Saundarya Lahari








सवित्रीभि-र्वाचां चशि-मणि शिला-भङ्ग रुचिभि-
र्वशिन्यद्याभि-स्त्वां सह जननि सञ्चिन्तयति यः ।
स कर्ता काव्यानां भवति महतां भङ्गिरुचिभि-
र्वचोभि-र्वाग्देवी-वदन-कमलामोद मधुरैः 


savitribhir vacam sasimanisilabhangarucibhir
vasiyadhyabhis tvam saha janani sancitayati yah
sa karta kavyanam bhavati mahatam bhangirucibhir
vacobhir vagdevi vadanakamalamoda madhuraih

He who can contemplate those word-bearing elements of broken moonstone lustre,
Joined with Vasinis, having an elusively fluid gleam;
He becomes, o Mother, the author of great poetic works,
Adding sweet charm to the lotus face of the Goddess of the Word.

In this verse we are again in the domain of semantics. In this branch of study Sankara shows himself, as in his other works, to be an expert rival to his Purva Mimamsa critics and to the Mimamsakas who, as followers of the tradition of Jaimini rather than that of Badarayana, took an anterior position in respect of Vedanta. Sankara is seen to hold his own remarkably. Semantics has two main subdivisions, called syntactics and semiotics. Modern authorities on semantics, like Bloomfield, Morris and Carnap, have many theories about how meanings emerge from words. The pragmatics and syntactics of language belong to the two other aspects of the study of meanings in relation to words. Some authorities, like Ogden, even think in terms of "the meaning of meaning." In the days of Sankara, Kumarila Bhatta, Prabhakara and Vacaspati Misra, great semantic battles have been fought on the soil of scriptural exegesis, the rumblings of which are heard even to the present day in the domain of advanced punditry and pedantry.


 Sankara is content to allude to only two aspects of semantics in this Verse. The "word-bearing elements" of the first line are named savitris, as opposed to the vasinis of the second line. The former have "broken moonstone lustre", while the latter have a "fluid gleam". These two different qualities of precious stones have to be taken into consideration and respected by a master poet who wishes to embellish the beauty of the Goddess of the Word, instead of bringing discredit to her directly or indirectly. The "broken moonstone lustre", here referred to, is the syntactic aspect of word-meaning content where bursting into light is a function recognized in Panini's famous grammar as the absolute principle of sphota. The word sphota is derived from sphut which means "to burst into clarity" as in the case of a diamond, here modified in terms of a broken moonstone, possibly in the interest of contrasting this way of viewing word-meaning with the kind of homogeneity to be assumed between whole moonstones with a fluid gleam, called vasinis in the next line. The syntax refers to the mechanical relationship between word and word in a sentence. Each word is considered by the Bhatta-Prabhakara school to be independent of the total meaning of the sentence and as having a disjunct function of its own. Sankara's followers, however, hold that meaning is an emergent factor resulting from the sentence as a whole and is not to be broken up into bits. Thus the vasini and savitri elements of language are treated here as complementary to each other. The vasinis are to be joined on terms of equality with their counterpart, the individual word- bearing elements or savitris. These word-bearing elements could be viewed as similar to cybernetic information bits in computers.


Semiosis is a process like the flowing of a liquid; while syntax is a sudden bursting into scintillating light, suggesting meaningfulness. As a jeweler might set a ruby and diamond side by side to enhance the beauty of a circular gold ear-ornament, not unlike the Sri Chakra, as worn by Indian women, we can agree that such an arrangement can only enhance the beauty of the poetry by giving equal importance to syntactic bursting as well as to flowing semiotic processes. When an author knows the secret of respecting these subtle semantic requirements, consciously or unconsciously, the beauty of his poetry is enhanced, consciously or unconsciously. The whole purpose of writing poetry is to enhance the beauty of the face of the Goddess of the Word. It could not be otherwise, because no poet wants to defeat his purpose by creating ugliness.





savitri bhir vacam - those word-bearing elements
sasi mani silabhanga ruci bhih - of broken moonstone lustre
vasin yadya bhih - with her word Vashinis
tvam saha - as associated with you
janani - o mother
sancintayati - yah - he thus able to contemplate
saha - he
karta kavyanam - the author of (great) poetic works
bhavati - he becomes
mahatam - great (poetic works - above)
bhangiruci bhihi - of scintillating sweetness
vaco bhih - by words
vak devi vadana kamala moda madhuraih - adding sweet charm to the lotus face of the Goddess of the Word
(As noted in the Introduction, certain sounds in Sanskrit do not exist in English - the "sh" sound in "Shiva", Vashini" etc. is one of them.  It is somewhere between "s" and "sh" in English and appears as both of these in the original manuscripts. We have left things as they are. ED)
There are certain principles which are the points of origin of all words (on the numerator side), represented in this verse by broken pieces of moonstone.
In the bottom half of the structure is a real taste or magenta colour.
These two, word and meaning, can be put together.

This picture involves refraction, reflection, diffraction: the total glow of light on a beard, for example.
This same diffraction can be seen in the cut moonstones which are brought together.
So Numerator words and Denominator experience are brought together.


(The above structure places Vasinis on the negative side, while almost all other manuscripts place them on the positive, numerator side. Ambiguity and paradox are ever present in this text. See note below. ED)
Numerator moonstones disperse,
Denominator moonstones are pressed together.
(The structure above is tentative. ED)
Sankara takes into his scope the whole of cosmology, this is a grand purview:
This verse shows:

1) The aspect which gives birth to the world (broken moonstone),

2) The principle from which the world originates, (moonstone with a fluid gleam)

that is:
the noun is existent,
the predicate is subsistent.
(Predicate: a syntactic unit that functions as one of the two main constituents of a simple sentence, the other being the subject, and that consists of a verb, which in English may agree with the subject in number, and of all the words governed by the verb or modifying it, the whole often expressing the action performed by or the state attributed to the subject, as is "here" in" Larry is here". ED)
The object is:
The poet who wants to be grandiose must think of both the Devi´s Numerator - cut or broken moonstone - and her Denominator aspect - fluidly gleaming moonstone .
It is cut because, even when cut, the moonstone has the same brightness, by the principle of refraction.

There is a spot on the moon which does not spoil its beauty but only enhances it.
If Kalidasa's Shakuntala wears an un-beautiful sari made of bark cloth, it only sets off her beauty more.

This means that the negative side is also necessary to the totality of Absolute Beauty.
You should not always ask for Numerator values, Her absolute beauty consists of both Numerator and Denominator.
So, Aphrodite has both a Numerator and a Denominator form.

The Numerator Devi will encourage Brahmacharis, (Wisdom-students. ED)
The Denominator Devi will have lots of children.
Three Kalis:
(The "Three Dolorosas" of De Quincey's "Confessions of an Opium Eater".
One Dolorosa cries at the bedside of a dying man.
One enters with a key and tells You to commit suicide.
One kicks in the door and drives You mad.
Diana was glad that her disciple Hippolytus kept his chastity,
but Aphrodite wanted him to yield and made him fall down and break his head.

(See the "Hippolytus" of Euripides. Diana was a numerator goddess, and Aphrodite a denominator goddess. A parallel is to be drawn with Savitri and Vashini. Savitri = "word-bearing elements". See word-for-word above. ED)
The Devi here is to be known in two aspects:
Savitri: the Mother who gives birth to the universe
Vashini: the Numerator aspect of the Devi (Diana).
(The position of Vasinis and Savitris on the numerator or denominator side is different in various places in the notes taken by students: there are two possibilities: 1) One of them is not correct; or 2) This represents the situation viewed from different points of view - which is the Editor's opinion. Yet again, remember that structuralism is a methodology, not a dogmatic doctrine - pin down all the four corners of the structure and you will get a chair or a table - not a living, dancing thing. At the heart of the Absolute is an alternation, an ambiguity or a paradox, as depicted by the dynamism in the diagram below. ED)
Reflection, Refraction and Diffraction: these three phenomena of light are explained by Schroedinger.
He says that the "appearance" of matter is due to the diffraction of light.
This means that the diamonds in an earring will glow as one diamond.
(The question of reflection, refraction and diffraction is a subtle one to understand.
This verse is concerned with light: the glow of moonstone and the glitter of broken moonstone.
However, this verse, like all the others, is describing the Absolute or, in other words, the Devi.
All matter - this universe - is just appearance due to the diffraction of light. In Sanskrit this "appearance" is translated as "Maya". The Devi is called, ultimately, "Mahamaya" - "The great Maya".

"As the Goddess of the Word, Veda-knowers speak of You as Brahma's wife
Lakshmi is Vishnu's wedded one, and the Mountain Daughter is Shiva's consort;
Certain others as the unattainable and boundless fourth state refer to You;
While you remain as the great Maya, making the universe go round, as queen of the Ultimate Absolute."

Elsewhere, the Guru said that beauty is "Just a light playing on the face".
Absolute Beauty is the Devi, the subject of these verses.
Reflection, refraction and diffraction could perhaps be seen as just different ways for light to create the appearance of a universe.
Or indeed, just light playing on the face of the Devi.
Without Erotic Mysticism you cannot understand the Saundarya Lahari.
As Eddington wrote: "To modern physics the universe is not a great machine, but a great thought." ED)
A luxuriant beard glows as one light, not as individual hairs.
The diffracted glory of the Devi - this means that "even when You, the Devi, cut the moonstone, it shines as one entity".

The most masterly similes in poetry are used by Kalidasa; Sankara continues this same tradition.
There must be glowing pieces of moonstone, which glow as one body, because of diffraction.

Then, on the Numerator side are the Vashinis, with diferent-coloured lights.

He who can reconstruct Absolute Beauty in these terms becomes a poet, the author of mahakavyas (great poetry), beginning with grandiose Creation, so vague and sublime, encompassing the Absolute.
(Mahakavya: from Maha - great - Kavya - poem:

Kavya is a highly artificial Sanskrit literary style employed in the court epics of India from the early centuries C.E.. It evolved an elaborate poetics of figures of speech, among which the metaphor and simile predominate. Other characteristics of the style are hyperbole, the careful use of language to achieve a particular effect, a sometimes ostentatious display of erudition, and an adroit use of varied and complicated metres—all applied to traditional subjects and themes derived from early popular epics.

The style finds its classical expression in the so-called mahakavya (“great poem”), in the strophic lyric (a lyric based on a rhythmic system of two or more lines repeated as a unit), and in the Sanskrit theatre. ED)

He is saying:
"Reconstructing You, the Devi, in terms of these two principles, secondary to Your absolute status.
He who can reconstruct You together with Your component parts, he becomes a true poet."

Secondary component parts of the Numerator and Denominator have to be integrated around the face of the Goddess, located in the bindusthana (central locus).
Vashinis are predicative - the Logos; the Numerator aspect of the substantive Devi, like cut moonstone.
Vashini and others are supposed to preside over the eight vowels.
The vowels can have various colours - crystal, coral or smoky, ranging from vermilion to yellow, including gold.
(See the bottom of this page for traditional lore concerning Vashinis. ED)
There is something intriguing in the Malayalam edition of the Saundarya Lahari: the pundit quotes some other books, Subhagodram (?) and the vashinis are mentioned, as well as two kinds of ancient Shakti worshippers, one respectable, the other not.
(No trace of "Subhagodram" can be found; one possibility might be Sarva-rogahara; see also at the bottom of this page. This is fortunately of only peripheral interest. 
From the Sarvarogahara;

I bow to Vasini [she who attracts everything], Kamesvari [she who is the mistress of lust], Modini [she who is happy], Vimala [she who is blemishless],  Aruna [she who is magenta in colour], Jayini [she who is always victorious],  Sarvesvari [she who is the mistress of all], Kaulini, [the enjoyer, the mistress of kulachara].

What relevance this has is not clear. ED)

There is one kavya (poem) for each of the 14 days of the moon;
two are left over, which must be put in the Bindhusthana, making 16.
A semiotic process follows: Mashinta (?) in the Muladhara Chakra. (Pashinti? ED)
(The Editor does not know what this passage refers to. It is obviously derived from some source of Sanskrit Poetics or Linguistics, but which? ED)

These are the four sounds in Sanskrit, with their corresponding loci.
(This passage is unclear to us. ED)

"I feel confident that my hopes to retrieve and salvage this knowledge are worthwhile. Today, because of this verse, I feel confident again." (Nataraja Guru).
"From different texts, it shows structurally how Shiva and Shakti can come and cancel from opposite poles. The pundits knew this. That means that the ancients too knew of this discovery. I am overpowered by this discovery and am about to go mad. Curran is also going mad. Why? Because his Guru is mad. So, this proto-language can save the world. I feel confident that my attempt to salvage this work of Sankara is not in vain. This is the main point of to-day's lesson. The two feet of the Goddess: ONE IS VERTICAL, ONE HORIZONTAL.
This I can see clearly - and it is of the utmost importance.
This verse contains very clear indications (in the commentary of the pundits)." (Nataraja Guru)
In these 44 Chakras, reference is made to the letters. (Meaning obscure. ED)
This is their version of structuralism, they were not aware of conics.
The sun's aspects are dovetailed into the moon's (14+2)


There are 16 names which correspond to each of these points on the axis.
14 and 14 for each of the two lunar fortnights.
(Below are the names of the days in the fortnight:
 Krishna Paksha
1. Prathama 1. Prathama
2. Dwitiya 2. Dwitiya
3. Tritiya 3. Tritiya
4. Chaturthi 4. Chaturthi
5. Panchami 5. Panchami
6. Shashti 6. Shashti
7. Saptami 7. Saptami
8. Ashtami 8. Ashtami
9. Navami 9. Navami
10.Dashami 10.Dashami
11.Ekadashi 11.Ekadashi
12.Dwadashi 12.Dwadashi
13.Thrayodashi 13.Trayodasi
14.Chaturdashi 14.Chaturdashi
15.Purnima 15. Amavasya

The two extra must correspond to the Sun and Moon. ED)

There are 8 Vashinis, with Kaulini as the extreme negative and 12 Vashinis as the positive factors.

"Vashini" means "to attract" and "Kaulini" is the bottomless pit.

Yoginis (female yogis) do not attract men, they will throw stones at the hippies who approach them.

Why 12 and 8 ? They can be revalued as 10 and 10.
Why letters? Because it is through them that things come into meaning.



What precedes is the structural analysis of some Pundit who is trying to explain the import of Verse 17.

A woman must be broken from contact with the Bhu (earth): that is, the base-line of the diagram.
All this attraction of women, pulling down men, is called Vashini (? ED.).

Electric current is always 16 (?10) times stronger than its magnetism.
It is an exponential or logarithmic relationship.

Actually, the Yoginis and Vashinis all go on the negative side:
the Yoginis on the left, as virtual and the Vashinis on the right, as actual.
This verse describes the integration of semantic and semiotic processes.
(This commentary on Verse 17 is extremely obscure in many of its details. We have tried to make it as clear as possible, but the source manuscripts are fragmentary and the Guru referred constantly to his vast store of knowledge of Sanskrit Philosophy, with which none of the students taking down the notes were familiar, and so there are many inacuracies and garbled terms in the manuscripts. The general principles are, however, clear. ED)

Another version:

- That which gives birth to words (Savitri), Shining like bursting moonstone (scintillating)
- With divinities such as those called Vashinis (like rubies)
- As united together with You
- O Mother
- He who thinks integratedly (i.e. contemplatively)
- He
- The author of poetry becomes
- Of great
- Pleasing because of liquid or fluid beauty
- By means of words
- Of pleasing sweetness belonging to the lotus face of the Word Goddess

One process - semiotic - is fluid like moonstone.
The other process - semantic - is like bursting into meaning.

The man who can put these together can write poetry adding to the beauty of the Goddess of the Word (Vak Devi).
Here we have rubies and diamonds integrated into one whole.
This refers to.........., a particular style of Malayalam poetry, meaning diamonds and rubies. (? ED.)

This represents various sets of elements - Vashinis and Vak Devatas,
a lotus mouth, with a fragrance and Savitri, the generator of words, giving birth.
One set of elements, Savitri, is the generator of words and is Denominator; an actual thing giving birth to words.
The Vashinis are Numerator.
(The editor cannot make sense of many of the above references, which mostly belong to the rituals of Tantric Goddesss-worship. Luckily, none of it is essential to the understanding of this text. Any reader familiar with the subject and willing to assist us in clarifying this material would be very welcome; please contact us. ED.)

Another version:

- (That which gives) giving birth to words (Savitri).
- Shining like bursting moonstone (scintillating)
- With divinities such as those called Vashinis.
- As united together with You
- O, Mother
- He who thinks integratedly (i.e. contemplatively)
- He
- The author of poetry becomes
- Of great
- Pleasing because of liquid or fluid beauty (i.e. the words)
- By means of words
- Of pleasing sweetness belonging to the lotus face of the Word-Goddess