Bana’s Harsha-carita: Harsha’s Vow to Annihilate the King of Bengal

Introduction: The Harsa-carita, “The Deeds of Harsha”, a eulogy of the reign of the great north Indian ruler Harsha (606-647), by Bana, one of the greatest classical Sanskrit poets, is the earliest panegyric and semi-historical royal Sanskrit poem of early medieval India. Harsha’s capital Kanauj (Kanyakubja) became a paradigm of courtly life and brahmanical orthodoxy in medieval India. As his age was characterized by permanent conflicts between the emerging regional kingdoms of early medieval India, the Harsa-caritra reminds one sometimes of poetic war reports, praising the heroic deeds of Harsha against other rulers of his age. His greatest enemy in the east was Sasankaof Bengal (Gauda), who allegedly killed Rayjavardhana, his predecessor and elder brother by treachery. The quoted passage contains, in a typical Sanskrit poetical kavya style, Harsha’s – futile – vow to exterminate Sasanka after he was informed about the death of his brother.
(see also AHOI, ch.3, section Harsha and the Dawn of Medieval India)

(Quoted from The Harşa-carita of Bāņa translated by E. B. Cowell and F.W. Thomas, London 1897, repr. Delhi 1961.,)

 ‘The advice of your eminence deserves to be acted upon. As it is, my envious arm looks with a claimant’s eye upon even the king of serpents who upholds the earth. When the very planet groups rise, my brow longs to set itself in motion for their repression. My hand yearns to clutch the tresses of the very hills that will not bow. My heart would force chowries upon even the sun’s presumptuously bright hands. Enraged at the title of king, my foot itches to make footstools of even the kings of beasts. My lip quivers to command the enchantment of the very quarters of heaven so wilfully occupied by their headstrong regents. How much more therefore now that such a woeful issue has come to pass! My mind, brimming with passion, has no room for complying with the observances of mourning. Nay, so long as this vile outcast of a Gauḍa king, this world-contemned miscreant, who deserves to be pounded, survives, like a cruel thorn in my heart, I am ashamed [] to cry out helplessly with dry lips like a hermaphrodite11 Until I evoke a storm of rain from the tremulous eyes of the wives of hostile hosts, how can my hands present the oblation of water? But small store of tears have these eyes till they have seen the smoke cloud from this vilest of Gauḍas’ pyre. Listen to my vow: ‘By the dust of my honoured lord’s feet I swear that, unless in a limited number of days I clear this earth of Gauḍas, and make it resound with fetters on the feet of all kings who are excited to insolence by the elasticity of their bows, then will I hurl my sinful self, like a moth, into an oil-fed flame.’So saying he gave instructions to Avanti, the supreme minister of war and peace, who was standing near: ‘Let a proclamation be engraved’: “As far as the orient hill, whose summit the Gandharva pairs abandon when alarmed by the hurtle of the sun’s chariot wheels,as far as Suvelawhere the calamity of Rāma’s devastation of Ceylon was graven by axes hewing down the capital Trikūṭa,as far as the western mount, the hollows of whose caves resound with the tinkling anklets of Varuṇa’s intoxicated and tripping mistresses,as far as Gandhamādana, whose cave-dwellings are perfumed with fragrant sulphur used as scent by the Yakṣa matrons; let all kings prepare their hands to give tribute or grasp swords, to seize the realms of space or chowries, let them bend their heads or their bows, grace their ears with either my commands or their bowstrings, crown their heads with the dust of my feet or with helmets, join suppliant hands or troops of elephants, let go their lands or arrows, grasp mace-staves or lance-staves, take a good view of themselves in the nails of my feet or the mirrors of their swords. I am gone abroad. Like a cripple, how can I rest, so long as my feet are not besmeared with an ointment found in every continent, consisting of the light of precious stones in the diadems of all kings?”
Thus resolved, he dismissed the assembly, and having sent away the feudatories, left the hall once more desirous of the bath. Having risen, he performed all his daily duties like one restored to himself. And from the face of the three worlds, which had heard the vow, the day with heat allayed faded, like the spirit of self-assertion, away.


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