Literally, "unknowingly-gone-hours [night]" , meaning "[The night] whose course/hours passed unknowingly". Yāma means both ‘course’ as well as a unit of 3 hours used most commonly when measuring night times (for example a synonym for night is triyāma, ‘the one with lasting 3 yāmas’)
This phrase is from Bhavabhūti’s play Uttararāmacaritam, first act verse 27. It’s often said that there is no greater delight than the Uttararāmacaritam for a mind with a taste for pathos (karuṇā). The content of the play derives from the Rāmāyaṇa and involves events after the war with Rāvaṇa. Rāma makes the harsh decision of abandoning a pregnant Sītā in response to slander against her character, and the story continues with the birth and ascent of his sons Lava and Kuśa.
Bhavabhūti is often placed beside Kālidāsa in lists of Sanskrit’s greatest playwrights; in fact, there is an entire genre of writing that involves fictional stories of these two poets sparring with each other. Bhavabhūti is depicted as an learned, passionate, highly emotional poet who nevertheless is just a shade lesser than the balanced, effortlessly brilliant Kālidāsa whose simplicity is beyond genius. The modern historical view is that they were not contemporaries at all, but that is a minor nitpick compared to the poetic and entertainment value of these imagined contests 🙂
The Uttararāmacaritam begins with Rāma having his daily meetings with Sītā by his side. Several attendants come in with news and personal messages from well-wishers and this sets the scene. In classic fashion, there are several forebodings of what is to come, but of course the characters are unaware of that. Lakṣmaṇa then enters, and escorts the couple to a newly completed picture gallery which has portraits of events from Rāma’s life. The trio chat heartily as they move from picture to picture, from Rāma’s birth, Viśvāmitra’s arrival, Rāma winning Sītā and his victorious arrival into the city, etc. The poet cleverly uses this to sketch Rāma’s dignity and appropriateness for which this play is famous; for example, when the trio comes to a picture of Kaikeyi, Rāma makes up an quick excuse and moves on. Rāma and Sītā’s mutual love is also brought out beautifully.
The trio then come to a picture of the Prasravaṇa mountain in the Janasthāna forest. This is last time the couple was happy together in the forest. Rāma reminisces about those wonderful nights, and asks Sītā if she remembers the time when:
किमपि किमपि मन्दं मन्दमासक्तियोगात्
अविरलितकपोलं जल्पतोरक्रमेण |
अविदितगतयामा रात्रिरेव व्यरंसीत् ||
kimapi kimapi mandaṃ mandam āsaktiyogāt
aviralita-kapolaṃ jalpator-akrameṇa |
avidita-gata-yāmā rātrireva vyaraṃsīt ||
(mālinī metre, 15 syllables per line)
"We were sitting close together, our cheeks touching and arms in a tight embrace, chatting aimlessly about all kinds of things — the night itself went by before we knew it!"
This is probably the most famous verse of the work because of a cute story: In one of the fictional Bhavabhūti vs Kālidāsa tales, it’s said that Bhavabhūti had originally written the 4th line as "avidita-gata-yāmā rātrirevaṃ vyaraṃsīt" – it’s still in the same metre, but means "the night thus passed unknowingly". He goes to Kālidāsa to get his play reviewed. Kālidāsa is (as can be expected) in a state of general bliss, calmly chewing his betel leaf after his meal. He reads the play, smiles at Bhavabhūti and hands him a betel leaf with a big circle of slaked lime in its middle. He tells him, "Don’t you think that’s a little too much lime?"
Bhavabhūti goes home, and tries to decipher this. "Too much lime? Maybe he means I’m overpowering the mood somewhere. But where? Why would he give me a betel leaf? Well typically a betel leaf is chewed after a hearty meal, in a calm, serene, happy setting. The only such moods in my work are at the happy ending and the happy beginning. Happy endings are fine — let me check my beginning again". Lo and behold! He finds this verse, and sees that removing the anusvāra (the circle) would make the line go from the bald journalistic tone of "the night thus passed unknowingly" to the beautifully poetic "the night itself passed unknowingly" 🙂
This is a major turning point in the play. That event was the last time the couple were together in the forest, and is now the last time they are together in their adulthood. What happens next? Read the Uttararāmacaritam to find out, and to develop a most vile distaste for public opinion!
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
ये नाम केचिदिह नः प्रथयन्त्यवज्ञां
जानन्ति ते किमपि तान्प्रति नैष यत्नः |
उत्पत्स्यते तु मम कोऽपि समानधर्मा
कालो ह्ययं निरवधिर्विपुला च पृथ्वी॥
ye nāma kecidiha naḥ prathayantyavajñāṃ
jānanti te kimapi tānprati naiṣa yatnaḥ |
utpatsyate tu mama ko’pi samānadharmā
kālo hyayaṃ niravadhirvipulā ca pṛthvī ||
Poor Bhavabhūti appears not unfamiliar to getting a bad rap in his own time, a state that has plagued his image for centuries now. In his play Mālatīmādhava, he makes a point that deserves to be the leading light of anyone wishing to do something of value and is put off by discouragement. Besides the words of Gandhi ("First they laugh at you,…") and Teddy Roosevelt ("It is not the critic who counts…"), Bhavabhūti’s confidence in the future stands resplendent:
"They who disparage my work should know that it’s not for them that I did it. One day, there will arise someone who will truly know me: this world is vast, and time infinite."
"Samāna-dharmā" (‘equal spirit’) could very well have been today’s phrase!