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  • Nights of Jasmine and Thunder
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

yaḥ kaumāraharaḥ sa eva hi varastā eva caitrakṣapāste conmilitamālatīsurabhayaḥ prauḍhāḥ kadambānilāḥsā caivāsmi tathāpi dhairya suratavyāpāralīlāvidhaurevārodhasi vetasītarutale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate

  • yaḥ [and] sa. he who

  • kaumāra-haraḥ. virginity-taker

  • eva hi. surely, still indeed

  • varastā. (m.) lover

  • eva. also

  • caitra-kṣapāḥ. nights of Caitra, the spring month

  • te. these (are)

  • ca. and

  • unmilita-mālatī. blossomed-jasmine

  • surabhayaḥ. fragrances (with winds)

  • prauḍhāḥ. (we are) married, middle-aged

  • kadambā-nilāḥ. kadamba-tree winds

  • . she, the woman

  • ca. also

  • eva. surely, still

  • asmi. I am

  • tathā-api. thus, why, how is it

  • dhairya. unending

  • surata-vyāpāra. lovemaking-occupied

  • līlā-vidhau. game-traditions

  • revā-rodhasi. on the banks of Reva (Nārmadā) River

  • vetasī. cane, rushes, reeds

  • taru. groves

  • tale. ground, banks

  • cetaḥ. (my) heart

  • samutkaṇṭhate. mourns, pines (literally, lifts up the throat) [End Page 72]

Nights of jasmine and thunder,torn petals,wind in the tangled kadamba trees—nothing has changed.Spring comes again and we’vesimply grown older.In the cane groves of Nārmadā Riverhe deflowered mygirlhood before we weremarried.And I grieve for those faraway nightswe played at loveby the water.

An early glimpse into eco-poetics. The elements of nature, specific and familiar, conspire in the speaker’s memory with the mood of love. Plants, wind, thunder, the seasons, the river. Lady Śīlābhaṭṭārikā eroticizes the bioregion or, from another perspective, ritualizes, sanctifies the landscape. Most Indians know the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) as an emblem of Krishna. In Punjabi miniature paintings or the wall paintings of Mithila, the tree is an emblem of his presence.

There is a second version of the poem, very close in vocabulary and temper. Yet the two poems observe the geography from different perspectives.

The Man Who First Took My Flower

The man who firsttook my flower isstill with me.The moon-drenched nights have returned. [End Page 73] Fresh jasmine blows in fromthe Vindhya Rangeand the girl is still me.But her heart?It grieves for those nightswe stole off to the riverbankand made love in thecane grovesforever.

Thinking this over ten years ago, I wrote something like the following.

According to one critic, the first version has a flaw. Poetry handbooks do not permit the mālatī, a jasmine, to bloom in Caitra, the lunar month March to April. If Śīlā got her botany wrong, the complaints would be a sound eco-criticism of her best poem.

Or is it possible that Śīlābhaṭṭārikā’s poem, which was selected by Śarṅgadhara for his anthology five hundred years after she wrote it, became scrambled, misremembered, or rewritten along the way? Perhaps by someone not familiar with botanical detail? Śīlā certainly recalls the mālatī blooming—blooming the season she would make love all night on the riverbank as a girl. But having aged, has she confused the lunar month of Caitra with another?

Sanskrit’s rich vocabulary is full of words with complex overtones. Several meanings may easily meet in a single term, so no word-by-word translation is likely to match the original. Dictionaries, for instance, give mālatī (jasmine) the additional meaning of “virgin.” The scent of jasmine, the newly opened flower releasing its fragrance. The image also refers to the poet herself, those far-off nights of Caitra.

The second version is from Vidyākara’s Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa. How could it be so much the same and yet so different? It invokes a different geographic feature. Was it meant to answer a criticism leveled at the first version? Could one have been a draft?

Having gone into the jasmine-scented darkness, into the dictionary, into the poet’s rhythm—set in the meter known as śārdūla-vikrīdita (tiger’s play)—to me, both poems seem necessary. Which would you discard? The moon-drenched nights (candra-garbaniśā), or the breeze scented with kadamba blossoms (kadambā-nilāḥ)? If you could have only one, which...


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pp. 72-74
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