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Viṣṇu, appearing before Bali as Vāmana, transformed into Trivikrama, filling the universe, covering all the earth and the heavens in two steps.

The verse that opens the Pūrva-pīṭhikā of Daṇḍin’s Daśakumāracarita plays on this imagination, and on the word daṇda / daṇḍin. Here’s the verse (in Sragdharā metre of pattern GGGGLGG—LLLLLLG—GLGGLGG):

May the leg of Trivikrama,
   pole for the parasol that is the universe,
   stem of the lotus that is Brahma’s seat,
   mast of the ship that is the earth,
   rod of the streaming banner that is the river of the Gods,
   axle-rod around which the zodiac turns,
   pillar of victory over the three worlds,
   rod of death for the enemies of the Gods,
favour you with blessings.

brahmāṇḍa-cchatradaṇḍaḥ śata-dhṛti-bhavan’-âmbhoruho nāla-daṇḍaḥ
kṣoṇī-nau-kūpa-daṇḍaḥ kṣarad-amara-sarit-paṭṭikā-ketu-daṇḍaḥ /
jyotiścakr’-âkṣa-daṇḍas tribhuvana-vijaya-stambha-daṇḍo ‘ṅghri-daṇḍaḥ
śreyas traivikramas te vitaratu vibudha-dveṣiṇāṃ kāla-daṇḍaḥ //

ब्रह्माण्डच्छत्रदण्डः शतधृतिभवनाम्भोरुहो नालदण्डः 
क्षोणीनौकूपदण्डः क्षरदमरसरित्पट्टिकाकेतुदण्डः ।
श्रेयस्त्रैविक्रमस्ते वितरतु विबुधद्वेषिणां कालदण्डः ॥

[The Mānasataraṃgiṇī-kāra, agreeing with Santillana and von Dechend the authors of Hamlet’s Mill, considers the “pole” or “axis” motif central to the conception of Vishnu (e.g. matsya‘s horn, Mount Meru as the rod on kūrma, nṛsiṃha from the pillar, etc.: see here), sees much more depth in this poem, and that Daṇḍin was remembering this old motif.]

The translation above is mildly modified from that of Isabelle Onians in her translation (“What Ten Young Men Did”) of the Daśa-kumāra-carita, published by the Clay Sanskrit Library:

Pole for the parasol-shell that is Brahma’s cosmic egg,
Stem for Brahma’s lotus seat,
Mast for the ship that is the earth,
Rod for the banner that is the rushing immortal river Ganges,
Axle rod for the rotating zodiac,
Pillar of victory over the three worlds—
May Vishnu’s leg favor you with blessings—
Staff that is the leg of him who as Trivikrama reclaimed those three worlds in three steps,
Rod of time, death itself, for the demon enemies of the gods.

Ryder, in his translation (“The Ten Princes”), takes some liberties and manages verse in couplets:

May everlasting joy be thine,
Conferred by Vishnu’s foot divine,

Which, when it trod the devils flat,
Became the staff of this and that:

The staff around which is unfurled,
The sunshade of the living world;

The flagstaff for the silken gleam
Of sacred Ganges’ deathless stream;

The mast of earth’s far-driven ship,
Round which the stars (as axis) dip;

The lotus stalk of Brahma’s shrine;
The fulcrumed staff of life divine.

For another verse that fully gets into this “filling the universe” spirit, see The dance of the bhairava on manasa-taramgini.


Written by S

Sun, 2014-08-17 at 23:36:42

2 Responses

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  1. The translation of Ryder would have been much more attractive if the actual ordering of the padas had been maintained i.e. if the benediction had been mentioned in the fag end of the poem rather than the beginning. Even your translation brings out the intention quite aptly I think – starting off with Trivikrama’s foot, and then building up the curiosity and finally closing with the blessing. Ryder’s translation makes the poem a little bland.


    Tue, 2015-04-14 at 11:38:59

    • Thanks.

      With translation, I think it’s useful for the translator to be conscious of its goals, including who he/she is translating for — is the translation meant (if it’s from Sanskrit) for an Indian audience or a Western one? If the latter, is the audience likely looking for something natural and relatable, or for something “exotic” and “Oriental”? (Perhaps that’s a question with a modern Indian audience, too.) Should the translator be faithful to the source text and translate its meaning as literally as possible, or should one be “faithful to the author” and attempt to have an effect upon one’s audience that is as close as possible to what the original author intended for their audience?

      English and its culture are especially problematic. (Previous posts, from before I started to read Sanskrit texts in the original: here and here.) English has a natural resistance to too much expression — what is the Sanskrit equivalent of “purple prose”, or the Bulwer-Lytton contest? — and as Coulson says, “To translate a Sanskrit stanza so that it merely bores rather than bewilders the reader can be an achievement in itself”. :-)

      All this is just to say: I’m really not sure. Ryder’s goal (not in this verse specifically, but the translation in general) was to produce something worthy of being read by Americans on its own, without intrusively showing itself to be translation. There is only so much roundaboutness that English can take, and I’m intrigued by Ryder’s choice to introduce the line “Became the staff of this and that” — is it just some random chaff for rhyme, or is it also a sort of apology for (or gentle introduction to, newspaper “pyramid” style) the profusion of comparisons to follow? I sort of suspect that if there were another couple or more of comparisons in the Sanskrit original, this translator would have probably abridged them or skipped the verse entirely as inappropriate.

      (There’s also probably interesting things to say about the stanza in Sanskrit poetry as a “unit” of full meaning with often a punch at the end, not just in muktaka but even in longer kāvya: only in the epics (or say, a long narrative work like Kathasaritsagara) do we see the equivalent of what’s the norm in English.)


      Tue, 2015-04-14 at 23:22:45

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