Timeless Romance of the Gāhā-Satta-Saī – Part 2

One has to really admire the cleverness of some of these two-timing women. One of them turned in a fine performance of bawling after having, apparently, been stung by a scorpion. Her friends, ever too eager to help, carried her away right in front of her artless husband – evidently to get her the much-needed medical assistance. No prizes here for guessing that it was in fact to her lover’s secret nest that she was really transported to. Now this next one has brought her lover to her home and has in fact introduced him to her husband as a kinsman from her hometown! Then we have another lady who has beguiled her husband by presenting her paramour as a destitute stranger. She has even talked her husband into offering the conniver refuge under his own roof! Another adulteress has trained her dog to bark when her husband comes home and wag its tail faithfully at her boyfriend instead! Then we see this next one who is restive about protecting her covert amorous adventures in a village where pretty much no one has any qualms about making public others’ private pursuits. Next we see another one making an inviting appeal to a passer-by thus: “Our dog has died. My mother-in-law has become deranged and my husband also is out of town. As if that’s not enough, a rogue bull has gone on a rampage in our grove. Please won’t you come to my rescue?” There’s another one who hasn’t been discouraged by the simple fact that the man she is after has already fallen for a better specimen. She has approached him with a straightforward question: “This other girl you love may be beautiful; virtuous even. I am neither. Must that mean that women unlike her don’t deserve a chance to live?”

Poor thing! Here, a husband has called his wife by a different name, on the occasion of the festival of the ferocious grāma-devatā (town goddess). The garland in her hand has become like that which is put around the neck of the sacrificial animal!

There is no feeling more melancholic or beyond comprehension than separation from one’s beloved – this is the eternal universal experience of all lovers. Let us see how these village couples bear with separation from each other. A lover who is separated from his beloved appeals to the moon: “Hey Ocean of Elixir! Ornament of the night! Those rays of yours that have caressed my beloved, make those very same rays touch me. I shall find solace thinking that it is my beloved’s touch.” Elsewhere, another lover separated from her beau is daydreaming: My lover will come, then I will get angry with him, and he will pamper me in all earnestness. All these anticipations find fruition only in the cases of the utterly fortunate! There’s a woman who has a different sort of sorrow. She has been married off to someone she doesn’t like. She is doubly troubled – she cannot see the man she loves and she has to see the one she doesn’t love; the bonds of family and society don’t permit her to walk away from the marriage! Where’s the solution to this? A man has set out on a voyage. It is considered a bad omen if one sees a deer on the right side; it would prevent him from commencing the journey. Now, if his beautiful doe-eyed lover is looking to the right, how could the man ever think of going forward? Elsewhere, a distraught couple has had a love-quarrel and they are sleeping on the same bed with their faces turned away from each other. False sleep, heated anger, protracted silence – all these have raised their ugly heads. Of the two, whose mind is more reserved and whose is more rigid – who truly knows? A woman separated from her beloved recalls the beautiful moments she has spent with him; when he is not in front of her, those memories are akin to a death knell to her trembling heart. Elsewhere, a girl who is separated from her lover is joyful that she is withering away in the thoughts of her beloved and is elated that she has been entranced in his thoughts! Ah, look here at this young, intelligent bride! She knows that her husband has to set out on a voyage the next morning and in all anxiety she pleads, “O Goddess of the Night! May you never end!” Another woman, upon realizing that her husband is setting out on a journey, dreads the thought of being alone in her home and goes around the town seeking advice from all those women who have had the misfortune of being separated from their husbands. Once the heart is broken, to try and rekindle love is akin to sticking together pieces of a broken mirror. Such is the experience of a certain woman: when the love-creeper has faded due to the anger-heat, however much one tries to revive it, it is tasteless like water that is boiled and cooled! See the fate of yet another passionate woman: when her husband would take a step back so that he could embrace her once again, she would get anxious, thinking of herself as a woman whose husband has gone away on a distant journey! Another woman was aloof towards her husband, getting angry without reason and staying away from him; therefore her husband behaved as if he was on a journey although living at home!

A young man loves his wife dearly but she has turned away from him; this pain has withered him. Upon regarding the faded visage of this young man, his connoisseur-friend asks him the reason for his melancholy. He says, “O friend! I will give you an answer after you too have a beautiful girlfriend with a mercurial temperament.”

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In those days, in that environment, the women whose husbands went on a voyage would keep count of the number of days that have passed since their lovers have departed; it was their practice to keep count by making a mark on the limestone walls using a piece of coal at the end of every day. Poor things! Where will they get hold of a calendar or an almanac? When one such woman whose husband is away on a journey is eagerly awaiting his return, keeping a tab of the number of days that have passed since his departure, should it rain cats and dogs? When this heavy downpour fell on their poor hut with a porous roof, far from securing any of the household items, she tries to protect with her palms the wall that has the coal markings, lest they get washed away! There’s another woman whose husband sets out on a voyage; within moments she feels that ages have passed and she makes marks on all the walls of the house with coal-pieces! The husband of a love-struck wife hasn’t returned even after the stipulated duration. If the damsel learns about this, it would lead to grave danger: thinking thus, her friends begin to secretly erase a few of those coal marks on the wall. Elsewhere, a woman whose husband is travelling tries to invite good omens by keeping rice balls for the crows every day. Her body has withered from all these days of separation and her heavy bracelet has slipped from her wrists and fallen exactly around the rice ball, almost like a snare. The crows, upon seeing this, have become afraid and are keeping away from the rice ball. And as for her, she is worried to death! Yet another woman who is awaiting her husband’s return sees the rainwater leaking from the roof and to protect her baby from it, she picks it up and keeps it close to her chest; but she fails to realize that the baby continues to be wet, due to the downpour of tears from her eyes.

A woman whose lover is away lights the lamps in the evening but turns her neck away from the flame, worried that her teardrops will douse the lamp, which is a bad omen! This farmer boy, unable to bear the pangs of separation, has become bed-ridden. The moment he saw his beloved’s friend approach him, he immediately gulped down bitter medicine and smiled a little. Now listen to the troubles of a woman separated from her beloved: Fortunate are those women who see their husbands in their dreams. Ever since her husband has gone on a journey, she has been separated from sleep too! Another woman separated from her beloved has a short tempered mother-in-law. Even so, when her daughter-in-law bows down to her, upon seeing the girl’s bangles slip from the wrist, fall down, and break, she sheds tears. In sum, here is the gist: The Mandara mountain-like Separation churns the Milk-ocean-like Heart and begets the Precious Gems of Satisfaction; but for the lovers in separation, all they have is the Poison.[1] So be it, enough of the sorrows of separation; now let us turn towards the joy of union and savour the sweetness that arises from it.

The husband of a newly-married shy maiden is lying on the marriage bed, feigning sleep. Without reticence she plants a kiss on his beautiful red lips only to realize the truth when she sees the horripilation of the hairs on his cheeks; she shrinks in bashfulness. There’s another young man who’s extremely surprised – his newly-married wife, who gives a thousand orders while they sport on the bed at night, is the epitome of courtesy and devotion during the day! Yet another young man has recently got married. The memories of his former lover haunt him not only when he is away from her but also every time he sees his wife. Further, when he gets intimate with his wife, the memories of his sweetheart flood his being. Now let us see the firmness of a woman whose husband is totally under her control. She says the following prayer to god: “O Divine Being! Make my husband ogle other women and get interested in them. At least then he will learn my greatness.” See the joy in another woman. Separated from her beloved, she was running a fever. Unaware of her secret love for him, her beloved comes to her bedside merely out of sympathy for her. At that she says, “Oh fever! Since the divine hero of my silent love come to my bedside, it’s fine even if you kill me, I won’t be upset!” Here, a secret lover walks exactly over the footprints made by the one she loves; seeing this, the equally secretive lover-hero experiences horripilation. As for the friends of the lovers, all these make good ingredients for humour. A young woman is, for some reason, angry with her husband. But the moment he returns home, all that anger slides away just like the sand that is grasped in a fist! There is a young lad who has taken to bed afflicted by love for a beautiful maiden; he is so deeply tormented by the fever of separation that his wife goes to the maiden as a messenger of his love, begging of her to save his life! Look here, at this damsel’s wordplay! She tells her beloved, “Just out of obligation, you lie beside me and engage in love-sport and that itself gives me unbridled joy. How much more joy those women must be getting to whom you go to with an open-heart and engage in amorous play with genuine enthusiasm?” A strong husband, upon being hit by his wife, immediately takes her hand in his, afraid that she might be hurt, and blows at her palm and gives her solace. Will there be a woman who wouldn’t melt at such a spontaneous expression of love? It goes without saying that she pulls him towards herself, embraces him tightly, and kisses him!

To be concluded.

This is the second part of an English translation of a remarkable Kannada essay by Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh titled ‘Gāhāsattasaī’ya Amaraśṛṅgāra from his anthology Hāsu-bīsu. The translators would like to express their heartfelt thanks to Dr. Ganesh for his detailed review of the translation. Thanks to G S Raghavendra for his kind review and valuable suggestions.

Footnote

[1] A reference to the famous mythological story of the Amṛtamanthana or ‘The Churning of the Milk-Ocean.’

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

Translator(s)

About:

Srishan Thirumalai is an Electronics Engineer who holds a senior position in the IT industry. He is passionate about Indian classical music and literature.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.