Humour in Sanskrit Literature

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Compiled from Press cuttings by London Swaminathan
Post No.1494; Dated 17th December 2014

The “Sringara” and “Veera” rasas are prominent in Sanskrit literature; but “Hasya” (humour – provoking laughter) also finds its due place. This may arise in the juxta-position of two incongruous elements, punning (slesha)- two meanings , one may be derogatory, funny antics, foolish embarrassing situations etc. obscenity and conscious mischief will be “abuses” of humour; mere jokes may evoke response only from a limited class of people.

Valmiki Ramayana itself has good instances of humour a) Trijata, the aged Brahmin, girds up his loins, and holds his breath before throwing his stick to a far distance. This provokes a mocking smile from Rama, as reflecting the poor man’s greed. But the whirled stick falls on the bounds of Ayodhya – the Sarayu River- testifying to the sage’s innate strength. Rama is contrite at once and apologises for his earlier lapses.
(The more distance the stick covers the more land one gets as gift)

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b)The ugly Surpanaka loves the superbly handsome Rama; their contrasting physical features as set out by Valmiki provoke mirth in the reader

c)The antics of Vanaras (monkeys) at the sea shore and at the Madhu Vana (drunk with honey in Sundara Kanda) are funny indeed!

laurel and hardy
Laurel and Hardy, Comedians

Humour in Mahabharata

The Mahabharata also has funny situations: e.g. Prince Uttara’s boast and later cowardice. The “Mattavilasa Prahasana” of Pallva Emperor Mahendra Varman is a rollicking comedy depicting the drunkards, fraudulent ascetics, Kapalikas, Pasupatas and Buddhists talking philosophy!

Sri A V Subramanian gave a talk on “Humour in Sanskrit Literature” on 16th June , 1985 under the auspices of Rasodaya at the K S R Institute, Mylapore. Sri P S Ramamurti presided.

The speaker confined himself to citations from classical Sanskrit Literature.

Some instances: (a) Kalidasa in Sakuntalam: The words of Vidushaka (jester) to King Dushyanta are humorous wittingly or unwittingly). When Dushyanta declaims on the superb beauty of Sakuntala and wonders which fortunate person is destined to have her, the Vidushaka says, “save her quickly. Let her not fall into the hands of some sage possessed of head, glossy with the oil of Ingudi!”

(b)When Dushyanta feels that his portrait of Sakuntala is incomplete, the Vidhusaka suggests “soto voce”; “the picture board is to be filled with batches of sages with hanging beards!”

charlie chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

c)When earlier Dushyanta speaks about the secret shy glances of Sakuntala, the Vidushaka quries “Did you expect her to mount your lap as soon as you were seen” (The Vidushaka pretending to be valorous but clutching at excuses for running away from scenes of danger, is also mirth provoking).

d)VIKRAMORVASEEYAM: Brahma, the creator, is said to be “Vedhaabyaasa Jatah” rendered foolish by repeated chanting of the Vedas lacking in “Rasikatvam”.

e)BHASA: In the drama “Pratigna Yaugandharayana”, a drunkard, says that an elephant accoutrements one by one had been mortgaged to the inn-keeper and finally that the elephant itself had been so mortgaged!

f)Kshemendra’s “Kalaavilasa deals humorously with the follies of men. In “Desopadesa”, a miser wanting to take his wealth with him after death ( A lawyer may advise that a cheque may be placed in his coffin!)

g)Nilakanta Dikshita in his “Kalividamabana” holds up to ridicule the dishonest ways of men – different classes in the Kali age. His Anayapadesa Sataka also has a vigorous satire on the weakness of mankind.

charle2
Charlie Chaplin

h)Miscellaneous Authors: Many citations were given, including the funny behaviour of drunkards. General statements are made about all being thieves, in their own ways (plagiarism among poets, included) – R.R.
From Paper Cutting from Indian Express dated 24-6-1985

Contact swami_48@yahoo.com

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