Ksemendra lived in eleventh-century Kashmir and wrote in classical Sanskrit. Often quoted in anthologies, his literary output over at least three
decades includes still studied works on poetics and prosody, apart from
devotional and didactic verse, three epic abstracts and several mordant
social satires. Eighteen of his works were recovered in the last century
and 16 others are known through citations. They have established Ksemendra as a brilliant multifaceted writer and an important name in Sanskrit literature.
A.N.D. Haksar is a well-known translator of Sanskrit works. A career diplomat for many years, ten of his translations have been published as Penguin Classics. They range over poetry, prose and drama, and include Ksemendra's Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir and The Courtesan’s Keeper, both
of which were until then virtually unknown to modern readers.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
In present popular perception, Sanskrit is as little associated with
satirical writing as it is with Kashmir. The work offered here will I hope
provide some slight corrective to this impression. The Darpa Dalana is a
satirical look at human attitudes in classical Sanskrit. It was composed in
eleventh-century Kashmir, the home of much excellent literature in that
language, both before and after the period of this poem.
Its author, Ksemendra, has been translated rather rarely and remains
practically unknown to readers in other languages. His work also seemed
lost in recent centuries, when it could be seen only in extracts quoted
in some anthologies of Sanskrit poetry, like the Subhdsitavali and the
In modern times the first manuscript of Ksemendra’s many works was
discovered in 1871 at Tanjore, a sign of how far they had spread since
his time. In the following half century various Indologists located others,
mainly in Kashmir. So far 18 of these texts have been found and printed.
References or titles mentioned in them have enabled identification of
another 16 which are yet to be recovered.
These discoveries have established Ksemendra as a multifaceted, brilliant
and prolific writer, and an important name in classical Sanskrit literature.
His available works range over a vast number of subjects. They cover
poetics and prosody, devotional poetry, satires on life and thought, as
well as manuals on conduct and abstracts of famous earlier writings.
The works known only through references include plays, poems, a
commentary on the Kama Sutra and a history of Kashmir commented on
in the later Rdjatarangini of Kalhana.
Some of these works bear dates and some also contain personal
information about the writer. With due collation and cross-checking, this
data has provided an outline of Ksemendra’s life and work. His dates are
estimated as roughly between 990 and 1070 CE. His literary activity of over
three decades took place in Kashmir mainly during the reign of its King
Ananta (1028-63 CE) and later his son KalaSa.
Ksemendra came from an old, cultured and affluent family in Kashmir.
His teachers included the famous philosopher Abhinavagupta, and other
contemporary preceptors of literature and religion. His earlier work
includes abridgements of the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Devoted
in particular to the traditional composer of the latter, he often uses for
himself the epithet vydsadasa, 'servant of Vyasa’.
Ksemendra’s satirical work has been lauded, both in India and abroad. But
modern scholarship has dwelt mainly on his contributions in the fields
of poetics and prosody. The Darpa Dalana is a part of his satiric poetry.
Its text was first published in 1890, translated into German in 1915, and
commented on at length only 70 years later in the Canadian scholar AK
Warder’s monumental Indian Kavya Literature. Here it is presented ina full
and total English translation, perhaps for the first time.
This poem consists of 587 Sanskrit stanzas, spread over seven chapters
called 'Vicdras’ or 'Thoughts'. These expound on subjects the poet regards
as the main causes of human arrogance which deserve to be understood
and eliminated. He titles them family, wealth, learning, beauty, heroism,
charity and holy penance. There also seems to be a moral objective
underlying his projections: to focus on the sense of discrimination
which reveals the hollowness of arrogant pride. The whole is done
through flashes of satirical poetry, sometimes biting and brutal, at others
compassionate and tender, but always couched in graceful verse.
Each chapter is illustrated with a colourful story to drive home the poet’s
point. These tales narrate everyday or miraculous episodes, featuring
men and women, humans and animals, kings and commoners, as also
beings from this or another world. One of them has as its hero the Buddha
in person, and another the great god Siva, pointing to the writer’s own
broad-based and inclusive outlook on the beliefs and faiths of his time.
Several contain verses which have been taken as maxims and epigrams
into various anthologies that have been a feature of Sanskrit literature
The present translation has been done verse by verse. It attempts to
combine fidelity to the original text and its spirit with the requirements
of contemporary English usage for conveying both meaning and flavour.
A few verses have come down incomplete or unclear, and they have been
excluded as detailed in the textual notes, as explained below. The rest
have been translated, some in continuous prose and others in a free
verse form, both for better reading and for giving a feel of the original.
Sub-headings have been devised and inserted into the English for easier
In a departure from standard Romanisation of Sanskrit, I have used the
nominative singular masculine form for words whose stem forms are not
easily recognised, thus Vali not Valin and so on.
For details on the Sanskrit text used in this edition, and other
available editions of the Darpa Dalana, please download the textual notes
and bibliography from the Darpa Dalana page of the Rasala website,
www.rasalabooks.com. The following section, standard in all Rasala
books, introduces the reader to the conventions of Sanskrit poetry.
It has been a pleasure for me to meet and work with Venetia Kotamraju,
Sanskrit scholar, enthusiast and founder of Rasala. I am grateful to her
for asking me to undertake this translation, and for her careful editing
and revision of the drafts I sent her over a considerable period of time.
also thank the two Sanskritists who have helped her in this: Dr Shankar
Rajaraman, a psychiatrist and learned astdvadhani poet, and Mr Naresh
Keerthi, researcher in Cognitive Linguistics at the National Institute of
Advanced Studies, who did the peer review. My thanks also to Shafali
Bhatt of the India International Centre Library, New Delhi, for her help
with the reference material. Last, but most, I thank my wife, Priti, for her
constant and patient support, which cannot be described in words. This
book is dedicated to our son, Vikram, to savour these satires, a part of the
ancient culture to which he is heir.
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