The Seduction of Shiva: Tales of Life and Love

BOOK: The Seduction of Shiva: Tales of Life and Love
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Tales of Life and Love
Translated from the Sanskrit by A.N.D. Haksar



ADITYA NARAYAN DHAIRYASHEEL HAKSAR is a well-known translator of Sanskrit classics. Educated at the universities of Allahabad and Oxford, he was for many years a career diplomat, serving as the Indian high commissioner in Kenya and the Seychelles, minister in the United States and ambassador in Portugal and Yugoslavia. His translations from the Sanskrit include
The Shattered Thigh and Other Plays
Tales of the Ten Princes
Siṃhāsana Dvātriṃśikā
Kama Sutra
Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir
, all published as Penguin Classics. He has also compiled
A Treasury of Sanskrit Poetry
which was recently translated into Arabic and published in the United Arab Emirates as
Khazana al-Shair al-Sanskriti

my sister
Rashmi Haksar
with all my love


yathā rāghavasyābhavat śāntā subhadrā kaṃsariporyathā tvaṃ tathāsi bhaginī me jīvasva sasukhaṃ sadā


The tales presented here have been translated directly from the original Sanskrit. The ancient language is mainly associated in modern popular perception with religion and philosophy. That it is of course much more, and its vast literature also ranges over worldly life, love and human relations like that of all great languages, is an aspect this presentation endeavours to highlight.

The stories in this collection have been drawn together, perhaps on a first occasion, from a cross section of Sanskrit literature spread over a considerable time span with a wide variety in its nature, form and content. Their settings vary from the mundane to the celestial, but each touches in its own way on emotions,
issues and predicaments which are ageless. A feature common to all is that they are relatively unknown to the general readership of today. Hence these translations to enable a renewed look at some notable tales from a distant past.

This is an eclectic assemblage. Almost half the stories have been taken from irreverent secular works composed mainly for the entertainment of their audiences. Their racy styles extend from the finely cultivated to the almost colloquial and their tones from the romantic and erotic to the cynical and satirical. The rest have been selected from literature traditionally regarded as scriptural, and intended primarily to edify even as it also attracts to hold attention.

Most of this second type is
or ‘remembered’ literature which traditionally includes
, that is, the two great epics and the eighteen scriptural histories. Here the style is comparatively simpler and more uniform in its versification, and the tone has an underlying didactic and reverential seriousness,
though enlivened with moving narrations and colourful accounts of desire and despair, fantasy, heroism and wit.

Another narrative of this category included in the collection is a Buddhist birth story which reflects features of tales from both types of literature mentioned above. While they precede as well as follow this story in time, the art form displayed in it also points to the essential continuity in Sanskrit literature as a whole.

It is difficult to determine the dating of these tales, given the paucity of chronological and other data. According to academic estimates,
the likely time frame may stretch from the fourth century
to the twelfth century
, a period of 1500 years separated by nearly a millennium from the present times. Despite their antiquity, however, the varied background of these stories still has a contemporary resonance in several cases.

These echoes may very broadly be of relations between the sexes in the social contexts and the
mindsets reflected in these tales. Such relations cover the gamut of love and life—desire and duty, need and responsibility, seduction and restraint, sex and marriage to mention only a few aspects. Their treatment in these narratives ranges from the down-to-earth to the subtly philosophical, giving additional interest to the whole.

One may begin with the stories classified here as being from secular works. These are, in order of their scholarly dating, from the seventh-century
Daśa Kumāra Charitam
of Dandin, the eighth-century
of Budhasvamin, the eleventh-century
of Somadeva and the twelfth century
Shuka Saptati
of uncertain authorship. Their provenance, where known, extends from present-day Tamil Nadu to Kashmir.

The first three of these are written in the refined
style of classical Sanskrit composition while the last uses a more folksy
idiom. Their backgrounds stretch from the
polished and urban to the rough and rural. Their colourful descriptions range from the leisurely to the brusque, and the elegant to the bawdy, aimed primarily at amusement.

An interesting contrast is provided in the tales from the purāṇas:
. The word purāṇa, literally ‘of ancient times’, is applied to a category of texts deemed scriptural as already mentioned. They consist principally of histories of the universe from its creation to destruction, genealogies of gods and sages, kings and heroes, and descriptions of cosmology, philosophy and geography as these were understood at the time of their composition. Traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyasa, these texts are framed in the form of stories usually centred on particular gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, with an overall emphasis on devotion and piety.

Bhāgavata Purāṇa
, centred on the god Vishnu, has been dated approximately to the sixth or seventh century
and the other three
somewhat later. All are classed among the eighteen
or ‘great’ purāṇas. The whole comprises an enormous corpus, evolved over time to more than 350,000 verses. Apart from them there are also numerous
, or minor, and
or regional purāṇas.

The splendid
allegory on human life and love is self-explanatory in its epilogue and needs little elucidation. The other tale from the same text, the god Vishnu’s incarnation as the divine seductress Mohini, is also clear in the purport of its picturesque account. Those from the
are dramatic narratives with vivid characterizations which focus respectively on autonomy, duty and responsibility in relations between the sexes. That from the
depicts the cosmic dimension of a divine wedding. This epiphany is relatively little known in translation though its original text was included in an anthology of Sanskrit literature brought out by the Indian Sahitya Akademi.

The story on sexual dialectics featuring in the twelfth-century
is drawn from the much older Mahābhārata narrative, five tales of which are included here. All but one focus on the social dimensions of marriage and sexual relations, described both emotively and in a manner which may now appear somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The tale of Rambha and Ravana from the even older Rāmāyaṇa of Valmiki is by contrast straightforward in its sharp and moving narration. So is the tale of Arjuna and Urvashi, from the Mahābhārata, extolling the merits of restraint. That of Usha and Aniruddha from the fifth-century
is a beautiful love story which incidentally points also to the familial relations between gods and demons in Indian mythology.

The tale of Prince Sudhana the Bodhisattva, from the eighth-century
, is also a love story, the only one in the translator’s knowledge which features the future Buddha as a lover. Most
accounts of his deeds in
former births dwell on the cultivation of virtues like compassion and caring for others, truth, patience and self-control, as prerequisites for eventual enlightenment. In this fine heroic tale it is love for the beloved in all its glory. The tale also has satirical comments on social situations of the time. Couched in graceful and evocative language, it exhibits features of both the kāvya and the smriti genres in its attractive elegance and its reverential piety.

The purely narrative content of Sanskrit literature often appears to have been overshadowed by the scholarly attention devoted to its philosophical, sacerdotal, linguistic and academic dimensions. The principal stories in the two great epics are well known, but not equally so the many tales within tales they also contain. The numerous stories within the purāṇa histories are even less known to modern readers. Altogether these constitute a treasure trove of fine narratives deserving of greater present notice for their ageless and essentially human
content as compared to any didactic expositions which accompany them. This applies no less to the multitude of other less known stories from sacred or secular Sanskrit literature to which the tales presented here can be a pointer.

The textual sources of these translations are indicated at the end of each tale. My renditions attempt to combine fidelity to the original texts, and an effort to also convey something of their flavour, with the requirements of modern English usage. In some cases they include short initial retellings to provide a context to the story and occasional omissions to avoid repetition. In all cases I have devised the story titles for ease of reading.

The earliest of these translations, that of the Puranjan allegory, was made nearly a quarter-century ago and appeared in a slightly different form in 1989 in the
National Herald
of New Delhi. The translations of the stories from the
Daśa Kumāra Charitam
and the
Shuka Saptati
are revised versions of those which earlier appeared
in my books with the same names published respectively by Penguin in 1994 and by HarperCollins in 1999. The rest are presented here for the first time.

I would like to thank R. Sivapriya of Penguin India for our discussions about this book and for giving me additional time to work on it. It was completed at the homes of my daughter Sharada, and of my son and daughter-in-law, Vikram and Annika, to whom I send my love and gratitude, especially to my grandson Nikhil for his assistance with the computer and to my granddaughter Freya for her lively company. I am also obliged to Shatarupa Ghoshal of Penguin for copy-editing this book, and to Shafali Bhatt and Rajeev Mishra of the India International Centre library, New Delhi, for their help with the textual and reference material. Most of all I thank my dear wife Priti for her unfailing
support and encouragement in this as in all my work, in many ways no words can describe. Nor can they my sister Rashmi, to whom this book is dedicated on her birthday today.


8 November 2013


BOOK: The Seduction of Shiva: Tales of Life and Love
8.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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