Sunday, May 2, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.25: A Human Side of Kapila Gautama

sa teShaaM gautamash cakre
sva-vaMsha-sadRshiiH kriyaaH
munir uurdhvaM kumaarasya
sagarasy' eva bhaargavaH

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Gautama performed services for them

As for his own sons,

As the Bhargava sage later did

For the child-prince Sagara;

Sa-gara, literally "With Poison," is the name of a great king mentioned in Book 3 of the Mahabharata: "There was born in the family of the Ikshvaku tribe, a ruler of the earth named Sagara, endowed with beauty, and strength..."

The story of how Sagara was brought up by the Bhargava sage Aurva starts with the conquest of Sagara's father Bahu by two tribes, the Haihayas and the Talajanghas, in consequence of which Bahu flees into the forests with his wives. One of his wives is pregnant and out of jealousy a rival queen poisons her. The poison causes the child to remain in the womb for seven years, during which time Bahu dies. When the queen who poisoned Sagara's mother climbs onto Bahu's funeral pyre, the Bhargava sage Aurva intervenes, and in due course Bahu's very splendid baby son is born at Aurva's ashram. The baby is expelled along with the poison that had been given to his mother. The Bhargava sage Aurva, after performing the ceremonies required at birth, names the baby Sagara, "With Poison." The sage goes on to instruct Sagara fully in the Vedas, and to teach him the use of arms, and especially how to use fire as a weapon -- fire being central to Bhargava mythology. When the boy Sagara grows up, he asks his mother why they are dwelling in Aurva's forest hermitage. On hearing from his mother how his father was defeated and banished to the woods, Sagara vows to recover his father's kingdom and to exterminate the Haihaya and Talajangha tribes. As a man, Sagara does indeed lay waste to almost all of the Haihayas, and he is set also to destroy the Shakas, the Yavanas, Kambojas, Paradas, and Pahanavas. These endangered tribes appeal for protection to Sagara's family priest Vasishtha who implores Sagara to stop killing innocent people. So instead of exterminating those tribes, Sagara decides instead just to humiliate them -- for example, by forcing the Yavanas to shave their heads entirely and the Shakas to shave half of their heads. After the recovery of his kingdom, Sagara reigns over the earth with undisputed dominion.

The main point of the legend for present purposes, as I see it, is that the Bhargava sage Aurva brought up Sagara altruistically, as if Sagara were his own son.

So my reading of this and the next three verses is that Kapila Gautama, in spite of his grey ascetic viewpoint, couldn't help respond to the golden Shakya princes who were so full of beans like little tiger cubs. In other words, the entry into the ashram of the youthful Shakyas brought out the human, truly altruistic side of Kapila Gautama.

The whole of Saundarananda is a story of redemption and this verse in particular, as I read it, suggests the redemption of Kapila Gautama.

In the opening verses of this Canto, as I read them, Ashvaghosha is not at all sympathetic to Kapila Gautama in his role as a champion of extreme asceticism who drives to extremes the ascetics under his charge. But what Ashvaghosha is describing here is true altruism, like that of a father towards his sons. The result of the change in Kapila's attitude is that life on the ashram becomes more balanced (1.27) and Kapila, because of his genuine concern for the princes' healthy growth and development, indirectly causes himself to go up (1.28).

EH Johnston:
Gautama celebrated their rites with the same use as for his own clan, as the Bhargava seer did for the youthful Sagara in later times.

Linda Covill:
Afterwards, the sage Gautama performed their rites in keeping with those of his own lineage, as Bhargava did for the young Sagara,

saH (nom. sg.): he, that [Gautama]
teShaam (gen. pl.): of/for them, their
gautamaH (nom. sg.): m. Gautama
cakre (3rd pers. sg. perfect kR): he did, he performed

sva-vaMsha-sadRshiiH (acc. pl. f.): as for his own sons
sva: his own
vaMsha: m the bamboo cane; the line of a pedigree or genealogy (from its resemblance to the succession of joints in a bamboo) , lineage race , family , stock; offspring, son
sadRsha: like , resembling , similar to (gen. instr. , loc. , or comp.)
kriyaaH (acc. pl.): f. doing , performing , performance , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour.; a religious rite or ceremony , sacrificial act , sacrifice

muniH (nom. sg.): m. sage
uurdhvam: ind. upwards , towards the upper part ; (acc. sg.) n. after , after the death of (with abl. e.g. uurdhvaM pituH , after the father's death)
kumaarasya (gen. sg.): m. a child, boy, youth; prince

sagarasya = gen. sg. m. sagara: mfn. (fr. 7. sa + gara , " poison") containing poison , poisonous; m. N. of a king of the solar race , sovereign of ayodhyaa (son of baahu ; he is said to have been called sa-gara , as born together with a poison given to his mother by the other wife of his father)
iva: like
bhaargavaH = nom. sg. m. bhaargava: mfn. relating to or coming from bhRgu ; N. of shukra (regent of the planet Venus and preceptor of the daityas) , of shiva , of various men (esp. supposed authors of hymns ; but also of many other writers or mythological personages)
bhRgu: m. pl. Nm. pl. ( √ bhraaj) N. of a mythical race of beings (closely connected with fire , which they find and bring to men or enclose in wood or put in the navel of the world )

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