Sāńkhya Philosophy in Naishadhacharita-Mahākāvya
By : Dr. Harekrishna Meher
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Naishadhacharita of Śrīharsha enjoys a prominent position among the five great epics of Sanskrit literature. As a unique piece of literary art, this epic earns profound celebrity in view of its alliteration and grace of diction. Sanskrit scholars have paid much tribute to the poetic excellence of Śrīharsha that predominates the literary talent of poets such as Bhāravi and Māgha. Tradition also regards this epic as the panacea of the learned people. Literary works of the age, Śrīharsha flourished in, are very often marked with scholasticism. As a matter of fact, this epic in some verses appears to be critical. The poet himself remarks that he has deliberately done his composition stiff and not easily intelligible in order to pulverize the pride of some vain-glorious scholars of his time.
The main theme of Naishadha is the love-episode between Nala, the king of Nishadha land and Damayantī, the princess of Vidarbha. Besides its literary significance, this epic throws much light on different views of Indian philosophy. Poet Śrīharsha is a staunch philosopher of Advaita Vedānta and the author of the outstanding philosophical treatise “Khaņdana-Khaņda-Khādya”.
In his epic, the poet has not mentioned all the philosophical topics propounded by all the systems of Indian philosophy. In order to embellish the aesthetic stature of his literary work and to evince his philosophical proficiency, he has weighed very carefully several phases of almost all the philosophical schools, both heterodox and orthodox. The philosophical concepts without any sequence are found scattered in different chapters of the epic. In the concerned verses, philosophical thoughts are to be identified and analyzed. Very few references to Sāńkhya conceptions are found here. The poet has mainly adverted to the theory of causation, sacrificial slaughter and impurity along with the non-eternity of heaven. Now endeavours have been made here to discuss these views with their philosophical background.
Theory of Causation :
The Sāńkhya doctrine of Causation asserts that effect exists in its material cause prior to its manifestation. An effect (kārya) is said to be existent (sat) in the cause before its revelation; and this view is known as Satkāryavāda (Theory of pre-existent effect) in contrast with Asatkāryavāda (Theory of not-pre-existent effect) upheld by Nyāya-Vaiśeshika philosophy.
In the Sāńkhya-Sūtra of Kapila, five arguments have been presented in establishing the theory of causation. Non-entity like man’s horn cannot be produced (1). It is implied that if effect does not pre-exist in its cause, then no effort of any agency can produce it and hence it would be a mere non-entity like flower of firmament or like hare’s horn. Causal principle is demonstrated in this regard. Effect is invariably related to its material cause (2). So effect cannot be causally connected with what does not exist. In support of this, it is maintained that all efforts are not capable of being produced from all everywhere and always (3). Only a potent cause can produce a capable effect and as such, effect must be potentially existent in its cause (4). In other words, effect exists in its material cause, as an unmanifested form prior to its manifestation. It is also asserted that effect has the nature of its cause (5). It implies that effect is not different from, but essentially identical with its material cause. Thus the theory of causation backed by the five arguments discussed above is identically described in Sāńkhya-Kārikā of Īśvarakŗshņa (6).
According to this doctrine, non-entity cannot be produced and entity cannot be barred. Instance of non-entity’s production is found nowhere and verily non-existent is never seen to be manifested anywhere (7). In this way, Sāńkhya system shows the invariable relation of effect with its material cause. Causation is a real transformation of the material cause and this theory leads to the concept of Prakŗti, the Primordial Matter, as the root-cause of the world.
An allusion to the Sāńkhya Theory of Causation is found in a verse of Naishadhacharita. The concerned verse is King Nala’s speech to the four gods, viz. Indra, Agni, Varuņa and Yama. Seeing the gods on the way to Damayantī’s ‘svayamvara’, Nala observes that gods are nectar-incarnate. As he opines, there is no difference between an effect and its cause; verily a person’s body is the product of food and his eyes are immersed in nectar by looking at the nectar-fed bodies of the gods (8).
Here it is contended that a person’s body is the outcome of food. Without food, body cannot be supported. Gods are traditionally known as nectar-eaters; therefore they are immortal. They are depicted as nectar-incarnate, because their bodily forms are but nectar that they drink. Nārāyaņa, the eminent commentator of the Naishadha epic, explains the semblance between cause and effect with an illustration of ear-ring made of gold (9). Just as a gold ear-ring, which is the effect of gold, is nothing but gold in a particular structure or design, the body, which is the product of food, is not different from food. In the concerned verse, while Nala glances at the gods, his eyes get immersed in ambrosia. It suggests that his eyes enjoy a great rapture by seeing the nectar-fed bodies of the gods. Here nectar is the cause and the nectar-fed body is its effect. Nectar-fed body is the real transformation or modification of nectar. As curd is essentially not different from milk, or cloth from threads, or oil from oil-seeds, no real difference is found between the cause and its effect. What we call difference is superficial. Such is the case in the present context of the epic. Thus the concept of transformation (pariņāmavāda) of the Sāńkhya theory of pre-existent effect has been given a place of recognition in the epic of Śrīharsha.
Sacrificial Slaughter and Impurity :
Sāńkhya system in its every aspect sticks to non-violence and finds fault with the Vedic sacrifices. The Vedic scripture enjoins that one desirous of heaven should perform sacrifice (10). Several items are functioned in a sacrificial rite. Various injunctive rules employ special oblations like butter, Soma juice, Purodāsa cake etc. meant for particular deities. Certain animals are also prescribed to be offered as oblations in some sacrifices like Aśvamedha and Gomedha. It is ordained that one should offer (kill) an animal meant for Agni and Soma (11). The Sāńkhya philosophy advocates that the Vedic sacrifice incurs vice and impurity caused by slaying animate beings as oblations.
Such a view of Sāńkhya school is reflected in the Naishadhacharita. The concerned verse is Nala’s speech to Damayantī in the context of portraying lunar beauty. Moon is compared with sacrifice (ijyā). The orb of Moon with its repository of nectar meant for the enjoyment of gods is pure like a sacrifice; but the same Moon has a defiled limb, i.e. stain, just as the sacrifice has an impure phase, i. e. animal-slaughter (12). Here some words are imbued with literary pun in the concerned verse. The circle (maņđalī) of Moon is said to be replenished with nectar-rays and it is fair (śuddhā), just as a sacrifice is depicted to be pure (śuddhā). The poet has wisely used the word ‘deva-vraja-bhojya-ŗddhih’. In case of sacrifice, it implies that various oblations like Soma juice and Purodāśa etc. are offered to the gods. As such, sacrifice is enriched with ritual offerings edible by the gods. Similarly, the moon-circle has prosperity with the rays of ambrosia to be enjoyed by the deities. Besides, sacrifice has a ritual portion, i.e. vice, (himsā) in the form of animal-slaughter which is just like a stain. The moon-circle similarly bears within itself a limb, a stain (kalańka). In other words, sacrifice is pure and prolific for the well-being of the performer, yet it has a blemish, i.e. vicious animal-slaying as a part of its own. In the like manner, the moon-circle is fair by its charm; yet it is contaminated by a stain in itself. Such is the resemblance between the moon-circle and the sacrifice aptly exhibited through a philosophical simile with identical feminine gender in both the subject of comparison and the standard of comparison.
Non-eternity of Heaven :
Sacrificial performance leads to heaven as its sublime achievement. Heaven is regarded as the abode of happiness, not intermingled with sorrow, not inclined to decay and easily attainable by wish. The Sāńkhya system holds that besides impurity caused by animal-slaughter, deterioration and gradation are ascribed to the Vedic sacrifices. The Sāńkhya-Sūtra asserts that by means of the Vedic performances, the supreme goal, i.e. liberation or absolute annihilation of pain, cannot be attained; for the sacrificial acts yield non-eternal fruits like heaven, and there is possibility of again coming back to the mortal world after the abatement of merits (13). The Gītā also declares the same view (14). Referring to the gradation of sacrificial fruits such as sovereignty and heaven, Vāchaspati, the renowned commentator of Sāńkhya-Kārikā, opines that dignity of one’s opulence dejects the other having less wealth and hence heaven cannot be an abode replete with pleasure (15). In this way, heavenly pleasure as the fruit of sacrifice is impermanent and subservient to deterioration.
Such a concept pertaining to heaven is reflected in the Naishadhacharita. Princess Damayantī is inclined to Nala, Lord of earth, and so she rejects Indra, Lord of heaven. She indicates some shortcomings of heavenly pleasure and declines to choose Indra as her life-companion. The concerned verses are her reply to the alluring statement of Indra’s female messenger. It is maintained that the performers of sacrifices ascend heaven by virtue of their merits and again come down to the earth on the expiry of their merits by enjoyment of fruits. Thus scrutinizing the two characteristic features of heaven and earth, the ultimate consequence of the two appears to be two sorts of ‘śarkarā’ (16). A pun is found in the word ‘śarkarā’ which implies both gravel and candied sugar. In the present case, the celestial fruit, as it tends to descent is just like dry gravel, and the terrestrial fruit, as it aims at ascent, is like tasteful candied sugar. Here earth is described to be a better place than heaven. Non-eternity of heavenly happiness is also displayed. Heaven is attainable, when somebody’s life is entirely exhausted. Therefore attainment of heaven is quite impossible as long as life exists in the world of the mortal beings.
In the present epic, again it is maintained that after death when someone reaches heaven, it does not wait even for a moment. When merit of the enjoyer of heaven totally expires, he becomes an object of descent from it. As such heaven inclines towards superficial pleasure and appears like an unwholesome food. Therefore no wise man cherishes his yearning for heaven (17). Here empyrean enjoyment described as distasteful like unpalatable diet, as it is superficially charming for the time being and not good in the long run. So heaven cannot be a dwelling place of absolute happiness. Considering on this, Damayantī declines to choose Indra as her husband and does not express any craving for the heaven. The single-minded princess is keenly devoted to Nala alone, the lord of earth. Though heaven as the fruit of the sacrifice welcomes sacrificer, yet it bears a fascinating feature for some time. The sacrificers, in course of time, after enjoying the heavenly pleasure, return to the world of mortals on the attenuation of their merits. So taking resort to action with enchanting purpose enjoined by the Vedas, the sacrificers repeatedly come and go in the cycle of their lives. In describing the nature of heaven, poet Śrīharsha happens to be influenced by the conceptions of Gītā also.
Referring to the Sāńkhya philosophy, thus the poet has mainly touched upon the ‘pariņamavāda’ of the theory of causation, sacrificial impurity and transitoriness of heavenly joys. From these perspectives, it may be ascertained that the philosophical conceptions inserted into the literature have not belittled the literary value; rather it has been enhanced, since they have been contextually and befittingly utilized as different figures of speech without causing any levity of meaning in the epical work. Though the poet is a great devotee of Vedantic Monism and has some original contributions to the Vedānta philosophy, he has probed into some salient aspects of different philosophical thoughts and has endeavoured to establish the Vedantic views even in the literature. Such is the unfailing dexterity of poet Śrīharsha in poetic erudition corroborated with philosophical deliberations.
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(1) Nāsadutpādo nŗśŗńgavat (Sāńkhya-Sūtra, 1/114)
(2) Upādāna-niyamāt (ibid. 1/115)
(3) Sarvatra sarvadā sarvāsambhavāt (ibid. 1/116)
(4) Śaktasya śakya-karaņāt (ibid. 1/117)
(5) Kāraņa-bhāvāccha (ibid. 1/118)
(6) Asad akaraņād upādāna-grahaņāt sarva-sambhavābhāvāt /
Śaktasya śakya-karaņāt Kāraņa-bhāvāccha sat kāryam //
(7) Vāchaspati’s Tattva-kaumudī on Sāńkhya-Kārikā, 9.
(8) Nāsti janya-janaka-vyatibhedah
Satyam anna-janito jana-dehah /
Vīkshya vah khalu tanūm amŗtabham
Dŗń-nimajjanam upaiti sudhāyām // (Naishadha, 5/94)
(9) Nārāyaņa’s comm. on ibid.
(10) Svargakāmo yajeta. (Tāņđya-Mahābrāhmaņa, 16/3/3)
(11) Agnishomīyam paśum ālabheta. (Aitareya Āraņyaka, 6/13)
(12) Ijyeva deva-vraja-bhojya-ŗddhih
Śuddhā sudhā-dīdhiti-maņđalīyam /
Himsā yathā saiva tathāńgameshā
Kalańkamekam malinam bibharti // (Naishadha, 22/74)
(13) Nānuśravikād api tatsiddhih sādhyatvenāvŗtti-yogād apurushārthatvam.
(14) Te tam bhuktvā svarga-lokam viśālam
Kshīņe puņye martya-lokam viśanti /
Evam trayī-dharmam anuprapannā
Gatāgatam kama-kamā labhante // (Gītā, 9/21)
(15) Tattva-kaumudī on Sāńkhya-Kārikā-2.
(16) Sadhorapi svah khalu gāmitadho
Gamī sa tu svargamitah prayāņe /
Ityāyatī chintayato hŗdi dve
Dvayor udarkah kimu śarkare na // (Naishadha, 6/99)
(17) Prakshīņa evayushi karma-kŗshţe
Narānna tishţhatyupatishţhate yah /
Bubhukshate nākam apathya-kalpam
Dhīrāstam āpāta-sukhonmukham kah // (Naishadha, 6/100)
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Reference Books :
1. Naishadhīya-charitam (with Nārāyaņa’s Commentary)
Nirnaya Sagar Press, Bombay, 1952.
2. ‘Philosophical Reflections in the Naisadhacarita’
By : Dr. Harekrishna Meher,
Punthi Pustak, Bidhan Sarani, Calcutta-4, 1989.
3. Naishadhacharita of Śrīharsha, By : Prof. K.K. Handiqui,
Deccan College, PG Research Institute, Poona, 1965.
4. Naishadha Pariśīlan, By : Dr. Chandika Prasad Shukla,
Hindustani Academy, Allahabad, U. P. 1960.
5. Sarva-Darśana-Sańgraha of Mādhavāchārya
Ed. U.S. Sharma, Chowkhamba Vidya Bhavan, Varanasi, 1964.
6. A History of Indian Philosophy, By : S.N. Dasgupta,
Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1975.
7. Sāńkhya -Darśana
(with Sāńkhya-Pravachana-Bhāshya of Vijñanabhikshu / Kapila),
Ed. Dr. R. S. Bhattacharya, Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, Varanasi, 1966.
8. Sāńkhya-Kārikā of Īśvarakŗshņa,
Ed. V.P.Sharma, Chowkhamba Vidya Bhavan, Varanasi, 1970.
9. Sāńkhya-TattvaKaumudī of Vāchaspati Miśra,
Ed. Dr. A.P.Mishra, Prem Prakashan, Allahabad, 1973.
10. Śrīmad-Bhagavad-Gītā, Ed. J.D.Goyandka
Gita Press, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, 1969.
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