Similes in Sanskrit Literature


Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Research article No.1489; Dated 15th December 2014.

Appaayya Diksita’s ‘Citramimamsa’ gives the definition of simile as follows,

“Tad idam citram visvam
Brahmajnanad ivo pamajnanat
Jnatam bhavati’ ty adau
Nirupyate nikhilabhedasahita sa
Upamai ka sailusi
Samprapta citrabhumikabhedan
Ranjayati kavyarange
Nrtyanti tadvidam cetah”

Meaning :–As this diversified universe is known by the knowledge of Brahman, so all the figures are known by the knowledge of the simile. Thus the simile with all its varieties is described in the very beginning. The simile alone, an actress dancing in different kinds of costumes on the stage of poetry, taking different shapes of figures, delights the heart of those who know it.
Jayadeva defines the simile (upama) as a figure of speech in which the beauty of similarity exists between two objects, as between the two breasts of a woman (Candraloka 5-3)

In the Mahabharata gods are used as similes. Indra tops the list of Gods. This shows that Mahabharata was written nearer to Vedic times. Had it been written in the Common Era (CE), Siva or Vishnu would have topped the list. As per the statistics available, the frequency table shows the following:


Indra (brilliance and prominence) – at least 247 times
Surya (splendour) –164 times
Agni (Fire; for splendour and destruction) – 155 times
Yama (destructionand terror) 104 times
Gods (Devas) (Brilliance) – 81 times.

Siva, Vishnu and Brahma are way down below in the frequency table and so the Mahabharata was written long before the Puranas which glorify Siva or Vishnu.

The name Upama occurs as early as the Rig Veda (5-34-9; 1-31-15). Yaska quotes the grammarian Gargya’s definition of Upama.
The oldest Tamil book Tolkappiam also used the Sanskrit word Upama (uvamam).
Ramayana has more than 3400 similes. Kalidasa has used more than thousand similes.


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