Love is widely celebrated in Indian love poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or the passionate and affectionate feelings between lovers, husbands and wives, family and friends. Although the literary forms and language may be unfamiliar, the poems evoke many universal themes of love and romance that will be recognizable to all.
The British Museum Press is pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of Indian Love Poetry by A. L. Dallapiccola, on shelves today. This attractive collection combines a selection of translations from various languages of the best Indian poetry with illustrations drawn from some of the finest examples of Indian art in the British Museum. With a brief introduction to the Indian poetic tradition and a short biographical note about each of the poets, this beautiful anthology is the perfect way to discover the treasures of Indian literature and art.
We’ve featured here some sample poems to celebrate the publication of this new edition.
The Month of Chaitra (March/April)
The charming creepers are in bloom and once more the trees are young, covered in blossoms. Flowers fill streams and pools; elegantly dressed women, burning with passion, abandon themselves in the enjoyment of love. The parrot, the mainia and the cuckoo warble songs of love. In such a charming season, no-one should embrace the thorns of separation, abandoning the flower of union. Why thing of going away?
A lady awaits her lover at a tryst in the forest (utka nayika). Despite his promises, he has not arrived at the trysting place, so she addresses her sylvan surroundings:
Oh brother bower, Oh friend jasmine, Oh beloved mango tree, Oh night, compassionate mother, Oh darkness as loving as a father – tell me why my lover, whose countenance is as bewitching as the rain cloud (Krishna) has not come.
I drenched myself in the rain, dwelt in the depths of the forest, worshipped Kama (god of love) with sandal paste and flowers, passed a sleepless night, forgetting my modesty. What penance have I not done? And still, my Lord does not bless my eyes with his presence.
How can someone separate you from me: your soul from mine?
Distance makes no difference,
The kite may float and fly where it will,
But, at all times, it is attached to someone’s hand.
Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum
You can look inside Indian Love Poetry exclusively on the British Museum shop website.