Oyster Boy Review 18  
  Winter 2003–4
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Priyadarshi Patnaik

The Fragment

Let the mighty Kaalapurusa light my path. Let Him give me courage to fight all hazards on the way.

The body emerges.
This is the nature of the real.
Kaalapurusa talked of this.
Then it continued.1 (Kaalaprabesha, Verse 1)

It was on these four sentences that the entire discourse of Kaaleshwara grew.2 Sabdakaaleshu begins by taking up the body. After offering his prayers to and seeking inspiration from the body which he calls astho3 Kaaleshwara goes on to talk of its nature.

Let us look at astho. Astho is the body of the fire. We must ask the question, where did it come from? And then not answer it. Birupaakshya said that the root of fire was in Akshya.4 But we must not be blinded by this. We must not be blinded by the Eternal. For the Eternal is blindness. "The astho emerges." This is what we must concentrate on. (Sabdaakaleshu, Adhaaya 1, 3)

We do not know much about Birupaakshya. This is the only record there is of him. Kaalika believes he was the exponent of concept, of conceptualization and of the theory of an Ultimate. But this is the juncture at which the concept of an Ultimate grew in our philosophy. Perhaps this passage shows that significant body of words which forever dispelled doubt and a philosophy of doubt. My guru spoke of an epic debate before he gave up his body. But he never told us its story. All we know is that at this point words and meanings became defined as concepts.

Why does Kaaleshwara emphasise so much on fire? We know that it was the one thing which emerged before our very eyes and yet we could not know where it came from? The Buddha moves away from the problem when he insists that it is the wrong question. It is exactly the right question since it cannot be answered. By saying that at this juncture it is the wrong mode of enquiry we come to a position which grows like a wall. What emerges is the possibility that language has a border. Thus the next wrong question. Is the mode of enquiry, language has a border, the right one? This moves on towards eternity and thus refutes all that has been said before while affirming it.

The Purvapaksha might say, we are moving away. We are not. "The astho emerges. This is what we must concentrate on." Kaaleshwara says and enters discourse. Rather discourse emerges along with his unfolding.

The body of fire emerges. From where? It is this that is darkness . . . (Sabdakaaleshu, Adhaaya 2, 13)

Thus the Unknown comes in. It is this that we find in Raatri Sukta of Rik Veda. One might say the past stamps the present. This mode of history is untenable here. It is only because of the possibility of emergence from a darkness that we understand the Unknown. Kaaleshwara's discourse is perhaps the last that enters language without accepting it. We do not know if it is the apparent obscurity of his method, but we do not have a methodology of uncertainty anymore after that.

Since we cannot answer the question, from where does fire emerge, that enquiry remains uncertain, the fragility of the concept thus acknowledged. Each moment the Unknown is broken into a thousand fragments and re-formed and words are suspected because they emerge from this Unknown.

Astho becomes the body and this is how words emerge. There is no end of words as we cannot say where fire goes. (Sabdakaaleshu, Adhaaya 5, 7)

It is in this way that Kaaleshwara enquiries into the nature of words such as Truth and death. By saying that the enquiry into the death of fire leads us to darkness Kaaleshwara speaks of a futility, a dark enquiry which must yet be sustained. In saying that the words do not end he both affirms their bodies while telling us at the same time that like fire the body goes off into a where. His enquiry into words like Truth and death begin from this position. In fact he never treats Truth and death as anything but words.

Truth is a word that has failed. Death a word that has succeeded . . .

(The palm-leaf MS was found on 26 July 1997 in Nilagiri, an obscure coastal town near Puri. Only the first seven leaves were intact. The rest could not be deciphered.)


1. Kaalaprabesha, which is also known as the secret Veda, is attributed to Maanasa, the crippled saint. Legend has it that he was the son of Bramhaa. How he was born is lost in obscurity. Modern scholars place him somewhere before Bharata. The MS of Kaalaprabesha was discovered in Kashmir. Some scholars are of the opinion that Abhinavagupta was greatly influenced by it and wrote a commentary Kaalaprabeshanusasana.

The verse form used in Kaalaprabesha was one of its kind. It was known as Kaleshu. Patapatta, a grammarian contemporary of Patanjali, was of the opinion that it was most suited to the sutra form. But according to him it was never used again because no one after that was competent enough to do so. Each line consisted of seven syllables and in it a consonant was repeated four times before and after vowel sounds—abacada. The stress usually fell on the middle vowel which is both unusual and very difficult in sanskrit.

2. Kaaleshwara's real name was Sambhuti. He used the name Kaaleshwara in Sabdakaaleshu. Since then we know him thus.

3. Astho primarily means body of the fire. At its root it is related to the anecdote where the Buddha tells us it is perhaps the wrong question to ask, "where does fire come from?" It was also used to refer to the horse in aswamedha sacrifice. Its other meanings are written text, word, truth, dissolution.

4. Akshya means Ultimate, final, Truth, Knowledge. Later it came to mean that which cannot decay.


Today, 27 June 1997, is a very significant day for me. Today I am putting before you a part of something which my friend left with me before he died. It is better that you do not know his identity. He was a diligent scholar. His contribution to philology was significant though it may not be remarkable. He did not die very young. Perhaps many of you know him. But the way I have talked of him at least a few score dead scholars will fit into his shoes. That is the way he wanted it. That is the way it shall stay.

Why he should have asked me to take possession of his red diary still puzzles me. But he was insistent. He had just recovered consciousness. He was rambling. And the doctor said he did not have more than a few hours. I had to go to fetch his diary. He insisted on talking to me about it in its presence. When I came back (it was but less than an hour) he was no more. I do not regret his death. It was painful. He should have gone earlier. But I came to hear that in his final moments he was lucid and kept on asking about me. When they told him I had rushed off somewhere in a hurry he seemed reassured. Then he died without waiting for me. Yet his lucidity would have helped.

This fragment which I present before you was the last entry in that diary. The hand was almost illegible. He was very sick by then. There were details of six sources which I have never been able to find. There were thirty-three old and tattered palm-leafs in the flap of the diary in Debnaagri script.

The diary had several entries of various lengths. I feel they are significant. But the way he wrote them I don't think he had any wish that they should be discovered. I am not very sure if he ever wished this fragment to reach you. But there were reasons I had to do it.

I know the fragment is obscure. But certain other fragments in the diary may throw some light upon it.

On 23rd of November (I cannot give the years since it might give you a clue to who he was) he wrote.

Discourse is a circularity only a small part of which is lighted. There is a direction of movement. The amorphous transition where things become visible is named origin. Fading to darkness end.

In text the current is vaguely locatable. The periphery merges.

This is the only oblique reference he makes to the problem of emergence which is dealt with here. The other place is where he talks about "things."

A chair may be there from eternity without being anything. It is only when a function is given it, only when it is differentiated from other things and identified with certain others that it becomes a thing. Concept and thing co-emerge.

This entry which he made almost a year earlier is in the context of a chair which he was very fond of.

I hope these two passages will make things more lucid for some of you than it made for me. For this was a side of my friend which I had never discovered until his death. I don't think he ever wished anyone else to. But why me on his death bed? Why marks upon a diary and a palm-leaf MS which he left me with the burden and responsibility of erasing them as best as I could?

At this point you must wonder why I write all this. The reason was a careless, almost angry scribble in the last page of the diary which could not be much younger than my friend's death. It was undated.

There was no Manasa or Kaaleshwara. There was no Kaalaprabesha, no Sabdakaaleshu. This text is its only body. Its history is in it and unfolds with itself. The history of their history is lost because they were never written. But denying them is like denying this body, my text, which is. Everything emerges. What is relevant is that it emerges. But when is lost between eternity and eternity. Now there is no denying them. They have emerged. Hence they are as real as they would have been two thousand years ago.

The passage was a revelation. That night I could not sleep. A few questions haunted me.

1. Which one do I accept as the truth and which the lie—the text that my friend translated or the scribble at the end of the diary? I have walked between truth and lie and do I know?

2. What about the rest of my friend's works? The MSS he has discovered? The works he has referred to? Where else do they exist except here and now?

3. An obscure MS in a language which is no language. Why decipher it the way we decipher it? Or is it that the language as well as a history is only being written there and then?

4. The language that I am born into. Why do I see it the way I emerge into it? There could be alternate modes of deciphering it!

I had come close to finding Kaalaprabesha and Sabdakaaleshu. I had worked on the palm-leaf manuscript and had almost deciphered it. But then I stopped. To tell the truth I did decipher the MS. But it read very different from my friend's.

Thus history turned into fiction. Truth became a word that had failed me.

I burnt my translation. One is enough for this world.

(27 June 1997)