Saundarya Lahari







क्वणत्काञ्ची-दामा करि कलभ कुम्भ-स्तननता
परिक्षीणा मध्ये परिणत शरच्चन्द्र-वदना ।
धनुर्बाणान् पाशं सृ॒णिमपि दधाना करतलैः
पुरस्ता दास्तां नः पुरमथितु राहो-पुरुषिका


kvanat kancidama karikalabha kumbha stananata
pariksina maddhye parinata saraccandra vadana
dhanur bhanan pasam srnim api dadhana karatalaih
purastad astam nah puramadhitur aho purusika
O let her appear before us, that proud counterpart of the City-Burner
Resounding with waist belt of jingle bells, recumbent by breasts like frontal bulges of a calf elephant,
Slim of waist, with autumnal full-moon mature face,
Holding aloft bow and arrow, noose and goad.
Verse 7 seems to imply a challenge by the author, and it is meant as a key to the structural dynamism applied to the content of the beauty, having both name and form, at the core of the otherwise empty notion of the Absolute. Its position toward the end of the first ten verses is evidently meant to indicate the covering of the preliminaries in respect of this work. It is an appeal that directly apostrophizes the personification of Absolute Beauty, who is the central figure for the whole of this work: "Let her appear before our eyes in as concrete and real a form as we could possibly expect".
Beauty has to be given some kind of visible form, either as a Lakshmi, or a Saraswati, or even a Kali, as conventionally known to the Indian mind, to confer on it any tangible meaning at all. Such divinities have all to be fused together into one abstracted and generalized dynamic personal expression in which all the levels and four-fold aspects implied in each of them could be brought together into active interplay under a universal concrete perspective. The three previous verses could be seen to have prepared the ground step-by-step for this verse. All the six previous ones are synthetically put together and summarily reviewed here to afford a firm basis for the further elaboration of the wisdom contained in the rest of the work. If we look at the eighth verse in advance, we can see the emergence of a definite personality of the Goddess, seated on a couch and represented in a form suitable for the contemplative purposes of an actual yogi. Here, however, the author takes his stand on a more neutral ground between matter and mind.
Advaitic verity is neither real nor abstract, but something that places itself at the core of consciousness; sometimes real, sometimes amorphous or abstract. The dancing Shiva in his sinuous movement represents the pure verticalized process of the cosmic flux of becoming. He is the City-Burner who descends in all his burning glory onto a situation which is to be ontologically understood at a lower level in the vertical axis. The last line of this verse makes direct reference to the Goddess, meant here to be a counterpart of the City-Burner as a dynamic version at an ontological level. Her dance is not usually that of a masculine tandava, but is filled with a grace natural to the feminine principle, slow and heavy, known as lasya - a dance which has a more gentle, horizontalized grace. Here, however, as she still remains the wife of the City-Burner, a certain degree of masculinity remains grafted on to her, to give a positive revaluation to her personality which is otherwise fully feminine. No contradiction is to be implied here. There are many such features that we have put together in order to enter into the full spirit of this verse, which, as we have said, is both a key and a challenge to us. Thousands of years of accepted Sanskrit as well as Tamil poetic conventions have been telescoped, as it were, into the four lines of this verse.
The paradox of the first verse is only heightened before being abolished at this stage of the work.
The world of fine particles of the second verse is also to be presupposed here to reach the neutral position to be revealed now only in very thin outline. It is as if we see a television screen with streaks of silver light vaguely playing on it, instead of it actually showing us a bright colourful scene. In between the over/under focusing, there is a neutral ground which is neither psychic nor physical. If it is visible at one moment, it is not visible at the next.
The quaternion structure of the third verse is also to be retained here, if what is depicted is to be treated in its totality as representing the structural dynamism that the author has outlined up to this point.
Besides the four-fold nature of the structural ground of the third verse, we have also to include that vertical dimension passing through the whole quaternion, by which cause is given primacy over effect.
Finally, we have to insert the occasionalism implied in the fifth and sixth verses, by which divinities and demiurges could equally attain absolutist status when coming within the purview or aegis of the normalized Goddess, who is meant to be neither too hypostatic nor too hierophantic. She stands on terra firma, while Shiva is the City-Burner placed high above. To get a vision of Absolute Beauty in female form in this thin neutral light, as intended by the author in this verse, one has to place oneself in the same neutral subjective mood, so that the seer could experience the overwhelming upsurge of Absolute Beauty by the sudden cancellation of what the seer represents and what he sees in gleaming outline. When viewed in such a correct perspective, this verse gives up some of its enigmas, without which it may not make any meaning at all, especially to a modern reader.
The first line refers to the sound of the jingling waist-belt of bells as the starting point conducive to making the vision appear to the reader in just that form intended by the author. The vision has only a schematic status, although it is dynamically presented here. Sound belongs to the conceptual side, while the schematic outline is a form. Thus, the dance meant to be revealed before our eyes is, in principle, the same as the well known Nataraja dance, conceived in a more normalized form, at a lower level. The sound of the waist-belt's bells is heightened when the dancing girl plants her feet as she enters the stage for her performance. By the sound of these bells, the onlookers are introduced at once into a world in which concepts and percepts cancel out into sheer beauty expressed through the art of dancing. Touching terra firma first represents the ontological starting point of the dance where sound meets form, and brings the horizontality of the earth into the total schematic situation. This is known in Sanskrit as jhankara (sudden jingling of the ankle bells) at the point where ontology has its impact and participation as between the earth and the mind.
After marking thus the horizontal bottom limit in the very first line, the poet refers us to the heavy breast region, which is to be imagined as a horizontal line, schematically understood, on the numerator side of the situation.
We also know at once that when it comes to their principle function, the necessity of feeding a newborn baby, the breasts of a woman are better when they are big and ponderous, although the breasts of a young maid before her maturity need not have the same ponderousness as in later years of full maternity. These two versions are reciprocal. Time is telescoped here, and intervals tend to be abolished in terms of an eternal present or moment. That is why the author does not stop the dance movement at the transition point, in passing from the recumbent form of the Goddess to one in which her breasts are compared to the frontal knobs of an elephant. This last reference is to lift the status of the breasts to a more hypostatic level of value content. There is a beautiful sinus curve and a torsion as well as an inside-outside transposal to be imagined by us in this transition from numerator breasts to their own denominator aspect. This figure-eight, which results from contraction, transposition, torsion between right and left and front and back, independent of big or small, near or far, can even be accentuated further. The dancing girl's beauty on the stage is meant to fill the whole field of vision intended to be summoned to our view here. Dancing consists mainly of bending and stretching, where the hips and breasts of a woman fuse themselves into a structural yin-yang model, both bright and dark at the same time. The dynamism is meant to be of increasing voltage until an absolute limit is reached, passing necessarily through the second- and third-dimensional perspectives to the full status of the fourth-dimensional version recognizable in the last line. In this last line the dancer and the Goddess attain to the maximum vertical height that it is possible to reach from the ontological side of the situation.
The "Dasakumaracarita" of Dandin contains such a contemplative version of a dancing girl, in which she is first represented as beginning the dance by touching the ground with both her fingers. From this simple standpoint her performance becomes more and more elaborate, as the jingling bells help us to cancel the merely visual with the conceptual counterparts of the dance. Elaborations go on in endless variety and as she is true to her name, Kandukavati, it is a magenta ball representing Eros that she plays with. She described in great detail as dexterously manipulating it by bending and stretching with beautiful torsion movements, so as to fill the whole stage or ground with her beauty.
But the final feat of all is represented as one meant to make the ball go upwards by hitting it with the back of her hands. The leap resembles that of Shiva's tandava, and is inserted there to give it the final touch of positivism in the vertical axis. It is referred to by Dandin as the "musical leap".
The dancing girl represents an ideogram which has been relied upon by a long line of master poets on the Indian soil to reveal the structure of the Absolute, long before Sankara himself adopted it here. It could be called the Kandukavati ideogram, one which has influenced erotic mystical literature throughout the centuries, from Uma of Upanishadic times to what is represented here, and which has been taken up and continued by Narayana Guru in his "Kali Natakam"
When the tempo or voltage of this dance attains to higher levels of expression, we pass from a third-dimensional level to a fourth-dimensional one. Weak reactions in nuclear physics, when influenced by a cyclotron, similarly pass to a perspective that is more fully verticalized, just as magnetism can, as it passes into electromagnetism. Thus the yin/yang structural pattern, with its vestige of duality between the two aspects, can progressively be abolished when electricity prevails more and more over the horizontal expression of weak magnetic fields.
Both the frontal bulges of the calf elephant and the recumbent breasts could thus become absorbed into a central structural locus radiating light equally from all around the circumference. This is the full face of the Goddess, viewed in a verticalized perspective as a conic section. The limitation of paper and description would naturally make the tilting of the face of the Goddess from a vertical to a horizontal view negligible. This is why the mature autumnal moon-like visage of the Goddess is presented to the view of the onlooker without apology. The view thus obtained is a frontal one, resulting from the tilting of a conic section, which, if it needed explanation, would have unnecessarily landed us in the intricacies of three-dimensional conics and geometry, which is thus kept out by Sankara for good reasons. If one should look at a face from the top of a wall, this circular conic section view would be justified.
After getting so far in our vision of the content of the beauty of the Absolute in three-dimensional terms, the remaining task for Sankara is to make this vision fully fourth-dimensional, or even multi-dimensional, in its status. The fourth-dimensional status is revealed in the third line, where the conventional monomarks of Indian iconography are attributed to the Goddess intended in this verse, conforming to the norms of a well-accepted iconographic language which has been developed through the ages and shaped finally by the successive contemplatives who revised and revalued the basic ideogram. The hands holding aloft bow and arrow, noose and goad, are meant to mark the horizontal and vertical structural dimensions of the Goddess, now viewed together in a fully fourth-dimensional perspective. The bow and arrow are aimed at making Shiva fall for her, but the goad and noose have, between them, a fully-verticalized function of normalizing the movement of something of a dark and spatial or earthy order, like an elephant. They are thus the four regulative principles in the grand flux of becoming, to be imagined as taking place within the context of time and space in a fourth-dimensional universe.
Finally, in the last line it is indicated that, although she is a Goddess belonging to the so-called weaker sex, she is still capable of attaining vertical heights in the same way as her husband by means of her direct affiliation to him. They have equality of status in every respect, as we shall see maintained throughout this work.
The question now remains whether the vision presented here is to be treated subjectively or to be taken as objectively positive. We shall see that, in the first part of this work up to Verse 41 inclusive, distinguished as "Ananda Lahari", the descriptions of the Goddess apply to the inner space within the yogi as part of his own personal experience.
Beyond the 41st verse, the title becomes "Saundarya Lahari", where the presentiment is on the side of the non-self rather than the self. We should, therefore, after the schematized dynamism has been presented in this verse, expect to see verses clothed in more realistic terms, so that they are to be placed inside or outside. This can be noticed in the very next verse. The last line refers to the "proud counterpart of the City-Burner", where we have to suppose that sex limitations are abolished and cancelled out.
Shiva, as Ardhanarisvara, is androgynous, a half-woman male god. Conversely, Shakti is here the proud Purushika, where the word Purusha, though normally applied to the male, is here permitted to be applied to the female on the same reciprocal principle as above.
One more point remains, which is the reference to the slimness of the waist. In other Sanskrit poems of Kalidasa and Sankara we have this same feature more directly referred to as mithyakalpita madhye - as the middle region having a false conceptual status only. The Absolute Goddess is said not to have any waist at all. It has to be abolished in the name of her schematic status, because here, schematically speaking, the meeting point of the apexes of two triangles is implied, one representing the hypostatic or metaphysical, and the other representing the hierophantic or the physical. Like the sand particles in an hourglass, the delicate passage or osmotic interchange between existence and essence that is taking place between the two is both nothing and something at the same time. This is a secret aspect of the structuralism to which Kalidasa and Sankara adhere throughout this and other works. Although abolished mathematically by its slim nothingness, we know that this waist region is the very part out of which everything is born. The paradox here is to be understood with its two rival structural reference points; one placed at the ontological end and the other at its opposite teleological limit. Ontologically, the double cones are to be placed base to base; while teleologically they are placed apex to apex. Both positions are equally valid. It is the ineffable nothingness of the vertical axis, which passes from ontology to teleology without interruption, that represents the Absolute Value factor called "Beauty" here. When such a parameter is produced positively or negatively, upwards or downwards, we attain to the fourth-dimensional or even multi-dimensional value-worlds within ourselves or in the cosmos outside of us. Cross-sections taken at any point on this vertical parameter will reveal various Mandalas or Chakras, which could be of infinite variety. Here we are more concerned with Chakras; while in Tibetan Buddhism the four-sided Mandala language is favoured and adopted. The very next verse gives us a picture of the Goddess seated within a structure which is suggestive of both a Mandala and a Chakra.
(Hypostatic union (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις, hypóstasis, sediment, foundation, substance, or subsistence) is a technical term in Christian theology employed  to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one divine hypostasis. ED)

(Hierophantic, from hierophant, a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, "the holy," and phainein, "to show." ED)
("Kanduka" in Sanskrit means both "a ball" or a kind of time in music.

(Further comments on Kandukavati can be found in Saundarya Lahari / Notes: 1972/ File slp2. ED)





kvanat kancidama - resounding with belt of jingle bells
kari kalabha kumba stananata - recumbent by bulging breasts like the frontal bulges of a young elephant
pariksina madhye - slim of waist
parinata saraccandra vadana - with autumnal full moon face
dhanur banan pasam srnim api - holding aloft bow with arrow, noose and goad
dadhana - bearing
karatalaih - within the grasp of hands
purasatad astam - let her appear
naha - for our sake
puram adhitur - of the City-Burner
aho purushika - o wonder, the proud counterpart


The Devi is here called Purushika - (a bold, virago-like figure) the counterpart of Shiva.
Her breasts are compared to the bumps on the forehead of a baby elephant.
(Purushika is a feminine form of the Sanskrit word "purusha" which originally meant "man" - it implies a woman with masculine qualities as well. "Aho" is an expression of wonder. ED)

She has a jingling waistband (a belt with bells).

She is slightly bent, implying torsion.
The breasts are like the bumps on an elephant's forehead, again shown with torsion; the waist is very thin.
The face is radiant, like the moon in spring.

She is the counter-ego of the City Burner, one of the names of Shiva.
He is proud on the Numerator side; She represents the Denominator aspect of this, with breasts like the knobs on the head of an elephant.
The most important factor is the jingling of the bells on the belt.


In this verse Sankara gives notice that he is going to structuralize boldly.

The Numerator breasts with the pride of an elephant balance the Denominator breasts, which are heavy in order to feed a baby.



(There is a counterpart of the face and breasts on the negative, denominator, side of the structure. ED)

Here there is an absolute balance between male and female.

The Devi is here called purushika (cognate with  purusha - a man): the term implies a kind of pride - the Devi is as much masculine as feminine. She is neutral, like Joan of Arc.



Another version:

with waist-belt jingling
bent by breasts resembling the frontal knobs of a young elephant
slender at middle (waist)
having face like the full moon of early spring (sarat)
bow, arrow, noose, goad also (for the Devi's functions)
bearing (aloft)
by hands
before (as presented to the view of the devotee)
for us
of the city-burner
what wonder this purushika

The Devi's waist is slim; there is a Purushika pride.
The waist is also bent. She has a full, round face (in the bindusthana or central locus).

A prayer is made, coming from the down-and-out person at the Alpha Point at the negative pole, desperate for a four-handed Purushika.
This vision is seen when the man is about to die.
The weapons of the Purushika appear held aloft in her four hands as seen by the person who is making the prayer as he is about to die.

(A disciple of the Guru's once read him a quotation: "Death is a falling asleep and a forgetting".

The Guru vehemently said: "No, no! Death is a remembering and an awakening!". ED)

The weapons are the last things to be seen.
Human beings want a saviour; this is a natural desire.

The devotee is having a vision, meditating on the Devi.

1) This verse is completely structural, the gist of the Guru's structuralism.
2) (These two are blank in the original manuscript. ED)
4) A logical parameter passing through the waist; faces in phases.


The Goddess is to be stretched (Numerator and Denominator factors separated), making the waist a thin vertical parameter; the two halves of the Goddess are to be rejoined.
The S-shaped figure will change into a figure-8, also into Yin-Yang counterparts eating one another. (This could introduce a screaming woman).




The face of the Goddess is to appear as a moon with its different phases.


Appropriate music is to be chosen for each phase of the action.





There will be four elephants preceding all this: their trunks to become the legs of a girl, the knobs on their foreheads to become her breasts.



Then pass her through a ring, when she begins to become thin.
Purushika should be wanting to kill you from the other side.





Her pride and glory, with very loud drumming and the trident of Shiva, is a numerator glory.





Woman must be screaming in her heart - show perhaps Medea killing her children or Kannagi burning Madurai - these are real tragedies; all of human life has suffering at the core.



(Kannagi, a legendary Tamil woman, is the central character of the Tamil epic Silpathikaram (100-300 CE). The story relates how Kannagi took revenge on the Pandyan King of Madurai for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city  and causing it to be burnt down. ED).




The moon in different seasons can be imagined here, with clouds, but also without.
Here come light effects.



Also, she must shoot arrows in two different directions, because she is Purushika.



Another version:

Let that dominant counter ego-form of the City-Burner, with full moon-like face,
Through the jingling of Her waist band, bending by the bosom,
Resembling bulges on an elephant's front, very thin at waist,
Appear before us, holding aloft in Her hands, bow with arrow, noose and goad.
The bulging breasts of the Devi are like the two knobs on the forehead of a young elephant.
She is slim of waist with a face like the autumnal full moon.