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  • Reckless, Inflamed, She Presses Forth
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

mārāṅke ratikelisaṃkularaṇārambhe tayā sāhasa-prāyaṃ kāntajayāya kiñcid upari prārambhi yat sambhramātniṣpandā jaghanasthalī śithilitā dorvallir utkampitaṃvakṣo mīlitamakṣi pauruṣarasaḥ strīṇāṃ kutaḥ sidhyati

  • mārāṅke. (loc. abs.) (when) impassioned, inflamed

  • rati-keli-saṃkula-raṇa-ārambhe. (when) love-play-engaged-pleasure-begun

  • tayā. by her

  • sāhasa. recklessly, impulsively, boldly

  • prāyaṃ. set forth (as in a military campaign)

  • kānta-jayāya. (with tayā) lovertriumphant, conquering her lover

  • kiñcit. somehow

  • upari. above, on top

  • prārambhi. establishing, undertaking (by setting herself)

  • yat. she, her

  • sambhramāt. eagerly, excitedly

  • niṣpandā. (adj.) umoving

  • jaghana. loins, buttocks, vulva

  • sthalī. still, stationary

  • śithilitā. slack, loose (with vines)

  • doḥ. arms

  • valliḥ. vine, creeping plant

  • utkampitaṃ. trembling, heaving (with chest)

  • vakṣaḥ. chest

  • mīlitam-akṣi. (bv. cmpd.) closed-eyes

  • pauruṣa. masculine

  • rasa. essence, mood, role; savor, delight

  • strīṇāṃ. (poss.) of women

  • kutaḥ. how, why

  • sidhyati. she accomplishes, conquers [End Page 118]

Reckless, inflamed, she presses forthto the urgent campaignof sexual love,flips over and mounts him,savors the wayhe gives in …

… Later, eyes lidded,loins cool and no longer rippling,her arms trail like vines.Only her chest continues to heave.Is climbing on top    what brought her victory?

Through the centuries, Sanskrit poets have portrayed sexual love as a kind of military campaign. Both Vidyā and Vikaṭanitambā wrote poems to warlords—probably patrons—which carry two separate readings. In one reading, the prince’s military prowess is glorified; in the second, his success as lover. Other poets have used the trope humorously. From the Amaruśataka:

When he’s friskyand steals her undergarmentsshe squeals in distressquick—before someone suspects!

But the love god sees,mighty archer of the Three Worlds

and though the fortificationsare breached,the erotic struggle decided,he flashes back to thebattlefield.

[verse 100]

Translated by Andrew Schelling [End Page 119]

I think Jayadeva’s poem a spiritual event, an enactment. A trace of humor ripples through the stanza, but humor is not his intent. Nor has he composed an allegory of the spirit’s relation to the universe’s animate energy. He provides a vehicle through which the human spirit can realize that energy.

So what does it mean for the spirit to triumph over the god? Radha achieves victory, which is in fact her own dissolution, through the sexual position known as viparita (upside down, or woman on top). What Jayadeva writes is that she took the pauruṣarasa (the masculine role or essence or spirit). Does he mean divine energy lets itself be humbled or conquered? Or is it that masculine and feminine roles get reversed, perhaps absorbed into each other? How does rati-keli (the play of love) parallel a military campaign? Radha, after her victory, lies atop her beloved, jaghana-sthalī (loins or vulva stilled), as though her spiritual peace is the contrary of Lady Jaghanacapalā’s unrequited hunger (“she whose loins are quavering”). Jayadeva leaves with a question: how does pauruṣa-rasa among women contribute to mastery? The verb sidhyati suggests highest accomplishment, enlightenment; its participle, siddha, refers to the most formidable adepts. The metaphysics of Jayadeva’s vocabulary insist we enter the question using our own hearts.

Note that the stanza breaks after the second line: the first couplet pictures Radha’s energetic lovemaking, the second its aftermath. Hence you feel a huge gap between saṃbhramāt (energetically) and niṣpandā (motionless). I take the term rasa to refer to both her assuming the man’s essence (role), and her “savor” in forcing his submission. [End Page 120]

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...


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