Jaitra Yātrā Varṇana in the Mahākāvya-s

Mahākāvya, a genre of classical Sanskrit literature, typically involves creative retelling of stories from Purānas, Itihāsas and lives of noble personalities. The poet narrates the plot with an elegant description of various facets of the world such as cities, mountains, oceans, military expeditions (jaitra yātrā), deeds of brave personalities (dhirodātta), etc. This feature known as aṣṭhādaśa varṇana saves the Mahākāvya from being a boring narration of past incidents. Further, it allows the poet to keep readers entertained, while he lovingly nudges them to “live like Rama and not Ravana.” This essay attempts to shed light on the description of jaitra yātrā as found in different Mahākāvya-s.

Why describe Jaitra Yātrā in a Mahākāvya?

Incidents like war and military expeditions give a peek into a range of human emotions, ranging from grit and valour to fear and grief. It gives the poet an opportunity to invoke the rasa-s corresponding to each of these emotions. The jaitra yātrā, especially, adds a sense of adventure and suspense which contributes to Vīra rasa. Hence, the jaitra yātrā Varṇana is found in many of the mahākāvya-s. But, interestingly, in each of them, the poet skillfully adapts the Varṇana to suit the sthāyi bhāva and pradhāna rasa of the kāvya.

Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa

Karuṇa rasa is predominant here: “In the Rāmāyana, tinged throughout with pathos and ending with personal grief for its chief figures, the prevailing rasa is karuṇa, the pathetic, based on sorrow.”(Peterson, p.38). In keeping with the rasa, the jaitra yātrā Varṇana is relatively free of aggression and ferocity that would normally be expected in military expeditions. It rather stresses on vānara sena’s zeal to unite grief-ridden Rama with Sita. 

After Rama’s decision to depart for Lanka, Sugriva orders the vānara sena to assemble. Valmiki writes: “Thereupon a multitude of monkeys, eager to fight, issued from the caves and mountain peaks, leaping on all sides.” (6.4.22). The King of the monkeys then prays to Rama and commences the march with the sena. Coming near Rama, the vānara-s proclaim, as if to console him:

रावणो नो निहन्तव्यः सर्वे च रजनीचराः ।

इति गर्जन्ति हरयो राघवस्य समीपतः ॥

rāvaṇo no nihantavyaḥ sarve ca rajanīcarāḥ

iti garjanti harayo rāghavasya samīpataḥ

In Raghava’s presence, the apes roared, ‘Ravana and all the roamers in the night deserve to be killed by us.’ 6.4.26 (The Critical Edition of Ramayana is followed unless stated otherwise).

Lakshmana too assures Rama: “We will swiftly kill Ravana and get back Vaidehi, who has been abducted…O Raghava! I can see great portents in the sky and on the ground. I see all these auspicious omens, indicating success in your objective.”

The resolve to remove Rama’s grief becomes the rallying point for the vānara-s:

हरयो राघवस्यार्थे समारोपितविक्रमाः ॥

हर्षं वीर्यं बलोद्रेकान्‌ दर्शयंतः परस्परम्‌ ।

यौवनोत्सेकजाद्‌ विविधांश्चकुर्ध्वनि ॥

तत्र केचिद्‌ द्रुतं जग्मुरमुरुत्पेतश्च तथापरे ।

केचित्‌ किलकिलां चक्रुर्वानरा वनगोचराः ॥

प्रास्फोटयंश्च पृच्छानि संतिजघ्रुः पदान्यपि ।

harayo rāghavasyārthe samāropitavikramāḥ ||

harṣaṃ vīryaṃ balodrekān darśayaṃtaḥ parasparam |

yauvanotsekajād vividhāṃścakurdhvani ||

tatra kecid drutaṃ jagmuramurutpetaśca tathāpare |

kecit kilakilāṃ cakrurvānarā vanagocarāḥ ||

prāsphoṭayaṃśca pṛcchāni saṃtijaghruḥ padānyapi |

“All those monkeys were zealous in Rama’s service, each vying with the other in high spirits, vigour and prowess. Some, proud of their youth and supple limbs, increased their pace, running with extreme speed and executing handsprings and some of those rangers of the woods shouted Kila ! Kila ! lashing their tails and stamping on the earth…” 6.4.61-64 (Gita Press edition).

The sena, deeply devoted to Rama and determined to rescue Sita, proceed without a moment’s rest:

सा स्म याति दिवारात्रं महती हरिवाहिनी |

हृष्टप्रमुदिता सेना सुग्रीवेणाभिरक्षिता ||

वनरास् त्वरितं यान्ति सर्वे युद्धाभिनन्दनः |

मुमोक्षयिषवः सीतां मुहूर्तं क्वापि नासत ||

sā sma yāti divārātraṃ mahatī harivāhinī

hṛṣṭapramuditā senā sugrīveṇābhirakṣitā

vanarās tvaritaṃ yānti sarve yuddhābhinandanaḥ

mumokṣayiṣavaḥ sītāṃ muhūrtaṃ kvāpi nāsata

Through night and day, the great army of apes marched. Protected by Sugriva, the soldiers were happy and cheerful. All the spirited apes marched, delighted at the prospect of war. Desiring to free Sita, they did not tarry even for an instant. 6.4.53-54

However, this almost unstoppable march of the sena comes to an abrupt halt, thanks to the ocean. Valmiki takes the opportunity to explain the feelings of a restless and grief-stricken Rama:

तन् मे दहति गात्राणि विषं पीतम् इवाशये |

हा नाथेति प्रिया सा मां ह्रियमाणा यद् अब्रवीत् ||

तद्वियोगेन्धनवता तच्चिन्ताविपुलार्चिषा |

रात्रिं दिवं शरीरं मे दह्यते मदनाग्निना ||

अवगाह्यार्णवं स्वप्स्ये सौमित्रे भवता विना |

कथं चित् प्रज्वलन् कामः समासुप्तं जले दहेत् ||

बह्व् एतत् कामयानस्य शक्यम् एतेन जीवितुम् |

यद् अहं सा च वामोरुर् एकां धरणिम् आश्रितौ ||

केदारस्येव केदारः सोदकस्य निरूदकः |

उपस्नेहेन जीवामि जीवन्तीं यच् छृणोमि ताम् ||

tan me dahati gātrāṇi viṣaṃ pītam ivāśaye

hā nātheti priyā sā māṃ hriyamāṇā yad abravīt

tadviyogendhanavatā taccintāvipulārciṣā

rātriṃ divaṃ śarīraṃ me dahyate madanāgninā

avagāhyārṇavaṃ svapsye saumitre bhavatā vinā

kathaṃ cit prajvalan kāmaḥ samāsuptaṃ jale dahet

bahv etat kāmayānasya śakyam etena jīvitum

yad ahaṃ sā ca vāmorur ekāṃ dharaṇim āśritau

kedārasyeva kedāraḥ sodakasya nirūdakaḥ

upasnehena jīvāmi jīvantīṃ yac chṛṇomi tām

“As she was being abducted, my beloved must have spoken to me. “Alas, lord!” That thought is scorching my body, as if I have imbibed some poison. Night and day, the fire of desire is consuming my body…Burnt by this desire, I am capable of remaining alive only because I and the one with the beautiful thighs are located on the same earth. A paddy field without water survives by imbibing water from an adjacent paddy field that is full of water. In that way, I am alive by being sprinkled, having heard that she is alive.” 6.5.7-11.

As the wait gets prolonged, Rama begins to ponder:

कदा नु राक्षसेन्द्रस्य निधायोरसि सायकान् |

सीतां प्रत्याहरिष्यामि शोकम् उत्सृज्य मानसं ||

कदा नु खलु मां साध्वी सीतामरसुतोपमा |

सोत्कण्ठा कण्ठम् आलम्ब्य मोक्ष्यत्य् आनन्दजं जलम् ||

कदा शोकम् इमं घोरं मैथिली विप्रयोगजम् |

सहसा विप्रमोक्ष्यामि वासः शुक्लेतरं यथा ||

kadā nu rākṣasendrasya nidhāyorasi sāyakān

sītāṃ pratyāhariṣyāmi śokam utsṛjya mānasaṃ

kadā nu khalu māṃ sādhvī sītāmarasutopamā

sotkaṇṭhā kaṇṭham ālambya mokṣyaty ānandajaṃ jalam

kadā śokam imaṃ ghoraṃ maithilī viprayogajam

sahasā vipramokṣyāmi vāsaḥ śukletaraṃ yathā

When will I strike the Indra among rakshasas with arrows in his chest and bring Sita back, thereby dispelling the sorrow in my heart? When will the virtuous and anxious Sita, who is like a daughter of the immortals, cling to my neck and release tears of joy? When will I suddenly free myself from this terrible sorrow that has resulted from the separation with Maithilee, like one casts away a soiled garment?’ 6.5.18-20.

Rama begins to pray to the ocean to find a way out. When the ocean deity fails to appear even after three whole days of meditation, Rama threatens to dry up the ocean. Soon the ocean deity appears and suggests that Nila, the son of Vishwakarma can lay a bridge. The scene of building the bridge is described thus:

ततो निसृष्टरामेण सर्वतो हरियूथपाः |

अभिपेतुर् महारण्यं हृष्टाः शतसहस्रशः ||

ते नगान् नगसंकाशाः शाखामृगगणर्षभाः |

बभञ्जुर् वानरास् तत्र प्रचकर्षुश् च सागरम् ||

ते सालैश् चाश्वकर्णैश् च धवैर् वंशैश् च वानराः |

कुटजैर् अर्जुनैस् तालैस् तिकलैस् तिमिशैर् अपि ||

बिल्वकैः सप्तपर्णैश् च कर्णिकारैश् च पुष्पितैः |

चूतैश् चाशोकवृक्षैश् च सागरं समपूरयन् ||

समूलांश् च विमूलांश् च पादपान् हरिसत्तमाः |

इन्द्रकेतून् इवोद्यम्य प्रजह्रुर् हरयस् तरून् ||

प्रक्षिप्यमाणैर् अचलैः सहसा जलम् उद्धतम् |

समुत्पतितम् आकाशम् अपासर्पत् ततस् ततः ||

दशयोजनविस्तीर्णं शतयोजनम् आयतम् |

नलश् चक्रे महासेतुं मध्ये नदनदीपतेः ||

शिलानां क्षिप्यमाणानां शैलानां तत्र पात्यताम् |

बभूव तुमुलः शब्दस् तदा तस्मिन् महोदधौ ||

स नलेन कृतः सेतुः सागरे मकरालये |

शुशुभे सुभगः श्रीमान् स्वातीपथ इवाम्बरे ||

tato nisṛṣṭarāmeṇa sarvato hariyūthapāḥ

abhipetur mahāraṇyaṃ hṛṣṭāḥ śatasahasraśaḥ

te nagān nagasaṃkāśāḥ śākhāmṛgagaṇarṣabhāḥ

babhañjur vānarās tatra pracakarṣuś ca sāgaram

te sālaiś cāśvakarṇaiś ca dhavair vaṃśaiś ca vānarāḥ

kuṭajair arjunais tālais tikalais timiśair api

bilvakaiḥ saptaparṇaiś ca karṇikāraiś ca puṣpitaiḥ

cūtaiś cāśokavṛkṣaiś ca sāgaraṃ samapūrayan

samūlāṃś ca vimūlāṃś ca pādapān harisattamāḥ

indraketūn ivodyamya prajahrur harayas tarūn

prakṣipyamāṇair acalaiḥ sahasā jalam uddhatam

samutpatitam ākāśam apāsarpat tatas tataḥ

daśayojanavistīrṇaṃ śatayojanam āyatam

nalaś cakre mahāsetuṃ madhye nadanadīpateḥ

śilānāṃ kṣipyamāṇānāṃ śailānāṃ tatra pātyatām

babhūva tumulaḥ śabdas tadā tasmin mahodadhau

sa nalena kṛtaḥ setuḥ sāgare makarālaye

śuśubhe subhagaḥ śrīmān svātīpatha ivāmbare

“Given their leave by Rama, hundreds of thousands of delighted leaders of the apes left in every direction and went to the great forest. The bulls among the apes resembled boulders and dragged boulders. The apes shattered these and started to drag them towards the ocean. The apes filled the ocean with salas, ashvakarnas, dhavas, bamboos, kutajas, arjunas, talas, tilakas, timishas, bilvas, saptaparnas, blossoming karnikaras, mangos and ashoka trees. The supreme among apes brought some trees with roots, others without roots. Like Indra’s standard, the apes raised up and dragged trees. Large boulders were violently hurled in and the waters surged up, touching the sky and then falling back again. In the middle of the lord of the male and female rivers, Nala constructed a gigantic bridge that was ten yojanas wide and one hundred yojanas long. Boulders were flung in. Boulders were thrown in there. At that time, a tumultuous sound arose within that great ocean. Thus, Nala constructed a beautiful and handsome bridge across the abode of the makaras. It was as radiant as Svati’s path in the firmament. Wishing to see this extraordinary sight, the gods, the gandharvas, the siddhas and the supreme rishis arrived and stood there, in the sky. The apes roared. They leapt up and leapt down. This was unthinkable. This was impossible to believe. This was extraordinary and made the body hair stand up. All the creatures.” 6.15.14-22

The message reaches Ravana that Rama along with his army has crossed the ocean. As Ravana remains eager to know about the army, his spy Sarana addresses him thus:

तांस्तु तेऽहं प्रवक्ष्यामि प्रेक्षमाणस्य यूथपान् |

राघवार्थे पराक्रान्ता ये न रक्षन्ति जीवितम् ||

tāṃs tu te ‘haṃ pravakṣyāmi prekṣamāṇasya yūthapān

rāghavārthe parākrāntā ye na rakṣanti jīvitam

‘I will tell you about the brave leaders you are looking at. For Raghava’s sake, they are ready to give up their lives. 6.18.1-2

In this way the faith and devotion of the vānara senā towards Rama, and the grief of separation of Rama and Sita becomes the central theme of the jaitra yātrā Varṇana. Also, the Varṇana is rather long as compared with other Kāvya-s. It is only apt that for a Kāvya which builds on the grief of separation between its protagonists, the story of their reunion is long-drawn. 

Mahābhārata

The Mahābhārata, “in which internecine conflict leads to devastation, grief, and chaos, ends on a dominant note of śānta, “ the peaceful,” the rasa that is based on world-weariness (nirveda) and connotes the peace of quietude and renunciation.” (Peterson, p.38) Consequently, the Varṇana takes a different turn from that of Valmiki Ramayana. The purpose of Mahābhārata, it is said, is to inspire desire for peace by showing the inevitable sufferings of the world. Perhaps, true to Krishna’s message in the Bhagavadgīta, it advices one “to be in the world but not of it”, to not be deluded and attached to its charms.

Throughout the jaitra yātra varṇana, the poet alludes to disastrous outcomes of the war, setting the stage for a thrilling narration. The zeal and devotion in the army that was seen in Ramayaṇa is replaced with the feelings of aggression and revenge. Vyasa likens the warriors to wild animals, writing that “They roared like lions” and “had eyes like bulls”. Showing the strength and might of the warring elephants and the soldiers, he compares them to moving mountains. Describing the terrifying atmosphere of the battle ground, Vyasa writes:

उन्मत्तमकरावर्तौ महाग्राहसमाकुलौ |

युगान्ते समुपेतौ दवौ दृश्येते सागराव इव ||

unmattamakarāvartau mahāgrāhasamākulau

yugānte samupetau dvau dṛśyete sāgarāv iva

They (armies of the two sides) were like two oceans meeting at the end of an era, infested with crazy sharks and giant crocodiles. 6.16.45

ववाशिरे च दीप्तायां दिशि गॊमायुवायसााः |

लिप्समानााः शरीराणि माांसशोणितभोजना ||

vavāśire ca dīptāyāṃ diśi gomāyuvāyasāḥ

lipsamānāḥ śarīrāṇi māṃsaśoṇitabhojanāḥ

When the blazing sun arose in the sky, it had a flaming crest. The directions blazed. Desiring to feed on bodies, flesh and blood, jackals and crows cried out. 6.17.4

Bhisma, the general of the Kauravas, knowing well that this is no ordinary war, exhorts his soldiers to be prepared to die:

इदं वः क्षत्रिया द्वारं स्वर्गायापावृतं महत्|

अधर्मः क्षत्रियस्यैष यद् व्याधिमरणं गृहे|

यद् आजौ निधनं याति सो ऽस्य धर्मः सनातनः||

idaṃ vaḥ kṣatriyā dvāraṃ svargāyāpāvṛtaṃ mahat

adharmaḥ kṣatriyasyaiṣa yad vyādhimaraṇaṃ gṛhe

yad ājau nidhanaṃ yāti so ‘sya dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ

“O kshatriyas! This great door that leads to heaven has been opened up…It is adharma for a kshatriya to die from disease in his home. The eternal dharma is to die in the field of battle.” 6.17.8-11

As the two armies waited for the battle to begin, Sanjaya describes the situation:

रजश्चोद्धूयमानं तु तमसाच् छादयज् जगत् ||

पपात महती चोल्का प्राङ्मुखी भरतर्षभ |

उद्यन्तं सूर्यम् आहत्य व्यशीर्यत महास्वना ||

अथ सज्जीयमानेषु सैन्येषु भरतर्षभ |

निष्प्रभोऽभ्युदियात् सूर्यः सघोषो भूश्चचाल ह ||

rajaś coddhūyamānaṃ tu tamasāc chādayaj jagat

papāta mahatī colkā prāṅmukhī bharatarṣabha

udyantaṃ sūryam āhatya vyaśīryata mahāsvanā

atha sajjīyamāneṣu sainyeṣu bharatarṣabha

niṣprabho ‘bhyudiyāt sūryaḥ saghoṣo bhūś cacāla ha

‘“Dust arose and covered the earth in darkness. O bull among the Bharata lineage! Large meteors fell down in an eastern direction. They struck the rising sun and were shattered, with a loud noise. O bull among the Bharata lineage! When the armies were arranged in this way, the sun lost its luminescence and the earth roared and trembled. 6.19.36-39

He later says that the battle was an “extremely fearful and tumultuous” one, and it took place at an inauspicious hour!

महान्त्य् अनीकानि महासमुच्छ्रये; समागमे पाण्डवधार्तराष्ट्रयोः |

चकम्पिरे शङ्खमृदङ्गनिस्वनैः; प्रकम्पितानीव वनानि वायुना ||

नरेन्द्रनागाश्वरथाकुलानाम्; अभ्यायतीनाम् अशिवे मुहूर्ते |

बभूव घोषस् तुमुलश् चमूनां; वातोद्धुतानाम् इव सागराणाम् ||

mahānty anīkāni mahāsamucchraye; samāgame pāṇḍavadhārtarāṣṭrayoḥ

cakampire śaṅkhamṛdaṅganisvanaiḥ; prakampitānīva vanāni vāyunā

narendranāgāśvarathākulānām; abhyāyatīnām aśive muhūrte

babhūva ghoṣas tumulaś camūnāṃ; vātoddhutānām iva sāgarāṇām

In that great encounter and confrontation, the giant armies of the Pandavas and the sons of Dhritarashtra trembled, like a forest stirred by the wind. The loud roar of those masses of kings, elephants, horses and chariots, dashing against each other at that inauspicious hour, was like that of the ocean agitated by a storm. 6.42.6-7

Recall how, Lakshmana speaks about auspicious omens and assures Rama of success. In contrast, in the Mahābhārata, Vyasa suggests a deadly battle between bitter rivals which is sure to bring suffering to all– the “good” as well as the “bad”. It gives no hope of a happy ending, but repeatedly hints at the tragic lamentation of the widowed and orphaned survivors which is later narrated in the strī parva.

The second part of the essay to be published in the next issue will describe the jaitra yātra varṇana from the Raghuvamśa and Kirātārjunīya.

P.S: The Author likes to thank Dr. Ramakrishna Pejathaya, Asst. Professor, Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, whose courses on Poetics and Aesthetics has greatly helped in writing this essay.

References

  • Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic, Indira Vishwanath Peterson
  • The Valmiki Ramayana, Translated by Bibek Debroy
  • The Ramayana of Valmiki Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri
  • The Mahabharata, Translated by Bibek Debroy
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