Vrindavan, 2017.07.27 (VT): English-speaking scholars of Vaishnava literature in Sanskrit have cause for celebration, as a classical work on poetics by one of the most illustrious of the 17th century writers in the Chaitanya tradition has been made available by Ras Bihari Lal & Sons, publishers in Loi Bazaar.
Kavi Karṇapūra, who was blessed by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when just a small child, wrote the Alaṅkāra-kaustubha in order to give a bhakti orientation to the millennial rasa and alaṅkāra (literary ornamentation or rhetoric) writings on Sanskrit poetics. This is the first time it has been translated into English as a combined effort of Matsya Avatāra Dāsa and Gaurapada Dāsa.
Gaurapada completed the work started by Matsya Avatāra Dāsa. Originally from Canada, he has been living for over a decade at Radha Kund and has already made many valuable contributions to the analysis of Sanskrit literature and rasa theory.
According to Gaurapada, “The Vedic literature is replete with poetic expression. Poetics is the key that unlocks the true meaning of a text. The science of poetics not only provides a methodology to arrive at the purport (tātparya) of a verse or an entire composition, but it also shows how to analyse aesthetic delight (rasa). Krishna bhakti is all about rasa, since the Upanishads say that the Supreme Truth is rasa, and this is one of the main differences between Vaishnavism and other Hindu schools of thought. Sanskrit poetics thus explains the mechanics of how the innate bliss of the soul filters into the mind.
“In his chapter on Rasa, Kavi Karṇapūra incorporated the concepts of prema and bhakti in his own way, and covered some of the topics covered by Rūpa Gosvāmī. But Alaṅkāra-kaustubha is not just a book of theory. It is also a treasure of jewel-like verses, like this one, which illustrates prema-rasa (true love):
tvaṁ me prāṇā aham api tavāsmīti hanta pralāpaḥ
tvaṁ me te syām aham iti ca yat tac ca no sādhu rādhe
vyavaharo nau na hi samucito yuṣmad-asmat-prayogaḥ
Rādhā, if I were to say “I am Your sweetheart and You are Mine,” that would only be chatter. And the words “You are My life and I am Yours” are simply prattle. Even saying “You belong to Me and I to You” is not right. The terms “You” and “I” are not proper usage between Us. (AK 5.27)
Says Gaurapada, “In this book, Kavi Karṇapūraa teaches that there are two main meanings of the term Rasa, each corresponding to one goal of poetics. The first goal is to experience aesthetic delight. The second goal, achieved when aesthetic delight is enhanced by an outstanding implied sense, is to realize that the nature of the soul is Rasa.
“The soul inherently consists of bliss, which involves a certain degree of astonishment, but when the astonishment transcends its usual limits by the force of an especially potent implied sense, the combination of bliss and astonishment is called Rasa.”
Gaurapada further says that the poetic theory developed by Sanskrit rhetoricians can also apply to other languages since the Sanskrit rhetoricians’ method of analysis is universal. But Sanskrit is especially well-suited for this kind of rasa analysis: It is the best medium for poetry because it is favorable for double meanings and because of the rich Vedic culture which provides a vast source of mythological and poetic references.
Kavi Karṇapūra greatly raised the standards of poetry on all levels. His section on citra-kāvya or picture poetry is alson unique. His section on varṇa-citra (verses composed using only a few consonants) rivals that of Rūpa Gosvāmī in Stavamālā. For example, each line in the following verse has only one consonant:
pāpo ’papāpa-paḥ papiḥ
lolo lalāla līlā-līṁ
yayāyaṁ yo ’yayā yayau
The moon is not awake to my happiness. It has suddenly shifted to another direction. The wicked moon withers sinless girls like us and frustrates our desires. Krishna thirsts for gopīs. He wanted a girl who will embrace Him during play. He must be having union with such a girl by now, and surely that girl will not leave Him. (7.99)
At the time of writing Alaṅkāra-kaustubha, Kavi Karṇapūra probably knew Rūpa Gosvāmī’s works because he refers to him: kaiścit sakhibhiḥ saha yuddham udāhriyate, tat tu līlā-viśeṣa iti prakṛte na likhyate, “Some eminent scholar illustrates vīra-rasa by describing a fight between Kṛṣṇa and His friends [Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 4.3.6-8]. But that is only a particular type of pastime, and so it is not emphasized in this discourse.” (5.16)
Not counting Rūpa Gosvāmī’s works, Alaṅkāra-kaustubha is one of four Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava treatises on poetic theory. The three others are: Bhakti-rasāmṛta-śeṣa, and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Sāhitya-kaumudī and Kāvya-kaustubha.
Matsya Avatāra Dāsa was the Sanskrit teacher in Gopī-parāṇa-dhana Prabhu’s Sanskrit school in Govardhana. He translated Jīva Gosvāmī’s grammatical treatise Hari-nāmāmṛta-vyākaraṇa and Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Citra-kavitvāni section found in Stavamālā.
Gaurapada Dāsa, M.A., edited Matsya Avatāra’s translation of Hari-nāmāmṛta-vyākaraṇa. Translations to his credit include:
◊ Puruṣa-sūkta (with the commentary of Śaunaka),
◊ Prayuktākhyāta-mañjarī (by Rūpa Gosvāmī),
◊ Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: A Symphony of Commentaries on the Tenth Canto (six volumes),
◊ Vishnu Purana, Fifth Canto: Krishna’s pastimes.
Othe titles by Gaurapada Dāsa include:
♦ Bhakti-rasāmṛta-śeṣa (the definitions of Sāhitya-darpaṇa with examples from Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava texts),
♦ Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Sāhitya-kaumudī (the definitions of Kāvya-prakāśa with Vaiṣṇava examples)
♦ Versified History of Sanskrit Poetics: The Soul is Rasa.
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