Magha (poet)

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Magha (c. 7th century) (Sanskrit: माघ, Māgha) was a Sanskrit poet at King Varmalata's court at Shrimala, the then-capital of Gujarat (presently in Rajasthan state). Magha was born in a Shrimali Brahmin family. He was son of Dattaka Sarvacharya and grandson of Suprabhadeva.[1] His epic poem (mahākāvya) Shishupala Vadha, in 20 sargas (cantos), is based on the Mahabharata episode where the defiant king Shishupala is beheaded by Krishna's chakra (disc).[2] He is thought to have been inspired by, and is often compared with, Bharavi.[3]

Postal Stamp Issued for Poet Magha
Poet Magha
Bornc. 7th century
Shrimal (present-day Bhinmal)

Life and workEdit

Māgha's fame rests entirely on the Shishupala Vadha. Vallabhadeva and Kshemendra quote some verses that are not found in the Shishupala Vadha as that of Māgha, so it is believed that Māgha wrote some other works that are now lost.

Unlike most Indian poets who give no autobiographical details or allude to contemporary events at all, Māgha, in the concluding five verses of the work (known as the Praśasti), gives some autobiographical details, which is rare for Indian poets.[4] The verses inform that his father was Dattaka and his grandfather was Suprabhadeva, a minister at the court of a king whose name is mentioned in different editions as Varmalāta, Dharmanābha, Dharmanātha, Varmalākhya, etc. These verses are therefore called the nija-vaṃśa-varṇana or kavi-vaṃśa-varṇana by commentators.[5]

According to tradition, Māgha was a native of Gujarat, being born in Shrimal Nagar[6] Present Bhinmal district Jalore in Rajasthan.[7]

By his own accounts and that of others, he was born wealthy and lived a carefree life,[8]:53 although according to one legend, he died in poverty.[9]


Māgha is quoted by Anandavardhana, Bhoja, and in the Kavirajamarga, thus putting him no later than the 8th century. Pathak notes that he alludes to the Kāśikāvṛtti and its commentary Nyāsa, the latter of which is not mentioned by I-Tsing and thus must have been written after his departure from India in 695 CE. Thus, Pathak puts Māgha in the second half of the 8th century.[4] Hermann Jacobi puts him in the 6th century,[4] and Kielhorn[10] and others put him in the second half of the 7th century.[11]


Māgha is highly popular with Sanskrit critics and is extensively quoted by them. His Shishupala Vadha seems to have been inspired by the Kirātārjunīya of Bharavi, and intended to emulate and even surpass it. Like Bharavi, he displays rhetorical and metrical skill more than the growth of the plot,[3] and is noted for his intricate wordplay, textual complexity, and verbal ingenuity. He also uses a rich vocabulary, so much so that the (untrue) claim has been made that his work contains every word in the Sanskrit language.[12] Whereas Bhāravi glorifies Shiva, Māgha glorifies Krishna; while Bhāravi uses 19 metres Māgha uses 23, like Bhāravi's 15th canto full of contrived verses Māgha introduces even more complicated verses in his 19th.[8]

A popular Sanskrit verse about Māgha (and hence about this poem, as it his only known work and the one his reputation rests on) says:

उपमा कालिदासस्य भारवेरर्थगौरवं|
दन्डिन: पदलालित्यं माघे सन्ति त्रयो गुणः||
upamā kālidāsasya, bhāraver arthagauravaṃ,
daṇḍinaḥ padalālityaṃ — māghe santi trayo guṇaḥ
"The similes of Kalidasa, Bharavi's depth of meaning, Daṇḍin's wordplay — in Māgha all three qualities are found."

Thus, Māgha's attempt to surpass Bharavi appears to have been successful; even his name seems to be derived from this feat: another Sanskrit saying goes tāvat bhā bhāraveḥ bhāti yāvat māghasya nodayaḥ, which can mean "the lustre of the sun lasts until the advent of Maagha (the coldest month)", but also "the lustre of Bharavi lasts until the advent of Māgha".[13] However, Māgha follows Bhāravi's structure too closely, and the long-windedness of his descriptions loses the gravity and "weight of meaning" found in Bhāravi's poem. Consequently, Māgha is more admired as a poet than the work is as a whole, and the sections of the work that may be considered digressions from the story have the nature of an anthology and are more popular.[14]

Māgha influenced Ratnākara's Haravijaya,[6] an epic in 50 cantos that suggests a thorough study of the Shishupalavadha.[8] The Dharmashramabhyudaya, a Sanskrit poem by Hari[s]chandra in 21 cantos on Dharmanatha the 15th tirthankara, is modeled on the Shishupalavadha.[15]


  1. ^ Keith, Arthur Berriedale (1993). A History of Sanskrit Literature, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1100-3, p.124
  2. ^ Bhattacharji Sukumari, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Sangam Books, London, 1993, ISBN 0-86311-242-0, p.148.
  3. ^ a b Sisir Kumar Das; Sahitya Akademi (2006), A history of Indian literature, 500-1399: from courtly to the popular, Sahitya Akademi, p. 74, ISBN 978-81-260-2171-0
  4. ^ a b c K B Pathak (1902), "On the date of the poet Mâgha", Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 20, p. 303
  5. ^ Chandrabhāl Tripāṭhī; Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg (1975), Catalogue of the Jaina manuscripts at Strasbourg, Brill Archive, p. 42, ISBN 978-90-04-04300-8
  6. ^ a b Hermann Jacobi (1890), "Ānandavardhana and the date of Māgha", Vienna Oriental Journal, 4: 240 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Satya Prakash; Vijai Shankar Śrivastava (1981), Cultural contours of India: Dr. Satya Prakash felicitation volume, Abhinav Publications, p. 53, ISBN 978-0-391-02358-1
  8. ^ a b c Moriz Winternitz; Subhadra Jha (transl.) (1985), History of Indian literature, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., pp. 72–77, ISBN 978-81-208-0056-4
  9. ^ T. R. S. Sharma; C. K. Seshadri; June Gaur, eds. (2000), Ancient Indian literature: an anthology, Volume 1, Sahitya Akademi, p. 444, ISBN 978-81-260-0794-3
  10. ^ F. Kielhorn (1908), Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Part 1, p. 499
  11. ^ George Cardona (1998), Pāṇini: a survey of research, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p. 359, ISBN 978-81-208-1494-3
  12. ^ Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of literature, Merriam-Webster, 1995, p. 712, ISBN 978-0-87779-042-6
  13. ^ D. D. (Dhruv Dev). Sharma (2005), Panorama of Indian anthroponomy, Mittal Publications, p. 117, ISBN 978-81-8324-078-9
  14. ^ A. K. Warder (1994), Indian kāvya literature: The ways of originality (Bāna to Dāmodaragupta), 4 (reprint ed.), Motilal Banarsidass Publ., pp. 133–144, ISBN 978-81-208-0449-4
  15. ^ Sujit Mukherjee (1999), A Dictionary of Indian Literature: Beginnings-1850, Orient Blackswan, p. 95, ISBN 978-81-250-1453-9