By Appayya Dīkṣita, Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, Vedānta Deśika
Translated by Yigal Bronner & David Shulman
Foreword by Gieve Patel

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This volume offers a selection from the vast literature of prayers, devotional lyrics, and introspective meditations composed in Sanskrit in South India over the last thousand years. Three poets of particular salience and artistic genius are represented here. Vedánta Déshika (1268–1369) was perhaps the most outstanding Sanskrit author within the South Indian tradition focused on the god Vishnu and one of the most original poets in the entire history of Sanskrit literature. Two of his best-known works appear in this volume. The “Mission of the Goose” exemplifies the genre of messenger-poems modeled on Kali·dasa’s famous “Cloud-Messenger.” Here Rama sends a goose to deliver an encouraging message to his wife Sita, captive in the demon Rávana’s island capital of Lanka. The trajectory of the goose takes him over the Tamil country, with graphic descriptions of the great temple sites of Vedánta Déshika’s time, and culminates in a powerful statement about God’s presence in the human world. “Compassion” is a meditation about the compassionate aspect of Vishnu, particularly as embodied in the great temple site of Tirupati. Here “Compassion” appears deeply integrated into the god’s own being, but also close in surprising ways to the village goddesses of southern India—voracious, capricious, contradictory, and impulsive.

The two remaining poets, Appáyya Díkshita (1520–1592) and Nila·kantha Díkshita (1580–1644), belong to the same religious world centered on god Shiva; Appáyya was also the great-uncle and teacher of Nila·kantha. In “Self-Surrender,” Appáyya, one of the great polymaths of the late Sanskrit tradition, composed a highly personal statement.   He enacts the surrender of the devotee to the deity and also reflects on the complexity and sometimes paradoxical meanings of this act. The tradition has singled out this work as unique in his corpus; it is said to have been composed when the author was under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug.

 Nila·kantha Díkshita served as a major actor on the political scene of 17th-century southern India, and he also embodied the new poetic ethos of this time. His “Peace” is a mordantly ironic, self-deprecating, and highly introspective work. Couched in a genre going back to the great classical poet Bhartri·hari, “Peace” reevaluates the very notion of renunciation and the search for transcendence in a skeptical, intimate, and deeply unsettling voice.

Taken together, these four works reveal the immense vitality of Sanskrit poetry in the first half of the second millennium in the Tamil country, one of the most productive civilizational centers in the sub-continent.

 

316 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-4110-8  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-4110-X  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

Yigal Bronner is Assistant Professor at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.

David Shulman is Renée Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His most recent publications include Spring, Heat, Rains: A South Indian Diary.

About the Foreword Writer

Gieve Patel trained as a doctor before he became established as an artist. He has written books of poetry, plays and held several exhibitions of his paintings internationally.