About the Book (Volume 1)
Selecting a few out of the large number of brilliant gems glittering in the firmamant of Kerala’s Sanskrit literature is not an easy task. Special attention has therefore been given to those compositions of great merit which are not easily available to interested readers at present. In Kerala, students of Sanskrit used to make their entry into the world of kavyas with the short poem of Sriramodantam and Sukumara’s Srikrsnavilasam before making their acquaintance with Kalidasa and others. Unfortunately, both these compositions have practically gone out of circulation even in the state of their origin. Other poems included in the series are Kulasekhara’s Mukundarnala, Vasudeva Bhattatiri’s Yudhisthiravijayarn, two compositions of Lilasuka, the Message Poem, Sukasandesa of Laksmidasa and two short hymns of Adi ·Sankara.
Sukumara’s Srikrsnavilasam is a rnahakavya, dealing with the birth and exploits of Lord Krsna. The poet has made no secret of the fact that he is an ardent admirer of Kalidasa and he has tried to faithfully follow the foot-steps of the great master in many respects. The poem stops abruptly in the middle of the 12th Canto while Krsna is making on aerial journey in the company of his beloved wife Satyabharna giving a strong indication that death might have intervened before he could complete the work.
About the Book (Volume 2)
This second volume of the ‘Nine Gems of Sanskrit Literature contains one of the three famous Yamaka Kavyas of Vasudeva Bhattatiri, who is believed to have been a contemporary of the famous Cera Emperor, Ramavarma Kulasekhara (A.D. 885-917). There are references to his patron monarch in all the three poems and the poet also· speaks about his preceptor, a Bharataguru with great reverence.
Vasudeva’s Yudhisthiravijam is rightly acclaimed as the greatest among the Yamaka·compositions. As the title indicates ‘Yudhsthiravijayam deals with the victory of Yudhisthira the eldest of the Pandavas over the evil forces represented by Duryodhana and the hundred Kaurava brothers. It starts with King Pandu’s departure to the Himalayan forest and the birth of the Pandavas. Subsequently it deals with the rivalry’ between the Pandavas and Kauravas that led to the war of annihilation in which the Pandavas ultimately came out victorious.
Two more Yam aka Kavyas with the titles, Tripuradahanamand Saurikathodaya are well known compositions of the same poet and it is hoped that these may also become available to interested scholars in the near future through the efforts of the present commentator.
About the Book (Volume 3)
This third volume of ‘Nine Gems of Sanskrit Literature’ starts with Mukundarnala, the’ oldest among’ the Vaishnavite lyrics, ascribed to King Kulasekhara who finds his place among the twelve Alvars. It is followed by the Kalavadhakavyam and Durgastuti of the famous saint poet, Lilasuka with the alternative name of ‘Vilvamangala’. Kalavdhakavya deals with the death of the god of death at the hands of Lord Mahesvara, whom he’ annoys by trying to snatch away his devotee Markandeya. Though an ardent devotee of Krsna in the form of Venugopala Lilasuka has composed innumerable hymns in praise of other gods and goddesses as well. Durgastuti is a hymn in praise of one of the local deities of the famous Sukapuram village of South Malabar. Sriramodantarn is a short poem of 153 verses dealing with the story of Rarna, with which students used to start their study of Sanskrit kavyas in Kerala. Sukasandesarn is a Message Poem of the 14th century of poet Laksmidasa on the model of Kalidasa’s Meghadntarn. The collection ends with two short hymns dealing with the quintessence of advaita philosophy, so much compressed into so few words as only the great preceptor Adi Sankara could have done.
About the Author
Dr. K.P.A. Menon M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. is an eminent scholar, scientist and administrator who has held many important assignments in the goverment including the post of Defence Secretary to the Government of India. Epic poetry and dramas have been his special field of interest and he has also been making a study of Indian classics produced in modern European -languages like French, Spanish and Italian,-languages with which he is fairly conversant. During the last three decades he has been making a deep study of Sanskrit literature produced in his home state of Kerala including devotional lyrics, kavyas and dramas.
Honorary Fellow of the Biographical Academy of Commonwealth and recipient of various honours within and outside the country, his name figures among the Intellectuals in the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge. He was given the Distinguished Leadership A ward by the American Biographical Institute Inc. in 1985 and the Albert Einstein Memorial Medal by the Universal Intelligence Data Bank of America (Europe) in 1986.
Introduction (Volume 1)
The idea of delving deeply into the annals of Kerala’s Sanskrit literature had occurred to me soon after conductiong a seminar on “The Contribution of Kerala to Sanskritic studies” under the auspices of the Kerala club of Delhi on the occasion of the National Sanskrit day in 1970. Unfortunately I could not pursue the dream since all my energies were forthwith requisitioned for a project initiated by some of us, Sanskrit lovers hailing fom Kerala, for the establishment of a Sanskrit University in that state. The one-man committee appointed by the scholarly Chief Minister late Sri C. Achuta Menon made strong recommendations for such a university and nothing more was heard about it for two decades. We should still feel happy that a Sanskrit University has utimately been established with headquarters at the hallowed’ premises of Adi Sankaracharya’s birth place at Kaladi. In the meanwhile a few scholars have been at work for unearthing the buried treasures and making them available to scholars and litterateurs within and outside the country. Special mention could be made in this connection of the publication of the extant dramas of Ramavarma Kulaskhera by the eminent scholar Dr. N.P. Unni and .some publications by the Ramakrishna mission.
Kerala has contributed to the cause of Sanskrit in two different ways. From the 9th century onwards Sanskrit had become the preferred language of the learned and a number of original compositions have come from the pens of scholars of this state. The keen interest taken by the rulers, many of them poets of no mean merit, and the patronage extended by them to the scholars of Sanskrit have been partly responsible for this. Apart from this direct contribution to Sanskritic literature, Kerala has also done a great service to the cause of Sanskrit by carefully preseving the Sanskrit tradition in performing arts along with the ‘compositions of the old masters that might have been otherwise lost for ever to posterity. The discovery of a large number of manuscripts of what are generally accepted as the ‘Plays of Bhasa’ is an eloquent testimony in support of this contention.
The existence of a vast treasure of Sanskrit literature in manuscirpt form or printed in Malayalam script would not have attracted the notice of scholars even within the state but for painstaking efforts of a few researchers and scholars. In this connection prominent mention should be made of the great litterateur Ullur S. Parameswara Aiyar and the historian Elankulam Kunjan Pillai who started deviating from the beaten track in his researches on the social, cultural and political life of the people of Kerala. Their contribution is much more than the materials u earthed by them. A more important contribution is the thinking process initiated by them that inspired the future generations to give their attention to the various facets of our social and cultural life that had escaped the notice of earlier generations. Eminent scholars and litterateurs like Dr. K. Kunjunni Raja and Dr. N. r. Unni and historians like Prof. Sridhara Menon and M.G.5. Narayanan have all acknowledged the contribution made by these pioneers even while differing with them on various issues.
The study undertaken by Dr. K. Kunjunni Raja on ‘The Contribution of Kerala to Sanskrit Literature’ for his doctoral thesis came out in a book form only a decade after the degree was awarded to him. Starting from the period of the Kulasekeharas of Mahodayapuram this eminent scholar has dealt with all the major and minor works of some merit right up to the beginning of the present century. Very little was known about most of these works even within the state when he undertook this study and practically nothing beyond the ghats with two exceptions like the works of Adi Sankara that were well known all over the country and the Mukundamala which was popular among the Vaishnavites of the former Madras presidency and the princely state of Mysore. Unfortunately the Sanskrit compositions that were popular in Kerala even during the British period started going out of circulation in that state. On the other hand, many of the compositions of the poets and dramatists of Kerala had attained great popularity in different parts of the country during the early centuries of this millenium.
Many of the verses from the devotional lyrics of Kerala origin had found their place among anthologies prepared in Bengal and other parts of the country. The only manuscript of Kulasekhara Alvar’s Mukundamala spotted outside Kerala was in Kashmir which is the state farthest from the state of its origin.
During the British period enough attention was not being given to the collection and preservation of manuscripts though the intiative of distingushed scholars and historians of Europe had helped in the process of re-discovering our glorious past. The Bengal Asiatic Society established during the regime of Governor-General Warren Hastings with the intiative of the celebrated orientalist Sir William Jones had certainly done a commendable job, but such attempts did not benefit remote regions like Kerala or Kashmir. That part of Kerala which got integrated into British India followed the western system of education and attention was generally given only to those Sanskrit compostions that formed a pad of the curriculam. Side by side with the system of eduacation designed by persons like Macaulay and Wood the traditional system also flourished for some decades.
Introduction (Volume 2)
This poem belonging to the genre of Yamakakavya is the composition of a Kerala poet Vasudeva Bhattatiri who is considered to have been the court poet of Ramavarma Kulasekhara. He could rightly be acclaimed as the greatest among the Yamaka poets since it is the opinion of many discerning critics that Yudhisthiravijayam is the finest among the Yamakakavyas. There are two more such poems composed by the same poet which have been preserved to posterity.
Life and Times-Vasudeva Bhattatiri is believed to have been the court poet of Ramavarma Kulasekhara who might have been the ruler of Cera kingdom during the period A.D. 885-917. In the Yudhisthiravijayam, the poet is making a reference to King Kulasekhara as a ruling monarch but there are differences of opinion regarding the identity of the royal personage referred to. It is now accepted that Kulasekhara is not a personal name but the royal title assumed by the rulers of Mahodayapuram on ascending the throne, The royal dramatist who is the author of the two famous dramas Tapatisamvaranam and Subhadradhananjayam is also described as Kulasekharavarman and there are many scholars who believe that this ruler was a contemporary and the patron monarch of Vasudeve Bhattatiri. On the other hand, there are other scholars and historians who have identified the royal dramatist with the saintly king Kulasekhara well known to the Vaisnavites as Kulasekhara Alvar. This point is being dealt with by me in the third volume of this publication while dealing with the Life and Times of Kulasekhara Alvar, the author of Mukundamala and Perumal Tirumozhi. I have expressed my firm view that these dramas could not have been the works of the saintly king and that Mukandamala must have been composed a few decades prior to the dramatic compositions.
In Vasudeve’s Tripuradahanam there is a reference to a king by the name of Rama and there are some who hold that he must have been the son and succesor of the King Kulasekhara referred to in the Yudhisthiravijayam. They seem to have taken the two names Kulasekhara and Rama as personal names whereas it has now been fully accepted that Kulasekhara was a titile like Manavikrama or Vikramaditya. So there is nothing incompatible about the same ruler being described as Rama or Ramavarman in one place and Kulasekhara or Kulasekharavarman in another context. It is even possible that a king might assume a title like Rajasekhara. Therefore we could not come to any hasty conclusion that a king described as Kulasekhara or Rajasekhara could not be known by any other name.
There are references to the patron of the poet in all the three Yamakakavyas of Vasudeva. In the Yudhisthiravijayarn, this monarch has been described as one of dignified bearing who knew very well the arts of peace and war.
Introduction (Volume 3)
In this third volume of Navaratnamala, Nine Gems of Sanskrit literature of Kerala, are included the Vaisnavite lyric of Mukundamala composed by King Kulasekhara, the Kalavadhakavyam and Durgastuti both ascribed to Lilasuka, the message poem, Sukasandesa, of Laksmidasa, two short hymns of Adi Sankara and the poem of Sriramodantam in 153 verses of unknown authorship. In chronological order Mukundamala and the stotras of Adi Sankara should come first since these must have been composed not later than the first half of the Ninth century A.D. The composition of Lilasuka and Laksmidasa are of a much later period, may be, two or three centuries after Kulasekhara and Adi Sankara. Sriramodantam has been widely read in Kerala for at least five or six centuries though the date of its composition is still a matter of conjecture. It must have been comppsed long before Tunjan’s Ramayana in Malayalam and before Adhyatma Ramayana which forms a part of Brahmandapurana became popular in Kerala. For the last five centuries at least, the Adhyatma version of the Riimakatha has been most popular in Kerala. The author of Sriramodantam has not been influenced to’ any extent by the Adhyatma Ramayana and has’ been drawing on Valmiki or Kalidasa for the theme. Apart from this, the antiquity with which this short composition is being credited would make one believe that it must have been composed long before the break-up of the Kulasekhara empire in the 12th century.
Mukundamala-This short devotional lyric which is reported to have contained 40 verses is the oldest among the Vaisnavite lyrics in Sanskrit available to the present generation. This was composed during a period when the Vaisnavite movement had attained very high popularity in that cultural unit known as Tamizhakam which comprised the Cera kingdom (later known as Kerala) as well. Surprisingly, the Saivite movement also seems to have flourished side by side in Kerala .and in other parts of South India during the same period. While King Kulasekhara has been accepted as one of the twelve Alvars, another ruler of the same dynasty has been identified as one of the 63 Nayanmars. If this contention is correct he must have flourished within a period of less than hundred years after the departure of the Vaisnavite ruler, the author of Mukundamala.
Vaisnavite Movement in Kerala-Farthest from Mathura and Vrndavana, Kerala is, on available evidence, one of the earliest among the ancient kingdoms of India, where Vaisnavism took deep roots and spread as a mass movement. One cannot accurately forecast from which point of time the worship of Visnu in his different incarnations started in the Cera Kingdom. It will appear that the worship of Visnu in the fotm of Lord Krsna whose dark blue complextion resembled that of the kaya flower is not a development of the post-sangam era. According to Tolkappiyam, the earliest extant Tamil grammar Mayon was the presiding diety of mullai or the forest region. There are references to Krsna and Balarama as incarnations of Visnu in the Purananuru anthologies also. Balarama is fair complexioned with the palm tree as the emblem of his flag while Krsna, is of dark hue with Garuda as his emblem. There are also references to Visnu with his discus (cakra) and the conch as well as to Lord Sri Rama and to certain episodes from the Ramayana in the Sangam anthologies.
Vaisnavism or the Bhakti movement did not certainly originate in South India since Aryan influence had reached the farthest limits of South India only towards the 4th century B. C. There are references to ‘Bhgavatas’ or devotees of Visnu in Panini, Megesthenes, who was the Greek ambassador in the court of the Mauryan kings during the 4th century B. C. has remarked that the people of Surasena (Mathura) were worshippers of a god whom he describes as Heracles. This reference is undoubtedly to the worship of Visnu in the form of Krsna. In the 4th century B. C. worship of Krsna must have become popular among the Yadava people of the Mathura region.
In his ‘History of South India’, K.A. Nilakanta Sastri has the following comments to make. “In the sphere of religion, as generally in all matters of spiritual culture, South India began by being heavily indebted to the North ; but in the course of centuries it more than amply repaid the debt and made signal contributions to the theory and ‘practice of religion and to philosophic thought in its various aspects. Its saints and seers evolved a new type· of bhakti, a fervid emotional surrender to god which found its supreme literary expression in the Bhagavata-purana, a bhakti very different from the calm dignified devotion of the Bhagvatas of the early centuries before and after Christ in Northern India. Again, from South India arose the two schools of Vedic exegesis-Mimamsa-that go by the names of Kumarilabhatta and Prabhakara. The founders of the three main systems of Vedanta-Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva-also hailed from the Southern country. Yet another prominent philosophical system the Saivasiddhanta also found its exponents in the Tamil country. Lastly, the Vedas were commented on more than once in this part of the country, and the constant study of the ritual manuals of the different Vedic schools was kept up”
By the time the Vaisnavite movement made a serious impact on the major part of Northern India, the worship of Visnu in his different avataras (incarnations) seems to have become quite popular in Kerala. A section” of Namputiri brahmanas belonging to one of the traditional sixty four gram as were worshippers of the Variihamurti (Visnu’s incarnation as Wild Boar). Such worship of Visnu in different forms does not appear to have been a post-Bhagavata trend. Could it be a mere coincidence that the earliest icon of Visnu recovered so far is that of a Varahamurti which is now in the Patna Museum?
Traditionally, Kerala had a broad approach towards all religious movements. The greatest exponent of the Advaita philosophy flourished during the period of the Kulasekharas, Bhakti movement was also at its peak during the same period. Ceraman Perumal Nayanmar, the great Saivite saint was also a ruler of the same dynasty that produced the royal saint poet Kulasekhara who composed the Mukundamala.
Contents (Volume 3)
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