Kalividambana: A Satirical Poem on the Kali Yuga

Nilakantha Dikshita, a prolific 17th century poet, wrote a delightful poem cataloguing the fallen characters of the Kali age. 

Tattva Team
| 7 min read
April 01, 2021
Illustrations by Shreyansh Singh

Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, active at the Nāyaka Court in Madurai in the early 17th century, was one of the most prolific poet-scholar of the age. Born into the family of great scholars, he was a grandnephew and a disciple of the great Appaya Dīkṣita. Among Nīlakaṇṭha many literary oeuvres, is a delightful and amusing poem, Kaliviḍambana (A Mockery of the Kāli Age), that catalogues the fallen characters of the present age. A keen student of the contemporary society, Nīlakaṇṭha, at his wittiest best, pokes fun at people whose conduct he thinks is corrupt and questionable.

Here is a selected excerpt from this short poem of 102 stanzas, translated by the great Sanskrit scholar V.Raghavan in 1970.       

Ministers and Academics

One should not be afraid, need not understand, nor even listen to the opposite side’s words; one should reply immediately if one desires to win in the assemblies.

Absence of flurry, setting no store by modesty, scorn of the opponent, laughter, eulogy of the king (the presiding person), these five are the means of victory.

If the judge is not learned, win (your case) by shouting aloud; if he is learned, his line may be toed.

He who desires to know the truth should practice for long in modesty; but he who desires to win should throw away modesty and make a lot of noise.

Yogins and Sannyasins

If our intellect cannot apply itself at all to any branch of knowledge, let us become practitioners of mantras, yogins, or even sannyasins.

If the thing succeeds without delay, the practitioners of mantras attain fame; if it takes time, many accessory rites could be announced and thereby money earned.

They indeed are fortunate, the Mantrikas, whose telling the happy ones that they will have happiness, and the unhappy ones that they will have a hard lot, itself becomes their blessings to them.

Silence due to ignorance, quaint conduct—all these would redound, in the case of the mantra-practitioner, to his greatness

Astrologers

Astrologers should make enquiries with messengers in the court and then predict results to the kings, for the movement1 of planets is necessary for them

In questions regarding progeny, the astrologer should tell the father that it will be a son and the mother, a daughter; thereby he succeeds.

On queries about life, astrologers should say 'long life'; if those who had consulted live on, they will honour the astrologer; if they die, whom could they ask?

Those who read the destiny (of people) should say that everything has two sides, everything is bound by good and bad periods, and everything is a mixed bag.

By predicting wealth for the poor, and more wealth for the rich, the astrologers, by all means, become popular with the world.

Rich People

Even the little affluence that comes uncovers one's pride, sets thieves on one, and makes agnates busy.

The same rich people who mock at the learned, become themselves objects of mockery when Dame Fortune turns away even a little from them.

Believing flattery as true, considering oneself as a god, taking men to be worms—these are the fruits of new-found wealth.

Even as they are listening, the rich men will ask; even if they see, they do not know; and if they are made fun of, they consider all that as praise!

The possession by Spirits is momentary; the intoxication of liquor is for a yama (three hours); but the pride of wealth of the fools continues till death.

Wealth does its antics for a month or a fortnight and goes away; but the changes it had given rise to, persist (in a person) for ever, even as the smell of garlic.

The intoxication of Kodrava* is throat-deep; that of pan goes up to the heart; but that of wealth pervades the whole body and infects the mouths of the sons and wives of the rich.

Let there be intoxication where wealth had once been or is now present; but like leprosy and epilepsy it descends in the family!

Five or six pieces of coins in one's hand embolden one to teach texts, look down upon (other) scholars and make one forget one's class.

Lazy people

Loin-cloth, smearing oneself with ash, sacred grass, rosary, silence, sitting all alone,—these six provide livelihood for stupid fellows.

Those who desire to get money should speak of their having stayed at sacred places, mention a well-known dead scholar as their teacher and the endowments which kings had made for their families to carry on teaching.

If somebody questions about deficiency in Mantras in what you do, say that that is your tradition (Sampradaya); if he asks about the deficiency in the proper form of the sacrament, say that such is the practical Way of doing it (Prayoga); if he asks about your lack of the prescribed conduct, say that that is the way of people of your part of the country; these are the ready-made answers.

Always keeping the rosary and its covering cloth in hand, closing eyes every now and then, uttering "everything is Brahman"—these produce confidence immediately.

Staying on at the river-side till noon, worshipping an image in public, always putting on the dress of purity, —this is the secret of pretension.

Religious acts should be prolonged only so long as there are onlookers; the moment there is none to witness, everything is to be closed.

Tears of joy and horripilation, —if these two are at one's beck and call, what other religious acts does one require? Kings will become one’s servant.

And Nīlakaṇṭha’s parting shots are

Where one's wife's words are the scriptures,

where the only Dharma is to gather wealth,

where just what strike's one is the authority,

to that glorious Kali age be our obeisance!

(Note: For a more modern translation, one can refer to Somadeva Vasudeva recent translation of Kalividambana published by the Clay Sanskrit Library) 


Related Articles