In Raghuvamsha Maha-kavya, chapter 11, stanza 1, why is Lord Rama referred to as Kakapakshadhara? What does it mean?
The relevant verse from the Raghuvamsha 11.1:
कौशिकेन स किल क्षितीश्वरो राममध्वरविघातशान्तये । काकपक्षधरमेत्य याचितस्तेजसां हि न वयः समीक्ष्यते ॥
The king (Dasharatha) having been requested by Kaushika (Vishvamitra) for the help in removing the obstacles to performance of yajnas, of Rama bearing the Kakapaksha hairstyle.
This term ‘Kakapaksha’ has been explained in Mallinatha's commentary:
... काकपक्षधरं बालकोचितशिखाधरं । ’बालानां तु शिखा प्रोक्त काकपक्षः शिखण्डकः’ इति हलायुधः ।
The long lock of hair with knot that children wear (i.e. after upanayanam) is called Kakapaksha.
This shows that this hairstyle is the traditional shikha of children during studentship. Meaning the hair that one leaves from the crown of the head, with the remaining head shaved off. This hairstyle is so called because it resembles the wing (paksha) of a crow (Kaka).
The Kakapaksha emphasises that the two sons of Dasharatha were still young and tender in age and had just finished schooling. Hence they still had the shikha, from the Gurukula. Here is a picture taken from a traditional Gurukula (Please notice the similarity to a crow’s wing):
Anyway, the same description, i.e. Kakapaksha meaning Shikha of a child after Upanayanam (during studentship) has been mentioned in Bhushana by Govindaraja, one of the oldest available commentaries on the Ramayana Balakanda 19.8:
काकपक्षः बालस्य शिखा काकपक्षधरमपीत्यर्थः - The Shikha worn by a child is called Kakapaksha. Here the meaning is one who bears the hairstyle.
The same expression is also used in Bālakāṇḍa of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa (Viśvāmitra speaking to Daśaratha):
Sarga 18; Verse 8
svaputraṁ rājaśārdūla rāmaṁ satyaparākramam
kākapakṣadharaṁ śūraṁ jyeṣṭhaṁ me dātum arhasi
Therefore, tiger among kings, you must give me your eldest son, valorous Rāma, who, though he still wears side locks, is nonetheless a hero.
And here's how Robert P. Goldman explains the term:
- “side locks” kākapakṣa—: Literally, this means “crow’s wings.” These are side locks of hair characteristic of young boys, particularly kshatriyas in ancient India. The use of this term emphasizes the tender age of Rāma and thus increases the pathos of Daśaratha’s reaction.