When Vālmīki came into the world,
so did the word “poet.”
With Vyāsa, it could be used in the dual.
And with Daṇḍin, in the plural.
novels in sanskrit prose
The category of the “story” (kathā) in South Asian poetics is extremely broad, including everything from religious anecdotes (such as the stories found in the Āvaśyaka literature of the Jains) to ambitious modernist novels (such as Bāṇa’s Deeds of Harṣa). The authors who write about it — including Daṇḍin himself — generally leave the language and form open. Hence stories can be in Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Apabhramsha, and they can be in verse, prose, or a mixture thereof. Nevertheless there are particular traditions of storytelling and story-writing in South Asia. One example is the Prakrit romance, which follows the romantic intrigues of a woman in Prakrit verse; examples include Pālitta’s Taraṅgavaī (first or second century) and Kōūhala’s Līlāvaī (eighth century). Another very influential example is the tradition of the Great Story (Br̥hatkathā), a sprawling fantasy that revolves around the Prince Naravāhanadatta and his attempt to win back his wife from a hostile vidyādhara — and his acquisition of magical powers, and many more brides, in the process. The Great Story only survives in later adaptations in Prakrit, Tamil, and Sanskrit; it is said to have been written by Guṇāḍhya, around the first or second century CE, in what was described as “the language of the ghosts” (bhūtabhāṣā), or more prosaically, “a dead language.”
It was Subandhu, writing in the sixth century or so, who began the tradition of writing stories in Sanskrit prose. He wrote a work called Vāsavadattā that set a formal and stylistic example for the genre: long, descriptive sentences, rich in figures of sound, and abundant wordplay. The master of the genre, however, was Subandhu’s successor, Bāṇa, who was employed at the court of Harṣavardhana in Kannauj in the early seventh century. Bāṇa wrote a biography of King Harṣa, the Deeds of Harṣa (Harṣacaritam), as well as a fictional romance, Kādambarī. Both have elicited very strong reactions, both positive and negative: Bāṇa’s style is extremely dense (both his critics and his followers have described it as a “jungle”), his descriptions are cinematic, and in the case of Kādambarī, the plot is very intricate. In a few South Asian languages, kādambarī is still the word for “novel.”
Daṇḍin’s novel, What Ten Young Men Did, in some ways follows the formal and stylistic path set by Subandhu and Bāṇa, but diverges from it in many others. It is strongly focused on narrative, much more than description. And while the main characters are all nobles, they are all pícaros — crafty characters who are not afraid to lie, cheat, steal (and murder) to accomplish their goals. Hence Gray’s (1992) suitable description of the novel as a “picaresque.” The social world of the novel is, accordingly, quite “earthy,” in contrast to much of Sanskrit literature: we are taken to merchant ships, cockfights, and at one point treated to a cooking lesson.
the work and its author
Daṇḍin () probably lived in the later 8th century. He was a resident of Kāñcīpuram (), a city in the northern part of Tamil Nadu, in South India. (In his Story of Avantisundarī, Daṇḍin describes a trip that he took to the beach town of Mahābalipuram.) Kāñcīpuram was then the capital city of a dynasty of kings called the Pallavas, and Daṇḍin himself was probably associated with the court — specifically the court of Kings Paramēśvaravarman (r. 670–700) and Narasiṁhavarman II (r. 700–729).
Daṇḍin was a Brāhmaṇa of the Kuśika gōtra, and his ancestors had moved to a town called Acalapura in the Deccan. His great-grandfather, Dāmōdara (mid sixth c.), was apparently a gifted poet in Sanskrit and Prakrit: he was part of the circle of a king named Viṣṇuvardhana, where he knew the poet Bhāravi, but later worked at the court of the Gaṅga king Durvinīta, and finally was brought to the court of the Pallava king Siṁhaviṣṇu. Dāmōdara settled in the Pallava country. Daṇḍin’s father, the grandson of Dāmōdara, was named Vīradatta, and his mother was named Gaurī. When Daṇḍin was still young, his father died, and the Pallava country was invaded, leading Daṇḍin to journey abroad. He returned home when the political turbulence had passed. Some critics have thus thought that What Ten Young Men Did has an autobiographical component.
Daṇḍin is famous for two works that have survived to the present day. One of them is a textbook of poetics, written in Sanskrit verse, called the Mirror of Literature (Kāvyādarśaḥ), which was the most influential work of poetics in all of Asia. The other is a novel in Sanskrit prose called What Ten Young Men Did (Daśakumāracaritam). Fragments of another work, called The Story of Avantisundarī (Avantisundarīkathā), were discovered and published in 1924 by M. Ramakrishna Kavi. Besides these, Daṇḍin is known to have written a poem which narrates two stories at the same time (dvisandhānakāvyam), although it is no longer extant.
What Ten Young Men Did, as it exists today, is a composite of a core text written by Daṇḍin, and an introduction and conclusion that have been added after Daṇḍin’s time, possibly because Daṇḍin’s own introduction and conclusion had been lost, or possibly because Daṇḍin had left the text unfinished. (The introduction and conclusion exist in several different versions.) The discovery of the Story of Avantisundarī complicated the question: some scholars think that What Ten Young Men Did is in fact a portion of the Story of Avantisundarī, of which more or less only the beginning portions are available today. The two works share at least one story in common: the romance of Avantisundarī and Rājavāhana. See De Caroli 1995 for further references.
Daṇḍin’s novel ranges over a huge region of South Asia, from islands in the Gulf of Arabia to the Bay of Bengal. Although it is “fictional,” like many fictions, it contains a large amount of historical referentiality. Scholars have seen echoes of Daṇḍin’s own times in the novel. The acquisitive king of Andhra, Jayasiṁha, might be a coded reference to the Cāḷukyas, who attacked the Pallava country where Daṇḍin lived. More controversially, some scholars have seen the final story, the tale of Viśruta, as a reflection of the fall of the Vākāṭaka kingdom in the fifth century CE. Besides historical events, Daṇḍin frequently and cleverly engages with other works of literature — especially literature in the story genre to which What Ten Young Men Did belongs. Several characters (namely the vidyādhara Mānasavēga) and many motifs are borrowed very obviously from the Great Story, an influential work of story literature that today survives only in later adaptations. Daṇḍin seems to incorporate some of the “thief lore” current under the name of the famous thief Mūladēva, to whom Daṇḍin’s family had some connection.
The tale of Mantragupta does not use the labial sounds (p, ph, b, bh, or m), ostensibly because the narrator, Mantragupta, has had his lips bruised in love-play with his queen. Isabelle Onians’ translation respects this constraint.
What Ten Young Men Did was adapted into a Telugu campū-kāvya by the poet and grammarian Kētana in the thirteenth century. It appears that Kētana did not have the entire text available to him.
Here you can hear H. V. Nagaraja Rao reciting the beginning of the introductory section:
The first verse (brahmāṇḍacchatradaṇḍaḥ etc.) can also be heard on the page for the sragdharā meter on this website.
plot and characters
The plot of What Ten Young Men Did is complex, and it is hard to keep all of the characters and their relations in mind. The first chapters serves as a general outline, but here is an even more schematic outline.
King Rājahaṁsa, with his wife Vasumatī, is the hereditary ruler of the city of Pāṭaliputra (Patna, in Bihar). Their only child is the prince Rājavāhana. They are all forced into exile when king Mānasāra, of the city of Ujjayinī, attacks.
King Prahāravarman of Mithilā (northern Bihar) is an ally of Rājavāhana, but when he comes to the latter’s aid, he loses his twin sons, Upahāravarman and Apahāravarman, who eventually wind up in Rājavāhana’s custody. In the meantime, the usurper Vikaṭavarman, Prahāravarman’s nephew, had taken over the city of Mithilā.
In the city of Ujjayinī (Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh), the king Mānasāra, after his victory against Rājavāhana, passes on the throne to his son Darpasāra, who goes to the holy mountain Kailāsa to practice austerities while his brother-in-law, Caṇḍavarman, rules the city. Mānasāra’s daughter is Avantisundarī, originally promised to the vidyādharaVīraśēkhara, one of Darpasāra’s allies.
In the city of Campā, in the Aṅga country (southern Bihar), there was a king named Siṁhavarman, whose daughter, Ambālikā, was coveted by Caṇḍavarman.
In the city of Dāmalipta in the Suhma country (Bangladesh), the king Tuṅgadhanvan had two children, a daughter Kandukāvatī, and a son Bhīmadhanvan.
In the city of Kāśī (Benares) there ruled a king named Caṇḍasiṁha, whose daughter, Kāntimatī, was seduced by Kāmapāla. After Caṇḍasiṁha’s untimely death, Siṁhaghōṣa becomes king.
The ten young men are:
Rājavāhana, son of Rājahaṁsa of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Ujjayinī, married to Avantisundarī with the help of the Brāhmaṇa Viśvēśvara
Puṣpōdbhava, son of Ratnōdbhava, son of Padmōdbhava, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Ujjayinī, married to Bālacandrikā, after killing the minister Dāruvarman
Mantragupta, son of Sumantra, son of Dharmapāla,
a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Kaliṅga, married to Kanakalēkhā
Mitragupta, son of Sumitra, son of Dharmapāla, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Dāmalipta, married to Kandukāvatī
Arthapāla, son of Kāmapāla, son of Dharmapāla, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Kāśī, married to R̥ddhimatī (his cousin)
Viśruta, son of Suśruta, son of Padmōdbhava, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Aśmaka, married to Mañjuvādinī
Pramati, son of Sumati, son of Sitavarman, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up in Śrāvastī, married to Navamālikā
Sōmadatta, son of Satyavarman, son of Sitavarman, a hereditary minister of Pāṭaliputra;
ends up married to Vāmalōcanā and meets Rājavāhana on a trip to Ujjayinī
Apahāravarman, son of Prahāravarman, king of Mithilā;
ends up in Campā, married to Ambālikā
Upahāravarman, son of Prahāravarman, king of Mithilā;
ends up in Mithilā, married to Vikaṭavarman’s widow, Kalpasundarī
De Caroli, Robert. 1995. “An Analysis of Daṇḍin’s Daśakumāracarita and its Implications for Both the Vākāṭaka and Pallava Courts.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115 (4): 671–678. [Available on JSTOR.]
Gray, J. E. B. 1992. “The Daśakumāracarita as Picaresque.” In Christopher Shackle and Rupert Snell (eds.), The Indian Narrative: Perspectives and Patterns, 61–79. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Gupta, Dharmendra Kumar. 1970. A Critical Study of Daṇḍin and His Works. Delhi: Meharchand Lachhmandas. [Available from Internet Archive.]
Gupta, Dharmendra Kumar. 1972. Society and Culture in the Time of Daṇḍin. Delhi: Meharchand Lachhmandas. [Available from Internet Archive.]
Singh, Maan. 1976. “The Sources of Daṇḍin’s Avantisundarī.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 57: 59–69. [Available from JSTOR.].
Singh, Maan. 1979. Subandhu and Daṇḍin. Delhi: Meharchand Lachhmandas. [Available from Internet Archive.]