mahī-tala-sparśana-mātra-bhinnam

Meaning:

Literally, “earth-surface-touching-only-different”, meaning “Different only in that it is
touching the Earth”.

Context:

This phrase is from Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa (Chapter 2, verse 50). In this acclaimed masterpiece deriving from the Rāmāyaṇa epic stream, Kālidāsa constructs stories for several of Rāma’s ancestors and descendants; the greatest testimony to his genius is the fact that his stories are so well-known and so deeply entwined in Indian culture that most people are not even aware of their origin!

In the first story, King Dilīpa is childless, and goes to the sage Vasiṣṭha for help. The sage asks him to care for Nandinī, the holy wish-granting cow of his ashram. One day, when Dilīpa is tending to Nandinī in the nearby foothills, a lion appears out of nowhere and attacks her. Dilīpa tries to fight, but finds himself paralyzed. The lion smiles, and tells him that he is a servant of Śiva; that Dilīpa is paralyzed because of his magic powers; that Nandinī violated a sacred sanctuary, and that she shall be killed.

The helpless Dilīpa, with utmost selflessness, begs the lion to let go of Nandinī and to kill him instead; he cannot bear to let his protectee come to harm. The lion laughs, and tells him that he is being foolish in wanting to give himself up for the sake of a mere animal — if he lives, he can save a hundred thousand cows! He concludes a strongly convincing argument, saying:

तद्-रक्ष कल्याण-परम्पराणाम्
भोक्तारम् ऊर्जस्वलम् आत्म-देहम् ।
मही-तल-स्पर्शन-मात्र-भिन्नम् 
ऋद्धं हि राज्यं पदम् ऐन्द्रम् आहुः ॥

tad rakṣa kalyāṇa-paramparāṇāṃ
bhoktāram ūrjasvalam ātma-deham |
mahītalasparśanamātrabhinnam
ṛddhaṃ hi rājyaṃ padam aindram āhuḥ || (upajāti metre)

“Therefore, save yourself. You have much to enjoy. Your wealthy kingdom is different from Indra’s heaven only in that it is touching the Earth!”

The superior Dilīpa humbly refuses, and again offers himself to be killed. The lion agrees, frees Nandinī, and pounces on him. But suddenly, … read the Raghuvamśa to find out!

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