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Shining with the Luster

From: Manoa
Volume 25, Issue 2, 2013
pp. 2-3 | 10.1353/man.2013.0048

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Shining with the Luster

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śaradindusundararuciś cetasi sā me girāṃ devīapahṛtya tamaḥ saṃtatam arthān akhilān prakāśayatu

  • śarad. autumn

  • indu. moon

  • sundara. beauty

  • ruciḥ. splendor, brightness

  • cetasi. on the heart

  • . she

  • me. my, of me

  • girāṃ. of language

  • devī. goddess

  • apahṛtya. having removed

  • tamaḥ. darkness

  • saṃtatam. covering, extending, all-encompassing

  • arthān. things, elements

  • akhilān. without gap, nothing left out, all

  • prakāśayatu. let (her) illuminate or reveal [End Page 2]

Shining with the lusterof moon in autumnmay She, Goddess Language,stripping from myheart the endless woven darkness,cast the nature of allthings into light.

Viśvanātha opens his fourteeth-century Sahitya Darpaṇa (Mirror of Composition) with this invocation. His book is a volume of poetics, demonstrating how poetry works. In classical India, where all crafts or arts fulfilled a spiritual purpose, this meant it was also a book of yoga wisdom, liberation being the goal. Hence his Mirror is viewed as a poetry-spirit handbook. Viśvanātha invites the blessing of the deity who guides his writing. To open one’s book with a stuti (praise poem) would be traditional and necessary for success. Benedictions remove obstacles to important work. Gir Devī, or Goddess Language, is Sarasvatī, who cares for three interrelated arts—poetry, music, and scholarship. She rides a swan—its beating wings the principles of breath and rhythm—and in her hands she holds a book and a vīṇā, a stringed musical instrument.

Old India, civilized as she is, stands far closer to the archaic than to our contemporary post-postmodern world. Archaic cultures hold deep-rooted beliefs in the power of language. Prayer, invocation, mantra, benediction, vow, curse, love charm—these are not merely expressive statements or poetic flourishes. They are language-magic tools; poets consider them effective, even irreversible. In our current world, language is regarded as contested territory, something that can fetter human freedom—“the prison house of language.” Viśvanātha sees human utterance the way poets do: a field of liberation. The goddess who animates it can strip from one’s heart the tamas (darkness) that is saṃtatam (all-covering, woven, spread over). At the same time, Viśvanātha asks her to illuminate all things (artha). Artha can also be defined as “meaning,” as in the meaning of a word or poem. Reveal things and their meanings, he asks: things in their original nature. [End Page 3]

Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling, born in 1953 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., has written, edited, or translated twenty books. Early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, plus an encounter with India’s texts, set him on a lifelong engagement with Asian literature. He studied Sanskrit at the University of California at Berkeley, and began to translate from its classical poetry tradition around 1978. His first book, Dropping the Bow: Poems of Ancient India, received the Academy of American Poets translation award in 1992, the first time the Academy had honored work done from an Asian language. Schelling’s own poetry and essays emerge from the Southern Rocky Mountain bioregion in which he lives. Recent books of poetry wrangle with the Arapaho language as a way of reading landscape and the natural cycles; they include From the Arapaho Songbook and A Possible Bag. He has edited The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature and Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual and Erotic Longing (forthcoming from Counterpoint Press). Living on the Front Range of Colorado, he is active on land-use issues and teaches at Naropa University. He also teaches regularly at Deer Park Institute, in India’s Himalayan foothills.