A conversion narrative from Jāmī’s Yūsuf wa Zulaykhā in Sanskrit

In keeping with my recent obsession with finding Sanskrit translations of Islamicate literature, I present a very short selection from Srivara’s Kathakautuka.  In this selection, Yusuf (Sanskrit Yosobha, English Joseph) has been bought as a slave by a woman enamored by his beauty.  He explains to her that his beauty is transient and that she should look to the everlasting beauty of the one true God.  In Srivara’s telling this becomes a very Saiva experience, in which the woman becomes a wandering mendicant ascetic, it kind of reminds me of chapter five of the Kumarasambhava.  (Again this is a rough first attempt!  Suggestions welcome!)

Anyway Enjoy!

From Kathākautuka chapter 12:

“Know all of this that is seen endowed with many splendors to exist like a reflection in the mirror of Bhava.  Beautiful browed one, just as the mind, after beholding some reflection in a mirror, instantaneously runs there alone in order to decide about it, so too after seeing the universe, fixed and moving, created from his power of illusion, do the wise meditate upon Śambhu alone.  Fine-hipped lady, if [you have] a strong mental attachment to the appearance of beauty, see in your heart that the one recourse is the drunk god, charming.  Beautiful-browed one, once you see my beauty as transient—[and] your happiness—therefore look towards the stable [beauty] of Śambhu, containing everything.”

After she heard his speech she became as it freed from delusion.  At that instant she paid reverence to his lotus-feet again and again.  Then the thin-waisted woman gave up her fine elephants and her riches, took on a single ochre robe [of the mendicant], anointed all of her limbs with ash, gave up her affection towards family and went to the deep forest to perform austerities like a renunciant.  Her mind was cleansed through fasts and vows—each more difficult than the last.  Stainless, her body became purified through bathing at all of the sacred fords.  So the fair one became self-controlled while at the same time the austerity-rich [ascetics] became highly amazed.  Realizing their own selves (?) after hearing her amazing story, praising her, then they became bulls among sages.  After they attained the highest forbearance, through her teaching these wise men were unable to do any action at any time.  She performed austerities by which she attained the strength of Indra — it would be impossible to say anything about them even in one hundred years!

yad idam dṛśyate sarvaṃ nānākautukasaṃyutam  |  tadavaihi bhavādarśe pratibimbam iva sthitam  ||12.32||  yathā kiṃcit samālokya darpaṇe pratibimbitam  |  mano dhāvati tatraiva kartuṃ tanniścayṃ muhuḥ  ||12.33||  tathaiva sakalaṃ subhru jagat sthāvarajaṅgamam  |  dṛṣṭvā māyāmayaṃ śambhuṃ dhyāyanty ekaṃ manīṣiṇaḥ  ||12.34||  mānasaṃ ced varārohe rūpadarśanalālasam  |  paśyaikaṃ śaraṇaṃ mattaṃ hṛdi devaṃ manoramam  ||12.35||  dṛṣṭvaiva māmakaṃ rūpaṃ vinaśyat kiṃ sukhaṃ tava  |  sthiraṃ sarvagataṃ tasmāt subhru śambhor vilokaya  ||12.36||  iti tadvacanaṃ śrutvā gatamoheva sābhavat  |  tatkṣaṇāt tatpadāmbhojam praṇanāma muhur muhuḥ  ||12.37||  tatas sā gajaratnāni tāni tāṃ sampadaṃ tathā  |  vihāyādāya kāṣāyapaṭṭam ekaṃ sumadhyamā  ||12.38||  bhasmabhūṣitasarvāṅgā bandhusnehavivarjitā  |  vratājinīva tapase jagāma gahanaṃ vanam  ||12.39||  kṛcchrātikṛcchraprāka-vratadhūtamano ’malā  |   sarvatīrthāvagahena śuddhadehābhavat tadā  ||12.40||      

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A Boat Trip on Konsar Nag

At some point, Srivara, the court pandit and musician of Zayn ul-Abidin, accompanies the Sultan to the Kramasaras Lake (Konsar Nag) high in the Pir Pantsal range.  This lake was supposed to have been made by the footprint of Trivikrama Viṣṇu, so it’s only appropriate that during a boat trip, Srivara recites from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda for the Sultan’s edification

When I sang the Sulṭān songs from the Gītagovinda, he became immersed in love for Kṛṣṇa upon hearing them, overcome with an indescribable sentiment (ko’pi rasaḥ).The soft tune struck up by both our voices resounded from the thickets [on the shore] as if repeated by celestial singers staying there, driven on by the dignity of the Sulṭān. In an instant, gods showered flowers in the semblance of snowfall upon the Sulṭān, skimming across the lake, as if pleased at his devotion.[1]

Here’s a picture of the snowy lake taken in the late fall of 1940.


[1] Gītagovindagītāni mattaḥ śrutavataḥ prabhoḥ |

Govindabhaktisaṃsikto rasaḥ ko ’py udabhūt tadā || 100 ||

kuñjapratiśruto mañjur gītanādas tadāvayoḥ |

anugīta ivātrasthaiḥ kiṃnarai rājagauravāt || 101 ||

kṣaṇaṃ saro’ntaś carato himavṛṣṭinibhād vibhoḥ |

bhaktiprītair ivonmuktaṃ devaiḥ kusumavarṣaṇam || 102 ||

The Tightrope Walker

Srīvara’s Sanskrit account of the final days in the life of Sultan Zayn begins with a rather beautiful and evocative vignette of a tightrope walker who had arrived from Central Asia to perform for the king.  During the show, the spectators and nāga-s become upset, but above the tumult below, the tightrope walker hovers, suspended against the background of the sky.  The first eight verses are translated below:

“If a king is generous, the people too show the whole variety of their own skills. When the cloud pours rain in the rainy season, then the joyfully dancing cātaka bird too becomes a source of happiness for his people.  Once, a certain Muslim, expert in the art of tightrope-walking, came by the northern passes to the Sulṭān, who was famous for his generosity.  On one occasion, the Sulṭān, adorned by his retinue, went to a Muslim festival at the place called Viṃśaprastha to see him.  Ready to display his own skill, he connected high posts, which were 20 yards apart, with long ropes.  The Nāgas from Rajjupura and elsewhere became agitated (kaluṣa), apparently because they anticipated some sort of bodily harm to the Sulṭān, who was their devotee.  Then, fearless like a bird up in the sky, [the tightrope walker] swung himself up with a single rope fixed to the ground.  There, this true master of his art performed extraordinary steps without any mistakes which could have [caused him to] fall, captivating the attention of the people. [In so doing] he was like a poet composing extraordinary series of poetic lines, in which [the position of] the particles was faultless. As he walked high above, like a planet moving through the constellations in all their splendor, the place of this wonderful performance rewarded all those men [watching].”

The vignette itself is packed with intriguing detail: how this Muslim entertainer came to the valley, how he set up his equipment, and how he actually performed for the Sultan.  The element of danger is highlighted, and strangely, the threat to the performer is transferred as a threat to Zayn himself.  The Nāgas themselves, the autochthonic guardian spirits of all watery places in the Valley, become agitated.  This sense of unease permeates the account with only the tightrope walker seemingly immune to the turmoil on the ground beneath his feet.  Significantly, the final two verses compare the tightrope walker first punningly to a poet and second to a planet amidst the stars of the Zodiac, a human embodiment of Fate.  Here I think this evocative image hints at Śrīvara’s larger project; the turmoil in the world below can be perceived and organized by only the skilled poet and Fate.  Perhaps Srīvara hints here that the Sultan too is like the tightrope walker, suspended between heaven and earth during his last days as ruler of Kashmir.

Here’s the Sanskrit:

dātā bhavet kṣitipatir yadi sādaro ’yaṃ loko ’pi darśayati tat svakalākalāpam |

varṣāsu varṣati ghano yadi cātako ’pi nṛtyan mudā bhavati taj janarañjanāya || 1 ||

athottarapathād dānakhyātakīrter mahīpateḥ | rajjubhramaṇaśilpajñaḥ ko ’py āgāt yavano ’ntikam || 2 ||

viṃśaprasthābhidhe sthāne kadācid yavanotsavam | taṃ draṣṭum agamad rājā parivāravibhūṣitaḥ || 3 ||

dhanurdaṇḍaśatāyāmāntarasthān dīrgharajjubhiḥ | uccān stambhān abadhnāt sa svaśilpaprathanodyataḥ || 4 ||

abhavan kaluṣās te ye nāgā rajjupurādiṣu | bhāvisvabhaktabhūpāladehāniṣṭekṣaṇād iva || 5 ||

atho bhūbhāgalagnaikarajjumārgeṇa nirbhayaḥ | āroham akarot tatra patatrīva nabho’ntare || 6 ||

nipātāskhalitāṃ tatra lokacittānurañjikām | kaviteva sa śilpejyaś citrāṃ padagatiṃ vyadhāt || 7 ||

anīcavartinas tasya grahasyeva phalapradā | suraśmirāśigasyālaṃ babhūvāścaryabhūr nṛṇām || 8 ||

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 ||