Śyāmalā Daṇḍaka is one of those lyrical Sanskrit texts which, despite its mainstream popularity in India, has slipped beneath the literary radar. Unlike the wonderfully obscure works Rasāla normally publishes, Śyāmalā Daṇḍaka tallies up almost 3,000 hits on youtube and is attributed to the legendary Kālidāsa, undisputed emperor of Sanskrit poetry. And yet, like our previous volumes, this lyrical poem is barely accessible to the English reader. Amid the few published literal translations, and the many online versions, there is nothing – that we are able to find at least – that conveys the beautiful phonology of the poem in verse form.
Usha Kishore, a much-published poet of Indian origin living in the UK, and her uncle, M Sambasivan, a priest, Sanskritist and neurosurgeon, teamed up to try and capture the beauty of the poem in English. The result of their labours over a good three years will soon be out in print in Rasala’s newest volume, Śyāmalā Daṇḍaka: Translating The Divine Woman.
In the next few blog posts, we give our readers a sneak peak of this upcoming volume, complete with recordings of both the English and Sanskrit by Usha herself.
The opening of the daṇḍaka sets the bouncy rhythm for the next three sections with a long initial phrase (yes that’s all one compound word, and it is a stunning example of what you can do with compounds in Sanskrit – start at the end, in the kadamba forests where the goddess is found, and work your way back, zooming out through the bilva woods to the island they rest upon to the sea that surrounds it) followed by two shorter ones:
doting denizen of the kadamba groves,
akin to kalpa trees,
amidst a bilva wood,
atop a gemstone isle rising from the ambrosial sea;
beloved of the hide-clad Śiva,
beloved of the world.
This is the first post in the series on Śyāmalā Daṇḍaka. To learn more about the Rasāla edition, and/or to purchase a copy of the print or eBook, please click here.