Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.42: A Mirror Held Up to Nature

girivrajam iv' aaparaM

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It had a moat as broad as a river,

A main street that straightened and curved,

And great ramparts rising like mountains,

As if it were another Giri-vraja.

The real meaning of this Canto thus far, as I read it, has to do with the fundamental teachings of the Middle Way and cause & effect. But the official title of the Canto is kapilavaastu-varNanaH, "A Portrayal of Kapilavastu." So the next twenty verses to the end of the Canto are giving us what it says on the tin -- not so much an objective description of Kapilavastu as Ashvaghosha's portrayal, or artistic impression, of a city that had its golden age several hundred years before his time.

In this initial overview of the city, Ashvaghosha compares it to Giri-vraja, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. The city, which is also mentioned in 3.15 as a place the enlightened Buddha frequented, is located in a valley surrounded by five rocky hills; hence the name Giri-vraja, or "Mountain-Fenced." It was also known in Sanskrit as Raaja-gRha, "King's House," which is thought to be the derivation of the name of the city of Rajgir in the modern Indian state of Bihar.

The main point of this verse, as I read it, is that the Shakya princes by conscious human effort, on the grounds of secrets learned through real life experience, and on the grounds of karma, built a city that paralleled the natural grandeur of Girivraja.

Here again, then, a verse that at first sight does not appear to be saying anything about sitting-meditation, when one looks into it, might be saying everything.

EH Johnston:
With a moat as broad as a river, with a straight and magnificent main street and with ramparts almost as big as mountains like another Girivraja.

Linda Covill:
It had a moat as broad as a river, wide boulevards which straightened and curved and, as if it were another Giri-vraja, ramparts so great as to almost serve as mountains.

sarid-vistiirNa-parikham (acc. sg. n.): with river-broad moat
sarit: f. a river , stream
vistiirNa: mfn. spread out , expanded , broad , large
parikhaa: f. (from pari- √ khan, to dig round , dig up) a moat , ditch , trench or fosse round a town or fort (also applied to the sea surrounding the earth)

spaShT'-aaNcita-mahaa-patham (acc. sg. m.): with straight/curved main street
spaShTa: mfn. clearly perceived or discerned , distinctly visible , distinct , clear , evident , plain , intelligible ; straight (opp. to " crooked ") ; real , true , correct
aNcita: mfn. bent , curved , curled , arched , handsome
mahaa-patha m. a principal road , high street (in a city)

shaila: a rock , crag , hill , mountain
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost
mahat: great
vapra: mn. a rampart , earthwork , mound , hillock , mud wall , earth or bank raised as a wall or buttress or as the foundation of a building ; the gate of a fortified city

girivrajam (acc. sg. m.): m. " mountain-fenced " N. of the capital of magadha
giri: m. mountain
vraja: m. a fold , stall , cow-pen , cattle-shed , enclosure or station of herdsmen ; m. a herd , flock , swarm , troop , host , multitude
iva: like
aparam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. other, another

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