Mahabharat is a massive work in the Sanskrit language. It is the biography of the Pandava brothers. Vyasa, the composer of this work, sought a scribe who could keep pace with the speed of his dictation. Ganesh, the Deva of the intellect, agreed to be the scribe. However, he placed one condition. Per this condition, Vyasa had to dictate at the speed of Ganesh’s writing. Vyasa countered this with another condition. Ganesh could scribe a verse only after fully understanding it. As a result, Vyasa composed the Mahabharat in chunks of a few hundred verses. He dictated a verse with a “knot, a difficult to understand verse at the end of each chunk. This forced Ganesh had to pause and understand the verse. Vyasa thus mentally began composing the next chunk. Surely, anyone who knows Mahabharat also knows about the “knots” in the text.

I recently came across an illustration of a knot while listening to an Upanyasa, or the traditional style of narrating. The narrator quoted a sensible looking sentence from Vyasa’s Mahabharat It reads गङ्गा जलं केशव नारि केतु (Ganga jalam Keshava naari ketu).  Every word in this sentence is meaningful. The sentence makes no sense despite the sentence being syntactically correct. The word boundaries have to be changed to understand the meaning of the line. This knot definitely forces a reader to pause. 

Vyasa inserted knots in his Mahabharat to slow slow down Ganesh who had the role of a scribe.
Vyasa inserted knots in his text to make a reader pause and think

Similarity between Vyasa and the Siddhars

Siddhars wrote their works in the Tamil language. They borrowed the idea of a knot from Vyasa’s Mahabharat and used them generously. In fact, One finds very few sentences in Siddhar texts without a knot, Firstly, a translator must locate meaningful word boundaries. In other words, he must untie knots in the Siddhar text. Secondly, he must locate words which Siddhars consider to be technical terms. Such words conventionally mean one thing but something different in Siddhar texts. Siddhar texts describe a) pharmacopeia preparations, b) ideas related to sorcery, and c) descriptions of spiritual techniques. Therefore, many words can take a contextual meaning based on the domain of knowledge. Siddhar Agasthiyar composed a text which explains such idiosyncrasies in Siddhar texts.  It had fun discovering a few such idiosyncrasaies while translating Agasthiyars text. I recently published a translation of the Tattuvum 300 text, one of Agasthiyar’s works, from Tamil to English. 

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