Sanskrit: question about Mṛcchakatika, Act IV


Senior Member
I hope somebody can help with this --I read no Sanskrit.

In his 1835 translation of the Mṛcchakatika, Act IV, Wilson at some point writes
stucco has been laid on here by the handfuls
(context below)
and in his 1905 translation Ryder wrote
whitened by handfuls of powder strewn over them

Some other translator to German used the term handhoch, meaning 'to the depth of a hand' (four inches); and still some other translator to German used Handvoll, which is pretty much by the handfuls.

If anybody has access to an online or paper version in Sanskrit (I have found one in a few times already, only to see it disappear after a few weeks) and could check if the original Sanskrit is handful or hand(width) or either of them (or point me to an online version, and I'll somehow find that passage and post a picture of the text), that would be a huge help for me.

Thanks for reading in any case.

Maid. Come, sir, and enter the first court.

Maitreya. [Enters and looks about.] Well! Here in the first court are rows of balconies brilliant as the moon, or as sea-shells, or as lotus-stalks; whitened
by handfuls of powder strewn over them; gleaming with golden stairways inlaid with all sorts of gems: they seem to gaze down on Ujjayini with their round faces, the crystal windows, from which strings of pearls are dangling.. The porter sits there and snoozes as comfortably as a professor. The crows which they tempt with rice-gruel and curdled milk will not eat the offering, because they can't distinguish it from the mortar. Show me the way, madam.
  • First, out of curiosity, may I ask why you want to know?

    Anyway, the answer: There's a scanned book here[1], and the relevant text is on pages 275-276 (or, since you probably can't read the Devanagari page numbers, let me say it's on page 363-364 of the DJVU file).


    Unfortunately, because of the compounding nature of the Sanskrit used, it is impossible to unambiguously determine the meaning: the relevant word, "vinihita-cūrṇa-muṣṭi-pāṇḍurāḥ", corresponds to "put-powder-fist-whites", and is interpreted by most translators (including the translator into Hindi in that book) as "white because of handful of powder-flour placed there" (or equivalent).

    The crucial word, "muṣṭi", besides "fist", means both "a handful" and "a particular measure of weight" (as you can check by typing 'muSTi' in the dictionary[2]), but from context it's most likely to just mean handfuls of powdered flour — the guy, from afar, isn't likely to be talking in terms of precise measures of weight or volume.

    Thank you very much. I have been struggling with this for quite some time. I wish my help some day can make somebdody as happy as your help is making me now.

    [I wanted to know because at some point a nineteenth century German architectural theorist developed his interpretation of 'handful' ('handhigh', four inches deep) into a few paragraphs about the nature of ancient Indian architectural finish/decoration, after pointing out that stucco applied by the handfuls was probably a corrupted translation.
    I am translating his work to other language, and wanted to add a footnote about this.]
    Quick question: in
    vinihita-cūrṇa-muṣṭi-pāṇḍurāḥ", corresponds to "put-powder-fist-whites"
    you used whites meaning a verb ('to white' something, 'whiten', like whitewashing), or a noun (like 'the blues and the reds' in something)?
    No, I didn't mean "whites" as a verb. And I wasn't being grammatical in English; I was just trying to reflect the grammatical structure in Sanskrit.

    The "pāṇḍurāḥ" ("whites") there is a noun. Or rather, it is an adjective, which in Sanskrit takes grammatically the same form (same case, gender and number) as a noun. (I imagine something similar is true in German as well.)

    In this case, where in English we would say "white balconies", Sanskrit has something like "whites balconies" — or in this case because of the compound word, "placed-powder-fist-whites balconies", meaning "balconies that have become white because of powder laid/strewn there". :)

    [As for cūrṇa (type "cUrNa" in the dictionary) it can mean either "chalk , lime" (the "stucco" in the translation) or "powder flour , aromatic powder , pounded sandal"; it's not clear to me which one is meant.]