Sanskrit Poetics On The Eve Of Colonialism

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A remarkable trend of innovation seems to characterize Sanskrit Poetics on the eve of colonialism. Like intellectuals in other Sanskritic disciplines, a¯lam. ka¯rikas – from about mid sixteenth-century onward – adopted a new discursive idiom, composed in novel genres, demonstrated a fresh interest in the history of their tradition, and worked across disciplines at a hitherto unknown rate. Moreover, they often had a clear sense of themselves as breaking new ground and were thus conceived by their colleagues. But of what exactly did their innovations consist? The new poeticians may have identified themselves and their fellows as new (navya) in contrast to their antecedents (pra¯c¯ına), an act which, as Sheldon Pollock puts it, “appears to signify not just a different relationship with the past but a different way of thinking.”1 Yet they seldom presented their theories as innovative, let alone as general theoretical breakthroughs, and mostly worked from within the conceptual frameworks of their predecessors. Indeed, many modern scholars see their work as simply redundant. One Indologist maintains that by the sixteenth century “the age of really original or thoughtful writers was long gone by.”2
The utter discrepancy between the emic sense of innovation emanating from the works of post-sixteenth century a¯lam. ka¯rikas and the etic evaluation of them as superfluous, is of less interest to me here. Modern judgments stem more from a biased picture of the history of Sanskrit poetics, with the ninth-century thinker A¯ nandavardhana as its only apex, than from a careful and impartial examination of the late-precolonial texts. Far more interesting is the fact that even to a sympathetic reader, the sense of novelty is rarely accompanied by the ability easily to detect innovative agendas. New statements are often in the form of answers to age-old questions, and they are commonly grounded in some older-day view. Indeed, the new a¯lam. ka¯rikas invoke and discuss the views of the “ancients” more often than ever before, and in ways not seen earlier – a novel practice which concomitantly leads to a confusing sense of de´ja` vu. In short, what novelty actually meant to poeticians of the period, and how it was related to a newly shaped interest in their tradition’s
Journal of Indian Philosophy 30: 441–462, 2002. c 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.



past, are highly complex questions for which no ready-made answer can be found.
Moreover, as soon as we ask the question of what is neoteric in late precolonial alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra, this discipline’s unique history and specific concerns immediately give rise to further complications. I shall briefly consider these here, even at the obvious risk of opening up more questions than I can possibly answer in this short paper. This is because the complexity of the general investigation must be borne in mind before a smaller set of case-studies can be examined.
Three unique aspects of alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra merit mention here. First, it has an exceptionally multifaceted nature. This tradition never possessed a core su¯tra text of unquestioned authority, nor commentaries and subcommentaries branching out from it, which would have created distinct schools of clear ancestry. In the earlier period (mid-seventh to mid-ninth centuries), we find several unsuccessful attempts to compose such core texts, each taking a somewhat different approach and rarely engaging in direct conversation with one another. The groundbreaking thesis of A¯ nandavardhana (c. 850) – declaring that suggestion is poetry’s soul and that all other poetic phenomena are subordinate to it – provoked a serious controversy lasting roughly two centuries. Thereafter, the universal acceptance of A¯ nanda’s thesis was not accompanied by a uniform practice of “A¯ nanda poetics.” On the contrary, between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries we find an explosion of topics (those stemming from A¯ nanda’s thesis along with more traditional ones), discussions (some supra-local, others regional) and genres of composition. This great variety, which itself has not yet been fully charted, certainly complicates our search for new tendencies in the later period.
Secondly, there is the potential openendedness of the discipline’s subject-matter. For M¯ıma¯m. sa¯, the paradigmatic text-oriented s´a¯stra, the Vedas are a fixed corpus. But Sanskrit literature, to which alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra relates – however obliquely – continued to evolve and reinvent itself throughout the period of early modernity. Did contemporaneous trends in practice of poetry have an impact on the new practice of theory?
Finally, unlike other systems of knowledge, alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra did not remain the monopoly of Sanskrit: By the sixteenth century there were alam. ka¯ra-like discourses in many South Asian languages, which borrowed, adapted and modified Sanskritic notions. Did the regional discussions leave any imprint on the Sanskritic one, or was the direction of the influence always from the cosmopolitan to the vernacular?



As I have already mentioned, I cannot address all of these questions
here, but they should be kept in mind as we turn to discuss the question
of novelty in navya-alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra. This we shall do by examining the works of three key scholars who, between them, cover almost the entire
time-span of new scholasticism: the South-Indian polymath Appayya D¯ıks.ita (1520–15933), Banaras’s highly prominent thinker and poet Jagann¯atha Pan. d. itar¯aja (c. 1650), and the prolific, Almora-based writer Vi´sve´svara Bhat.t.a (c. 1725). As I believe Appayya’s discussion exerted great influence on those of his successors, the first and larger portion
of my paper will be devoted to an exploration of a small selection of
his writing. I shall then turn to discuss more briefly the contributions
of Jagann¯atha and Vi´sve´svara in its light.

Tradition has ascribed to Appayya 108 books in various disciplines – obviously a rounded-up figure, but one which is nonetheless indicative of his immense productivity. Three of these are dedicated to poetics, the earliest of which is probably a small work titled “The Exposition of Linguistic Powers” (Vr. ttiva¯rttika¯), which sets out to explain and distinguish between the denotative and figurative operations of poetic language.4 This treatise belongs to a relatively minor sub-genre of Sanskrit literary theory dedicated to a general overview of linguistic capacities in poetry.5 It has been the least influential of his contributions to the discipline of poetics, although the book does much more than recapitulate old arguments.
His second work, “The Joy of the Water Lily” (Kuvalaya¯nanda), is a manual meant to familiarize beginners with one of the basic subjects of the field: the sense-based figures of speech (artha¯lam. ka¯ras).6 Although this work is of rather limited scope – setting aside, as it does, all other topics of the discipline – and despite its commentarial nature – it claims to supply illustrations in verse and brief explanations in prose of definitions already found in the earlier Candra¯loka of Jayadeva – Appayya’s Joy quickly became the most popular alam. ka¯ra textbook in the subcontinent, a status it retains even today. In fact, the Joy became something like alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra’s number one “bestseller.” Major manuscript collections often possess more copies of this work than of any other treatise in the field.7 Although the rate at which the work gained such popularity has yet to be investigated, my guess is that this happened rather rapidly.8 It seems that within a generation after Appayya’s death most scholars interested in speech-figures were



familiar with his primer, and the majority of later a¯lam. ka¯rikas were introduced to the field by studying it. However, the reasons for the work’s amazing success have never been explored.
The immense popularity of The Joy notwithstanding, Appayya’s main contribution to the field of poetics is his unfinished magnum opus, “The Investigation of the Colorful” (Citram¯ıma¯m. sa¯). This indepth interrogation of the same sense-based speech-figures, which he merely introduced in his primer, had a remarkable influence on later writings. To a large extent, the post-Appayya debate in Sanskrit poetics takes up the discussion begun in the Investigation, either in the form of approval or disapproval. It therefore seems only reasonable to examine a section from this work for the purposes of the present study.

I have selected the discourse on the simile – the very first alam. ka¯ra Appayya turns to, and one which he discusses at great length. For Appayya, like so many before him, the simile, or upama¯ (fem.), is the prototype alam. ka¯ra. He thus envisions it as “the one and only actress on the stage of poetry, who delights the heart of those who know her, by assuming variegated roles.”9 While Appayya is not the first to grant such a status to the simile, he seems to take this idea further than his predecessors and seriously to entertain its logical implications. He likens the status of the upama¯ in the figurative realm of to that of brahman in the phenomenal world. Just as one understands reality in its totality (vis´vam) by understanding its only source and cause, the brahman, so one can only grasp the entire figurative domain (citram) by knowing the simile. This being the nature of the upama¯, it merits the most thorough exploration – one which includes all of its types and subtypes (nikhilabhedasahita¯).10
As a result, Appayya’s exploration of the simile is matchlessly comprehensive and thorough. While the upama¯ was by no means a neglected topic before him, no thinker had dedicated so much space and energy to its analysis. His unique meditation on the simile and the crucial status he himself grants it, make it a particularly important case-study for his overall contribution to Sanskrit poetics.
Two surprises await the reader at the outset of the Investigation’s simile section. The first is the lack of a definition. Until Appayya’s intervention, there had been a universally respected, unwritten rule in alam. ka¯ras´a¯stra, that when one introduces a figure of speech one does



so by defining it. Appayya departs from this millennium-long tradition, thereby sending a message: The definition of the quintessential alam. ka¯ra is not yet in our possession, nor can it be easily extracted from the work of previous thinkers. A definition, in other words, can by no means act as the starting point of the discussion, but rather must serve as its end, and it soon becomes clear that it has to be arrived at through a fairly elaborate process.
This process is the second surprise. In his work’s introduction, Appayya states that his definitions (laks. an. as) and illustrations (laks. yas) are mostly those given by the “ancients” (pra¯c¯ına).11 But as soon as his discussion begins, we learn that it consists first and foremost of refuting the definitions of these “ancients.”
Indeed, Appayya examines five definitions (one anonymous, the others by Mammat.a, Vidy¯an¯atha, Bhoja and Ruyyaka), and each is shown to be ill-conceived. The main concern of Appayya’s five antecedents was to characterize the simile in order to distinguish it from various figures which closely resemble it. Yet Appayya is skeptical precisely about their success in setting the simile aside from its “kin.”
We will sample one small section from Appayya’s lengthy procedure, where he criticizes the renowned Andhra-based thinker Vidy¯an¯atha (c. 1300). Vidy¯an¯atha defines the simile as “a singularly expressed, substantial similarity, which the entity being described shares with a separate, approved and self-established entity.”12 At first, Appayya seems to approve of this definition, closely following Vidy¯an¯atha’s own exposition.13 Thus, we are told, the stipulation that the similarity must be with a separate entity rules out ananvaya, that is, a comparison of an entity to itself (e.g. the battle of R¯ama and R¯avan. a is like that of R¯ama and R¯avan. a). Likewise, the modifier expressed eliminates over-extension with respect to suggested similes. The word substantial eliminates a possible overlap with s´les. a, where the similarity pertains to the language used to describe the entities rather than to the entities themselves. The demand that the other entity be self-established does away with utpreks. a¯, where the object of comparison is not real but imagined (e.g. the king is like the moon come down to earth).
Yet none of these neat distinctions, maintains Appayya, can withstand serious scrutiny. Take, for instance, the stipulation that in a simile, the tenor has to be measured against a standard separate from it, unlike in an ananvaya, where the tenor and the standard are the same. Appayya undermines this adjective, separate, gradually, first citing K¯alid¯asa’s famous description of Mt. Him¯alaya:



Source of unending treasures, none of his splendor is lessened at all by the snow. A single fault will vanish under a mass of virtues, as the spot on the moon is lost in rays of light.14
Appayya’s point has to do with the comparison in the latter half of the verse. This is clearly a simile, yet, according to Appayya, Vidy¯an¯atha’s definition cannot apply to it. The moon’s spot and rays are particular instances of the more general categories of faults and virtues respectively. And since a specimen cannot be said to be separate from its class, Vidy¯an¯atha’s provision of a similarity “with a separate entity” fails to apply to this instance.
Now this may seem like a rather cheap shot. Indeed, Appayya concedes that there may be a way to distinguish between what appears to be an inseparable pair of a specimen and its category, and allows his imagined opponent to suggest one. The interlocutor appears to be a logician, as his navyanya¯ya jargon reveals. The simile’s standard (upama¯na), he argues, is an entity delimited by the delimiting characteristic (avachedaka) of “standardness,” whereas the simile’s tenor (upameya) has an altogether different delimiting characteristic, namely “tenorship.” What we have here, then, are not a class and a specimen but two different groups: faults (the tenor), of which faultiness is the delimiting characteristic, and the moon’s spot (the standard), of which “spotness” is the defining factor. These two groups are mutually exclusive, and in that sense separate.15
But this interpretation of the definition’s word “separate” leads to a new difficulty. For now the definition cannot extend to include chainsimiles (ras´anopama¯), such as the one found in the second part of the following praise of a king:
You who have hordes of petitioners drenched in water, poured on your hand, when you give away endless gold, your mind is equal with your speech, your action with your mind, your fame with your action, in being utterly spotless.16
In this chain of equations, ‘mind’ is the tenor of the first clause (mind equals speech), and then the standard of the second (action equals mind). So it is impossible to say that here the delimiting characteristic of the tenor (“tenorship”) and the delimiting characteristic of the standard (“standardness”) are mutually exclusive.
Again, this may seem to be a rather specious argument. Obviously, the delimiting feature of the standard separates it from the tenor in its own clause. In other words, there is no problem with the definition if every “link” in the chain of similes is taken individually. But as



Appayya reminds us, this would force the interlocutor to concede that the adverb “singularly” in Vidy¯an¯atha’s definition is redundant, since its role is taken up by the full import of the adjective “separate.”17
Now comes the main argument. Let us accept that the word “separate” posits the standard and the tenor as two mutually exclusive entities in a single clause. There are still similes in which the very same entity serves as both the tenor and the standard, and which are nonetheless not considered ananvayas. Take, for example, the following verse:
The Thousand-Rayed Sun holds his bright parasol for him, newly crafted by Tvas.t.r.. Its sloping rim of cloth nearly touches his crest, so as to make him appear like the One on whose head the Gan˙ g¯a is falling.18
Here S´iva with a bright parasol, the rim of which nearly touches his head, is compared to his own self at the moment river Gan˙ g¯a fell on his locks. The verse is understood to express similarity between the two iconic representations of S´iva, and not to imply that S´iva is beyond comparison. This is therefore not an ananvaya but a simile. But since S´iva cannot be said to be separate from his own self, this is a simile which Vidy¯an¯atha’s definition fails to include.
The definition likewise falls short with respect to the following example:
Knocking on door after door, a beggar, preaches the following rather than plead: “Don’t give, and you’ll be like me, give, and you’ll be like yourself!”19
In the last portion of this ironic stanza, the beggar’s addressee is compared to his own self. Here, as above, argues Appayya, the standard and the tenor cannot be said to be mutually exclusive, even if one uses the navyanya¯ya idiom. And as the adjective “separate” does not allow this example into the domain of the simile – where it belongs – the definition (laks. an. a) fails to delimit the defined phenomenon (laks. ya) in its entirety.
One could argue with Appayya on this issue, as did many in the generations to follow. One could say, for instance, that in the above verse the tenor and the standard are indeed separate in time, location and so forth. But one also has to admit that Appayya raises a nontrivial point. He demonstrates that not all of the similes consist of easily separable entities, such as the stock face and moon. Rather, there seems to be a continuum of separateness among entities in poetic propositions. On one end we find sets of highly distinct entities, while on the other there are pairs of self-same entities. In between these two extremes, we find a



whole gamut of relatedness: a type is compared to its own specimen, an entity is both a tenor and a standard (in a chain of similes), and a person is compared to his/her own future or past self. Appayya maintains that the language used by Vidy¯an¯atha fails to draw the line which is meant to break up this continuum and distinguish between a simile and an ananvaya. The adjective “separate” is simply too insensitive; it is a crude laks. an. a which betrays the intricacy of its laks. ya.

Appayya examines virtually every word in each of the five definitions he cites. No matter how hard thinkers tried to craft their laks. an. as, meticulously choosing their words, Appayya demonstrates that they failed to accurately delimit the simile. So perhaps such precision in the description of speech-figures cannot be achieved? Maybe the poetic landscape is so intricate and dense that for any definition there will always be an exception or counter-example; maybe each solution only generates new difficulties? Indeed, Appayya concludes his long section of refutation by plainly stating that the “definition of the simile [in such a way that is free of faults] is impossible (durvacam).”20
This is a shocking conclusion. The discipline’s bread and butter had always been the identification and characterization of distinct speechfigures. Can it not define its most paradigmatic trope? Despite his statement, though, Appayya is not really willing to give up. He does come up with a definition, but one which is very different from anything the tradition had seen in over a thousand years. A simile, he says, is “the act of comparison, if intended up to the full completion of the action.”21
That is all there is: a brief and cryptic statement which appears to explain nothing. Upon first reading, there is a strong feeling of anticlimax – the definition seems to amount to little more than a tautology. However, a closer inspection reveals it to be subtler. It consists, we realize, of two parts. First, the simile is purposely characterized rather inclusively as an act of comparison, or a “description of similarity” (sa¯dr. s´yavarn. ana), of any kind.22 Why try and specify the simile formally, when any description of similarity may fall under its scope? A simile may entail either substantial or insubstantial similitude, its entities may be clearly separate or one and the same, contextual or extraneous to the context, repeated once or twice. A simile is a description of similarity which cannot be limited by any of these formal considerations.



The first part of Appayya’s stanza thus supplies a necessary requirement, which is not in itself sufficient. For clearly, it applies to numerous other alam. ka¯ras; there is “an act of comparison” in a vyatireka (A is superior to B) or an ananvaya (A is like itself). It is the second part of the definition which bars such poetic devices, by stating that he act of comparison has to be “intended up to its full completion.” This means, first, that nothing should prevent the act from being fulfilled. Hence the figure of vyatireka, where a similarity is described but negated, is excluded from the domain of the simile. In the statement “the spotless face is superior to the moon,” the face is explicitly said to lack what the moon is known to possess (namely a spot). This prevents the act of comparison from being fulfilled. As for ananvaya, here the issue of intention is crucial. For in statements such as “your face is like your face,” the poet intends to highlight the uniqueness of the face and to deny the possibility that there exists a standard against which to measure it. The act of comparison is thus not meant to be completed in an ananvaya.

It should be clear by now that Appayya, who begins his discussion by claiming merely to recycle old formulations, radically differs from his predecessors, and does so quite consciously. But again, of what exactly does his innovation consist?
There are several answers to this question. First, Appayya’s discursive style is remarkably new. By this I mean not just his criticism of older writers – unprecedented in both scope, tone and systematic nature – but also what I see as his breaking of various genre-distinctions and his novel style of composition, somewhat in the mode of a general scholarly “essay.” I discuss these stylistic innovations elsewhere.23 Then, of course, there is the unique, almost puzzling formulation of the simile’s definition, the novelty of which we have already witnessed, though not yet fully explained.
Another possible answer to the question of novelty in Appayya’s writing – one which may partly explain those mentioned above – is a new sense of historicity traceable in it, a sense which, according to Pollock, is a central feature of scholarship on the eve of colonialism.24 For even if, unlike the seventeenth-century scholars cited by Pollock, Appayya does not classify his colleagues into ancients (j¯ırn. a), elders (pra¯c¯ına), followers of the elders (pra¯c¯ına¯nuya¯yin), moderns (nav¯ına), most up-to-date scholars (atinav¯ına) and so forth, an important distinction



between two historical phases of literary theory is strongly implied by his discussion.
The first consists of the earlier, pre-A¯ nanda authors: Bh¯amaha, Dan. d. in, Udbhat.a, V¯amana and Rudrat.a. While these thinkers are frequently quoted and treated as authorities, their definitions of the simile are not cited and hence not criticized. Whenever Appayya’s discussion runs contrary to the views of these earlier scholars, the contradiction is explained away. We are never told that they are wrong, but rather that the apparent meaning of their statements was not the intended one.25
A second phase combines the later thinkers – those who return to discuss alam. ka¯ras as part of a modified domain of poetics in the wake of A¯ nandavardhana’s essay on suggestion. The treatment of these authors – Bhoja, Mammat.a, Ruyyaka and Vidy¯an¯atha – is distinct. Their definitions are cited and unequivocally refuted as “wrong” (ayuktam), even as their views on other matters may be quoted respectfully.
Now Appayya is not the first to distinguish between pre- and postdhvani thinkers. The paradigm shift led by A¯ nanda’s theory on suggestion had already been noticed by Ruyyaka.26 Yet Appayya’s tacit understanding of his tradition’s past is subtler than Ruyyaka’s and serves two further purposes. First – and this is part of what is really new about Appayya’s discussion – in a tradition which never possessed a root-text nor a figure of unquestioned authority, a small group of early thinkers is, for the first time, instituted as something of a collective founding father. These pre-A¯ nanda writers, and Dan. d. in in particular, are now viewed as authorities, and therefore cannot – by definition – be wrong.27
Secondly, Appayya’s differential treatment of pre- and post-A¯ nanda writers is informed by- and hence serves to highlight the differences in their definitional practices. Earlier writers, while clearly shaping their definitions so as to reflect what they viewed to be the distinctive features of separate poetic ornaments, seemed far less worried than their followers about possible overlap between them, and paid much less attention to this possibility in wording their definitions. Their main concern was to characterize speech-figures positively, not to set them apart from one another. It is in later generations that we find, perhaps under the influence of the logical discourse (nya¯ya), a growing preoccupation with questions of over- and under-extension. The desire to avoid the shading of categories now becomes the driving factor behind definitions, and each definition had to take into consideration the figurative-system in its entirety. Vidy¯an¯atha’s definition and his self-supplied justification for it perfectly exemplify this trend.

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Sanskrit Poetics On The Eve Of Colonialism