Dandi- man, not the march!

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

- Prathik Sudha Murali

India’s memory is fresh with the word Dandi, after all it is the 90th year of the famous march held to protest her British oppressors. However, we discuss not the village in Gujarat, not the march of salt, but a man of poetry in the same name! Dandi is a poet who lived between the 7thand 8th centuries.

Poetry in Sanskrit:

Earliest known literature to survive among mankind is the Vedas. These are a set of beautifully composed poems. It is the peculiarity of Sanskrit that even organized prose is considered poetry. The classifications of poetry in Sanskrit were done as early as the beginning of the Common Era by Yaska. He classifies vedic poetry into two, the mitakshara- measured syllable and the amitakshara – free flowing number of syllables respectively. The Vedas themselves contain both verse and prose, both of which are considered poetry.

Conversations between two individuals that appeared in Veda, like that of Urvashi and Pururavas were not metered. Perhaps the Vedic man tried to capture the emotion from the character, not restricting himself to the constraints of syllabic counts.

Legends on Dandin:

Dandi was a master of both verse and prose. The trinity of prose writing in classical Sanskrit was Subandhu, Bana and Dandin. Bana authored the famous work kadambariand was a contemporary of the King Harsha (606-647 CE). Dandin is placed around the same time.

There are however many tales woven around the life of Dandi that are often narrated in common conversations. There is famous story wherein Kalidasa and Dandi had a feud over their skills in poetry and the goddess of learning, saraswati was to be the judge. At the end of the verbal war, Saraswati is said to have uttered the sentence:

“कविर्दण्डि कविर्दण्डि कविर्दण्डि न संशय: - kavirdandi kavirdandi kavirdandi na samshaya:” – “Poet is Dandi, Poet is Dandi, Poet is Dandi, let there be no doubt!”

Fumed by the judgement of the goddess, Kalidasa is said to have asked “कोहं मूढ़े ? - koham mude?”-“Who am I, a fool?”

To this the goddess replied “त्वमेवाहं त्वमेवाहं त्वमेवाहं न संशय: - I am you, I am you, I am you, let there be no doubt”

Leaving the mythological nature of the account, which cannot be evidenced in history, even chronologically such legends cannot be validated since the difference in the time period of these two poets is around 3 centuries.

Bharavi and Dandi:

Dandi’s family is said to belong to Gujarat. A family of Brahmins belonging to the Kaushika clan are said to have migrated to central India. In this family was born Narayanaswami, whose son was the illustrious poet Bharavi. Bharavi’s work - Kiratarjuniyam has a worldwide fame and has inspired many poets and artists all over the country and in South East Asia. Bharavi was the friend of a Ganga dynasty King called Durvinita who reigned during the 6th Century CE. He later became the court poet of the Pallavas at Kanchipuram, whose grandson was Dandin. Dandi was caught in the war between Pallavas and Chalukyas and fled Kanchi, returning later during the reign of Pallava King Narasimhavarman to proceed with his writing.

Works of Dandin:

One of the most important contributions of Dandin to the field of aesthetics is his literature on poetry called Kavyadarsa. He is credited with two other works namely, Dasakumaracharitra and Avantisundarikatha respectively.

Avantisundarikatha begins in the famous town of Mamallapuram near Chennai, where the poet makes a reference to a Vishnu temple whose deity is being worshipped by the waves of the sea. As per Dandin, narration of prose may be classified into two, katha and akhyayika respectively. While the former involves the hero or the protagonist himself narrating his experience through prose, the latter is from a 3rd person’s point of view. Dandi’s work falls under the latter category.

His work on Poetics, the kavyadarsha was translated into Kannada and Tamil later.

The Dasakumaracharitra contains descriptions of various pleasures of regal nature, wine, courts, gardens, courtesans etc. It also depicts a picture of the cities and citadels of the time of Dandi. It is the story of ten princes. The story pans out as a very descriptive prose of various events involving the royal court, forests, exiles and wars culminating in the court again. Dandi does not seek to teach morals, but rather achieves to entertain his readers.

His literary techniques, even in prose stand apart. The 7thcanto of this work contains a chapter which is entirely composed with syllables whose utterance does not require the touching of the reader’s lips (i.e. sans labial letters). The reason the author provides is that the narrator, who is a price has been bitten on his lips by his lover. They have been kissed so hard, that they are wounded. Hence, he covers his lips with his hands and speaks without using words that contain labial letters.

Vijjaka’s anger:

Dandi opens his Kavyadarshawith a salutation to the goddess Saraswati, whom he describes as “सर्वशुक्ला सरस्वती – sarvashukla saraswati” – Goddess who is all white (complexion and drapery).

A lady poet named Vijjakawas angered by such a mention. It is said that Vijjaka was dark complexioned and was a very talented poet. She composed a verse that read:

नीलोत्पलदलश्यामां विज्जकां मामजानता |

वृधैव दण्डिना प्रोक्तं सर्वशुक्ला सरस्वती || nilotpala dalashyamam vijjakam mamajanata | vrudhaiva dandina proktam sarvashukla saraswati|| “Dandi did not know who I am. This Vijjaka, whose skin is as dark as the flowers of nilotpala is indeed the goddess of learning! He had erred in calling the goddess white in complexion!”

It is often quoted in the world of poetry in sanskrit, the metaphors of Kalidasa and the phrases of Dandi are a class apart. Later works, like those of Ganga Devi (vijayanagara period) address Dandi reverentially as the acharya or ‘the teacher’. Leaving behind works that would later be translated into and be the guiding light for poetry in other languages like Kannada and Tamil, Dandi’s work as an aesthetician is often under appreciated. Perhaps, Dandi would be the only person from the South of the Vindhyas to own the credit of composing a text on Sanskrit poetics.


1) Kavyadarsha - The Kavyadarsha of Sri Dandin (ed. Pandit Premacandra).1981

2) The many lives of Dandin - International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Anne E. Monius). 2000

3) Dandin - Aestheticians,Publications division, GoI - (Kamala Ratnam). 2013

The author can be reached at sahagamana

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