GREAT WOMAN SCHOLAR AVANTI SUNDARI (Post No.7306)

WRITTEN BY London Swaminathan

swami_48@yahoo.com

Date: 6 DECEMBER 2019

 Time in London – 12-29

Post No. 7306

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One thousand years ago there lived a great scholar by name Avantisundari whom even her husband quoted in his books many times. Like Sarasavani who was moderating the debate between her husband Mandana Mishra and Adi Shankara and Gargi Vachaknaavi of Vedic lore who challenged Yajnavalkya in the All India Philosophical Congress even before Greeks started writing books, we had  great women scholars in India.

Rajasekara was the court poet of Mahendrapaala, a king in Gurjara Pratihara vamsa. Avantisundari ws the wife of Rajasekhara. He lived around 880 CE and his wife Avanti Sundari was Chauhan from Maharashtra. Perhaps he is the only ancient poet who has given credit to his wife. He says in his Kaavya Mimmasaa, “Women also can be poets like men. Genius is inherent in persons irrespective of sex differences. It is heard and seen that princesses, daughters of ministers, courtesans and concubines are possessed of extensive knowledge of the ‘shaastraas’ (scriptures) and poetic genius.”

Rajashekara knew about the great Vedic poetesses, Sangam Tamil poetesses and Sataasi (Gatha Sapta Sati= GSS) Prakrit poetesses. Hinduism has the highest number of poetesses. Ancient India is the country with the highest number of poetesses and scholars. Even before Homer began his Iliad and Odyssey, Ms. Gargi was challenging a great seer for an open debate in a conference held in Bihar 3000 years ago.

Though we have the names of hundreds of scholars most of their works are lost. Some poems are in the Rig Veda, Sangam Tamil literature and GSS. Specimens are quoted in other books as well. Very rarely we have got a full book like Mathura Vijayam of Ganga Devi.

Gatha Sapta Sati (GSS), Prakrit anthology was compiled by Satavahana king Halan approximately 2000 years ago. We find the following poetesses in the anthology:-

Anulkshmii

Asuladdhii

Maadhavii

Prahataa

Revaa

Rohaa

Shashiprabhaa

Baddhavahii

But we don’t know from which of their works Halan compiled their poems or where they were living. Satavahana Dynasty covered areas of Andhra and Maharashtra. Their capital was Pratisthaana (Modern Paithaan on the banks of Godavari, near Aurangabad in Maharashtra).

Served three kings

Avanti Sundari’s husband Rajasekhara was the court poet for three kings- Gurjara Prathihara king Mahendrapaala I (885- 908 CE) and his son Mahipaala I (914-945 CE) and the Kaalachuri king Yuvaraaja.

Avanti sundari is credited with Paaiyalachchii, a Prakrit dictionary. Author Sundaraa is identified with Avanti Sundari. She compiled it for her brother Dhanapaala.

Rajasekhara has quoted Avanti sundari’s views thrice in his work on poetics Kaavya Miimaamsaa (Kavya Mimamsa). He also wrote a famous Prakrit Drama Karpuura Manjarii to entertain her.

Hemachandra (1088- 1172), a later poet also quoted three of her stanzas in his book Deshi Naama maalaa to illustrate the meaning of certain Prakrit expressions. These facts show beyond doubt that Avantisundari was recognized as a rhetorician and poetess of outstanding merit. Unfortunately, none of her works has so far been discovered.

QUEEN SHILA BHATTARIKA

Some verses attributed to Rajasekara in Jalhana’s Suukti Muktaavalii( (1258 CE) speak of the following poetesses:-

Shiilaa Bhattaarikaa

Vikata nitaambhaa

Vijayaanka of Karnataka

Prabhu  devii of Laata desa(Gujarat) and

Subhadraa.

Of these the Karnataaka poetess Vijayaanka is described as Sarasvati incarnate and as a peer of Vaidharbi style of Kaalidaasa. She is sometimes identified with Vijja, Vijjakaa, Bhijjakaa (Vidhyaa= Vidhyaavatii). Her poems are found in most of the Sanskrit anthologies. She is further identified with Vijaya Bhattaarikaa -Queen of Chalukya Prince Chandraaditya, who flourished around the middle of seventh century.

Shiilaa bhattaarikaa is placed by Rajasehara side by side with Baana as having the merit of writing in a type of the Paanchaali (Paanchaala= Punjab) style of composition. Bhataarikaa is attached to queen’s names.  She may be the queen of Bhoja who ruled from Kanauj around 836 CE. Many of her verses are found in anthologies.

Story of Vikatanimbaa

Several of Vikatanimbhaa’s poems are also found in Sanskrit anthologies. Aanandhavardhana’s ‘Dhwanyaaloka’ has a stanza done by her. According to a tradition Vikatanimbaa became a widow and married for the second time. Her husband was a fool who couldn’t even pronounce words properly.

Nothing is known about Prabhudevii; but  a stanza of Subhadraa is quoted in Vallabhadeva’s ‘Subhaasitaavalii’.

Rajasekhara’s Karpura Manjari mentions Tribhuvana Sarasvati as the elder sister of Mahiitala Sarasvati. She may be the poetess of that name, two of whose stanzas are quoted in the Sadukti Karna amrita complied by Sidhra daasa in 1206 CE.

A stanza of a poetess named Siitaa, which is found in anthologies, is quoted by Rajasekhara in his ‘Kavya Mimamsa’. The poetesses Sita and Tribhuvana Sarasvati therefore flourished before the middle of the tenth century.

xxx

School syllabus for girls should include all the ancient poetesses and the girls must be given assignments to collect and compare them with the poetesses of other languages.

At least they must know their names and what they wrote one thousand or 2000 years ago.

Long Live Hindu Poetesses!

xxx

Source book- GREAT WOMEN OF INDIA – editors Swami Madhvananda and Ramesh Chandra Majumdhar, Advaita Ashram, Mayavati, Almora, Himalayas, Year 1953.

–subham–

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