From fortune-telling to health tips
On the Sanskrit collection in the Sarasvati Mahal Library third in the series.
PHOTO: R. SHIVAJI RAO
ENLIGHTENING: The title sheet of the Rig Veda.
If you are stepping out for an important meeting and want to be sure that omens augur well, close your eyes, pray to your favourite deity and flip open a page of the Saguna Saastra. You see a picture, and corresponding to that is an explanation of whether the omens augur well. If you see a crocodile or a dried up tree, a rooster, the omens are against you but if you see a picture of the sea or of a peacock, the god of good fortune is on your side! The Ramachintamani Prasanam goes a step further, you roll a specially prepared dice (instructions to do it are supplied!) on a grid and the square on which the dice rolls has an attached alphabet which will take you to a verse that gives you your fortune.
This is just one among the Sanskrit manuscripts that exceed 30,000. The core of the collection probably dates at least from the Nayak times of the 16th century. The collection was also the first to be catalogued.
Several manuscripts are on the significant Hindu texts like the Vedas and Upanishads. Others elucidate various schools of philosophy or have important slokas and their method of recitation.
The Vedasara Shivasahasra Nama Stotram is a rare work, as are texts of epics and the Vedas, which have several paintings. Manuscripts in Sanskrit are written in several scripts including Nandinagari, Oriya and Telugu.
Literature is well represented with several dramas not only of the ancient period, with commentaries but also of the Maratha period. Dramas such as the Dharmavijaya Champu and Vishwagunatharsa Champu are among the many.
Amongst several books on music, an offbeat one describes the physical form of each raga. Saveri, for example, is described as a bewitchingly beautiful woman fond of frequently admiring herself in a mirror. She has long black tresses, a youthful appearance. Treatises on dance are well represented.
Bharatharnavam, Nritharatnavali and the Geetha Govindam in dance format are some of the famous works.
Proof of expertise
Two texts in this section show the scholars' mastery of the language and grammar. Shabdartha Chintamani written with a commentary by Chidambara Kavi (circa 16-17th century). The poet uses several rare words that have unusual sounds to compose the individual stanzas. Reading the stanza left to right, we read the Ramayana. Reading the same stanza from the last word to the first (right to left) we read the story of Krishna. The comprehensive commentary helps us unravel the meaning. Also by the same poet is Kathathrayi. Here the same sloka narrates an incident from the Ramayana/Bharatham or Bhagavatham. This is primarily through using multiple meanings for words or occasionally by varying the pausing between alphabets depending on the text you want to read.
Sudurgamambhoja Suhrutkulairya prekshyairmukhair rajakulai prasiddhai I Ucchodyaduudhonnati hasti gotram samudraghoram jaya daitya Sainyam II
(Kathathrayi - Verse 7)
Taking the second line, the poet uses the word "hasthi" to refer to the prosperity of Ayodhya. In reading the sloka for Mahabaratha, hasthi read with the next word, indicates the clan that rules Hasthinapur i.e. the Pandavas. While reading the Bhagavata, the word is used to describe the virility of the Yadava race.
Medicine is also well represented especially those related to traditional systems such as siddha and ayurveda. Amazingly several of the ingredients, quite familiar to the casual reader, are still sold at the traditional medicine shops. Medicines are also of tablet and liquid form and come with instructions on not only how to prepare them but also what diet to be taken. A few of the medicines, along with several of the texts cited here, are on display at the library. The Rajamrigangam and the Vaidya Chintamani are two significant works.
Possibly the earliest example of the adage "prevention is better than cure" is exemplified in the Ayurveda Upadeshangal that are divided into to two sections one from morning to lunch and the other from lunch to sleep. Both spend considerable time over the tambulam ritual of chewing betel leaves.
Planning and construction
The Sakaladhigaram, Vimanarchana kalpam are two that speak of temple architecture and Viswakarma Vastu Shastra that speaks of the construction of homes.
The text speaks of having at least two rooms in each house. The text suggests that the dining area should be four to 40 feet long and proportionately wide, though 4 feet is suggested. Those for wealthier people and kings should be twice this. The text suggests placing the kitchen in the southeast side of the house and emphasises the need for a small shrine between the kitchen and the room on the same side where provisions are stored.
For bedrooms, it is recommended that they face east or north. For those using the former, they should sleep with their heads on the south and for the latter on the Westside.
The kalaprakashika also gives farmers advice on auspicious times. Times and days vary for grains, fruits and vegetables and flowers. When ploughing, the sighting of a tortoise is said to bring luck. If the ploughing unearths ash, husk, parts of bone/hair or teeth, it is recommended that a few drops of milk be poured on the area and on the plough before resuming work.
Several of the manuscripts are illustrated. Ashwashastram for instance. An interesting feature here is the classification of the shape of a mark on the horse and what it signifies. The 27 marks include those shaped like a fish, a leaf and a plough. Incomplete manuscripts such as the Kautuka Chintamani (on jugglery and medicine) and others on, arresting the forces of elements, allurement of animals/humans (different from the Kamasutra of which the library has several texts with different commentaries), making things odourless, finding treasure troves (Nidhidarsanopaya), applying dyes also provide frustratingly limited insights into ancient ways.
The Vriksha and Pushpa Dohada Prakara speak of gardening. Several of the medicines speak of bountiful harvests if, along with other ingredients, water used to clean flesh is used. Other hints include planting mango seeds at an interval of at least 6 to10 yards.
The library has published most if not all of the significant works with detailed commentaries and several are for sale. Those with illustrations are on display in the museum adjoining the library.
(The author expresses his gratitude to Dr. A Veeraraghavan and S. Rajalakshmi, Sanskrit pandits in the library, who helped him with the research.)
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