Canto 1: kapilavāstu-varṇanaḥ
A Portrait of Kapilavāstu

// om namo buddhāya //
Om! Homage to the Buddha

Introduction

The opening canto of Saundara-nanda parallels the opening canto of Buddha-carita; both cantos reflect a certain ambivalence on Aśvaghoṣa’s part towards the ancient Indian society into which the Buddha and his brother Nanda were born. On the one hand, being born into an aristocratic family of the kṣatriya cast, in a thriving city, was very advantageous for the development of the two princes. On the other hand, whenever Aśvaghoṣa writes of the views and practices of brahmins and ascetics, an ironic subtext is discernible not far below the surface. Ostensibly, then, the present Canto presents an idealized portrait of the city of Kapilavāstu. But when we dig for hidden meaning, there is evidence also that Aśvaghoṣa saw ancient Indian culture and society as leaving much to be desired in terms of its irrational beliefs, immoderate practices, social injustice, and so on.

 

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gautamaḥ kapilo nāma munir dharma-bhṛtāṁ varaḥ /
babhūva tapasi śrāntaḥ kākṣīvān iva gautamaḥ // 1.1 //

A sage named Kapila Gautama, an outstanding upholder of dharma, / Became as consumed in ascetic practice as was Kākṣīvat Gautama. Kākṣīvat Gautama was an ancient Indian exemplar of ascetic practice – the kind of practice from which the Buddha turned away (see SN3.2). 01 // 1.1 //

aśiśriyad yaḥ satataṁ dīptaṁ kāśyapavat tapaḥ /
āśiśrāya ca tad-vṛddhau siddhiṁ kāśyapavat parām // 1.2 //

Ceaselessly he shone his light, like Kāśyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism; / And in promoting that asceticism he pushed himself, like Kāśyapa the sage, Kāśyapa is a patronym from kaśyapa, ‘having black teeth,’ which is (1) a name of the sun, and (2) the name of one of the seven great seers of ancient India, supposed author of several hymns of the Ṛg-veda. 02 to extreme achievement. // 1.2 //

havīṁṣi yaś ca svātmārthaṁ gām adhukṣad vasiṣṭhavat /
tapaḥ-śiṣṭeṣu śiṣyeṣu gām adhukṣad vasiṣṭhavat // 1.3 //

For the offerings he served himself, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. / In schooling his disciples in asceticism, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. Vasiṣṭha, ‘the most wealthy,’ is the name of another ancient Indian seer, celebrated in the vedas as the owner of the mythical cow of plenty. Gām means a cow, and at the same time the earth, as the milk-cow of kings. The verse sounds like praise but is ambiguous – suggesting either that Vasiṣṭha’s practice was “self-serving” in that it seemed to do itself, naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly; or else “self-serving” in that he served himself, and exploited others in the process. Aśvaghoṣa’s real intention may be the latter, but in his undermining of Brahminical and Buddhist views, he is always circumspect, relying on irony rather than polemics. 03// 1.3 //

māhātmyād dīrghatapaso yo dvitīya ivābhavat /
tṛtīya iva yaś cābhūt kāvyāṅgirasayor dhiyā // 1.4 //

In high-mindedness, he was like a second Dīrgha-tapas; Dīrgha-tapas, ‘performing long penances,’ is the name of several ancient Indian seers. 04 / And he was like a third in the mould of Kāvya Kāvya is the patronymic of the ancient sage Uśanas, teacher of the asuras, who presides over the planet Venus.05 and Āṅgiras, Another of the seven great seers, author of the hymns of the Ṛg-veda. 06 in religious thought. // 1.4 //

tasya vistīrṇa-tapasaḥ pārśve himavataḥ śubhe /
kṣetraṁ cāyatanaṁ caiva tapasām āśramo ’bhavat // 1.5 //

On a bright slope of the Himālayas this man steeped in ascetic practice / Had his ashram, the domain and the very seat of ascetic practices. // 1.5 //

cāru-vīrut-taru-vanaḥ prasnigdha-mṛdu-śadvalaḥ /
havir-dhūma-vitānena yaḥ sadābhra ivābabhau // 1.6 //

Wooded with charming shrubs and trees and abounding in lush, soft grass, / It was so thick A play on the word vitāna, which means (1) ‘out of tune’, dejected, empty, dull; (2) great extent, heap, abundance; (3) an oblation, sacrifice. 07 with sacrificial smoke that it constantly resembled a raincloud. // 1.6 //

mṛdubhiḥ saikataiḥ snigdhaiḥ kesarāstara-pāṇḍubhiḥ /
bhūmi-bhāgair asaṁkīrṇaiḥ sāṅgarāga ivābhavat // 1.7 //

With soft, sandy, and smooth soil, made yellowish white by a covering of kesara blossoms, / And divided into areas, with no commingling, Asaṁkīrṇaiḥ means not mixed, not adulterated, not polluted, not impure, not born of a mixed marriage. Beneath a camouflage of kesara flowers, Aśvaghoṣa may be alluding, always with due circumspection, to traditional Bhramanical conceptions around caste. 08 it was like a body painted with cosmetic pigments.

śucibhis tīrtha-saṁkhyātaiḥ pāvanair bhāvanair api /
bandhumān iva yas tasthau sarobhiḥ sasaroruhaiḥ // 1.8 //

Pure, esteemed for their sacred presence, EH Johnston translated tīrtha-saṁkhyātaiḥ “famed as places of pilgrimage.” Tīrtha means a passage, way, ford, stairs for landing or for descent into a river, bathing-place, place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams. Is there a hidden connotation of the tīrthika, the “way-maker” or sectarian? In the Discourse that Set the Dharma-Wheel Rolling, the Buddha says “There is no room here for those who have gone forth as sectarians” (bhūmir na cātra para-tīrthika niḥsṛtānāṁ; Lalita-vistara). 09 edifying and cultivating, The description of the lakes as cultivating (bhāvanaiḥ) presages the Buddha’s exhortation, in SN Cantos 15 & 16, that Nanda should eradicate influences that pollute the mind by the means of cultivation of the mind (bhāvanayā). See SN15.5 and 16.5.10 / Like friends, were the lakes it stood among – fluent and bearing lotuses.

paryāpta-phala-puṣpābhiḥ sarvato vana-rājibhiḥ /
śuśubhe vavṛdhe caiva naraḥ sādhanavān iva // 1.9 //

With abundant flowers and fruits beautifying the forests all around it, / It shone and it flourished, like a man furnished with a means. // 1.9 //

nīvāra-phala-saṁtuṣṭaiḥ svasthaiḥ śāntair anutsukaiḥ /
ākīrṇo ’pi tapo-bhṛdbhiḥ śūnyaśūnya ivābhavat // 1.10 //

Content to feed on wild rice and fruit, the ascetics were self-abiding, inhibited, and retiring. / Though the ashram was full of them, it seemed to be utterly empty. // 1.10 //

agnīnāṁ hūyamānānāṁ śikhināṁ kūjatām api /
tīrthānāṁ cābhiṣekeṣu śuśruve tatra nisvanaḥ // 1.11 //

The sound of the fires receiving offerings, of the peacocks with their crested heads uttering their repetitive cry, A sardonic allusion to the chanting of the ascetics with their dreadlocked hair-dos. 11 / And of the sacred bathing places, during ablutions, Or did one hear, in a hidden meaning, the noise of sectarianism, being expressed during religious bathing? See note to verse 8, on tīrtha. The meanings of abhiṣeka include consecrating (by sprinkling water), religious bathing, and bathing of a divinity to whom worship is offered. 12 was all that one heard there. // 1.11 //

virejur hariṇā yatra suptā medhyāsu vediṣu /
salājair mādhavī-puṣpair upahārāḥ kṛtā iva // 1.12 //

The stags there, their manes beautifully braided, The ostensible meaning of suptāḥ is asleep. At the same time the MW dictionary gives supta (fr. su + ptā) as “having beautiful braids of hair.” So on the surface Aśvaghoṣa is describing a peaceful scene (EHJ: “the spotted deer, asleep in the enclosures sacred to worship…”). But below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa is maybe continuing to poke fun at ascetic stags with their big hair. 13 on undefiled elevations fit to be sacrificial altars, / Seemed as though, complete with puffy rice and mādhavi flowers, they had been prepared as religious offerings. // 1.12 //

api kṣudra-mṛgā yatra śāntāś ceruḥ samaṁ mṛgaiḥ /
śaraṇyebhyas tapasvibhyo vinayaṁ śikṣitā iva // 1.13 //

Even lesser creatures moved there in the same subdued Śāntāḥ, “pacified” or “subdued,” means in other words stilted. Aśvaghoṣa is making fun of unduly careful practice – the result of trying to be mindful. 14 manner as the stags, / As if from their ascetic protectors they had learned the rules of discipline. // 1.13 //

saṁdigdhe ’py apunar-bhāve viruddheṣv āgameṣv api /
pratyakṣiṇa ivākurvaṁs tapo yatra tapodhanāḥ // 1.14 //

Even in the face of a precarious immunity to rebirth and notwithstanding inconsistencies in their time-honoured texts, / There and then, as if seeing with their own eyes, The key word is iva, “as if.” Aśvaghoṣa is damning the great ascetics with faint praise. 15 the great ascetics practised asceticism. // 1.14 //

yatra sma mīyate brahma kaiś-cit kaiś-cin na mīyate /
kāle nimīyate somo na cākāle pramīyate // 1.15 //

There some prayed to Brahma; none suffered the frustration of losing his way; / The soma, Soma is an intoxicating licquor, squeezed from the stalks of the climbing soma plant, and offered in libations to ancient Hindu gods. See also SN2.31. 16 at the right moment, was measured out; and nobody, at a random moment, came to nothing. Each line contains a play on the ambiguity of mīyate, which is one passive form from two different roots: √mī (lose one’s way, perish, come to nothing) and √ma (measure out, pray). Randomly coming to nothing may be understood as an ironic expression of nirvāṇa. 17 // 1.15 //

nirapekṣāḥ śarīreṣu dharme yatra sva-buddhayaḥ/
saṁhṛṣṭā iva yatnena tāpasās tepire tapaḥ // 1.16 //

There, each disregarding his body, but having his own view with regard to dharma, / And almost bristling with zeal, the ascetics set about their ascetic practice of asceticism. // 1.16 //

śrāmyanto munayo yatra svargāyodyukta-cetasaḥ /
tapo-rāgeṇa dharmasya vilopam iva cakrire // 1.17 //

There the toiling sages, hearts straining heavenward, / Seemed by their passion for asceticism almost to do dharma a mischief. // 1.17 //

atha tejasvi-sadanaṁ tapaḥ-kṣetraṁ tam āśramam /
ke-cid ikṣvākavo jagmū rājaputrā vivatsavaḥ // 1.18 //

Now, to that ashram, that seat of intensity, that domain of austerity, / There came certain sons of Ikṣvāku, Ikṣvāku, from ikṣu ‘sugar cane,’ was the first king of the solar dynasty which bears his name. Many royal families in India, including the Buddha’s family, traced their lineages back to him. 18 royal princes, wishing to stay. // 1.18 //

suvarṇa-stambha-varṣmāṇaḥ siṁhoreskā mahābhujāḥ /
pātraṁ śabdasya mahataḥ śriyāṁ ca vinayasya ca // 1.19 //

Tall they were like golden columns, lion-chested, strong-armed, / Worthy of their great name and royal insignia and good upbringing. // 1.19 //

arharūpā hy anarhasya mahātmānaś calātmanaḥ /
prājñāḥ prajñā-vimuktasya bhrātṛvyasya yavīyasaḥ // 1.20 //

For deserving were they, where undeserving was he. Big-minded were they, where fickle-minded was he. / And bright were they, where brainless was he: their younger half-brother. // 1.20 //

mātṛ-śulkād upagatāṁ te śriyaṁ naviṣehire
rarakṣuś ca pituḥ satyaṁ, yasmāc chiśriyire vanam // 1.21 //

The royal authority that had come to him, as his mother’s bride-price, they had not usurped; Vi-ṣah means (1) to overpower, and (2) to endure. Either meaning could apply here: they did not overthrow him, or they could not endure his sovereignty. 19 / Rather, keeping their father’s promise, they had retreated to the forest. // 1.21 //

teṣaṁ munir upādhyāyo gautamaḥ kapilo ’bhavat /
guru-gotrād ataḥ kautsās te bhavanti sma gautamāḥ // 1.22 //

The sage Kapila Gautama became their preceptor; / And so, from the guru’s surname, those Kautsas became Gautamas I.e. the original surname of the Buddha’s ancestors was Kautsa. 20 – // 1.22 //

eka-pitror yathā bhrātroḥ pṛthag-guru-parigrahāt /
rāma evābhavad gārgyo vāsubhadro ’pi gautamaḥ // 1.23 //

Just as, though they were brothers born of one father, because they had different gurus / Rāma became a Gārgya and Vāsubhadra a Gautama. // 1.23 //

śākavṛkṣa-praticchannaṁ vāsaṁ yasmāc ca cakrire /
tasmād ikṣvāku-vaṁsyās te bhuvi śākyā iti smṛtāḥ // 1.24 //

And since they made a dwelling concealed among śāka trees, / Therefore those descendants of Ikṣvāku were known on earth as Śākyas. Hence the Buddha’s name Śākyamuni, “Sage of the Śākyas.”21 // 1.24 //

sa teṣāṁ gautamaś cakre sva-vaṁsa-sadṛsīḥ kriyāḥ /
munir ūrdhvaṁ kumārasya sagarasyeva bhārgavaḥ // 1.25 //

Gautama performed services for them as for his own sons, / Like the Bhārgava sage later did for the child-prince Sagara; Sa-gara, literally “With Poison,” is the name of a great solar dynasty king brought up in the ashram of a Bhārgava sage named Aurva, who intervened after Sagara’s mother was poisoned by a rival queen. The story is told in Book 3 of the Mahā-bhārata. 22 // 1.25 //

kaṇvaḥ śākuntalasyeva bharatasya tarasvinaḥ /
vālmīkir iva dhīmāṁś ca dhīmator maithileyayoḥ // 1.26 //

Like Kaṇva did for Śākuntala’s son, the intrepid Bharata; The story of how Kanva brought up in his ashram Bharata (the son of King Duṣyanta and his wife Śākuntala) is originally told in the Mahā-bhārata. But the story is best known through Kālidāsa’s play The Recognition of Śākuntala. See also verse 36.23 / And like the inspired Vālmīki did for the inspired twin sons of Maithili. Along with the Mahā-bhārata, the other great Sanskrit epic of ancient Indian history is the Rāmāyaṇa, Rāma’s Journey, the authorship of which is attributed to Vālmīki. Maithili, or the princess of Mithila, refers to Sita, Rāma’s wife, esteemed in India as a standard-setter for wifely and womanly virtues. The final book of the Rāmāyaṇa describes how Rāma, bowing to public opinion, banishes Maithili to the forest, where the sage Vālmīki takes her into his ashram. Here the princess gives birth to twin boys, Lava and Kuśa, who become pupils of Vālmīki and are brought up in ignorance of their royal identity. Vālmīki composes the Rāmāyaṇa and teaches Lava and Kuśa to sing it. 24 // 1.26 //

tad vanaṁ muninā tena taiś ca kṣatriya-puṁgavaiḥ /
śāntāṁ guptāṁ ca yugapad brahma-kṣatra-śriyaṁ dadhe // 1.27 //

That forest, through the sage, and through those warrior heroes, / Radiated tranquillity and security – the majesty of the brahmin and of the kṣatriya, in one yoke. // 1.27 //

ath’ oda-kalaśaṁ gṛhya teṣāṁ vṛddhi-cikīrṣayā /
muniḥ sa viyad utpatya tān uvāca nṛpātmajān // 1.28 //

One day, while holding a jug of water, in his desire to nurture the princes’ growth / The sage went up, into the air. Then he said to them: // 1.28 //

yā patet kalaśād asmād akṣayya-salilān mahīm /
dhārā tām anatikramya mām anveta yathā kramam // 1.29 //

“There will fall to earth from this flowing jug, whose flowing is unbreakable, / A line of drops: Do not overstep this mark, as in step you follow me.” // 1.29 //

tataḥ paramam ity uktvā śirobhiḥ praṇipatya ca /
rathān āruruhuḥ sarve śīghra-vāhān alaṁkṛtān // 1.30 //

“Yes!” they said to this, and respectfully bowed, letting their heads fall forward. / Then all went up, onto chariots that were swiftly drawn, and well prepared. // 1.30 //

tataḥ sa tair anugataḥ syandana-sthair nabho-gataḥ /
tad āśrama-mahī-prāntaṁ paricikṣepa vāriṇā // 1.31 //

So they followed him in the flow, Syandana-sthaiḥ, translated here as “in the flow,” ostensibly means “remaining in their chariots.” But syandana is originally an -na neuter action noun meaning “moving on swiftly, running (as a chariot)” and hence a chariot. Syandana can also carry a liquid connotation, meaning liquefying or dissolving, which goes with the sense of water flowing drop by drop. The whole description is ostensibly of a fantastic or miraculous episode. In the hidden meaning, the suggestion is of action, moment by moment, that seems spontaneously to do itself. 25 while, walking on air, / The ends of the earth of that ashram he sprinkled with water. // 1.31 //

aṣṭāpadam ivālikhya nimittaiḥ surabhī-kṛtam /
tān uvāca muniḥ sthitvā bhūmi-pāla-sutān idam // 1.32 //

He set out a plan like a chessboard, like an eightfold plan, revealed by signs; “Sign” is the first of several senses of nimitta used by Aśvaghoṣa in Saundara-nanda. Nimitta is a key word in Canto 16, where the Buddha uses it in the context of describing mental development or cultivation (bhāvanā). This cultivation of the mind is itself part of the wider cultivation of the threefold śīla, twofold samādhi, and threefold prajñā which constitute the noble eightfold path. In some sense, then, this verse can be read as autobiographical on Aśvaghoṣa’s part – his intention is to reveal to us, not so directly but by indirect prompting via clues and signs, a way of practice that leads towards the cessation of suffering. 26 / Then the sage, standing still, spoke thus to those offspring of the guardians of the earth: // 1.32 //

asmin dhārā-parikṣipte nemi-cihnita-lakṣaṇe /
nirmimīdhvaṁ puraṁ yūyaṁ mayi yāte triviṣṭapam // 1.33 //

“Within this sprinkled line of drops, wherein your wheels have left a mark, / You are to build a city, when I am gone to heaven.” // 1.33 //

tataḥ kadā-cit te vīrās tasmin pratigate munau /
babhramur yauvanoddāmā gajā iva niraṅkuśaḥ // 1.34 //

Thereafter those lads, when in time the sage passed away, / Roamed about in their unbridled youth like elephants unchecked by a driver’s hook. // 1.34 //

baddha-godhāṅgulī-vāṇā hasta-viṣṭhita-kārmukāḥ /
śar-ādhmāta-mahā-tūṇā vyāyatābaddha-vāsasaḥ // 1.35 //

[They roamed about] with bows in hand and leather-clad fingers on arrows, / Shafts causing sizeable quivers to swell, feathers preened and fastened on. Vāsas means (1) clothes, and (2) [in compounds] the feathers of an arrow. 27 // 1.35 //

jijñāsamānā nāgeṣu kauśalaṁ śvāpadeṣu ca /
anucakrur vana-sthasya dauṣmanter deva-karmaṇaḥ // 1.36 //

Wishing to test their mettle among the elephants and big cats, / They emulated the god-like deeds of the forest-dwelling son of Duṣyanta. The son of Duṣyanta means Bharata, legendary founder of the Indian nation and chief protagonist of the Mahā-bhārata – the same intrepid Bharata mentioned in verse 26. Act 7 of Kālidāsa’s play The Recognition of Śakuntala has the boy playing roughly with a baby lion, commanding the lion to open its jaws because he wishes to count its teeth. 28 // 1.36 //

tān dṛṣṭvā prakṛtiṁ yātān vṛddhān vyāghra-śiśūn iva /
tāpasās tad-vanaṁ hitvā himavantaṁ siṣevire // 1.37 //

Seeing their natural character emerge as those lads grew, like tiger cubs, / The ascetics abandoned that forest and retreated to the Himālayas. // 1.37 //

tatas tad-āśrama-sthānaṁ śūnyaṁ taiḥ śūnya-cetasaḥ /
paśyanto manyunā taptā vyālā iva niśaśvasuḥ // 1.38 //

Then, seeing the ashram [without ascetics,] desolate, the princes were desolate in their hearts. / In the red-hot anger of their indignation, they hissed like snakes. // 1.38 //

atha te puṇya-karmāṇaḥ pratyupasthita-vṛddhayaḥ /
tatra taj-jñair upākhyātān avāpur mahato nidhīn // 1.39 //

In time, through good conduct, they came to a maturity / In which they could obtain the great treasures that are disclosed through acts of knowing them. // 1.39 //

alaṁ dharmārtha-kāmānāṁ nikhilānām avāptaye /
nidhayo naika-vidhayo bhūrayas te gatārayaḥ // 1.40 //

Sufficient for full enjoyment of dharma, wealth, and pleasure; Dharma, wealth, and pleasure are three of the four aims of human existence (puruṣārtha) originally discussed in Book 12 of the Mahā-bhārata. The fourth aim is the aim that Aśvaghoṣa himself considered paramount: liberation or release (mokṣa) – see SN18.63. 29 / Abundant; and of many kinds: these were treasures beyond the reach of enemies. // 1.40 //

tatas tat-pratilambhāc ca pariṇāmāc ca karmaṇaḥ /
tasmin vāstuni vāstu-jñāḥ puraṁ śrīman nyaveśayan // 1.41 //

On the grounds of what they thus acquired, and of the fading influence of their past karma, / They who knew building, at that site, founded a splendid city. // 1.41 //

sarid-vistīrṇa-parikhaṁ spaṣṭāñcita-mahāpatham /
śaila-kalpa-mahā-vapraṁ girivrajam ivāparam // 1.42 //

It had a moat as broad as a river, a main street that straightened and curved, / And great ramparts rising like mountains, as if it were another Giri-vraja. Giri-vraja was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. The city, which is also mentioned in SN3.15 as a place the enlightened Buddha frequented, is located in a valley surrounded by five rocky hills; hence the name Giri-vraja, or “Mountain-Fenced.” It was also known in Sanskrit as Rāja-gṛha, “King’s House,” which is thought to be the derivation of the name of the city of Rajgir in the modern Indian state of Bihar (= Land of Vihāras). 30 // 1.42 //

pāṇḍurāṭṭāla-sumukhaṁ suvibhaktāntar-āpaṇam /
harmya-mālā-parikṣiptaṁ kukṣiṁ himagirer iva // 1.43 //

With its fine frontage of white watchtowers, and a well-apportioned central market / Overlooked by crescents of large houses, it was like a Himālayan valley. // 1.43 //

veda-vedāṅga-viduṣas tasthuṣaḥ ṣaṭsu karmasu /
śāntaye vṛddhaye caiva yatra viprān ajījapan // 1.44 //

Brahmins versed in the Vedas and Vedāṅgas, Vedāṅgas, “limbs of the Vedas,” are teachings auxiliary to original works like the Ṛg-veda which go back to before, or at least to the very beginning of, Āryan migrations into northern India. 31 and engaged in the six occupations, In India’s ancient system of apartheid, six occupations were reserved for brahmins of the priestly caste: (1) teaching and (2) studying the Vedas; (3) offering and (4) officiating at sacrifices; (5) giving and (6) accepting gifts. 32 / There they caused to pray, for peace and for prosperity. // 1.44 //

tad-bhūmer abhiyoktṝṇāṁ prayuktān vinivṛttaye /
yatra svena prabhāvena bhṛtya-daṇḍān ajījapan // 1.45 //

The regular soldiers Bhṛtya-daṇḍān. Bhṛtya means to be maintained, a servant (see also note to SN2.33). Daṇḍa means rod, embodied power, army. EHJ: “their military forces.”33 they employed there to repel assailants from their territory / They caused, with their sovereign power, to be victorious in battle. // 1.45 //

cāritra-dhana-saṁpannān salajjān dīrgha-darśinaḥ /
arhato ’tiṣṭhipan yatra śūrān dakṣān kuṭumbinaḥ // 1.46 //

Householders of character and means, who were modest, far-sighted, / Worthy, stout and able, they caused to settle there. // 1.46 //

vyastais tais-tair guṇair yuktān mati-vāg-vikramādibhiḥ /
karmasu pratirūpeṣu sacivāṁs tān nyayūyujan // 1.47 //

Individuals possessed of particular strong points such as thinking, talking, and taking steps, / They installed in corresponding offices as counsellors and ministers. // 1.47 //

vasumadbhir avibhrāntair alaṁ-vidyair avismitaiḥ /
yad babhāse naraiḥ kīrṇaṁ mandaraḥ kinnarair iva // 1.48 //

Thronged by men who were wealthy but not wanton, and cultured but not conceited, / [The city] seemed like Mt. Mandara, Mandara, lit. “a pearl chain consisting of 8 or 16 strings,” is the name of a sacred mountain where various deities and mythical beings were thought to reside. When the gods and asuras were in need of a large object with which to churn the ocean and recover the deathless nectar, the story goes, they used Mt. Mandara as a churning stick. 34 thronged by kiṁnaras. Kiṁnara is lit. “what sort of man?” Kiṁnaras are mythical beings with a human figure and the head of a horse (or with a horse’s body and the head of a man) in later times reckoned among the gandharvas or celestial choristers, and celebrated as musicians. Kiṁnara virtues are said to include possession of jewels, prowess in mountain climbing and the musical arts, and possession of charming smiles. Aśvaghoṣa seems to be referring here to this cultured aspect of kiṁnara society. Kiṁnaras, and their female counterparts kiṁnarīs, are also depicted in Saundara-nanda as deeply romantic and sexual beings. In SN8.12, for example, Nanda compares himself to a kiṁnara without his lover, roaming about, his semen ready, over mountain peaks.35 // 1.48 //

yatra te hṛṣṭa-manasaḥ paura-prīti-cikīrṣayā /
śrīmanty udyāna-saṁjñāni yaśo-dhāmāny acīkaran// 1.49 //

There with glad hearts, desiring to bring joy to the citizens, / They commissioned those glorious abodes of beauty that we call ‘gardens.’ // 1.49 //

śivāḥ puṣkariṇīś caiva paramāgrya-guṇāmbhasaḥ /
nājñayā cetanotkarṣād dikṣu sarvāsv acīkhanan // 1.50 //

And lovely lotus pools of finest quality water, / Not at anybody’s behest, Ājñā, here used in the sense of “order” or “behest,” appears in the title of Canto 18, ājñā-vyākaraṇaḥ, in which context its meaning is ambiguous, perhaps intentionally so. Ājñā can also mean “deep or liberating knowledge,” and “unlimited power or full autonomy.” 36 but because of being uplifted, they had dug in all directions. // 1.50 //

manojñāḥ śrīmatīḥ praṣṭhīḥ pathiṣūpavaneṣu ca /
sabhāḥ kūpavatīś caiva samantāt pratyatiṣṭhipan // 1.51 //

Rest-houses of the first rank, welcoming and splendid, on the roads and in the woods, / And complete even with wells, they caused to go up on all sides. // 1.51 //

hasty-aśva-ratha-saṁkīrṇam asaṁkīrṇa-janākulam /
anigūḍhārthi-vibhavaṁ nigūḍha-jñāna-pauruṣam // 1.52 //

Crowded with elephants, horses, and chariots, “Crowded with elephants, horses, and chariots,” is an epic tag – i.e. a stock phrase that frequently recurs in epic poetry. EHJ points out that contrary to conventional use of epic tags in older models of kāvya writing like the Rāmāyaṇa, Aśvaghoṣa, instead of unthinkingly repeating the tag, examines meaning to be found in its elements. Thus, in Aśvaghoṣa’s writing the tag is not repeated – though a similar tag appears in SN3.1. 37 [the city The subject tat puram is contained in verse 55. 38] was crammed with people who did not crowd each other. / Material wealth was available to the needy, not secreted; but learning and spirit ran secret and deep. // 1.52 //

saṁnidhānam ivārthānām ādhānam iva tejasām /
niketam iva vidyānāṁ saṁketam iva saṁpadām // 1.53 //

Like a place where goals converge, where energies are focused, / Where learning activities are housed together, and where achievements come together, // 1.53 //

vāsa-vṛkṣaṁ guṇavatām āśrayaṁ śaraṇaiṣiṇām /
ānartaṁ kṛta-śāstrāṇām ālānaṁ bāhu-śālinām // 1.54 //

It was a homing tree for high flyers, a refuge for those seeking a place of rest, / An arena for those skilled in scientific endeavour, and a tethering post for the mighty. The four elements of this verse mirror the four elements of the previous verse, having to do with 1. goals, 2. energy, 3. learning, and 4. integral realization. 39 // 1.54 //

samājair utsavair dāyaiḥ kriyā-vidhibhir eva ca /
alaṁcakrur alaṁ-vīryās te jagad-dhāma tat-puram // 1.55 //

By means of meetings, festivals, and acts of giving, and by means of traditional observances, / The heroes brought that city, the light of the world, to a glorious readiness. // 1.55 //

yasmād anyāyatas te ca kaṁ-cin nācīkaran karam /
tasmād alpena kālena tat tadāpūpuran puram // 1.56 //

Since they never levied any tax that was not just, / Therefore in a short time they caused the city to be full. // 1.56 //

kapilasya ca tasya rṣes tasminn āśrama-vāstuni /
yasmāt te tat-puraṁ cakrus tasmāt kapilavāstu tat // 1.57 //

And since, on the site of the ashram of the seer Kapila, / They had built that city, therefore it was called Kapilavāstu. // 1.57 //

kakandasya makandasya kuśāmbasyeva cāśrame /
puryo yathā hi śrūyante tathaiva kapilasya tat // 1.58 //

Just as cities sited on the ashrams of Kakanda, Makanda and Kuśāmba Kakanda, which means “gold,” is given in the Monier-Williams dictionary as the name of a king. Kuśāmba, son of Kuśa (a different Kuśa from the Kuśa referred to in verse 26), was the founder of the ancient city of Kauśāmbī (now the village of Kosam, on the Jumna, near Allahabad). 40 / Were called after them, so that city was called after Kapila. // 1.58 //

āpuḥ puraṁ tat puruhūta-kalpās te tejasāryeṇa na vismayena /
āpur yaśo-gandham ataś ca śaśvat sutā yayāter iva kīrtimantaḥ // 1.59 //

Those equals of Indra Puru-hūta, lit. “invoked by many,” is a name of Indra. 41 took charge of that city with noble ardour but without arrogance; / And they thus took on forever the fragrance of honour, like the celebrated sons of Yayāti. Aśvaghoṣa would seem to be referring to the sons of Yayāti as good examples on account of the modesty, or lack of personal ambition, which four of King Yayāti’s five sons demonstrated when they refused his request to trade their youth with him. The fifth son, Puru, agreed to Yayāti’s bargain and became the King’s successor. See also SN11.46. 42 // 1.59 //

tan nātha-vṛttair api rāja-putrair arājakaṁ naiva rarāja rāṣṭram /
tārā-sahasrair api dīpyamānair anutthite candra ivāntarīkṣam // 1.60 //

But under the sons of kings, active though they were as protectors, that kingless kingdom lacked kingly lustre – / Like the sky, though stars are shining in their thousands, before the moon has risen. // 1.60 //

yo jyāyān atha vayasā guṇaiś ca teṣāṁ bhrātṝṇāṁ vṛṣabha ivaujasā vṛṣāṇām /
te tatra priya-guravas tam abhyaṣiñcann ādityā daśaśata-locanaṁ divīva // 1.61 //

So the senior among those brothers, in age and in merits, like the bull which is chief among bulls in bodily power, / They anointed there, attaching to the important, like the Ādityas in heaven anointing thousand-eyed Indra. // 1.61 //

ācāravān vinayavān nayavān kriyāvān ¦¦ dharmāya nendriya-sukhāya dhṛtātapatraḥ /
tad bhrātṛbhiḥ parivṛtaḥ sa jugopa rāṣṭraṁ ¦¦ saṁkrandano divam ivānusṛto marudbhiḥ // 1.62 //

Possessed of good conduct, discipline, prudence and industry, / Bearing the big umbrella for duty’s sake, not to pander to the power of the senses, / He guarded that realm, surrounded by his brothers, / Like roaring Indra Saṁkrandana, “roaring,” is another name of Indra. 43 guarding heaven with his retinue of storm-gods. // 1.62 //

saundaranande mahākāvye kapilavāstu-varṇano nāma prathamaḥ sargaḥ //1//
The 1st Canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, Saundaranande mahākāvye may also be read “in an epic tale of beautiful joy.”44 titled “A Portrait of Kapilavāstu.”