Sunday, January 17, 2010

power of the language

without dairy, what is the taste of food?
without land, what is the importance of a king?
without senses, what is the meaning of beautiful damsels?
without sweet words, what is the essence of wisdom?

vinA go-rasam ko raso bhojanAnAM
vinA go-rasam ko raso bhUpatinAm |
vinA go-rasam ko raso kAminInAm
vinA go-rasam ko raso paNDitAnAm ||

विना गो-रसं को रसो भोजनानां
विना गो-रसं को रसो भूपतिनाम् |
विना गो-रसं को रसो कामिनीनां
विना गो-रसं को रसो पण्डितानाम् ||

at first glance, this looks like a simple shloka in meaning, even useless putting together of some catchy one liners! no, no, it is okay to assume that not everything written in sankrit is of transcendental value :) after all, everything written in english today is neither technical nor of high value.

but this simple shloka is important when read in its original, rather translated form. and it unravels an important point while studying sanskrit works, specially that of antiquity.

the key word here is 'go', which has many meanings - cow, land, senses, speech among the few.

'rasam' means juice, essence, interest, mood etc. sanskrit words, many times, taken implied meanings, not just literal. e.g. juice is the essence of a fruit, interest shows liking whether to a performance, thing or to the juice itself :) mood is critical to drama, theater and is the essence of performing art. can the performer sway the mood of the spectators based on his/her performance? even when we know it is all fake, we get emotional watching a specially well enacted movie or story.

an actor is called 'abhinetA'. nIyati = takes, leads. netA = leader. abhinetA = one who takes (not in real). an actor takes us along with him/her on the emotional trip, be it joy or sorrow, anger or greed, disgust or love.

so what is the important thing to learn from this?

'go' has four meanings in the four occurrences in this shloka. each time, meaning different.

go = cow.
go-rasam = milk
rasam = taste
where is the taste in food, without milk products? think about it! those who know ghee, and have tasted it, swear by it! no indian sweet is authentic unless made in pure ghee, a form of clarified butter that can last a very very long time, just like swiss cheese properly processed. and those who don't know of ghee, also swear by milk chocolates, cheese, yogurt or many such other products.

go = land
go-rasam = kingdom
rasam = importance, essence.
what is the importance of a king without his kingdom? a king's purpose is served on this earth only if he can have a [large] kingdom and serves his subjects well.

go = senses of perception
go-rasam = essence of senses, well functioning senses, "well-oiled"
rasam = interest
without well functioning senses, what is the interest in beautiful women? here, of course it is meant that one can't enjoy beautiful women without proper functioning senses, and it goes the same for women as well :) they too need well functioning senses to enjoy men.

here of course, some can bring in hair-splitting arguments that all enjoyment of senses is done by brain, and once that input is there, no more senses are needed, brain can enjoy its own archived sensations. true, but even for the first time, to get the full essence of the physical beauty (epitomized in the healthy and attractive opposite gender) is only obtained with healthy senses. :)

go = speech
go-rasam = sweet speech, meaningful words
rasam = interest
and without sweet, wise words of content, what is the big deal of being a wise person? i.e. if one claims to be a wise person, his or her words, speech should have content and delivery, sweet, useful, wise, kind words. else, anyone can speak harsh, useless, foolish or rude words, you don't need wisdom for that!

so what do we learn from this shloka, so critical to interpreting sanskrit? and more so for older works?

don't jump to conclusion that it is stupid to say without milk there is no use of food, king, women and wise. if it doesn't make sense, we should not discard it outright, but say that 'TO ME, it doesn't make sense NOW. maybe later it may.'

and why so much benefit of doubt to sanskrit works? there is something special about the wise people whose works were found to be worth preserving for generations. they really didn't have the distraction of TV ratings, magazines or new york best-sellers listing, mega-million dollar projects and foundations or non-stop barrage f information in forms of twitter, facebook status, RSS news feeds from all over the world. they didn't have hidden motives and agenda. specially the really larger than life characters like vyAsa, vidura, vAlmIki, or the vedic seers.

that is the only reason, one should always give a benefit of doubt to anything one doesn't understand, specially in lack of the background or context of the saying. there have been massacre of sacred vedic sutras due to arrogant and ignorant translations done by early indologists who had not lived the tradition.

here is an excerpt from
"Rigveda- Verse (1.7.3)

gobhiH adrim airayat
go: cow, water (as per sAyaNa), ray of knowledge
adri: mountain, cloud, force of ignorance
airayat: destroy

Translation 1: (Indra) destroys the forces of ignorance with the knowledge.
Translation 2: (Indra) charged the clouds with water [as per sAyaNa].
Translation 3: (Indra) smashed the hill for getting the cows [as per Griffith].

Translation 1 is the esoteric interpretation. It is difficult to understand the translation 3. Supposedly the cows are hidden in the caves by robbers. By smashing the hill, even the cows are destroyed along with the hill. Translation 2 is acceptable but where is the wisdom in it?"

so, always be humble when interpreting ancient wisdom. for श्रद्धया सत्यमाप्यते (yajurveda 19.30) (shraddhayA satyam_Apyate) i.e. reverence brings out the truth. not blind faith, blind following, but reverent pursuit.

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and now the language aspects of the shloka -

vinA = without
go = cow, land, senses, speech
rasam = essence, juice, interest, mood
ko = kaH = what
raso = rasaH = interest, importance, value
bhojanAnAM = of food (bhojanam)

bhUpatinAm = of kings (bhupati)
bhU = earth, land
pati = owner, master, husband etc
patinAm = of pati
kAminInAm = of beautiful women (kAminI)
paNDitAnAm = of wise (pANDita)

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved.


  1. Namaste Shashi,
    The revered Gayatri Mantra has a line which says "Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi". One of the translations that I have read online says "I meditate on thy divine effulgent light".

    So in this context does the interpretation of "Go" in "Bhargo" as light make sense ?

    Thanks and regards

  2. gautham, bhargaH itself means radiance, brilliance, splendor. the -o of bhargo is due to the visarga-sandhi

  3. Shashiji....had been following your posts and had time to read your blog only today. You are doing a great service to all of us and to the language.


  4. Shashiji,

    Had been following for quite sometime in FB. Had time to view your blog only recently. You are doing a great service to us and to the language.


  5. For a language that is as old as this, it is intimidating to begin to learn, especially when the same word has so many meanings and interpretations depending on the context. "Every time I attempt to learn, I give up". I would like 5 people on this blog to translate the sentence in quotes :-)

  6. Recently learned about the myriad beauties of sanskrit.happy to have found this blog


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