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Kama's Flowers

Nature in Hindi Poetry and Criticism, 1885-1925

Valerie Ritter

Publication Year: 2011

Explores the transformation of Hindi poetry as it reflects a changing society during the period from 1885-1925. Kama’s Flowers documents the transformation of Hindi poetry during the crucial period of 1885-1925. As Hindi was becoming a national language and Indian nationalism was emerging, Hindi authors articulated a North Indian version of modernity by revisioning Nature. While their writing has previously been seen as an imitation of European Romanticism, Valerie Ritter shows its unique and particular function in North India. Description of the natural world recalled traditional poetics, particularly erotic and devotional poetics, but was now used to address socio-political concerns, as authors created literature to advocate for a “national character” and to address a growing audience of female readers. Examining Hindi classics, translations from English poetry, literary criticism, and little-known popular works, Ritter combines translations with fresh literary analysis to show the pivotal role of nature in how modernity was understood. Bringing a new body of literature to English-language readers, Kama’s Flowers also reveals the origins of an influential visual culture that resonates today in Bollywood cinema.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. ix-xviii

The title of this book refers to the God of Love, Kåma, the personification of the classical Sanskrit conception of desire and pleasure, one of the basic aims of human life (puruṣārtha). Kåma as a concept encompasses all things concerned with pleasure and refinement, including both enjoyment of the arts and erotics. It is of course the realm of life described...

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pp. xix-xx

I owe my primary debts to those who shepherded me through my graduate work several years ago, from which the kernel of the idea of this book was born. Foremost has been Michael C. Shapiro, to whom I am grateful for years of intellectual guidance, professional advice, and good etymological jokes. I thank Sagaree Sengupta for taking me under...

Transliteration Conventions and Abbreviations

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pp. xxi

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Note on Translations

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

This book presents many translations of Hindi literary texts in the literary dialect of Braj Bhāṣā, and in other varieties of spoken and textual modern Hindi, sometimes in the spoken standard of Khaṛī Bolī, and sometimes highly Sanskritized. Many of these translations are of poetry, much of which was written in meter. These facts present several quandaries for...


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pp. xxv

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1. Terms of Engagement: A Guide to the Assumptions of Hindi Poetics

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pp. 1-32

To approach the subject of this book, several basic questions need to be addressed, both for the uninitiated reader of Hindi texts, and for the scholar of Hindi who is reading the poetry of 1885–1925 anew. These questions are: What was the poetic background out of which Hindi poets composed? What would the term “modern Hindi poetry” signify at the...

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2. Critical Nature: Defining Hindi Poetic Modernity

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pp. 33-63

Nature is a category of literary criticism in Hindi that has been surprisingly constant and of surprisingly vast ontological proportions. It is the subject of many chapters and entire books within Hindi literary studies, and appears countless times in Hindi literary criticism as a signal of literary modernity, and a signal of progress toward realism, away...

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3. Nature in Translation: Goldsmith and Pope in Hindi

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pp. 65-90

What did colonial authors make of English literature? This is a question essential to any examination of the part that English literary Nature played in Hindi’s own transforming literary Nature, and critical assessments of it. The question of what Hindi authors took, or not, from English literature is a deeply complex question. The history of translation...

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4. Realizing Classical Poetics: Recasting Sanskritic Landscapes

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pp. 91-115

Studies of landscape painting and poetic description in nineteenth-century Britain and its colonies have linked perspective and frame with power. The picturesque, more than simply a pleasing view, has been shown to be an object of a sort of Lacanian gaze: to frame a landscape was to dominate it. More importantly in our context here, the mimetic quality...

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5. Independent Subjects: Modern Modes of Nature as a Literary Subject

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pp. 117-142

This chapter will address the poetry of two members of the Dvivedī and Chāyāvād generations, respectively: Hariaudh and Jayaśaṅkar Prasād. Both wrote contemporaneously in the 1910s, the former as a middle-aged man, the latter as a somewhat renegade youth. The juxtaposition of these two poets will strike some as odd—most people dissociate the two, seen...

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6. Embodying the World: A Macrocosm of Natural Objects

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pp. 143-159

This chapter will pair a rather unlikely combination of poems, dating between 1912–1920, which implemented nature for two often intertwined ends: the spiritualism that was to be a defining feature of Indian arts of the early twentieth century generally, and the nationalism that swept the subcontinent with Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement. Indeed, nature...

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7. Women Problems: Poetics without Śṛṅgāra

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pp. 161-194

How did moderns accommodate both śṛṅgāra, the classical erotic literary mode, and the precepts of propriety regarding girls and women? We might say, anachronistically, that the śṛṅgāra tradition exemplifies a “male gaze,” much like other pre-modern poetry. Certainly, śṛṅgārik poetry was written largely by and for males, for their pleasure and aesthetic...

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8. A Critical Interlude: Rāmacandra Śukla and “Natural Scenes in Poetry” (1923)

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pp. 195-218

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Rāmacandra Śukla (1884–1941) to Hindi literary history. His name is mentioned in every college Hindi literature course, and his programmatic history of Hindi and its literature has endured until the present day. His History of Hindi Literature (Hindī sāhitya kā itihās) looms large in the Hindi literary...

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9. The Prospect of Chāyāvād, 1920–25: Developing Perspectives on Natural Poetics

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pp. 219-242

In the passage above, Pant describes the transition Hindi poetry had made, from being a child as Braj Bhāṣā to a full-blown, pollinated flower as Khaṛī Bolī, in his generation-defining introduction to his Pallav of 1926. The auspicious imagery of nubile desirability and connubiality of this passage—Nature herself has applied the blessing-mark of pollen to the...

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Concluding Remarks

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pp. 243-249

I began this work by articulating the several complicating and, as I have shown, determining cultural-historical factors for modern Hindi poetry, in the under-analyzed period of 1885–1925. Sociocultural linguistic matters dominated the very idea of Hindi, and these matters defined in turn the qualities of Hindi poetry. Modern Hindi poetry was at first launched as...


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pp. 251-296

Select Bibliography

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pp. 297-307


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pp. 309-340

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435671
E-ISBN-10: 1438435673
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435657
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435657

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011