The deva-bhASha is the language of the kavI-s right from the days of the hoary vipra-s from the misty past of the R^igveda saMhitA. In the galaxy of literature in the deva-vANI, which is filled with extraordinary luminaries, kShemendra from the crest of bhArata shines like Rigel on a clear winter night. He comes from that time, which produced a striking constellation of encyclopedic writers, just at the twilight of the Hindu sun. There was abhinavagupta the foremost of the tantrics of his era, king bhojadeva-paramAra and kShemendra. kShemendra represents the primeval spirit of the kavI, similar to that of the R^igvedic R^iShi-s.
asheSha-vishva-vaichitrya-rachanAruchaye namaH |
mAyA-gahana-gUDAya nAnArUpAya viShNave || (dashAvatAra stutiH 1)
karki-viShNuH prakAshAya prabhAtArka ivaastu vaH || (DS 12)
This from his work on the incarnations of viShNu from the period when he appeared to have became oriented towards the pA~ncharAtra tantra-s.
From his earlier work the kavi-kaNThAbharaNa we note that he was a practitioner of shrI-vidyA as he mentions the bAlA mantra and yantra. He says that poetry might come as a result of mantra siddhi (divya) or due to human effort and scholarly study. The route via siddhi is described as requiring the worship of sarasvati in the form of the mAtR^ikA chakra and deploying the bAlA mantra with the worship of the 3 associated devI-s.
OM svastya~NkaM stumaH siddhamantarAdyam-itiipsitaM |
udyadUrja-pradraM devyA R^R^IL^iL^I-nigahanaM ||
antarAntaH kalA-khaNDa-galad-dhana-sudhA~NkitaM ||
chandrochChalaj-jalaM proj-jhada-j~nAnaM TaTha-saMyutaM |
Dambara-prauDha-kiraNa-tathatAM dadhadunnataM ||
paraM phalapradaM baddha-mUlodbhava-mayaM vapuH |
ramyaM laghuvaram sharma varShat sarvasahaakSharaM ||
etAM namaH sarasvatyaI yaH kriyA-mAtR^ikAM japet |
kShemam-aindraM sa labhate bhavo.abhinava-vAgbhavaM ||
shvetAM sarasvatIM murdhni chandra-maNDala-madhyagAM |
akSharAbharaNA dhyAyed vA~NmayaamR^itavarShiNIM ||
trikoNa-yuga-madhye tu taDit-tulyAM pramodinIM |
svarga-mArgodgatAM dhyayet paramAm-amR^itavAhinIM ||
nirvikArAM nirAkArAM shaktiM dhyAyet parAtparAM |
eSha bIja-trayI vAchyA trayI vAk-kAma-mukti-sUH ||
kAvya-kriyech-Chaa~Nkura-mUla-bhumiM-anviShya vishrAnti-lavena mokShaH |
anyAvadhAne madanasya mokShas-tR^itIya-bIje sakale.asti mokShaH ||
By “trikoNa-yuga” kShemendra is alluding to the bAlA yantra with interlocked triangles. He specifies the bAlA mantra as “eSha bIja-trayI vAchyA trayI vAk-kAma-mukti-sUH” i.e. aiM klIM sauH ||
In kShemendra’s scheme the three devI-s associated with the three divisions of the bAlA mantra are the lighting-like pramodinI, the moon-like amR^itavAhinI and the formless shakti parAtparA. This formulation with the 3 devI-s appears to be a unique one that does not appear to survive in the extant bAlA deployments associated with the kAdimata. A parallel is, however, seen in the form of the triad of bAlA mantra-s known as the tri-hR^illekhA-s:
hrIM hrIM hrIM prauDha-tripure Arogyam-aishvaryaM dehi svAhA |
hrIM shrIM klIM tripurA madane sarvaM shubhaM sAdhaya svAhA |
hrIM shrIM klIM parAtpare tripure sarvepsitaM sAdhaya svAhA |
However, the idea of bAlA as a deity of wisdom continues in extant kAdimata tradition.
Finally, we come to kShemendra’s recommendation for the aspiring poet who wishes to achieve kavitva through human effort. This famous statement has been quoted numerous times by many people (like Andrew Schelling’s translation of Sanskrit poetry) but let me do it again in the original saMskR^ita.
Aloka patra-lekhyAdau goShThI-prahasanaj~natA |
prekShA prANi-svabhavAnAM samudra-adristhitIkShaNaM ||
He [the aspiring kavi] should examine the form of leaves and their veins, know how to make people laugh, study the behavior of living organisms and observe the features of oceans and mountains.
ravIndu-tArA-kalanaM sarvartu-pari-bhAvanaM |
jana-saMghaabhigamanaM desha-bhAShopajIvanaM ||
The motion of the sun, moon and stars and all the seasons he should closely contemplate on. He should move among different peoples and states and [examine] their languages and occupations.
In KK 2.2-23 we find an entire gamut of recommendations for attainment of kavitvam. These start with the worship of vinAyaka and the yAga to sarasvatI and untiring effort to acquire the ability of discernment. They include, among other things, being in the company of great kavi-s and intellectual Arya-s and through them imbibing (kShemendra uses the Sanskrit word “chewing” or “tasting” like food) the meaning of great kAvya:
sahavAsaH kavi-varaIr-mahAkAvyaartha-charvaNaM |
AryatvaM sujanair-maitrI saumanasyaM suveShatA ||
He also mentions observing the skills of sculptors, warriors in battle, graveyards and forests, and hearing the sorrowful lamentations:
shilpinAM kaushala-prekSha vIra-yuddhAvalochanaM |
shoka-pralApa-shravaNaM shmashAnaaraNya darshanaM ||
Thus, in kShemendra we see the eternal naturalist, linguist and sociologist who is immersed in the study of the world around him. It after all encapsulates what it has always meant for one to be a kavI from the days of the RV – i.e. the philosophy of the kavI as a naturalist and observer. It is not without reason that kShemendra wants the aspiring kavI to be a scholar of astronomy, medicine, linguistics, kAmashAstra and other things – after all even the R^ig vedic vipra-s say “kavayo manIShAH”. It defines structure of the knowledge system which is followed by the erudite Hindu – many of the contradictions or paradoxes that haunt the Western mind are instead in harmony here.