plants in sanskrit poetry
November 2, 2010 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Seasonal Poetry in Sanskrit : The blog Sanskrit Literature has been running an excellent series on plants that appear in sanskrit poetry. Some examples : Jasmine (malati), Lotuses and Water Lilies, Mango.
posted by dhruva (6 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, this is great! I like the fact that they give the Sanskrit in transliteration as well (I took Sanskrit in grad school but could never get used to devanagari).
posted by languagehat at 10:03 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks. Was looking for a hook to introduce my (non-desi) gf to the wonders of classical medieval Indian poetry. This is as good a hook as any; SRngaara rasa ('the emotion[al juice] of beauty, hence Eros) in Sanskrit poetry is often lyrical, whimsical, and surprisingly succinct. Consider the verse for the mango:
aṅkurite pallavite korakite vikasite ca sahakāre |
aṅkuritaḥ pallavitaḥ korakito vikasitaś ca madano ‘sau ||
I'll leave you guys to discover the meaning in the source link, but allow me to mention what is obvious to this desi reader: the beauty isn't in the meaning ("bhaavam") it is in the lyrics ("praasa") The author is clearly trying to pun between aṅkurite and aṅkuritaḥ, within the realms of this complex poetic grammar that I'm vaguely aware of (but one that I'd like to master one day)

I believe these are called 'Sabdaalankaara's. It's one of those words that's real hard to translate, mostly because it's a metaphor on top of a metaphor. So alankaara would literally be "an arrangement"; metaphorically, it'd be an arrangement "on one's self" or fashion accessory. A Sabdaalankaara would be an alaankaara with sound; it is anornament worn by a kaavya-kanyaka, a poem-damsel. Poems are always damsels; like damsels, poems ascribe to be beautiful in all situations and emotions. Because the poets gave birth to these damsels, they'd always be their daughters.

Medieval Indian poetry is full of these wonderful leaps of alliterative jujitsu's; there are precise ways and examples in which these Sabdaalankaaras can be formulated.

Then there are ardhaaalankaaras, alankaaras based on meaning. I haven't reached that stage in my poetic education :), so I don't know too much about them, only that they exist and are the other type of poetic alankaaras.

Sabda-ardhaalankaaras arent everything:- a more crucial element here is the complex poetic grammar/ meter here that i know as chandassu that controls how each letter exists, and the precise choice of words. Now my Sanskrit is limited, but in the few words that I know, mango is often written as 'aamra', from which the Hindi 'aam' descended. Is mango 'ankuritah'? If so, is it another poetic construct, another meta-metaphor to entrap the reader? Or is it just a ruse to get that alliterative Sabdaalankaara in place?

As with any other poetic tradition, Sanskrit verse becomes a completely new ground when you start thinking as a wannabe poet :)
posted by the cydonian at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

the cydonian :) you're totally overthinking this humble bean, you know full well what mangos imply in desi romance

(but thank you for the education I appreciate it. I wonder if you mean that its a subtler form of wordplay, using both form and function as well as metaphor and allusion, something like a double entendre)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:17 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had imagined that Sanskrit literature was one of those things that I would forever remain entirely clueless about.

Thanks for sharing this small glimpse of it in such an accessible way.
posted by philipy at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2010

Thanks for the link! I love Sanskrit, and am trying very slowly to learn it - beautiful things like this keep me going.
posted by missix at 3:58 PM on November 2, 2010

you're totally overthinking this humble bean, you know full well what mangos imply in desi romance

Would you believe me if I said I hadn't considered it -at all-?! I did overthink this particular plate of mangoes, it appears, or perhaps, it's a result of framing; you think 'double entendres' in movie songs, and, well, formalized rasa-based bhaavam in Sanskrit poems. Indeed, you may be right; it works on a very mundane, physically descriptive fashion as well.

Double entendres in Sanskrit poetry; holy shit, it's so obvious isn't it, mangoes blossoming indeed. My mind has been blown, both by the sudden awareness that you can perhaps trace contemporary film lyricists all the way to them ancients, and by the fact that them Sanskrit masters were as naughty as lesser contemporary mortals. :)
posted by the cydonian at 8:43 PM on November 2, 2010

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