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The Journal of Hindu Studies 2010;3:3652

Advance Access Publication 23 March 2010

Doi: 10.1093/jhs/hiq010

Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty

in the Rmyaa, the Kvyas of Avaghoa,
and Klidsas Kumrasabhava
David Smith

This enquiry into the vocabulary of beauty and into beauty itself was written in
preparation for the translation and edition of Klidsas Kumrasabhava that I
undertook for the Clay Sanskrit Library.1 As part of a general survey of Klidsas
use of words, I here look at words relating to beauty in the Kumrasabhava in context, and also at those words frequency and usage in Avaghoas two mahkvyas,
and in the Rmyaa (see fig. 1).2 I have not taken Klidsas other works into
account. Other than the texts under consideration, my starting point for this paper
was Ingalls well-known essay on words for beauty in classical Sanskrit poetry
(kvya);3 and more generally with as ever inspiration from Renous wide-ranging
essay on the structure of kvya based on an examination of Bhravis Kirtrjunya.4
Ingalls procedure was to cull from a fourteenth century anthology, the Subhitaratnakoa, all the expressions which refer to anything covered in any way by English
or Western European notions of beauty.5 Ingalls showed that Almost all forms of
beauty as conceived by the Sanskrit poets begin with an appeal to the physical
senses, but this appeal usually carries on to a wider effect, to involve the heart
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Abstract: This paper examines particular words for beauty in four Sanskrit
poems (Vlmkis Rmyaa, Avaghoas Buddhacarita and Saundarananda,
Klidsas Kumrasabhava) and discusses the changing role of beauty in
Sanskrit poetry. Building on Ingalls study of words relating to beauty in the
Subhitaratnakoa, it is shown that beauty becomes increasingly important
and present in classical Sanskrit poetry as exemplied by the Kumrasabhava. Various words are studied in detail as they occur in the four poems. r,
royal beauty and success in the epics, comes to express the rule of beauty within
kvya from the time of Klidsa. ubha has a moral sense prior to Klidsa, but
this is not evident in the Kumrasabhava. Clearly important is the notion of
shining, where existence itself is to shine. Kvya comes to inhabit a wonderworld, where light itself is solidied. Localised instances of beauty in Vlmki
and Avaghoa become pervasive in Klidsa. However, Klidsas increasingly
beautied world is kept from absurdity by the human touches he scatters
through the Kumrasabhava, most notably in the unmade bed that comes at
the end of the poem.

David Smith


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Fig. 1. Words relating to beauty in Kumrasabhava, Saundarananda, Buddhacarita, and Rmyaa. In

view of their great frequency in the Rmyaa, obhita and rucira are listed even though they do not
occur in Kumrasabhava.


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

kalpavkaikhareu saprati
prasphuradbhir avikalpasundari/
hrayaigaanm ivubhi
kartum gatakuthala a//8.68//

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and mind as well. Ingalls also pointed out that the Indians never developed a Platonic division of the universe into beautiful and non-beautiful. Sanskrit has no
word for spiritual beauty; it speaks instead of spiritual truth.6
Ingalls aim was to obtain an overview of words for beauty in classical Sanskrit
poetry and to reflect the attitude to beauty in classical India. My aim is more limited, being only to examine words for beauty, and beauty in general, within one
court epic and within the antecedents of that court epic; though I do take the
Kumrasabhava as symptomatic of subsequent court epics. Both Klidsa and
Avaghoa were the heirs of Vlmki, whose epic sent kvya off in search of a world
of beauty, with Rma, Prince Charming as hero, and ramya as its most common
adjective,7 and one of its kas taking directly the name beautiful, the Sundara.
And the second of Avaghoas two mahkvyas has the title Saundarananda, Handsome Nanda. However, the role of beauty differs widely. In the Rmyaa, the
beauty of St, the majesty of Rma, the beauty of nature, and the beauty of
Rvaas palace are more or less subservient to the plot. Avaghoas poems, as
Buddhist texts, are necessarily anti-beauty. Handsome Nanda has to be disabused
of the value of good looks, of beauty. Buddha defeats Mra, but in Klidsa ivas
destruction of Kma brings about no diminution of Kmas power, and the
affirmation of beauty continues unabated. However, in brief concluding remarks
I shall indicate that humour moderates beautys powerful presence in the
Rather than concentrating on passages where beauty is especially important, as
for instance in Hanumns first sight of Rvaas palace, or Klidsas description of
Prvat, this enquiry sets out to give a more or less complete picture of the role of
beauty in the Kumrasabhava and some idea of how that picture relates to Klidsas surviving predecessors. By concentrating on words, one is led as it were willynilly through a whole text, words for beauty running like veins through a whole
work. By the time of Klidsa, kvya has made a decisive turn towards the wholely
beautiful, or would-be wholely beautiful world defined much later by Mammaa at
the beginning of the Kvyapraka as a creation that is free from the constraints of
natures laws, consisting entirely of pleasure, totally independent (niyatiktaniyamarahit hldaikamay ananyaparatantrm).
Kvya ends up by being a system for the production of beauty, just as much as for
the production of rasa. Like a court lady with her many different containers of
makeup, the poet has many different words for beauty, which can be applied as liberally as he wishes. To begin with, let us consider a verse near the end of Kumrasabhava where iva himself is describing the beauty of evening to Prvat.

David Smith


Now the moon with its beams

shining down on the tops
of the wish-granting trees
seems inquisitive,
making an inventory
of their pearl-necklaces,
O my lady of undoubted beauty!

goptra surasainyn ya purasktya gotrabhit/

pratyneyati atrubhyo bandm iva jayariyam//2.52//
Indra-the-mountain-breaker will put him
at our head as champion of the armies
of the gods and he will bring back from the foes
glorious victory like a female captive.
But otherwise r is the marker of beautys own regime. At the beginning of that
sarga (2.2), there is a play on the notion of r when we are told that those gods who
turn out to have lost their r, have the lustre, the r of their faces dimmed

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There is a delicious play here between the undoubted beauty correctly attributed
to Prvat and the supposition of a mercantile greed or envy on the part of the moon;
and the counting up that the moon does with the rays that are his fingers might be for
the moment applied to the counting up of words on which this paper is based, a
numerical process fundamentally at odds with the incalculable nature of beauty.
As kvya develops and moves away from narrative, it is quality of the avikalpatva
of beauty that comes evermore to the fore. It is not that beauty ceases in itself to be
transient and fragile, but its power within the poem becomes ever stronger, and
thus for instance the use of r at the end of compounds is a sign of the increasing
grip of beauty, of its regime. Renou sees this use of r as an instance of the wider
phenomenon of the weakening (dgradation) of the final member of a Sanskrit compound; and his view is that r at the end of a compound gives panache to an
expression, instancing jayar, yauvanar, madar, etc.; and sometimes lakm with
the same value.8 But what is panache? In origin a feathered plume on a helmet,
a fashion statement, and an assertion of status. We have the same thing in kvya.
Where the compound ending in r plays a dominant role in the point that a verse is
making, I would argue that we there have an instance of the establishment of the
regime of beauty. Whereas originally, in the epics, r was specifically royal beauty,
royal success, beauty becomes mistress of her own kingdom, namely kvya.
There is in Kumrasabhava one reference to r in the epic and political sense,
when Vcaspati tells Brahm that the gods need to have a general created to put an
end to the demon Traka:


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

The lustre of their faces was dimmed
and Brahm appeared before them
like the morning sun over waters
where the lotuses are asleep.

Himlayas capital, Oadhiprastha, does not need flags on flagpoles as that function is provided by the kalpa trees and the lovely clothes that grow on them:

The glory of the flagpoles is also close to epic usage, the panache of real life, but
when the beauty of spring (madhur) adorns herself, we are in the safe and sealed
world specific to kvya:
The beauty of spring,
placing on her face a tilaka mark
marked out with the collyrium
that was clinging bees,
adorned with the soft red of the young sun
her lip that was a mango leaf. (3.30)
Madhur is entirely the type of compound that Renou was talking about, and yet
it can surely justifiably be translated as the glorious beauty of spring, the beauty
of spring triumphs in the kingdom that is the verse. This rule of beauty is spelled
out when Prvat is arrayed for her marriage:

the beauty of her face (tadnanarr)

with her coiffured locks
cut off all attempt
at talk of comparisons. (7.16)
Beauty is the dominant discourse, and we might translate r here as triumphant
beauty, the triumphant beauty of her face.
And finally in ivas own words, when on their honeymoon he describes the
Gandhamdana mountain to Prvat: How beautiful the hermitages look (ram
bibhrati riyam 8.38). Hermitages and mountains are readily called rmad in the
Rmyaa, but that almost omnipresent epithet is avoided by Klidsa in the
Kumrasabhava. Here the hermitages are not simply beautiful, they are a kingdom
to themselves; the beauty of the verse is a kingdom to itself. It is easy to say that

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There the glory of flags and flag poles (ghayantrapatkrr)

is provided without any exertion
for the citizens houses
by the wishing trees with garments
fluttering from their branches. (6.41)

David Smith


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the sense of r is attenuated, that it simply means beautiful, but that need not
necessarily be the case. The translator and commentator can choose to maintain
its high value rather than diminish it.
In the Rmyaa, r naturally throughout expresses royal majesty and sovereignty; and St is often compared to Vius consort r; and Rma is radiant with
majesty, blazing with r. So too Hanumn, so too Rvaas palace; and Mandodar
ornaments the palace with her own r, her own radiant beauty. Rare in the
Rmyaa but typical of later kvya is Rmas use of r in relation to a natural
object. When he shows St around Citraka, he remarks that the trees that cover
the mountain heighten its majesty, with a long list of the trees, though more literally the mountain is in active relationship with r: evam dibhir kra riya
puyaty aya giri (2.88.10; trans. Pollock). Crowded over with all those trees, the
mountain fosters beauty, a triumphant beauty; and Rmas sentence, riyam puyati
ayam giri, provides a model for ivas ram bibhrati riyam.
Indeed, in the critical edition of the Rmyaa, riyam is only used twice in this
way, not referring to sovereignty or royal glory or Vius consort; and the other
occurrence takes exactly the same form: when Hanumn views Rvaas drinking
hall, because of the good things strewn all about, the floor took on an even greater
splendor (ktapupopahr bhr adhika puyati riyam 5.9.16).
In Saundarananda, there are references to royal sovereignty, but this sphere of
reference is readily extended. The forest of Kapilas rama assumed simultaneously the glory (r) of Brahmans and Katriyas, made peaceful by the sage,
and protected by the Ikvku princes who were staying there too (1.27). Buddhas
instruction of Nanda ends with an advocacy of effort, vrya, that can produce a triple r, sasyar, ratnar, narendrar (16.98).
The poem itself hinges on Nanda being shown that the r of apsarases is superior to the dyuti, the lustre, of women in the world of men 10.44. Nanda and Sundar
had delighted in their rpar 4.10, the glory of their beauty; when Nandas head is
shaved, he loses his kear 5.51, and when Sundar is abandoned she waves her
arms about, arms that were the depositories of the glory of ornaments vibhaarnihite prakohe 6.27, removing the ornaments in the next verse.
In Buddhacarita again we get a duality of r: the i Asita coming to the palace of
the kya king is blazing with the brhmy riy and tapariy 1.50. The young Gautama shone forth with the splendour of sovereignty and of asceticism alike ajjvalia npariy caiva tapariy ca (2.50). r is often coupled with other good
qualities, as in Gautama jjjvalyamna vapu riy ca 3.32. Not otherwise found
in Avaghoa, nor I think in the Rmyaa, is the reference so common later to
r as inconstant, when the Buddha admonishes Mra: Be not overproud of your
might. Inconstant fortune (adhruv r) should not be relied on. BC13.69.
Turning now to Lakm, whose longer name, presumably, makes her less frequent than r, we may note that Klidsa does once refer to her as fickle, lol
lakm, though she is permanent on Prvats face. Lakm is present in person at
the wedding of Prvat and iva:


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

Lakm held over them both
as parasol her lotus which took on
the beauty (obham) of clusters of pearls
with the water drops clinging
to the edges of its petals,
its long stalk the supporting pole. (7.89)

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So too is Lakm present in person in a lotus pool in Rvaas palace in the

Rmyaa 5.6.14, a lotus in her hand.
The most used word for beauty in Kumrasabhava is cru. Ingalls finds a dual
use of this word in Subhitaratnakoa, as dear both in the sense of loved and
of precious, but there is no evidence for this in the material studied here.
In Kumrasabhava, Prvats valitrayam is cru (1.39), she bore three beautiful
folds at her waist; pidvaya crunakha Her hands with their beautiful nails
(1.42); Kmas bow has its ends beautifully curving, crugam (2.64), his arrow
has beautiful, fine, feathers cru patre . . . be (3.27); in 4.14 the mango flower Kma
used to use is said by his widowed wife Rati to have a beautiful red and green
stem, haritruacrubandhanam. In 3.70 iva sees Kma with his lovely bow drawn
right back to form a circle, cakrktacrucpam; in 3.7 crut is the beauty of a faithful wife who refuses Indra and makes him suffer; just as Kma is about to release
his arrow, Prvats face is crutara, very beautiful (3.68); in 4.18 Rati laments that
her husbands beautiful body, cru vapur, is not to be seen. At the beginning of sarga
5, when Kma has been burned to ashes, and iva has departed, Prvat blamed her
beauty (rpam) with all her heart, for pleasing ones dear ones is beautys fruit, or
more literally, beauty has as its fruit pleasing ones dear ones, priyeu saubhgyaphal hi crut, where saubhgya here means vllabhyam rather than beauty. And
then finally, right at the end, iva lies down with Prvat on the bed, its goosewhite coverlet as beautiful to behold as Gags sandbank, jhnavpulinacrudaranam (8.82). I shall return to this bed in my closing remarks.
Now for the Rmyaa, where cru occurs some 60 times. In the Blaka it is found
only three times, twice in relation to the krauca bird whose grief gives rise to Vlmkis loka form. The two birds were sweet-voiced, crunisvanam 2.9, and when he
rephrases the loka before Brahm, he refers to the sweet-voiced bird that was killed.
And then when Vivmitra tells Rma about the beautiful daughters of Vasu whom
Vyu turned into hunchbacks, they are, to begin with crusarvgyo, their every limb
beautiful. Cru is used in this way some eight times altogether in the whole epic. Striking is the string of crus Rvaa twice uses in addressing St: Beautiful lady, your
smile, teeth, and eyes are lovely (crusmite crudati crunetre vilsini R 3.44.20). He uses
this line both as a mendicant and as king in his own palace.
Cru has a wide range of applications in the Rmyaa, but is used especially for
the face, being said of teeth, eye, lips, smile, speech, nose, and perhaps because of
their connection with the face, earrings (four times).

David Smith


vttnuprve ca na ctidrghe
jaghe ubhe savatas tadye/
eganirmavidhau vidhtur
lvaya utpdya ivsa yatna//1.35//
When the Creator had created her beautiful (ubhe) legs,
not too long, round and symmetrical,
it was an effort
to produce sufficient beauty9
in fashioning her remaining limbs.
In line with ubhas single use in Kumrasabhava, Ingalls does not find it used
once in the section of the Subhitaratnakoa that he bases his study on. But ubh
in the Rmyaa and in Avaghoa rather contradicts Ingalls claim that Sanskrit
does not speak of moral acts or decisions as beautiful or not beautiful.10 There
ubha clearly spans these two frames of reference, meaning sometimes either

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In Saundarananda, cru is found only four times. Right at the beginning, Kapilas
rama has groves of lovely shrubs and trees, cruvruttaruvanas. In 6.35 deserted
Sundar as she weeps is called crudant prasabham rudantm. In 10.16 the Buddha
asks Nanda if the one-eyed monkey is more beautiful (crutar) than Sundar. And
lastly in 18.11, Nanda tells the Buddha he has drunk like a calf from the cow of his
speech, which has the beautiful dewlap of clear expression (vyajanacrussnm
gm). Here cru in its brief appearances comes at long intervals with a different
sphere of reference in each case.
In the Buddhacarita 2.46, Rhula is born to crupayodharym yaodharym,
Yaodhar with beautiful breasts. The future Buddha is driven to the Padmaaa
grove which had tanks beautiful with lotuses (kamalacrudrghika 3.64). When the
prince leaves to see the forest, his horses golden trappings are beautified with
waving chowries (5.3). He rests beneath a jambu tree whose beautiful leaves are
waving in all directions abhita cruparavaty (5.8). When he looks on his sleeping
women, one leaning against a window looks like the statue of a lbhajik with
her beautiful necklaces dangling (virarja vilambicruhr 5.52); and another had
the beautiful strap (crupam) of her paava drum slipped from her shoulder (5.56).
The most notable statistic on the chart I have provided is perhaps that cru is
the most used word for beauty in Kumrasabhava. The real benefit of a study such
as the present one would be to be able to come up with an answer as to why this is
so, but at the moment I must confess my inability to give an answer to this question; except to note that it is interesting that it is a favourite expression of Rvaa
in making advances to St: is it particularly attractive to courtiers?
Let us now look at what is the most common word for beauty in the Rmyaa,
ubha. This word is used only once by Klidsa in his poem:


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

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beautiful or good, sometimes both. The moral dimension comes out in the frequent
(eleven times) of ubha and aubha. A common phrase applied to Rma or Lakmaa
is ubhalakaa (ten times). When Rma tells Kausaly that he must obey his father,
she is ubhadaran, translated by Pollock as she recognized what was proper. Was
there not perhaps a play on the two meanings of ubha when Kaikey gives the
hunchback Manthar ubha bharaam, a lovely piece of jewellery, calls her ubhadarane, and promises more ubha jewellery to come, these beautiful rewards are
promised in return for the hunchbacks advice that is so profoundly aubha. As is
to be expected, the moral dimension of ubha comes to the fore in Avaghoas
poems and in both one or two occurrences of ubha as beautiful give place thereafter to moral usage.
Several verses in Kumrasabhava have as their main verb a word meaning to
shine: cake, bhti, babhau, babhse, reje; and perhaps ubh also ought to be mentioned in this context. However, rather than attempting here to discuss the findings in any detail, I will make a more general point, first referring to Renous
statement that We know that most verbs for to shine have tended to signify
to resemble; to appear, without us being able to see exactly, given the intensity
of perceptions of light in literary India, in what measure the initial sense has been
lost. At the very least we can speak, as so very often, of a sort of attenuation. The
movement has its beginnings in the Epic.11 The verb, Renou says, becomes an
empty support to the sentence, as in the bhya style. There are a series of formulaic verbs for to eclipse, surpass, for to shine, which mean no more than to
appear. These are often expressive images that overuse has rendered banal. This
semantic weakening he says, is revealed by a confusion between babhau and babhva.12 Building on Renous remarks, one might go further and say that in later
kvya, to be is to shine. Even if the verbal attenuation along with the presence
of iva, as if, might suggest translation simply of such verbs as seems as if, seems
like, the mode of being attributed to the object in the verse is dualistic, with the
aura as it were of the attributed aspect, so that the seeming that the verb
expresses is a more emphatic, a more complex mode of being, a heavier, richer
mode. And the validity of this line of interpretation is surely borne out by kvyas
form of expression spilling over into the nature of reality itself as presented in an
assemblage of oddities dreamed up by kvya.
When Rma shows St around wonderful Citraka mountain, not only does it
have a wonderful variety of trees and precious stones. At night the plants (oadhya) growing on the lordly mountain seem like tongues of fire, blazing by the
thousands in the beauty of their own luster (svaprabhlakmy) (2.88.21). We are
in the special wonder-world of kvya, where the nature of plants is supercharged.
In Kumrasabhava these herbs obviate the need for lamps when the mountain
dwellers make love (1.10). This lustre of the living plant is paralleled by the plantlike production of beryl in which later kvya rejoices, and which is mentioned in
Kumrasabhava 1.24: Prvats mother gave birth to her lustrous daughter like
the Vidra ground with a strip of jewels bursting forth each time a cloud thunders.

David Smith


na kevala darsastha
bhsvat daranena va/
antargatam apsta me
rajaso pi para tama//
By the sight of you, shining as you are,
not only is the darkness in my caves
dispelled but also the inner darkness
that underlies passion.
Turning now to the group of very conventional seeming epithets that begin with
su, it might be thought that these would be of little interest here. However, in the
case of sukea, this epithet occurs only six times in the Rmyaa, leaving aside the
name of the rkasa Sukea who is mentioned several times in the Uttaraka. It
occurs six times, three times in reference to Rma, three times in reference to St.
The Princeton translators differ among themselves: Rma as sukenta has thick
hair, or jet-black hair, and Sts is said to be silky, all from the prefix su-.
The expression does not occur in Avaghoa. In Kumrasabhava, the first sarga
closes with Prvat waiting on iva every day. In 1.61 she is suke, her hair is beautiful; and her fatigue is curtailed by moonbeams from the moon on his crest by
implication her hair shines in that light and is the more beautiful. There is also an
implicit contrast with the dimmed lustre of the faces of the worried gods who two
verses later seek audience with Brahm.
Again sutanu, such a common word for woman from at least the time of Mgha,
only occurs twice in the Rmyaa and is used only once by Avaghoa. It is used as
a vocative when Rma points out the Citraka mountain to St as they fly over it
in the Pupaka chariot at the end of the Yuddhaka (6.111.26); and earlier, when
Hanumn first sees St in Rvaas palace: That lovely woman (sutanum) as

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The bright herbs on Citraka presumably magnification of the faint glow given
off by florescent fungi are an instance of a more general phenomenon clearly
observable in later kvya which I have called the solidification of light.13 An
instance of this occurs in Kumrasabhava when Prvats toes spout red light that
makes them look like land lotuses (1.22).
Klidsa even spells out the psychological benefit of seeing the world as shining,
of seeing it through the rose-coloured spectacles of kvya. When the seven sages fly
through the air to Himlaya to ask on ivas behalf for Prvats hand in marriage,
iva declares, By the shining vision of you (reading bhsvat daranena Vall. rather
than bhsvat with Mall), not only is the darkness in my caves dispelled but also
the inner darkness that underlies passion (6.60). Here Himlaya, the super-polite
brides father, also expresses indirectly a comment on the role of brightness in
kvya, it dispels the darkness in the readers caves and his inner darkness:


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

cherished by all living things as the radiance of the full moon was seated on the
ground like an ascetic woman practicing austerity (5.13.29).14 Avaghoa uses it of
Sundar when she too is alone and abandoned: Surrounded by those women on the
palace roof that slender beauty, wasted with anxiety, seemed like (cinttanu s
sutanur babhse) the crescent moon in an autumn cloud encircled by lightning
flashes (6.37). The single usage in Kumrasabhava, while referring to honeymoon
Prvat, has her right next to abandoned Sandhy.

The female body Self-born Brahm

abandoned long ago, my slender beauty!
after hed created the Fathers,
attends the suns setting and rising.
Hence, proud lady! my respect for it.
Where we get such sparse references, it is all the more likely Klidsa had in
mind the Rmyaa passages where the same word is found. Then again sumadhyama occurs seventeen times in Rmyaa, nearly always of St, and without
any special significance. It does not occur in Avaghoa, but Klidsa gives it special
significance the one time he uses it:
ucau catur jvalat havirbhuj
ucismit madhyagat sumadhyam/
vijitya netrapratightin prabhm
ananyadi savitram aikata//5.20//
In the hot season, her smile was bright
amidst four blazing fires,
she whose waist is slender;
conquering the radiance
that dazzles the eyes,
she gazed at the sun,
looking at nothing else.
I consider here vilsa and ll mainly because Ingalls chose to include them in his
paper on words for beauty. Vilsa occurs only once in Avaghoa, in the description
of the future Buddhas last look at his harem (5.56):

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nirmiteu pitu Svayabhuv

y tanu sutanu prvam ujjhit/
syam astam udaya ca sevate
tena mnini mamtra gauravam//8.52//

David Smith


paava yuvatir bhujsaded

avavisrasitacrupam any/
savilsaratntatntam rvor
vivare kntam ivbhinya iye//

Probably vilsa could be here translated as elegant, sophisticated, rather than

simply lovely. The single occurrence in Kumrasabhava is when Prvat undertakes asceticism to win ivas love (5.13):
While she kept her vow,
she deposited two things
in two places
to be collected later:
her coquettish gestures (vilsaceita)
with the slender creepers,
her flickering glances
with the female deer.
The adjective vilsin is used three times in Kumrasabhava: once for handsome
men, once for beautiful women, and once for Prvat, just before iva hands her a
cup of wine:
rdrakesarasugandhi te mukha
mattaraktanayana svabhvata/
atra labdhavasatir guntara
ki vilsini mada kariyate//8.76//
Your mouth as fragrant
as a fresh kesara flower,
your eyes are red from passion,
my playful lady!
What different quality
can drunkenness impart
when it takes its place here?

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Another young woman sprawled,

holding in the hollow of her thighs
her paava drum, its beautiful strap
slipped from her shoulder,
as if it were her lover
totally exhausted
by his lovely lovemaking.


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

rohatva tava gaalekhayo
candrabimbanihitki candrik//8.74//
O my lady, as you look at the moons disk
moonlight seems to be growing
from the lines painted on your cheeks
white as withered clumps of ara grass,
bright as they are with the gleaming reflection.
Here we are much closer to the shining world of later poets, where solidification
of light becomes more and more important.
I end, as does Ingalls, with ll. From Mgha ll comes to be used rather like r at
the end of compounds; in Ratnkara it means something like a graceful resemblance. What is interesting in the present context is how little ll is used. In
the Rmyaa ll is only found adverbially, as sallam or llay, meaning nearly
always easily, in the sense of stringing a bow or performing a fighting manoeuvre;
or related to this, contemptuously, in the sense of offering food to the poor with
contempt. Only twice is there usage with the sense of erotic grace so common later.
In the Sundaraka, Hanumn sees the flying Pupaka palace where the mechanical birds have their wings sportively (sallam) extended as if they were accomplices
of Kma (5.6.13); and when Hanumn sees Rvaa in a state of deshabille: he was
playfully (sallam) trailing his splendid upper garment for it had slipped from its
place and snagged in his armlet. But I am not sure whether the Princeton translator has completely captured the sense of sallam here. The previous verse compared the demon king to the God of Love, and there is a sense of loucheness, of
depravity in this incorrectness of dress, plus at the same time something of blasphemy on the demons part in the way that the slipping robe he wears is compared

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In all these places there is a clear sense of courtly lasciviousness, an impression

only confirmed when we look back to the Rmyaa where though vilsa is not
found, and vilsin occurs only four times, always in the vocative, each time vilsin
is used significantly. Three times Rvaa uses the term to address St, and the one
time Rma so addresses her is when they are flying in the Pupaka car, with vilsin
immediately followed by the word Rvaa, referring to Jayus fight with Rvaa.
As perhaps with Rvaas use of cru noted above, there could well be louche court
connotations with vilsa and vilsin.
The underlying root las does not occur in Rmyaa nor in Avaghoa. Both have
llasa from the intense of las meaning eagerly longing, but the notion of beauty is
lacking. Kumrasabhava has only ullasat, gleaming:

David Smith


not to the foaming milk that the Princeton translators find there, but rather the
foam of nectar from the churning of the ocean.
In Saundarananda 4.11, we also get an interesting usage of sallam, translated by
Covill as teasingly but I take as the usual playfully though as with Rvaa a
debauched and excessive play, and to better render the sense I absorb the adverb
sallam into the verb:

klamntare nyonyavinodanena
sallam anyonyam ammadac ca//

And the other use is when Sundar, deserted by Nanda, wails on seeing her husbands ornaments, clothes, v and other diversions (lls) (6.32). The single occurrence in the Buddhacarita (4.38) plays on the common usage in the Rmyaa: When
the prince is in the Padmaaa grove, one woman imitated him by drawing the
bow of her brows on her fair countenance and making gestures in mimicry (llay)
of his solemnity, thereby playing on the epic usage of applying llay to easy and
forceful drawing of a bow. Klidsa is further along the route to the artificial perfection of kvya-land. Prvats natural beauty surpasses the cosmetic art of real
women and surpasses the shape of Loves bow rather a real bow.
tasy alkjananirmitaiva
kntir bhruvor nata|lekhayor y/
t vkya llcaturm anaga
svacpasaundaryamada mumoca//1.48//
When Bodiless Love saw
the playful and skilful beauty
of the curved lines
that were her eyebrows,
looking as if theyd been drawn
in collyrium with a brush,
he lost his pride
in the beauty of his bow.

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to entertain themselves
in the intervals of exhaustion
they made a game
of getting each other drunk.


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

Beauty here is knti, Klidsas second most used term for beauty, but it occurs
only once in the other poetry considered here. It belongs to the bright artificial
light kvya henceforth seeks to bathe in. As for ll, Prvat carries a ll lotus
(3.56 and 6.84); prior to her asceticism she wore herself out playing at ball (kandukall) (5.19). My final example moves away from beauty: Klidsas last use of ll
has a woman abandoning her graceful gait hurrying to look at iva arriving as
bridegroom (7.58):

One woman, snatching away

the foot her maid held,
abandoning her graceful gait,
the colouring still wet,
marked out a line in red lac
right up to the window.
This final example of beauty, graceful progress on painted soles, gives way under
pressure of urgent curiosity to see Prvats bridegroom arrive. Order gives way to
disorder, and a free bold stroke of colour marks out the world of contingency
within the calm of kvyas ideal world.
The words we have looked at, all too briefly, perhaps help us find greater resonance in all four poems. But words relating to beauty are not simply a specific area
of vocabulary to be investigated philologically. They bring us at once to the very
heart of kvya, which may be seen as a striving for beauty, for bringing beauty
about. To speak metaphorically, to bring in the inherent self-referentiality of literature, we might say that the magic beauty cream (divya agarga) that Anasy, the
female i, she who is free from envy, gives St in the Rmyaa, resembles the
liberal application of words for beauty in kvya.
St needs the cream, and the garland and garments, because she is a delicate
princess subjected to the difficulty of life in the forest. The Rmyaa carries the
references to beauty by the strength of its storyline. Avaghoa sets out the attractiveness of beauty only to supplant it by the noble doctrine. Klidsa, especially in
the Kumrasabhava, counterbalances the shiny glossiness of his ideal world by his
sense of humour which makes his gods far more humanly appealing than his
human characters in other works. The one direct reference to this humour I will
make will serve as a conclusion to this paper. Almost the very last verse of the
Kumrasabhava refers to the divine couples unmade bed; it is no accident that
a similar bed features very near the end of the Raghuvama.

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prasdhiklambitam agrapdam
kipya kcid dravargam eva/
utsallgatir gavkd
alaktakk padav tatna//7.58//

David Smith


tena bhagiviamottaracchada
nirmale pi ayana nityaye
nojjhita caraargalchitam//8.89//

This is not the disgust the future Buddha feels when he sees the sleeping women
in his harem, but an instance of the human touches that Klidsa scatters all
through the Kumrasabhava. What the classical poets have to act as a counterweight to the world of total beauty they are constructing is not the epic narrative
or the Buddhist moralising but that ultimate reality check, a sense of humour.
Kvyas regime of beauty has to be seen in the total context of each work of art.
1 David Smith, (Ed. and Trans.), 2005. The Birth of Kumara by Kalidasa. New York: New
York University Press and JJC Foundation. My edition is based on the text as
commented on by Vallabhadeva and edited by Narayana Murti (1980) and Patel
(1986). This paper was given in the Milan Conference on Early Kavya, 2004, organised
by Prof. G. Boccali.
2 For Kumrasabhava I used my own edition. For the other texts, I used those made
available by the Gttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages (GRETIL):
http://www.sub.uni-goettingen.de/ebene_1/fiindolo/gretil.htm Sanskritists are
enormously indebted to this incomparably useful site and to those who have
contributed e-texts to it. For translations of Avaghoa, I refer to the translations of
E.H. Johnston, Avaghoas Buddhacarita, or Acts of the Buddha (reprinted Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass, 1984) and The Saundarananda of Avaghoa (reprinted Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass, 1975); and also for the Saundarananda, Linda Covills translation for the
Clay Sanskrit Library, Handsome Nanda (New York University Press, 2007). For the
Rmyaa, I refer to the Princeton translation, which has been reprinted in the Clay
Sanskrit Library (Blaka, Trans. Robert P. Goldman; Ayodhyka and
Arayaka Trans. Sheldon I. Pollock; Kikindhka Trans. Rosalind Lefeber;
Sundaraka Trans. Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman).
3 Daniel H.H. Ingalls, 1962. Words for beauty in classical Sanskrit poetry. In:
Indological Studies in Honor of W. Norman Brown, pp. 87107. New Haven: American
Oriental Society.
4 Louis Renou, 1959. Sur la structure du kvya. Journal Asiatique, 1113.

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When night had ended

and the day was bright
he did not leave the bed,
its coverlet creased and uneven,
streaked with red dye from their feet,
in the middle her girdle
with its cord snapped
made into a lump.


Beauty and Words Relating to Beauty in the Rmyaa

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5 Ingalls, op. cit., p. 88.

6 Ingalls, op. cit., p. 106.
7 Ramya is used twice in the Buddhacarita and once in Saundarananda. It does not occur
in the Kumrasabhava and is therefore not further discussed in this paper.
8 Renou, op. cit., p. 32.
9 Beauty here is lvaya, an interesting term discussed by Ingalls, op. cit., p. 99; but as it
is not found in the other works under consideration, I pass it over here.
10 Ingalls, op. cit., p. 100f.
11 Renou, op. cit., p. 45.
12 Renou, op. cit., p. 99.
13 David Smith, 1985. Ratnkaras Haravijaya: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Court Epic,
pp. 174f and 289. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
14 Sutanu means very thin as well as having a beautiful body, beautiful.