Monday, June 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.37: Back to Breasts & Pearl Necklaces

taasaaM jagur dhiiram udaattam anyaaH
padmaani kaash cil lalitaM babhaNjuH
anyonya-harShaan nanRtus tath" aanyaash
citr'-aaNga-haaraaH stana-bhinna-haaraaH

= = - = = - - = - = =
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= = - = = - - = - = =
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Odd ones among those women sang,
in low and in high voices,

Some pulled lotuses apart, playfully;

Others in the same vein danced,
bristling with mutual delight,

Limbs making exotic gestures,
Breasts perturbing pearl necklaces.

Included in this verse as I read it is the principle of individual differences, as opposed to generic or platonic forms.

Line 1 can be read as introducing this principle; line 2 as describing a kind of reductionist analysis into parts, of the sort that scientists are wont to make; line 3 as expressing mutuality, reciprocity of subject and object, in the act of dancing; and line 4 as painting a vivid picture of arresting dance moves, bringing us back again to the recurrent theme of female human breasts scantily adorned by pearls, and causing us to ask again why Ashvaghosha dwelt so often on this particular subject.

One answer that occurs to me in the context of the preceeding verse is that platonic love (which so many romantic films and songs would have us believe is the main aim of our life) is all very well, but female breasts are a much more concrete pair of targets. And a target, originally, is what a breast is, with its teat for a bulls-eye.

Every healthy baby is born with the understanding hard-wired into its system that a primary tangible target upon which its survival depends is its mother's breast, and in particular the milk-issuing nipple. The healthy baby comes already equipped with the equipment, in the form of rooting and suck reflexes, for finding this target -- naturally, unconsciously, automatically.

Even having been weaned off breast-milk and released (albeit partially in most cases) from the influence of infantile reflexes, we human beings still seem to need our targets. In the above murals from the Ajanta Caves where is the eye naturally drawn? In the first picture (a copy from the 19th century restored by the V&A museum), the eye is drawn primarily to the dancer's gesticulating arms and bending right leg. In the lower picture, the contrasting colours of the white eyes and black hair of the palace maids stand out and draw the attention. And at the same time, especially in the lower picture, the glimpse of a naked female breast seems to retain a certain pull.

If we seek to identify an ultimate target in Saundara-nanda, the target might be amRta, the deathless nectar that Nanda makes his own in Canto 17, as affirmed by the Buddha in Canto 18. But on the way to obtaining the deathless nectar, more limited, tangible, and immediately attainable targets have their place.

Since I fell off my bike exactly four weeks ago and perturbed the ligaments of my left knee, my target for sitting in full lotus without moving the legs has gone from over an hour to somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes, and it has become a bit of a ragged full lotus at that, the line of the toes not making it as far as the outside of the thigh. Regardless, the target of sitting four times a day remains, as does the target of publishing one verse per day. I may be wrong, but this kind of daily target, which is as tangible and substantial as a pair of full and firm female breasts, seems to help me going in what I hope is the right direction, like a donkey motivated by a series of wisely dangled carrots.

Nanda's attainment of the deathless nectar as described in Canto 17 can be understood as total liberation from anxiety about getting carrots. Or it might be compared to the getting of a massive carrot. Either way, a bloke like Nanda at his present stage, the Buddha evidently judged, was like a donkey in need of a tangible, non-platonic carrot.

Among women in heaven, Ashvaghosha seems to suppose, as among women on earth, and as among donkeys, there are individual differences and individual preferences. At the same time, old rugby players everywhere know this universal truth: donkeys like carrots.

EH Johnston:
Some of them sang softly and proudly, some pulled lotuses to pieces for sport ; others again danced because of their pleasure in each other with varied gesticulations, their pearl necklaces thrown into disorder by their breasts.

Linda Covill:
Some sang in low, some in high tones, some pulled playfully at lotuses, and others danced exuberantly with each other, through their vivid gestures breaking the pearl necklaces on their breasts.

taasaam (gen. pl. f.): of them
jagur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect gaa: to sing
dhiiram (acc. sg. n.). steady; deep , low , dull (as sound); gentle , soft
udaattam: (acc. sg. n.). lifted upraised , lofty , elevated , high ; haughty , pompous
anyaaH (nom. pl. f.): others (anyaaH anyaaH: some, others)

padmaani (acc. pl.): n. a lotus (esp. the flower)
kaash cit (nom. pl. f.): some women
lalitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. sported , played , playing , wanton , amorous , voluptuous ; artless , innocent , soft , gentle , charming , lovely
babhaNjur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect bhaNj: to break , shatter , split ; to break up, divide

anyonya-harShaat (abl. sg.): because of bristling mutual joy
anyonya: mfn. one another, mutual
harSha: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness
nanRtur = 3rd pers. pl. nRt: to dance
tathaa: ind. likewise, similarly
anyaaH (nom. pl. f.): others

citr'-aaNga-haaraaH (nom. pl. f.): with exotic gesticulations
citra: mfn. conspicuous; bright ; variegated; various ; strange, wonderful
aNga-haara: m. gesticulation
aNga: n. a limb, the body
haara: mfn. bearing, carrying, stealing
stana-bhinna-haaraaH (nom. pl. f.): their breasts detaching/disturbing their pearl necklaces
stana: m. the female breast ; the nipple
bhinna: mfn. split , broken , shattered , pierced , destroyed; detached , disjoined , loosened ; interrupted , disturbed ; disunited , set at variance
haara: m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings)

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