Professor Harunaga Isaacson of Hamburg University was an honoured guest of the Sanskrit Reading Room at SOAS, University of London in December 2018. Professor Isaacson’s selection of verses paired apparently dissimilar themes: the Tāṇḍava dances of Śiva, Heruka and Ganeśa, and the trope of the Abhisārikā, the woman venturing out alone at night to meet her lover.
The Tāṇḍava is the wild, cosmic dance of deities, especially associated with Śiva and his Buddhist counterpart Heruka or Hevajra, dances which are both destructive and auspicious. Contrasting with this explosive violence is the apparently softer and more vulnerable movement of the Abhisārikā. Professor Isaacson’s pairing of these themes echoed none other than Kālidāsa’s choice in the Meghadūta where the verses on the Abhisārikā immediately follow the Tāṇḍava.
The Tāṇḍava dance and the trope of the Abhisārikā are both vast themes in their own rights. For the purposes of this reading the treatment of the Taṇḍava was selective. Professor Isaacson confined his choices to verses composed before the 12th century. This blogpost follows the journey of the Abhisārikā and the different dancers and effects of the Tāṇḍava as evidenced in Professor Issacson’s choice of verses.
Attendees at the Sanskrit Reading Room were treated to delightful recitations of the verses by Suhas Mahesh. Please listen to the associated sound file for an appreciation of the rhythm and force of the verse. As you can hear the harsh sharp sounds of these extremely long compounds in the Sūktimuktāvalī namaskārapaddhati verse 13, attributed to Bherībhāṅkāra, in Professor Isaacson’s words, ‘help to convey the tremendous explosive power of this dance’:
jīyāsus tāṇḍavāni phuṭavikaṭajaṭākoṭisaṃghaṭṭabhūri-bhraśyannakṣatracakravyavahitasumanovṛṣṭipātāni śambhoḥ ॥ 1
 Verses are numbered according to the chronology of their presentation in the handout rather than their source text. Please see Sanskrit Reading Room for handouts https://sanskritreadingroom.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/harunaga-isaacson-a-deity-dances-a-girl-sallies-forth-sanskrit-verses-on-the-ta%E1%B9%87%E1%B8%8Dava-dances-of-siva-and-heruka-and-on-the-abhisarika/.
The two compounds are bahuvrīhis qualifying the subject taṇḍavāni, the dances of śambhu or Śiva. The verb jīyāsus, the precative or benedictive, gives us the main clause: ‘May the wild dances of Śiva be victorious’. These are dances in which the unions (saṃgamāni) of the heavenly Ganga (the river of heaven, svar-dhunī) on the crest (makuṭa) of his hair are made manifest (prakaṭita). These are unions of the river with the ocean, the waters of the Payodhi, which plays on the well-known metaphor of the ocean, the lord of the rivers, as the husband of the Ganges. This union takes place because the ocean is moving up or spreading out (udañcat) due to the intense (sphāra) falling (pāta) of the flood (ogha) of mountains (śaila) shaken up (uddhūta) [and falling down into the ocean]. The mountains flew up because of the wind (pavana) created by Śiva’s forest of arms (bhuja-vana) which were tall (uccaiḥ) and raised in play (uttāla-khelat) dancing the Taṇḍava.
The second bahuvrīhi compound creates an auspicious image of showers of flowers interspersed with showers of stars: in these dances falling (pātāni) rains (vṛṣṭi) of flowers (sumanaḥ) are separated (vyavavahita) by the showers of stars (naksatra-cakra). These circles of asterisms are falling (bhraśyan) in large numbers (bhūri) due to the friction (samghaṭṭa) of being struck by Śiva’s locks which have blown open (sphuṭa-vikaṭa-jaṭā-koṭi).
Professor Isaacson moved on to a pair of verses by the great early eleventh-century master Ratnākaraśānti, the first of which is the opening verse of his Muktāvalī, a commentary on the Hevajratantra. Professor Isaacson noted: ‘Many of the Buddhist Yoginītantras, increasingly popular from around the second half of the ninth century CE, teach, and are supposed to be taught by, Buddhas who resemble the fierce forms of Śiva/Bhairava, and who are depicted as dancing the Tāṇḍava’.
pādanyāsaiḥ pṛthivyā vihitavighaṭanaṃ bhūbhṛtām aṭṭahāsair
dṛktejaḥketughaṇṭādhvanibhir api nayan nāśasṛṣṭīr jaganti ।
bibhrāṇasyāvaliptapraśamanavidhaye bhīṣaṇān abhyupāyān
pāyād vo jainaguhyatrayahṛdayahṛdas tāṇḍavaṃ herukasya ॥ 2
In the Muktāvali verse the main clause ‘may the wild dance (tāṇḍavam) of Heruka (herukasya) protect you (pāyād vo)’ is elaborated by the bahuvrīhi structure which in the first line has a pearl-necklace form. This is a dance in which the shattering (vihita-vighaṭanam) of the earth (pṛthivyāḥ) is done by the setting down of his feet (pāda-nyāsaiḥ) and the shattering of the mountains (bhū-bhṛtām) by his loud laughter (aṭṭa-hāsaiḥ). The dance is leading (nayan) to repeated destructions and creations (nāśa-sṛṣṭīs) of the worlds (jaganti). The destructions are caused by the fiery energy of his eyes (dṛk-tejaḥ) and the creations by the sounds of love-making (ketu and ghaṇṭā are code words for the sexual organs) as Heruka is dancing in union with his consort Nairātmyā. Hevajra is bearing (bibhrāṇasya) [in his sixteen hands] terrifying (bhīṣaṇān) means (abhyupāyān). These are, as Professor Isaacson explained, his sixteen skull-bowls, eight of which contain animals and eight deities. These are to pacify (praśamana) those smeared in pride (avalipta).
Professor Isaacson noted that the fourth line’s jainaguhyatraya, the three secrets of the Jina, refers to the secrets of the Buddhas’ body, speech and mind: ‘The hṛdaya of those secrets is, for Ratnākaraśānti, Vajradhara, the ‘cosmic Buddha’, who more precisely is (the state of) awakened consciousness; Heruka, that is to say Hevajra, is Vajradhara’s hṛd in the sense of being the most essential or important manifestation of that awakened consciousness.’
This verse on the Tāṇḍava dance of Heruka differs from Śiva’s dance in highlighting the iconography. The author emphasises the plurality of his feet to remind the practitioners (sādhaka) of this deity that he has multiple feet (four) and multiple mouths. These are triggers to remind the sādhaka of Heruka’s key features.
The ‘pearl necklace structure’ of pādanyāsaiḥ pṛthivyā vihitavighaṭanaṃ bhūbhṛtām aṭṭahāsair is an expression coined by Professor Isaacson to describe the metrical and grammatical symmetry of the pāda: the shattering at the centre is balanced with the objectives of the shattering to either side in the genitive, and the instrumentals at either end.
In Professor Isaacson’s supplementary notes for the reading (attached) he offered ‘A Note on Mountains and a Parallel’ which give a Buddhist and Śaiva metaphorical understanding of the destruction of mountains: ‘In reflecting on the image of the shattering of mountains, it may be helpful to recall that there is in Buddhism an old tradition of comparing satkāyadṛṣṭi, the view of a permanent self/person, with its twenty subtypes, with a mountain with twenty peaks.’ Professor Isaacson illustrated this with the verse from Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra 6.145:
etāni tāni śikharāṇi samudgatāni satkāyadṛṣṭivipulācalasaṃsthitāni।
nairātmyabodhakuliśena vidāritātmā bhedaṃ prayāti saha tair api dṛṣṭiśailaḥ॥
Professor Isaacson’s translation reads: ‘These (twenty sub-types, differing according to the exact relation assumed between the self and each of the five aggregates) are those peaks that rise up, located in the broad mountain (range) of the view of a substantial/lasting self; (but) the mountain of (all) views, when it is shattered by the thunderbolt of the realization of selflessness, is broken, together with them too.’
For a Śaiva example of the religious symbolism of the shattering of mountains Professor Isaacson offered a verse attributed by Kṣemarāja in his Pratyabhijñāhṛdaya to the Krama master Śrīrāma:
samādhivajreṇāpy anyair abhedyo bhedabhūdharaḥ।
parāmṛṣṭaś ca naṣṭaś ca tvadbhaktibalaśālibhiḥ ॥
And Professor Isaacson’s translation: ‘The mountain of plurality/differentiation, which cannot be broken by others, even by means of the thunderbolt of concentration, is just apprehended and immediately is destroyed by those who possess the power of devotion to You.’ This verse has a polemical edge and the repetition of ca (‘and’) indicates a virtual simultaneity – as soon as it is touched it falls apart.
The second verse we read by Ratnākaraśānti is another Tāṇḍava of Hevajra and forms the opening of his Bhramahara which is a sādhana of the (utpattikrama) practice of Hevajra.
pralayaghanasamānair ānanair muktanādam ।
bhavatu bhayaharaṃ vas tāṇḍavaṃ herukasya ॥ 3
The main clause requests, ‘May the taṇḍava of Heruka remove your fear (bhavatu bhaya-haraṃ vas tāṇḍavaṃ herukasya)’. This is a dance in which the oceans (sindhu) are tossed around (vikṣipta) in all directions by the impetus (vega) of the world (urvī) which has been forced to bend down (namita) by the weight of his steps (pada-bhara). As Hevajra dances the connections (bandham) of the peaks of the mountains (giriṇāṃ) are destroyed (asta) because of the wind (pavana) of the forest of arms (bhuja-vana). This is a dance in which a sound is released by his faces (ānanaiḥ mukta-nādam) which resemble (samānaiḥ) the clouds (ghana) at the time of destruction (pralaya).
Professor Isaacson referenced the ‘forest of arms’ in these verses to those already found in verse 58ab (1.61 in Mallinātha’s recension) referring to Śiva’s Tāṇḍava in Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta, ‘that poem which seems somehow to contain in its one hundred odd verses everything of importance’:
gatvā cordhvaṃ daśamukhabhujocchvāsitaprasthasandheḥ
kailāsasya tridaśavanitādarpaṇasyātithiḥ syāḥ ।
Professor Isaacson suggested: ‘Here sandhi is basically synonymous with the bandha of the compound in the Bhramahara; note, for instance, the gloss of Vallabhadeva who glosses the entire compound daśamukhabhujocchvāsitaprasthasandheḥ, with the parallel compound paulastyabāhudalitasānubandhasya.’ (emphasis added)
These two verses by Rātnakaraśānti offer very different moods of the Taṇḍava despite being by the same author. From the clouds at the time of universal destruction we turned to a famous cloud, bright red with the setting sun in verse 36 the Meghadūta (verse 36 according to the numbering and with the readings of the earliest extant commentator, the Kashmirian Vallabhadeva):
paścād uccairbhujataruvanaṃ maṇḍalenābhilīnaḥ
sāṃdhyaṃ tejaḥ pratinavajapāpuṣparaktaṃ dadhānaḥ ।
nṛttārambhe hara paśupater ārdranāgājinecchāṃ
śāntodvegastimitanayanaṃ dṛṣṭabhaktir bhavānyā ॥ 4
In this verse Parvatī (bhavānyā) is watching with devotion (dṛṣṭa-bhaktiḥ) Śiva with steady eyes (stimita-nayanaṃ) as her agitation (udvega) has been calmed (śānta). She had been anxious that he (paśupateḥ) desires (icchām) at the beginning of the dance (nṛttārambhe) to flay an elephant for its hide, dark with fresh blood. The elephant (nāga of ārdranāgājinecchām) is generally understood to be Gajāsura, an Asura who had the form of an elephant, and was slain by Śiva. Hara’s wish for this hide is removed by settling on the cloud instead: the cloud that itself is clinging (abhilīnaḥ) in a circular way (maṇḍalena) to his forest of trees (taru-vanaṃ) which are his upraised arms (uccair bhuja). The cloud bears (dadhānaḥ) the splendour (tejas) of twilight (sāṃdhyaṃ) and is red (raktaṃ) as a freshly blossomed (prati-nava) hibiscus flower (japā-puṣpa).
We turned from Parvatī watching Śiva to accounts of the Abhisārikā, usually an unmarried young girl going out to meet her lover at night. Great care must be taken to avoid being seen on the road. Obstacles to her endeavour include the watchful and suspicious eyes of others, her own anxiety, physical weakness and inexperience, the darkness of the road, and the inclemency of the weather (it is often pouring with rain, thundering, and flashing with lightning).
Our first treatment of the Abhisārikā was the old Prakrit verse:
ajja mae gaṃtavvaṃ ghaṇaṃdhayāre vi tassa suhaassa ।
ajjā ṇimīliacchī paaparivāḍiṃ ghare kuṇaï ॥ 5
A literal Sanskrit chāyā would be:
adya mayā gantavyaṃ ghanāndhakāre ’pi tasya subhagasya (tasmai subhagāya) ।
āryā nimīlitākṣī padaparipāṭiṃ gṛhe karoti ॥
Having decided to meet her lover, the Abhisārikā practices walking in the dark: ‘“Today I must go (mayā gantavyaṃ) to my beloved one (subhagasya), even in this dense (ghana) darkness (andhakāre).” The noble girl (āryā) practices her footsteps (padaparipāṭim) in her house (gṛhe) with her eyes closed (nimīlitākṣī)’.
This scene is expanded in the later Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa 826:
mārge paṅkini toyadāndhatamase niḥśabdasaṃcārakaṃ
gantavyā dayitasya me ‘dya vasatir mugdheti kṛtvā matim ।
ājānūddhṛtanūpurā karatalenāchādya netre bhṛśaṃ
kṛcchrāl labdhapadasthitiḥ svabhavane panthānam abhyasyati ॥ 6
The young girl decides (mugdheti kṛtvā matim) that tonight (adya) she will go (gantavyā me) to the dwelling (vasatir) of her lover (dayitasya) along the muddy (paṅkini) path (marge) in the dense darkness (andha-tamase) of rainclouds (toyada) in a silent way (niḥśabdasaṃcārakaṃ). She practices (abhyasyati) the path (panthānam) in her own home (svabhavane): she raises (uddhṛta) her anklets (nūpurā) as far as her knees (ājānu), firmly (bhṛśaṃ) covers (āchādya) her eyes (netre) with the palm of her hand (kara-talena), only with difficulty (kṛcchrāt) can she get (labdha) her footsteps (pada) to be stable (sthiti).
mandaṃ nidhehi caraṇau paridhehi vāso
nīlaṃ pidhehi valayāvalim aṃśukena ।
mā jalpa sāhasini śāradacandrakānta
dantāṃśavastava tamāṃsi samāpayanti ॥ 7
This verse is from the Saduktikarṇāmṛta 777, Sūktimuktāvalī abhisārikāpaddhati 8, and Padyāvalī 194. The Abhisārikā is advised: walk softly (mandaṃ nidhehi caranau), put on a dark garment (nīlaṃ vāsaḥ paridhehi), cover (pidhehi) the rows (āvali) of your bracelets (valaya) with a cloth (aṃśukena), and most importantly don’t talk (mā jalpa), O foolish one (sāhasini). The rays of light from your teeth (danta-aṃśavaḥ aṃśu tava) like an autumnal moon (śarada-candra-kānta) and will put an end (sam-āp) to all the darkness (tamaṃsi).
In the following two dialogue verses from the Sūktimuktāvalī a friend warns the Abhisārikā of the obstacles she faces.
chidrānveṣaṇatatparaḥ priyasakhi prāyeṇa loko ‘dhunā
rātriś cāpi ghanāndhakārabahulā gantuṃ na te yujyate ।
mā maivaṃ sakhi vallabhaḥ priyatamas tasyotsukā darśane
yuktāyuktavicāraṇā yadi bhavet snehāya dattaṃ jalam ॥ 8
In the first verse we start with the friend warning the girl who has revealed that she wants to go out: ‘Dear friend (priyasakhi), people (lokaḥ) now (adhunā), for the most part (prāyeṇa), are really intent (tatparaḥ) on seeking for (anveṣaṇa) some fault (chidra) [with which to get you into trouble]; and also (ca-api) the night (rātriḥ) is dense (bahūla) with dark (andhakāra) clouds (ghana) so it is not appropriate for you to go (gantum na te yujyate). The Abhisārikā responds, ‘no, no (mā mā) O friend (sakhi), don’t say that, my beloved (vallabha) is dear to me (priyatamas)! I want to see him (tasya darśane utsukā)! If (yadi) I were (bhavet) to start calculating (vicāraṇa) whether this is right or wrong (yukta-ayukta), it would be the end of my love (snehāya dattaṃ jalam – giving the funerary water offering to my love).
tamaḥ śāntaṃ śāmyatv ayam udita evendur udiyāt
mayā gamyaṃ tatra priyasakhi sa yatra priyatamaḥ ।
gṛhagrāhotsaṅge śatam iva yugānāṃ gatam aho
niśā ced evaṃ syād ayi kathaya ko mṛtyur aparaḥ ॥ 9
In this verse, with frequent changes of speaker, the friend warns the Abhisārikā not to go because the darkness has eased (tamaḥ śāntaṃ), i.e. it is not dark enough to go. The Abhisārikā replies that she does not care (śāmyatu – let it cease). The friend says, ‘don’t you see that the moon (ayam indu) has just risen (uditaḥ)?’ The Abhisārikā responds, ‘Let it rise (udiyāt)! I have to go (mayā gamyaṃ tatra) where my beloved is (sa yatra priyatamaḥ), my dear friend (priya-sakhi). It is alas (aho) as if (iva) I have spent hundreds (śatam) of years/eons (yuga) within this ‘grasper (utsaṅge) of a house (gṛha)’ [i.e. prison]. If this house is going to be at night (niśā ced evaṃ syād) as it is in the day, tell me (kathaya) what death is there other than this (ko mṛtyor aparaḥ)?’
patir durvañco ’yaṃ vidhur amalino vartma viṣamaṃ
janaś chidrānveṣī praṇayivacanaṃ duṣpariharam ।
ataḥ kācit tanvī rativihitasaṃketagataye
gṛhād vāraṃ vāraṃ nirasarad atha prāviśad atha ॥ 10
This verse occurs in all three of the great old anthologies, without attribution: Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa 830, Saduktikarṇāmṛta 776, Sūktimuktāvalī abhisārikāpaddhati 4. The last of these switches the positions of husband (patiḥ) and family (janaḥ), and reads kulam amalinaṃ, which Professor Isaacson noted was a rather attractive reading, instead of vidhur amalino. Rather than a dialogue we have an internal monologue as the Abhisārikā ponders the risks of setting out. The Abhisārikā notes that her husband is hard to deceive (patiḥ dur-vañcaḥ ayaṃ). Vidhu amalinaḥ can either be taken as the moon is spotless, i.e. very bright, or that the family is spotless, and hence more care should be taken not to stain their reputation. The path is uneven (vartman viṣamaṃ) and people are looking for faults (janaḥ chidra-anveṣin). But despite all this she has promised her beloved (pranayi-vacanam) and she cannot let him down (duṣ-pari-hṛ). So (ataḥ) the slender, beautiful (kācit tanvī) lady left (niḥ-sṛ) her house (gṛhāt) again and again (vāraṃ vāraṃ) to attend a lovers’ tryst (rati-vihita-saṃketa-gataye) and returned again and again (pra-ā-viś) with the sense of indecision.
The emotional sense that the verses on the Abhisārikā are engendering by this emphasis on the dangers of going out to meet the lover is the searing pain of ‘love-in-separation’. The trope of the Abhisārikā is reflected in art as well as poetry where we see a parallelism between snakes, lightning, and anklets which we revisited in verse 13 of the reading.
We returned to a verse on the Tāṇḍava to explore the effect of Śiva’s dance on his household with a verse by Bhavabhūti which auspiciously opens his great play the Mālatīmādhava. Śiva’s household includes not only his wife Pārvatī, whom we saw witnessing her husband’s Tāṇḍava in the verse from the Meghadūta, but also, for instance, their children Gaṇeśa and Skanda, and Śiva’s attendant/chamberlain Nandin (not identified in old literature with Śiva’s bull).
nāsāgrarandhraṃ viśati phaṇipatau bhogasaṃkocabhāji ।
gaṇḍoḍḍīnālimālāmukharitakakubhas tāṇḍave śūlapāṇer
vaināyakyaś ciraṃ vo vadanavidhutayaḥ pāntu cītkāravatyaḥ ॥ 11
The rather unexpected benediction sought in this verse is: ‘May the shakings of Ganeśa’s head (vaināyakyaś … vadana-vidhutayaḥ), which are accompanied by sneeze-like sounds (cītkāravatyaḥ), protect you’. The form is a bahuvrīhi compound with the usual past passive participle structure. These are shakings of his head in which the directions come to be loud (mukharita-kakubhas) because of the rows of bees (ali-mālā) flying up (uḍ-ḍīna) from his temples (gaṇḍa). Ganeśa’s, head being that of a powerful male elephant, it is considered to be constantly in rut with the poetic trope of bees continuously landing on his head. These angry bees fly away as Ganeśa’s shakes his head because the great snake king Vasuki, usually wound around Śiva’s body, enters Ganeśa’s nostril (nāsāgra-randhram phaṇi-patau viśati, locative absolute) whilst contracting (bhoga-saṃkoca-bhāji) – literally partaking of contractions of its coils – from fear (trāsāt). Śiva, the spear-holder (śūla-paneḥ), has started his dance accompanied by Nandin joyfully hitting (sānandaṃ nandi-hastāhata) the drums. Summoned (ā-hūta) by the sound (rava) of the Murari drum (muraja) Skandha’s peacock (barhin) comes running which terrifies the snake, as birds are the eternal enemies of all serpents. Slithering up Ganeśa’s trunk whilst also contracting his coils to fit is Vasuki’s method of escape. The shakings of Ganeśa’s head to dislodge the serpent are auspicious. Professor Isaacson noticed that the chain of causality in this verse has a timeless, mechanical inevitability.
Now continuing our journey with the Abhisārikā, Professor Isaacson writes, ‘she is sometimes observed, and sometimes spoken to (usually, apparently, by a friendly lady, who may offer her advice).’
kva prasthitāsi karabhoru ghane niśīthe
prāṇādhiko vasati yatra nijaḥ priyo me ।
ekākinī vada kathaṃ na bibheṣi bāle
nanv asti puṅkhitaśaro madanaḥ sahāyaḥ ॥ 12
In this verse from the Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa 816 the Abhisārikā is questioned. Q: Where are you going (kva prasthitāsi), o Beauty (karabha-uru), on this dark night (ghane niśithe)? A: To where my sweetheart lives (vasati yatra nijaḥ) who is dearer to me than life (prāṇā-adhikaḥ priyaḥ me). Q: Tell me (vada), why (kathaṃ) are you alone (ekākinī), why are you not frightened, young girl (na bibheṣi bāle)? A: Because I have a friend (sahāyaḥ), the God of Love (Madana), who is armed with feathered arrows (puṅkhita-śara).
When the Abhisārikā is on her path, she is also often imagined to encounter snakes that look so much like the heroine’s anklets (nūpura). This was already alluded to earlier and Professor Isaacson illustrated the motif with a verse from the Saduktikarṇāmṛta 782 (attributed to Dhūrjaṭi) that is also found in the Sūktimuktāvalī abhisārikāpaddhati as verse 9.
ayam aparatra na vīkṣitaḥ śruto vā ।
ahim api yad iyam nirāsa nāṅghrer
nibiḍitanūpuram ātmanīnabuddhyā ॥ 13
Here we learned that, such desire for a lovers’ tryst (abhisaraṇa-rasaḥ) as displayed by the thin, wisp of a girl (kṛśāṅga-yaṣṭer) had never before been seen nor heard. She did not remove from her foot (nirāsa nāṅghrer) even a snake (ahim api) that had pressed itself tightly to her anklet (nibiḍita-nūpuram) because it had thought that the anklet was one of its kind (ātmanīna-buddhyā). Alternately, as Professor Isaacson noted, the compound ātmanīna-buddhyā could be understood according to Aṣṭādhyāyī 5.1.9 and ātmanīna can mean ‘beneficial to oneself’. In this case we can take the buddhi as belonging to the girl and understand that she did not shake of the snake because she realised its presence was beneficial to her, i.e. it was tampering the jangling of her anklet.
We took our final three verses on the Tāṇḍava from Somadeva’s Kathāsaritsāgara to explore the question of ‘like father, like son?’ The dance so strongly associated with Śiva is not infrequently danced by his elephant-headed son Gaṇeśa. Professor Isaacson noted that the feeling is a little different when Gaṇeśa dances.
sa vo vighneśvaraḥ pāyān namitonnamiteva yam ।
anunṛtyati nṛtyantaṃ saṃdhyāsu bhuvanāvalī ॥ 14
This verse 13.1.1 from the Kathāsaritsāgara asks: ‘May that lord of obstacles (vighneśvara) protect you (pāyāt vaḥ)’. Defying direct English translation, the whole cosmos appears to dance with Ganeśa. When he dances (nṛtyantam) the row of all the worlds (bhuvana-avalī) dances after him (anunṛtyanti) as if made to go up and down again (namita-unnamitā). This has a similar cosmic character to Śiva’s dance but rather a more sweet and gentle tone than the destructive falling of mountains which characterised the start of this reading.
niśi vighnajito vo ‘vyāt tāṇḍavoddaṇḍitaḥ karaḥ ।
śoṇaś candrātapatrasya tanvan vidrumadaṇḍatām ॥ 15
Verse 14.1.2 of the Kathāsaritsāgara asks: ‘May the trunk (karaḥ) of the conqueror of obstacles (vighna-jitaḥ) protect you (vaḥ avyāt)’; the trunk that in the Tāṇḍava is stretched up like a stick (taṇḍava-uddaṇḍitaḥ) in the night (niśi). This reddish (śonaḥ), upraised trunk is as if (tanvan) a coral handle (vidruma-daṇḍatām) for the white parasol moon (candra-ātapatrasya). Again, here is an absence of any sense of danger and destruction.
niśāsu tāṇḍavoddaṇḍaśuṇḍāsītkāraśīkaraiḥ ।
jyotīṃṣi puṣṇann iva vas tamo muṣṇātu vighnajit ॥ 16
Kathāsaritsāgara 15.1.1 asks: ‘May the destroyer of obstacles (Vighnajit, Ganeśa) destroy your dimness (vas tamo muṣṇātu)’. At night he appears as if nourishing (puṣṇan) the heavenly bodies (jyotīṃṣi) with the spray of his ‘seet’ sound (śīt-kāra–śīkharaiḥ) made with his trunk (śuṇḍa) that is upraised in the Tāṇḍava dance. This ‘seet’ sound has an erotic connotation.
The Abhisārikā’s tryst with her lover, should she successfully reach the meeting place, may be thwarted if he does not show up. In the following verse, the Sūktimuktāvalī abhisārikāpaddhati 13, it is not yet certain whether he will come or not; the Abhisārikā has safely reached the meeting place in a park (ambhojākṣyāḥ puravanalatā-dhāmni saṃketa-bhājaś), but her beloved is late (ceto-nāthe cirayati). She falls asleep; the description in the second half of the verse of what happens then is a striking image which not only is meant to show how beautiful she is, but also has a symbolic meaning/implication.
ambhojākṣyāḥ puravanalatādhāmni saṃketabhājaś
cetonāthe cirayati bhṛśaṃ mohanidrāṃ gatāyāḥ ।
svacchaṃ nābhihradavalayitaṃ kāntaratnāṃśujālaṃ
toyabhrāntyā pibati hariṇī vismayaṃ ca prayāti ॥ 16
The Abhisārikā is in a deep sleep of infatuation (bhṛśaṃ moha-nidrāṃ gatāyāḥ) awaiting her lover. The mass of rays from the beautiful jewels emitting a clear light (kānta-ratna-aṃśu-jālam) is enclosed (valayita) within the pool (hrada) of her navel (nābhi). A female dear (hariṇī) comes, sees this beautiful light, mistakes it for water (toya-bhrānti) but cannot drink it (pibati) and in disappointment (vismayam) goes away (prayāti). In a metaphorical sense the hariṇīstands for the girl herself: she saw something she thought was beautiful and nourishing but was actually an illusion – the lover will not come.
The final verse in our reading, one of Professor Isaacson’s favourites, from Sūktimuktāvalī Abhisārikā 15, Subhāṣitāvalī 1940 (Abhisārikā), Padyāvalī 215 (with attribution to Kaṅka), considers what happens if the lover does not come at all.
uttiṣṭha dūti yāmo yāmo yātas tathāpi nāyātaḥ ।
yātaḥ param api tiṣṭhej jīvitanāśo bhavet tasyāḥ ॥ 17
Stand up (uttiṣṭha), O messenger (dūti), we’re going (yāmaḥ); a whole watch (yāmaḥ – a night watch is three hours) has passed (yātaḥ) and yet he has not come (na āyātaḥ). Somebody who remains even longer than this will certainly die (jīvita-nāśa). One interpretation is that it is a matter of self-preservation to harden the heart and walk away. Professor Isaacson noted that the Subhāṣitāvalī and Padyāvalī transmit the reading jīvitanātho instead of jīvitanāśo, and that reading is also known to some Alaṃkāraśāstra authors. It too is beautiful, giving the verse a different effect. This feistier interpretation would be: let another one who will wait more than three hours have him as husband (jīvita-nātha).
Harunaga Isaacson was born in Kuma, Japan, in 1965. He studied philosophy and Indology at the University of Groningen (MA 1990), and was awarded a PhD in Sanskrit by the University of Leiden in 1995. From Autumn 1995 to Summer 2000 he was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. After holding teaching positions at Hamburg University and the University of Pennsylvania, he was appointed Professor of Classical Indology in the Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, Asien-Africa-Institut, Hamburg University, in 2006. His main research interests are tantric traditions in pre-13th century South Asia, especially Vajrayāna; classical Sanskrit poetry; classical Indian philosophy; and Purāṇic literature.