Month: April 2021

Bhāvakadevī

Classical Sanskrit Lyrics

The name for Sanskrit lyric poetry is subhasita meaning “beautifully expressed in language”. Classical Sanskrit Lyrics are identified by their many unique traits and qualities.  These poems, unlike western poetry, are usually impersonal and universal.  Typically, classical Sanskrit poetry is very short.  They consist of only a few verses or lines.  There are two types of poetry that fit this requirement, either a complete text in a short form, or poetry extracted from a longer work that can stand on its own.  Because Sanskrit poetry is meant to be short, the consequence is that it can’t explain everything or give the entire story in detail.  Instead, subhasita’s give the reader just a glimpse of the mood; this is known as rasa. These subhasita’s also make use of indirect suggestions called dhvani instead of providing a direct description.

Despite being short, it is also necessary for a classical Sanskrit poem to be a self contained thought; that is, that the idea or storyline is all wrapped up with no loose ends.  Sanskrit poetry is well crafted in that the poet should use the best words and images and feature many twists of language and figuration called alamkāra.

Bhāvakadevī herself

Bhāvakadevī, also known as Bhāvaka-devī or Bhavadevi, is actually her stage name, however very little is actually known about her real name.  Bhāvakadevī lived and wrote her poetry during the middle of the Classical period of Sanskrit literature.  She was one of the few women poets, as they were rare and elusive during a time when men dominated the poetry world.  More is known about other classical, female Sanskrit poets.  With only two recovered poems, Bhāvakadevī is truly a mystery.

Poem 1

Bhāvakadevī wrote the classical Sanskrit poem, “At first our bodies knew”, also dubbed ‘Bitter Harvest’.  This poem is a good example of a subhasita, a type of Sanskrit poetry, for many reasons.

Bhāvakadevī’s poem contains two phrases, with seven lines in total. This qualifies it as complete text in a short form, which is a subhasita quality.  Her poem is self-contained; it completely explains feelings and the situation they surround.  Yet, because it is a subhasita, and short by nature, it cannot fully display the essence of an emotional state.  There is more depth to the nature of the emotions in this poem.  As a subhasita, we only get a rasa, a snapshot of a mood in one moment in time.  The use of dhvani is also seen in this poem, as Bhāvakadevī gives us only ideas and suggestions of what has happened with her husband, and not a direct description of him cheating on her.  I would argue, however, that in this particular poem, Bhāvakadevī does not write in a universal way- this poem actually seems rather personal.

“At first our bodies knew” is also a well crafted poem, another signifier of classical Sanskrit lyrics.  Strategically placed antonyms and repetition, create a flowing beautiful read.  The first line features the word ‘perfect’, and the last line ‘broken’, which makes the poem appear finished and complete.  The second line features the word ‘grow’ and the penultimate line features the word ‘reap’.  This suggests the seasons of Spring and Fall- that time has passed, and that there is a cycle to their love.  Bhāvakadevī also crafted this poem with repetition in the word ‘I’, which emphasizes her feelings of isolation.

other translations

I have found two other translations of this poem, both with their own differences.  R. Parthasarathy’s translation makes use of the word wretched instead of unhappy.  The final lines have most of the same content, just phrased differently. I like the line “hard to swallow” because it brings more of the fruit/harvest symbolism.  The beginning of the Columbia University version is most clear out of the three translations. The phrase “diamond hard life” is a great ending.  It is interesting that the other two translations call the fruit bitter but this version doesn’t, even with the title “Bitter Harvest”.  If I pieced together my favorite / the most clear lines, It would go like this:

At first our bodies knew a perfect oneness / then grew two when you stopped being the lover, / but I, wretched one, kept on playing the beloved. / Now, you are the husband, I the wife, / a broken pledge is all that’s left / to reap the bitter fruit of my diamond hard life.

Content

All of these translations, although slightly different, give us the same story.  A husband and wife who used to be intertwined in love, have grown apart due to the husband’s infidelity.  She kept on playing her role in the marriage despite that the husband stopped playing his. Assessing the situation- they are still husband and wife, but now with a broken trust between them. Moving forward, She rhetorically questions what is left of her life except to continue in this broken relationship.

 

Poem 2

These are two translations of the second and only other recovered poem by Bhāvakadevī.  ‘Her breasts are brother kings’ does not tell a story like “At first our bodies knew”, but metaphorically compares a woman’s breasts to royalty. This is another good example of a subhasita because of its length. It is one sentence in four lines, and this is roughly half of the length of Bhāvakadevī’s better known poem “At first our bodies knew”.  Like the prior poem, ‘Her breasts are brother kings’ is also qualified as a  complete text in a short form.  It is also self contained, as it raises no questions of ‘what else?’.

In ‘Her breasts are brother kings’, Bhāvakadevī uses dhvani to indirectly describe to the reader a woman’s breasts that are equal in “nobility” and “altitude”.  Bhāvakadevī illustrates this woman’s breasts as having grown strong, after all that they have gone through in life.

We don’t know who the woman in the poem is.  Was it Bhāvakadevī writing about herself?  Or did she have a female lover?  So little is known about Bhāvakadevī, and the nature of a subhasita is that we don’t know the full story, just a rasa.  Whoever this is about, we can infer that Bhāvakadevī thought she was a strong and resilient woman.  Despite being female, the woman in this poem ruled over her own body much like a king rules over his land.

 

Bhāvakadevī

How I wish that more of Bhāvakadevī’s poetry had been recovered.  I’m sure that there is so much more that she had to say.  Based on the two poems that we have of hers, we can identify that she writes sensual poems, maybe not as explicit as some Egyptian Love Poetry, but sensual nonetheless.  Despite the fact that only two poems remain, it is still a great feat that Bhāvakadevī managed to infiltrate the poetry world at a time dominated by men.  It does not go unnoticed that the subject of both of her two poems is the resiliency of women.

Vidyā : Three Women Poets

 

Female Sanskrit Poetesses 

Female Sanskrit poetesses were prominent around the 9th century Common Era (CE) to the 14th Century. Classical Sanskrit poetry consisted of many epics, dramas, sex, love, nature and fables that were written by both men AND women. Female Sanskrit poetesses were equally as good as their male counterparts, but they didn’t receive the same recognition because Classical Sanskrit poetry was “traditionally” male dominated. As a result, many works from female poetesses have been lost and neglected. There has been little to no attempts to recover any female Sanskrit poetry. However, we have been fortunate enough to retrieve some of the beautiful and ethereal poems from the Sanskrit women. There are about forty women poets who have been identified and celebrated. Although Silabhattarika is the most famous female Sanskrit poet because 46 of her poems have been retrieved, her female counterpart Vidyā is also very popular.

 

Who is Vidyā?

Vidyā, also known as Bijākā and Vijja, is one of the most revered Classical female Sanskrit poets. The name Vidyā means “knowledge of the spirit,” and most of her poems imply that she was spiritually enlightened and deeply engaged with the universe. She lived and wrote between the 7th and 9th centuries. Vidyā can be classified as a hippie because of her profound adoration for the earth, nature, emotions, and love. 

 

Vidyā’s Poetry

Vidyā has a natural affinity to nature. In this poem, she wrote about a Champaka tree being neglected by it’s farmer because of his insatiable need for wild plants. (poem 1)

                           (poem 1)

 

Vidyā not only writes about nature in her poems, she also writes about romance and heartbreak. In this poem in particular, she is emphasizing the separation of two lovers. The indication of the separation seems to come from infidelity. (poem 2)

 

  

                            (poem 2)

Vidyā’s poems are usually light hearted and have nature elements, but this poem in particular was emotionally charged. In this poem, a woman who was separated from her lover was angry at the Love God Kamadeva because of her broken heart. (poem 3)

                            (poem 3)

Emotions are also charged in this poem, however, there is a lot more nature imagery. Water represents the flow of our emotions, cleansing and baptism, but it can also represent feeling overwhelmed as if your emotions will spill over. This poem also shows frustration and anger because of heartbreak. (poem 4)

                        (poem 4)

 

This poem highlights very heavy emotions such as despair, anger, and abandonment. (poem 5)

                         (poem 5) 

So far most of Vidyā’s poems have been about strong emotions and nature. This poem slightly contrast the others because there is a focus on poverty. Poverty is external and internal. Many times, people assume that poverty is about the lack of material things, but poverty can also be a lack of love. (poem 6) 

                           (poem 6)

 

 

Vidyā’s poems consist of nature, heartbreak, romance and emotions. She uses the imagery of nature to illustrate the intensity of emotions in her poems. Vidyā is very much a sensitive and delicate woman. All of her poems have some element of emotion to them, and that shows that Vidyā was in tune with her own emotions. Vidyā’s poems are very important because many Female Sanskrit poetesses work has been lost or misconstrued. There’s no telling how many poems Vidyā actually wrote, but nevertheless, they are all very enchanting and remarkable. 

 

Work Cited: 

Pal, Banik Supriya. (2010). Asian Literary Voices: From Marginal To Mainstream. Amsterdam University Press.

Geddes Sloane, Marie Kathryn. (2018). Voices from the Margins: Aesthetics, Subjectivity, and Classical Sanskrit Women Poets. The University of British Columbia

 

Images: 

Image 1: Indian Woman Painting  (Pinterest) 

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/332140541240537866/

Image 2: Hippie (Pinterest) 

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/848365648550970986/

(The rest of the images were created by me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunjata

Who is Sunjata?

Sunjata, also known as Sundiata Keita, was the prince and founder of the Mali Empire. This empire reigned in west Africa as one of the largest empires in western Africa. This Empire reigned from 1230-1600.

This map shows the expansion of this empire.

He founded the empire circa 1235 and ruled until his death in circa 1255. He is known as one of the greatest African rulers in history. Sunjata was unique in the was he treated his people. He treated them all with respect and would visit with the lower classes and would have discussion and conversation with them. he built relationships with his people. So much that his people wrote stories and legends of him. the most famous of these was Sunjata. He is truly a king for all of his people.

Sunjata Plot

Sunjata is what is known as an epic poem. An epic poem is, to put simply, an extremely long poem. This poem begins with Sunjata’s dad named Maghan Kon Fatta, who is the king of Mandinka, being told that he will have a son that rules a massive empire. The only catch was that he was going to marry an ugly woman. Though he was already married and already has a son named Dankaran, he met an ugly woman with a hunchback and married her because of the prophecy. This woman’s name was Sogolon. When his father died, his first son took the throne instead of Sunjata against his father’s request. Sunjata was born unable to walk but was able to after his father’s death. His brother exiled Sunjata and his mother from the kingdom. They end up seeking refuge in the Mema kingdom.

During his time there, Sunjata grows very strong and works his way all the way up to the heir to the throne. His mother wants Sunjata to go take his spot on the throne of Mandinka where his brother has left due to a tyrant named Soumaoro Kante who is king of Sosso. This king has captured 9 kingdoms. The people of Mandinka call for Sunjata so he fights off the king of Sosso and takes his place as the first king of the Mali empire. The people loved Sunjata which helped him to gain his power and for the government to form there. It also allowed his empire to reign for longer.

 

Sunjata’s impact

Sunjata was one of the most powerful and influential people in the world during his reign. To say he did not have an impact on the world would be absurd. Though he is not well known, many compare his impact and legacy for the west African empires to that of Alexander the Great. It is also widely speculated that there is a popular Disney movie whose story is a reflection of Sunjata and his story. This movie is the Disney classic called Lion King. It is widely known that the writers of this movie and Disney itself have said that this movie is based off of Hamlet, but when looking at comparing the story, setting, and the similarities in the impact Sunjata and Hamlet both had, it is easy to see why people would speculate. Sunjata is also said to have grown into the strength of a lion. He was also nicknamed “The Lion King of Mali.”

Why is Sunjata not More Well-known?

If Sunjata ruled such a massive and one of the longest lasting empires of all time, then it stands to question, why is he not more well-known? Could it have been because he was black? Because it was African? Let’s look at the time periods when his dynasty ruled and when his history may have been written. It would not be unheard of for him to be in direct opposition to the whiteness of our history. The United States of America is exceptionally lacking in history of cultures other than white culture. Growing up in the United States educational system, I know for a fact that we did not cover very much of any cultures in Africa nor Asia. The question is, is this due to racism? I cannot say for sure, but it is important especially in today’s world to cover the history of other peoples. This is especially so with major empires and people such as Sunjata and the Mali Empire.

But what about Disney? Why does Disney not claim the fact that their movie The Lion King, named the same as Sunjata’s nick name and based in Africa, not even based on him at all? Disney has a vast trail of racism scandals and themes in their work. These examples include Peter Pan with calls to Native American stereotypes and referring to them as redskins among other things, Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp representing anti-Asian stereotypes, a Siamese cat in Aristocats playing piano with chopsticks, a group of crows in dumbo with seemingly black voice actors with the lead crow being named Jim Crow (Jim Crow Laws), and much more. The founder of Disney, Walt Disney also had a running with racist allegations. Walt was known to take part in Nazi propaganda and attend Pro-Nazi Organizational meetings. It begs the question; did Disney leave this fact out due to its racist backbone? More recently, Disney has done a good job of fighting racism in its content but not when The Lion King was released. Whether it is due to racism or simply just a lack of education of certain part of the world, it is evident that the awareness of this great king and ruler and founder of the Mali dynasty should be more well known and celebrated like his comparative white counterpart, Alexander the Great.

Zhuangzi’s Wanderings

What Are We Exactly?

Everyone claims that they know exactly who they are. They could be self-reliant and emotional people or they could be narcissistic dwellers, but do we all know who we really are? Do we really know anything about the world around us and what it possibly means? Zhuangzi thinks he has an idea or two about what exactly we could consider ourselves and our actions within this world. Everything must have a great deeper meaning right? Everything must have a special purpose in life shouldn’t it? Zhuangzi gives many theories and explanations as to why things exist the way that they do. What we do need to ask ourselves is whether or not we should listen to this man, I mean who does he think he is anyway? If you do know who he is then you might have an inkling as to why you should listen to him, but if you have no idea who he is, let me give a brief explanation of his background and I might be able to convince you that he is legit.

Who is Zhuangzi?

Although we don’t actually know much about this fundamental Daoist philosopher, we are given a picture of what type of man he is from the text that shares his name. The goal of Zhuangzi is to teach others how they can live a good life and be good themselves even though they are surrounded in a world full of violence and possible misery. One of Zhuangzi’s main concepts is that an individual is living a good life if they are free from any type of societal bound or political affiliation and are one with the “natural Way” (Norton, 1369). The “Way” is actually the main idea of Daoist philosophy which states that Dao is the impersonal dynamic ground of being (Clasquin-Johnson). It simply is. Zhuangzi uses our lack of understanding in order to ask us important questions about human life. He claims that humans don’t understand what is really useful in this world (Norton, 1369). Zhuangzi has many different philosophies about certain aspects of life such as, death, nature, and even heaven. He also talks about many of the skills that we are graced with that cannot be passed on to others and that will die with us when it is our time.

See the source image

The Philosophy of Zhuangzi – Literary Theory and Criticism (literariness.org)

Death. Why Do We Mourn?

Chapter three in Zhuangzi discusses how Qin Shi reacts to the death of one of his beloved friends and Laozi’s disciples  is the witness to his action. What is interesting is how there are three stories within this one chapter which discuss becoming one with the “Way” or why we are created to look differently than others, but I am mainly going to focus on the last story of the chapter. When Laozi dies Qin Shi comes to mourn him, but he finishes mourning only after three cries. This interests Laozi’s disciples and so one of them dare to ask the question as to why he is mourning him this way. “Weren’t you a friend of the Master?”…”And you think it’s all right to mourn him this way?” (“Zhuangzi”, 1383-1384). His disciples almost seem offended that he has not mourned much more than three cries for his supposed friend. I mean, wouldn’t we all question him for not mourning his friend much more than three cries? Wouldn’t we also wonder if he was actually his true friend because of his short mourning session? Wouldn’t we all agree that when we lose someone that is close to our hearts, we mourn them longer than crying three times? It almost makes Qin Shi look disrespectful and insincere in a sense because he doesn’t mourn his dear friend for very long. Qin Shi does have an explanation for his behavior and Zhuangzi agrees with him because it shows one of the Daoist ways of life. He says, “[a] little while ago, when I went in to mourn, I found old men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a son, and young men weeping for him as though they were weeping for a mother. To have gathered a group like that, he must have done something to make them talk about him, though he didn’t ask them to talk, or make them weep for him, though he didn’t ask them to weep” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Qin Shi is trying to say that although he was a great friend of Laozi, he wouldn’t want him to waste too much time mourning his loss. Qin Shi goes on to explain that Laozi knew that it was his time to go and that weeping for him in such a manner would be committing the crime of hiding from Heaven. This meant that you would believe that everyone should have the chance to live forever, but the Daoist way of belief is that you are “being freed from the bonds of God” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Qin Shi knows that you can’t deviate from the cycle of life. You will lose people you love, but as long as that person was content with the way that they lived their life, then he believes that it isn’t possible for joy or grief to penetrate. It’s almost a modernistic way of thinking about death for the time that this was written. We all know that it is hard to lose the ones that we love, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t continue to live with us even after they are gone. It means that we are able to cherish the memories that they left behind with us. Are we ever truly gone? Qin Shi stated “[t]hough the grease burns out of the torch, the fire passes on, and no one knows where it ends” (“Zhuangzi”, 1384). Was this a possible hint to the belief in the afterlife. I mean, we don’t really have any evidence that proves that we don’t go to an afterlife when we die because no one has the chance to come back and tell us all what happened. It isn’t guaranteed that we won’t see each other ever again, so maybe Zhuangzi wants us to take note by saying that we should be present and not worry about what we could possibly lose. Maybe we should cherish each moment as if it were our last and we will never have to wonder if we feared missing out on anything.

 

The “Way”

It is important to note that the “Way” is a very important symbol and belief in the Daoist religion. Chapter 22 Knowledge Wandered North discusses the “Way” in many different terms. Master Dongguo approaches Zhuangzi one day and asks him where the “Way” exists. Zhuangzi replies that the “Way” exists everywhere (“Zhuangzi”, 1393). I might be going too far, but I would compare the “Way” to being the same as “dharma” or “God.” We are always told that it is everywhere and that it exists within all different forms of beings, but we never know if there is a true face or identity to this being. Zhuangzi does however argue that the “Way” won’t be in any particular place at a given time. It does what it pleases and is in harmony with nature. Zhuangzi almost has a hard time with people who wish to complicate situations or life. Zhuangzi believed in living a simple life and not questioning how things are meant to be. We all should just go with the flow and not try to manipulate aspects of our life. Our life is meant to be lived according to the “Way” and if we don’t follow the “Way” we are only complicating our lives.

Taoism01.jpg (400×300) (brewminate.com)

Works Cited

Clasquin-Johnson, Dr. Michel. “Taoism: The Way.” Brewminate, 21 Jan. 2017, brewminate.com/taoism-the-way/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20Way%E2%80%9D%20The%20central%20concept%20in%20Taoism%20is,play%20like%20ever-changing%20cloud%20formations%20or%20restless%20waves.

Mambrol, Nasrullah. “The Philosophy of Zhuangzi.” Literary Theory and Criticism, 21 Apr. 2019, literariness.org/2019/04/21/the-philosophy-of-zhuangzi/.

“Zhuangzi.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, by Martin Puchner et al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2019.

Checking in on Li Bo

Earth is a strange place. We come here every year to check on him, our son, to make sure he’s doing well. We’d take him back with us, back to his life on our planet, but he’s been on Earth ever since he was a baby, sent there in a ship that wasn’t supposed to be open. By the time we finally found him, he was an adult. They had given him one of their human names: Li Bo. And while he might be ready to learn of our existence, the rest of them certainly are not. We can’t risk it. So, there’s not much we can do but keep our ship high in the sky and try to spot him with our telescope.

And they haven’t been good to him. It makes it all the harder to not land and take him away from this cruel place. Away from that horrible drink they give him that made him lose his job at the Hanlin Academy. Poor Li couldn’t get enough of it. Away from all the violence and bloodshed. and all these humans’ silly little rebellions (one of the strangest parts about humans to me is just how much they seem to want to hurt each other). And now they’ve exiled him, forced him into isolation and loneliness. I wish so badly that we could save him.

At least he has his poetry.

We’ve managed to translate most of it. Our telescopes are powerful enough to see it even from all the way up here. I can’t imagine how lonely he must feel after reading this one:

The floor before my bed is bright:

Moonlight-like hoarfrost-in my room.

I lift my head and watch the moon.

I drop my head and think of home.

I like to imagine he thinks of his real home. But I know that’s impossible. There’s no way he would know of it. But there is the matter of the moonlight. He seems to like the moon very well. There’s another poem we’ve translated with this passage inside.

I drink alone, no friend with me.

I raise my cup to invite the moon.

He and my shadow and I make three.

He views it as a friend, that glowing rock in his sky. I suppose it makes sense that one of our kind would not be accepted well among them. He seems to be capable of talking with them to some extent (if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have gotten that job at the academy in the first place). But he’s always looking to the sky in these poems. Perhaps looking to us, even if he doesn’t know it. He enjoys mountains as well, the closest humans seem to be able to get to the sky. This poem is one of my personal favorites.

The flocks of birds have flown high and away,

A solitary cloud goes off calmly alone.

We look at each other and never get bored-

Just me and Jingting Mountain.

What a nice one. Very calming to me. It seems that the closer he is to the sky, the closer he is to us, the happier he seems to be. Another one I enjoy is his one about the mountain, Heaven’s Crone. It is about a dream, but humans seem to put a lot of importance on dreams. When Li has a dream about a mountain, about meeting the sun and the moon at its peak, I have to believe that it matters to him. But then, it evaporates, gone when he awakes.

When I leave you now, you go,-when will you ever return?

He doesn’t seem to enjoy Earth much past how close it can get him to the sky. No wonder he can’t get enough of that drink, no wonder he says in another poem that

All I want is to stay dead drunk

and never sober up.

He talks about the violence, too. The wars humans seem intent on fighting for little reason. There’s another poem where he says

Beacon fires blaze without ceasing,

the marching and battle never end…

The troops lie mud-smeared in grasses,

and the general acted all in vain.

Now I truly see that weapons

are evil’s tools…

No wonder he wants back to us! No wonder he’s so obsessed with the moon and the sun and the mountains! All this bloodshed and war! Exile and isolation! Earth is truly a strange, horrible place. Could Li have gone somewhere worse than this blue and green planet in the least developed galaxy in the universe?

And he must know about us! He must know we’re up here, watching him, worrying about him! He says very clearly in another poem

…there are other earths and skies than these.

What else could that be referring to but our planet? Our skies? He must know about us, and he must be longing for us! Oh, Li Bo! We miss him terribly!

But I don’t know for certain that we would be able to please him. Or even that he would be any happier than he is on Earth. We aren’t as violent or destructive as humans are, certainly. We don’t have that drink that ruins him. And maybe his love for the sky and the mountains is a longing for us. But there is one thing we can’t give him.

All pleasures in our mortal world

are also just like this,

whatever has happened since ancient times

is the water flowing east.

Despite all our advancements, we are still mortal. Perhaps Li isn’t looking for us. Perhaps he’s looking for something greater than we can give him. Something eternal and peaceful. Something we can’t really give him. Perhaps, even if he were to live on our world, his poetry would remain the same. There’s too much that mortal existence cannot give him. He would always be discontent.

I think it’s time for us to go now. But we’ll be back next year to check in on him again.

I hope one day, he will be content.

 

Source:

The Norton Anthology of World Literature, by Martin Puchner et al., B, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 1116–1123.