SUGGESTION IN SANSKRIT POETICS
(suggestion in poetry)
A beginner's translation for beginners
Dhvanyalokam, meaning a general view of dhvani, is a treatise/textbook, written by a scholar, (who as many of the erudite of those times, has written also some not-so well-known poems,) born in Kashmir in the second half of the 9th century AD.
The original work of the author is, following the custom of those days, in the form of verses, called "karika". Some authors write in the form of aphorisms (sutra). This normally covers the main points in a concise manner, probably to help people remember.
It is usual for himself or another scholar to sort of paraphrase, called "vriththi", to expand the ideas and to make the meaning clear. In course of time, come commentaries, which discuss the theme critically, answer adverse criticisms, and generally make it more understandable to a beginner. (There are other types of commentaries, like "Bhashyam", which tries to interpret the text in the light of further knowledge)
Dhvanyalokam is in four chapters, called "udyotha", roughly meaning lights, (to help the aloka or view of Dhvani.
In the first chapter, a general definition is given. In the second chapter, the different kinds of themes suggested are gone into. The third deals with the different means of suggesting the various themes. The fourth concludes the discussion, showing how the poet's imagination is beyond classification and has no limits.
It is essential to know something of the sanskrit version of semantics, the science of meaning, in order to understand the discussion on poetics in sanskrit. The word's power to convey a meaning is supposed to come in three different ways.
(1) what they call "Abhidha", (the primary) (2) "lakshana", the special contextual meaning and (3) "vyannjana" the suggested meaning. It is somewhat different from denotation and connotation in the European tradition.
(1) Controversies regarding existence of dhvani
It has been said by the wise men of old that the soul of poetry is Suggestion. But some have denied its existence, even though it is experienced by many sensitive readers. Those, who so deny, take the following positions:
Some say, a poem is after all a body composed of sounds and meanings. Now the qualities of sound, like alliteration, which enhance the beauty of the poem, are well established. Also those of the meaning, like simile are known. The qualities which belong to the organization of sounds like "sweetness" etc. are also understandable. We have heard of other qualities called "vritthis" like "genteel" etc., which are not really very different from the above. In the same way there are "styles" (reethis) etc. like "vaidarbhi". What is this new thing called "dhvani" now?
Others say, there is no dhvani. Any composition of a type which does not belong to the established categories cannot be poetry. The definition of poetry is that it constitutes sound and meaning in such a way that it appeals to the hearts of sensitive readers. And it can never apply to any way which is different from the above said schools. Ascribing the name of poetry to dhvani, because there are a few people who follow this path, will not be acceptable to the majority of scholars.
There are still others who deny the concept of dhvani by saying that there is nothing new in it. If it is something which adds to the charm of poetry, it must be part of all the known qualities which give poetry its beauty. To give a new name to one of those is superfluous.
Because of the unlimited numbers of words and meanings, it is possible that, over and above the well known qualities described by the great critics, there may be a small thing omitted by them, which some pseudo connoisseurs blow out of proportion and make a song and dance of it. We don't know why. There are thousands of figures of speech, which have been described and are being described by great men. But none of them have got into this state. Therefore this dhvani is only idle talk. It is impossible to show any substance in it worth serious study.
And somebody has even written a poem to this effect:
What the silly person, who jumps around praising, as having dhvani, a poem, which has no mind-pleasing theme or figures of speech, which is not composed of alluring words, and which has no nice turns of expression, will say, we do not know, when asked by an intelligent man to explain the true nature of dhvani!
Others say that this dhvani is only a form of "bhakthi".(Bhakthi, in the jargon of these theoreticians, means the process of attributing a meaning other than the conventional, to a word when the conventional meaning does not suit the context. It is also called "Gunavritti" and "Lakshana".) Not that any body has expressly defined gunavritti or any other as dhvani, but they have touched upon dhvani, by showing the role of secondary meanings in poetry. Keeping this in mind, we say that dhvani has been defined as bhakthi by some.
Some shy away from defining poetry and say that the essence of poetry is something beyond all words and can be appreciated only by those who have a taste for it.
Because of these stands, we will explain the nature of dhvani for the satisfaction of those who are interested. And this nature has not been elucidated by the sharp intellects of olden times, though it is the very essence of poetic charm. We would like to demonstrate it in Ramayana, Mahabharatha and other great works in order to further the enjoyment of the readers.
definition of dhvani.
(1)The sense which is acclaimed as the soul of poetry by the readers with sensibility is often considered to be of two kinds: primary and secondary, or denotation and connotation. Out of these the primary, made attractive by means of figures of speech like simile, have been explained in detail by the experts in poetics.
However there is another suggested meaning in the expressions of great poets, which shines forth from their beautiful parts, like the glow in the body of a girl, different from her beautiful features.
The suggested meaning may be (1)another fact, (2) a figure of speech, or (3) an emotion or feeling. Examples of the first are given first:
(1)This suggested fact may be the opposite of the expressed one, sometimes appearing to permit, while meaning to prohibit, something. As an example, see the following poem:
Wander freely without fear, good man;
Today that dog has been killed
By the proud lion who lurks in the woods
On the marshy banks of the river Goda.
(here if this is spoken loudly by a girl waiting for her lover for a rendezvous in a quiet spot, it may be to deter him in view of a greater danger than expected to their privacy.)
Sometimes on the other hand, it may appear prohibitive, but be actually permissive:
Mother-in-law sinks in sleep here,
Here I sleep, during the day look well.
Do not fall, blind at night, you, oh guest,
Into my bed on your way to your place!
(here the loose girl might be inviting her lover to her bed, while appearing to warn against it.)
Sometimes it may appear permissive, but actually may mean neither:
Oh you, inconsiderate, go by all means,
Let the sighs and weepings be mine alone.
May you too not suffer those
Miseries for want of her.
(here a girl must be only expressing her frustration, not meaning to allow or not, the husband's departure to her co-wife.)
In the same way, it may appear to prohibit, but again not mean either:
I plead, please return; your face
Bright as the moon dispels the darkness dense.
You'll cause problems, oh poor girl,
To other girls who in the dark head that way.
(here while appearing to disallow going, it does not mean either go or not go; it only pities her condition in that her lover has other secret loves.)
Another example is where one thing is said, meaning something else:
Who will not get angry,
Seeing his love's lips all cut?
Naughty girl, you didn't listen,
And sniffed the thorny rose!
(here a clever friend must be trying to protect her from the lover's jealousy, hiding the fact of her love affair with another)
There are many such examples of suggestion of meanings different from the stated primary one; only a few are given here as a guideline. In the examples above, a fact is suggested by another fact.
There is a second type, where a figure of speech is suggested; this will be discussed later in detail.
There is also a third type where it is an emotion which is conveyed, through suggestion, not through explicit statement. Clearly, naming the emotion by the poet will not make the reader experience it directly. It is the evocative description of the context and exciting objects, which generates the emotion in the reader's mind; that also is through a process of suggestion, not the actual word itself. It will be shown later how the emotion is produced in the mind instantaneously along with the direct meaning of words. (clearly, by merely using emotive words like joy, fear, etc., or names of pleasing objects like rose ,etc., a poet cannot evoke the corresponding feelings in a reader.)
The emotional content is the real soul, the most important and valued thing, in the midst of all other beauties of expression and ideas in poetry; it is the anguish of the first of poets, Valmeeki, at the sight of a bereaved bird, that burst out into the form of a poem!
"hunter, you will not find lasting peace,
since you have killed a lovelorn bird".
Here sadness, the chief feeling of the "rasa" pathos is evoked by suggestion. This applies to the other types in which another fact or figure of speech is similarly evoked by suggestion.
(2) The suggestive expressions of great poets, pouring out exquisite ideas, reveal their extraordinarily brilliant flights of imagination. In this world of very many wonderfully accomplished poets, only two or three, five or six, like Kalidasa, are counted as really great poets, because of this.
With a mere knowledge of grammar or semantics, it is not possible to appreciate this essential charm of poetry; only those who have understood this true essence of poetry, will be able to do so. It is in the same way as music can not be appreciated just by studying theories regarding it.
This suggested theme and the special use of suitable expressions are rare. One must make an effort to
Just as one has to light a lamp in order to see at night, one has indeed to be attentive to the directly expressed ideas, as a means to the suggested. Just as it is necessary to know the meanings of words, in order to understand the meaning of a sentence, one has to understand the expressed idea, in order to come at the suggested idea. Just as the word meanings are not remembered after they help communicate the meaning of the sentence, the suggested meaning suddenly flashes into the minds of a sensitive reader, who is then no more conscious of the expressed idea.
(3) Dhvani is defined by scholars as that type of poetry, in which the word and its meaning, subordinating themselves, suggest another meaning. From this it is clear that Dhvani, as defined here, is different from simile, alliteration etc., which depend for their appeal on the sounds and conventional meanings of words.
To say that what is against the established theories can not be poetry, is silly. It is not poetry, only for those critics who sees things through definitions; for the vast number of readers who judge by experience, it is the only essence of poetry that gives special delight. Poetry devoid of this suggestive element is called "chitra" (designed to surprise the reader at the poet's cleverness?), as will be shown later.
It is not correct to say either that dhvani is already included in the beautiful figures of speech; how can dhvani which depends on suggestion be included in the figures of speech which depend only on plain expression? The figures of speech which indeed add great beauty to a composition, are the parts of dhvani, not itself, as will be shown later.
Now one can object, "it is ok that the poems in which there is nothing clearly suggested is not dhvani; but what about those figures of speech in which there is an element of suggestion?". The phrase, subordinating themselves, is included in the definition in order to refute it.
It is dhvani only if the word and its plain meaning are completely subordinate while suggesting another thing. How can it be included in figures of speech where the plain meaning is the important element?
As an example, see "samasokthi", a figure of speech defined as : when a present situation is described with qualifications which apply also to another situation out of context, it is called samasokthi.
In the following poem which describes the evening time, the primary meaning of the gradual brightening of the evening sky as he moon rises in the east and the other associated meaning of lovers' behaviour are both expressed by the double meanings of adjectival words. The rasa, erotic feeling, is suggested, but subordinate to the beauty of the simile.
the face of the Night , with throbbing stars,
was so held by the red-hued Moon,
that her clothes-like darkness slipped in the east
without her noticing it at all.
(Here the word meaning red is raga which means both love and red; and the word for star is tharakom which also means pupil of the eye; and the word for east means also front.)
There is a class of such figures of speech, where there is an element of suggestion, but the most striking meaning is the expressed meaning involved, of two things associated by simile or other figure of speech.
Some more examples:
Akshepa: (apparent denial)
I say this for the sake of
my lovesick friend;
why don't you stay awhile?-
or why talk to a heartless man!
in your absence, the pretty girl
seeing the jasmine flower bloom,
oh so much--or what's the use
of all this talking now!
Here the apparent denial hardly conceals the speaker's desire to say a lot. Both are expressly stated but by the elliptical way of expression. The suggested meaning is the feeling of the love- jealousy condition of the girl and/or the tension in the minds of the friends at their plight. This feeling is less prominent than the statement and so will not be included in Dhvani.
There is another figure of speech, called "aprasthuthaprashamsa", meaning saying an apparently irrelevant thing, obliquely referring to the present context because of similarity or other relation, as in:
the dust that, stamped by foot,
sets itself on the top of head
is far better than him who
remains quiet when insulted.
Here a general apparently irrelevant statement is made, in order to provoke somebody to action.
Or take this:
the moon who holds in his lap a deer
is called a deer-smirched one.
the lion who kills herds of deer
is called the lord of beasts.
Here the particular instance of the lion and moon is mentioned to prove a general statement about how a cruel but mighty person is more respected than a considerate and mild one. The suggested feeling is the speaker's anger at the unfairness of the world's attitude
garland of lotuses is too rough,
the stalks to one's mind is not soft,
against the delicacy of your limbs;
about tender leaves, what to say!
By setting side by side many beautiful things and rejecting them, the exquisiteness of the girl's beauty, the cause of rejection, is highlighted. The suggested feeling of a lover's longing evoked is subordinate to the beauty of this figure of speech.
when in spite of all pleading soft words,
I in a huff was bent on going far,
the girl with a sign to her pet cat,
blocked in a minute my way out.
Here from the move of the girl, is highlighted the return of the lover, the result of her action. The suggested feelings of love quarrel and reconciliation is there, but not so prominent as the stated situation.
The connection in the above examples is general vs. particular, or cause vs. effect. the fifth is one of similarity as in:
if a dog, decked in false mane on its shoulders,
is raised to the status of a lion,
how can he make that roar which cleaves
through the temples of a rutting elephant
oh champak, why be sad
if the impure-hearted bee does not care for you!
let the maidens' tresses, world alluring
as new rain clouds, be happy wearing you!
In both, the reference to an unworthy person, who in one case assumes a position beyond his capacities, and in the other case not able to appreciate true worth is brought out. The suggested feelings of anger/ sadness at these ironies of life are not so prominent as the stated meaning
In short, the figures of speech in which the suggested ideas are subservient to the stated ones and not the most striking, are not part of Dhvani. Only when all the words and meanings, unmixed with other considerations, are completely focused on suggestion, can they be taken as Dhvani. Thus Dhvani cannot be part of any other thing.
The concept of Dhvani comes from the scholars of language, since all knowledge is based on that of language. A word is based on a sequence of sounds which appear and disappear fast; the set of sounds latent in the mind, from which the word-forms with their meanings evolve, is called by them "Sphota". Dhvani is the intermediate formless thing between the individual sounds and the final word-form, and is considered to suggest the latter. Dhvani in poetics is hypothesized in similarity to this grammatical concept.
We are devoting a whole book to studying Dhvani and its various aspects, rather than the figures of speech, since we consider it as the most important part of a poem. Figures of speech etc. serve only to embellish it.
Dhvani is first divided into two broad categories: (1) where the expressed meaning is ignored and (2) where the expressed meaning is retained.
Example of the 1st.:
these three gather flowers of gold
from all over earth.
the bold, the learned, and those who
know how to serve.
Since there are no gold flowers to be picked up on the earth, one will understand that they refer to wealth that can be earned easily by the smart. The idea of gathering and gold is completely out of mind, once the final meaning is realized.
Example of the 2nd:
in which mountain, how long, and of what name,
is the penance this parrot child has done!
so that, my pretty girl, he bites
this cherry, like your lips so red!
Here the idea, of somebody doing severe penance to achieve a great wish, remains in the background, along with the beauty of the red-lipped girl.
Difference between dhvani and lakshana
It is to be noted that dhvani, as defined here, has nothing in common with the secondary meaning from the process called Lakshana, since both have different forms. In dhvani, the purpose of words and meanings is to suggest something completely different from them, while the secondary meaning in Lakshana is merely an added one. it can be shown that, where there is lakshana, there need not be suggestion sometimes,and also that without lakshana there can be suggestion.
For example,in many expressions like "Delhi's stand is thus", "the white is winning", "the spears are coming next", etc., the words Delhi, white, spears might mean respectively the government, a white horse, soldiers carrying spears, because of custom. in these cases there is no question of any other suggestion.
Some examples from poetry follow:
Dried up on either side by contact with the plump breasts and hip, green in the middle where not touched by the waist,
ruffled by the limp hands thrown about restlessly, this lotus- leaf bed speaks of the anguish of the delicate girl.
In this verse from Shakunthala of Kalidasa, the word speak is used in the sense of "clearly show", and there is no suggestion other than this. In the same way, the word, "punaruktham", meaning said again and again, when used about an action as is common, means only repeated. There are other words, which are used commonly in a different sense from the original, and so cannot be included in the Dhvani category. For example, the word "laavanya" is used in the sense of luster, though the actual meaning is saltiness.
See the following:
angry, pleased, laughing or with tear- wet face, as they are caught, the naughty girls steal our hearts.
Here, because of the process of referring (lakshana", "steal" means attract, and "caught" means seen.
In the following,
the husband's slap with a tender creeper
given on the bosom of the youngest wife,
ever so mild, was an insufferable blow
to the hearts of the other wives.
"given" means, only performed.
Another example of a referred meaning, as against suggested, is the following:
if the sugarcane that suffers squeezing for others' sake, is sweet even when cut, and appeals in all its forms, fails, fallen in unsuitable place, to grow, is it its fault, or of the barren desert?
Here "suffer" means only "be subject to" and is used as a figure of speech, where an irrelevant statement is made to highlight the condition of a good person not able to prosper in unsuitable conditions.
The element of suggestion which is present in the above examples through the various figures of speech, is not sufficient to make it a poem of dhvani type, because those in which the charm of the poem is only due to the suggestive words is what is considered as dhvani by us.
when your face lights up with a smile
filling the whole world with a bright luster,
that this sea does not show the slightest swell
clearly shows how dull and cold a mass it is!
concluding the chapter 1
When the primary meaning is abandoned, and another meaning is resorted
to by "lakshana"for a certain purpose, the words do express that purpose. ( reference to another meaning by lakshana is either from convention, or from the derivation of the word, or for a particular effect/purpose.)
How can Dhvani, which depends on suggestion alone, be the same as Lakshana which depends only on the expressed meaning!
It may be that lakshana is a partial definition of certain kind of Dhvani. it is ok for us, if dhvani is defined in other ways.
It also is meaningless to say that dhvani is indefinable, when we are able to show, by reasoning, its true nature. If the idea is to pay a tribute by exaggeration to the greatness of this type of poetry above all other types, they are quite correct!