Tripurā Sundari Saundaryalahari 3
Text as the Metaphoric Body: Incorporation of Tripurā in Saundaryalaharī – III

The commixture of literary tropes comes to its pinnacle in verse 68. A commentator points out that this verse contains the commixture (saṅkara) of metaphor (rūpaka), illustration (nidarśana), concealment (apahnuti), reason (hetu), and wonder (vismaya).

Verse 51:

śive śṛṅgārārdrā taditarajane kutsanaparā |

saroṣā gaṅgāyāṃ giriśacarite vismayavatī ||

harāhibhyo bhītā sarasiruhasaubhāgyajayinī47 |

sakhīṣu smerā te mayi janani dṛṣṭiḥ sakaruṇā || 51 ||


Mother! Your glance is saturated with love towards Śiva, contemptuous towards others, wrathful towards Gaṅgā, astonished at the deeds of Śiva, frightened by the snakes of Śiva, victorious with the virtue of the lotus, comic towards companions, and filled with compassion towards me.


At its most esoteric level, this verse depicts various glances that generate the different magical effects of hypnosis, killing etc. On the poetic front, this verse expands the concept of rasas by evoking the basic emotions (sthāyibhāva). The description of the glance of the goddess thus provides the platform for both the esoteric and aesthetic expressions. The goddess, in this presentation, bestows a loving glance towards Śiva, a contemptuous gaze towards ordinary folk, a wrathful gaze towards Gaṅgā, and the glance of astonishment at Śiva’s exploits. She has the frightened look upon seeing Śiva’s snakes, while she bestows a gaze full of charm, compassion, and grace towards her devotee. This description of the gaze of the goddess thus evokes central basic emotions, and through the evocation of these emotions, suggests the rasas. Classical aesthetes disagree upon the number of rasas suggested in this verse. According to Lakṣmīdhara, there are only eight rasas indicated in this verse. AM, on the other hand, maintains that the peaceful (śānta) rasa is also suggested in the verse.

Following the general depiction, the sentiment of love towards Śiva with her amorous look depicts erotic flavor (śṛṅgāra); the sentiment of contempt towards others depicts the aesthetic flavor of disgust (bībhatsa) for their impermanent nature. Her gaze towards Gaṅgā is filled with rage, indicating the flavor of fury (raudra rasa). She has a gaze of wonder, indicating the flavor of wonder (adbhuta rasa), when listening to the wonders of Śiva such as subduing Tripura. The goddess embodies the mood of fear (bhayānaka) with her trembling because of Śiva’s snakes. The rasa of heroism is depicted in her gaze that excels the charm of the lotus. Her gaze towards her attendants indicates the comic (hāsya) flavor. Her glance to her devotee indicates compassion.

Kāmeśvara, in his commentary AM, while indicating the presence of the mood of composure (śānta), suggests that this mood is expressed through the gaze of the goddess to the third eye of Śiva that burnt down Kāma to ashes. Since the union of Śiva and Śakti is an essential victory of Kāma, this act revitalizes him and the process is considered as the compassion of the goddess.

Following the rasa doctrine, the revelation of the aesthetic flavors rests on the presence of the abiding emotions (sthāyibhāvas). For example, in order to suggest the loathsome flavor (bībhatsa), the emotion of contempt has been introduced. In the same way, anger suggests the element of fury (raudra), as it is its dormant emotion. The problem is, not all the permanent emotions for aesthetic flavors are listed in this depiction. Lakṣmīdhara explains that heroic flavor is suggested (dhvanita) through the result of (anubhāva) her heroism in the presence of a red color in the lotus. The somatic symptoms, such as reddish eye, are considered sāttvika-bhāvas, and these, in general, are discussed within the consequents.48 The comic gaze of the goddess suggests the flavor of hāsya in the same way. The success of the poet is in suggesting (dhvanita) the aesthetic flavors by describing the abiding moods and somatic symptoms.

Furthermore, there is also a literary trope of contradiction (virodha), as the goddess is simultaneously experiencing flavors derived through positive and negative emotions. The commentary SV identifies the two sentiments of fury (raudra) and disgust (bībhatsa), as contradictory to the erotic flavor (śṛṅgāra), and these emotions should not be present at the same moment in the same subject. Following the argument of SV, these rasas have different supports and thus there is no contradiction. This cryptic justification in SV fails to depict the sudden grasp of all the rasas and relies on sequential expression, as is the norm among human beings. He could simply say that this verse depicts the goddess as the support of various and sometimes contradictory emotions that eventually transform into rasa.

There is yet another issue concerning this verse: all the commentators discuss two different readings, either with a term ‘giriśacarita’ (the deeds of Śiva), or with a term ‘giriśanayana’ (the eye of Śiva). When following the second reading, Kāmeśvara has indicated the presence of śānta rasa, as has been already discussed. He also finds the presence of this rasa even when the verse is read with the first reading. In this case, the commentator explains that the acts of Śiva suggest dispassion, and through it, this verse indicates the peaceful flavor (śānta rasa).

Kāmeśvara also suggests that the presence of erotic (śṛṅgāra) and peaceful (karuṇa) essences are permanently found in the goddess and therefore the verse literally spells out these two rasas. As the other rasas are indicated through ‘abiding’ moods or suggested through results (anubhāvas), Kāmeśvara indicates the presence of the literary trope of ‘impassioned ornament that appears as if a flavor’ (rasavad-alaṅkāra). Viśvanātha explains that when a flavor or an incomplete flavor suggests a resemblance or the quelling of a sentiment is reduced to a subordinate condition, they become ornamentation (SD 10.95-96).

Ānandagiri adds further comments upon this issue. He brings the argument that according to Bharata, the experiences generated by different rasas are in opposition to each other. Following his theory, the pairs of erotic (śṛṅgāra) and loathsome (bībhatsa), heroic (vīra) and fearsome (bhayānaka), furious (raudra) and wonderment (adbhuta), and the flavors of comic (hāsya) and compassion (karuṇa) are contradictory to each other.49 In this verse (SL 51), the two contradictory rasas, śṛṅgāra and bībhatsa, are found in the first quarter, raudra and adbhuta are suggested in the second quarter; bhayānaka and vīra are in the third, and hāsya and karuṇa are situated in the final quarter of the verse. Thus the poet has skillfully presented all the possible contradictions in arranging the rasas in four quarters of the verse. According to ĀG, the poet, by a conscious choice of the arrangement of contradictory rasas, is suggesting that the nature of the goddess embodies and dissolves contradictions. That all the contradictions are resolved in the body of the goddess is expressed through this depiction of all rasas.

The ĀG commentary identifies additional interpretations concerning rasa. Accordingly, this verse culminates in evoking only the erotic flavor (śṛṅgāra), since other rasas are subordinate. He is most likely referring to the SV commentary in this statement, as this is the conclusion SV has reached in its discussion on the number of rasas described in this verse. The second position found in ĀG is that this verse does not stimulate any of the rasas.50 This verse is simply listing various rasas. Ānandagiri finally states that there is no contradiction in the rise of erotic flavor.

Although the commentators do not highlight it, it is quite likely that the poet is only suggesting eight rasas here. It is not because he adheres to this position, as he has explicitly mentioned nine rasas elsewhere. Just like the poet describes two different orders of Kādi and Hādi mantras of the goddess (verse 32-33), or the two ascending and descending orders of Kuṇḍalinī, the poet synthesizes different positions within the text. The verse subsequent to this (SL 52) spells out the mood of peace (śānta) with the explicit use of pacification (praśama).

Following the Ḍiṇḍima commentary, the eight rasas described in relation to a theatrical performance are applicable to the play of the Lord with the goddess, also identified as Prakṛti, as the goddess or prakṛti is the foundation of the world identified with drama. Lord Śiva is the substrate of complete indifference to worldly objects (nirveda), the permanent mood necessary for the rise of compassionate flavor. Following this argument, since the rise of śānta indicates the pacification of all eight rasas, this is why the poet is separately treating śānta.

Where the mystical and aesthetic domains overlap in this verse is in the discourse on the number of rasas. This verse simultaneously evokes all the rasas while clearly some rasas contradict others and cannot be simultaneously evoked.51 AM argues, since the magnitude of the goddess is extraordinary, it is possible for all the rasas to reside together. He further argues that just like śṛṅgāra, other rasas are also instrumental to liberation and therefore there is a mutual compatibility.52 Two points are explicitly clear: (1) the body of the goddess is conceived of as an integration of rasas, and (2) the aesthetic relish that results is instrumental to liberation.

Verse 55:53

nimeṣonmeṣābhyāṃ pralayam udayaṃ yāti jagatī |

tavety āhuḥ santo dharaṇidhararājanyatanaye ||

tvadunmeṣāj jātaṃ jagad idam aśeṣaṃ pralayataḥ |

paritrātuṃ śaṅke parihṛtanimeṣās tava dṛśaḥ || 55 ||


Daughter of the king of mountains! Wise ones say that the rise and dissolution of the world relies on the opening and closing of your eyelids. I think your gaze is forbidden from being closed to protect the entire world from dissolution, as it is originated of the opening of your eyelids.


This verse speaks of the eyelids of the goddess. The poet relates the rise and collapse of the world with the opening and closing of goddess’s eyelids. According to Lakṣmīdhara, this verse propounds the Advaita doctrine of dṛṣṭisṛṣṭivāda, following which the entities of perception appear and disappear corresponding to perception or its absence.54 There is a clear resemblance of this verse with the first verse of the Spandakārikā.

At the esoteric level, the rise and collapse of the world or the opening and closing of the eyelids relate to two different orders of creation (sṛṣṭi) and retrieval (saṃhāra), vivid in Śrīvidyā rituals where the first order relates to initiating the ritual from the center of the maṇḍala and eventually coming out to the periphery. The retrieval order refers to the return from the periphery to the center. As far as the poetic devices are concerned, the LD commentary identifies the fancy of relying on ‘effect’ (phalotprekṣā). This specific trope relates to the signifier aspect of expression, where terms such as ‘as if’ etc. are used. In this verse, the glance of the goddess is depicted as granting protection. LD also points out that there is a suggestion of this fact, a variety of the vastudhvani, evident when the verse depicts the glory of the goddess by describing the rise and collapse of the world as a result of the goddess opening and closing her eyes. Classical Indian aesthetics consider the application of alaṅkāra highly suitable in the case when it becomes the part of suggestion (dhvani), and this is also the case here.

The SV commentary outlines that there is the literary device of concealment (apahnuti) in this verse, on the grounds that the blissful nature of the Brahman is described here under the guise of describing the blissful body of the goddess.55 Kāmeśvara rejects this identification and states that there is no literary trope of fancy (utprekṣā) in this verse, the position also of the Ḍiṇḍima commentary. The argument is, this verse is simply stating the fact. In other words, the creation and dissolution of the world through the opening and closing of the petals of the goddess’s eyes is a literal depiction.

Although the commentators do not suggest it, it is reasonable to relate this verse to SK, verse 1. In this case, the Śaivite paradigm is inverted, with the role of Śiva described in SK being attributed to the goddess. This attribution is supported by a meticulous effort to apply suggestion based on fact (vastudhvani).

Verse 59:

Sphuradgaṇdābhogapratiphalitatāṭaṅkayugalaṃ |

catuścakraṃ manye tava mukham idaṃ manmatharathaṃ ||

yam āruhya druhyaty avaniratham arkenducaraṇaṃ |

mahāvīro māraḥ pramathapataye svaṃ jitavate56 || 59 ||


I believe that your face is the chariot of Kāma with four wheels, having the pair of earrings reflected in the shining mirror-like cheeks. Having mounted this [chariot], the great victor Kāma plots against the master of goblins who has conquered himself and whose chariot is the earth, with the sun and moon as two wheels.


This verse glorifies the earrings (tāṭaṅka) of the goddess. Being reflected upon her cheeks, these two rings give a glimpse of four wheels of the chariot of Kāma. In this depiction, Kāma is abiding in the face of the goddess in his battle with Lord Śiva, who has the earth as his chariot, with the sun and moon as its wheels. The face of the goddess is presented here as the chariot, with her earrings and their reflections appearing as wheels.

Lakṣmīdhara suggests that the first part of the metaphor demonstrates the literary device of fancy (utprekṣā), with the face of the goddess being presented as the chariot. In the second part, Kāma is glorified as a great victor for his ability to ride this glorious chariot and so it contains the literary trope of poetical reason (kāvyaliṅga). In this device, a reason is implied in a sentence or a word. The might of Kāma is due to his chariot, a reason that is applicable only in poetic imagination. Although there is not an actual battle between Śiva and Kāma, this verse depicts a battle, and so hyperbole (atiśayokti) is present. Due to the blend of different literary tropes, there is also the device of commixture (saṅkara). Literary fancy (utprekṣā), on the other hand, only sustains the metaphor of poetic reasoning (kāvyaliṅga) and therefore there is no separate integration of fancy and other literary tropes.

The commentary SV points out that this verse demonstrates suggestion (dhvani) by identifying the face of the goddess as the chariot of Kāma. In other words, there is not much glory to be given to the so-called mighty victor for defeating Lord Śiva, for he has the face of the goddess as his vehicle. ĀL also indicates that there is a literary device of concealment (apahnuti), in which exaggeration overlays a simple description, for the earrings give a glimpse of a chariot, rather than the natural sight of the face. In addition, by suggesting that the splendor of Kāma’s chariot exceeds that of the chariot of Śiva, the earrings of the goddess are glorified through suggestion (dhvani), with an application of hyperbole (atiśaya).

Kāmeśvara, on the other hand, suggests that there actually is the trope of illuminator (dīpaka). This trope relates to the situation when two distinct entities — one connected to the subject and another unconnected — are associated with the same attribute, or when the same case is connected with more 24   than one verb. In this situation, a single term fulfils two different purposes by being related to two different metaphors. For instance, the term āruhya (having ridden) connects both Kāma and Śiva, where Kāma is positioned on the face of the goddess and Śiva is depicted as riding the chariot of the earth.

ĀG identifies three different literary tropes of simile (upamā), metaphor (rūpaka), and concealment (apahnuti). Simile, following Viśvanātha, relates to a resemblance of two entities expressed by a single sentence that is not accompanied with a contrast or difference.57 The application of the term ‘manye’ (‘I think’), which is used in the meaning of iva (like), shows the trope of simile, and the identity made between the chariot and the face demonstrates a trope of metaphor (rūpaka).

The poet reverses the Purāṇic heroism of Śiva in his conquest of Tripura, where his chariot is described vividly with the metaphors such as the sun and the moon as two wheels. In this depiction, Kāma has a chariot of four wheels (two being reflection of the rings in the cheeks of the goddess). The poet is thus comparing Śiva’s victory over Tripura to Kāma’s victory over Śiva. In essence, with the assistance of the goddess, Tripurā, even Tripura’s victor is subdued. The victory of Kāma in this depiction reverses the Purāṇīc myth where Kāma gets incinerated merely by the glare of Śiva’s third eye. The poet attributes ‘the great victor’ (mahāvīra) to Kāma in order to emphasize the glory of the goddess that turns the defeat of Kāma into his victory. In essence, Śiva’s love for Pārvatī amplifies the victory of Kāma.

At the esoteric level, the text conceals within itself the mantra of Bhoginī. For instance, the terms in the verse such as sphuradgaṇḍā and ābhoga are used to decipher the phonemes aiṃ and kliṃ, and the term tāṭaṅkayugala is used to decipher ‘kula.’58 If the mantras deciphered are considered a text, SL is a hypertext with the subtexts embedded within.

Verse 68:

bhujāśleṣān nityaṃ puradamayituḥ kaṇṭakavatī |

tava grīvā dhatte mukhakamalanālaśriyam iyaṃ ||

svataḥ śvetā kālāgurubahulajambālamalinā |

mṛṇālīlālityaṃ vahati yad adho hāralatikā || 68 ||


Eternally thrilled by the embrace of the destroyer of Tripura, your neck bears the glory of the stalk of your lotus-face. The creeper-like chain below [your neck], although naturally white, is dulled by the very fragrant paste mixed of agallochum etc. that bears the beauty of the lotus root.


Verse 68 describes the neck of the goddess that is thrilled with the embrace of Lord Śiva. Her neck is compared to the stalk of lotus that holds the lotus- like face of the goddess. Resembling the glory of lotus-stalk, her neck, although naturally white, is darkened by the use of the agallochum paste. Her garland of pearls gives a glimpse of the fibrous roots of the lotus-stalk.

LD points out in the statement, ‘there is the glory of the stalk of lotus,’ that this expression has the literary device of illustration (nidarśana). This ornamentation is indicated in the case when a possible or even impossible connection of things implies a relation of type and prototype (SD 10.51). In this case, the counter-image of Śrī is indicated by the term Śrī that is used to describe the glory of the neck of the goddess. In the statement, ‘lotus-face,’ is the presence of the literary device of metaphor (rūpaka) is indicated, as this establishes identity between the source (lotus) and the target (face). In the second part of the verse, when the neck enhanced by the application of aguru is described as having the shine of the lotus-stalk, there is again a trope of illustration (nidarśana). And since this metaphor is also dependent upon the previous depiction, it is related as body and part, giving rise to the commixture (saṅkara) of metaphors.

The commixture of literary tropes comes to its pinnacle in this verse. SV points out that this verse contains the commixture (saṅkara) of metaphor (rūpaka), illustration (nidarśana), concealment (apahnuti), reason (hetu), and wonder (vismaya). The literary trope of concealment (apahnuti) is explicit here, since the lotus-stalk suggests the lotus, but what has been suggested is abandoned in order to derive what has been concealed (the face of the goddess).


  1. Although LD reads this passage as ‘. . . jananī,’ I am preferring the reading ‘. . . jayinī,’ as this reading is supported in the commentaries SV, AM, Ānandagirīyā, Tātparyadīpinī, Padārthacandrikā, Ḍiṇḍima, Gopālasundarī, and Ānandalaharīṭīkā.
  2. I am primarily relying on Sāhityadarpaṇa, chapter 3, for discussion on these moods.
  3. rasau śṛṅgārabībhatsau mitho vīrabhayānakau | raudrādbhutau tathā hāsyakaruṇau vairiṇau mithaḥ || Nāṭyaśāstra. Cited in ĀG in verse 51.
  4. vastutas tv ayaṃ śloko nīrasaḥ | atrāsmin śṛṅgārādau nirūpyamāṇe avyavadhānena tadvirodhinām api nirūpaṇāt | ĀG in verse 51.
  5. AM cites a passage following which śṛṅgāra and bībhatsa are contradictory to each other and so is vīra to bhayānaka, raudra to adbhuta, and hāsya and karuṇa. See AM in SL 51.
  6. śṛṅgārasyevetararasānām api trivargopayogitvāt parasparasauhārdam asty eveti keṣāñcinmatena na virodhaḥ | AM in SL 51.
  7. This verse is numbered 56 in the critical edition. I am following the numbering according to Kuppuswami edition.
  8. For discussion on this Advaita doctrine, see Timalsina 2006.
  9. Niratiśayānandamayyā eva brahmāvinābhūtacicchakteḥ devatāśarīropādhim avalambamānāyāḥ svābhāvikaṃ tad anyathā prastūyata ity apahnutir eva | SV in verse 55.
  10. Although some editions follow the reading sajjitavate, I have followed the reading svaṃ jitavate, that I think fits within the context most appropriately. While LD reads it as sajjitavate, SV reads ‘asvaṃ paraṃ daityasaṅghaṃ jitavate’ or one who has conquered others, the demons. Although two additional commentaries, Padārthacandrikā and Gopālasundarī follow this line of reading, I see this as lengthy imagination. AM reads it as svam ātmānaṃ jitavate, or one who has conquered oneself, the reading I have preferred here. Ānandagirīyā, Tātparyadīpinī, and Ḍiṇḍima follow this same reading.
  11. SD 10.14cd. For twenty-seven varieties of upamā, see SD 10.14-27. Gerow (1971: 140) translates it as ‘comparison’ and defines it as “the comparison of one thing with a substantially different thing in terms of a property, quality, or mode of behavior which they share; simile.” For a detailed analysis, see Gerow 1971, 140-170.
  12. ĀG deciphers two mantras in this verse: aiṃ klīṃ kulaphsauṃ and oṃ aiṃ hriṃ klinne klinnamadadrave hsauḥ | See ĀG in SL 59.

The paper was first published in Zeitschrift für Indologie und Südasienstudien 32 (2015) and has been republished with author’s permission.

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