A zarathuShtrian exit at a Hindu funeral

This note continues with the examples we have been providing on these pages illustrating the role of the kavi as a naturalist or an observer of nature. The verse below is a macabre one composed by one of  the greatest men among our people, pANini. It might not be an exaggeration to say that we owe the language that was the purveyor Hindu culture and the lingua franca of the Indosphere to him. This verse, like several others that are in circulation, might have come from his lost novel. It describes a scene at the cemetery where a corpse undergoing cremation is appropriated by vultures. zarathuShtra, the reformulator of the old Iranian religion (which was originally close to the Indo-Aryan version), rebelled against the old Indo-European funeral custom of cremation and went for a less-widely used practice of disposal of the corpse by vultures – evidently because he felt Atar, the cognate of the holy agni would be defiled by a corpse (especially given the extreme Iranian necrophobia). Indeed, ironically here pAnini calls the fire hutabhuj or the eater of oblations of the gods, the very fire which zarathuShtra feared to “contaminate”. But in this scene described by pANini the wake of vultures boldly venture to take over the burning corpse from a pyre and compete to feed on it. Given our limitations it took us sometime to work out some aspects of the great man’s word-craft. In particular the word dhAmnaH puzzled us before we arrived at the solution presented below.

cha~nchat pakShaabhighAta glapita-hutabhujaH prauDha-dhAmnash chitAyAH
kroDAd AkR^iShTa mUrter aham-ahamikayA chaNDa-cha~nchu-graheNa |
sadyas taptaM shavasya jvalad iva pishitaM bhUri jagdhvA.ardha-dagdhaM
pashyaantaH pluShyamANaH pravishati salilaM satvaraM gR^idhra-saMghaH ||

cha~nchat= flapping; pakSha= wing; abhighAta= striking back; glapita= weakened; hutabhujaH= fire (ablative); prauDha= violent; dhAmnash= radiance (ablative); chitAyAH= pyre’s (genitive)
kroDAd= lap (ablative); AkR^iShTa= dragged out; mUrter= corpse (ablative); aham-ahamikayA= with one-another; chaNDa= fierce; cha~nchu-graheNa= by the pecks of beaks |
sadyas= right now; taptaM= burning; shavasya= corpse (genitive); jvalad= burning; iva= like; pishitaM= flesh; bhUri= abundantly; jagdhvA= having eaten; ardha= half; dagdhaM= burnt;
pashya= see (imperative); antaH= innards; pluShyamANaH= scorching (present passive participle); pravishati= resort to (present, parasmai); salilaM= lake (water); satvaraM= speedily; gR^idhra-saMghaH= vulture-kettle ||

With flapping wings striking the fire to weaken its violent radiance,
from the middle of the pyre they have dragged out a corpse,
each one contending with another with pecks of their fierce beaks,
having abundantly feasted on the freshly roasted flesh of the corpse,
which’s as if glowing and half in flames; See! with scorching innards,
to the lake the kettle of vultures speedily resorts!

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