Firstly, a big, big thanks to all those who over Fb, Fb messenger and email sent in answers to the quiz I made bold to set up. I am of course delighted that my cousin Rama Murali (singer Amritha Murali’s mother) managed to get them all in one fell swoop. But then she has been reciting the verses for over 25 years as she informs me. Compared to her I am in the KG class. Anyway, here are the answers –
Q1 – Two verses of the stotra are almost fully utilised by Muttuswami Dikshitar in two of his compositions. Identify the verses and the songs they inspire.
सुधासिंधोरमध्ये (verse 8) is almost completely incorporated in the kriti गौरी गिरिराजकुमारी in raga gauri. Similarly शरज्ज्योत्स्नाशुद्धां श्(verse 15) is partially used in कलावती कमलासनयुवती in raga kalAvati. It is also the inspiration for several words in वीणापुस्तकधारिणीम् in raga vEgavAhini.
Q 2 – One verse imparts in hidden form the 15 syllables that are used to worship Devi. These are not supposed to be uttered by someone not initiated into formal worship and so Sankara assists us this way. He has done this in other shlokas such as Mantramatrukapushpamalastavam as well. Which verse?
Verse 32 – the verse beginning शिवः शक्तिः कामः incorporates 14 of the 15 syllables by invoking the deity who is identified with each of these. The 15th, ह्रीम् which appears three times is referred to as such thereafter.
Q 3 – Sankara pays tribute to one of Siva’s greatest devotees from Tamil regions in one verse. There are of course some disputes on whether it indeed is this devotee that is referred in this verse. But let us assume it is so. Identify the verse and the devotee.
Most respondents got this one. It is verse 75 – तव स्तन्यं मन्ये – says this Dravida shishu (the child from the South) became a famed poet because he drank the milk of knowledge from Devi’s breasts. Now, this tallies perfectly with Gnanasambanda if you accept Sankara’s period as 7th Century CE. But then, one of the two great southern Peethams decided that it has to shift him time back by several centuries to fit its rather confused history. And so now Sankara predates Sambanda. And you should read some of the long-winded explanations that Sankara meant himself in this verse and also how the entire Sambanda episode has now been drafted into Sankara’s life. Anyway, in most explanatory texts it still remains Sambanda.
Q 4 – While the Lalita Sahasranama is referenced in numerous places in the Saundaryalahari, especially sections from the initial portions of the former shloka, one of the verses from Saundaryalahari has Sankara humorously wondering if the scholars who wrote the Sahasranama got their comparisons with Devi’s beauty all wrong. Which verse is that?
I realised only after completing the quiz that verse 62, which describe’s Goddess’ lips, could fit perfectly here as well. But I meant verse 88 – the line – कथं नीतं सद्भिः कठिनकमठीकर्परतुलाम् – how could the learned compare your soft feet to the hard back of a tortoise? This alludes to कूर्म पृष्ट जयिष्णु प्रपदान्विता – She whose feet are harder than the back of a tortoise (name 43)
Q 5 – Sankara’s philosophy is largely carried forward in South India by two establishments – the Sringeri Sarada Peetham and the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. The tutelary deities of each – respectively Sarada and Kamakshi, are described in two specific verses of the Saundaryalahari. The former monastery actually uses the relevant shloka as an invocatory benediction in all its publications, just below the picture of the Goddess. Which are these two verses?
Verse 15 has the Goddess as pure like the moonlight in autumn, bearing the moon on her locks, her arms in boon giving and warding off fear gestures and also wielding the rosary and the book – this is certainly Goddess Saradamba. Verse 7 (क्वणत्काञ्चीधामा) depicts her wearing a tinkling wasitband, having full breasts like the temple of the elephant in rut, of slim waist and a face like the full moon, bearing the sugarcane bow, arrow, the noose and the elephant goad.
Q 6 – The Shri Chakra is by itself described in a three dimensional format in one verse. It is amazing that this depiction of the Meru Mountain by itself became the basis for the construction of temples in places such as Angkor Wat. Identify this verse.
Verse 11 – चतुर्भिः श्रीकण्ठैः – describes the Shri Chakra – With four chakras of Shiva and five of Shakti, eight petals, sixteen petals, three circles and three lines.
Q 7 – Sankara displays his musical knowledge in two verses – the first is of course vipancyA gAyanti where he refers to Saraswati playing the Veena. But there is a verse that displays his awareness of musicology as well. Which one?
Verse 69 – गले रेखास्तिस्स्त्रौ – describes the Goddess’ throat as being the place where the Shadja, madhyama and gAndhAra grAmAs reside.
Q 8 – One of the most beautiful and poetic verses in this most beautiful and poetic work has Sankara describing the moon as a cosmetic case for the Goddess. Which one?
Verse 94 – कलंकः कस्तूरी – says roughly – ‘the black spots being musk, the white form itself being the unguent, the rays being the camphor, all of these in an emerald container is the moon. With your usage this empties out and Lord Brahma fills it up repeatedly.’
Q 9 – The phrase Saundarya Lahari appears in one verse in this 100 verse compilation. It however does not specify that this is the name of the work. Which verse?
Verse 44 – तनोतु क्षेमं
Q 10 – In one verse Sankara makes a startling reference to an old wedding ritual – that of the bridegroom placing the foot of the bride on the mortar stone. Andal too mentions it in her Nachiyar Tirumozhi. Which one?
Once again verse 88 – How did Shiva, during your wedding, place your soft foot on the hard stone? This refers to அம்மி மிதித்தல், which Andal also sings off in her dreamt wedding in the Nacchiyar Tirumozhi.
A big thanks to Kalpakam Srinivasamurti, who gifted me a 1956 edition of Saundaryalahari, with explanatory notes by GV Ganesa Iyer, that spurred me on to learning this work.