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  • Not Knowing Me
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

nīlotpaladalaśyāmāṃ vijjikāṃ māmājānatāvṛthaiva daṇḍinā proktaṃ sarvaśuklā sarasvatī

  • nīla-utpala. blue lotus

  • dala. petal

  • śyāmāṃ. (f.) dark

  • vijjikāṃ. Vijjikā, or the poet Vidyā

  • māma. of me

  • ajānatā. (adj. with Dandin) not knowing, ignorant

  • vṛthā. falsely, frivolously

  • eva. indeed

  • daṇḍinā. by Dandin (a renowned critic)

  • proktaṃ. said, declared

  • sarva. entirely, completely, all

  • śuklā. white

  • sarasvatī. Sarasvatī, goddess of poetry, learning, and music [End Page 32]

Not knowing me,Vidyā,dark as a blue lotus petal,the critic Dandindeclared our goddess of verse-craft and learning entirely white.

The verse from Dandin reads, nityaṃ sarvaśuklā sarasvatī: Sarasvatī eternally (or entirely) white. Sarasvatī is the devī who presides over poetry, music, and scholarship; her name means She-Who-Flows, as language and music flow through time. Her iconography typically depicts her features and clothing as white.

Little information on Vidyā is reliable. Based on this verse, some critics suggest she lived in the south of India, where complexions tend to be darker and skintones can have a blue cast. She has been called the Sarasvatī of Karnataka, a state in India’s southeast.

Is the poem boastful? It is hard for me to see why Vidyā would bother to flaunt a dark (śyāmā) coloring, even if it is a splendid floral blue (nīla) associated with Krishna. I wonder if she’s not delivering a deeper rebuke to the critic. For those who think careful craftsmanship, adherence to rules of grammar and metrics, and a classically trained use of adornments make poetry, Vidyā could be declaring that poems also emerge from troubled wells of experience, and are not simply those that are unstained. (Śuklā, a common woman’s name, also means pure or unsullied.) Ruptures in language or violations of convention—such as Vidyā’s mixing religious, erotic, and funerary language—would be part of the poet’s work: twilight speech. Unfortunately only thirty of her lyrics survive, collected into anthologies long after her time—not enough for us to gauge the dimensions of her life, under what conditions she wrote, or how much. [End Page 33]

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.



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