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Sanskrit, why so serious? Mankind’s oldest jokes translated to English

This is article #5 – part of deep trip series on Sanskrit.

Before you proceed, please read the previous articles in the series.

Click here for Article #1Click here for Article #2… Click here for article #3… Click here for article #4…

After some serious exploration in the last 3 articles, we shall lighten up with some Sanskrit humor (not really) in the form of some translated verses from the ancient manuscripts and how we as a contemporary society can relate with them.

While Sanskrit is building its own cult, it is still being taken a bit too seriously as a liturgical language. But if you dig deeper, Sanskrit verses are not just about Gods as it seems.

Amidst such seriousness that has been associated with Sanskrit, under the wraps lie Sanskrit works of humor & dark wit.

Here is a short collection of almost forgotten humorous Sanskrit verses which stay as a proof that Sanskrit abounds with wits & wisecracks!

  1. A lot of serious praise has been bestowed upon the three gods of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh. But this particular verse just lightens you up, humorously exposing the ‘one’ fear of all three of them.

Verse:

Kamale Brahma Shete haraha shete himalaye |

Ksheerabdho cha harihi shete manye matkunashankaya ||

Translation:

Brahma sleeps on a lotus, Shiva sleeps in Himalaya |

Vishnu sleeps in Ksheersaagar – it’s all due to the fear of bugs in their bed ||

This just seems a light hearted commentary by someone bored of having portrayed the Gods always in the same way with utmost seriousness.

  1. Second in line is a really cool one by Charvaka who remarks how consuming ‘Ghee’ (clear butter used in Indian cooking) is akin to being happy.

Verse:

VYavat jivet sukham jivet |
runam krutya ghrutam pibeyat |
bhasmi butasya dehasya punaragamanam kutaha ||

Translation:

Be happy as long as you are alive |

Do consume ghee even if you have to borrow |

Body once turned to ash (cremated) will never be back ||

Yesss!! (1)
Yesss!! (1)

Charvaka was arguably the world’s first liberal democratic & atheist philosopher. He was a revolutionary rebel of his time. He disowned all the Vedic concepts and did not believe in the concepts of God, religion, prophets, rebirth, heaven & hell, sin or piety. He believed that the purpose of life was not to attain ‘moksha’ but just to live happily. Heaven, hell, moksha, etc. he believed were over-hyped lies & tricks to distract the poor so that the rich could enjoy everyone else’s share! Wow, mindful! A poet that should be explored!

Charvaka (2)
Charvaka (2)
  1. Third one is a personification of a book. The verse is being spoken by a book and this is what she has to say to you. Yes, you!

Verse:

Tailaad rakshet jalaad rakshet, rakshet shithala bandhanaat |

Moorkah haste na daatvyam evam vadati pustakam ||

Translation:

Protect me from oil, water and from loose binding |

Above all, protect me, O Lord, from falling into the hands of a fool ||

 

This verse is believed to have originated in the 16th century by an anonymous scribe. Legend has it that he humorously penned this after completing a full-length epic in the then technology of parched sheets of palm leaves.

  1. Fourth one is my personal sarcastic favorite. It is addressed to the capitalistic doctors who are compared to the death messenger.

Verse:

vaidhyarAja namaH tubhyaM yamarAjasahodara |
yamaH tu harati prANAm vaidhyarAjaH dhanAni cha ||

Translation:

O Doctor, I salute you! You are the brother of Yama Raja |

While Yama only takes the life, the doctor takes the money too ||

Indeed (3)
Indeed (3)

While the world has always bestowed doctors with great praise for saving lives, this particular author seems to present an alternate view to it, probably just for fun!

  1. This one deals with a doctor as well. But this time the doctor is not the subject of the verse but the protagonist who utters this while burning a dead body in the pyre!

Verse:

Chitam prajvalitam drushtva vaidyo vismayamagatah |

Naham gatah na me bhrata kasyaidam hastalaghavam ||

Translation:

Seeing a body burning on a pyre, a doctor remarks in surprise |
“He is gone not by me, or by my brother, then whose sleight of hand is this?” ||
 

A concept similar to the previous verse, the only difference being the doctor here is digging at himself & his profession.

  1. This one scares all the brave people who can handle two wives. Pun intended, the brave realizes later that he is in fact sandwiched in between two forces of inevitable obliteration.

Verse:

Bilaadvahirbilasyaantah sthitamarjaarasarpayoho |

Madhye chakhurivaabhaati patnidvayayuto narah ||

Translation:

Like a rat standing in between a cat outside its hole and a snake inside the hole |

is a man who has two wives ||

Where do we go now? (4)
Where do we go now? (4)

Annihilation is guaranteed if you think one wife is not enough for you to control & take care of already! Haha

  1. The final one is such a delightful dig at sleep! This cute verse re-establishes my faith in the humor generated by personification of inanimate objects or just concepts to laugh out loud!

Verse:

Nidra priyo yah khalu Kumbhakarno hatas samike sa raghuttamen |

Vaidhavyam aapadhyat tasya kanta shrotum samaayaati kathaam puraanam ||

Translation:

Kumbhakarna loved sleep.

When he was killed by Rama,

Sleep was widowed.

Now she spends her time

visiting discourses and sermons.

 

Now that is what I call hyperbolic humor. Humor if you see here gives you a lot more freedom than serious digging at something or someone. And this verse has left a big wide smirk on my face already!

If you think Sanskrit is only good for marriage ceremonies & religious rituals, well think again! We just explored yet another unexplored side of Sanskrit & this week of jaunting on Sanskrit has been really rewarding for me personally. Hope it has been the same for you. Tomorrow, we shall explore some more such verses but focusing on ‘use of different figures of speech’. Hope to catch you on the ‘Sanskrit Subhashita’ bus tomorrow!

About Hardeep Pathak

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4 comments

  1. So funny I forgot to laugh.

  2. PLEASE… I WANT TO LEARN ABOUT EVERYTHING. ENOUGH SAID.

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