Timeless poetry of Shilabhattarika – the 9th Century poet

Richard Holkar, the scion of the erstwhile ruling family of Indore, has quoted Willie Dalrymple, on his fb wall to highlight the literary glory and the timeless poetry of Shilabhattarika, the 9th Century poet.

Shilabhattarika is much quoted by critics of classical Sanskrit literature, and her verses appear in major Sanskrit anthologies. She is eulogised for few of the greatest poems ever written in the Sanskrit tradition. The 10th century poet Rajashekhara praised Shilabhattarika as a leading figure of the Panchali literary style.

We are reproducing Willie’s observations about Shilabhattarika from Richard’s post:

“During my research this week I came across the poetry of a 9thC Sanskrit poet, Shilabhattarika. She lived in central India between the Narmada and the Vindhyas at the turn of the first millennium. Some think she may have been a Rashtrakuta princess; other traditions associate her with the rasika/aesthete, polymath, architect and man of letters, the Paramara Raja Bhoja, who ruled in MP around Bhopal and Sanchi and whose court attracted the greatest literary talents in India.

Shilabhattarika’s work is much praised and collected by literary critics of the time and she is known to have written at least 46 poems on topics such as “love, morality, politics, nature, beauty, the seasons, insects, anger, indignation, codes of conduct, and the characteristic features of various kinds of heroines.”

Today only six of her poems survive. This is the most famous, translated by the amazing Andrew Schelling. Its just fabulous and Shilabhattarika would be remembered even if all that survived was just the first couplet:

Nights of jasmine & thunder,
torn petals
wind in the tangled kadamba trees.
Nothing has changed-
Spring has come again and we’ve simply grown older.

In the cane groves of the Narmada
he deflowered my
girlhood, long before we were
married.
And I grieve for those far-away nights
when we played at love
By the water.

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