Sunday, October 12, 2014

From My School Readings

The texts I study for my academic research include a genre of Sanskrit texts on the topic of Vṛkṣāyurveda, literally "knowledge of the life span of trees" but more generally to be understood as "horticulture". Large parts of these texts, which are mostly in verse, deal with the minutiae of how to best plant different trees, fertilizer recipes, techniques for warding off and destroying insect pests, and the like. Occasionally, however, they take a step back from such practical matters to touch upon more aesthetic concerns and to ponder the importance of gardens and gardening more generally. In this vein, the following verse opens the first section of two vṛkṣāyurveda texts, the Vṛkṣāyurveda of Surapāla presumably written in 12th-century Bengal and the Upavanavinoda or "enjoyment of pleasure groves" section of the Śārṅgadharapaddhati, an encyclopedia produced in the 14th century in the Central Indian region of Bundelkhand:

पुंसां सर्वसुखैकसाधनकराः सौन्दर्यगर्वोद्धुर-
क्रीडालोलविलासिनीजनमनः स्फीतप्रमोदावहाः ।
युक्ताः सन्ति गृहेषु यस्य विपुलारामाः स पृथ्वीपतिः ।।

puṃsāṃ sarvasukhaikasādhanakarāḥ saundaryagarvoddhura-
krīḍālolavilāsinījanamanaḥ sphītapramodāvahā
yuktāḥ santi gṛheṣu yasya vipulārāmāḥ sa pṛthvīpati

He is the lord of the earth in whose abode there are spacious gardens,
Endowed with wide, gleaming ponds with an abundance of lotuses opened by buzzing bumblebees,
Which provide the means of men's greatest delight
In the manner of beautiful women thrilling in amorous play, unrestrained in pride in their beauty, flourishing and bringing joy.

 Asian lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) at a nursery in Michigan

Another endearing - if much less polished - verse from a shorter treatise rather prosaically entitled Vṛkṣādīnāṃ ropaṇādiprakaraṇa or "the method of planting, etc., of trees and more" takes a somewhat sassier tone:

न खाताः पुष्करिण्यो ऽपि रोपिता न महीरुहाः ।
मातुर्यौवनचौरेण तेन जातेन किं कृतम् ।।

na khātāḥ puṣkariṇyo 'pi ropitā na mahīruhā
māturyauvanacaurena tena jātena kiṃ kṛtam

What is achieved by the birth of a child that robs the mother's youth
(But) by whom no lotus pools are dug nor even any trees planted?

Clearly these texts are trying to make a claim for the importance of horticulture that goes well beyond the merely practical to include moral or ethical notions and a particular vision of earthly success and accomplishment. Grand gardens are a prerequisite of kingship - or, more generally perhaps, of elite social status - but they are also "the means of men's greatest delight" and thereby that which makes such good fortune truly enjoyable. A life entirely devoid of gardening, on the other hand, is envisioned as a waste not only of that individual's time but of the self-sacrifice made by the person's mother in giving birth to and raising him or her.


Gopal, Lallanji. Vṛkṣāyurveda in Ancient India (with Original Texts and Translation). New Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 2000. 

Śārṅgadhara. Upavanavinodaḥ. Girija Prasanna Majumdar, ed. and trans. Calcutta: Indian Research Institute, 1935.

 ———.  Upavanavinodaḥ. Kṣṇānandajhā-viracitayā Śyamalayā Hindīvyākhyayopetaḥ. Darbhaṅgā: Kāmeśvarasiṃha Darabhaṅgā Saṃskr̥ta Viśvavidyālayaḥ, 1984.

Sureśvara. Vṛkṣāyurveda: Das Wissen von der Lebensspanne der Bäume. Rahul Peter Das, ed. and trans. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1988.


  1. I was delighted to read your post. Being a Sanskrit student , I had not come across these shlokas.Thanks for the information. The Kamasutra gives delightful descriptions of gardens.

    1. I am so glad you found them interesting! They have received relatively little scholarly attention. The garden descriptions in the Kamasutra are next in my list of Sanskrit texts to read after I finish the Upavanavinoda, along with the garden section of the Manasollasa.

  2. I have a number of friends who read Sanskrit. That is one (of the many ) things I have yet to learn. The poetry you published today is beautiful and I think all gardeners would like it. Jack

    1. I am glad you liked it! The world of Sanskrit literature really is fascinating, and learning the language a very rewarding activity - but it is also the most difficult and least intuitive language that I have grappled with.

  3. Very cool. The unexamined life maybe but the ungardened life, forget about it!


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