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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

The leech a fracture wants to cure


It pains the gambler when he sees a woman, Another's wife, and their well-ordered household: He yokes these brown steeds early in the morning, And, when the fire is low, sinks down an outcast.

"Play not with dice, but cultivate thy cornfield; Rejoice in thy goods, deeming them abundant: There are thy cows, there is thy wife, O gambler." This counsel Savitri the kindly gives me.

We learn here that the dice (aksha) were made of the nut of the Vibhidaka tree (Terminalia bellerica), which is still used for the purpose in India.

The other three poems of this group may be regarded as the forerunners of the sententious poetry which flourished so luxuriantly in Sanskrit literature. One of them, consisting only of four stanzas (ix. 112), describes in a moralising strain of mild humour how men follow after gain in various ways:--

The thoughts of men are manifold, Their callings are of diverse kinds: The carpenter desires a rift, The leech a fracture wants to cure.

A poet I; my dad's a leech; Mama the upper millstone grinds: With various minds we strive for wealth, As ever seeking after kine.

Another of these poems (x. 117) consists of a collection of maxims inculcating the duty of well-doing and charity:--

justify;"> Who has the power should give unto the needy, Regarding well the course of life hereafter: Fortune, like two chariot wheels revolving, Now to one man comes nigh, now to another.

Ploughing the soil, the share produces nurture; He who bestirs his feet performs his journey; A priest who speaks earns more than one who's silent; A friend who gives is better than the niggard.

The fourth of these poems (x. 71) is composed in praise of wise speech. Here are four of its eleven stanzas:--

Where clever men their words with wisdom utter, And sift them as with flail the corn is winnowed, There friends may recognise each other's friendship: A goodly stamp is on their speech imprinted.

Whoever his congenial friend abandons, In that man's speech there is not any blessing. For what he hears he hears without advantage: He has no knowledge of the path of virtue.

When Brahman friends unite to offer worship, In hymns by the heart's impulse swiftly fashioned, Then not a few are left behind in wisdom, While others win their way as gifted Brahmans.

The one sits putting forth rich bloom of verses, Another sings a song in skilful numbers, A third as teacher states the laws of being, A fourth metes out the sacrifice's measure.

Even in the ordinary hymns are to be found a few moralising remarks of a cynical nature about wealth and women, such as frequently occur in the ethical literature of the post-Vedic age. Thus one poet exclaims: "How many a maiden is an object of affection to her wooer for the sake of her admirable wealth!" (x. 27, 12); while another addresses the kine he desires with the words: "Ye cows make even the lean man fat, even the ugly man ye make of goodly countenance" (vi. 28, 6). A third observes: "Indra himself said this, 'The mind of woman is hard to instruct, and her intelligence is small'" (viii. 33, 17); and a fourth complains: "There are no friendships with women; their hearts are those of hyenas" (x. 95, 15). One, however, admits that "many a woman is better than the godless and niggardly man" (v. 61, 6).


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