The Penguin Book of Classical Indian Love Stories and Lyrics

The Penguin Book of Classical Indian Love Stories and Lyrics

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Book Specification

Item Code: IHL338
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 9780140258875
Pages: 258
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.8 Inch X 5.0 Inch

Book Description


Kamadeva’s arrows of love were made of flowers. His divine commander was vasanta (spring), who brought the trees and flowers into blossom and softened all creation for the sweet, irresistible attack of the god of love.

This nature-god is most in tune with India’s Classical Age (roughly, the first thousand years AD), a time when the land was dominated by forests teeming with bird and animal life, and the human population was comparatively small and scattered. Countless kingdoms, large and small, made up the rich bejewelled pattern of India. Around the kings palace or fort grew small towns and bazaars and caravanserais for travellers, but just outside the city gates there was considerable verdure, with areas of cultivation fringing the great forests. This was a fit setting for the great legends and romances of gods and heroes and heroines. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata belonged to the earlier, Epic Age, but they provided stories that continued to be told and retold, culminating in Kalidasa’s great verse-drama, Shakuntala, written in the early years of the new millennium. The great achievement of Shakuntala is in part due to its creator’s love of nature. He is at his best in the lyrical passages describing the flora and fauna of the land. Shakuntala herself is half bird, her name being derived from the shakuntas or birds with which she held such easy converse.

Shakuntala is romantic and escapist, but this is not always the case with other writings of the period. The Classical Age saw the flourishing of the Sanskrit language, with an outpouring of poetry and drama. And Kamadeva was no chubby, infant Cupid. He was a mischievous, dexterous, youthful deity. His presence, visible or invisible, is felt in almost every story, love poem or prose work.

The literature of love and the literature of love—making are different. In the stories, poems and extracts presented here we find passion, desire, tenderness, jealousy, sensuality, even platonic love. But the art of love—making, described so inexhaustibly (exhaustingly?) in Vatsayana’s Kamasutra (fourth century AD) does not really fall in the purview of this collection. It is not so much a story as a manual of sexual prowess. And it is easily available everywhere in many handsome editions.

In making this selection, I was looking for love literature that was not too well-known but which, nevertheless, was of high quality. Naturally I drew upon legend and folklore, of which there is a fair sampling; upon recent translations of classical Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada literature; upon retellings from the epics; and upon some of the formative literature of the last century. Even then, I felt that something was missing—some tantalizing fragment, forgotten, neglected, unknown to me (and probably to the general reader) and which in some way sought to draw attention to itself.

Can a book draw attention to itself? Can an author reach out across the centuries, tap you on the shoulder, and say, ‘Don’t forget me. I, too, had something to say on the subject. The idea is fanciful. Scholars search and discover, but I’m no scholar, I wait for the lucky find.

And as luck would have it—or perhaps the mischievous Kamadeva, who has often numbered me among his victims, came to my rescue—I chanced upon a copy of E. Powys -Mathers’ English version (1927) of the Kuttanimayam of Damodaragupta, and the love poems of two Sanskrit poets, Amaru and Mayura, also translated by Mathers.

The story ‘The Loves of Haralata and Sundarasena’ is taken from Damodaragupta’s little—known work, written in the eighth century AD. Nothing seems to be known of the author; and this appears to be but a fragment of his output. It is based on Louis de Langle’s French translation.

When this story was written, we are told, the condition of the wife was negligible. She passed, at a far too early age, from the authority of the mother to that of her mother—in—law. She was despised if she remained childless; and, if she became a widow, she was not expected to survive her widowing.

The courtesan could only benefit from the wife’s lack independence. Her liberty was apparently protected by ‘law; she could give or refuse herself. She was often able to obtain an education denied to the wife, and this education as both an attraction and a protection. She became more and more the ideal——‘the one for whom to commit immortal fo1lies’.

And yet, wrote Louis de Langle, ‘Being at once both sensual and a mystic, the Hindu always asked too much of very luxurious circumstance, an agitation of passion ...he also expected sincerity and love. His too intense desire overleapt its object, and then reason proclaimed that object. be illusion.’

I think this helps us to know a little more about Damodaragupta’s thinking, and to reconcile his savage bitterness with the tenderness running through his story.

Amaru was held in great esteem as a poet of the phases love: desire and attainment, estrangement and reconciliation, joy and sorrow. He was one of the supreme early lyric poets of India. He lived around AD 800. There is a legend that Amaru was the hundred and first reincarnation of a soul which had previously occupied a hundred women. From a reading of his poems we can see how this legend might have arisen!

Mayura, who flourished in the first half of the seventh century, was a favourite of King Harsha (AD 606-647), but only a few erotic fragments of his work remain. The poems of Amaru and Mayura come from the Powys Mathers volume on ‘Eastern Love’.

To turn to other works that add lustre to this collection, the recent translation by T.R.S. Sharma of Janna’s Kannada classic, Tale of the Glory—Bearer, is represented by an extract which tells the story of the unfaithful queen who had an affair with a mahout, reputed to be the ugliest man in the kingdom. Physical deformities pale into insignificance when the chemistry between two people is just right!

Janna was a Jain poet of the twelfth and thirteenth century AD. He was the chief court poet of the Hoysala King, Veeraballala. Versions of this story are also found in Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil.

The Tamil classic, Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet) by Prince Ilango Adigal, in the translation by Alain Danielou, is evocative in its descriptions of life in ancient India. The author was a Jain prince of the third century. Included in this selection is an extract from his verse epic in which he tells the story of young Kovalan who leaves his loyal wife Kannaki for the courtesan Madhavi. But the law of karma governs our lives, and Kovalam dies as a result of his infidelity.

Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagar is a treasure-trove of stories, as its title ‘Ocean of Stories’ suggests. Worldly pleasure and power are the principal themes of this work. Arshia Sattar’s recent translation from the Sanskrit provides the story ‘The Courtesan Who Fell in Love’.

In going through some nineteenth century retellings of legend and folklore, I have made selections from The Indian Antiquary which was edited in the 1880s and 1890s by Lt. Col. Sir Richard Temple. This learned journal brought together some wonderful tales from Punjab, Kashmir, Bengal, Gujarat, and other parts of western, central and southern India. Contributors to these now rare volumes Included Flora Annie Steel, Putlibai Wadia, and G.H.; Damant. Damant was a Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills who fell victim to the rebel Mozema Nagas during an uprising of that tribe in October 1879. Flora Annie Steel’ married a member of the Indian Civil Service and came to India in 1868. Her best known novel was On the Face of the, waters (1896), a balanced study of the 1857 uprising. Her tales from the Punjab (1894) was a unique collection of retellings of oral legends.

Another civil servant who interested himself in Indian history and folklore was C.A. Kincaid. His many books included Deccan Nursery Tales and A History of the Maratha People. In his Tales of Old Ind he retold many of the romantic love stories of Sindh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab. Of the stories presented here, ‘Momul and Rano’ and ‘Umar and Marai’ are Sindhi in origin. ‘Hir and Ranjho’ - and ‘Suhni and Mehar’ come from the Punjab.

In 1920, Shovana Devi (all I have is her name) brought but a little volume called Tales of the Gods, which gives us brief but charming renderings of some of the well—known tales from the epics, including the Shakuntala legend. (Kalidasa’s verse drama is too long for inclusion here, and an extract would not have done justice to this seven-act play. But included is this great Sanskrit poet’s other famous work, Meghadutam (The Cloud-Messenger) in the translation by Chandra Rajan. A lover—beloved relationship it implied between the earth and her cloud—lover, and the world sustaining cloud also acts as a foil to the poem’s hero, the passionate, love-sick yaksha.

Back of the Book

A compilation of love stories and poems from the classical literature and folklore of India.

Set in regions of great natural beauty where Kamadeva, the god of love, picks his victims with consummate ease, these stories and lyrics celebrate the myriad aspects of love. In addition to relatively well-known works like Kalidasa’s Meghadutam and Prince Ilango Adigal’s Shilappadikaram, the collection features lesser-known writers of ancient India like Damodaragupta (eighth century AD), whose ‘Loves of Haralata and Sundarasena’ is about a high-born man’s doomed affair with a courtesan; Janna (twelfth century), whose Tale of the Glory-Bearer is extracted here for the story of a queen whose betrays her handsome husband for a mahout, reputed to be the ugliest man in the kingdom; and the Sanskrit poets Amaru and Mayura (seventh century), whose lyrics display an astonishing perspective on the tenderness, the fierce passion and the playful savagery of physical love. Also featured are charming stories of Hindu gods and goddesses in love, and nineteenth-century retellings of folk tales from different regions of the country like Kashmir, Punjab, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Both passionate and sensuous in its content, this book is sure to appeal to the romantic in all of us.


Introduction xi
Meghadutam .... Kalidasa 1
The Approach of Spring .... Ilango Adigal 32
Love Poems .... Mayura 41
The Loves of Haralata and Sundarasena .... Damodaragupta 46
The Queen and the Mahout .... Janna 71
Dushmanta and Shahuntaia .... Shovana Devi 98
Love Poems .... Amaru 120
Pururava and Urvashi…Shovana Devi 143
The Hero and the Nymph
(Classical version—Ka1idasa) .... Shovana Devi 145
Soma and Tara .... Shovana Devi 153
Samvarana and Tapati . .Shovana Devi 155
The Ashvins and Surya ...Shovana Devi 157
Damayanti and Her Divine Suitors . . Shovana Devi 158
Love Conquers All .... Ruskin Bond 161
Gwashbrari and Westarwan .... Flora Annie Steel 169
The Story of Khamba and Thoibi .... G. H. Damart 171
The Artist’s Stratagem or The Princess Who Was Resolved Never to Marry… Putlibai D.H. Wadia 188
Princess Pepperina .... Flora Annie Steel 197
Baludada and Bayobai .... Fr. D’Penha 203
Suhni and Mehar…C.A. Kincaid 211
Hir and Ranjho….C.A. Kincaid 217
Umar and Marai…C.A. Kincaid 224
Momul and Rano….C.A. Kincaid 230
Sample Pages

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