The Gambler's lament (or "Gamester's lament") is one of the hymns of the Rigveda which do not have any direct cultic or religious context. It is found in the late Tenth Book (RV 10.34), where most of such hymns on "miscellaneous" topics are found, suggesting a date of compilation corresponding to the early Indian Iron Age.
Moriz Winternitz considered the poem to be "most beautiful among the non–religious poems of the Rig Veda". Arthur Anthony Macdonell writes the following about the poem: "Considering that it is the oldest composition of the kind in existence, we cannot but regard this poem as the most remarkable literary product".
The poem comprises a monologue of a repentant gambler who laments the ruin brought on him because of addiction to the dice. The poem is didactic in nature and shows early indications of the proverbial and sententious poetry in later Hindu texts. Arthur Llewellyn Basham believed that Gambler's Lament was originally constructed as a spell to ensure victory in a game of dice, which was later converted into a cautionary poem by an anonymous poet.
The poem testifies to the popularity of gambling among all classes of Vedic Aryans. The gambling dice (akșa) were made from nuts of Terminalia bellirica (Vibhīdaka), into an oblong shape with four scoring sides— kŗta (four), tretā (trey), dvāpar (duce), kali (ace). The gambler who drew a multiple of four won the game.
|2. She never vexed me nor was angry with me, but to my friends and me was ever gracious.
For the die's sake, whose single point is final, mine own devoted wife I alienated.
|na mā mimetha na jihīḷa eṣā śivā sakhibhya uta mahyamāsīt
akṣasyāhamekaparasya hetoranuvratāmapa jāyāmarodham
|3. My wife holds me aloof, her mother hates me: the wretched man finds none to give him comfort.
As of a costly horse grown old and feeble, I find not any profit of the gamester.
|dveṣṭi śvaśrūrapa jāyā ruṇaddhi na nāthito vindatemarḍitāram
aśvasyeva jarato vasnyasya nāhaṃ vindāmikitavasya bhogham
The poem then describes the lure of the dice:
|4. When I resolve to play with these no longer, my friends depart from me and leave me lonely.
When the brown dice, thrown on the board, have rattled, like a fond girl I seek the place of meeting.
|anye jāyāṃ pari mṛśantyasya yasyāghṛdhad vedane vājyakṣaḥ
pitā matā bhrātara enamāhurna jānīmo nayatābaddhametam
The dice are referred to as "the brown ones", as they were made from the brown nuts of Terminalia bellirica.}
In the following verses the dice are described as "deceptive, hot and burning" and being similar to children in that "they give and take again". In verse 13, the poet addresses the gambler in an attempt to reform him, invoking the god Savitr.
|13 Play not with dice: no, cultivate thy corn-land. Enjoy the gain, and deem that wealth sufficient.
There are thy cattle there thy wife, O gambler. So this good Savitar himself hath told me.
|akṣairmā dīvyaḥ kṛṣimit kṛṣasva vitte ramasva bahumanyamānaḥ
tatra ghāvaḥ kitava tatra jāyā tan me vicaṣṭe savitāyamaryaḥ
- Griswold 1971, p. 331.
- The Rigveda is mostly dated to between about the 15th and 11th centuries BC, with the tenth book dating to roughly the 11th century. See e.g. Singh, Upinder (2008), A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Education India, ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0 p. 184, or see Rigveda for more details.
- Winternitz & Sarma 1981, p. 102.
- Macdonell 1990, p. 127-8.
- Griswold 1971, p. 331–2.
- Basham 2008, p. 403.
- Bose 1998, p. 179.
- Macdonell 1990, p. 128.
- Kaegi 2004, p. 83.
- Basham, A. L. (2008), The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims, Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, ISBN 978-1-59740-599-7
- Bose, M. L. (1998), Social And Cultural History Of Ancient India (revised & Enlarged Edition), Concept Publishing Company, ISBN 978-81-7022-598-0
- Griswold, Hervey De Witt (1971), The Religion of the Ṛigveda, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 978-81-208-0745-7
- Kaegi, Adolf (2004), The Rigveda: The Oldest Literatures Of The Indian 1886, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4179-8205-9
- Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1990), A History of Sanskrit Literature, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 81-208-0035-4
- Nath, Samir (2002), Dictionary Of Vedanta, Sarup & Sons, ISBN 978-81-7890-056-8
- Winternitz, Moriz; Sarma, Vuppala Srinivasa (1981), A history of Indian literature: Introduction, Veda, epics, purānas and tantras, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 978-81-208-0264-3