Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry: The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond

Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry: The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond

Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry: The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond

Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry: The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond

Synopsis

At the turn of the twelfth-century into the thirteenth, at the court of King Laksmanasena of Bengal, Sanskrit poetry showed profound and sudden changes: a new social scope made its definitive entrance into high literature. Courtly and pastoral, rural and urban, cosmopolitan and vernacular confronted each other in a commingling of high and low styles. A literary salon in what is now Bangladesh, at the eastern extreme of the nexus of regional courtly cultures that defined the age, seems to have implicitly reformulated its entire literary system in the context of the imminent breakdown of the old courtly world, as Turkish power expanded and redefined the landscape. Through close readings of a little-known corpus of texts from eastern India, this ambitious book demonstrates how a local and rural sensibility came to infuse the cosmopolitan language of Sanskrit, creating a regional literary idiom that would define the emergence of the Bengali language and its literary traditions.

Excerpt

Speech whose flavor is suited to Prakrit has been here forcefully
drawn into Sanskrit, as if the Yamunā, whose waters naturally
flow downward, were dragged forcibly to the firmament of the
sky / just as Balarāma dragged the Yamunā upward.

GOVARDHANA, ĀRYĀSAPTAŚATĪ, I.5 2

AT THE TURN OF THE twelfth century into the thirteenth, at the court of King Lakṣmaṇasena of Bengal, Sanskrit poetry showed profound and sudden changes: a new social scope made its definitive entrance into high literature. Courtly and pastoral, rural and urban, cosmopolitan and vernacular components confronted each other in a commingling of high and low styles. This was not the work of an obscure avant-garde. Some of this literature enjoyed vast popularity, as manuscript diffusion, traditions of literary imitation, and visual art attest.

AUTHORS, TEXTS, POETIC
AND HISTORICAL DYNAMICS

This movement was at once mainstream and liminal. The poet Govardhana, from whose Āryāsaptaśatī (Collection of Seven Hundred Āryā Verses) the above epigraph comes, forged a consolidation of literary registers alongside sustained metapoetic commentary, elaborately characterizing his new composite register. In the epigraph above, through the figure of paronomasia or bitextuality (śleṣa), Govardhana references the story of Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother, Balarāma, refusing, in a drunken fit, to descend for a drink of water, and . . .

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