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Friday, January 05, 2007

The four atiśayoktis

A devotee asked me to elaborate on the issue of literalism so I looked up the word 'atiśayokti' (hyperbole) in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna. Haridās Dāsjī there quotes Śrīla Kavi Karṇapura's 'Alaṅkāra Kaustubha' (8.23) which I then faithfully quoted to that devotee. To cross-check my findings I asked my friend Kṛṣṇadas to give me a translation directly from the Alaṅkāra Kaustubha. This is what he wrote:

Dear Advaita,
Kavikarnapura recognizes four types of atiśayokti or hyperbole. He defines them as follows:

nigīrṇasyopamānenopameyasya nirūpaṇam. yat syāt atiśayoktiḥ sā ...

"A description of the subject of comparison by the object to which it is compared and that is swallowed up is the first type of hyberbole."

He illustrates this type of atiśayokti by the following example:

kṣitau śoṇe'mbhoje tad upari navau hema-kadalī
tarū nīcīnāgrāv iha kanaka-siṁhāsanam idam
tataḥ śūnyaṁ tasyopari sumilitaṁ koka-mithunaṁ
tataś candras tasmāt tama iti vidheḥ kā nu ghaṭanā

"On the ground there two red lotuses, above them two young banana-trees hanging down, above them a golden throne (siṁhāsan), then there is a vacuum, above which there are two cuckoos in sexual union, and then a moon and above the moon darkness. What a [indescribable] creation of the Creator is this?"

The word "swallowed" used in the definition means not expressed but recognized as it were within that with which it is identified. This kind of atiśayokti means that the poet does not use the subject of comparison, but he mentions just the thing the subject of comparison resembles, i.e. he does not use the word feet, but only speaks of red lotuses, he does not mention face, but only the moon etc. In Kavikarṇapura's example, in which Kṛṣṇa describes Rādhā's beauty, the relation between the subject of comparison (upameya) and the object to which it is compared (upamāna) are as follows:

feet = red lotuses (śoṇe'mbhoje)
thighs = young banana trees hanging down (navau hema-kadalī-tarū nīcīnāgrau)
hips = golden seat (kanaka-siṁhāsana)
navel = vaccum (śūnya)
breasts = cuckoos in sexual union (sumilitam koka-mithunam)
face = moon (candra)
hair = darkness (tamas)

... tad evānyatayā yadi. nirūpyate sā dvitīyā ...

"If it [i.e. the subject of comparison] is described by stating that it is different, it is the second type of hyberbole."

Kavikarnapura gives these two verses as examples:

anye śrutī te rasanā cā sānyā
cetaḥ satāṁ tat punar anyad eva
śrī kṛṣṇa-śīta-dyuti-nāma-līlā
rūpāmṛtaṁ yāni sadā dhayanti

"Different are the ears, different is the tongue, different are the minds of good men that always drink the nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa's cooling luster, name, pastimes, and form."

anyaiveyaṁ kanaka-latikā candramāś cāyam anyas
tasminn etan mada madirayor yugmakaṁ cānyad eva
anyaiveyaṁ tad upari mano janmanaś cāpavallī
rādhā-nāma sphurati manasaḥ keyam unmāthavīthī

"Different is this golden string of pearls, different is this moon, different is this pair of intoxicants in it, different is this bow of the god of love above it. What is this snare of mind that is manifested by Rādhā's name?"

... yady arthena tu kalpanā. yady asambhāvino'rthasya sā tṛtīyā

"The third type of hyperbole occurs when there is an imagination of an unreal object/meaning."

pūrṇo yadi syād aniśaṁ sudhāṁśu
sa cet kalaṅkena bhaved vihīnaḥ
cakora-peyo'pi na ced ayaṁ syāt
tvad āsya dāsyāya tadaiva rādhe

"If the moon is incessantly full and without spots, and although no Cakora-birds drink it, O Rādhe, it is fit to be a servant of your face."

... viparyaye . kārya-kāraṇayor anyā ...

"The fourth type of hyperbole occurs if the relation between the cause and the effect is inverted."

Kavi-Karṇapura's example:

aviddha eva praveśa yat kṛtā
saroruhākṣyā hṛdi kṛṣṇa vedanā
paras tato'nyena vilocanāñcalī
śareṇa viddhaṁ hṛdayaṁ tvayā'syāḥ

"The entrance made by the pain in the heart of the lotus-eyed lady is not pierced, O Kṛṣṇa. By a blade of the arrow of your glance Her heart is pierced."

Here, before the occurence of the cause in the form of wound generated by the arrow of a sidelong glance, the effect in the form of pain generated by such a wound is described. The relation between the cause and the effect is evidently disturbed.

However, it should be noted in this respect that there is also a little bit different classification and definition of atiśayokti but I won't go into their detailed comparison. Viśvanātha Kavirāja, the author of Sāhitya Darpaṇa, whom Jīva Goswāmī follows in Rasāmṛta Śeṣa, defines the hyperbole and its five types in this way:

siddhatve'dhyavasāyasyātiśayoktir nigadyate. bhede’py abhedaḥ sambandhe’sambandhas tad-viparyayau. paurvāparyātmakaṁ kārya-hetvoḥ sā pañcadhā mataḥ

"When the intro-susception is complete, it is called hyperbole. This is five-fold: as there is a denial of distinction where there is a distinction in reality, a negation of connection where there is a connection, and vice versa, and as the sequence in a causation is inverted."


Later, after I asked him whether the above applies to the Bhāgavata too, Krishnadasji wrote me:

“………Bhāgavata Purāṇa is a master piece of world literature, one can find in it all kinds of alaṅkāras. However, ācāryas do not mention them, they do only if they need to point out something special. Sāhitya śāstra is the key to see how literary works are composed. Literary works use language in a special way. The language of other Purāṇas is mostly quite simple. But the Bhāgavata is something different. It is very difficult to read in the original, as you may know. It is actually the obscure use of language that makes it so special and interesting from the literary point of view (apart from the rasa of course that goes somehow hand in hand with the obscurity of the language). Intro-susception means something like assimilation or according to a dictionary "the act or process of receiving within.”


  1. Koka-mithunam does not mean anything in sexual union. Mithunam means a pair or a couple, that's all. Maithuna is sexual union.

  2. Mithuna does mean sexual union. See Apte's dictionary, for example.

  3. If anything in the verse would mean "in sexual union", it would be "sumilitam" (mithunam obviously means a pair here), but that would not work very well with the picture that the verse is trying to convey. I would translate it as "the beautiful meeting of a pair of cuckoos". Also, describing the copulation of two animals is generally not seen as very good taste in Sanskrit poetics.

  4. What about this verse then from Govinda Lilamrita 7.39:

    kevalair mithunIbhAva saGgatair mRga pakSibhiH; devair nRbhir yutaM cAnyaiZ citritai rasadIpanaiH

    “In the middle of this platform are wonderful jewelled images depicting mating deer, birds, demigods and humans, arousing erotic feelings.”

  5. MithunI-bhAva-saGgataiH here (GLA 7.39) just means "separated into pairs." I agree with Bhrigu that the depiction of copulating animals is not particularly rasAvaha and this is why I reacted. The same applies to the GLA description.

  6. Apologies, Krishna Dasji. No doubt Apte has found a case where the word could be interpreted in this fashion.

    I just checked Haridas Das and he gives only one definition for mithuna, that is strI-puruSa-yugala (citing Gopala Champu 1.109). He also takes mithunI-bhUta from the same place, and defines as "milita." Another interesting reference is Bhag. 11.3.18: mithunI-cAriNAM nRNAM.

  7. "MithunI-bhAva-saGgataiH here (GLA 7.39) just means "separated into pairs."

    Krishnapada Das Babaji comments on this verse 'pratyeka citra-i nari-jati o purusa-jAti Adi-rasamaya bhAva visista' "Each picture is endowed with the shapes of men and women endowed with full Adi-rasa". Adi rasa meaning conjugal mellow.

    Apart from that, from the common sense point of view, how can these pictures be rasa-dIpana, or inciting rasa (what rasa can that be other than Adi-rasa, which is the very purpose of Radhakund, whose description this chapter carries?) if they don't depict something erotically inspiring?

  8. According to Monier-Williams, both meanings are possible:
    Ë mf(‚)n. paired , forming a pair
    Ë m. a pair (male and female
    Ë but also `" any couple or pair "' RV. &c. &c. , usually du. , in later language mostly n.
    Ë ifc. f. ‚)
    Ë n. pairing , copulation TS. &c. &c.
    Ë a pair or couple (= m.
    Ë but also `" twins "') MBh.
    Ë (also m.) the sign of the zodiac Gemini or the third arc of 30 degrees in a circle S˜ryas. Var. Pur.

  9. I think the image Kavi Karnapur wants to convey is rather erotic than sexual, though I am not sure whether we can distinguish between these two so well in Sanskrit as in English. Incidently, m(a)ithuna is the closest to the meaning of sexual. Despite that I probably stretched it too far in my translation as Jagat and Bhrigu pointed out. Two cuckoos sitting close together can better resemble breasts than two mating cuckoos.

    Nevertheless, probably the most famous mention of mating animals in Indian literature is that of the cranes killed by the hunter in the Ramayana. Valmiki is considered to be the Adikavi and the incident is no unimportant one; it is the starting point of Valmiki's Ramayan.

    As far as the descripton of srngara of animals is concerned I also recall this statement of Visvanath Kaviraj in Sahitya Darpana: anaucitya-pravRttatva AbhAso rasa-bhAvayoH, "When rasa and bhava are brought together with impropriety, they are their semblences." One of the improprieties he mentiones is also when srngara exists in animals (tiryag-Adi-gate).

  10. Where does that leave Govinda Lilamrta's mithuni-bhava-sangataih (7.39) then, in your opinion?

  11. I think that the Govinda Lilamrta verse is okay because the mention of animal maithuna is not intended to generate rasa of srngara in animals. It serves as uddipana. The verse itself says that it is rasa-dipana. As far as I have understood the Sanskrit poetics, had srngara in animals been the object of rasa, it would create rasabhasa according to Visvanath Kaviraja and bibhatsa-rasa according to Vaishnava theoreticians.

  12. Though I agree, Krishnadas, with your general premise about rasabhasa, it seems to me that witnessing the actual sexual act itself in animals would be disgusting in any case, rather than inspiring, except in the lowest of mankind. On the other hand, a kind of loving feeling, such as between doves or lovebirds, does indeed incite a tender feeling that inspires a sense of human and even universal love.

    So, the objection to the interpretations you seem to be giving above is that you are making it seem that these animals are copulating rather than simply sharing the intimacy of loving emotion. I understand Krishnapada Baba's delicate gloss as perfectly in keeping with this sentiment.

  13. Jagat, it did work as an uddipana for the old Saubhari Muni.


    Krishnadas-ji, we could use the material you've posted at gkWiki: Atisayokti. Indeed, the project would benefit from your contributions in general if you had material to share with little trouble.

    Actually, let the invitation count for everyone who commented on this entry. gkWiki is open for everyone to participate in, just register an account and edit.

  14. Well, the point here is this: There are uddipanas for "prema" and there are uddipanas for "kama." We all know what Saubhari's story is. If one is turned on by watching dogs, for an example, mating in the marketplace, then that is certainly a tamo-guna reaction, and very unlikely to be related to prema. na khAdanti na mehanti kim grAme pazavo'pare?

    I am not, actually, saying that it might not be possible on some higher strata of ecstatic consciousness, but as an uddipana within the bounds of aesthetics, i.e., as a simile in a work of poetry, or in a artistic depiction of Radha Krishna lila, etc., it would not be appropriate.

    Of course, I guess that kokas are exotic enough to us, and birds "making love" is rather innocuous, I suppose, when compared to street dogs or some large animals, like rhinoceros or elephants.

  15. Jagat, I agree. The sight of copulating animals is not aesthetic. I don't think we could find sculptures of copulating animals anywhere in India.

    However, I am interested in how far we can pursue the argument. I am wondering if it is acceptable to interpret the word mithuna not as copulation but as something rather amorous. Do you think it would be possible on the strength of verses like these?:

    smaraNaM kIrtanaM keliH prekSaNaM guhya-bhASaNam
    saGkalpo’dhyavasAyaz ca kriyA-nirvRtir eva ca
    etan maithunam aSTAGgaM pravadanti manISiNaH
    viparItaM brahmacaryam etad evASTa-lakSaNam


    Madhava, you can use anything you want from what I have written.

  16. Jagat: "a kind of loving feeling, such as between doves or lovebirds, does indeed incite a tender feeling that inspires a sense of human and even universal love."

    "Well, the point here is this: There are uddipanas for "prema" and there are uddipanas for "kama.".....If one is turned on by watching dogs, for an example, mating in the marketplace, then that is certainly a tamo-guna reaction, and very unlikely to be related to prema."

    These statements hint that 'aesthetic sexual scenes' are incitements for prema to sadhakas (not speaking about Radha-Krishna) and this is sahajiya vada. Yellow card for Jagat.

  17. Krishnadasji, Clearly the meaning of maithunam in the verse that you cite means the actual sexual act. The whole point about the gopis' prema is that the features of kama are present, but they are angas of prema, the angi. In kama, there may be some warm or romantic feelings also, but they are the angas, whereas the desire to achieve physical sexual pleasure is the angi. That is the difference between the two.

    From the aesthetic point of view, both material and spiritual love have similar characteristics. The problem with that of material lovers is that the dose of kama is too great, no matter how aesthetically pleasing the idealized sentiment is. Furthermore, there are numerous other limitations, of which we are all aware, I am quite sure.

    O Advaitaji! Please give me a red card and have done with it.

    Your servant, Jagat.