lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Camphor flame

The priest droned on, telling a garbled version of the sthala purana, and my attention wandered. I looked at the courtyard and imagined Kuhoo dancing there. "Sigapoovaa raavE yane," I murmured to myself.

A short story by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, Ravichandrika, is a beautiful tale. It might even have been true. There is a second tale Kanaka VeeNe, which is equally delightful. Also true, perhaps.

Srinaatha, that great poet of fourteenth century, had a turbulent life. He was feted and pampered and honored in all of the Kondaveedu Empire, and in the land of the Kannada speakers, too. But later, his lords vanquished and patronage departed, he sought the sanctuary of the River Godavari, and lesser kings. Rajamahendravaram and the temple of Maarkandeya Swami gave him shelter in his need.

An ascetic in the temple, Chitti Pantulu, befriended him. At his behest Srinaatha went to worship the lord in Dakshaaraamam, and composed Kaashikhandam and Bhimakhandam there, in the precincts of the temple.

Sastry's Kanaka VeeNe paints a vivid picture of how that happened, how Srinaatha went to Dakshaaraamam and composed his last poetry.

The tale recounts the legend of how Shiva graced the street of the courtesans in Dakshaaraamam, the garden of Daksha, every night, and how townspeople shunned it in deference to the lord's cavorting there. Srinaatha learnt of it, and met the courtesans; they performed the old story for him- how Kama was incinerated by Shiva and how he was given life and form again. Inspired by that, he composed Bhimakhandam and Kaashikhandam in the orchards attached to the temple.

Ravichandrika tells of an event that happened during his stay there, and what happened years later.

Unmoved by the enticements of the courtesans, Srinaatha meditated there, in the gardens attached to the temple, until a clever minx begged a boon of him, asking that their offspring be a poet great enough to win his approbation.

She was clever, wasn't she? Srinaatha was charmed by her clever phrasing of the request and granted her boon, only saying that a son born in her profession had no future, hence she might be better off asking for a daughter to please the lords, the mundane or the heavenly.

He left Dakshaaraamam, and went back to Rajamahendravaram. Chitti Pantulu died, and keeping a word given to him, Srinaatha waited in the temple, offering worship in that man's stead. Years passed.

Perhaps he knew of the events, perhaps not.

In due time, a daughter was born to the courtesan. She was born mute. But she could dance. From the day her mother took her to introduce her to the lord in the sanctum, she worshipped him with dance. She became known as Kuhoo, as that was all she could utter, when she heard the koel call.

By that time Srinaatha was a permanent fixture at the temple of Maarkandeya Swami- a man who had resigned from worldly pursuits and if kings and courtiers visited him, he was unmoved, he was done chasing fame and renown, after all. When a close friend Annayya Mantri described a dream he had had and asked him to accompany him to worship again at Dakshaaraamam, Srinaatha gently refused, saying that he had given his word he'd await Chitti Pantulu's return to hear his poetry.

Annayya Mantri's dream came true, on the night of Shiva.

Kuhoo worshipped the lord with dance, and a swarm of bees chased the crowds away. On Shivaraatri, the lord himself invited her to join him, sending the bees as messengers, thereby telling her to come to Srisailam, where he was known as the lord of the jasmines.

Annayya Mantri, who was unharmed by the messengers of the lord, recited Bhimakhandam and Kaashikhandam to the young woman, and she spoke for the first time in her life. He called me, she said, and this was how he invited her, Sastry says:

Sigapoovaa raavE yane, nagumomuna cherisagammu naade yane, nee sogasula nanu gaisEyave, jigikempula movi sudhalu jilukan raavE.

(What an invitation! This is no less than the lord god in charge of endings, Shiva himself, begging a maiden's attention and more.

Come, the flower I wear in my locks; half of my smiling countenance shall be yours; accept me and welcome me to your graces; bestow the nectar of glistening ruby lips, come.

Sigapoovu: a flower worn in hair. But here, the hair ornament is the crescent moon that Shiva wears in his matted locks. Nagumomuna cherisagammu naade yane: he is offering union, as arthanaareesvara, no less, a chance to become the feminine aspect of his wholeness. Nee sogasula nanu gaisEyave: but then he is pleading, accept my attentions, let me partake of your grace. Jigikempula movi sudhalu jilukan raavE: come, bestow the nectar of your glistening ruby lips on me, he is begging.)

Kuhoo left for Srisailam. Informed of the events by Annaya Mantri, Srinaatha travelled there. In the temple gardens, jasmine-scented moonlight paid homage to Kuhoo, and the lord made her gifts of serpents to adorn her wrists and neck. Like a snow-clad peak she shone as she awaited the lord to consummate their union; and the lord awaited the father to ask for the maiden's hand.

Srinaatha saw his daughter for the first and the only time. She greeted him as father. And the lord turned her in to a flame of camphor and took her to himself.

Where is Srinaatha, asks Sastry, is he not alive in his poetry?

Where is Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry? Does he not live on in his works?

Cheers!

6 Comments:

Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

There you are, Ash. I rest my case.

11:36 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Not at all. You should have mentioned Padakelika, too. You left out the Shaantayya and the Yati episodes. Lovely retelling, Lali. Ever considered translating the whole story?

9:09 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

It is too long already. And no, it isn't a story you can translate. The idiom cannot be translated, and internal references would require copious footnotes. Not worth the hassle.

12:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigapoovaa raavE, sigh.

Sincerely,
Secret admirer

2:29 pm  
Blogger Alien said...

That was quite something .. though I suspect that the Mukherjea is misleading.. esp if the trips to Vizag be remembered...

1:26 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Anon- Sigh. Get a name.

Alien- Not so, to quote a favourite blogger of mine. I don't intend to write about all the trips we undertook, after all. Unless you meant the title, which I admit is an amusing pun while being apt.

6:43 pm  

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