Ninda Stuti – An Exploration

Posted On: Wednesday, September 6th, 2017
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Author: Meera Shrikanth, Bengaluru

Acknowledgements: My sincere gratitude to Dr. Dwaritha Viswantha for her valuable guidance and detailed approach which functioned as a catalyst in my working. My gratitude to Professor Raghuraman for his very valuable guidance on Sanskrit and Tamil poetics. I sincerely thank all Gurus who have helped me understand this genre better and revealed various facets of their perception to facilitate my research. This research article is an extract of the work submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement of the Degree of Master of Arts.


Abstract: Ninda Stuti is a genre of devotion wherein the devotee praises the Lord in the garb of criticism. Where does this genre find its roots and how did it evolve? What is its significance and why did poets employ this? The study in this research entitled “Ninda Stuti – An Explorationfocuses on the roots of this genre and its possible derivation from different poetics.


Purpose of the study: The purpose of this study is to understand the motive behind the existence of this genre. Whether this form had the ability to enhance the depiction of devotion and if it did, were there many shades and classifications to this representation, is also intended to be researched.


Scope of the study: The scope of research as regards the origin of Ninda Stuti would be based on various texts of grammar and poetics of different languages and the significant place accorded to this genre in them.


Limitations of the study: Poetic and grammar texts from Sanskrit and Tamil have only been researched in this study thus excluding other variations that could be present. Having no knowledge of Kannada and other languages has limited related study in those languages.  Analysis of the concept has been done primarily with respect to mythology and dance literature, primarily, padams. Kavyas have not been analysed as part of this research due to knowledge and time constraints. Inability to find further classifications in Tamil literature for Ninda Stuti as against Sanskrit grammatical texts, has limited inferences based on Tamil literature. Inability to access original sources of work has also restricted the scope of this study.


Methodology: Qualitative research methodology has been primarily used in this research.  Views and opinions of different scholars have been referenced and collated which has aided in the meaningful representation of information.


1.1         Introduction to Ninda Stuti

The words Stuti and Ninda broadly meaning praise and criticism respectively, concatenate to form a very distinct genre of devotion called, Ninda Stuti. References to indirect communication can be seen as early as in the Vedas. The four VedasRig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana each are said to comprise of a Samhita, a Bhramana and a Sutra.  The Bhramana is further said to consist of Vidhi, Arthavada and Vedanta[1] which respectively can be broadly recognized as injunction, indirect communication and philosophy. Arthavada, or indirect communication, is also spoken about in the karma-yoga section of the Bhagavad-Gita (verses ten to thirteen) wherein, the terms Stuti and Ninda are explained

Arthavada is classified into four sections which are Stuti, Ninda, Prakrti and Purakalpa[2]

 Stutininda prakrtih purakalpa iti arthavadah[3]

Stuti – Stuti refers to praise.  Lauding one’s work, words said to fulfil one’s desire and words utilized so that some benefit or profit may be derived to the self due to their usage is termed as Stuti. 

Ninda – Ninda is meant to explain the harmful results of not doing a designated command.  The main objective of this is to act as a deterrent to refrain one from pursuing a wrong path.

To translate this indirect communication effectively into poetry, words with variant meanings, words repeated more than once, context of the usage were some methods employed by poets. A detailed understanding of these concepts would help appreciate their usage and in the process aid in understanding the grammatical roots of this genre.


Several instances where the poets have outwardly criticized the Lord and have used this very same medium to glorify Him are seen. Words and phrases have been used in a highly skilful manner to convey the above thoughts.  Hence, a deeper understanding of how words and phrases could have contributed to the sustenance of any genre of bhakti involves a study of these figures of speech and their classifications.

1.2         Interpretation in Grammar

The eighth chapter of the Natyasastra dealing with Vacika Abhinaya, has detailed different aspects of song and speech and their representation in dance through Kavya and Nataka, referring to poetics and drama, respectively.  This tends to suggest that early rhetoricians always viewed poetics to possess a dual nature – consisting of poetics in written or heard form (sravana kavyam) and drama which is seen or enacted (drsya kavyam).  This two pronged approach laid great emphasis on the words, their varied meanings, their direct and indirect implications, their structuring in a sentence and finally the context of their use.

Sabda and artha which were the components of poetry assumed predominant positions forming the nuclei of several theories by different scholars.  The appropriate words used in the precise positions with relevant connotations to present an apparent indication of censure while implicitly intending to praise, formed the basis of vyaja stuti, from which ninda stuti later developed.

1.3         Ninda Stuti as referenced in Sanskrit Poetics

Vakrokti refers to an “out-of-the-way” suggestion, something that is different from the loka-varta, or the usual.  Kuntaka, the one who propounded this theory, believes that this forms the soul of poetry and he describes it in detail in his book, “Vakrokti-jivitam”.

Some terms that help better understand vakrokti are – Varta or news, which denotes a normal presentation of any incidence, Svabhavokti, which is very similar to varta, considered a beauty in itself, by some poets but rejected by others. Vakrokti, meaning obliquity, is a contrast to both the above.

 Vakrokti is accepted by most scholars as a critical requisite for poetics.  Etymologically, the word Vakrokti consists of two components – vakra and ukti where the first component means “crooked, indirect or unique” and the second component refers to “poetic expression or speech”.

Kuntaka describes Vakrokti as vicitra-abhidha[4] (striking denotation) and uses this to wholesomely define the concepts of literature in Vakroktijivitam where “establish the idea of strikingness which causes extraordinary charm in poetry”[5]

Vakrokti is also stated as Vaidagdya-bhangi-bhaniti implying that Vakrokti is a ‘clever or knowing’ mode of expression (bhaniti) characterized by peculiar turn (bhangi or Vaiciti) brought forth by the skill of the poet (Vaidagdya or Kavi-kausala).

Mammata’s definition of vakrokti as inferenced by Srinivasacariyar in his book[6], is – “Vakrokti is a clever diversion or subversion of a saying.  The intended meaning of a word is wantonly not understood and the person addressed, most often reprimanded, perverts the meaning of the word to avoid an inconvenient answer”.

Vakrokti differs from the figure of speech “pun” which is used in English literature in two aspects – firstly, pun was intended to convey a humorous intent and secondly, pun requires the reinterpretation of already specified words while Vakrokti is a self-contained play of words[7].

Referring to the power of the poet, K. Krishnamoorthy in his paper “The nature of creative pratibha according to Kuntaka[8] states that “This is the initial incontrovertible stand of Kuntaka and on this foundation is built the superstructure of his theory of vakrokti”.

C.D. Narasimhaiah is his paper[9] states that the special relationship between the signifier (Vacya) and the signified (Vacaka) which is characterized by the use of poetic language is what Kuntaka refers to as vakrokti.

Rudrata refers to vakrokti as a play of words or a type of pretended speech where a word or a sentence spoken by one is interpreted differently by the other and the cause for this can be attributed to an intentional intonation (kaku) or deliberate double meaning (slesa) which is primarily done to provide a clever retort.[10]

Malti Agarwal uses the word “obliquity” for vakrata and she attributes this to the work of scholars like R.S. Tewari, M.S. Khushwaha, Kapil Kapoor and Shrawan. K. Sharma, in their works. [11]

From the above references, it can be deduced that vakrokti is a clever way of stating an idea which is different from a pun, with a special connect between the words, requiring creative skill and an embellishment that provides for interpretations that can be contradictory to the obvious usage.  Hence, it can be inferred that vyaja stuti, which relies on interpretations that are diametrically opposite to the overt meaning, might have vakrokti as its primary base.

1.3.1         Varnavinyasa vakrata

(Peculiar use of letters resulting in Anuprasa (Alliteration), Yamaka (Rhyme) etc.)

Phoneme, which is one unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another, is used in all cases in place of alphabets.  These are either various sounds represented by the same alphabet or different alphabetic sequences leading to one common sound. This “art of arrangement of syllables” was called by Kuntaka as varna-vinyasa and contains all possible arrangements of vowels and consonants under this obliquity.

 The javaḷi[1] in raga Behag and Rupaka taḷa by Maharaja Svati Tirunaḷ, ‘Saramaina matalanta calu calura’, can be considered to represent a vyaja-stuti, which means adulation that has been camouflaged as disparagement.

This javaḷi is a conversation between a nayika and her lover, who is the Lord Maha Visnu, wherein she is angry with the hero because of His uncompassionate nature towards her.  She is also upset that He has divided his love between her and another woman.  However, in all this anger, she addresses the Lord as the One with lotus like eyes and the One who is as handsome as the Cupid, the only One who can save her from the pangs of separation. The javali starts with the nayika primarily criticizing the Lord saying that all His words were not going to have any effect on her and they were not sufficient enough to pacify her anger.  However the word saramaina, meaning fruitful, could imply that even at this juncture where she was upset, angry and felt cheated, she says that His words were still not hollow. The criticism here could be perceived as – “Do you think your words are fruitful or are they enough to pacify me?” and the praise inferred as every word from the Lord, no matter under what circumstance, was prolific.

We can see the repetitions of certain consonants at intervals in the pallavi and other new consonants repeated again at intervals in the anupallavi. Varna-vinyasa vakrata is seen in the  consonants ‘m’, ‘c’, ‘l’ in the pallavi, saramaina matalanta calu calura, ‘s’ and ‘m’ in the anupallavi, sarasaksa mimento santosamu melu, ‘m’, ‘y’ in the carana, somududayamayane mi sudatiki maha bhagyamayane, where consonants are repeated at intervals to enrich the format of presentation very skilfully by the poet bringing aesthetic pleasure to the sahradaya.

1.3.2        Padapurvardha vakrata

This vakrata, also called lexical obliquity, refers to the application of specific words in certain situations with a charm and out-of-the-way meaning which gives a diversified and aesthetic appeal to the sahrdaya. Ruddhi-vaicitraya (obliquity of usage), Kriya vaicitra (obliquity of verb), Paryaya(obliquity of synonyms), Upacara (obliquity of metaphorical expression), Visesana (obliquity of adjectives), Samvrtti (obliquity of concealment), Vrtti vakrata are some variations of padapurvardha vakrata.

Different classifications of Padapurvardha vakrata and use of vyaja stuti are seen in the verse twenty-three of Saundarya Lahari, Tvaya hrtva vamam vapuraparitrptena manasa”.[12] The verses are translated thus, “Your form, bent by the weight of  the breasts is all-crimson, three-eyed and crescent-crested ; this, I feel is due to your taking over the other half, being dissatisfied with the left half of the body of the Creator of bliss, already stolen by you.”[13]

Four distinct characteristics of the Goddess have been specified in this verse – three-eyed, crimson-red body, crescent moon on the head and one who has taken over the entire body of Siva. However, all these characteristics have not been marked as an element of praise overtly.

Tvaya hrtva­ – brands the Goddess as a thief.  The poet expected to see the God and Goddess in the form of Ardhanarisvara, where the left half of the body is the Mother and the right half of the body is the Lord but on his darsan he sees the whole form as the Mother only.  The dynamics of the word aparitrptena which means “not fully satisfied” is questionable because had She had taken over the entire Form, then there was no reason for Her discontent.

Explicitly, he seems to brand Her as someone who was dissatisfied and discontented with her portion of the Lord’s body and hence has taken over even his right half.  The inner import is that there is no Siva without Sakti and vice-versa.  The Goddess has not taken over or seized anything that is not Hers, albeit, the entire body is ersHer, owing to the indisputable oneness of the Lord and the Goddess.  The whole body manifests itself in either form as She is omnipotent and omniscient.

Sakalamarunabham meaning “entirely crimson-red”. The poet sees the Goddess in completely crimson-red colour while he expected to see half of the Lord in crystal white owing to the colour of Mahadeva and the other half alone in red.  Again, here he says that the Goddess has appropriated not only half of His body but also His colour and has made the entire form seem crimson-red.  Implicitly, the same unification between Siva and Sakti is emphasised.

Trinayanam meaning the “three-eyed one”.  Traditionally, Siva is only seen and admired as the one with trayambakam, where one eye represents love, the other justice and the third one stands for wisdom.  Here, the Goddess, as seen by the poet, has three eyes and he suspects that she has appropriated the third eye of the Lord, thus blaming the Goddess.  The poet fully being aware that in the Lalita Sahasranama[14], she is referred to as trinayana, chides the Goddess here. In the form of Ardhanarisvara, the third eye is said to be common to both the Lord and the Goddess. She is one with the Lord and inseparable from Him, which is said to be the inner meaning.

Kucabhyamanamram referring to her eternal femininity and motherhood which is seen by the twin breasts on the form that the poet witnesses. Here again, the poet sees does not see the masculine form at all and hence suspects her of having usurped the entire appearance of the Lord.  Implicitly, Siva is seen embodied in Sakti and the poet praises her that she is the only one who enjoys the privilege of having the Lord embodied in Her.

kutila-sasi-cudala-makutam referring to the crescent moon worn as a crown on the head.  Siva is the one referred to as wearing a crescent moon on his head in the dhyana sloka of Rudra prasna[15]  and here the Goddess is seen adorning the crescent moon and according to the poet she has taken this from the Lord.  Knowing completely that in the Lalita Sahasranama, she is referred to as caru-candra-kaladhara meaning the one with the moon on her head, the poet takes the liberty to admonish the Goddess in this fashion. The union of the Lord and Goddess is reiterated through all the above verses implicitly.


Visesana vakrata (obliquity of adjectives) is seen in the description of the Goddess where Her brightness is enhanced by comparing it to the rising sun. Further, the form is seen as slightly bent and this could be attributed to the beauty and fullness of her busts because of the usage of the adjective ‘heavy’. The sahradaya’s visualization of the form is thus further augmented.

In this verse, the seeming action of the Goddess taking over the other half of the body of the Lord affirms that Siva and Sakti are inseparable.  The words “occupy” and “satisfy” are verbs which indicate the assumed intent of the Goddess and the usage of these words has significant impact in the conveyance of the idea of the poet.  This action adds beauty to the poetry and hence could be inferred as Kriya-vaicitra-vakrata (obliquity of verb).

Another instance of this above classification is seen in the Kandar Anubhuti by Arunagirinadar. In verse thirty-one of this work, “Pal val(vu) enumip padumayaiyile”[16], he criticizes the Lord for throwing him into this world of illusion in spite of his constant reverence for the Lord.  He also sarcastically mocks the Lord for riding contentedly on is peaHis peacock while he was suffering.

The poet implies that due to past births’ sins, he is forced to be reborn on this earth as that is the only way to attain the Lord and hence the Lord has provided him a chance to atone for past errors and be united with Himself.  To sing the praise of the Lord, to meditate and worship Him are the means to be freed from this perishable world governed by Maya.  The Lord has given him an opportunity to sing thy praise and realize the meaningless of this worldly existence and pursue deeds worthy of resorting to the Lord.

This again is an example of extreme devotion where the devotee sees Himself in a desperate situation where he is unable to understand the actions of the Lord and his yearning to unite with the Supreme has crossed all barriers and he proceeds to censure the Lord thus exhibiting his closeness with Him.

Kriya-vaicitra-vakrata (obliquity of verb) can be seen here as the action of the Lord takes particular significance when the poet criticizes the Lord for making him being reborn again thus subjecting him to a life of illusion again quite un-compassionately. The action of “rebirth” also indicates the Lord’s seemingly unconcerned attitude towards his devotees because of which He subjects them to this existence again.  This is also seen when the poet sarcastically mocks at the Lord who rides the peacock happily while His devotees are suffering. The action of “riding” seems to indicate the Lord’s happiness and thus the criticism that He seems to turns a blind eye to His devotees is enhanced by the usage of this.

1.3.3        Padaparardha vakrata (or) pratyayavakrata

The third type of vakrata, called “beauty in the specialty of time” where time itself acquires a unique beauty because of its particular reference with respect to the subject.

Other variations of this include Karaka (instruments of action), Sankhya (number), Purusa (person), Upagraha (verb-affix), Pada (word-beauty) vakrata.

Some variations of Pratyaya vakrata can be seen in the reference from Divyaprabandham which is a collection of four thousand hymns sung by the Vaisnavaite saints called Alvars, who lived before the eighth century AD.

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The translation of the verses penned by Andal, the only female saint, in the fourteenth tirumoli seventh pasuram, Porutta mudaiya nambiyai[17], as provided by Sriman Sadagopan in his treatise details that Andal considers the Lord as being dark not only physically but also dark from inside, because she feels that His intentions are not true and He has cheated on her.   He promised never to leave her side, at the same instant, she is left alone because He has spent time with another woman. In spite of her disappointment and anger, she is unable to control her love for Him and praises Him with the usage of the word nambi. Nambi refers to one who is complete in all respects meaning that is impossible for the Lord to be inconsistent and it is only our perception of Him that is inconsistent.  He physically leaves her side but the reason she is unable to even express anger in that situation is probably because the Lord resides within her and she is incapable of comprehending this.

The usage of Ninda Stuti by the saint poet Andaḷ, whose time period is estimated anywhere in between three thousand BCE and thousand CE, shows that, liberties were taken with the Lord owing to excessive devotion and longing.  She was probably the first poet to use Ninda Stuti for Srngara Bhakti.

Comparing the darkness of His physique to His inner intent enhances the disappointment felt by Andal and this could be considered as a reference to Upacara vakrata.  An instance of Purusa-vakrata (person) is also seen where Andaḷ does not directly refer to Him directly but uses the word “nambi” when she refers to Maha Visnu. Referring to Him as nambi adds to the majesty of her vision of the Lord.

1.3.4        Vakya vakrata

The beauty of the sentence is not just the beauty of the individual words or their meanings but the distinct expressiveness of the entire sentence. Vakya vakrata or sentential obliquity pertains to sentence structure deviations which the poet has experimented with and which provide aesthetic solace to the sahrdaya. This has been classified in sahaja-vakrata (natural obliquity) and aharya-vakrata (imposed obliquity).  In the case of the former, the poet is able to allure the critic habitually while in the latter, definite skills are used to achieve the same.

In the Devarnama ‘Taraḷe ranne kappu maiyava yatara caluvane’ by Purandara Dasa, the conversation between Goddess Laksmi and Goddess Parvati on the superiority of their consorts’ over the other is brought out in the form of satire and censure.  When Parvati chides Laksmi that her consort does not even have a house to live in and hence has to hide under the water, she is retorted as the wife of the One whose residence is the cremation ground.  In the process of scoring above the other, they alternatively bring out the greatness of both the Gods, Maha Visnu and Mahadeva.

Purandara Dasa seems to have primarily used this genre to bring forth the virtues of the Lord rather than using it during desperate times for oneness with the Lord.  This can be perceived as the growth of the genre over the centuries as it started lending itself not only to devotees who had reached their pinnacle of devotion thus seeing themselves as one with the Supreme but even by those poets who wanted to use this as a challenging medium of propagation of His virtues. Other poets like Bhakta Ramadas are also credited with employing Ninda Stuti effectively.

Visesana vakrata (obliquity of adjectives) is seen in the description of the various incarnations and the adornments of Maha Visnu and Siva respectively. The adjectives employed bring out the glory of both the Gods effectively.

Vakya-vakrata (obliquity of sentence) is seen throughout this song as the conversations between the two Goddesses are meant not just to state their point of supremacy but this is done in context with the prior retort.  Hence the usage of particular instances like mannanagedu bera meluvudenu svaduve representing the might of the Varaha and as a retort tanna karadi kapala pidivudava nyayave implying the fact that only Siva could eat from Brahma’s skull, adds beauty to the entire sentence thus making way for this vakrokti.


1.4         Vyaja stuti

Bhamaha, who is considered as the founder of the Alamkara school, treats vakrokti as the foundation of alamkara[18].  Gerow in his book[19] refers to vakrokti as “misapplication of modes of thought and judgement”.  This could be inferred to mean that vakrokti would be present where thoughts are indicative of more than what they outwardly represent.

Yigel Bronner talks about Mammata’s reference to two types of expression where one literally effects a blame but actually intends to praise while, conversely, the literal effect is that of praise but the true intent is to criticize.[20] Gerow refers to vakrokti as “dialectical, involving the development of an idea from thesis to antithesis”[21].  From this it may be deducted that vakrokti could exhibit itself in many forms with two of the thesis being praise and blame and their responding antithesis being blame and praise.

The first evidence of the word ninda stuti is said to be in the encyclopaedic text Visnudharmottara Purana and is, as stated below.

stutirupena ya ninda nindastutir ihocyate nindastutis tathaivokta nindarupena ya stutih[22]

“We define nindastuti as blame in the form of praise and, likewise, as praise in the form of blame”

Bhamaha was the first to come up with the theory of vyaja stuti.  Vyaja indicates “feigned” and stuti “praise”.  P V Naganatha Sastry in his book[23] on Kavyalamkara of Bhamaha defines Vyajastuti as “That figure of speech is Vyajastuti in which with the object of asserting some similarity there is an apparent censure made by the device of describing qualities very great or unattainable.” If the literal meaning of the word Vyajastuti is taken it would tantamount to false praise where the where the actual import is to denounce.

Dandin improvised the scope of this term to include both feigned praise and feigned blame and respectively called them as aprastutaprasamsa and vyaja stuti.  Rudrata further gave a more definite classification to alamkaras dividing them into fourfold of which one was slesa, also called paronomasia and called vyaja stuti as vyaja slesa.[24] The reason for renaming as vyaja slesa was because Rudrata’s thoughts coincided with Dandin  who considered slesa  to be the most dominant factor of vyaja stuti.

As slesa is the predominant part of vyaja stuti, it may be reasoned that if vakrokti is considered the broad base of evasive speech, then a certain variation of vakrokti which encompasses praise camouflaged by critique, can be referred to as vyaja stuti which forms the ultimate origin of ninda stuti.

1.5         Ninda Stuti as referenced in Tamil Poetics

Tamil grammar defines different aspects of poetics and these are at some points similar to those specified in Sanskrit poetics and at other instances differ from those specified in Sanskrit poetics.  To understand the origin of Ninda Stuti as prescribed in the grammar texts, a basic insight into the classifications of different forms of poetics becomes imperative.

Several Tamil grammatical texts exist with the oldest being regarded as Agattiyam by the revered Agastya risi.  Due to the lack of script availability for the same, the Tolkappiyam is the most widely accepted text on Tamil grammar.

1.6         Tolkappiyam

The Tolkappiyam which deals with eluttu, sol and porul is an ancient tamil treatise on grammar and poetics by Tolkappiyar. In addition to these, yappu (prosody or metrics) and ani (figures of speech)[25] which are commonly used in poetics are specified.

1.7         Ani Ilakkanam

Dandialangaram is regarded as the most commanding text on Ani Ilakkanam[26]. Ani Ilakkanam is divided into three sections – Podu ani iyal, Porul ani iyal, Sol ani iyal.  The first one refers to the general figures of speech; second to the figures of speech that explain the meaning of the subject better and the last one to those figures of speech that add beauty to the word itself. The section on Porul ani iyal deals with the references to Ninda stuti as seen in tamil grammar.

Uvamai Ani

Uvamai denotes analogy and this is dealt with exhaustively based on the object compared or the emotion compared with, as specified in Dandialangaram and has twenty four classifications.

  • Nindai Uvamai

When a subject is praised by criticizing the object it is compared with, such an analogy is referred to as Nindai Uvamai. In the example Maruppayinra vanmadiyum[27], as mentioned in Dandialangaram, the nayika‘s face is compared to a moon, which is normally considered as beautiful but the moon itself is criticized as one with flaws. Similarly, the face is compared to that of a lotus which is normally considered extremely appealing however here the lotus is referred to as the one that fades on the arrival of the moon.

The subject is praised while comparing it to an object which is normally considered to be known for its splendour and beauty while the object itself is criticized. It may be plausible to infer that the object, however superior, could be blemished while the subject is always unblemished.

Viseda Ani

In this figure of speech, any flaw in the subject is presented in such a manner that it adds value to the subject thus enhancing the overall portrayal of the same.  The explicit and implicit purpose is to praise the subject and in this process even negativities are portrayed so as to support the praise.

This could be perceived as a precursor to Ninda Stuti where again the overall purpose is to praise but the components used in achieving the same are the negative attributes.  The explicit interpretation is the point of differentiation between Viseda Ani and Ninda Stuti where the former explicitly praises the subject while in the latter the subject is explicitly degraded but the implicit reference in both remains the same, to elevate the subject.

Viseda Ani is classified based on the flaw that is inherently present in the subject and is divided into the following as mentioned below[28].

Gunakkurai Visedam

When the flaw of the subject lies in its inherent nature or character and this flaw acts as a device praising the subject, then it is called Gunakkurai Visedam. In the example Kottam tiruppuruvam[29], as mentioned in Dandialangaram, in the war between the Chola king and the king of Kalinga, prior to the Chola king even getting angry, the entire Kalinga was destroyed. This may be understood to imply that though anger is a negative trait in a person, the victory over Kalinga did not just eclipse his negative traits but did not even intrinsically require the king to exhibit a negative emotion, which is to get infuriated, thus uplifting his entire character.

References to Viseda Ani can be found in the Ninda stuti compositions of Bilhana Mahakavi. In his composition, Sasyaaropana rakshanaakshamatayaa bhikshatanam nirmitam[30], the poet accuses the Lord of being lazy and not taking any efforts to procure food on his own or cultivate grains, instead, He goes begging for food. He further says that the Lord being lazy to fold clothes prefers not to adorn them at all. Instead of taking the effort to make sandalwood paste for application on the body, He smears the ashes of dead bodies all over Himself.  The last line “viswotpaadana rakshanaapaharanaa” however, praises the Lord and says that in this duty of protecting the universe He does not display and laziness and without any slackening He commits to this task.

The explicitly unstated inference here is that Siva is an ascetic and he does not thrive for his own benefit.  Menial and regular activities pursued by normal beings are meant for the enhancement of their own lives whilst the actions of the Supreme are meant for the well-being of his devotees.  He attaches no importance for such activities but does not falter to shower His grace unendingly.

Tolirkkurai Visedam[31],which is seen when the flaw of the subject lies in the kind of work that is done and this job itself acts as an instrument in praising the subject, as seen in the fact that Siva begs for his food. Uruppukurai Visedam[32], wherein the flaw of the subject lies in its external appearance and is used to praise the subject, is seen when the poet criticizes the Lord that He is lazy and hence appears unclean because of the ashes smeared on his unclothed body.

Sadikkurai Visedam[33], seen, when the flaw of the subject lies in the class of society that the subject belongs to and this class acts as an instrument in praising the subject, as is seen in the example, “Meya Niraipurandhu” in Dandialangaram, where Kannabiran, who is a cowherd, though being from a lower caste, is praised because he drives away the Devas.

Porulkkurai Visedam[34], seen, when the flaw of the subject lies in the content of the subject and this content is perceived in a manner so as to uplift the subject, is seen in the example, “Thollai maraither” in Dandialangaram, where the Goddess of Kanchipuram feeds the entire world in spite of getting a small amount of paddy from Lord Siva.

Marupadu Pugalnilai Ani

The poet refrains from condemning a particular subject by consciously praising another subject.  This is referred to as Marupadu Pugalnilai Ani, also known as Vanca Pugalci Ani or Telivil Pugalci Ani.

Ira(vu)ariya yavaraiyum pinsella nalla

tarunilalum tannirum pullum – oruvar

padaittanavum kolla ipulliman parmel

tudaittanave anro tuyar[35]

In the above example, the poet aims to pin down on those human beings who are fit and yet live parasitic lives or cheat or beg from others but does not refer to them directly or belittle them directly. He refers to the deer community, which does not beg from anyone, does not blindly follow anyone and lives a life of self respect by adapting to their surroundings and surviving on their own merit.  He urges humans to learn from the deers and lead a life of self-reliance and self-respect.

Podum talirum punaindu manampunarndu

sudap panaitaluvit tonrumal – made

palama tavangal payinrado? pan(du)ik

kulama daviyin kodi[36]

In another example, the aim of the poet is to criticize the deceiving heroine. He, however, hides the criticism by comparing her to a climber (Madavikkodi) which has the good fortune of spreading over the magnificent mango tree.

The song, “Adigi sukhamulevvaranubhavincirira? Adimulama Rama!”[37] in ragam Madhyamavati is written as a Ninda Stuti.  The poet scolds the Lord and questions Him angrily on how anyone has received anything useful by praying to Rama.  He cites various people who have prayed and believed in the Lord but have not gained anything purposeful from Him.

Sita who dedicated her entire life and believed in Him totally got only a life in the forest.  Surpanakha just by being attracted and falling in love, lost her nose and ears.  The poet moves onto criticize not just the manifestation but Maha Visnu Himself and says that a great devotee like Narada was transformed into a woman when he asked for enlightenment, Durvasa was made to lose his appetite when he was eagerly expecting food.  Devaki who wanted the Lord to be her son did not have the blessing to raise him while this was given to Yasoda.  The Gopikas who prayed to Him ardently and were lost in His love were strayed from their husbands.  No one ever has been benefited by praying to the Lord is his explicit reference in this song.

The poet uses this to praise the Lord and his ways and means of vanquishing evil in this world.  Sita was abducted by Ravana and the motive of the Lord assuming the incarnation of Rama was to slay Ravana and this was merely the way and means of achieving the broader objective. A similar reason is attributed to disfiguring Surpanakha as this worked as a catalyst for the destruction of Ravana.  Narada who was reborn as Sudati because of his pride as being the greatest devotee and this served as a reason for him to become a renunciate. Durvasa’s hunger was quenched before he could eat anything and thus the Pandavas and Draupadi were blessed by the sage.  Devaki’s son was the reason for extinguishing Kamsa and the Gopikas attained salvation because of their love for the Lord.  Every species born is benefited by the grace of God but their vision and understanding is not expansive enough to comprehend the same.

This form of praise is the most direct reference to Ninda Stuti in tamil poetics.  Here, the poet evidently criticizes Maha Visnu but extols all other subjects like Sita, Surpanakha, Narada, Pandavas and Gopikas and using them as a medium, to praise Him.  Marupadu Pugalci Ani is seen evidently in the above reference.

Pugala Pugalci Ani

In the process of debasing a subject, when the attributes of the same inherently extol the subject, it is referred to as Pugala Pugalci Ani.

Palippadu polum panmaiyin menmai

pulappada molivadu pugala pugalci[38]

This figure of speech is indicative of Ninda Stuti wherein the subject is not honoured directly.  The praise is camouflaged in the criticism and evident only in the inference. The examples specified further detail this Alamkara.

Porvelin venraduum palpugalal porttaduum

tarmevu tinpuyattal tanguvaduum – nirnadan

teradikkur vempadaiyal kappaduum senganmal

oradikkil vaitta ulagu[39]

The Chola emperor is said to have gone lengths and breadths to conquer that world which God Visnu has under his one foot (Vamana avatar).  On the face of it, the emperor appears to be belittled and the world seems a miniscule object.  On the contrary, the implied reference is made to the might and valour of the emperor who protects the entire world, which by no means is a humble task.  The greatness of the emperor is camouflaged in the overt criticism.

“Ninaivariya palpugalar ninkulattut tollor

anaivaraiyum pullinal anre – manunul

punarnda neriolugum puliyani! innal

mananda tadamalarmel madu”[40]

In the above example, the emperor is criticized as possessing a woman who already belonged to the ancestors of his dynasty, who is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Goddess Laksmi.  The implied reference is that they entire Chola dynasty has always been bestowed wealth and prosperity and the current emperor continues to maintain the status of the empire.  The opulence of the Chola dynasty is camouflaged in the overt criticism of continuing to hold onto the same woman.

Reference to Ninda Stuti is also found in the Ilesa Ani and these are further enumerated below.

Ilesa Ani

This variation of Porul Ani has classifications that seem to reference Ninda Stuti directly.  The reaction to a particular situation becomes the key determinant in this figure of speech.  The subject reacts to a circumstance in a certain manner but the authentic reason for this reaction is hidden and a fictitious reason is presented. Such a variation is defined as Ilesa Ani.

Maduppolitar mannavanai malkarimel kanda

vidirppum mayirarumbum meyyum – pudaittal

valavar ananedungai vandivalai toynda

ilavadai surnda(du)ena[41]

In this example, as mentioned in Dandialangaram, the girls quiver in excitement on seeing the emperor of the Chola kingdom who is riding on the elephant majestically. They however deny that their trembling is instigated by the thrill on seeing the emperor and instead blame the cold wind for the same.

This Ilesa Ani is classified into two varieties as specified below.

  • Pugalvadu pol Palittal

When a subject is explicitly praised but the embedded import is to malign the same, then it is referred to as Pugalvadu pol Palittal.

meya kalavi vilaipoludu nammellen

sayal talaramal tangumal – seyilai!

porvetta menmaip pugalalan yamvirumbit

tarvetta tolvidalai tan[42]

In this example, as mentioned in Dandialangaram, the nayaka who comes to unite with the nayika is unable to fulfil her desires and is lacking in the art of love.  He, who is adept in the art of warfare and the one whom she loved and wedded mildly unites with her so as to not spoil her grace.  The embedded implication is the incapacity of the nayaka to please the nayika and satisfy her yearning for him.

  • Palippadhu pol Pugalttal

The reverse of the above, wherein the subject is overtly demeaned but implicitly admired and eulogized is referred to as Palippadhu pol Pugalttal. Ninda Stuti may be deemed as a direct reference to this category in Tamil poetics.

Adal mayiliyali anban aniyagam

kudungal mellen kurip(pu)ariyan – udal

ilivanda seigai iravalan yarkkum

vilivanda vetkai ilan[43]

In this example, as mentioned in Dandialangaram, the nayaka who comes to unite with the nayika complains that the nayaka is not able to appreciate her delicate stature as he comes to unite with her and is unfit to handle her gently.  However, the nayaka is expected not to be delicate at the time of unison and the nayika as though criticizing his nature, is actually praising his skill in fulfilling her passion. The nayika can be thought to take pride in the skill of her hero and finds means and ways to highlight his prowess but yet being explicitly critical of him.

The creative genius of the poet finds enormous substance in ninda stuti, which developed from vyaja stuti which in turn used vakrokti as its base. Avenues for implementing one’s creativity have been classified and categorized based on words, sentences, contexts, passage references and many more in Vakrokti jivitam.

In Tamil literature, the concrete basis of ninda stuti seems to be found at several places as in the marupadu pugalci ani, ilesa ani, and pugala pugalci ani as specified in the Dandialangaram.  However, further classifications or sub-divisions are not found in Tamil literature for this genre.

With respect to this aspect, it may be concluded that there is significant evidence of the grammatical structure of this format in both Sanskrit and Tamil literature.

1.8         Inferences based on choreography and performance

Based on the above references and examples, it may be concluded that for choreography of a ninda stuti, an in-depth understanding of every phrase and word is mandatory. Additionally, to effectively bring out the stuti, apt sancaris need to be used, thus requiring detailed knowledge of the context. The import of the words and phrases needs to be studied extensively before they are depicted as the meaning explicitly seen is diametrically opposite to what is intended. Hence, choreographing a ninda stuti, though being essentially similar to that of choreographing a padam, involves intricacies in understanding those phrases that efficiently bring out the ninda and their perception as stuti.

On the other side, ninda stuti provides the choreographer with the freedom to use his imagination more liberally when it comes to sancaris as there is no rigid framework which specifies the range of sarcasm to bring in.  The choreographer will, however, need to maintain the sthayi and not allow the sarcasm to pervade over the praise.

As a performer, understanding the nuances of abhinaya, ability to appreciate the underlying motto of the song thus being able to effectively use the sancaribhavas becomes pivotal. The ability to convincingly depict the stuti, in spite of showing emotions like longing, discouragement, apprehension and arrogance thus impressing upon the onlooker that the protagonist is unique and unparalleled, is the responsibility of the artiste.  All of this requires detailed understanding and high standards of maturity in abhinaya. 

Ninda Stuti, is a composition of not just tremendous literary value but with enormous potential for a mature artiste to display their calibre to the fullest.  Its inclusion and appropriate depiction in a repertoire would highlight all angles of the protagonist comprehensively, without any blemish.


[1]Sangita Kalanidhi Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Govinda Rao, Compositions of Maharaja Sri Swati Tirunal, Music Series, VI (Plot No.16, XI Cross Street, Indiranagar, Chennai 600020, India: Ganamandir Publications, n.d.).

[1] Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (Cosimo, Inc., 2010), 1.

[2] Pathikonda Viswambara Nath, Tat Tvam Asi: The Universal Message in the Bhagavadgītā (Motilal Banarsidass Publishe, 1998), 123.

[3] Éric Le Calvez, Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass and Its Impact on Indian and Cross-Cultural Studies (Rodopi, 1997), 467.

[4] Malti Agarwal, New Perspectives on Indian English Writings (Atlantic Publishers & Dist, 2007), 240.

[5] Ibid.

[6] M. Srinivasachariar, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature: Being an Elaborate Account of All Branches of Classical Sanskrit Literature, with Full Epigraphical and Archaeological Notes and References, an Introduction Dealing with Language, Philology, and Chronology, and Index of Authors & Works (Motilal Banarsidass Publishe, 1974), 376.

[7] Edwin Gerow, A Glossary of Indian Figures of Speech (Walter de Gruyter, 1971), 261.

[8] Dr.K. Krishnamoorthy, ‘vol_08-09_art25_krishnamoorthy.pdf’, 2, accessed 22 September 2015, http://www.indologica.com/volumes/vol08-09/vol_08-09_art25_krishnamoorthy.pdf.

[9] C. D. Narasimhaiah, East West Poetics at Work: Papers Presented at the Seminar on Indian and Western Poetics at Work, Dhvanyaloka, Mysore, January 1991 (Sahitya Akademi, 1994), 90.

[10] Rajanaka Kuntaka, The VAKROKTI-JIVITA, Third Revised Edition, 32, accessed 19 September 2015, https://ia802706.us.archive.org/30/items/vakroktijivita/vakrokti_jivita.pdf.

[11] Malti Agarwal, New Perspectives on Indian English Writings (Atlantic Publishers & Dist, 2007), 240.

[12] Śaṅkarācārya and V. K. Subramanian, Saundaryalahari of Sankaracarya (Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1977), 13.

[13] Śaṅkarācārya and V. K. Subramanian, Saundaryalahari of Sankaracarya (Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1977).

[14] A hymn which occurs in the Brahmānḍa-Purāṇa, or the Old Epic of the Universe during the conversation between Hayagrīva and Sage Agastya

[15] Sri Rud̟ra Pras̟nā  is the oldest prayer where the names and attributes of Lord S̟ivā are listed

[16] N.V. Karthikeyan, ‘Kanthar Anubhuthi – Verse 31’, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.skandagurunatha.org/works/kanthar-anubhuthi/verse-31.asp.

[17] Vangipuram R. Venkat, ‘Microsoft Word – mudhalayiram2.doc – Mudhalayiram.pdf’, 95, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.srivaishnavam.com/4000pdf/mudhalayiram.pdf.

[18] Srinivasachariar, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, 714.

[19] Gerow, A Glossary of Indian Figures of Speech, 48.

[20] ‘Download-6.pdf’, 1, accessed 3 March 2016, http://yigalbronner.huji.ac.il/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/download-6.pdf.

[21] Gerow, A Glossary of Indian Figures of Speech, 261.

[22] ‘Download-6.pdf’, 180.

[23] Bhamaha and P. V. Naganatha Sastry, Kavyalankara Of Bhamaha (Sastry) (Ed. With Eng. Tr. And Notes) (Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1970), 65.

[24] ‘Download-6.pdf’, 192.

[25] Thiru. K. Sundara Murthy, ‘d0214-Thandialangaram’, accessed 29 November 2015, http://www.tamilvu.org/courses/diploma/d021/d0214/html/d0214e01.htm.

[26]V.T. Ramasubramaniam, Dandialangaram (9, Bharathi Nagar – First Street, Thyagaraya Nagar, Chennai 600 017: Mullai Nilayam, n.d.), 3.

[27] Ibid., 51.

[28] Ibid., 169.

[29] Ibid., 170.

[30] Dr. G. S. Subramanya Sastry, ‘Ninda Stuti of Bilhana Mahakavi’, IndiaDivine.org, accessed 18 February 2016, http://www.indiadivine.org/content/topic/1668355-ninda-stuti-of-bilhana-mahakavi/.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 172.

[33] Ibid., 171.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Thirugnanasambandham, Dandiyalangaaram Thelivurai, 176.

[36] V.T. Ramasubramaniam, Dandialangaram (9, Bharathi Nagar – First Street, Thyagaraya Nagar, Chennai 600 017: Mullai Nilayam, n.d.), 283.

[37] V. Krishnamurthy, ‘[Advaita-L]   NindA-Stuti (Praise Thro. Criticism) Refd. to in Sundaryalahari                Digest (DPDS-15)’, 3 September 2003, http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/2003-September/012143.html.

[38] Ramasubramaniam, Moolamum Thelivuraiyum, 283.

[39] Ibid., 284.

[40] Ibid., 285.

[41] Thirugnanasambandham, Dandiyalangaaram Thelivurai, 146.

[42] Ibid., 147.

[43] Ibid.

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