Indian Poetry, 1360-1450 C.E.

About the Document
In Europe, the period from 1300 to 1450 C.E. was the time of the Renaissance, recalled as a time of great cultural and artistic development. But Europe was not the only place experiencing a cultural rebirth. India, once again in an era of relative political disunity as the Delhi Sultanate was weakening, also experienced a sort of mini–Golden Age during this time.

One of India's cultural realities--a reality which also hurt its chances for greater political unity--was its great diversity of language, both written and spoken. The learned language of Hindus was Sanskrit, though its heyday had by this time passed. Muslim scholars used Arabic, while those in Muslim governments often used Persian at court. The average person, however, was likely to use any number of other languages, ranging from Hindi to Urdu (a language combining Persian, Turkish, and Hindi) to Tamil to Kannada. Poetry, especially, was likely to be created in a variety of written languages, as the following selections show.

The poet, scholar, and writer Vidyapati lived from around 1352 to 1448, and wrote in both Hindi and Maithili, a local dialect. Most of his poems are love poems, often written about the goddess Radha's love for the god Krishna. The poet Ratnakaravarni wrote in Kannada, one of India's oldest languages. Ratnakaravarni is well known for his folk poetry, and lived during the 1300s.


The Document

THE IDEAL MONARCH

To the king affairs of state are as dear as affairs of spirit;
He feasts his senses, but is master of himself.
The king should seek worldly pleasures, but be wedded to Dharma.
His heart should seem to be engaged in the pursuits of life
but be clear and unattached.

Like a dancer who minds her step to the rhythm of music
and minds her head balancing a pitcher, the king
pursues matters of polity and high values of Dharma.

Like a kite which plays in high heaven but is bound
to solid earth in the hands of a skilful player, a man
can indulge his body and yet be devoted to Dharma,
and there is no trickery in that.


                                                                      RATNAKARAVARNI



SONGS OF LOVE

It is the night of the rains, the damsel is tender, and it is terribly dark.
On the way, thousands of night-rangers are roaming about, and it is raining heavily.
O, Madhava, she is terrified on account of her first love.
Having gone there personally, you, please, see her (condition and then) do whatever (you think) proper.
On the way, there (flows) the terrible Yamuna, how will she come across?
O wise one, O sweet heart, the sentiment of sexual union, for her, is insignificant and worthless.
Having known all these, still you are indifferent towards the beautiful faced (damsel); still you do not feel ashamed!
Where has one seen, honey, itself, flowing into the bee.

First, you will decorate your hairs and besmear (sandal) paste (over your body). Then you will paint your unsteady eyes with collyrium.
You will go with all your limbs covered with cloth. You will remain at a distance so that he may become (very much) desirous (of meeting you.
O, damsel, first you will manifest (signs of) bashfulness, and with your side-glances you will arouse Cupid.
You will cover (one half of) your breasts and expose the other half. Every moment you will make the knot in the lower garment tighter.
You will show anger and then exhibit some love (for him). You will preserve the sentiment so that he may come again and again.
O damsel, what further instructions in the science of love shall I give to you? Cupid himself will become the guide and will tell you everything.

Today I shall go for a union with Hari; how much of cravings did I have?
As soon as the superiors in the house were noticed to have fallen asleep the moon appeared (in the horizon).
O moon, your ways are cruel.

You got calumny on account of such a behaviour; still you are not afraid!
The moment the face of a girl of the earth surpassed you (in beauty), vanquished, you went over to the sky.
Even there you fell victim (to the wrath) of Rahu. How shall I abuse you?
The creator with much effort and great zeal creates you in a month, but you are not allowed to live a second day as a consequence of that sin.

O girl, your face is very beautiful, to me it appears as if you will be accused of theft of the moon. Do not look at anybody, nor let yourself be seen by anybody; under the impression of the moon Rahu will devour up (your face).
Your bright eyes have become black with collyrium; they look like a sharp (arrow) set to a bow by a hunter.
Having gazed at you fixedly he will spread his set, and taking you for a khanjana bird, he will hold you up in fetters.
You have stolen the essence of the ocean (nectar) and the moon; on account of this Rahu is remonstrating strongly.
Where will you conceal the theft of the moon? Wherever you will hide it there it will be bright.


                                                                      VIDYAPATI



THE END OF YOUTH

I hide my shabby cheeks
With locks of hair,
And my grey hairs
In folds of flowers.
I paint my eyes
With black mascara.
The more I try
The more absurd I look.
My breasts loosely dangle.
My curving lines are gone.
My youth is ended
And love roams wild
In all my skin and bones.
O sadness, my sadness,
Where is my youth?

                                                                      VIDYAPATI



FIRST LOVE

Asked for her lips,
She bows her head.
She cannot bear
His hands upon her breasts.
She tightly holds
Her loosened girdle,
As flushing skin
Betrays her mounting love.
Gentle the girl,
So skilled her lover--
How will they play
The game of passion?
Her breasts in bud
Still hidden in her palms,
The crisp green plums
That change to crimson red. . . .

His nails grow eager
To set upon her breasts,
Her eyebrows curving
Like the crescent moon.
Greedy for her face, he wonders
How long can the moon
Hide within her dress.

                                                                      VIDYAPATI



FROWNS AND SMILES

When my lover comes to my courtyard,
I shall smile and move away.
Frantic, he will catch my dress,
Yet I shall not relent.
When he begs me for love,
I shall smile but not speak.
As he darts at my bodice,
I shall stop him with my hands and scolding eyes.
Distraught, the beautiful bee will seize my chin,
Suck honey from my lips,
And loot my senses.

                                                                      VIDYAPATI



Sources:

THE IDEAL MONARCH:

Ratnakaravarni, "The Ideal Monarch," in An Anthology of Indian Lieratures, ed. K. Santhanam (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1969), p. 319.

SONGS OF LOVE:

Vidyapati, "Songs of Love," in An Anthology of Indian Literatures, ed. K. Santhanam, trans. by C.H. Prahlada Rao (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1969), p. 268.

THE END OF YOUTH, FIRST LOVE, and FROWNS AND SMILES:

Vidyapati, Love Songs of Vidyapati, trans. Deben Bhattacharya (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1963), pp. 71, 106, 51.


Glossary

Dharma

Hindu concept of proper behavior by strictly following one's caste rules.


Analysis Questions

  1. Are there any similarities in what each writer notices about the city he is describing?
  2. Both Alexandria and Delhi are centers for culture. What do you think makes a city a cultural center?
  3. Do all of the sources have a religious focus, or is one more concerned with religion than the others? If so, which one?
  4. Which city would you prefer to live in, based on your readings? Why?



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