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The Narmamala, "Garland of Satires" is a satirical Sanskrit work by the great Kashmirian writer Ksemendra, active in the first half of the eleventh century. This is a critical edition with the first complete translation and a textual study providing comparison with other texts of Ksemendra, as well as appendixes that illustrate the religious background ridiculed in the text, and lists of technical terms. The Narmamala describes in a grotesque vein the public and private habits of the all-powerful government officials, members of the kayastha caste, within a pointed social and religious criticism. In its exaggerated style the satire gives a colourful picture of contemporary urban and village life caught in the clutches of the scheming "fat cats." Ksemendra's language is very interesting, both lexically, with its mixture of Sanskrit and sanskritized vernacular, as well as semantically, for its lively metaphors and punning inventions. His critique seems as if it was aimed at real characters, whom his contemporaries could easily have identified, and the jocular nature of the work would suggest that it originated as an extemporary piece, composed with the laughing encouragement of a circle of literati. Complex punning in fact doubles the meaning of many stanzas, as the story begins with a mock mythological account of the birth of the kayastha, first extolled in brilliantly punning verses as equal to Iiva, the Supreme God, then identified as the depraved incarnation of the home accountant of the demons. This medieval work presents motifs that are still of current interest. It takes place in an area, Kashmir, that for its particular geographic situation has always been a trouble spot. Even more timely, it deals with contemporary themes such as political corruption, the role and power of bureaucracy, the use of religious piety as a form of political control, and the economic hubris and depraved sexual habits of public personalities. Ksemendra uses humour to challenge and promote change in the public and religious sphere, as his satire runs counter to entrenched political and religious loyalties established by an extended practice of corruption.
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