Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.7: Nice Soil, Shame about the Make-Up

mRdubhiH saikataiH snighdhaiH
bhuumi-bhaagair a-saMkiirNaiH
s' aaNgaraaga iv' aabhavat

- - = = - = = =
= - = - - = - =
= - = = - = = =
= - = - - = - -

With soft, sandy, and smooth soil,

Made yellowish white by a covering of kesara blossoms,

And divided into areas, with no commingling,

The ashram was as if body-painted
with cosmetic pigments.

Kesara flowers as defined by the Monier-Williams dictionary appear to be tree blossoms -- viz:
Rottleria tinctoria

Mimusops elengi
Mesua ferrea

To what is Ashvaghosha comparing Kapila's ashram and why?

He is comparing the ashram to a body which is covered with cosmetic body paint.

Why? Again, is Ashvaghosha simply exercising his poet's metaphorical muscles in order to describe how lovely the ashram looked? Or is there again a subtext in which Ashvaghosha is counterposing the ancient view on purity of Brahminism/asceticism with the Buddha's teaching of abandonment of views?

I am no expert on architecture or garden design, but I know that a Japanese Zen garden looks very different from, for example, a shinto shrine to Japanese nationalism, or a Roman monument, or one of the thumping great edifices that were favoured in Nazi Germany, or one of those terrible great "peace" walls that divides communities in Belfast or in Israel/Palestine. In a Japanese Zen garden stark dividing lines are not much in evidence. One of the design concepts I remember writing about in a past life as a copy-editor in Japan is shakkei, or "borrowed view," in which a feature of the garden reflects the greater landscape behind, to add to the sense of the garden as a microcosm of a greater whole.

Kapila's ashram, in contrasts, was devoid of such commingling of elements. It was a-saMkiirNa, which means without commingling, not adulterated, not polluted -- or not born of a mixed marriage.

I think that what Ashvaghosha might be suggesting is that ancient Indian culture was conspicuously coloured, or tainted, by concepts of racial purity and pollution thereof -- concepts which would later be picked up by the self-hating Austro-German of Jewish descent Adolf Hitler, who adopted the ancient Indian symbol of the swastika as his symbol. This ancient prejudice was in marked contrast with the attitude of the Buddha who observed no racial or class dividing lines and discriminated only between the four categories of his followers, namely male and female beggars who had left home, plus lay men and lay women.

Ancient Brahminical concepts around non-contamination seem doggedly to have persisted in Indian societies. Having been maintained for thousands of years, they may seem to the unquestioning to be natural. But those concepts around caste purity are not natural. They are no more natural than the old testament myth of a chosen people. They are no more natural than rectangular flower beds in a forest neatly separated out from each other in a jagged-edged geometric design. They are a human artifice.

What was Ashvaghosha's intention? I think his intention was a tree of life growing spontaneously in all directions, and not any kind of apartheid, horticultural or otherwise.

Doubtless it was not safe in Ashvaghosha's day overtly to make a statement, with political implications, against the prevailing system of apartheid. Is it safe today to make such a statement?

EH Johnston:
With its ground which was soft, sandy, smooth, yellowish with a carpet of kesara flowers and unpolluted, it appeared as if covered with body-paint, consisting of unadulterated earthy particles in soft greasy grains and yellowish with a sprinkling of saffron.

Linda Covill:
With portions of its grounds soft, sandy, smooth or carpeted with yellow kesara flowers, it was like a body anointed with unguents.

mRdubhiH (inst. pl.): soft
saikataiH (inst. pl.): sandy
snighdhaiH (inst. pl.): sticky , viscous or viscid , glutinous , unctuous , slippery , smooth; glossy

kesar'-aastara-paaNDubhiH (inst. pl.): made yellow by a covering of kesara flowers
kesara: m. the plants Rottleria tinctoria , Mimusops Elengi , and Mesua ferrea ; n. the flower of those plants
astara: m. covering ; a coverlet , blanket , carpet
paaNDu: mfn. yellowish white , white , pale, jaundiced; m. pale or yellowish white colour

bhuumi-bhaagaiH (inst. pl): soil-plots
bhuumi: f. the earth , soil , ground ; (pl. divisions of the world) a territory, country , district ; the part or personification (played by an actor) ; (metaph.) a step , degree , stage; extent , limit
bhaaga: m. a part , portion , share , allotment , inheritance; a part (as opp. to any whole) ; part i.e. place , spot , region , side
a: (negative prefix) not
saMkiirNaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. poured together , mixed , commingled &c; mingled , confused , disordered , adulterated , polluted , impure ; born of a mixed marriage ;
saM- √ kRR: to mix or pour together , commingle ; to pour out , bestow liberally or abundantly

sa (nom. sg. m.): it
aNga-raagaH (nom. sg.): m. application of unguents or cosmetics to the body (especially after bathing); scented cosmetic
aNga: m. a limb of the body, the body ;
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; inflammation ; any feeling or passion
iva: like, as if
abhavat: it was

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