Amaru of Kashmir

po_Shataka-Amaru1Traditional accounts attribute the writings of the Amarusataka to King Amaru of Kashmir, and not much is known about his life.

The Amaruśataka (“the hundred stanzas of Amaru”), ranks as one of the finest lyrical poetry in the annals of Sanskrit literature, ranking with Kalidasa and Bhartṛhari’s Śṛngâraśataka. The ninth-century literary critic Anandavardhana declared in his Dhvanyaloka that “a single stanza of the poet Amaru … may provide the taste of love equal to what’s found in whole volumes.” Its verses have been used by poets and critics as examples and standards to judge other poems. Andrew Schelling describes it as “love poetry original and vivid as that produced anywhere on the planet”.

Its subject is mostly Sringara (erotic love, romantic love) including aspects such as love, passion, estrangement, longing, rapprochement, joy and sorrow, etc. Greg Bailey notes that it is “as much about the social aspects of courting, betrayal, feminine indignance and masculine self-pity as it is about sensuality”. Similarly, Schelling notes: “All the flavors or nuances of love are said to lie within the book, though you’ll notice that the emphasis falls more on the bitter taste of separation or betrayal than on the sweetness of consummation.”

In Erotic Love Poems from India, (Shambalah Publications © 2004), Andrew Schelling, the translator, writes: For thousands of years in southern Europe, the hunter’s bow, have been shown in the hands of the goddess Venus, and is both instrument and symbol of the two arts of venery: love and the hunt. Linger over the Indo-European origins of the word a moment, and notice the vocabulary it gives rise to. Venus is the planet that governs erotic love. Venison is the wild animal in rut. Venom was originally a love potion. In India, vanam means sexual delight and remains the common word for the forest. Venery, venereal. Observe the close association of the chase and the hunt with fertility. Humans have looked to the realm of magic to ensure success in love and in the taking of large game…

And from the Afterword, Andrew Schelling ends with these two paragraphs: In the Amarushataka, this archaic force seems at first glance to be basic human sexual affection, with an emphasis on the wounds that drive men and women to frenzy.  But could it be a more-than-human passion the poems conjure? Do we stand in the domain known as ecstasy of love, kamananda? Or have we entered what yogins call paramananda, the ecstasy beyond love, to which sexual love is but the gateway?

Here I feel we have come to the edge of a great mystery, and the poems of the Amarushataka disappear like tracks into a confounding wilderness. This must be the point that one of the poems arrives at when its poet, confronting his lover’s desperate mix of desire and torment, declares: “What she then did, no poet’s words command the power to tell.”

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1.

Although I conquer all the earth,
Yet for me there is only one city.
In that city there is for me only one house;
And in that house, one room only;
And in that room a bed.
And one woman sleeps there,
The shining joy and jewel of all my kingdom.

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2.

As if knotted fast
at their roots,
he somehow freed
my arms.

As if planted
in his chest,
I, too, dug out
my breasts.

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3.

At daybreak,
when the parrot
was bent on mimicking
her cries of passion
in front of her elders,
the doe-eyed girl,
embarrassed,
drowned it out
by jangling
her stacks of bangles,
clapping
as if to make
the children dance in play.

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4.

Even elegant
and practiced sex
from shrewd men
won’t sweep me off my feet

as will love made
in goodness and affection
wherever or however done.

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5.

Even he was abashed
and I laughed
and held him close
when he went for the knot
of my underclothes
and I’d already untied it.

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6.

Face turned aside
eyes squeezed angrily shut
she pretends she’s asleep.
Into her thin legs and arms
with a clever motion he
inserts his own.
And when trembling
hand goes to her waistband she
sucks her already
tight stomach tighter.

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7.

Fickle-hearted girl,
why did you willfully ignore your lover
when he came to your house like that?

He fell at your feet
and was spilling over
with love for you.

So now,
as long as you live,
you’ll reject what comes from happiness.

Your comfort’s in your crying,
so endure the fruit
of your ill-born, angry acts.

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8.

Forcing my face
from his
I glared at his feet.
Desperate for his voice I closed
my ears, even hid the
sweat on my cheeks with my palms.
But friends, what could I do—?
Where my thin top
gathers my breasts a hundred
stitches had split.

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9.

Forget about the precious sight
of my lover’s face
that steals away my heart.
Just seeing the borders
of the fields on the borders
of her village
gives me instant joy.

When my heart was obsessed with her
from love at first sight
and I thought of a way to win her,
when my passion skyrocketed
and the need for go-between
became greater and greater,

never mind the pleasure I’d get
from eagerly embracing that woman.

Just roaming the streets near her house
evokes supreme delight.

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10.

Friend, tell us.
We ask you
with good feeling:
Why do the bangles
on the wrists
of every woman
grow larger
when their lovers
leave home?

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11.

“Girl with thighs
as curved as the flat of my palm,
where are you off to
in this dense dark of night?”

“To the place
where my darling man lives,
dearer to me
than my own life.”

“But child,
you’re alone.
Tell me why
you aren’t afraid.”

“No doubt
the God of Love,
armed with feathered arrows,
will escort me.”

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12.

He is separated from his love
by entire lands,
by hundreds of rivers and mountains,
and by forests
and even if he tries,
he can’t stretch his sight that far.

Even though he knows this,
the traveler stretches his neck,
stands on tiptoe,
rubs at his tear-filled eyes,
and, brooding on something,
he looks again
in the direction of his desire.

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13.

Hear his name
and every hair on my
body’s aroused.
See his moonlike face
I get moist like a moonstone everywhere.
He steps near enough to touch
my throat
and pride is broken oh hard
diamond heart

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14.

Her breasts
were dwarfed
in a tight embrace.
The hair of her body
bristled with desire.

That cloth
on her glorious hips
melted away
in the heat
of the moment
and with weak words
she urged me,

“Don’t, don’t,
thief of my pride,
don’t. For me,
it’s more than enough.”

Then, I don’t know—
was she asleep,
or dead?
Did she merge
with my heart?
Did she dissolve
into nothing?

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15.

Her husband,
given to jealousy,
won’t let her gather
honey flowers
at night,

but Mother,
that simpleton
will go and so it
all by himself.

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16.

Her limbs washed in sweat
from the pleasuring touch of ash
left from her lover’s cremation,

a novice ascetic cannot finish
smearing her body with it.

——————————-

17.

His form is fixed in my eyes,
his touch in my limbs,
his whispers in my ear,
and his heart is kept in my heart.

So what can Fate tear in two?

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18.

Honey Flower
in your tangled thicket
on Goddavari’s banks,
your branches touching the ground,
bent low with your load of blossoms,
listen to my plea:

You’d better shed your flowers slowly.

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19.

How can you describe her?

When your gaze falls
on one of her parts,
like a sick cow fallen
in mud,

it cannot escape.

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20.

I am that same willing girl
and these two anklets
are the same two
that went to men for sex.

I am the one who’s poor now
among us womenfolk,
our natural-born modesty
being our wealth.

So, when I straddled him,
ashamed when my memory came back,
I panicked
and recognized my own slender body.

First I gave on my masculine ways.
Then I gave up on him.

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21.

I don’t see any mango buds,
Mother-in-Law,
and the wind
with that Malabar smell
isn’t blowing,
but my longing alone says
that spring has come.

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22.

I will not grieve for that girl
who left us along with our tears
in the evenings
when a bat in its struggle to go
unfurls its wings
and soars.

But I will grieve for her friend,
her lovely eyes rimmed in black,
her heart now full of pain
without her sweet-tongued companion.

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23.

I wonder
of I’ll ever touch her again.
Her elder brothers have fine bows
and they whistle and toss stones
to flush an innocent, sad
-eyed doe
from her cover and separate her
from her herd in the wide-spaced forest.

She stands before them
as they plunge red-shafted arrows
into the breast
and rip them out with blood.

That girl from the hills,
her hair dark and fragrant,
has black-rimmed eyes
shaped like those arrowheads,
points placed opposite each other
and I wonder
if I will ever again touch
those shoulders of hers.

——————————-

24.

Look,
a spider clings
by its upturned legs
by its own silk,
hanging from the thatch
like a lone bakula blossom
strung on gossamer thread.

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25.

Look, delicate one, the bed is stained—
intimate love
has caked it with sandalwood powder.
Pulling me onto his chest
he bit my lip roguishly
tore off my gown with his feet
and again
started our raptures.
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26.

Lucky Man,
it’s true that she’s virtuous
and has a beautiful body.

And it’s true that I’m lacking.

But tell me:
will all these people
who aren’t like her
have to die?

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27.

Much too close to bear his eyes
I turn my own down to my lap.
I do not try to hear
the many soft words in his breath.
I make my hands stop both my ears,
then cup my cheeks that burn
at words he does not even speak.
I try so hard. But now
I feel my dress undoing me,
what do I do?

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28.

My breasts at first
little buds
grew plump under your hands.
My speech
instructed by yours
lost its native simplicity.
What shall I do?
These arms
left my old nursemaid’s neck
to creep around yours,
but you no longer
set foot in the neighborhood.

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29.

O bee,
yoked with greed
for a drink of sap,
the jasmine bud
hasn’t even opened
its petals
in the least,
and yet
you rub against it.

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30.

She’s cross, but doesn’t pick fights like she used to
when I untie her clothes,
nor does she furrow her brow or gnaw at her lip
when I grab her by her hair.
She gives me her limbs on her own,
and doesn’t twist out of my rough embrace.

But this slender girl has learned
some other type of anger.

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31.

She’s in the house.
She’s at turn after turn.
She’s behind me.
She’s in front of me.
She’s in my bed.
She’s on path after path,
and I’m weak from want of her.
O heart,
there is no reality for me
other than she she
she she she she
in the whole of the reeling world.

And philosophers talk about Oneness.

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32.

She’s just a kid,
but I’m the one who’s fainthearted.
She’s the woman,
but I’m the coward.
She bears that high, swollen set of breasts,
but I’m the one who’s burdened.
The heavy hips are hers,
but I’m unable to move.

It’s a wonder
how clumsy I’ve become
because of flaws
that shelter themselves
in another.

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33.

She made a long garland of welcome
with her eyes alone,
not with blue lotus blossoms.

She scattered the flowers
with a single smile,
not with jasmine and such.

She gave the water offering
with drops of sweat from her full breasts,
not with water from a pot.

With her own parts alone,
the slender girl,
bade her entering lover
auspicious greetings.

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34.

She scatters
the lotuses of her eyes
up the street,
waiting for you to come,

resting her breasts on the gate
like a pair of auspicious pots.

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35.

Smudged here with betel juice, burnished there
with aloe paste, a splash of powder in one corner,
and lacquer from footprints embroidered in another,
with flowers from her hair strewn all over
its winding crumpled folds, the sheets celebrate
the joy of making love to a woman in every position.

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36.

Tell you a secret
he called me to a secluded seat.
My childlike heart fluttered
drawing near.
He spoke in my ear
breathed near my mouth
then, friend, he seized these braids
and sucked the
honey off my lips.

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37.

the feathery patterns from your
cheeks with your
own palms.
Sighs have removed the dew
that rises from within
to your parted lips.
Your breasts quaver but
it’s from hard
tears in your throat.
Bitter girl, anger makes love
to you not I.

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38.

The full moon
cannot gain
a likeness to your face,
so god destroys it
time and again,
as if to create it
by some other means.

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39.

The weight of its body
cleverly suspended
by its own wings,

the bee
sips at the bud
of the night-blooming jasmine,

opening it,
greedy for its juice.

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40.

The wretched night
is dark as pitch.

Today my husband’s gone away
and the house is empty.

So, Neighbor,
stay awake.

That way,
no one will steal me.

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41.

They say that my donkey-hearted lover
might leave home tomorrow.

Grow long, Blessed Night,
so that for him
tomorrow just won’t be.

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42.

Those who tell me
to bear my love:

Don’t they know about love?
or are they that strong?

Since I can’t see my lover,
my heart swells
with hidden sorrow
and like a flood in spate
turning to a streak of foam
as it dashes against stones,

slowly,
slowly, I turn to nothing.

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43.

Though chafing
she no longer struggles if I
loosen her skirt.
No scowling no
biting the lip when her
hair’s gripped.
Even opens her
limbs compliantly and doesn’t
resist when I’m enough.
What is this
new expression of anger?

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44.

Thoughts and
emotions distorted
she wordlessly rebukes the lover
who’s lowered himself
at her feet.
When he rises to go
she’s quite limp
eyes clouded with relentless tears –
thin and unsteady
she stands in his way.

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45.

When he said
“I’ll go, I’ll go,”
I mistook it
for all his former mock departures
and I said, “Fine,
leave my side
and go away forever.”

O Mother,
our master who supports us—
where is he now,
I wonder?

The place between my breasts
has filled with tears,
has become a deep pond
where a black-legged
white heron feeds.

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46.

When my face turned toward his,
I averted it
and looked at my feet.

When my ears clamored
to hear his talk,
I stopped them.

When my cheeks broke out
in sweat and goosebumps,
I covered them with my hands.

But Friends,
when the seams of my bodice
burst in a hundred places,

what could I do?

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47.

When my lover came to bed,
the knot came untied
all by itself.

My dress,
held by the strings of a loosened belt,
barely stayed on my hips.

Friend,
that’s as much as I know now.

When he touched my body,
I couldn’t at all remember
who he was,
who I was,
or how It was.

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48.

Where to
girl with bright thighs?
There’s no moon tonight.

Out to my lover.

Not afraid, young in the darkness
to travel alone?

Can’t you see—at my side
with lethal arrows the
love god?

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49.

“Why is your face bathed in sweat?”
“Because of the sun’s rays.”
“And your red eyes?”
“His words made me angry.”
“Why are your blue-black curls such a mess?”
“The wind did it.”
“Your forehead mark? Where’s that?”
“My veil rubbed it off.”
“Why are you so tired?”
“From all my comings and goings.”

“You’ve said it all, Messenger;
now tell me about that wound on your lower lip.”

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50.

You’re determined
to lead your whole life
like a child?
Develop some pride,
take a risk.
With a lover you need to be devious.
Her face whitened
at her friend’s admonishment.
Speak softly he’ll hear you—
he dwells
in my heart.

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51.

You’ve erased the tracery
on your cheek
by covering it with your palm.

Your sighs have kissed away
the juice of your lower lip,
tasty as nectar

and at every instant,
the tear that’s stuck in your throat
is making your sloping breasts tremble

Unkind girl,
anger has become your lover,
not I.

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52.

You’ve squeezed your eyes shut
in false sleep
and your limbs bristle with desire
when I kiss your cheek.

O Lucky Man,
make room for me in bed—
I won’t waste time anymore.

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53.

You’ve strung your breasts
with a rattling rope of pearls,
tied a jangling belt
around those deadly hips
and clinking jeweled anklets
on both your feet.
So, stupid,
if you run off to your lover like this,
banging all these drums,
then why
do you shudder with all this fear
and look up, down,
in every direction?