Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Even the gods must die"~Kalhana~Gautier

Martand
One the exercises I indulge in at this blog is looking at the "meta-information" and usage of information. What happens to information over the years?

Exercise

Problem: Why do some books (starting from 1950s, ending in 2013!) attribute the following beautiful lines to Kalhana when even a basic Google search says that the lines belong to a Frenchman, Théophile Gautier?:
"Even the gods must die; But sovereign poetry remains, Stronger than death"

Solution:
The lines do indeed represent thoughts of Gautier. These line were used by Ranjit S. Pandit in 1933 to end his invitation (introduction) to his translation of Kalhana's Rajatarangini (1935). He wrote: "Kalhana knew that everything withered with age and decayed in time; only the artist could seize the passing form and stamp it in a mould that resists mortality". And then to put emphasis on the thought, he quoted a poem by Gautier.

The complete poem goes like this:
All things pass; strong art alone
Can know eternity;
The marble bust
Outlives the state:
And the austere medallion
Which some toiler finds
Under the earth
Preserves the emperor
Even the Gods must die;
But sovereign poetry
Remains,
Stronger than death.
That much is fine and clear even if quoting Frenchman Gautier's poetry to explain greatness of Kashmiri Kalhana's poetry now appears to be a ludicrous. Over the years what happened was even more ludicrous as it became a victim to a curious phenomena observed by Aldous Huxley during his visit to India and Kashmir in mid 1920s. He laughed at Indian fascination for starting passages with 'apophthegms, quotations' and ending it with 'cracker mottoes', and for saying things like ' As the Persian poet so beautifully puts it '.

"Even gods must die" is a powerful thought, occurring in Nordic and Greek myths, Buddhist and Hindu works and even used in Superman comic). The first instance of that poem's wrongful attribution appears in "Mārg̲: A Magazine of the Arts" (1954). Then this wrongful attribution kept getting replicated over the decades in other books and publications. It seems as if people, given the beauty of the lines, and the context it was used, wished and then believed that the lines were actually written by Kalhana. Most recent case: a pandit book on history.

This seems like a good time to remember Jonaraja's explanation of Rajatarangini. As Jonaraja, the Sanskrit poet so beautifully put it, Rajatarangini is "a tree of poetry in whose shades those travelers who are kings can cool the heat of the prideful ways of their forebears"*

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