Saturday, November 22, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.110: Exploring the Best of Rivers

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
sita-śaṅkhojjvala-bhujā nīla-kambala-vāsinī |
¦−−−−¦¦⏑⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   mavipulā
sa-phena-mālā-nīlāmbur yamuneva sarid-varā || 12.110

She wore a dark-blue shawl,

And her arms were all lit up with white shells,

So that she seemed like the Yamunā, best of rivers,

When its dark-blue waters are wreathed with foam.

The New Yamuna Bridge at Allahabad
The Yamunā is the largest tributary of the Ganges. It rises in the Himālayas, flows south through New Delhi, then south and east to Allahabad where the Yamunā and the Ganges meet. This confluence, where the blue Yamunā meets the yellow Ganges, has since ancient times been the site for the so-called "greatest religious gathering on earth" held every 12 years  -- the Kumbh Melha.

Nowadays, however, the Yamunā is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, especially around India's capital city of New Delhi, which is reported to dump 58% of its waste into the river.

To obtain a picture of the Yamunā's deep blue waters as they originally were in ancient times, therefore, it is necessary to look upstream. This photo, for example, by Amit Shankar, shows the Western Yamuna Canal branching off from the Tajewala Barrage, providing water for irrigation to the state of Haryana. (The Yamunā flows along the eastern boundary of Haryana on its way south to New Delhi.)

And going back still further upstream, here is a photo of the blue Yamunā from a webpage titled Himālayan Rivers.

The Yamunā has its source at Yamunotri (“Mouth of Yamunā”) in the Himālayan state of Uttarakhand which shares its northern border with Tibet and its eastern border with Nepal.

At Yamunotri, I note with interest, there are hot springs where one can soak all tensions away.

Here, for the present, ends my internet exploration of the river that Aśvaghoṣa praised as the best of rivers. 

I am not much attracted to sacred religious sites, but I wouldn't mind visiting the Yamunā. And, as far as I can tell without actually going there, the closer to the source I could get, the better it might be.

We are prone to think that water closest to the source is purest, and totally pure water is the best water. But not for a hungry fish. A contrary view is that the closer we get to the source, the sharper the irony is. And an acute irony which Aśvaghoṣa himself might have appreciated, is that a river which Indians imbue with the highest religious significance, revering it as the best of rivers, they also cause to be the shittiest of rivers. 

At the first phase, then, rivers are pure and they have religious significance. At the second phase, rivers are full of shit. Never mind. The important thing in the Buddha's teaching, in practice, at the third phase, is for each to purify his or her own mind. And the Buddha's teaching at the fourth phase might be for human beings to work together to keep our rivers clean.

Maybe when Indian society becomes civilized and enlightened enough to have clean rivers, that will be the time when Indian society is civilized and enlightened enough to reclaim Aśvaghoṣa from the Buddhist Studies departments of Western universities where presently he is so grievously misunderstood as a religious poet. 

sita-śaṅkhojjvala-bhujā (nom. sg. f.): her arms shining with white shells
sita: mfn. white
śaṅkha: mn. .a shell , (esp.) the conch-shell (used for making libations of water or as an ornament for the arms or for the temples of an elephant)
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light ; lovely
ud- √jval: to blaze up , flame , shine ; Caus. P. : -jvalayati , to light up , cause to shine , illuminate
bhuja: arm

nīla-kambala-vāsinī (nom. sg. f.): wearing a dark-blue shawl
nīla: mfn. n. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
kambala: m. a woollen blanket or cloth or upper garment
vāsin: mfn. having or wearing clothes , (esp. ifc.) clothed or dressed in , wearing

sa-phena-mālā-nīlāmbuḥ (nom. sg. f.): its dark-blue waters wreathed with foam
sa-phena: mfn. having foam , foamy , frothy
mālā: f. a wreath , garland , crown
nīla: mfn. dark-blue
ambu: n. water

yamunā (nom. sg.): f. N. of a river commonly called the Jumna (in Hariv. and Ma1rkP. identified with yamī q.v. ; it rises in the himālaya mountains among the Jumnotri peaks at an elevation of 10 ,849 feet , and flows for 860 miles before it joins the Ganges at Allahabad , its water being there clear as crystal , while that of the Ganges is yellowish ; the confluence of the two with the river sarasvatī , supposed to join them underground , is called tri-veṇī q.v.)
iva: like
sarid-varā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. best of rivers
sarit: f. a river , stream (saritāṁ varā , " best of rivers ") , the Ganges

難陀婆羅闍 歡喜到其所
手貫白珂釧 身服青染衣

青白相映發 如水淨沈漫 

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