Jagannath Pandit was probably the last great scholar in the tradition of great Sanskrut scholars of the past. By ‘great’ we don’t just mean best of a period or of his time, but someone who leaves such a mark that his works are read avidly centuries after his life.
Not many people know of Jagannath Pandit today. This was an amazing man who lived in the days of Shah-Jahan. He enjoyed success at many Hindu courts, including at Jaipur. He is best known for his stay in Shah-Jahan’s court. There he found a great admirer in Dara-Shukoh, the eldest son of Shah-Jahan. It was Shah-Jahan who conferred upon him the title of Pandit-Raaj or the King of Pandits.
According to a legend, Shah-Jahan’s daughter Lavangi fell in love with him and they enjoyed a relationship. Then Auranzeb imprisoned Shah-Jahan and put Dara-Shukoh to death. Jagannath Pandit and Lavangi decided to end their life in the Ganga. The legend says that he recited verses of his great poem Ganga-Lahari as he stepped down the stairs that led to the river and the Ganga rose one step with each verse until the river took him and Lavangi into its bosom. This is, as we said, a legend and not necessarily documented as a historical fact.
His birth and education is well documented. He was born in an ancient family with the last name Veginad with hereditary residence in Mugund, Telangan. He became a master of Vedanta, the philosophical systems of Kanad and Gautam, he studied Mimamsa and Patanjali Maha-Bhashya. He was widely reputed to be a brilliant Pandit and he won debates in royal courts. He learned Persian and defeated major Persian Kaji in Shah-Jahan’s court.
Pandit-Raaj Jagannath wrote several works including the celebrated treatise Ras-GangaDhar, a work on Alankar Shastra. This itself is enough to preserve his memory. He also wrote the Ganga-Lahari, a poem in praise of Ganga.
The work we like is his famous Bhamini-Vilas, a beautiful composition in four parts. The title can be roughly translated as The Pleasures or Play of a Bhamini. The word Bhamini can be interpreted to mean a beautiful or passionate or proud lady. Like many great Pandits in the Indian tradition, Jagannath was skilled in amorous conquests as well in scholarly pursuits.
The first part of Bhamini-Vilas is Anyokti-Vilas or Prastavik-Vilas. We discussed a famous Anyokti of Jagannath Pandit in our article Su-Bhashtam 4 on November 13, 2010. Today we discuss another, the one that played a role in India’s freedom struggle against British rule.
Here Jagannath Pandit addresses a huge elephant that is trampling the forest in his intoxicated state:
स्थिथिं नो रे दध्याः श्चनं अपि मदान्धे श्चनसखे गजश्रेणि नाथः त्वं इह जतिलायां वनभुवी
अस्वो कुम्भिभ्रान्त्या खरनखरविद्रावितमहागुरुग्रावग्रामः स्वपिति गिरिगर्भे मृगपतिः
(we deeply regret our inability to type in the Sanskrut word for second or moment — श्चन is the closest we could come to)
The rough translation is:
- Do not stay here even for a moment in your state of intoxication, O, Great Elephant, in this very dense forest. Because here sleeps the Lion, King of Animals with claws sharp enough the tear through great slabs of stone.
The word Anyokti or Anya-Ukti means words directed at another. Lokmanya Tilak saw the British rulers trampling India like the elephant intoxicated by his power in the above Anyokti. And he compared the sleeping lion to the sleeping power of India. So when Tilak started his newspaper Kesari in 1881, he chose the above Anyokti for the banner of Kesari.
Lokmanya Tilak was a poet as well as a scholar. So he translated the verse of Jagannath Pandit into Marathi. The Marathi verse is highly Sanskrutized and can be understood by most. So we reproduce it below:
गजालीश्रेष्टा या निबिडतर कान्तार जठरि मदान्धाक्षा मित्रा श्चन भर हि वास्तव्य न करि
नखाग्रानि येथे गुरुतर शिला भेदुनि करि भ्रमाने आहे रे गिरिकुहरि हा निद्रित हरि
Lokmanya used his Kesari newspaper to proclaim his famous statement:
- Swa-Rajya is my birth-right and I will indeed have it.
The sleeping lion that is India did wake up and the British left for good.
So when you see someone become intoxicated with their power and begin behaving badly, remember Jagannath Pandit’s verse and Lokmanya Tilak’ admonition.
Note: Those who wish to read more of the history of Jagannath Pandit and a more detailed description of Bhamini-Vilas, visit the free online Google version of Bhamini-Vilas at books.google.com. You will find a book written in 1894 by B.G. Bal, a teacher from Amravati and stored in the Harvard library.