer – as the lotus closes upon seeing the moon – as he stood before the Taliparamba Ṥiva [if anyone knows the verse to which this refers please let me know].  This then brings an added significance to the verse with which the hero asks the koel to praise God in this temple – the only such instance in this poem.

दिव्यैश्चर्यं दिशसि भजतां वर्तसे भिक्षमाणो

गौरीमङ्के वहसि भसितं पञ्चबाणं चकर्थ।

कृत्स्नं व्याप्य स्फुरसि भुवनं मृग्यसे चागमान्तैः

कस्ते तत्त्वं प्रभवति परिच्छेत्तुमाश्चर्यसिन्धो॥1.54

“For your devotees you wield a divine might, but you yourself live on the alms of others. You hold Gaurī tenderly in your lap, but you burnt the five-arrowed God of Love to ash.   You have pervaded the whole world and appear throughout it, but the Upaniṣads are still searching for you.  Who has the power to circumscribe your supreme self, an ocean of wonders, my Lord?”

इत्थं स्तुत्वा बहिरुपवनोपान्तमाकन्दशृङ्गे

यावद्भानुर्व्रजति चरमं भूधरं तावदास्स्व।

द्रक्ष्यस्यन्वक्सफलनयनं ताण्डवानीन्दुमौले-


Sing his praises thus perched atop a mango tree in the grove outside until the sun travels beyond the furthest mountain.  After that feast your eyes upon the tānḍava dance of the moon-crested Ṥiva, intensified by the lovely Parvatī flashing glances as she dances the accompanying lāsya.

The koel is promised a beautiful night’s rest in Ṥiva’s presence, fanned by the breeze from the nearby sea which brings with it the scent of the night-blooming water lily.  In the morning as he sets off he is encouraged to visit the nearby Trichambaram temple.  Interestingly the traditional way of visiting these two neighbouring temples, at least today, is the other way round – Trichambaram first and then the Rajarajeshwara temple.

दृष्ट्वा देवं परिसरजुषं शम्बरे बालकृष्णं

लोपामुद्रासखतिलकितं दिङ्मुखं भूषयिष्यन्।

कोलानेलावनसुरभिलान् याहि यत्र प्रथन्ते

वेलातीतप्रथितवचसः शङ्कराद्याः कवीन्द्राः॥1.61

Visit the nearby Ṥambara temple of the young Lord Kṛṣṇa in as you prepare to head south, the direction marked by Agastya.  Go to the Kola lands fragrant with cardamom forests where great poets such as Ṥaṅkara*, whose famed verse has spread beyond every shore, are celebrated.

*Unni notes that this is a reference to a contemporary of Uddaṇḍa’s who composed the Ṥrīkṛṣṇavijaya

The Trichambaram – said to be a corruption of Tiru Ṥambara (tiru is the Tamil equivalent of śrī – a marker of respect) –  temple is a small but nevertheless famous Kṛṣṇa temple which is just two kilometres from the Rajarajeshvara temple.  This temple, which history places in the 11th century, is also linked to Paraśurāma – but in this case he is credited with its foundation.  The two temples are linked by more than geography.   Viṣṇu and Lakṣmī once came to pay their respects to Ṥiva in his temple here.  When he saw Lakṣmī Ṥiva assumed the form of Viṣṇu to lure her into the garbhagṛham or inner shrine.  He then had his attendants – the bhūtagaṇas – block her exit by permanently sealing the temple’s back door so that she, and the wealth she embodied, might remain there. [The bhūtagaṇas feature too in the temple’s construction.  The local priests demonstrate how these huge walls, made of large stone blocks without cement, could not have been built by men – the bhūtagaṇas erected them.]  The goddess was later claimed by her husband but her presence remains there.  In celebration of this bond, the festival idol of the Trichambaram temple is brought to the Rajarajeshvara temple on three occasions each year, where it circles the large temple wall seven times, seated upon an elephant.


The Kola land to which the koel is next directed is closely linked with both of these temples.  The Kola region was originally the dominion of the Mūṣika (or Mūṣaka – both variants, which mean rat or mouse, are used) kings and only later the Kolattiris, who give the land the name ‘Kola’ by which Uddaṇḍa refers to it.  In the legend narrated above, the third king, Shatashoma, is a Mūṣaka king according to the Mūṣakavamśa.  The Mūṣakavaṃśa is a mahākāvya that tells the story of these kings from their origins – the first king’s mother escaped Paraśurāma’s slaughter of kṣatriyas by taking refuge on the Ezhi hill, Ezhimala, which later became their capital – up to the 12th century.  Other Mūṣaka kings worshipped at these temples and they were also evidently important places of worship and culture for the Kolattiris.

The hero tells the koel that the Kola land is fragrant with elā, cardamom.  The Kola capital, Ezhimala, which means ‘mouse hill’ in Tamil and Malayalam, is celebrated for its wonderful fecundity which legend attributes to its unusual formation.  The hills were originally portions of the Himalayan mountain top which Hanuman, after bringing them to the battlefield at Laṅkā to revive Rāma’s army, accidentally dropped on his return journey.  A huge naval academy was recently built at Ezhimala and special clearance is needed for visitors.  Uddaṇḍa though gives us a dramatic description of the view from this coast (as the hero seems to send the koel directly south to the sea’s edge, and as Ezhimala is due west of Taliparamba, the spot Uddaṇḍa has in mind is probably south of the capital):

उन्मज्जद्भिः पुनरिव जवात् पक्षवद्भिर्गिरीन्द्रै-

र्वृन्दैर्नावां भुजपटलिकोड्डामरैर्गाह्यमानम्।

लक्ष्मीजानेः शयनसदनं पुष्पवाटं पुरारेः

पाकस्थानं निखिलमरुतां पश्य वारान्निधानम्॥1.62

See the ocean – Viṣṇu’s bedroom, Ṥiva’s garden and a kitchen for all the gods*.  As flocks of great ships with curving sails dive about her it is as if the mountain lords are once again bursting up from the sea, their wings intact.

*Ṥiva wears the moon in the place of a flower, and as the moon was born in the ocean, the ocean is thus the garden from which he plucked his flower.  The ocean also produced the amṛta or nectar which nourishes all of the gods.

Kottayam – Kokila Sandesha 4

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:

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।

उच्चैः सौधैरुडुगणगतीरूर्ध्वमुत्सारयन्तीं

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.

तामायान्तीं स्तनभरपरित्रस्तभुग्नावलग्नां

स्वेदच्छेदच्छुरितवदनां श्रोणिभारेण खिन्नाम्।

किञ्चिच्चञ्चूकलितकलिकाशीथुभारेण सिञ्चे-

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.

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