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  • On My Breast Draw a Leaf
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

racaya kucayoḥ patraṃ citraṃ kuruṣva kapolayor    ghaṭaya jaghane kāñcīmañca srajā kabarībharamkalaya valayaśreṇīṃ pāṇau pade kuru nūpurāv    iti nigaditaḥ prītaḥ pītāmbaro'pi tathākarot

  • racaya. (second-person imp.) paint

  • kucayoḥ. (on my two) breasts

  • patraṃ. a leaf

  • citraṃ. color

  • kuruṣva. (imp.) make, draw

  • kapolayoḥ. (on my) cheeks

  • ghaṭaya. place

  • jaghane. over my loins

  • kāñcīmañca. underskirt, an ornamental cloth wrapping

  • srajā. string of flowers

  • kabarībharam. (in) braided hair

  • kalaya. arrange

  • valayaśreṇīṃ. bracelet

  • pānau. on my hands

  • pade. on my feet

  • kuru. place

  • nūpurau. anklets

  • iti. thus

  • nigaditaḥ. told, requested

  • prītaḥ. her lover (with Krishna)

  • pītāmbharaḥ. Krishna, “the yellow clothed”

  • api. (emph.)

  • tathā. just so

  • akarot. did [End Page 124]

“On my breast draw a leafpaint my cheekslay a silk scarf across these dark loins.Wind into my heavy black braidwhite petals,fit gemstones onto my wrists,anklets over my feet.”And each thing she desiredher saffron-robed loverfulfilled.

Back at the start, Jayadeva opened with a stanza that foreshadowed the drama to come. That stanza—ambiguous, hard to fathom, broken with contradictions—has provoked speculation for nine hundred years. After presenting it, he drew back to invoke Vāg-Devī, present his credentials as a poet, compare his work to that of other poets, and note the stories he would draw on for his poem. Now at the close—after taking his reader outside the action with the metaphysical claim of the preceding verse (12.19)—he delivers a final rhyme. The lovers reappear, their passions temporarily spent, recovering self-awareness. Notice the curious inversion. Krishna, the deva, is adorning the human woman. He dresses her image as a worshipper would dress the statue of a deity into which the god has descended.

From the thumri singer Vidya Rao I heard this: the lovemaking has dissolved Radha; she has been absorbed into her beloved, the energy that animates the cosmos. What now? Who is she? Is she to remain a pulsing raw naked thing? For the play of creation to continue—and the ecstasy of loss and recovery to recur—Radha needs to be restored. Krishna does what she nigaditaḥ (requested), reconstructing her identity limb by limb, ornament by ornament. He colors, he wraps, he arranges from her head to her feet. White blossoms of the tamāla tree, delicate silver anklets, henna designs on her breasts. Into her braid he winds blossoms; over her loins he lays a silk scarf.

Krishna has become the artist. Maybe Jayadeva thought of himself this way: constructing his poem limb by limb; ornamenting its body verse by verse? [End Page 125]

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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