A cerapada sāhasa

Continued from Here

The author thanks @pinaki  for not only helping edit the article but co-authoring parts of the story and, in the process, educating me about Kerala, where I have not been yet…

A week went by after that rather harrowing conversation with Satyasoma. Life had attained a newfound normalcy, but the novelty was wearing off and Rudradatta was feeling rather bored. Since his birth in pāṇḍyadeśa, he had hardly spent sufficient amounts of quality time in any part of bhārata but for some rare family trips.

His udyoga was extremely demanding though it provided fair compensation and as a means to recharge after a punishingly packed schedule, Rudradatta’s office allowed him to take a longer-than-usual vacation. Thus, he undertook this trip to bhārata, his ancestral land. He went to cerapada to visit Satyasoma, who was staying all alone in one of the famous caturvedi maṅgala-s (the area of the village where brāhmaṇas reside) of yore. The region was a refuge to the ancient dramila brāhmaṇas who with their prowess in vaidīka and śāstra had transformed it into a dakṣiṇa kāśi. Today it lay within the boundaries of the prānta ruled by the pernicious rudhiradhvajas. Thinking it good to better acquaint himself with the palpably worrisome situation there as well as hoping to gain new contacts through whom he can gain further knowledge, he made his way to Satyasoma’s home and stayed there for two days. On the third morning, after he had finished his prātaḥ saṃdhyopāsana (saṃdhyā worship in the morning), he was relaxing by himself as Satyasoma had left to run some errands for a relative of his. And there was a knock on the door. Satyasoma was back at home.

Rudradatta: Soma, I had spent a good amount of time conversing with almost every one of my contacts in dramiladeśa. I believe I have milked as many interesting conversations as I can out of them. There are enough texts in my external disk to keep me busy. I will visit the devālayas soon. But, for once, I want to do something new. Do you know any person in cerapada to whom you can introduce me and whose company will be of interest to me?

Satyasoma: itokke viḍu! (Leave all that). I have got something to break you out of that intellectual and experiential rut, or rather the both of us.

Rudradatta: Not in the mood for teasing or guessing games, soma. Just tell me what it is.

Satyasoma: On the way, back home, I saw this young, well-built man, dressed in traditional garb approach me. I could not take my eyes off his venerable countenance. He spoke in malayāḷa. Such tejas! Such brahmavarcas! He told me that his name was ānandan. He said, “O, young paṭṭarē! You seem to be the kind of person before whom my āśān (master) would want the araṇgēṟṟam of his rūpaka. We are staging this play based on a kathā from the veda. We would not want more than two people in the sadassu (assembly). So, bring along a caṇṇāti (friend) with you if you will!”

Rudradatta: This is suspicious! So, he runs into you and invites you to bring, at most, one friend with you! Did he give any further details?

Satyasoma: Well, you wanted to do something new. Here it is. I am excited beyond words for this. So, don’t spoil my mood. And I insist that you should come with me to this. I don’t think ānanda specifically limited it to two and asked me to bring one friend, without any reason! This is devacitta (will of the gods), rudra! Man, your first Prime Minister, he was right! You are indeed a “champion grumbler”! Born in bhārata, you have nevertheless imbibed the qualities intrinsic to that land!

Rudradatta: Alright! Hold your peace, soma! We will go for this! Out of curiosity, at least, may I ask if this “ānanda” mentioned any details about the to you?

Satyasoma: Not really. He only said that it is a little-known story from the veda, filled with special effects and an abundance of adbhuta rasa, with a sprinkling of bībhatsa towards the end. He told me that it is very rare for a rūpaka to be staged, showcasing vedaviṣaya. Don’t think too much about it rudra! Just come!

Rudradatta: Fine fine! I will come. Where and when is this play?

Satyasoma: It is tonight at 8 PM. We can make it well within time considering that it will be enacted in a secluded clearing within the Nelliyāmpativana. He was kind enough to give the directions. Let me tell you about this pristine vana, rudra. Perched amidst the precarious steeps of the malaya hills, this is a relatively untainted āraṇya which still holds the trace of the loving caresses of bhārgava rāma who shaped this land. It is filled with rare creatures which still retain the echoes of the veda svarā-s in their chirping and cītkāra. It is nearly a two-hour drive and it will be chilly considering the elevation; so dress accordingly.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma complete their saṃdhyā prayers and leave for the play about 5.30 PM. The drive was as serpentine as the coils of confusion within Rudradatta’s mind. However, the splendid vistas offered by this ancient land assuaged some of his ill feelings. In the distance, he spotted rows of vṛkṣa bleeding thick white sap which gave this region the name of Pālakkāḍu (forest of milk). The maññu (light mist) spread along with the dark clouds of the Tuḷām Varṣa. The roiling retreating monsoons firing the bane of vṛtra, the clouds themselves arrayed in a tumult like a devāsura samara. Witnessing this play of forces beyond his ken, prompted Rudra into reminiscing a previous conversation.

Rudradatta: Soma, do you remember what I told you about producing traditional-style plays based on the veda? Remember the play I told you that I would love to see being staged?

Satyasoma: Yes, rudra. That riveting story of yavakrī from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa, right? Forget it, rudra. It is too obscure a story. And do you think, given the inappropriate parts of that story, they would stage it tonight? They appeared to be rather traditional.

Rudradatta: Adbhuta and bībhatsa, they say. Let’s see what they have for us.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma reach the place. They see ānanda at a distance who signals to them to follow him. They walk into a semi-forested area for a while till they reach an open ground with a wooden platform set up there and a few brāhmaṇa-s moving about, carrying props and getting ready.


Ānanda: Be seated here oh young men! The play will commence shortly.


The Sūtradhāra, (the director of a play) a lustrous brāhmaṇa of muscular build and wearing a turban, comes onto the stage to introduce the subject of the play:

Sūtradhāra: To the two men who braved their way to come to this forest in the dark, our greetings! We present this rūpaka, yauvanakṛtapramādam or as we might render, non-literally, in āṅglīkabhāṣā, “The madness done by the youth”. This is the story of yavakrī saumastamba from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and the mad sāhasa that was his life!

Since, this is cerapada, we thought of bringing a story from a śākhā which thrives here! The relevant verses from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa would be interspersed with the dialogues of our actors!

That would be all from me! Enjoy this play, which has no likeness of it, not staged according to the vidhi laid in the śāstra of bharata (i.e. nāṭyaśāstra) and speaks of otherworldly concerns!

Satyasoma: Rudra! What are the odds?! I think I am starting to get anxious!

Rudradatta: You are getting anxious now? It is too late. Let us sit through this and see what transpires in this dark forest.

A brāhmaṇa steps forward from behind the stage and proceeds to recite with gambhīra:

tena haitena mauṇḍibha udanyurīja udanyūnāṃ rājā |

taddha yavakrīḥ saumastambir āstāvaṃ prati niṣasāda |

“Now, in this way, mauṇḍibha udanyu sacrificed; the king of the udanyu.

yavakrī saumastambi sat down at the āstāva”

[The actor playing] yavakrī enters the stage and the play continues. Magical effects are produced on stage with expertise and skill, to the surprise of rudradatta and satyasoma. As the play ends, they reminisce the more memorable scenes of the play. You must pardon us here for not offering a more generous sneak-peek into the dialogues of the play for if we went into the details of the play, this story would never end!


Satyasoma: What a show Rudra! The part where Yajñavacas Rājastambāyana offers ājya (butter) into the fire and that woman suddenly appeared! They misdirected us by generating a lot of smoke! And just when you thought it was over, he offers one more time and a man with an iron club emerges from the wall of smoke! Wonder what pyrotechnic substance was the ājya?!

Rudradatta: Brilliant indeed! My favourite part, though, was when she reveals the soles of her feet, which is entirely covered with hair! It’s a whole different level of bībhatsa when you see it instead of merely reading it in the text.

Satyasoma: Ah that part! The look on yavakrī’s face! Priceless! If our doctor-to-be vaṅgasiṃha was here, he would have tried to explain it!

Rudradatta: When I read the text, I asked him about it. He told me it could be some extreme form of hypertrichosis.

Satyasoma (Laughing): Indeed! Ah! What a day! We were told to pay at the end of the play. So, let us play and then we can leave? It’s getting a bit late.

Rudradatta and Satyasoma are getting ready to leave. The sūtradhāra comes where they are and calls on Rudradatta.

Sūtradhāra: Do not be in such a great haste to leave, my friend. There is a fee to pay for this spectacular performance you just saw! Or, do you, young man, think that this is not worthy of a fee?

Rudradatta (bringing his hands together in greeting): Do not mistake us, venerable sir. We were just about to approach one of your men to ask regarding the fee. How much should we pay you for the extremely unusual privilege of watching such a beautiful play sir? Indeed, after paying you what is due, there are so many questions for me to ask you! Firstly, may we have the fortune of knowing your name sir?

Sūtradhāra: I suffer from a dośa of having too many names. Some say that, as a child, I demanded for more names. But let that be. This is the dakṣiṇā for the glorious performance you just saw! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja! Hurry now!

Rudradatta (a bit angrily): Hold it sir! I have spoken to you with nothing but the utmost politeness. You are rude as to not give me your name. Then you ask five nīlalohita cows which gives vāja…jyoti (and slightly sarcastically); where does the venerable one want me to go to procure cows for him? Is this a śrautakarma that I should make bovine payments?

Sūtradhāra: Verily, this is as good as śrauta. This rūpaka itself is the iṣti which just concluded. You are the yajamāna here! You desired to see a rūpaka. And thus, you have the adhikāra to be the yajamāna for the rūpakeṣti. I, the Sūtradhāra, the director, am the adhvaryu. (The ṛtvij belonging to the yajurveda; he can be said to be the “director” of a yajna)

This Ānanda here is the assistant director of this play, the pratiprasthātr (the first of three assistants of the adhvaryu). Of whatever worth the dakṣiṇā comes to, I, along with the hotṛ, udgātṛ and brahman (the adhvaryu and these three are the four main ṛtvij-s), will each get the largest portions and my pratiprasthātr gets half of what I get. Second only to me in rank he is!

And since it is a bright beautiful full-moon today, let this be a darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi for you! Just like the śrautayāga, you, the yajamāna, have to do nothing. We do everything but you will reap the benefit of it all.

Rudradatta: As Yajñavalkya indeed says so in the śatapatha brāhmaṇa

Sūtradhāra: Ah! Indeed! Why do you not expound on it for the listening pleasure of us all?

Rudradatta: As you request sir. In the darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi, after girding the wife of the yajamāna, there is a point in the ritual where the act of looking upon the ājya (butter) takes place. Some opined that the yajamāna himself should look at the auspicious ājya so as to secure the benefits of the rite for himself. The opinion of the feisty Yajñavalkya is recorded there. It is written:

athā́jyamávekṣate taddhaíke yájamānamávakhyāpayanti tádu hovāca yā́jñavalkyaḥ kathaṃ nu ná svayámadhvaryávo bhávanti katháṃ svayaṃ nā́nvāhuryátra bhū́yasya ivāśíṣaḥ kriyánte kathaṃ nveṣāmátraivá śraddhā́ bhavatī́ti yāṃ vai kā́ṃ ca yajñá r̥tvíja āśíṣamāśā́sate yájamānasyaiva sā tásmādadhvaryúrevā́vekṣeta

śatapatha brāhmaṇa

“Now, he (the adhvaryu) looks down on the ājya. Here, some others, make the yajamāna look [instead]. [Regarding] that, says yājñavalkya, “How (kathaṃ here is in the sense of why) do not they (the sacrificers, yajamāna-s) themselves be the adhvaryava [at their own sacrifice]? How do not they themselves supplement (that is, they themselves can recite the prayers) where blessings (āśiṣaḥ) are made? How can these (yajamāna-s, the sacrificers who perform these sacrifices) have faith in this?” Whatever and whichever blessings the priests (r̥tvija) ask for (āśāsate) is for the yajamāna alone. Therefore, the adhvaryu indeed should look down on it (the butter)”

Thus, even in our case, in this figurative sacrifice of the rūpakeṣti, you, your assistants and actors have done everything but I alone reap the pleasures of enjoying it as the spectator!

Sūtradhāra: Well spoken, young man! But you see, I would say that the rūpakeṣti is better than your cherished śrautadharma (the vedic religion of rituals). In the former, your senses are nourished and you feel satiated with the performance and pay a fair price to men who earn an honest living by means of their expertise in a craft. Look at the r̥tvija-s in śrautadharma.

They exploit the naivete of pious men and create all kinds of complicated rituals. How is that you are so passionate about this śrautadharma? What about the śruti itself? Or the innumerable smṛtaya and śrautasūtrāṇi (the śrautasūtra-s are the ritual manuals of baudhāyana, etc who clarify on points of śrauta rituals) Does it really care about how men were exploited by greedy priests?

Rudradatta: From friendly talk, you have crossed over to rudeness and attack against the veda. Sir, respectable as you look, you have no propriety in your conduct. Good men do not speak ill of the vedas and those who speak ill of it attain durgati. Your talk is like that of the navya-pāṣaṇḍavādin (neo- vedānta, babaisms, etc) or that of the mleccha scholars such as Max Muller the late german scholar.

Sūtradhāra: Well, what did they say that I am being accused of being like them?

Rudradatta:  Muller thought that the dharma declined under the “dead hand” of the brāhmaṇa-s and their “priestcraft”. He wrote:

“I should like to live for 10 years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching. Whatever finds root in India soon overshadows the whole of Asia.”

Indeed, it was part of the grand scheme to portray as evil the brāhmaṇa-s as well as the rituals which they perform. With these gone, it would have been easy to subjugate the heathens and turn them into deranged monotheists.

And this has to be accomplished in a perfect and complete manner. It would not have been enough that the status quo rituals alone should be targeted. Even the śrautadharma, whose rituals had largely gone out of vogue, was excavated by these scavenger-scholars with the sole purpose of undermining it. They knew that the veda was the source of the dharma and hence they wrote evil against it and its rites.

Hermann Oldenberg notes that for the bauddha-s it was even worse than priestcraft: “…and for Buddhism also, this priestly class was something more than a vain and greedy priestcraft, that it was the necessary form in which the innermost essence, the evil genius, if we may so call it, of the Indian people has embodied itself”.

Sūtradhāra: Fine rhetoric. Answer my questions though! Does this precious śruti of yours or the smr̥ti-s of the so-called great men really care about how men are being exploited by greedy priests? No matter how wicked these r̥tvija-s may be, they will be elected to officiate anyway! Their conduct, their character is of no importance to anyone; be it the devas or men! As long as the devas get their share of the oblations or men, the fruits of the ritual!

Rudradatta: Listen for I shall endeavour to answer you even as my knowledge is limited.

I shall now quote from the śruti, the aitareya brāhmaṇa:

trīṇi ha vai yajñe kriyante jagdhaṃ gīrṇaṃ vāntaṃ

Three [things] occur in the yajna (sacrifice): the eaten (remnants), swallowed, and vomited [food].

taddhaitadeva jagdhaṃ yad āśaṃ samnaṃmārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā me dadyāduta vā mā vṛṇīteti taddha tatparāṅeva yathā jagdhaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty

Now this verily is eaten is when he (the sacrificer) makes as r̥tvij who desires ‘ May he give me, or may he choose me.’ That is cast-aside like remnants; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.

atha haitadeva gīrṇaṃ yadbibhyadārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā mā na bādhetota vā me na yajñaveśaśāṃ kuryāditi taddha tatparāṅeva yathā gīrṇaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty

Now this verily is swallowed is when he makes as r̥tvij whom he fears, “Let him not either injure me, nor let him disturb the yajna for me/ That is cast-aside like something swallowed; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer

atha haitadeva vāntaṃ yadabhiśasyamānamārtvijyaṃ kārayate yathā ha vā idaṃ vāntānmanuṣyā bībhatsanta evamtasmāddevās taddha tatparāṅeva yathā vāntaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakti

Now this verily is vomited is when he makes as r̥tvij who is spoken ill of. Just as here men are disgusted by what is vomited, similarly thus the gods. That is cast-aside like something vomited; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.

sa eteṣāṃ trayāṇāmāśāmneyāt

He should not desire these three. // aitareya brāhmaṇa 3.46

Is this śruti sufficient for you, Sūtradhāra?

Sūtradhāra: Very well…

Rudradatta: Here are other verses from the śruti. Consider this from the noble mouth of śāṇḍilya

dákṣiṇāsu tvèva ná saṃvaditávyaṃ saṃvādénaivá ‘rtvíjo ‘lokā íti

But in [respect of] fees (dákṣiṇāsu: plural locative form of dákṣiṇā), it is not [something] to be agreed upon, (In this context, it means bargaining. The fees are not to be determined by discussion with input coming from the r̥tvija-s) by bargaining (literally: by agreeing upon it) the r̥tvija-s [become] worldless (deprived of heaven) // śatapatha brāhmaṇa

Satyasoma: What about the śāstra-s apart from the śruti?

Rudradatta: Or let me quote from the kalpasūtra texts you seem to be fond of criticizing. This is from bhagavān baudhāyana in his śrautasūtra:

kiṃgata u khalvativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti

So, in what occurrence, then, supersession [of one’s earlier choice of a priest] or non-choosing [of a priest] takes place?

steyamacārīd abhyamaṃsthād ayājyamayājayatsāditaṃ karma tadu hāsthita ity eteṣām ekasminn ativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti

He who lives by robbery, inflicts injuries, officiates for unfit persons, commits a condemnable deed. In each one of these cases, supersession of one’s choice (If the sacrificer had earlier chosen this person as r̥tvij but comes to realize his despicable conduct later) or non-choosing (if he has yet to choose) takes place.

Thus, your contention that the conduct of those who serve as r̥tvija-s did not matter to the śruti (the veda) or the śiṣṭa-s (the wise men, such as baudhāyana who expound on the dharma to us) is unfounded bunkum!

Sūtradhāra: Well spoken! But what about the commentary on the mīmāṃsā sutra 1.3.4: hetudarśanāc ca? He who had delved into the ocean of śrauta knowledge, śabarasvāmin; he gives three examples of ulterior motives on part of the r̥tvija! I will be merciful and take just one of them!

lobhād vāsa āditsamānā audumbarīṃ kṛtsnāṃ veṣṭitavantaḥ kecit. tat smṛter bījam.

adhikaraṇāntaraṃ vā. vaisarjanahomīyaṃ vāso ‘dhvaryur gṛhṇātīti, yūpahastino dānam ācarantīti.

“Out of greed, desiring [excess] cloth, they (r̥tvija) cover up the whole of the audumbari (sacrificial post made of udumbara wood); this was what gave rise to the smṛti rule [that the whole post should be covered up]

Thus, these rules [made by priests] have no authority, such as: ‘At the vaisarjana homa, the cloth should be taken by the adhvaryu’, ‘The cloth covering the sacrificial post, they should give it away’ “

What is your reply to this, feisty young man?

Rudradatta: This has already been explained by kumārila bhaṭṭa in tantravārtika. The greed of the priests would have been better satisfied by covering the lower and upper parts of the yūpa (sacrificial post) by two pieces, exactly as two are used by women for the lower and the upper coverings. That way, the priest would get two large pieces of cloth instead of merely one! The priest could have interpolated in the smṛti that it should be an expensive silk cloth. Why would it be necessary to cover the sacrificial post with kuśa grass before covering it with cloth? The greedy priests might as well have had both coverings made of cloth!

That śabarasvāmin pointed out this example demonstrates that brāhmaṇa-s cared about worshippers getting exploited by a few greedy priests and were willing to point out what they saw as morally censurable, even if it be found in sacred ritual texts written by esteemed men! That kumārila demolishes the examples proves that even these examples are full of holes and that the case for śrautam being a system of greed and exploitation is a very weak one! I know all the three examples you speak of and could answer them too! Do you wish to hear?!

Sūtradhāra: No! I am pleased with what I have heard! Satiated like a guest who has been fed well! Now pay me my fee and I shall leave! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja!

Rudradatta: Sir, it is getting late. It is not the time for such jokes sir!

Sūtradhāra: I thought you were sharper than this! Alright! Let me be kind and explain! Vāja means food; peya, drink; jyoti, light for which you need electricity and bheṣaja, medicine! What do you need for that?

Rudradatta: Money.

Sūtradhāra: Ah! Correct! Now, nīlalohita, that strange combination of red and blue, is purple. Do you not have five purple cows in your pocket?

Rudradatta: You mean my 2000 rupee notes!! You could have stated it directly!

Sūtradhāra: parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ, says the śruti! “The gods love the indirect”. Are you not familiar with that? Since you like śrauta, oh taittirīyaka, perhaps I will put it this way:

sūtradhārāya pañcanīlalohitān ā labheta rūpakakāmas
sūtradhāro vai nīlalohita
pañcaśirā sūtradhāro bhavati
sūtradhāram eva svena bhāgadheyenopadhāvati

“To the Sūtradhāra, he should offer five reddish-blue [cows], desiring a rūpaka (play). The Sūtradhāra is the reddish-blue deity. The Sūtradhāra has five heads. With his own share, he shall please him!”

Rudradatta: Sir, first you said you are the adhvaryu asking for dakṣiṇā. Now you speak as if you are the deva. You confuse me with your contradictory speech! I’m exhausted and would like to leave for home with my friend! Here is the money Sir!

Sūtradhāra: r̥tvij, deva, yajamāna; I’m all that! Ha ha! Farewell!

Rudradatta and Satyasoma proceeds to leave. The sūtradhāra walks away with his assistant, rambling about Rudradatta.

Sūtradhāra: See the young āstika-s of today, ānanda! They grumble about parting with such a small sum. Did I ever tell you how nābhānediṣṭha of ancient times was ready to offer me the dakṣiṇā he was entitled to and already paid by the āṇgīrasas? A thousand cows he was prepared to yield to me, oh ānanda when I told him they belong to me! This boy sulks over paying me the dakṣiṇā he owes me! These youths today…Did I not give back the cows to nābhānediṣṭha? Perhaps, I will give these purple cows back to him! Like nābhānediṣṭha’s truthful speech, this boy’s feisty speech was pleasing to me!

Rudradatta turns back in excitement and sees that there was no one there! The sūtradhāra, his assistant ānanda, the other staff, the stage and the props-all had vanished! Rudradatta panics and then prods Satyasoma to turn back as well.

Rudradatta: Soma! Did you hear what he said?! Do you not see it now?!

Satyasoma: He was rambling on and on and mentioned nābhānediṣṭha. And now, he’s gone! All of them are gone! I do not understand what has transpired!

Rudradatta: Soma….(breathing heavily) …The Sūtradhāra is……

Satyasoma: Who?!

Rudradatta: Rudra!

Brief glossary and commentary on some words used:
paṭṭare: Derived from saṃskṛta word bhaṭṭa; as our friend @pinakasena informs me, it is the term used for Tamil iyers settled in Kerala.
araṇgēṟṟam: premiere performance of a dance or play

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