Sanskrit Tidbits-10: Fun with riddles in Sanskrit
Sanskrit is also fun. Did you know Sanskrit literature is full of puns? In 1982, Gurupad K. Hegde wrotean entire book titled “Pun in Sanskrit Literature”. It was published by Mysore College and has more than 300 examples. These puns are often used for riddles (प्रहेलिका). Take the following example.
पानियम् पातुमिच्छामि त्वत्तः कमललोचने |
यदि दास्यसि नेच्छामि न दास्यसि पिबाम्यहम् ||
What does this mean? You know enough Sanskrit to translate this now. “O lotus-eyed one! I wish to have a drink from you. If you give it to me, I don’t want it. But if you don’t give it to me, I will drink it.” The translation was straightforward, but it makes no sense. However, that’s because we haven’t broken it up properly. दास्यसि means “you give”. However, it can also be broken up as दासि असि, “if you are a servant-maid”. The second sentence now changes. “If you are a servant-maid, I don’t want it. If you are not a servant-maid, I will drink it.” Forget the norms of the times, when one didn’t drink water from a servant-maid. But the statement now makes sense.
The next one is slightly contrived, but I am giving it because it is clever.
तमाखुपत्रं राजेन्द्र भज माञ्जानदायकम्।
तमाखुपत्रं राजेन्द्र भज माञ्जानदायकम्॥
What on earth is this? We have got the same sentence twice. राजेन्द्र is Indra among kings, or a great king. Let’s take the first sentence first. तमाखु is tobacco and तमाखुपत्रं is tobacco-leaf. भज is to serve, or be addicted to. माञ्जानदायकम् is मा अञ्जानदायकम्, अञ्जानदायकम् meaning something that is the cause of ignorance. So, we now have the first sentence. “O Indra among kings! Do not be addicted to tobacco-leaf, which is the cause of ignorance.” Let’s move on to the second sentence and break तमाखुपत्रं as तम् आखु पत्रं. आखु is a rat and a slightly rare meaning of पत्र is vessel or carrier. Who is carried on a rat? Ganesha. Now we have the first part of the second sentence. “O Indra among kings! Worship Ganesha.” Break up माञ्जानदायकम् as मा ञ्जानदायकम्, the mother who is the source of knowledge. The mother can be the goddess Lakshmi or Sarasvati, probably Sarasvati, because knowledge is mentioned. “O Indra among kings! Worship Ganesha and Sarasvati, the source of knowledge.” The मा ञ्जानदायकम् part seems to me to be contrived. Nevertheless, it is clever.
हनूमति हतारामे वानराः हर्षनिर्भराः ।
रुदन्ति राक्षसाः सर्वे हा हारामो हतो हतः ॥
Hanumat is Hanuman. The word means someone with a jaw. Since we have begun to learn Sanskrit, why Hanumat and not Hanuman? Let me leave that as a quiz question. Anyway, the straightforward translation is, “When Hanumat killed Rama, the monkeys were full of delight. All the rakshasas wept and exclaimed, alas! Alas! Rama has been killed.” We have the translation, but it doesn’t make sense. The point is that आरामः means a grove or garden and we should break it up as आरामः, not राम:. We know that Hanumat destroyed Ravana’s pleasure-garden. Now the translation becomes, “When Hanumat destroyed the pleasure-garden, the monkeys were full of delight. All the rakshasas wept and exclaimed, alas! Alas! The pleasure-garden has been destroyed.”
ऐकोनबिम्शति स्नानार्थम् सरयूम् गता ।
बिम्शति पुनर्याता ऐका व्याघ्रेण भक्षिता ॥
Nineteen women went to the Sarayu to have a bath. One was eaten by a tiger and twenty returned. How is that possible? The answer lies in breaking up ऐकोनबिम्शति as ऐक: ना बिम्शति, with ना being used in the sense of “and”. Notice the gender of the adjective. Therefore, one man and twenty women went to the Sarayu to have a bath and it is clear how twenty managed to return.
Here is one more pure प्रहेलिका, though it doesn’t quite have a pun. Perhaps it becomes easier to understand if one breaks it up. It has न at the beginning and न at the end. It has य in the middle. You have it and I have it. If you know the answer, tell me. In case you haven’t guessed, the answer is नयन, eye.
न तस्यादिर्न तस्यान्तं मध्ये यस्तस्य तिष्ठति।
तवाप्यस्ति ममाप्यस्ति यदि जानासि तद्वद ॥
न तस्य आदिः न तस्य अन्तं मध्ये यः तस्य तिष्ठति ।
तव अपि अस्ति मम अपि अस्ति यदि जानासि तत् वद ॥
Everyone is familiar with the following shloka. It is believed to be the first shloka of the Valmiki Ramayana. I am using the word “believed” deliberately, because the shloka doesn’t figure in some critical texts of the Valmiki Ramayana. Everyone knows the story. There was a hunter (निषाद), who killed one out a pair of curlews or snipes when they were mating. Valmiki saw this and cursed him that he would not obtain tranquility, comfort, a home, or any form of establishment for a long time. (Alternatively, he would not live for a long time.) This is the first shloka that Valmiki uttered and this is therefore the first shloka of Sanskrit literature too.
मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वं अगम: शाश्वती: समाः ।
यतक्रौञ्चमिथुनादएकमवधीः काममोहितम् ॥
But did you know that one can apply puns to this shloka too? I don’t like such contrived explanations, especially because the meanings of some of the words are extremely convoluted. For example, मा is interpreted as Lakshmi and निषाद is interpreted as place of residence. Lakshmi’s abode is Rama or Vishnu. क्रौञ्च is interpreted as crooked, the crooked couple in question being Ravana and Mandodari and Rama killed one of these two. Here then, is a translation that comes straight off the Net. Hence, it is within quotes. “O Vishnu/Rama! May you obtain a reputation for several years, because out of the couple, you killed the crooked one, who was overcome with lust.” As I said, I don’t like such convoluted interpretations. However, the point is to tell you that such contrived explanations are also possible.
रामम् दशरथम् विद्धि माम् विद्धि जनक आत्मजाम् |
अयोध्याम् अटवीम् विद्धि गच्च तात यथा सुखम् ||
This shloka is also from Valmiki Ramayana and is from Ayodhya Kanda. There were several Vararuchis. According to legend, one of these was one of the nine jewels in King Vikramaditya’s court. King Vikramaditya asked Vararuchi to identify the best shloka in the Valmiki Ramayana and he chose this, because it had three different meanings. This shloka is being spoken by Sumitra to Lakshmana, as Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are about to depart for the forest. First – “Know Rama to be Dasharatha. Know the daughter of Janaka to be me. O son! Know the forest to be Ayodhya and depart happily.” Dasharatha also means someone with 10 bodies, or incarnations. And Ayodhya means something that cannot be conquered, that is, Vishnu’s abode of Vaikuntha. Thus, the second contrived translation – “Know Rama to be one of the 10 incarnations. Know the daughter of Janaka to be Lakshmi. O son! Know the forest to be Vaikuntha and depart happily.” Here, is the third translation, even more contrived. Remember that rama also means dead and janaka means father. “Know Dasharatha to be dead. Know that I will go to my father’s house (after Dasharatha dies). Know Ayodhya to have become a forest. O son! Depart happily.”