Kavi Samaya 3: Last One on Women

Our final verse on the idealised female body is a hetūtprekṣā (a fanciful attempt to explain why something is as it is) about why the belly button – which should be as deep as a well – has its characteristic round shape.  This is taken from a description of the princess Candralekhā.


स्तनौ तुङ्गौ समारूढे चापन्यस्तभरे स्मरे ।

कोदण्डाटनिमुद्रेव जाता नाभी नतभ्रुवः ॥

After scaling the peaks

of the of the curving-browed girl’s breasts,

Kāma rested a moment upon his heavy bow,

thus forming

as it were

her navel

with the impress

of his bow’s rounded point.


8.29 Bilhaṇa’s Vikramāṅkadevacarita

5 thoughts on “Kavi Samaya 3: Last One on Women

  1. Sirajuddin Ali Khan “Arzu” (d. 1755) literalizes two kavi-samayas of classical Persian in the following couplet: the beloved’s chin-dimple that conventionally forms a pit into which the lover falls; and the idiom “two-towered pigeon” for an indecisive or fickle person. Also, this couplet is unusual in that its beloved is anatomically female.

    My gaze wandered
    from her chin-pit
    to her breasts.
    And now
    a snared pigeon flutters
    between towers.

    • Prashant do tell us more about poetic conventions in the Persian/Urdu context. Are they as widespread and fantastical as those in Sanskrit? From what I remember of Latin and Greek poetry, even the most sophisticated stuff, there was nothing comparable in scope.

  2. There’s an Urdu couplet that Ghulam Ali recites while singing one of his ghazals which might fall in the category Hetutpreksha:

    Ab mein samjha tere *rukhsaar pe *til ka matlab
    Daulat-e-husn pe *darbaan bitha rakh-kha hai

    rukshaar: cheek
    til: blackmole
    darbaan: guard

    It’s related to the custom (perhaps there in South India too) of putting a black spot using Kohl (on kids often) so as to stave off evil eye (“nazar na lagna”).
    Sorry I couldn’t find who wrote it.

    • Thanks very much for this. I can’t follow the exact meaning (what is ‘daulat-e-husn’) but get the sense. It would be lovely if you could add a translation for those of us who struggle with Urdu.
      In fact these hetutprekshas for various features of the body remind me of those wonderful Kipling stories.

  3. Venetia, poetic conventions in the Persian-Urdu context mostly apply to the genre of the ghazal couplet, implying that the two end-stopped hemistichs of a freestanding ghazal distich form the largest textual ambit within which all the tropological games were played out over the centuries. Of course, this is true for the post-Hafiz (d. 1390) ghazal since it was Hafiz who shattered the narrativity of the ghazal. Having said this, I don’t think ghazal tropes excel at compound and intricately braided multiple metaphors until the early1500s and till the 1750s across India, Central Asia and Iran. In this period poets looked back at the heritage of more or less staid metaphors and stock images to renew them by literalizing them – as you see Arzu do above – to build a further metaphor on the literal metaphor. It’s also in this period that you see brilliant uses of “hetutpreksha”, called “husn al-ta’lil” or “fantastic etiology” in Persian-Arabic.

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