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  • The Tribesmen Dispatch
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

tais tair jīvopahārair iha kuharaśilāsaṃśrayām arcayitvā    devīṃ kāntāradurgāṃ rudhiramupataru kṣetrapālāya datvātumbīvīṇāvinodavyavahitasarakām ahni jīrṇe purāṇīṃ    hālāṃ mālūrakoṣair yuvatisahacarā barbarāḥ śīlayanti

  • taiḥ taiḥ. by them

  • jīva. of live creatures

  • upahāraiḥ. sacrifices, sacrifice of living beings

  • iha. here

  • kuhara. hollow

  • śilā. rock, crag

  • saṃśrayām. dwelling, sheltering

  • arcayitvā. praising

  • devīṃ. goddess

  • kāntāra-durgā. wilderness Durgā (the goddess in her most dangerous aspect)

  • rudhiram. of blood

  • upataru. draughts, sloshes

  • kṣetra-pālāya. to the “field-protector” or tree-spirit

  • datvā. giving

  • tumbī-vīṇā. gourd-lute

  • vinoda. sporting, playing

  • vyavahita. alternating, stopping and starting

  • sarakām. passing (the liquor) about

  • ahni. on festival day

  • jīrṇe. late (in the day)

  • purāṇīṃ. the old way, in the tradition

  • hālāṃ. liquor

  • mālūrakoṣaiḥ. in the bilva-fruit husk

  • yuvati-saha-carā. dancing with their women

  • barbarāḥ. tribesmen (see our English word “barbarian”)

  • śīlayanti. repeatedly doing [End Page 68]

The tribesmen dispatchcreature afterliving creature to Durgā,goddess who dwells in a craggy wilderness grotto.They slosh the blood on a field-spirit tree.Then joined by their women at duskgo wild to the gourd-lutestopping just to pass liquor around—the old way—in a bilva fruit husk.

In addition to his ethnographer’s eye, Yogeśvara had a constant hunger for locating early forms of music or song. His tone is even—not appalled at the sacrifice of animals, not alarmed by frenzy or hard drinking—quick to notice details such as the “old way” (purāṇīṃ) to pass drink around. The ceremony he describes still exists in re mote parts of Eastern India, or did so until recently.

In 1993 a friend and I visited Gond tribal districts in Orissa State, a bit south of Yogeśvara’s Bengal. Beyond the clustered, thatch-roofed village huts in the scrub jungle stood decorated spirit trees and stockades for sacrificing buffalo. Well-tramped tiny dance grounds lay in front of the stockades, and clay pots hung high off the trunks of the tall, thin toddy-palm trees. These collected the sap fermented for liquor. British authorities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries discouraged the rituals held next to the spirit trees but did not forbid them. In Orissa, missionaries tried to substitute Presbyterian churches for the ancient church of field and forest, but had limited success. The “old ways” ceremonies still take place, but wary tribal people melt away when outsiders arrive. Visitors seem less welcome than in Yogeśvara’s day.

Durgā is the renowned Indian goddess; in certain iconographic prayers, she is called kāntārā, of the wilderness. My guess is that in countless locations the pan-Indian name Durgā (Difficult-to-Approach) got laid over a tribal deity. Here her grotto is a rock crevasse or hollow, probably a local site, near where Yogeśvara studied the ceremony. [End Page 69]

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...


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