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  • Rainy Nights
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

durdinaniśīthapavane niḥsaṃcārāsu nagaravīthiṣupatyau videśayāte paraṃ sukhaṃ jaghanacapalāyāḥ

  • durdina. rainy day, bad weather

  • niśītha. night

  • pavane. (loc. abs. when [there are] night winds and rainy weather) wind

  • niḥsaṃcārāsu. deserted, empty of walkers (with streets)

  • nagara. city

  • vīthiṣu. (loc. abs.) (f.) streets, market

  • patyau. (loc. abs. when my husband) husband

  • videśa. abroad, another land

  • yāte. (loc. abs.) has gone

  • paraṃ. supreme, great

  • sukhaṃ. pleasure, delight, happily

  • jaghana-capalā. (bv. cmpd.) woman who moves (shakes) her hips; sexually exuberant

  • jaghana. hips, buttocks, loins, vulva

  • capalā. (f.) moving about, quavering, inconstant [End Page 98]

Rainy nightsthe city streets desertedhusband travelingin a far-off land.This is when Jaghanacapalā rejoicesshe likes to sleeparound.

The key to this poem is a compound word, jaghanacapalā, which means a shaking of the hips or loins (or buttocks or vulva). The way it appears here, with a feminine ending, makes it a bahuvṛhi compound: woman who rocks her loins. Colloquially, this means something like “who sleeps around” or, more playfully, who shakes her tail feathers. But there is more. The poem shows up in an anthology attributed to a woman identified as Jaghanacapalā. This means that any reading since at least the twelfth century—the date of the anthology in which the poem appears—has taken it for a proper name as well as a woman’s description. Hence it carries two meanings, and you need to translate both to get the force, the śakti, of the verse.

There’s a further twist. Jaghanacapalā is also the name of a poetic meter or rhythm in Sanskrit, the two-line pattern this poem occurs in. Sanskrit metrical patterns carry vivid names, which must originate in dance. Others are śārdūla-vikrīḍita (tiger’s play), Girl with a Ball, and so forth. The first handbook of India’s art, the Natyaśāstra of Bharata Muni, traces the origins of art to a sacred theater—founded as a “Fifth Veda” by Brahma the Creator—that included dance, music, poetry, costume, and stagecraft. (A good translation of this origin myth appears in Daumal p. 43.) In the surviving dramas of Sanskrit, of which there are a great many, at moments of poignant or intense emotion, an actor breaks into dance, accompanied by music and the ceremonial recitation of a poem. Jaghanacapalā as a metrical pattern would have begun with the dance of a dramatic character and a poem that perhaps regulated her footwork.

The classical poets saw this as a particular skill, not easy to accomplish: working into a poem the name of its meter. This seems quite postmodern—like the painter Jasper Johns affixing to his canvas one of his rulers; or using a Savarin coffee can filled with paintbrushes for his Painted Bronze sculpture. [End Page 99]

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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