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  • Jayadeva, Chief Poet on Pilgrimage
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

vāgdevatācaritacitritacittasadmā    padmāvatīcaraṇacāraṇacakravartīśrīvāsudevaratikelikathāsametam    etaṃ karoti jayadevakaviḥ prabandham

  • vāk. Goddess of Speech

  • devatā. goddess

  • carita. rhythms

  • citrita. various

  • citta. heart

  • sadmā. dwelling in

  • padmāvatī. Jayadeva’s wife

  • caraṇa. feet

  • cāraṇa. pilgrim, wanderer

  • cakravartī. “wheel-turner,” king, chief, ruler

  • śrī. Lakṣmī, or the consort of Krishna, in this case Radha

  • vāsudeva. Krishna

  • rati. love making

  • keli. passion

  • kathā. story, legend

  • sametam. comprised of, constituted

  • etaṃ. this (with prabhandam)

  • karoti. (he) made

  • jayadeva-kavi. Jayadeva the poet

  • prabhandam. work of literature, poem in a variety of forms or meters; cantos [End Page 104]

Jayadeva, chief poet on pilgrimageto Padmavati’s feet—every craft ofGoddess Languagestored in his heart—has assembled tales from the erotic encountersof Krishna and Śrito compose these cantos.

This, the poem’s second verse, isolates the opening stanza as a momentary episode, background for what will follow, much as contemporary movies use an opening scene to set the tone. Credits then appear, naming the actors, director, producer, before setting the audience back into the opening scene but at a later time.

Jayadeva introduces his own name here, an occasional practice in Sanskrit poetry. In Northern India’s bhakti songs, this signature line is called a bhaṇita. But the stanza serves also as invocation, a traditional benediction to remove obstacles. It gives praise to Vāg-Devī or Vāk, an old Indo-Aryan goddess of voice, poetry, and song. In the Vedas, Vāk appears at times as the primal force of the universe. Later in history (post-Vedic), she merges with a river goddess, Sarasvatī. For himself, Jayadeva uses the term cakravartin (“wheel-turner”). It means chief poet in this context, but is not a title to assume lightly. “Wheel-turner” refers to a great king whose ritual acts set the universe in motion. Early Buddhists picked up the word, using it as a title for Śākyamuni Buddha, who “turned (set in motion) the wheel” of Dharma.

Prabandha, what Jayadeva calls his poem, refers to a “composition” that includes chapters or cantos; it also suggests a binding of diverse styles, meters, and topics. Jayadeva says he has built it out of kathā. The word simply means “how” or “how did it happen”; as a noun, it means tale, story, or legend. The answer to how, of course, is tathā (just so—which is what Rudyard Kipling titled his book of origin tales). That Jayadeva assembles his poem from kathās says he drew on accounts already in circulation. Various parts of the full story must have been circulating through the countryside. His skill was to weave them into an erotic-devotional poem of high art—kāvya—and set it to music. [End Page 105]

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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