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Ksemendra - A People's Poet

by Pradeep Kaul (Khodballi)

Kashmir has since very early times been called "Sharda Desha" or the Land of Goddess Saraswati. Kashmir's contribution to the Indian thought has been of immense artistic, esoteric and aesthetic value. In the field of poetry Kashmir produced great Savants who were not only revered in Kashmir but accepted as authorities outside as well. Mammat's 'Kavya Prakash' still remains the most authentic and authoritative work on poetics in the whole gamut of Sanskrit literature. Whereas Kashmir produced people of great eminence it also gave to us a poet par excellence in Ksemendra.

Ksemendra flourished in the last quarter of tenth and first half of the eleventh century. He was a near contemporary of the great Abhinava Gupta. Ksemendra himself acknowledges to have been instructed in 'Alankar Shastras' by the great Acharya. 'Alankar Shastra' pertains to ornamentation of poetry. Ksemendra is a poet of excellence blat what makes him even more important and relevant is his concern for the downtrodden, the common man, the unlettered, the courtesan etc. In a bold but lucid way he lays bare the social evils and rampant corruption in those times. The exploitation of the oppressed by the elite, exploitation of the scribes ('Kayasthas') and bureaucracy finds ample space in all his works. His heart seems to cry in pain upon seeing degeneration acid exploitation all around.

Ksemendra's works and literary activities are spread over many diverse fields. He is a summariser of the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. He is an adopter of 'Brahatkatha' of Gunnadiya. He is a commentator on 'Dashavtarcharita' and author of 'Baudvandana Kalaplata'. In depiciting his http://ikashmir.net/gallery with an exact sense of chronology so lamentably absent in majority of Indian and his contemporaneous writers makes him very valuable. He is a tireless satirist. He also wrote important works on poetics and rhetorics.

Ksemendra's important contribution to the Sanskrit literature has been his rendition of Gunnaday's 'Brahatkatha' in Sanskrit. Gunnaday was an author from Frontier provinces who had originally written 'Brhatkatha' in 'Paischashi' language. It is highly probable that 'Paischashi' was the early corns of modern Pushto language now spoken in North West Pakistan and Western Afghanistan. Some scholars are of the, view that Gunnaday wrote in Paishachi of Vindhyas. By rendering 'Brahatkatha' into Sanskrit as 'Brahatkatha Manjri' he helped to save 'Brahatkatha' for posterity. 'Brahatkatha Manjri' is in verse and describes the lives, campaigns and amorous dalliances of various kings especially of King Udyana. He summarised Ramayana as 'Ramayana Manjari' and Mahabharta as 'Mahabharta Manjari'. The thing of curious interest in 'Mahabharta Manjari' is that the author has not included 'Shanti Parva which forms an important part in the present rendering of Mahabharta. How could a poet of such high merit and eminence make such serious omission is a matter to be pondered upon. Ksemendra was not only author of Hindu lore. He also wrote many works on Buddhism. In 'Baudvandana Kalaplata' he compiled Jataka tales. This work is a collection of 107 chapters (Pallavas). 'Baudvandana Kalaplata', it may be added is still considered an important work by Buddhists. In Tibet it is available in an interesting form of Tibetian woodcuts. This work has been translated in Dogri and other languages also.

What makes Ksemendra a poet of different class and calibre is his work 'Kalavilas'. This work is divided into ten chapters or cantos. Each canto is devoted to a person who is present in every society and every epoch. In 'Kalavilas' a super cheat Muldeva instructs his pupil Chandergupta in all subtle and salient traits which a super cheat is supposed to master. Ksemendra with wit and wisdom describes the inner weakness of man and society. With wonderful insight he describes the courtesan, the clerk, the gold-smith etc. Kalavilas makes him a total poet. This is why it seems that Ksemendra is as relevant today as he was in his times. He uses Parihas (jokes) to depict the various characters of his times in his work 'Narma Mala'. In 'Narma Mala' he vehemently attacks the clerk (Kayastha). Kayasthas, were in those times very powerful and in a way represented the corrupt official machinery of those times. Kayasthas were sucking the blood of the ignorant, poor people. The role of Kayasthas has attracted the attention of Kalhana also who has written about their dirty role in the society. He says that Kayasthas sit on files like coiled serpents. His handwriting is crooked and deliberately illegible to escape the notice or inquiry of any person of consequence. After amassing illgotten wealth Kayastha's wife drinks wine scented with rare musk who previously would relish to drink scum, with equal intensity.

Ksemendra is critical of misers. It seems that our people's poet had an intimate knowledge and understanding of human psychology. He has with sheer penetrating insight portrayed the decadent values and human failings of his times in simple but effective words. With heavy heart he describes the fallen virtues of 'Bhatta' (Pandit). He describes him as a liquor addict who though initiated (with Yagnopavit) is now completely overpowered by Vamachara. Unabashedly the 'Bhatta' proceeds towards the house of his Guru with a plate of fish to learn scriptures.

From the fertile pen of Ksemendra has come up an interesting work of 'Samaya Matrika'. Literally 'Samaya Matrika' means the mother of the times. A cursory peep into the title would suggest that by 'Samaya Matrika' our author points towards Goddess Shakti or her various forms. In this case it is not so. Here by 'Samaya Matrika' the author means the all powerful, disarming courtesan or harlot. With rare and vivid description he describes the super seductress 'Kankali'. Ksemendra described Kankali's heroics and triumphs over men of all classes and inclinations. 'Kankali' the courtesan has studied the psychologies of her prey and with relish prays upon hunt. She has been immortalized by the author for she is no ordinary vamp but one who is not only a subtle wooer but a patient psychologist. By depicting these characters Ksemendra earnestly wishes to reform the degradation in the society. He wishes every member of the society to behave in an upright manner. This seems to be one of the compelling reason why he wrote another work 'Auchitya Vicharcharcha' which is a work on propriety. The author was bestowed upon with a great sense of history. After reading his works one is able to know everything about the period he lived in. He has preserved some thing novel and precious for us which would have been wiped out otherwise. In a way Kshemendra was a bright social scientist of his time. He was a perfectionist who with his immense talents wrote on diverse subjects with equal authority and finesse. Ksemendra was a poet who belonged to the people We all should read the works of this peerles ancestor of ours so that we understand his works and through them get a glimpse of his turbulent times (which seem so similar to the present times) and benefit from their study.

Source: Vitasta

 
 

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