Ancient Looping Poetry

One of the great works of ancient Sanskrit poetry, the Kiratarjuniya, contains a masterpiece of linguistic looping. The epic poem believed to date from the 6th century, contains a verse which can be read forward, backward, up, down and diagonally.

Statue of ArjunaKiratarjuniya relates the story of combat between a Hindu hero, Arjuna, and the Lord Shiva in disguise. It is told in eighteen cantos (chapters) comprising several verses each. The fifteenth canto contains several tricks unique to Sanskrit; among them is a verse called the sarvatobhadra, meaning ‘good from every direction’.

devakanini kavade
vahikasvasvakahi va
kakarebhabhare ka ka
nisvabhavyavyabhaasvani

de ni ni de
hi sva sva hi
re bha bha re
ni sva bha vya vya bha sva ni
ni sva bha vya vya bha sva ni
re bha bha re
hi sva sva hi
de ni ni de

The translation reads:

‘O man who desires war! This is that battlefield which excites even the gods, where the battle is not of words. Here people fight and stake their lives not for themselves but for others. This field is full of herds of maddened elephants. Here those who are eager for battle and even those who are not very eager, have to fight.’

There are more word games in the same canto, including a verse in which all four lines read the same, but with different meanings from one line to the next.

Very little is known about the creation of the Kiratarjuniya or its author, Bharavi, who is not known to have written any other poems.

Photo Credit: Illussion

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