book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Ksetrayya and Ramanujan, A.K. (tr.) and Velcheru Narayana Rao (tr.) and David Shulman (tr.)

When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others

Ksetrayya; Ramanujan, A.K. (tr.); Velcheru Narayana Rao (tr.); David Shulman (tr.);

When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others

University of California Press, 1994  [gbook]

ISBN 0520080696

topics: |  poetry | telegu | bhakti | translation | anthology

a padam is a short devotional song in the light classical genre,
traditionally performed by devadAsIs or temple prostitutes, or their male
counterparts, the nattuvanar musicians.  the tradition flourished in the
fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, and the style often invokes erotic
themes.  They are heirs to an ancient tradition originating in sanskrit
poetry (see  Sanskrit Court poetry: Vidyakara's "Subhasitaratnakosa", tr.
daniel ingalls, 1966).  with the rise of the bhakti tradition in the early
centuries of the second millennium as a reaction to the austere monasticism
of the shankarite vedAnta tradition, as in the reformation movement, god
was removed from the monopoly of the priestly class, but became a personal
intimate of the devotee.  with this, the erotic structure was increasingly
fused with the devotional, finding superb expression in jayadeva's _gita
govinda_ (12th c.).

pInapayodharabhArabhareNa hariM parirabhya : a gopI with heavy breasts
embraces Hari lovingly...
	image from Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda

pInapayodharabhArabhareNa hariM parirabhya sarAgam
gopabadhuranugAyati kAchidudanchitapanchamarAgam
	One cowherdess with heavy breasts embraces Hari lovingly
	And celebrates him in a melody of love.
		transl. Barbara Stoler Miller

this movement was to influence a genre of devotional poetry including the
padam tradition presented here, but also the poetry of the bengali
vaishNava tradition, mArAThi devotional corpus of TukAram and others, and
also intermixed with the sufi tradition of devotional love.

in the padam tradition, these find expression in the anguished discourse
of the female lover, with the male deity such as Muvva Gopala or Janardana
(forms of viShNu / kriShNa), as the protagonist.

	Who was she
	with such big breasts
	who has fallen for you?
	Who pressed your cheeks
	and left finger marks
	with nails sharp as knives,
	you crusher of demons,

	     you Janardana of Kandukuru ?
			- kandukUri rudrakavi

in south india, the genre assumed a canonical format starting with the work of
the revered temple-poet of Tirupati, tAllapAka annamAcArya (1424-1503).
while popular also in kannada and in the tamil saivite and vaishnava
(Alvar) tradition (see ramanujan's speaking of śiva, 1973).
the padam form reached its "expressive peak in Telugu, the primary
language for South Indian classical music, during the fifteenth to eighteenth
centuries in southern Andhra and the Tamil region.

this selection presents the works of three (+1) poets from the Telugu
padam tradition (15th c. onwards):
    - annamayya or tAllapAka annamAcArya 1424-1503, Telugu Brahmin poet of
    - ksetrayya dated to the mid-17th c.
    - sAraMgapANi early 18th c.
also includes a padam sequence by kandukUri rudrakavi (16th c.), and
ends with a padam that is anonymous.

each poet invokes a personal god (e.g. muvva gopAla for ksetrayya), which
also acts as a signature.

dilution of erotica

The uninhibited eroticism in these poems invoked considerable anguish in
post-victorian india.  Ksetrayya's poems were not available in printed form,
and were first collected and printed under the aegis of scholars such as
Vissa Apparavu or patrons like the "the Maharaja of Pithapuram (who had long
family associations with courtesans)".  The maharaja sponsored
G.V. Sitapati's volume of Ksetrayya's songs.  However, they tended to dilute
the eroticism and present it as a mere allegory for the union of jiva and
isvara, the yearning human soul and god.
For the 1952 edition of G. V. Sitapati's Ksetrayya padams,
E. Krishna Iyer wrote in his English introduction:

       Is it proper or safe to encourage present day family girls to go in
       for Ksetraya padas and are they likely to handle them with
       understanding of their true devotional spirit? At any rate can a pada
       like 'Oka Sarike' ["if you are so tired after making love just
       once"] be ever touched by our girls?

[see also sweetening of the songs in the bengali shAkta tradition,
in which it was the tAntrik tradition that was dilted; see
Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Poems to the Mother Goddess,
tr. Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely (intro to 2nd ed. 1999). ]

fulltext available at eScholarship


Annamayya: Her Friends Tease the Woman in Love

 	     emoko cigurutadharamuna

These marks of black musk
on her lips
red as buds,
what are they
but letters of love
sent by our lady to her lord?

Her eyes the eyes of a cakora bird,
why are they red in the corners?

Think it over, my friends:
what is it but the blood
     still staining the long glances
     that pierced her beloved
after she drew them from his body
back to her eyes?

     What are they but letters of love ?

How is it that this woman's breasts.
show so bright through her sari?

Can't you guess, my friends?
What are they but rays
from the crescents
     left by the nails of her lover
     pressing her in his passion,
rays now luminous as the moonlight
of a summer night?

     What are they but letters of love ?

What are these graces, these pearls
raining down your cheeks?

Can't you imagine, friends?
What could they be but the beads of sweat
     left on her lotus-face
     by the Lord of the Hills
when he pressed hard,
frantic in love?

     What are they but letters of love ?

	- Annamayya 82, GR, raga: nadanamakriya (p.49-50)

Kandukuri Rudrakavi: from Janardanastakamu

			(Eight on Janardana of Kandukuru)


You and she,
you spent last night
in the alcove together.
I heard everything you did
from a woman I know.
I didn't just hear it,
I saw you on the street
with my own eyes,
you crusher of demons,

     you Janardana of Kandukuru .


Who was that shy girl
who left those little red marks
on your lips?
Who was she
with such big breasts
who has fallen for you?
Who pressed your cheeks
and left finger marks
with nails sharp as knives,
you crusher of demons,

     you Janardana of Kandukuru ?


I know all your secrets.
Don't make false promises.
Don't come to me, over and over,
with those drowsy, clouded eyes.
Keep your clumsy hands
off my body.
Don't work yourself up
over me, you stubborn
crusher of demons,

     you Janardana of Kandukuru !


You were my constant support,
but that was once.
Why burn and get angry now?
Go back to where you came from.
Stop! I can't bear your words.
You're a big scoundrel,
O crusher of demons,

     Janardana of Kandukuru .


All my anger is gone.
When did you come close to me?
When did you give me
those jewels with nine gems?
Loving me, and making me love you,
being one with me,
you cover me with praise.
When did you do all this,
O crusher of demons,

     Janardana of Kandukuru ?


When you fill my two eyes,
it's a flowering of jasmine.
I watch the skies, the clouds
color everything.
Why does moonlight
shine in my eyes?
I've seen it all,
you crusher of demons,

     Janardana of Kandukuru.

[Notes: When you fill my two eyes . . .: The last verse follows the text
     given in the Telugu kAvyamala, ed. Katuri Venkatesvara Ravu (New
     Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1976), p. 148, rather than that of the
     Catupadyamanimanjari, ed. Veturi Prabhakara Sastri, pp. 81-82. For
     the various versions of this text, see Kandukuri Rudrakavi,
     Janardanastakamu (Madras: Anandamohana Kavyamala, 1966). ]

Ksetrayya: A Courtesan to the Messenger

		vadaraka po pove

Don't go on chattering, just go away.
Why should he come here?
Tell him not to come.

It all happened so long ago,
in a different age,
another life.
Who is he to me, anyway?

Think of the long nights I spent
waiting for him, minute after minute,
saying to myself, "He'll come today,
he'll come tomorrow!"—

the hot sighs,
lips dry with longing,
nights aflame with moonlight.
What more is there to say?

     Just go away !

I wore myself out watching the road.
Counting the moons, I grieved.
Holding back a love I could not hold,

listening to the screeching
of peacocks and parrots,
I passed the months of spring.
Let's have no more empty words.

     Just go away !

I even asked the birds for omens
if Muvva Gopala was coming.
I grew weak, watching my girlfriends
join their husbands for love.

O god, do I ever have to see
his face again
with this body of mine?
Once was enough!

     Just go away !

		- Ksetrayya 283 raga kambhoji

Ksetrayya: A courtesan to her friend

Let him go as he pleases.
Friend, let my lord Muvva Gopala go as he pleases.

I hear
he begged his girlfriend,
bowed to her, folding both his hands,
complained of this and that to her about me,
and he promised her things, behind the temple.

Let my lord be well, wherever he is, that's enough.

     Let him go as he pleases

I hear he said
he would be struck by evil if he even looked
in my direction;
he fingered his mustache and bragged to her.

I hear
he said my name, broke a reed
and threw it away.*

A thousand qualities at every step, who can straighten him out?

     Let him go as he pleases

I hear he said
he first made love to me just because he was tricked;
he swore to god never to touch me again;
in an assembly he said I'm a brazen woman.

Yet if love has taken root in his heart, he'll be kind one day.

     Let him go as he pleases

     		- Ksetrayya 181 "tana cittamu"

Sarangapani : The Madam to a Young Courtesan

		kaligina kasu p.135-136

Grab whatever cash he has,
that Venugopala,
and think nothing of the rest.

As they say about lentils,
don't worry
about the chaff.

Does it matter
to which woman he goes,
or how late he stays there?

Just pass the days
saying yes and no,.
till the month is over

     and grab the cash

What is it to you
if he runs into debt
or if he has an income?

Quietly, tactfully,
lie in wait
like a cat on a wall

     and grab the cash

What if he makes love
to her
and only then to you?

What's there
to be jealous about?
When youth passes,
nothing will go your way,

so grab the cash

		- Sarangapani 98 raga: saurastra


	How is it that this woman's breasts glimmer so clearly through her
	saree?  Can't you guess, my friends? What are they but rays from the
	crescents left by the nails of her lover pressing her in his passion,
	rays now luminous as the moonlight of a summer night?

These South Indian devotional poems show the dramatic use of erotic language
to express a religious vision. Written by men during the fifteenth to
eighteenth century, the poems adopt a female voice, the voice of a courtesan
addressing her customer. That customer, it turns out, is the deity, whom the
courtesan teases for his infidelities and cajoles into paying her more
money. Brazen, autonomous, fully at home in her body, she merges her worldly
knowledge with the deity's transcendent power in the act of making love.

This volume is the first substantial collection in English of these Telugu
writings, which are still part of the standard repertoire of songs used by
classical South Indian dancers. A foreword provides context for the poems,
investigating their religious, cultural, and historical
significance. Explored, too, are the attempts to contain their explicit
eroticism by various apologetic and rationalizing devices.

The translators, who are poets as well as highly respected scholars, render
the poems with intelligence and tenderness. Unusual for their combination of
overt eroticism and devotion to God, these poems are a delight to read.

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2012 Sep 09