Re: [INDOLOGY] Purāṇas, "resembling the belly of a mirror"

Toke Lindegaard Knudsen toke.knudsen at
Thu Feb 1 10:39:03 UTC 2018

Dear Herman (if I may),

You wrote:

> maybe the following passage from the Nāṭyaśātra (2, 72cd-73ab) is of interest to you. It deals with the surface of the raṅgaśīrṣa:
> kūrmapr̥ṣṭhaṃ na kartavyaṃ matsyapr̥ṣṭhaṃ tathaiva ca
> **śuddhādarśatalākāraṃ** raṅgaśīrṣaṃ praśasyate.

Thank you so much for this interesting passage, which I wasn’t aware of. In Śrīpati’s Siddhāntaśekhara, there is another interesting passage in this regard:

ādarśodarasannibhā bhagavatī viśvambharā kīrttitā
kaiścit kaiścana kūrmapṛṣṭhasadṛśī kaiścit sarojākṛtiḥ

“The venerable, all-sustaining [earth] is said by some to resemble the belly of a mirror; by others to resemble the back [that is, shell] of a turtle; and by yet others as having the form of a lotus.” (My rough translation.)

Here Śrīpati distinguishes the shape of a mirror’s belly from the shape of a turtle’s shell, like in the passage from the Nāṭyaśāstra.

I wasn’t sure about matsyapṛṣṭha, “back of a fish.” I see that Asha Saxena, in “Ancient Greek and Indian Theatre” (Delhi: Parimal Publications, 1997), citing Abhinavagupta’s commentary, explains that kūrmapṛṣṭha refers to “a surface sloping on all sides like the back of a tortoise and a little raised in the centre,” and matsyapṛṣṭha refers to “a surface sloping on both sides like the back of a fish and long in the centre” (p. 26). She holds that the shape of the raṅgaśīrṣa should be plane.

Abhinavagupta’s commentary reads: kūrmapṛṣṭham iti / samantato nimbaṃ madhye ca vartularūpaṃ mandam / tattādṛg eva madhye dīrgharūpaṃ matsyapṛṣṭham /

However, in “A Historical and Cultural Study of the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata” by Anupa Pande (Jodhpur: Kusumanjali Prakashan, 1996), the author cites Subbarao as stating that ‘kūrmapṛṣṭha’ and ‘matsyapṛṣṭha’ mean convex and concave, respectively (p. 18).

It’s hard for me to see how one could get ‘concave’ from ‘back of a fish,’ and I think both shapes must be convex, sloping downward in some way, as Abhinavagupta has it.

Finally, D. R. Mankad in “Hindu Theatre” (Indian Historical Quarterly, 8:3 (September 1932), 480-499) separates the two lines you cite: “Surface should not be kūrmapṛṣṭha or matsyapṛṣṭha. Raṅgaśīrṣa, clean like the surface of a mirror, is praised” (p. 486).

It seems to me that the Nāṭyaśāstra contrasts three different shapes, two with a slope (both convex, I think, though it’s tempting to read the latter of them as concave) and one that resembles the belly of a mirror. The mirror shape is probably to be understood as flat here, not round.

With all best wishes,

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