Sanskrit: षष्ठे षष्ठे तदा काले बभूव मितभोजनः

Au101

Senior Member
England, English (UK)
So I was reading a bit of the Mahābhārata and I got stuck on this verse from the Sāvitryupākhyāna or the Story of Sāvitrī and Satyavān:

हुत्वा शतसहस्रं स सावित्र्या राजसत्तम।
षष्ठे षष्ठे तदा काले बभूव मितभोजनः ॥ १-९ ॥

I'll be honest, I don't know how to parse the second half of this verse.

I've consulted a couple of translations.

Dr. Narinder Sharma offers us:

[...] and ate temperately at the sixth hour.

Source
Meanwhile, WJ Johnson offers us:

[...] and ate just a mouthful in any six hours.

Source
Well, मितभोजनः is mita- ("measured, moderate, scanty, frugal, little, short, brief") + bhojana- ("a meal, food"), so that's pretty straightforward. It's षष्ठे षष्ठे तदा काले बभूव that I can't really pick apart.

बभूव is the 3rd person singular perfect of bhū- ("be"), so it means "was, there was". Not sure what the subject is. Maybe मितभोजनः - "there was a scanty meal ..."?

Ṣaṣṭha is 6th. This really handy little source by Appashastri Rashivadekar is unfortunately not very well reproduced online and the Sanskrit is hard for me to make out, but it does tell me:

काल - a portion of the day, the eighth part of a day (of twelve hours). So षष्ठे काले means: at the sixth division of the day (divided into 8 parts, i.e. after 3 pm)
Monier-Williams also notes:

with or scil. काल m. 'the sixth hour of the day, the sixth meal eaten at the end of a fast of three days'
So I mean, all the pieces are there and I can get the sense of the verse, but I can't for the life of me understand the grammar. I've never come across this construction before, don't really understand the two षष्ठेs (perhaps this gives the sense of "in any six hours"?), don't really know what तदा is doing and don't know what बभूव goes with.

I'd like to know more, because I feel like I might be missing something by simply inferring the gist out of a couple of translations.
 
  • Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I've done some thinking,and I think I might have made a bit of a mistake by thinking of the two halves as separate, but perhaps that's not quite right. Perhaps I need to pay attention to the word hutvā "having sacrificed", and understand तदा to mean "after that". So the sense of the whole verse would then be "After reciting the Sāvitrī (Gāyatrī) mantra 100,000 times, he ate a small meal in the sixth part of the day". So then you have hutvā... "having sacrificed..." tadā... "then ...".

    Now, बभूव. I suppose my best bet would then be to understand that, as I mentioned in my first post, as, rather literally, "in the sixth part of the day, there was a small meal", with मितभोजनः as subject, which makes sense, after all it's clearly nominative.

    So this leaves me with षष्ठे षष्ठे काले. I can see two options here. One I have already mentioned षष्ठे षष्ठे perhaps means "every sixth part of the day", so every day, in the sixth part of the day, i.e. after 3 pm.

    And that's plausible to me. But I can't help noticing the two षष्ठेs and the fact that Monier-Williams specifically identifies षष्ठे काले as a set phrase in this entry under काल that I find very interesting:

    meal-time (twice a day, hence उभौ कालौ, 'in the morning and in the evening' MBh. i, 4623; षष्ठे काले, ‘in the evening of the third day' MBh.; षष्ठान्न-काल, 'one who eats only at the sixth meal-time, i.e. who passes five meals without eating and has no meal till the evening of the third day' Mn. xi, 200; or without अन्न e.g. चतुर्थ-कालम्, 'at the fourth meal-time i.e. at the evening of the second day' Mn. xi, 109)
    I have to wonder whether maybe षष्ठे षष्ठे काले means the sixth sixth part of the day, i.e. he only eats every six days and only after 3 pm. And that would make sense to me if I'm right that the verse is saying that he eats after completing his oblations. Because 100,000 recitations of the Gāyatrī, that's an awful lot to get through before 3 pm right?
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Excellent work, Au101. I think, you have figured it all out by yourself, except for your doubt about the "षष्ठे षष्ठे". To be honest, I did not know that "काल" also had this specific sense of meal-time, but I believe, that is the correct interpretation here. So, "षष्ठे षष्ठे काले" probably simply means "once every third day at the suppertime." The reason I think so is that a reduplicated locative singular usually signifies a sort of plural, where the rest of the statement applies to each individual of the reduplicated item. I am not sure of the grammatical terminology - maybe a "distributive plural"? Take for example this सुभाषित which exemplifies it quite nicely:

    शैले शैले न माणिक्यं मौक्तिकं न गजे गजे।
    साधवो न हि सर्वत्र चन्दनं न वने वने॥

    There aren't gems in every mountain. There aren't jewels in every elephant (elephants and snakes are supposed to possess a jewel in their heads). There aren't good people everywhere. Not every forest contains sandalwood trees.

    I hope you get the idea. The reduplication should simply indicate the concept of "every". This is an ancient construction, used since the oldest parts of the Vedas, where they are treated as single phonological words with the second element losing its accent. The construction remained popular for ever coming right down to the modern IA languages.

    Now, बभूव. I suppose my best bet would then be to understand that, as I mentioned in my first post, as, rather literally, "in the sixth part of the day, there was a small meal", with मितभोजनः as subject, which makes sense, after all it's clearly nominative.
    I take here सः in the first foot as the subject of बभूव and मितभोजनः as its complement. I'd translate the तदा simply as "at that time", i.e. during those 18 years (as mentioned in the next verse) of sacrifices. So the basic idea of the verse would be (as I understand it): "Those days, he would sacrifice profusely (=chanting the Sāvitrī (Gāyatrī) mantra 100,000 times) and eat a modest meal every third evening."
     
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    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    :):) Thank you so much Dib, I've been hoping you would offer your thoughts. That subhāṣita explains everything nicely, thank you, and I hope you're well.

    Yes, I've always found it tricky to "get a handle on" Sanskrit syntax, since so many books focus on paradigms, nouns, adjectives and verbs (which, of course, are very important!). I guess since so much popular Sanskrit literature is in verse anyway it doesn't get the attention it otherwise might.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    You are welcome, Au101. And thank you, I am doing well, but haven't been to these forums for a while.

    By the way, there may exist another contrast with the preceeding verse that we may have missed:

    अपत्योत्पादनार्थं च तीव्रं नियममास्थितः।
    काले परिमिताहारो ब्रह्मचारी जितेन्द्रियः ।।
    हुत्वा शतसहस्रं स सावित्र्या राजसत्तम।
    षष्ठे षष्ठे तदा काले बभूव मितभोजनः ।।

    I think the idea here is that the person was already जितेन्द्रियः and only ever had a modest meal at each mealtime (काले परिमिताहारः), but during those eighteen years, he followed an even more austere regime of a modest meal every sixth mealtime. The भू verb is perfectly in accord with this "became" sense, rather than the "was" sense which would go better with अस्। In perfect, बभूव is preferred to आस, though. So, this last bit is not a very strong argument for my interpretation.
     

    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I hadn't even really thought about the previous verse - the mistake of getting tunnel vision when translating I suppose.

    That's a very good observation.

    So the king is absolutely जितेन्द्रिय to begin with, the word is used to describe him once in verse 5 and then in verse 7 he is described as विजितेन्द्रियः.

    Given that the preceding verse begins अपत्योत्पादनार्थं "for the purpose of bringing forth a child", I'm not sure that काले परिमिताहारो in the preceding verse is intended to tell us that he only ever ate a modest meal. I think we are supposed to understand the preceding verse as 'In order to have a child, he undertook strict acts of piety: (namely) when it was time to eat (very loose translation of काले, which I think you're right to translate as meal time in this verse too - I hadn't considered that when I translated this verse), he ate only a modest meal, he followed the brahmacarya way of life and he practised self-discipline.

    However, I think you're very perceptive to suggest the two verses are linked. I think the verse in the OP is supposed to embellish the preceding verse, it goes into more detail, explaining precisely what is meant by परिमिताहारो and how exactly he practised sacred study (ब्रह्मचारी) and mastered his senses (जितेन्द्रियः), i.e. through reciting the Gayatri 100,000 times and eating only a scant meal every sixth mealtime. But I could be wrong.

    It's an interesting puzzle isn't it? It's a shame, because I can't find any particularly detailed commentaries on the Mahābhārata akin to, for example, Sāyaṇācārya's commentary on the Ṛg-Veda
     

    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I take here सः in the first foot as the subject of बभूव and मितभोजनः as its complement. I'd translate the तदा simply as "at that time", i.e. during those 18 years (as mentioned in the next verse) of sacrifices. So the basic idea of the verse would be (as I understand it): "Those days, he would sacrifice profusely (=chanting the Sāvitrī (Gāyatrī) mantra 100,000 times) and eat a modest meal every third evening."
    Sorry I didn't notice this before.

    Hmmm, that's a good point. I definitely think it would make sense to take सः as the subject of बभूव and of course I overlooked the fact that भोजन is neuter, so मितभोजन ought to (surely?) be neuter if it is just a noun meaning "small meal". If we take it as an adjective of सः meaning "eating only a little" I suppose that would make a lot more sense. It's interesting that Monier-Williams lists only "feeding, giving to eat (said of Śiva)" and, very inappropriately, "voracious" as adjectival senses of भोजन, so I'm wondering whether मितभोजन is being used with a very slightly tortured meaning here.

    It's certainly a tricky one. The first half had me going round in circles as well.

    I personally understand हुत्वा शतसहस्रं स सावित्र्या as "Having worshipped/made oblations by means of the Sāvitrī mantra 100,000 times", i.e.: (slightly loosely) "having recited the Sāvitrī mantra 100,000 times" but I certainly had difficult with it. And did you notice (oh I'm sure you did), राजसत्तम is vocative. I did see one version with राजसत्तमः actually, but almost every version of the Sanskrit has राजसत्तम. Other translators seem to take this as an adjective of our sacrificing king of the Madras Aśvapati, but surely, if it's vocative, it refers to Yudhiṣṭhira, to whom Mārkaṇḍeya is telling the story.

    Well, anyway, can I suggest a tentative translation of:

    अपत्योत्पादनार्थं स तीव्रं नियममास्थितः ।
    काले परिमिताहारो ब्रह्मचारी जितेन्द्रियः ॥ १-८ ॥

    हुत्वा शतसहस्रं स सावित्र्या राजसत्तम ।
    षष्ठे षष्ठे तदा काले बभूव मितभोजनः ॥ १-९ ॥

    "And so, in order to have a child, he undertook rigorous acts of piety. When he ate, he ate only sparingly, he practised self-discipline and he adopted the brahmacarya way of life - he studied the religious texts and traditions and kept himself chaste.

    Yudhiṣṭhira, best of kings, he would recite the Sāvitrī (Gāyatrī) mantra a hundred thousand times and then, every three days he would partake of just a small evening meal."

    I may not have fully agreed with you on all points, but I'd be very grateful to hear your opinion. I was hoping for an accessible translation, with the emphasis skewed slightly more towards natural English and away from capturing the grammar of the original (as you might in an exam or assignment where you want to show your professor you've fully understood the Sanskrit grammar and why it means what it does).
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    The way, I incline to interprete it, is as follows - trying to conserve the information structure in the first instance:

    "In order to produce progeny, having taken up severe practices, (he who had used to only have a modest meal at the mealtime and who had (already) been a ब्रह्मचारी जितेन्द्रियः), he became (बभूव) someone who (having sacrificed/recited 100,000 Sāvitrī 's (शतसहस्रं सावित्र्याः - I take सावित्र्याः to be in genitive*)), had a modest meal at every sixth mealtime those days." (I ommitted the flowery राजसत्तम to keep the structure clearer.)

    परिमिताहारः and मितभोजनः mean exactly the same thing, and they are both बहुव्रीहि compounds, meaning "one having measured meals" - परिमितः आहारः यस्य सः, मितं भोजनं यस्य सः। To me these two words anchor the contrast between काले and षष्ठे षष्ठे काले, while बभूव indicates the change of state.

    In more readable English:
    He was a जितेन्द्रियः ब्रह्मचारी. He only ate in moderation at the mealtime. But then he took up even more severe aurterities in order to beget a child. Those days, he would recite 100,000 Sāvitrī's and have a modest meal every three days.

    राजसत्तम, as it stands, is a vocative, and refers to the listener for sure. However, it could be राजसत्तमः and qualify the king in the narration without breaking the meter. So, I won't be surprised if different manuscripts contained different variants. In fact, though both variants are metrically acceptable, I read a paper that the shloka meter statistically prefers a heavy final. So, राजसत्तमः would potentially be the metrically preferred variant. On the other hand, Sanskrit narrative poetry is usually full of vocatives. So, it would be a bit wierd if you didn't have a vocative every couple of verses. ;)

    Anyways, this is my interpretation. I understand that you may have a somewhat different view, and that is certainly okay as long as we analyse the linguistics of the text correctly. Human language is rarely unambiguous, and poetry is even less so.

    ---
    * I am a little uncertain here. Normally, the numeral+genitive construction takes a genitive plural. But here we have a singular. So, I am unsure of the validity of my interpretation. However, in my intution, a genitive plural would signify 100,000 different verses related to सवितृ rather than the intended 100,000 repetitions of the one celebrated सवितृ-related verse. So, probably the singular is not really out of place here.
     

    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    Thank you so much for all of your assistance, you've been a great help :) A lot of food for thought and I'm very grateful for your time.

    Hehe glad I caught you when you were looking at these forums
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Thanks for your kind words. I am glad myself that you asked this very interesting question. I was visiting the forum in search of the answer to a Persian question of my own. I got that one answered, and as a bonus got this very stimulating discussion with you. :)
     
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