Tatānikeyam, or the Titanic

Finally the tale of mechanical hubris versus uncaring nature played out on the cold North Atlantic seas is available in Sanskrit verse (with English translation).

I first stumbled across this gem years ago.  I am sorry to say the mahākāvya-in-progress still only is available up to the second sarga.  The links are here:

First Sarga

Second Sarga

A CALL TO ACTION!  A professor of statistics in Florida has started the gargantuan labor himself.  I personally call upon all my Sanskrit nerd friends to translate their favorite moment in Titanic history into Sanskrit verse.  Post it here.  I’m serious.


Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India

“Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India,” despite its cumbersome title, has been the most stimulating book I’ve encountered in a long time.  Giovanni Verardi takes a difficult subject, and in doing so he marshalls an impressive range of materials, textual, archaeological, epigraphical and art-historical to make an engrossing, and sometimes quite shocking read.  Verardi begins by stressing a truth so true, so banal, so blatantly obvious, that it seems to have been forgotten by everyone.  One’s interpretation of the disappearance of Buddhism in India tends to be completely pre-determined by the historian’s ideological stance.  The mechanics of Buddhism’s disappearance is contained in the way in which one imagines the modern political situation in South Asia.  In a very useful first chapter he traces the history of the history of Buddhism through colonial, nationalist, and secular versions, noting how the erasure of Buddhism can be used as a blank space to write one’s own preferred version of social and religious history.

Verardi’s argument is sweeping.  He claims that the violence in Indian texts and art is not symbolic, rather it is a representation of real violence committed on account of religious differences.  Verardi roots these religious antagonisms in larger social and economic pressures that in turn depend on the caste system for their expression and enforcement.  The broad dichotomy he proposes (here crudely put) pits the “antinomian” trading Buddhist community against the hierarchical agrarian Brahmanical community.  Verardi’s stress on antinomianism is interesting, since it allows him to make the claim that Tantric Buddhism somehow reclaims the true spirit of the early Samgha, which arose in confrontation to Brahmanical norms.

“Hardships” also makes an interesting, and sometimes unfortunately underdeveloped, argument for the reassessment of Islam’s role in the final disappearance of Buddhism in the Subcontinent (excepting of course among the Newars, but that is beside the point here, although he does have things to say about that as well!).  Verardi argues for a more fluid notion of the political situation, with different groups seeking different alliances and trying to benefit from changing circumstances.  In the end, his larger argument is that Brahmanical political elites took advantage of the Muslim incursions to mount a final assault on institutionalized Buddhism.  His final, almost breathless, chapter is eye-opening, I just wish those 40 pages were developed into book length analysis!

“Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India” is an assault in itself, a lot of sources, a lot of ideas, a lot to think about, a lot to disagree with, and a good place to begin questioning historiographic preconceptions that dominate discussions of premodern or precolonial South Asia.

Thanks to I. S. for the reading recommendation.

Troubles, Sanskrit, Drive Sultan to Poetry

Towards the end of his life, Sultan Zayn ul ‘Abidīn of Kashmir faced a host of troubles.  Rebellious sons seemed on the verge of tearing the kingdom apart and intriguing ministers schemed for position in what everyone knew was the twilight years of the illustrious Zayn’s reign.  Locked in his room, the Sultan had a lot to think about.  Here is Srivara’s account.  The gnomic verses he quotes are closely parallel to verses in the text of the Mokṣopāya:

The king stayed within his private chambers and listened in secret to the position of his sons—completely hostile [to him, but publically] showing affection.  Fearful, he did not venture outside.  In the course of several nights he listened to the Mokṣopāyasaṃhitā from me as I explained it in order to pacify the sorrow of this worldly existence (saṃsāra).  Modulating the sound of my own voice, I explained it by substituting events from his own life [into the telling of the Mokṣopāya] (tadvṛttaparivartaiḥ).  Through that, the king became instantaneously free from all sorrow.  [Calling to mind stanzas like:]

“Noble one, I hold that no longer remembering this waking illusion (bhrama), which arises like the color of space, is the best forgetting of [worldly illusion]”

“Delight of the Raghu lineage! Know that worldly existence is like a lengthy dream, or [like] the seeing of visual representation (darśana) of ones beloved for a long time, or like an imaginary kingdom”

“If there was no birth, no old age, and no death, further if there were no fear of being separated from what one loves, if all of this were not impermanent, then who would not have a passion for this life?”

“Whatever one detaches oneself from, from that one becomes liberated.  It is well known that there is no more subtle happiness than being detached from everything.”

The king himself recited many more verses like those, which, learnt by heart though my explanation, were indicative of his own situation.  Having heard the Mokṣopāya from me, the king thought deeply about several verses.  One day, it caused  him to address the wise men standing nearby:  “This is what people whisper in my ear: ‘Why do you love your sons? Not one of them means you well.’  Bones have been eaten by teeth, and flesh devours flesh.  I cannot get over the impression that all food is essentially blood.  Alas, those sons have been born to destroy me, Like moths eat holes in a blanket, they eat holes in me, soft hearted, who only wants to make people happy.  None of those with whom I passed my life remain alive.  The pain of my separation from them is a poison that will last as long as I live.  This worn-out body is a dilapidated hut of leaves, tufts of hair for clumps of grass, full of holes.  On this terrible day it pleases me as little as the hut pleases the hermit.  Like serpents my sons have bitten into the limbs of my kingdom.  The only appropriate course of action for me is abdication, otherwise there will be no happiness [in the kingdom].”  Thinking in such a way, the king composed a poem in the Persian language called the Shīkāyat, which had poetic taste in order to show disgust towards all things.

rājā garbhagṛhāntaḥsthaḥ śṛṇvan putrasthitiṃ mithaḥ |

kṛtakapremavairāḍhyāṃ na bahir nirayād bhiyā || 131 ||

saṃsāraduḥkhaśāntyarthaṃ matto Vyākhyānavedinaḥ |

aśṛṇod gaṇarātraṃ sa śrīMokṣopāyasaṃhitām || 132 ||

svakaṇṭhasvarabhaṅgyāhaṃ tadvṛttaparivartanaiḥ |

Vyākhyām akaravaṃ yena niḥśoko ’bhūt kṣaṇaṃ nṛpaḥ || 133 ||

bhramasya jāgratas tasya jātasyākāśavarṇavat |

apunaḥsmaraṇaṃ sādho manye vismaraṇaṃ varam’ || 134 ||

dīrghasvapnopamaṃ viddhi dīrghaṃ vā priyadarśanam |

dīrghaṃ vāpi manorājyaṃ saṃsāraṃ raghunandana’ || 135 ||

yadi janma jarā maraṇaṃ na bhaved

yadi ceṣṭaviyogabhayaṃ na bhavet |

yadi sarvam anityam idaṃ na bhaved

iha janmani kasya ratir na bhavet’ || 136 ||

yato yato nivarteta tatas tato vimucyate |

nivartanād dhi sarvato na vetti sukham aṇv api’ || 137 ||

madVyākhyāśravaṇābhyastān svāvasthāsūcakān bahūn |

ityādikān svayaṃ ślokān apaṭhat sa mahīpatiḥ || 138 ||

Mokṣopāye śrute mattas tattatpadyārthabhāvanāt |

athaikadābravīd rājā vibudhān antikasthitān || 139 ||

kimarthaṃ svasutasnehaṃ karoṣy eko na te hitaḥ’ |

ity eva vakti me nūnaṃ karṇopāntāgato janaḥ|| 140 ||

asthi dantādibhir bhuktvā māṃsaṃ māṃsena bhujyate |

raktabījamaye bhoge bhramo ’yaṃ na vyapaiti me || 141 ||

aho mayi mṛdau sarvasukhade chidrakāriṇaḥ |

nāśāyāmī sutā jātā rāṅkave krimayo yathā || 142 ||

yaiḥ samaṃ svavayo nītaṃ te ’vaśiṣṭā na kecana |

ājīvanaṃ calaty eṣā tadviyogaviṣavyathā || 143 ||

dehoṭajam idaṃ jīrṇaṃ keśatṛṇagaṇāvṛtam |

sacchidraṃ rocate nādya durdine manmanomuneḥ || 144 ||

bhujagair iva daṣṭāni rājyāṅgāni sutair mama |

tat tyāgopāya evaiko yukto me nānyathā sukham || 145 ||

ityādi cintayan rājā Pārasībhāṣayā vyadhāt |

kāvyaṃ Śīkāyatākhyaṃ sa sarvagarhārthacarvaṇam || 146 ||

Tippu Sultan: Materials for a Story and a Picture.

March 1800, Scots Magazine published ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: Stanzas on viewing the ornaments of Tippoo Sultaun’s Throne in the Treasury at India House’:

Ah! What avails the golden ore?

The ruby’s or the di’mond’s flame

When Heav’n’s high hand protects no more

And grandeur is an empty name.

Here’s a picture I took in Tippu Sultan’s Summer Palace in Bangalore.  It’s not where his throne was or anything, it just got me thinking.

1799.  Tippu Sultan’s throne was captured after his defeat at the battle of Seringapatam in the 4th (count ’em) Anglo-Mysore War.  In the days of looting that followed, Tippu Sultan’s throne was dismembered and dispersed, the stuff of legend, a furniture version of the story of Sati.  Four British mercenaries were hanged for disorderly conduct in the chaos that followed, but the spoils of war mad it to the right places: Windsor, Powys, Calcutta…

Bird of Paradise (Huma) from Tippu Sultan’s throne


Gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, pearls, silver gilt

42.0 x 20.0 x 28.0 cm; stand height 22.8 cm

Made for Tipu Sultan; acquired by Marquess Wellesley for the Directors of the East India Company, 1799; by whom presented to George III, 1800 (BL Indian and Colonial Collections R. 3/98, p. 477); by whom given to Queen Charlotte; by whom bequeathed to four of her daughters, 1818; by whom given to George IV, 1818

A gem-encrusted gold finial from the octagonal golden throne of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, has been auctioned for 3,89,600 pounds, auctioneers Bonhams has said.

An eyewitness,  Benjamin Sydenham, wrote of finding Tippu Sultan ‘wounded a little above the right ear, and the ball lodged in the left cheek, he had also three wounds in the body, he was in stature about 5 ft 8 in and not very fair, he was rather corpulent, had a short neck and high shoulders, but his wrists and ankles were small and delicate.

‘He had large full eyes, with small arched eyebrows and very small whiskers. His appearance denoted him to be above the Common Stamp.

‘And his countenance expressed a mixture of haughtiness and resolution. He was dressed in a fine white linen jacket, chintz drawers, a crimson cloth round his waist with a red silk belt and pouch across his body.

‘He had lastly his turband and there were no weapons of defence about him.’

Reasons to Like Chennai: Jayalakshmi Indological Book House

In Mylapore, on a small street by the Sanskrit College, up a narrow flight of stairs, is any Sanskrit nerd’s paradise.  Two rooms stacked to the ceiling with books.  A rough trail carved between the piles of books on the floor  leads you back to where the matriarch of this empire of books sits.  And she seems to know where everything is in this glorious chaos, and, if it is not available, knows where to get it.

There’s even a sign out front now!



During Maasimagam, the murti-s from various temples are brought to the shore and bathed in the water from the sea.  Temples from Senji and other places inland are brought to the beach in Pondicherry.  Here are some pics:

Here’s the murti of one of the major temples in Pondy:

Interesting folks in the crowd:

A priest in front of a Murugan chariot

Reasons to Like Chennai: Tara Books

It’s not exactly in the central part of the city, and it’s not the easiest place to find, but Tara Books might be one of the most pleasant places to spend an afternoon that I’ve found in the city. The art, and exhibitions are great for browsing, and the people who work there are friendly and approachable.  It’s also fun that the neighborhood kids also seem to be enjoying the space!

Exhibition of their published works:

The building itself is has been painted by some of the same artists that have illustrated Tara’s books.  Here’s a mural by Bhajju Shyam (who was also the illustrator of my personal favorite book The Night Life of Trees)

I find the artwork inspired by Indian Gond and other tribal groups to be really stunning.  Here are some more paintings on display:

I have to stop myself from posting and writing more.  I’ll probably do that in the future anyway.  To get there get of at the Tiruvanmiyur ECR bus-stand.  Walk to the back side of the temple, and just ask a lot of questions.  It’s a pleasant area and people are friendly.

Here’s Tara Books’s website: