Oct 4, 2011

the meaning of Ayu Drona Sute

आयु द्रोण सुते श्रीयं दशरथे सत्रुस्च याम…राघवे,
ऐश्वोर्य नहुशे गतिस्च पवाने मनंच दुर्योधने,
दानवा सुर्य सुते बलम हलधरे सत्यम्च कुन्ती सुते
बिज्ञाने बिदुरे भवति भवताम किर्तिस्च नारायणे

Every year we hear the long Sanskrit shloka that begins “Ayo Drona Sute” in Dashain, we know that these lines are blessings, but what do they actually mean? This shloka actually lists out the good qualities of characters from Hindu myths, and blesses the receiver with similar qualities. Many of the stories are familiar, but some are pretty obscure bits of mythology. For example, most people are familiar with the first bit which goes “Aayu Drona Sute, Shriyam Dasharathe, Shatrukhsyayam Raghave”. This line starts with Ashwatthama, the son of Drona. He had once vengefully unleashed a weapon on the womb of Abhimanyu’s wife Uttara, killing her unborn child. For this sin of feticide, Lord Krishna cursed him to live as an insect for 3 lakh years. Our elders would like us to live for 3 lakh years through a benign blessing and without the disadvantage of this curse. The next bit wishes that the receiver has as much wealth (Shree) as king Dasharath, and the last part is regarding Ram. The receiver is hoped to destroy all his enemies (shatru kshayam) like Raghav (another name for Ram) of yore did.

The second line runs thus:”Aishyarwam Nahushe, gatishcha Pawane, Manam cha Duryodhane.” It begins with the obscure story of Nahush. Nahush was an ancient king who was made the king of heaven during Indra’s absence. As a result, he lived an extremely luxurious life. But there is also a dark spin to his luxury. Nahush became so arrogant that he dared to desire Sachi, the wife of Indra, and decided to ride on a palanquin carried by rishis. No other mortal would even dare to think of such blasphemies, but Nahush wanted to prove that that he was the only one who could afford such luxuries. Not satisfied with that, Nahush kicked rishi Agastya, who in turn cursed him, causing him to fall from heaven and live on earth as a serpent for many years.

Moving on, the next part wishes that the receiver has the speed (gati) of air (pawan). Spending my third Dashain away from my family, I certainly could do with that kind of speed! I could go home with the west winds and come back with the east, and not worry about the doldrums in between! The last bit of this line mentions the pride (maan) of Duryodhan. Usually portrayed as the evil arch villain of Mahabharata, here Duryodhan is heaped with praises. Indeed, abhimaan or pride is the hallmark of this ill fated man’s life. He gave his best to the Mahabharata war, even though he knew there was no way he could win, simply because he had too much pride to surrender to his arch enemies. Despite having little support from his elders and being put down all his life, he stayed true to his heart. If he had won the war, the Mahabharata might now be a paean to his achievements, but since he did not, only this little shloka bears testament to his iron will.

The third line begins by extolling the generosity of Karna. “Daanam Surya Sute, Balam haladhare, Stayam cha Kuntisute”. This offspring of Surya was so famous for openhandedness that Lord Indra was able to wrangle his kawach and kundal that he was born with. Karna had to cut them out from his body to fulfill Indra’s request. No contentions here, Karna is indeed an admirable character and by far the favorite Mahabharata character of most people I know. The next part is regarding the strength (balam) of Balaram, who is famous for carrying a plough (Haladhar). He was renowned for his wrestling skills, which require a lot of physical strength. In fact, he was also the wrestling teacher of Bhim and Duryodhan, the best wrestlers of the era. The last bit praises the truth (satya) of Yudhishthir (Kunti-sute). Known for his virtuous ways, Yudhishthir was supposed to have spoken only one falsehood in his entire life.

The last line begins with a praise of Bidur for his knowledge. “Bigyanam Bidure, Bhawanti Bhawatam, Keertishcha Narayane.”Bigyan would mean science, but nowhere do we find Bidur being an engineer, or architect, or being even vaguely scientific in any other way. However, he was certainly well versed in politics, ethics, governance, astrology, and even Mlechha (foreign) languages. Now these are knowledges that I would die for, so I would gladly accept this gyan in lieu of science. The next part is the blessing part, where the speaker says “may these things happen!” The last bit talks about the fame (Keerti) of Lord Narayan. And truly, Narayan is probably the most famous of gods. Besides being part of the mighty trinity, two of his avatars Rama and Krishna are among the most famous Hindu gods. So our elders would not only want us to have all the above mentioned heavenly qualities, but also be world famous celebrities.

It is notable that all characters are from either Mahabharat or Ramayan, and there are no outside characters like Shiva, Ganesh, etc. It is also notable that apart from neutral qualities like speed, generosity, truth, knowledge and fame, the rest of the qualities are distinctly warlike. The strength of Balram, the foe destroying capacities of Ram, and the pride of Duryodhan fall into this category. As such, according to ancient Hindu classification, this shloka seems to be for Kshatriyas. The mention of luxurious life further confirms this, as no other caste is encouraged to live luxuriously. Conversely, there are no blessings about non Kshatriya values like peace, humility, or labor.

Some of the characters mentioned seem to be ill chosen: Ashwatthama, for example, is the only one of the Chiranjeevis to be cursed into long life, and his inclusion seems surprising beside the glittering resumes of other seven chiranjeevis who lived as long as him. Duryodhan too is a highly dubious choice as his admirable pride turned out to be very destructive for himself and his entire clan. Nahush met his downfall in the very luxury that this shloka promotes. In Hindu philosophy, Satya does not mean just the spoken truth, but also a virtuous lifestyle. Being a woman, I find it surprising that a man who staked his wife on dice is held up as a model of truth. On the subject of women, it is notable that while all these personalities are extraordinary and anyone would be lucky to have their qualities, all of them are men. Sure, it is desirable for women as well to live long, be swift and live a life of luxury. But all the same, many qualities like physical strength and foe-destruction are generally not applicable to women. It would have been nice if some of the names had been of women. As intelligent as Sarasvati maybe? Or as prosperous as Lakshmi, who is a much better symbol of wealth than the scandalous Nahush?

Though the meaning behind this shloka is now clear, many other questions remain. Who wrote this shloka? In which epic or manual can it be found? Since when has it been used in Nepal? Since when has it been associated with Dashain? I could find no answers to these questions, and I am looking forward to learning those answers too.

this one was published in kathhmandu post, yupee http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/10/04/oped/not-a-simple-blessing/341801.html



Shyam said...

Wow. So informative. Thank you for sharing.
Two things stood out to me. One, I am not a bit surprised that the sloka only mentions masculine qualities etc, or less surprised than when I see this same blessing being given by the most educated people, including those who know what it means, WITHOUT bothering to think about its inherent sexism. (You've probably seen the news at this time of one of the candidates for US Presidential primaries is being trashed for one racially inappropriate sign at his leased hunting camp--and here we are, never ever caring what our most important sociocultural practices mean or do to women!)
The second, less sensitive, thing is the hyperbole in the sloka. I think that the analogies are intentionally exaggerated, because that's psychologically what people do when they are wishing someone well. I like that. I would wish, however, that the sloka was translated into local languages. But this is another bahunbadi dynamism whereby scriptural texts are perpetuated in the foreign language. (You know the slack that Bhanubhakta Acharya took when he translated the Ramayana. That's what's continuing to work in the case of the average people. It took a literary hero to translate a text, but the same is not working in the case of all the chanting and mantras and rituals and blessings with the general society.)
All in all, I like this sloka. This is one little social paradox--like the national anthems, which I once studied and almost got sick to see the amount of violence, jingoism, and arrogance that most of them touted--but it is also a nice little thing if you forget and forgive the elements that time made outdated. It is a kind of window into our past, and I honestly don't know how we can adapt it to better fit our lives.

sewa said...

helo shyam, thank you for taking the trouble to post on both places.
i think you have hit the nail on the head with your comment. the reason we don't want to change is, most often, because we like it how it is. Things are so comfortable, and old traditions are so homely, that we will continue them no matter whether they make sense or not. Which is not to say that this shloka does not make sense, I actually quite like it myself. I was just pointing out what I saw, and I have not the faintest idea to change or modify it. Maybe translating it in Nepali would help, like you said. But in the meantime, we can just enjoy the exaggerated blessings, which have a lot of poetic (and sentimental) merit.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you two realize but this sloka is ment only for men, hence the masculine qualities. The female get a different blessing, "jayanti mangala Kali."

sewa said...

jayanti mangala kali is not a blessing, its only a stuti / bandana / prayer to different goddesses. It does not wish anything upon the receiver

Subodh said...

This is fascinating indeed! Keep it up!

Kulachandra Maudgalya said...

Hi there,
Please allow me to write something.
1. The authoress (sic) found a good feminist angle. :) Keep it up. (No sarcasm or pun intended.)
What one could believe is if these Shlokas were penned by a poetess (sic) of modern times, or say one in past with feminist nous, she might think about making them gender-balanced, and fit for both the sexes as benedictive verses. But reality is that the literati intelligentsia, by default was male-dominant even till not-distant past.
Maitreyi, the scholarly wife of philosopher Yajnavalkya, and Gargi, Rishi Vachaknu's poetess and philosopher daughter who dared to challenge Yajnavalkya at King Janaka's philosophic congress, are the only names of Vedic era that I can recall now.
Here, I intentionally related these women with their husband and father, respectively. Because, I believe, they could rise to the prominence and were documented only because of their access to the scholarly debates or the kings' courts by virtue of their relation with the male scholars.
Weren't there other learned or wise women contemporary to them? Perhaps there were. But they probably did not have access to the elites to help them project to eminence. The ones known today are family members of well-known eggheads. That's what we call privilege and luck!

2. Though the authoress points out that the characters referred in the Shlokaswere humans (She acknowledges that they are from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata), she suggests that the verses would have taken up Goddess Saraswati too. For gender-balance?
When she argues some of the names are debatable, I second her. But if she has wanted Saraswati to be in then I find this bit odd. Divinity and mortality cannot comply.

3. I think "Aayu DronaSute... " is designed for men only. If my family tradition is something to go by, there are separate verses used for women. Different blessings for married and unmarried women! With very poor memory of mine, I recall that "Lakshmiste Pankajaakshi..." and "Jayanti Mangalaa Kaali..." are also used.
My understanding is that the commoners who do not understand Sanskrit but take everything composed in the language for sacred, however, use the verses indiscriminately.
I remember some seniors reciting Bhartrihari's erotic verses, mistaking them for prayers!
Though hackneyed, for many "Aayu DronaSute...." has been de rigueur for Dashain Teeka! Needless to say, most of them jumble words and make the meaning ridiculous. (One of my aunts has blessed me this year to get rid of my enemies like the danavas did. (She wants me to be brutal, eh?)
I wonder why everyman (and everywoman) doesn't bless their juniors using the everyday language they use if they are not comfortable with Sanskrit.
4. Last but not least, I am unhappy with both the authoress and copyeditor for misspelling the Sanskrit words and names or not bothering to edit.
For Nepali speakers, Ram, Nahush, Raghav, Duryodhan or Bidur sounds okay. But the words are not "just another" local names. Here the story is not about Ram Bahadur, Nahush Prasad, Duryodhan Raj or Bidur Mani. And, ब (ba)and व (va or wa), though look similar in letters, are different letters, and are pronounced differently.
The standard practice is to write Rama, Nahusha, Raghava, Duryodhana and Vidura.
I could not understand how come in the very article Rama has been correctly written in a paragraph. Probably, people were too tired to notice it!

May all beings be happy!

sewa said...

Dear Kulchandra,
first of all let me start off by saying that I really appreciate your politely worded and intelligent comment. I endured a lot of flak for this article and your comment made me feel that its ok.

1. Thank you for appreciating the feminist angle, You are the only person to say so. About the existence of learned women in olden days, all I can say is that their numbers are few not because they had no capacities, but because they had no opportunities, Until the recent past we know that women were banned from studying. Also, just like the scholarly women you mentioned, many men are also famous just because they are family members of well known eggheads. Lol, we can find many stories of sons of rishis being known just by their family.

2. Thanks for pointing out the divinity/morality mistake, You are right, I should have said Gargi.

3. Yes, separate verses are used for women, But Jayanti Mangala Kali is not a blessing. It simply takes the names of devis, it is a prarthana to them, it does not bless the receiver to have similar qualities. Often, Ayu Drona Sute is used for both sexes, and it is normal in Hindu, and in fact many world traditions, to design something solely for women and force it willy nilly on women. I don’t know if Ayu Drona Sute is of the same mold, or if there are just no blessings for women because they are not considered blessing worthy. I am yet to hear Lakshmishte Pankajakshee, I would love to hear it before making further comments.

4. I will interject an extra point to say that I like this verse, it is very poetic and romantic, and I am not at all averse to using it, I am sorry if my article gave the impression that I want it to change. Adding blessings in Nepali is a good idea.

5. Last but not the least, the extra a at the end of names is very annoying. I don’t think the rules of Sanskrit grammar carry over in English. In Sanskrit, we cannot write राम् just because we pronounce it राम् instead we msut write the full राम. Not so in English. In fatc, the extra a in the end is very confusing. As was a child, when I saw Ram’s name spelled Rama, I pronounced it रामा for a long time. And now that my roomie is taking a religion class, she tells me that her teachers and classmates always pronounce the extra a, something like राघवा or something which is silly. I think we wanna avoid that sort of confusion. However, I should have watched it with Vidur, I am sorry, I don’t know how I allowed myself to make that mistake.

6. In the end, I would like to thank you again for your cheerful comment, I am glad I am not the only mythology obsessed freak.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I think the line " daanawaa surya sute " has to be replaced with saurya shanta nabe ... correct me if I am wrong sewa

curly locks said...

yes, that is one variation that I have heard of :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sewa,

I just wanted to share two thoughts:

1. I think gender-bias should not be an issue. Wouldn't any mother wish all this and more for her children? I marvel at the joy that a mother would feel. Gender is not an issue.

2. The incantation, I believe, is meant for us earthly beings. All the "role models" are earthly beings, albeit mythical. Of course there is the "kirti" of Narayana at the end. But my understanding is that the last bit is meant to glorify Narayana. In other words, if I were chanting this incantation for someone, I would be saying, "I wish all the highest mortal qualities for you, but ultimately the glory belongs to Narayana".

With best regards,

curly locks said...

Dear Akash,
Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Let me start with the good vibes, I really like your alternate interpretation of the last phrase, really adds to my understanding of the Shloka, thanks for the input.
But I do think gender is important, it is good to wish your children have all these good qualities, but when you ignore the qualities that women have, and when the pattern is repeated everywhere, it ultimately makes people believe women do not have any good qualities.

Anonymous said...

Dear Curly locks,

There is bias when two are equal and yet, one is favored. Mother and son, brother and sister, husband and wife, daughter and father.. I just do not see a bias caused by gender. There may be bias of temperament, of intelligence, of aptitude.. but I see no bias due to gender which is inherent in our genes. If you are talking about equality of rights, of speech, of decision making, etc., I concur.. but then where does gender come in?

As much as anyone tries, nobody can denigrate the value of neither man nor woman. And yet, as much as anyone tries, nobody can equate an apple and an orange. Both are beautiful, both are delicious. What good can come of trying to prove one is better, or for that matter, that they are the same? In this context, gender is not an issue.

As Dale Carnegie put it, I may be wrong. I frequently am.

With best regards,

curly locks said...

Dear Akash,
You are right that the bias is not in our genes. Men and women are endowed with different qualities, both are equally good in their own ways. But society creates bias by valuing one more than the other, and by humiliating one of them constantly. The shloka is part of the same social values.

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