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Dandin – A Scholar On Alankara Shastra

There are different views among scholars whether Dandin was earlier to Bhamaha or vice versa. Bhamaha was a luminary on Alankara Shastra and lived between 7th and 8th century CE. But the fact remains that Dandin differs from Bhamaha on many issues in alankara shastra. There are also diverse opinions about this identity. An anonymous tautological verse, connecting the groups of three mentions that there are three works of Dandin, like the three fires, three gods, three Vedas and the three gunas which are famous in the three world. It has only added to the confusion regarding the identity of Dandin. Further what are these three works? Is Dandin, the rhetorician the same as the author of the famous romances, Dasakumaracarita and Avanti-Sundati-Katha? Dandin, undoubtedly is a great name to reckon with, especially in poetics. His Kavyadarsha is very popular among critics and students as well, for his critical acumen of certain concepts, the originality of his views and the clarity of ideas.

There is a strong traditional view that Dandin was a native of Kanchi in Tamil Nadu, or that he migrated from Gujarat to Kanchi. There are indications for it in some of his riddles to the Pallava kings, Kaveri, Chola and Kalinga. Significantly, there is a work in Tamil titled Tandi-alankaram which is ascribed to Dandin which also deals with the poetics in Tamil. The Sinhalese work Siya-baslakara cities Dandin as an authority on poetics. The Kannada work Kaviraja-marga of king Nripatunga contains many verses corresponding exactly to Dandin’s  Kavyadarsha.

Kavyadarsha contains three chapters called pariacchedas. Dandin says at the outset that the whole world would have plunged into darkness, had there not been the brilliant light of speech. Deviating from Bhamaha’s view, Dandin defines the ‘body of poem’ as a group of words (not word and meaning together) demarcated by an idea intended (to be conveyed by the poet). This was later developed by the vociferous critic Jagannatha, who challenged the views of many earlier writers. Kavya is divided into three as gadya (prose), padya (poetry) and misrita (a mixture of these two). Dandin also elaborates the characteristic features of mahakavya. He questions the need to divide prose into two such as katha and akhyayika. Bhamaha prefers this division whereas Dandin rejects it saying that it is based only on flimsy grounds.

Dandin says that vak (speech) is diversified in accordance with vicitra marga (the distinct mode of expression). His contribution lies in drawing clear lines of demarcation between the two distinct riti (styles) – vaidarbhi and gaudi. There are the ten gunas which are the very life of vaidarbhi marga. They are

  1. Slesha (the quality of being well knit)
  2. Prasada (clarity or lucidity)
  3. Samata (evenness)
  4. Madhurya (delectability and absence of vulgarity)
  5. Sukumarata (absence of harshness)
  6. Artha vyakti (explicit nature of the meaning)
  7. Uddaratva (expression of as meritorious idea)
  8. Ojas (use of long compounds, said to be the very life of prose writing)
  9. Kanti (agreeable expression free from exaggeration)
  10. Samadhi (metaphorical expression)

Besides treating the sabda-alankaras such as anuprasa and yamaka, Dandin deals with thirty five figures of speech. He specializes in speaking of as many as thirty two subdivisions of upama (simile). Totally at variance with Bhamaha’s view, Dandin says that svabhavokti is the first figure of speech. He also accepts hetu, sukshma and lesha which were rejected by Bhamaha. Dandin asserts that even a small flaw should not be allowed to creep into the poem lest it should mar its beauty. He enlists many doshas pertaining to the word, the sentence and the sense. The divisions and sub-divisions are defined and illustrated. There are also cases where the absence of a defect itself becomes a guna.

The marga concept of Dandin led to the establishment of riti school of Vamana (9th century CE), who opens his Kavyalankara Sutra with a statement that it is alankara in its broader sense of charm which distinguishes poetry from other expressions.