Sexual Dynamics in the Amarusataka

Author: 
Bonner, Rahul
Year: 
1991

     This study "is a translation and discussion of the Amarusataka, 'The Hundred Poems of Amaru,' a collection of Sanskrit poems about sex and love traditionally attributed to a poet named Amaru or Amaruka, but probably the work of several authors. . . . The translation is meant to be literary rather than purely academic. I have attempted to produce something more than a mere gloss on the surface meaning of the poems; I hope that the translation reproduces for the English speaking reader some of the aesthetic pleasure of reading the poems in the original.
     I begin my discussion with a review of the textual problems surrounding the AS. In fact there is not one AS but several, produced by editors and critics working in Sanskrit and English over a span of seven hundred years. For reasons I give in chapter one, I . . . base my work on the text of the earliest and most engaging commentator, Arjunavarmadeva. . . . I develop the idea of the dramatic context of these poems, a semantic frame within which they must be read. I show how the Sanskrit commentators use this dramatic context to judge the intent of a poem, and give some examples of their often lively debate over its exact parameters. Though the work of the Sanskrit commentators is grounded in the terminology of Sanskrit dramatic criticism . . . it is not merely a theoretical exercise, but an attempt to elucidate the meaning of the poems through an investigation of the psychological motivations of the characters.
     The sexual dynamics of the AS center around a concept called mana, the emotional separation of lovers. Chapters three and four deal with mana and its opposite, a fantasy of sexual happiness and fulfillment. I look at mana both as a weapon that lovers use to gain control over each other, and as a means by which women establish bonds with each other. In my discussion of the absence of mana, I concentrate on the characters of the faithful man (anukula nayaka) and simple woman (mugdha nayika). These characters, though iconic to Sanskrit dramatic criticism, are not unproblematic; I attempt to show how they reinforce the major ideological position of the AS, that love is a game of deceit and control.
     In chapter five I return to the problem of the status of the AS as a text. Taking Arjuna's AS as a basis, I discuss his exclusion of certain poems from the text, and his ordering of the poems within the text. I look at the poems Arjuna decides do not belong in his AS in order to determine what he believed properly constitutes an AS poem. Though he explicitly denies the existence of any narrative order to the whole collection, I find that the first three poems, in the order in which they appear, serve as metapoems that comment on the AS's overall form and meaning.
     The last chapter in my discussion deals with some of the issues raised by the act of translating these poems. I discuss the decisions I made which affect the entire translation, especially the decision to include the voices of the commentators in my translation in the form of short colophons to the poems. I also review the recent history of translating the AS with a view to providing a short practicum in the translation of Sanskrit lyrics."
     At the end of this study there is a glossary of Sanskrit terms and two diagrams that schematically represent the categorization within Sanskrit dramatic criticism of the woman and the aesthetic mood of love.