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 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)
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)
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)
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)
This poem highlights very heavy emotions such as despair, anger, and abandonment. (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)
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.
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
Image 1: Indian Woman Painting (Pinterest)
Image 2: Hippie (Pinterest)
(The rest of the images were created by me.)