At the turn of the twelfth-century into the thirteenth, at the court of King Laksmanasena of Bengal, Sanskrit poetry showed profound and sudden changes: a new social scope made its definitive entrance into high literature. Courtly and pastoral, rural and urban, cosmopolitan and vernacular confronted each other in a commingling of high and low styles. A literary salon in what is now Bangladesh, at the eastern extreme of the nexus of regional courtly cultures that defined the age, seems to have implicitly reformulated its entire literary system in the context of the imminent breakdown of the old courtly world, as Turkish power expanded and redefined the landscape. Through close readings of a little-known corpus of texts from eastern India, this ambitious book demonstrates how a local and rural sensibility came to infuse the cosmopolitan language of Sanskrit, creating a regional literary idiom that would define the emergence of the Bengali language and its literary traditions.
Into the Twilight of Sanskrit Court Poetry The Sena Salon of Bengal and Beyond
The Political Poetic of the Sena Court
. . . l'historien n'a rien d'un homme libre. Du passé, il sait seulement ce que ce passé même veut bien lui confier.
History can be written in many genres, including kāvya.
Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam
In actual fact, each living ideological sign has two faces, like Janus. Any current curse word can become a word of praise, any current truth must inevitably sound to many other people as the greatest lie. This inner dialectic quality of the sign comes out fully in the open only in times of social crises or revolutionary changes.
V. N. Vološinov
What was said about life in Sanskrit verse constituted a central fact of life; it referenced itself to lived reality even as it made itself a lived reality. Sanskrit kāvya, in anthology and epigraphy as well as in hosts of individual masterpieces, articulated as it was articulated by the ruling dynasties of ancient and early medieval South Asia. Rarely though does a detailed discussion of poetry make its way into a historical monograph. Yet nothing could be more historical and more material than a kingdom's moral landscape: etched into minds by poets, copied onto paper or leaf by scribes, scraped into metal or stone by artisans. In the early medieval period, the textual life of kingdoms assumes a special salience for the student of South Asian history. For as sovereignties shrunk in size and hegemony, their claims about themselves took on a new topology, expanding and differentiating, spawning newly formed aesthetic and moral territories for rule.
All of this could not be truer for the twelfth- and thirteenth-century king of Bengal, Lakṣmaṇasena. This chapter interprets literature's new historical role at the end of the early medieval period in Bengal, showing historical causality operating within literature as well as literature's own potential for historical causal efficacy. I isolate a cluster of poetic elements that were inseparable from descriptions of the king, and thereby sketch the parameters of an official political poetic. I argue that when it came to the portrayal of concrete reality, for the most part a finite set of forms and contents confronted contemporary authors as a historical necessity. I then attempt to define the historical role of these poetic elements, showing their proximity to the imminent Khalji invasion (Ramadan A.H. 601, early May 1205 C.E.) and the attendant crisis and restructuring of the Sena state.
The chapter begins by looking at the anthologist Śrīdharadāsa's praise poems about the king, tracing a basic logic of representation that can be found echoed throughout the Saduktikaṛṇāmṛta. It then examines the verses ascribed to Jayadeva, which can be taken as representations of the king and his actions. Here I further develop the sketch of a political poetic, and also look at some thematics that suggest a much more immediate relationship to political history: poems about fighting with enemies, among them wicked foreigners (mleccha). The chapter then considers the poetry ascribed to the members of the Sena royal family, again finding consonance with an official poetic, and in addition tracing suggestions of distinctive immediate concerns related to membership in the political elite. I then turn to a peculiar subsection of poems devoted to a political imagination of space and geography, further exploring a poetics of sadism and desperation, meditating on the poetics of control over spaces and places that have been loved and lost. This discussion of the Sena geographical-territorial imagination offers a vision of a new, hard-won negotiation between historical fantasy (which has its own long history in Sanskrit kāvya) and historical reality. The chapter's argument then moves outside the Saduktikarṇāmṛta to the depiction of Lakṣmaṇasena in a narrative poem by Dhoyī devoted to the king's twinned martial and erotic virtues, extending further the picture of the political poetic and focusing on its uncompromisingly sadistic attitude toward women.
Having defined an official poetic through this series of snapshots, I can then begin to trace its margins, looking at a segment of the anthology devoted to royal panegyric in general (cāṭu). Intriguingly, alongside the official poetic, we find examples of idiosyncratic poems that exceed it, offering what was perhaps most self-contained and self-referential in Sena literary life, and allowing us to trace a historical dynamic at once distinct and inseparable from that of the official poetic: the proud assertion of a Sanskrit literary provincialism in the context of a shrinking and threatened state.
This chapter's complex cumulative exercise offers a unique perspective on Sena literary and political apparatuses. It is a study in details and their repetition, which can only offer a deep texture in being somewhat tirelessly accumulated. Its project is an exercise in tracing a different level both of rhetoric and historical causality from that which is conventionally recognized in studies of Sanskrit poetry. By talking about rhetoric in terms that transcend emic definitions of poetic figures, and abandoning rigid formalism and positivism in characterizing rhetorico-formal tendencies, one can begin to trace patterns that have, along with their historicity, been previously unrecognized. Sometimes their specificity is relative rather than absolute. I am not attempting to establish the utter uniqueness of most of the poetry examined here, even though I do point out some unique features, and in certain aspects this account could be made to overlap with a broader history of poetry at the close of the early medieval period. However, a crucial aspect of this study's potential for drawing attention to a different level of poetic historicity is its scale, which, in contrast to the vast majority of work on Sanskrit literary history, tends toward the microhistorical.
Neither do I wish to identify a relationship of rigid mechanical causality between this poetry and its world. I draw attention to patterns, which are historical. I examine how the order of the world and the order of its literary artifacts make sense in terms of each other. Thus the knot of causality here is tied perhaps less tightly than a traditional historian would like. Nevertheless, if we are to learn history from poetry in new ways, some allowance should perhaps be made for less tightly binding hermeneutic ventures.
Accounts of the King
Verses from the beginning and end of the royal anthology Saduktikarṇāmṛta (A Nectar of Poetry for the Ears) illustrate one of the most basic features of the Sena political poetic. In the poems discussed below, military valor and commitment to spiritual exercise are conjoined, but just as often one finds dexterity in love juxtaposed with cruelty, or violence with charity. Disparate or potentially mutually exclusive virtues fall into an apparently natural apposition. I call this the "Janus-virtue" trope; in it I identify one of the Sena court's most simple and pervasive ideological motifs.
The first three verses of the collection trace a thread from the king, through the anthologist's father, to the anthologist himself, emphasizing the coexistence of martial and spiritual virtues in each:
He carries a treasure of heroism as well as asceticism; there is no limit to his knowledge or his charity. He has conquered his enemies and also his senses. He is a guru to both emperors and yogis. There is only one such king on the earth, the majestic Lakṣmaṇasena, who though living has attained spiritual liberation. (1)
His crest-jewel of chief feudatories, his friend, and a matchless repository of affection, the majestic Vaṭudāsa by name was chosen as his military representative. Removing heat and darkness, casting moonbeams of fame, he was a full moon made of the nectar of perennial virtues. (2)
And that repository of vast virtues called Śrīdharadāsa came from him. Since childhood he could not restrain his measureless might, and he always lent majesty to the houses of those learned in the Veda, which was equally famous in gatherings of scholars. His devotion reposes in the moon rays of the toenails of the lotus-feet of Śrī's lord Viṣṇu. (3)
In the first verse, Lakṣmaṇasena conspicuously combines opposites. The same trope is present in the depiction of Vaṭudāsa and his son, in the next two verses. By the poems' logic, might and right fall into an easy relationship. The aesthetic formulation of the Janus-virtue trope alludes to a world imagined to be itself aesthetically formulated, where violence forms a dependent factor inseparable from spiritual virtues. It would be wrong to see this rhetorical feature as the singular invention of the Sena poets, for it can be located widely elsewhere. Compare for example the defining fourth-century Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta, which is generally structured by something like the Janus-virtue trope, in which the king is referred to throughout as both warrior and poet-scholar: "his glory travels by many paths and is continually heaped higher by his exalted charity and force of arms, tranquility and study of the śāstras." The martial and the spiritual did not however eternally coincide. Compare the twelfth-century poet-historian of Kashmir, Kalhaṇa:
Seeing everything everywhere the same is indeed a virtue for a yogi, but for a king, it is a great fault and a source of disgrace.
What is distinctive in the present context is the irrepressible consistency with which the trope is applied to Lakṣmaṇasena and those closest to him.
At the close of the anthology, the Janus-virtue trope is again applied to Lakṣmaṇasena's right-hand man, but here in terms exactly parallel to those applied to the king himself. The final section of the Saduktikarṇāmṛta, "Praise of the Military Representative (pratirājastuti)," is entirely devoted to the anthologist's father and it contains five verses by local poets. One verse by the judge (dharmādhikaraṇa), Madhu, reemphasizes Vaṭudāsa's sharing in the deployment of royal violence, reconfirming his status as vanguard feudatory:
He sustains the joy of the wise and gives fever to enemies' ears. Worshipping again and again the lotus foot of the primeval boar [incarnation of Viṣṇu], he is a good friend and an ocean of virtues. He is a blind man's walking stick on the earthen path of justice, and the very rod of Lakṣmaṇasena's right arm, harsh in meting out punishment.
The above verses show one thread in the tapestry of an official royal imagination and I will try to trace the contours of this imagination in greater detail below. As mentioned before, most of the elements of poetic representation isolated are, like the Janus-virtue trope, not totally unique to the Sena archive. Provocative singularities and oddities can be found, as we will see, but what truly characterizes this corpus is a precise internal coherence among authors of the same time and place. All of the authors we look at below were present together at the Sena court, and it is when they represent the Sena monarch that they most betray the character of composite authorship, the collective aesthetic voice mediating their social and political universe.Certain tropes and styles present studies in overdetermination; the aesthetico-moral universe of the Senas had clearly definable dictates. Certain poetic concepts were carefully premeditated and proved indispensable to the symbolic life of the Sena ruling classes. We find unmistakable continuities running through all the poets, from the obscure and forgotten, like Madhu or Vidyā, to the immortal, like Jayadeva and Govardhana.
All the verses under examination here emanate from the center of a single literary-political community. The kings were also poets and the Saduktikarṇāmṛta was intimately connected to the royal family. Alongside the lyrics of those they patronized are verses by Lakṣmaṇasena himself, as well as his father and grandson. In the colophon to the royal anthology, its compiler Śrīdharadāsa refers to himself as mahāmāṇḍālika, an official feudal rank indicating that he administered a substantial territory. The anthology itself was thus a state apparatus in the most blatant and immediate sense, and indeed tells us something about the feudal character of the early medieval South Asian state and the proximity of the literary and political realms; this is hardly less the case for the other literary products of the Sena court. To the extent that one can situate this poetry in the state, one should then be able to situate the state in its poetry. The close reading that follows-of four selections of verses from the Saduktikarṇāmṛta and one from the famous, first messenger poem (dūtakāvya) of medieval Bengal, Dhoyī's The Wind Messenger (Pavanadūta)-thus provides a composite sketch of the poetic component of Sena rule.
Jayadeva's Poetry of War and Charity
Readers of Jayadeva's celebrated erotico-mystical song-poem, Govinda in Song or Gītagovinda, might be surprised by the twenty-nine stray anthology verses he composed that are not found in his masterpiece. Most of them take as their subject and addressee the poet's patron, King Lakṣmaṇasena, and their themes are most often immediately worldly. They meditate on the monarch's awe-inspiring generosity and celebrate his military power. Many lyrics even delight in orgiastic evocations of bloodshed. Whereas the opening section of this chapter drew attention to one central trope of the Sena literary world, here in Jayadeva's poems I uncover what appear to be nuanced references to contemporary political life.
A few of the verses have an apocalyptic cadence and imagery, which may be broadly construed to reflect on the aforementioned Khalji attack. Though the compilation of the anthology seems to have preceded the invasion by about two months, one can say that some of the poems look distinctly toward it. The invasion must not have been an utter surprise, after all, since many other regional sovereignties were collapsing during this period, and the Turkish conquistador Mohamad Bakhtiyar Khalji had just been to neighboring Bihar. There are two verses where Jayadeva refers directly to mlecchas, "ethnic others" whose speech has a harsh character as caricatured by this onomatopoetic word:
May Kalkin remove the wickedness of the world. A comet thundering forth mighty radiance for destroying those who would propagate sin by wrecking the Veda; he lifted the vine of his sword for a second and slashing away like smoke those mlecchas whose desires are sinful, effaced the blemish of the kali age, and incarnated righteousness.
This echoes a verse from his Gītagovinda:
You brandish your saber to annihilate the hordes of mlecchas; like a comet, how terrifying it is.
These should in turn be compared with the following verse, which directly addresses the king:
He is committed to dharma and rules the earth torn apart by suffering. Using sacrificial posts riddled with thorns, and billows of smoke emanating from sacrifices laced with blindness-inducing drugs, he gives agony to both their feet and eyes. What to speak of their attacking since they cannot even see! It is clear the spirit of the kali age is not strong.
In the first two poems, the king is not mentioned at all, but the silhouette of an enemy clearly emerges. The destruction of this enemy is credited to Viṣṇu in his only future incarnation, as horseman of the apocalypse, Kalkin. In the first verse, the sword is identified metaphorically with a comet. In the second, a simile forges the identification.
In each case a superhuman, literally celestial agency kills the mlecchas. The verses have an ethereal quality, as perhaps the prospect of military engagement with the enemy had become truly ethereal. The third verse refers directly to the king, yet the agency of the enemy's destruction is almost totally transferred to some of the accoutrements of a Vedic ritual. The poem contains a version of the Janus-virtue trope, but here the divergent virtues are fused in a way that makes each of them a little difficult to recognize. On the one hand, the king's righteousness or commitment to dharma wards off the enemy, but actually the performance of the Vedic ritual has nothing but an ironic, pseudo-relationship to achieving the objective. The sacrificial posts are booby-trapped with thorns. The fire is laced with chemical weapons. It is only by means of guerilla tactics that Lakṣmaṇasena succeeds in disabling his enemy, and the poem ends up attributing something less than military or spiritual power to him. In fact it contains the seeds of a bitter irony.
The other war verses present a different sort of implicit irony. Without exception, the king's might is presented negatively, either in the image of a degraded enemy or else in a displaced fashion via some object or accoutrement. Rarely does one find a narration of his actions in the active voice or a description of his physique. The most one sees of his figure is a single body part, a foot or a hand. Lakṣmaṇasena always seems to be hiding; he is partly outside representation in these verses.
The poems are grandiose in their claims and the enemies' destruction takes on dizzying proportions. Their utterly abject condition is repeatedly emphasized:
O King, which monarchs wishing for the protection of their majesty do not approach your feet, the beautiful abode of Lakṣmī's caprice, for refuge? They come to them for shade and they are completely without fear. Your enemies, bereft of their royal umbrellas, wander the earth at will swept over by the heat of your valor.
The king literally sees himself reflected in the disgrace and agony of his opponents:
In battle, the world was drawn under one royal umbrella by the might of the rod of his terrible arm. In his assembly hall, he beheld for a moment his own body, reflected with upraised umbrella in the convex orb-mirrors on the enemy combatants' crowns sunk at his feet. Then he glared disdainfully at those kings whose heads were tumbling on the earth.
Their slaughter takes on apocalyptic proportions:
In that battle which was a night of doom for enemies, in which a mass of darkness fell in the form of a monsoon of arrows, having as if crossed a river whose currents were the blades of swords, in which whole lineages of enemies lay submerged, Victory's Majesty, herself enchanted, approached the army as a lover, seeing everywhere by the masses of lightning from the tusks of dense troops of elephants frenzied from striking each other.
Clusters of waves of arrows shoot forth and crash into hosts of rutting elephants; they tumble down and seem like islands in the ocean of the blood of his enemies. Ghoul-ladies lay atop them after sex with their lovers and drink blood-wine from shared goblets, using pairs of the nostrils of elephant trunks as straws.
Again and again the humiliation of the enemy is emphasized:
They study flattery; they put grass in their mouths to signal surrender; they roam the forests; they cultivate the mark of the bowstring callus; they make encampments in the mountains. They learn prostration, while you, disposing of the power of circular military arrays, advance. King, to protect their life breaths, your enemies even resorted to witchcraft.
This final verse reads a little strangely but the basic idea seems to be that Lakṣmaṇasena's castrated foes experiment with every conceivable means for engaging with the advancing king. Some of these means are military. They practice archery so as to attack from afar. They hide in forests and secluded mountain enclaves. They are even compelled to rehearse their surrender and prostration. Their last resort is witchcraft, kārmaṇāni.
Lakṣmaṇasena's might is compulsively reflected in someone else's utter degradation, occasionally someone divine or semi-divine. Even the heroes of the Mahābhārata epic are degraded to the profit of the king:
Bhīṣma took on the practice of a eunuch. Droṇa dropped his bow in battle when the son of Dharma spoke falsely. Duryodhana was in a frenzy. Dhanaṃjaya's victory was only because of others' weak points. Karṇa was hysterical. Glorious one, there is no one in Bhārata [on the Indian subcontinent / in the Mahābhārata epic] who prospers through heroism like yours.
Indra and Vāsuki are crippled and then only spared from death by the king's mercy:
Indra was blinded by streaks of dust rising from hooves of horses creeping forward in battle. Vāsuki was crushed as the ground sunk down beneath him under the weight of elephants frenzied in conquest of the directions. Which warriors indeed in the three worlds were not laid to waste, since even Indra and Vāsuki, when freed, enjoyed amnesty in the manner of the blind and lame?
I call the poetic strategy traced in the above poems the "might-in-the-negative" trope.
The might-in-the-negative trope is hardly exclusive to Jayadeva's verses; it ranks as a central element of style in Sanskrit martial verse and epigraphic eulogy generally. It is found in the verses of the Sena poets, however, almost to the exclusion of other complementary modes of heroic representation, and occasionally it takes on an uncommon character, verging on the grotesque. Let us turn briefly in this connection to a verse by someone who was probably another contemporary of Jayadeva. The poet Sonhoka (or Sohṇoka)-like Dhoyī he has an eminently non-Sanskrit name, reflecting his situation in a polity both culturally and spatially regional-wrote a peculiar verse found in the subsection of the Saduktikarṇāmṛta devoted to "the house of the poor" (daridragṛham). It seems, though, as if it could have just as easily been included in the subsection "description of poverty alongside royal flattery" (sacāṭudāridṛyam). Nothing of this poet is known except the two verses included under his name. The poem's language and imagery are peculiar. The verses echo the might-in-the-negative so consistently pursued in Jayadeva's martial poetry, but this time the poet himself, or rather his house, forms the degraded object of comparison. He laments the condition of his crumbling house, while praising the royal might that is somehow reflected therein:
The roof decayed, wind sighing throughout, walls crumbling; its foundation slipping, snakes slithering around, rats roaming, with frogs playing at forming military arrays; its surface cracking into floods of falling pieces, quacking sounds resounding from the roots of birds' wings . . . Ornament of the Sena lineage, my house is like that of your enemy.
The literary sensibility that could fasten a chain of signification between a decrepit house and a king's glory represents something exceedingly novel and strange for Sanskrit kāvya, though below I note examples of something similar in the verses of yet another contemporary poet, Śaraṇa. Here and elsewhere one can discern elements distinctly foreign to mainstream Sanskrit. Yet they always appear side-by-side with verses in a more classical mode.
There are several verses by Jayadeva celebrating the king's military prowess that have in common their focus on a given object in which the monarch's power is figuratively located or reflected. The following verses are notable for their gauḍī rīti, classically "eastern style," with their long compounds and dense alliteration matched to the poetic quality (guṇa) of vigor (ojas) suitable for martial themes:
The abundant roaring of his kettle drums, echoing, awakens terror, acutely producing profound fear for the kings of the three worlds; as if even plunging into the waters of the oceans to destroy the remnants of the fetuses of the pregnant ladies of the enemy army who had miscarried in an explosion of fear.
His war trumpets, crowding the directions upon his journey of conquest to the ends of the earth-giving fever to the ears of troops of elephants lying in groves that had been humming with krauñca birds, ruining the slumber of aged lions in the caves of the eastern and western mountains, intense, reverberating off the Trikakut mountain which marks Laṅkā-sounded with roars deep and loud.
Such poems represent the king's power consistently displaced. There is more than one way to interpret this gesture. On the one hand it could be seen as derealizing, representing his power as fantasy. On the other hand, this very fantasy alludes to a reality whose extent ultimately exceeds or defers a more sober mimesis; the chimerical representation becomes inevitable by this logic. One fact is sure. This displacement was indispensable as a representational strategy. For the Sena poets, the king's power had to be intimated in its indexes and effects; it could never be confronted directly or quantified.
There is a kinder, gentler side to the king's power that one can glimpse in a few verses. The monarch's generosity is evoked in conjunction with a reference to the territories he ruled and his suzerainty over rivals:
Lord of Lakṣmī's play, living Hari, wish-granting tree for our desires, confluence of the sublime and its means of realization, Bhīṣma in the arts of war, beloved of Vaṅga, lord of Gauḍa, the princes of rival kings are ornaments for your palace-assembly. Opponent kings listen to your orders. Protector of the righteous, in just seeing you we are fulfilled.
Quite a few verses present hyperbolic description of the king's donations to poor people and poor poets:
For them a wish-granting tree is most meager. A wish-granting jewel does not even enter their wishes. A wish-granting cow is no resort for their desires. Lord of the earth, you protect well, and your right hand, to whomsoever it is even slightly inclined, has beautiful glory and is pure through accepting the burden of elevating the miserable.
King, may the bough of your hand be victorious. As if in play, its tireless giving defeats the abundance of a wish-granting tree. It glows with flowers of fame. Under the pretext of being anointed with water for the donation ritual, through oozing eddies of donation-liquid, it washes away the rows of letters of ill fortune written on the brows of the wise.
Yet even his generosity involves degrading and dominating the standard of comparison. He defeats all the magical wish-granting forces that might rival him, and his donation involves guile and stratagem. Under the pretext of simply wetting his hands for ceremonial donation, he rewrites men's fate. Throughout these verses, the ruler's domination tends to infect other virtues evoked.
Rarely is one virtue presented without reference to complementary or even somewhat opposed qualities. The cumulative effect is to describe the sovereign as a kind of superman or divinity. The comments of Kunal Chakrabarti, historian of medieval Bengal and its religious culture, on the local goddess figure ring true here:
The deliberate juxtaposition of opposites lent complexity and credibility to the goddess. The continuous dialectical progression from one point of contradiction to another created a divinity which encompassed a whole range of images, emotions, and loyalties. This legitimated the goddess in a manner that no rational explanation could hope to achieve.
The poesis that represents the king thus becomes his attribute. Poetry creates him and he becomes a poetic being, beyond rationality. There was no king without kāvya in this world and no kāvya without a king.
The Sena Royal Poems
The Sena family itself cultivated a political poetry that bears a deep connection to the work of the poets it patronized. The figure anyokti, or allegory, finds its way into many of the royal family's poems, and appears prominently in the Saduktikarṇāmṛta as well as its predecessor, the Pāla anthology Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa. It is also deployed throughout the lyrics of the Sena court's greatest genius, Govardhana, at the heart of his characteristic ironic vignettesin the Āryāsaptaśatī. This figure is most often a vehicle for sociopolitical reflection of one sort or another. The one and only verse attributed to Lakṣmaṇasena's father, Ballālasena, (and included in both the Saduktikarṇāmṛta and the fourteenth-century Cāhamāna anthology Śārṅgadharapaddhati) contains an anyokti which was perhaps, since the Senas traced their descent from the moon, meant to be understood as a reflexive comment on the family's political fortunes:
Leave off, Darkness, your reckless violence. So what if the sun has set? You do not notice ahead the moon, having scoured the sky with vast undulations of light, rises.
An anyokti, literally an "other saying," is a poem with a deceptive referent. The real referent is intimated through the verse's powers of suggestion. Often, commentators will decode the poem and provide a specific scenario or multiple scenarios the "other saying" contains. This is a figure characteristic of Sanskrit literature's late period, of a time perhaps when it could capture the changing worlds it occupied only through slight evasion. Jagannātha Paṇḍitarāja (c. seventeenth century) devoted the largest section, the Anyoktivilāsa, of his Bhāminīvilāsa to this figure and here too the majority of the verses lead us into a royal sphere of princes and kings, their discretion and indiscretion, ascent and descent. The other realm of life that anyokti seems reserved for is a domestic sphere, more fraught with its own melodramatic politics than the properly political realm to which so many of the verses also refer. Ironically, anyokti may even be the Sanskrit figure that offers the most scope for naked immediacy; the referents of these verses could have been very much present in the audience and their world, arresting or at least restricting the play of signification for a time.
The one anyokti verse ascribed to Lakṣmaṇasena is reminiscent of the anyoktis of Jagannātha (e.g., Bhāminīvilāsa 1.4) where buzzing bees reappear frequently to symbolize malicious and insincere ministers or friends, conniving for political power or favor. This verse is only found in the Śārṅgadharapaddhati:
The elephant had not cooled off; his thirst had not been quenched; he did not wash the bits of dust from his body. He had not eaten roots to his heart's content; what to say of amusing himself? He did not caress the lotus-plant with his long extended trunk, but alas the bees began their causeless commotion of buzzing.
A likely referent for the elephant could be an upstart prince or aspirant of some variety, newly risen in life yet finding himself impeded by slander or gossip, or simply by bothersome people making endless demands on him. These are plausible ways of construing the verse, and it would be natural to find such an interpretation were there a commentary to refer to, but nothing is definitive with this kind of poetry.
There is an isolated but exquisitely caustic anyokti verse in the Saduktikarṇāmṛta ascribed to the otherwise totally obscure Mādhavasena. The author may have been a junior member of the Sena household; the poem seethes with a resentment that must have been familiar to royal underlings. The verse accords unmistakably with Sena styles:
That you dwelt in the courtyards of slums, that you rely on scraps to fill your stomach, that your body is not fit to be touched-all this is washed away, little dog of good breed, since upon the order of the king you ascend the palace wearing a golden chain.
The narrative of indignation and sociopolitical renewal is given only shallow burial. The verse seethes with a truth too bitter for words, a reality too immediate and perhaps too scandalous to be fully stated. Likewise the poem presumes some degree of identity between its context and that of the audience. The "little dog of good breed" was perhaps in the midst of those who first heard or read this poem. The ellipsis of the verse, its silence, was likely a very pregnant one for its original audience.
Some of the verses by Lakṣmaṇasena's grandson contain a contrasting tone of exuberant political affirmation. Keśavasena is otherwise known from only one inscription. He succeeded his father Viśvarūpasena, of whom there are two extant inscriptions but no poems. Presumably, Keśavasena's poems were composed before the prince was ruling an independent territory himself. A feature of anthropological interest in his verses is their overwhelming similarity to praise poems written by poets outside the royal family. It appears in these poems that the terms of public respect paid to the king were virtually identical for his descendants and others in his entourage:
By his moonlight-glories the majesty of yak-tail fans is put to shame, the beauty of the white lotus violently abducted, the white elephant of Indra becomes overshadowed, pearl necklaces become mere burdens on the throat, the white light of laughter is stolen, and pale flower beds are made to suffer such defeat-how much more then is the fame of rival kings foreclosed.
By the floods of his glories the beauty of Mount Kailāsa is contradicted, the body of the pale-rayed full moon covered over, the serpent Śeṣa's appearance overshadowed, and the liquid locks of the Ganges collect no luster. The ocean of milk is drunk and the elephant of the lord of gods violently abducted. The god with one tusk even became tusk-less.
At this point we have witnessed these poems' tropology repeated many times: the might-in-the-negative, the rhetoric of deferral and displacement that crowns this king's evocation.
Sena Literary-Political Territory: Deśāśraya
The subsection of the Sena royal anthology (Saduktikarṇāmṛta) called Deśāśraya, "On Lands" summarizes the political geographical imagination of the Sena kingdom. Each of the section's five poems tells of territories conquered by the king, and in all but one case the verses present a nearly identical list of place names. All but one verse contains a śleṣa, bitextual verse that superimposes conquest and sexual intercourse, expressing war and rough sex through the very same words. In each of these verses the elements of the pun, the words themselves, are virtually identical. The names of the dynasties have useful double meanings: Aṅga: body/limb, Kuntala: lock of hair, Cola: blouse, Kāñcī (a major city of the Cola empire): waist-girdle. This particular pun was evidently an official, formalized representation of the king's conquest and the verse series likely emerged from some kind of institutionalized context of composition, where poets were asked to test their virtuosity within certain prescribed constraints. The penultimate poem by Śaraṇa offers an exception to the overwhelming uniformity. In it we find a totally different list of territories and no double text (śleṣa).
The verse series presents a study in repetition. The first verse of the collection is by the (possibly female) poet Vidyā:
Which kings of either the lunar or solar lineages did you not vanquish? We consider the earth to have only one ruler, you. You squeezed the Aṅgas / groped the body. You dragged down the Kuntalas / pulled the hair. You tossed aside the great Colas / lifted off the long blouse. Grabbing hold of the middle country / grabbing hold of the waist, you quickly extracted tribute from Kāñcī / you quickly set your hand upon the waist-girdle.
The second verse, by the poet Śabdārṇava, presents the exact same territories except that Kāmarūpa (Assam) is included and it is indeed likely that the Senas had some true dominance over this region, which is mentioned regularly in inscriptional accounts. Conquest is here equated to activities of sexual dominance and mild sexual sadism:
You conquered with ease the king of Kāmarūpa / you conquer with ease the beauty of the god of love. You suddenly afflicted the Kuntalas / pulled the hair, and quickly destroyed the Colas / ripped off the blouse, and crushed the Aṅgas / groped the body. You conquered the middle country / grabbed the waist, and exacted tribute from Kāñcī / set your hand on the waist-girdle. Taking her under your power, you enjoy the earth in your lust, like a lover enjoys his beloved.
The final sentence brings out a double valence, both military and erotic, of taking under ones power, and homes in on the sexual undertones of the perennial kenning for "king," bhūbhuj (enjoyer of the earth), saying that the earth is enjoyed by her playboy lover (abhīkena bhūr bhujyate). In ancient times, the king was figured as the husband of the earth; here the relationship is more exclusively about sex: the planet is just a casual fling. This implies a more transitory and less secure pleasure or power, commensurate with the limits of the Sena polity in time and space. Here, as we will see again, historical truth emerges from the very dense figuration which would initially serve to occlude it.
The third verse, by an anonymous poet, invests royal eulogy itself with the capacity, respectively, to inspire terror in male enemies, and sexually dominate women:
"O king you truly enjoy laying hold of the Kuntalas / pulling hair, as you repel the kings of Kāñcī / remove the waist-girdle. With swift extraction of tribute / swift blows of the hand, you have begun to crush the Aṅgas / to beat the body." When the bard, your panegyrist, begins to speak thus, the women catch the innuendo and feel shame gazing upon one another, while your enemies feel terror.
The sexual violence in this verse is more extreme than in the others. Here the impression is that the king has brutalized his enemies' wives, rather than simply engaging in the slightly rough sex typical of Sanskrit love poetry. Likewise the pun itself becomes a humiliating taunt as the verse reveals that both the enemy men and women "catch the innuendo." The former feel terror because they face death; the latter face sexual enslavement and experience an emotion which certainly exceeds the poet's choice of words, "they feel ashamed" (lajjante). These poems celebrate, relish, and glorify experiences we might call sexual trauma and acts we might call sexual abuse.
Jayadeva's contribution, at the conclusion of the section, perfectly typifies it with an added flourish that echoes the anonymous poet of the third verse: royal eulogy itself is invested with powers of sexual and military domination. It is no accident that the two verses concluding the section enter into a metapoetic territory where the military power of the verses themselves is reflected upon: the cumulative force of the preceding verses is being collected and consolidated at the close. The court poets and Jayadeva himself are being identified with the king's agency. We can read in this touch a reflexive, metapoetic statement on the poets' political embeddedness:
"You play at making blouses slip and shake / at making the Colas tremble. You pull on locks of hair / you torment the Kuntalas. You manage to bring down the girdle / you triumph in bringing about the fall of Kāñcī. You fiercely confront the Aṅgas / you have intercourse passionately." Thus, lord of kings, the eulogies of your bards today give rise to deep trembling; the hearts of both your women and your enemies leap up to worship your feet.
As can be observed broadly in Sena poetry, the political theme is couched in a language of artful sadistic fantasy. Indeed this list of conquests probably belonged almost entirely to the realm of fantasy. The thematization of local space is parallel to that found in Dhoyī's Pavanadūta, in the sense that the world starts in the south and culminates in Bengal. (The Senas after all came to Bengal from Karnataka, probably as officers in the military of the Cālukyas, perhaps even the army of the great patron of the eleventh-century poet Bilhaṇa, Vikramāditya VI.) The Colas constituted a contemporary regional empire in the deep southeast, a major city of whose kingdom was Kāñcī. The Kuntalas and Aṅgas represented consecutive northern territories, northern Karnataka and southern Bihar, respectively. The principal and more fantastic referential emphasis, the target of the poems' militarism, seems however to be the Colas: a contemporary dynasty in the south that was really out of the Senas' league and also very far away. Śaraṇa's poem however, presents something completely different, a detour of the imagination from the dominant target, and also suggests a completely different species of historicity:
He wins the majesty of Gauḍa with a mere flinch of his eyebrow. He vanquishes the Kaliṅgas as a mere amusement. His arm scorches the Cedi lands, and burns down like the sun on his enemies. He leads the mlecchas willingly to their own demise, and humbles the pride of Kāmarūpa. He steals the luster of the king of Kāśī and dances on the head of the king of Magadha.
He mentions a different set of territories and enemies whose historicity is less doubtful than Lakṣmaṇasena's conquest of Kāñcī, namely, Gauḍa (North Bengal), Kaliṅga (Orissa), Cedi (central India; perhaps it indicates the kingdom of the Candellas), Kamarūpa (Assam), and Kāśī (Bernares). This last reference is definitely to the Gāhaḍavāla kings, whose second capital was Varanasi. Lakṣmaṇasena's inscriptions refer to the same set of conquests: Kaliṅga, Kāmarūpa, the defeat of the king of Benares, and so on. The reference to killing mlecchas through some kind of stratagem echoes other verses by Jayadeva, again lending a more immediate sense of historicity to the statement. The mlecchas in Śaraṇa's verse are almost surely the Turkish invaders, and Lakṣmaṇasena's son and grandson both claimed in their inscriptions to be "yavanānvayapralayakālarudro nṛpaḥ," "a king who was the god [of destruction] Rudra at the time of apocalypse for yavanas (foreigners)." Ultimately the roles were probably reversed in reality, but the referent is nonetheless pregnant with historicity. The Sena poetry both confronts and crafts reality, and it does both self-consciously, as a look at their two contrasting auto-political histories confirms.
The Hero of Dhoyī's Pavanadūta
A look at Dhoyī's depiction of Lakṣmaṇasena further confirms the centrality to the king's representation of a fairly fixed set of tropes, styles, and references. The Pavanadūta also offers something else: a unique study in female degradation as a far from arbitrary signifier for the king's magnificence. Though Lakṣmaṇasena can be said to be the protagonist of Dhoyī's poem, at least in an abstract sense, the Pavanadūta is actually mostly about women, their gestures, feelings, regional characteristics, and so on.
The story of the poem opens with the ruler of Bengal on a southern conquest, where he passes within eyeshot of Kanakanagarī, a gāndharva (semi-divine musician) town on the edge of the Malaya mountain, which the poet calls a virtual suburb (śākhānagara) of the city of the gods. A beautiful female resident of the town, spotting the king, succumbs to love at first sight:
There was a gandharva-girl named Kuvalayavatī more tender than a flower, whom I consider another powerful weapon of Kāmadeva. Seeing King Lakṣmaṇa engaged in world conquest, the girl suddenly fell under the power of the god whose bow shoots flowers.
Here the king's conquest is eroticized in the manner so consistent throughout his various literary representations. One can surmise that the semi-divine character of the city frees it from the scope of his conquest, allowing Kuvalayavatī to love Lakṣmaṇasena as a willing captive of his manly charms, and not as his actual prisoner.
Kuvalayavatī addresses a message to the southern wind (perhaps she got the idea from reading Kālidāsa's Meghadūta):
O wind, seeing Rāma's state of separation-torment, Hanumān crossed the sea. You are his father and your movement knows no impediment. You will be traveling for my sake-how many yojanas away from the Malaya mountain can the land of Gauḍa be?
In Kalidāsa's poem a man longs for a woman; Dhoyī shows us a woman longing for a man who may not even know she exists: a very different economy of desire. Lakṣmaṇasena's women always seem to find themselves in a prostrate, at least slightly miserable position.
Kuvalayavatī instructs the personified wind that he will reach Bengal as the culmination of a northeastern journey through various charming locales. In each description of regional space, the women define the landscape. And in almost every instance the wind is promised a picture of the intimate lives of lascivious ladies. For instance, the breeze is sent from Andhra, where he is assured that the Godhāvarī will be brimming with country-ladies taking their baths, to Kaliṅga with the promise of an illicit opportunity: "Falling upon their pleasure windows, soothe the postcoital languor in the limbs of prostitutes whose eyes are shut like flower buds." When he passes by the Narmadā, he should expect to see that "the groves on its banks are watered by Śabarī women who are connoisseurs of free love." In short, most of the women are presented in various stages of undress, in alluring and promiscuous poses. Dhoyī's guidebook to the south reads like an exotic tribute to regional variations on the theme of lustful abandon . . . until he reaches Bengal:
Its environs washed by the Ganges, wearing garlands of mansions, the passionate land of Suhma will produce in you a high pitch of wonderment, that land where the queens, goddesses of the earth, use palm leaves as tender as digits of the newly waxing moon for their playful earrings.
After swooping down, he obliquely homes in on the king for a moment, and reveals that Bengal also houses its own less than chaste ladies:
There, the delighter of Kamalā, the god Murāri lives in Suhma, having been consecrated on the throne of gods by that king of the Sena lineage. The temple girls, naturally luscious, make Lakṣmī nervous, poised as they are next to him with charming lotuses always in their hands.
The wind is then made to overshoot Bengal and pass along the Kailāsa mountain, before winding back down again. Once on this southern course, Kuvalayavatī recommends:
You should stop by the bridge that runs from the field over the heavenly river. It was constructed by the great king Ballāla [the father of Lakṣmaṇasena] and forms a testimony to his glory. To the people who climb it in order to bathe in the heavenly river, the city of the gods feels nearby in two ways.
[1. The river is divine and purifying. 2. The Sena capital Vijayapura is like a second city of the gods.]
He is told to go to the purifying land where the Yamunā is dyed even more black than it already is "with musk which its waves wash from the breasts of the ladies of Suhma passionately playing and jumping in the water," and further instructed:
Use waves as your hands to slip off the garments over the breasts of the playful ladies sporting wildly in the water. Let their smiles soft from play be their only blouse when they are suddenly startled at their lovers catching glimpses of them.
We can see here that if the women of Bengal initially appeared more chaste than their southern counterparts, the logic of representation ultimately becomes fairly uniform for the women of the poem.
After spying a bit of Bengal's landscape, the wind swoops down on the capital:
After spotting the encampment, the august capital known as Vijayapura [Victory City], of the world-conquering king, go there, where the wind from the Ganges, skilled like you, massages the limbs of the noble ladies right after coitus.
What follows is a series of twenty verses on the Sena capital, "where the ladies on the rooftop apartments of palaces are assuaged by their lovers exciting blossoms of goose bumps by secretly touching the nail marks left on their breasts," where:
In the courtyards the noble ladies have fastened smooth moonstones in the charming water basins at the foot of the betel trees, whose roots thus sprinkled by naturally emanating water at night, do not need the servant ladies to water them by hand
In that city naturally purified by the Ganges' embrace and protected by the king, the citizens have no fear related to either heaven or earth. Their only terror comes from the young girls whose faces are at once charming and frightening, with eyebrows artfully contracted, in which sprouts of fury have grown up from love-quarrels.
The description continues in this vein, emphasizing the physical pleasures of Vijayapura, its omnipresent precious stones and jewels, and the beauties of its noble ladies (paurī, paurastrī). A utopia of pleasure and wealth is presented as the culmination of all regional charms, the climax of the wind's journey.
After this extended glance at Vijayapura, the king again comes into focus. First his palace appears:
Go to the delightful palace of the Indra of the earth; enclosed by seven ramparts, it is like the whole world condensed. Clouds rest on the tip of its rooftops which are like mountains, and flashes of lightening for a moment imitate the grace of royal banners.
When the king at last comes into full view, one notes the familiar presence of female servants and degraded enemy wives:
At the appointed time, along with the ladies bearing yak-tail fans, pay service to that consecrated king who is like Kāmadeva himself in the flesh. As wide as he swung the lovely vine of his darting sword in battle, so wide a share he received of the water of the enemy wives' eyes.
Likewise a familiar eroticization of military activities:
The ladies of heaven in their curiosity to behold his fierce battles, and giving in to a daze of excitement, do not notice the edges of their blouses slipping off. I think the vast stream of dust kicked up by his swift steeds, suddenly landing in between the jugs of their breasts, becomes a makeshift blouse.
As we have seen elsewhere, divine figures are regularly made more than a little ridiculous for the king's benefit.
The mixture of arousal, terror, and agony with which he is reflected in the eyes and postures of the enemy ladies presents here a distinct pathos:
With their heads curved and the lotus stalks of their hands pressed against their lotus-faces, the noble ladies recognize "it is him, the Sena king," with a mixture of curiosity and terror. They drink him in on all sides with their eyes long like a series of the petals of water lilies cast sidelong, while he quickly destroys the city of his enemy.
The desolate enemy city is imagined as a bereft and aging woman:
The cries of birds form her incessant sobbing, as she holds in mind the image of her husband long etched on the wall of the pleasure apartment. The enemy city with her withered gardens is a mature woman, and with the durvā grass that has grown in the palace-rooftop apartments as her hair, she lets hang low the mass of her locks.
Nothing bespeaks Lakṣmaṇasena's greatness more than the pathetic, agonized condition of the city's ladies, cast into widowhood by him:
"When she would kick him in play anger, that lovely lady's foot used to be pained by the mound of goose bumps on her aroused husband. How now, lady, do you roam on the tops of peaks, in forest groves, stepping on cruel, hard darbha spouts?" Thus goes the incessant lament of the enemy city's śārika birds.
When the wind is finally due to directly approach the king with the gandharvī's tale of love, she cautions him at length to choose the right moment:
At that time at the end of the day, the king may be engaged in private contemplation of his political obstacles. Wind, do not by any means tell anything of my message then. There is no potential for delight in a mind scorched by serious work.
He is likewise cautioned to approach with the proper bearing, and to speak to the king in private. Once again the gandharvī stresses the importance of choosing the proper moment. If all this was not enough to convince us of Kuvalayatī's servile attitude, the wind is instructed to begin his speech with a flattering reference to the king's exploits in the south: "When you had rapidly defeated the kings of the south and were making your way back, having stolen her heart from the Malaya mountain . . . " The awakening of Kuvalayavatī's love is always linked to an awareness of the spectacle of the king's conquest. The supplication she instructs the messenger to convey comes from a position of utter defeat. The king has literally conquered her.
There is a final very explicit message to be addressed to the king after he has had the anticipated favorable reaction to the news of the gandharvī's love. He is expected to embrace the wind in enthusiasm, since "through sweetly piteous speeches like these, even stones become tender, what to say of someone like him who is passionate by nature." "The king of Gauḍa will listen" to the next pointed speech "with concentrated mind, since the words of a woman in love become for her lover waves of nectar." The message is quite frank:
In the rooftop apartment of the palace, there among my girlfriends, having come to me whose eyes are closed like buds, you did that which is beyond words. But also conduct yourself such that I am not slandered by the decent. In this world, good men do not sully a girl and then abandon her.
But it ultimately relapses into mild servility:
O king, may this bond of love from a distance be conducive to affection. By what virtue of mine, could I even be allowed to massage your feet?
She seems to be contradicting herself. The anonymous commentator (there are brief notes of commentary in the margins of the Asiatic Society manuscript) explains: "'If you do not accept me as your wife, then let me be accepted as your slave.' This is the thrust." Kuvalayatī's abjection is dynamic. She tosses herself at the king without knowing precisely in which position she will land. She could be treated as a whore if she is not careful, but as a wife if she is lucky. Or else she could simply end up his servant or slave.
Dhoyī has etched a definite if complicated image of the king in the stone of this semi-divine woman's fixation. Lakṣmaṇasena's refracted image is morbidly consonant with the strategies of displacement and negativity pointed out elsewhere. Likewise familiar is the degraded or slaughtered other as a signifier for the sovereign, as well as the superimposition of the military onto the erotic and vice versa.
The centrality of women to this king's evocation and the specificity of his relations with women are worth reflecting on. He is never adorned by a queen, as some kings are. Rather females bow to him, serve him, hunger for him from afar, if they are lucky. If they are not so lucky, they find their husbands slain at his hands, their cities ransacked into wildernesses, and themselves made his (at times willing) captives. None of this is particularly remarkable for early medieval Sanskrit kāvya. What is striking is that such degraded, enslaved women are so central to the representation of this king, as we can observe by comparing the many poems examined. From among all these however, Dhoyī's Pavanadūta offers the most intimate and sustained study in female abjection.
Verses on Dignity and Degradation from the Cāṭupravāha
The section of the Saduktikarṇāmṛta devoted to royal flattery, the Cāṭupravāha, presents an intriguing contradiction. On the one hand, it typifies the king's praise to the utmost, repeatedly reemphasizing the official poetic outlined above, striving to capture what is most basic and repeatable about it. On the other hand, toward the section's close, one encounters the heights of the Sena literary salon's idiosyncrasy. This double-sidedness hardly seems accidental. The juxtaposition of the generic with the highly peculiar represents a strategy. Contrast serves to forge balance, emphasizing and deemphasizing, ultimately serving to naturalize the literary salon's provincial particularity.
The section contains nineteen verses ascribed to known Sena court poets that refer to or address the king. From these I examine some examples below. The authors include Śaraṇa, Vidyā, Dhoyī, and Umāpatidhara. Since the last of these composed the praise portion in an inscription of Lakṣmaṇasena's grandfather Vijayasena, as well as that in at least one of Lakṣmaṇasena's own inscriptions, he may be regarded as a court poet in a senior and more institutionalized sense than the others. He has by far the largest number of verses ascribed to him in the Saduktikarṇāmṛta, from among the known poets of the Sena court: eighty-five, as against Jayadeva (thirty), Śaraṇa (twenty), and Dhoyī (twenty). After Rājaśekhara (ninety-four), the early medieval period's de facto poet laureate, he has the greatest number of verses of any author in the collection. In the contributions of the elder courtier Umāpatidhara and his colleague Śaraṇa, we can most identify a studied typicality side by side with something unexpected and extraordinary.
Indeed the following verses by Śaraṇa present novel types of negativity for reflecting the king's excellence:
You have accomplished the heroism of all the great donation rituals. Only when you are given to anger, should a wish-granting jewel, wish-granting tree, or Rohaṇa, the [jewel-rich] lord of mountains, be resorted to. The first is insentient, the second does not leave off its hardness, while the third is depressing because of losing its wings. What other overlord of kinnaras [god of wealth] is there for you to turn to?
His superiority is absolute. The poet asks "kas tvayābhyarthanīyaḥ," literally "Who could be solicited by you?" or "Who could have something requested by you?" The king inhabits an asocial space beyond exchange with others. He can never be identified with the degraded others who reappear in these verses, upon whom he acts, but with whom he never interacts; with whom he never enters into the slightest mutual recognition, yet without whom, ironically, he cannot be poeticized.
In the following verse, the degraded other is (as in the verse of Sonhoka above) in the first person. The poet himself laments the unbreachable otherness that is at once the precondition and undoing of his composition:
You are dear to those learned in the Veda, yet, Lord, I am always an object of disgust. You are inspired in the arts, yet with each passing day I am more artless. You are won over by purity of spirit, yet a gross lack of such spirit prevails in me. You pleasure garden of virtues, since I am a storehouse of fault, by what means am I to worship you?
The rhetorical self-humiliation is surprising in its extremity. These verses present an occasional shock of the bizarre that can only be understood as a very local literary sensibility.
The following contributions of Umāpatidhara most epitomize the provincial flavor of these poems. They return to the theme of the king's "violent charity" and each traces an abrupt shift from poverty to wealth orchestrated by the king. They occur as a sequence in the subsection daridrabharaṇa, "supporting the poor," though the last two also occur in an inscription of Lakṣmaṇasena's grandfather, the Deopara inscription of Vijayasena, who was thus the original referent. Each of the verses in the section mentions something about poor peoples' dress and ornaments, such that one could almost expect the heading to be a misreading for daridrābharaṇa, "the ornaments of the poor":
The new tāla trees in the courtyard, lovely with their dense petals, through subtle signs give wishes of "live long," and you find yourself pleased. The indigent śrotriya brāhmaṇa ladies, though they now wear earrings of glowing gold, cruelly refuse to let go of the tender petals which also ornament their ears.
By your grace the wives of the śrotriya brāhmaṇas enjoy manifold wealth and learn from the ladies of the city to recognize pearls by the example of beads of cotton, shards of emerald by leaves of vegetables, silver by flowers of the bottle-gourd, rubies by bursting-ripe pomegranate seeds, and gold by flowering vines of pumpkins.
Again the king's beneficence is a subtle instrument of degradation. The lives of the śrotriya ladies are abruptly transformed in a way that reflects the ruler's force. They are made to appear fools. The rustic ornament of flowers clashes with their precious gold earrings, and they use familiar fruits and vegetables to simply identify the riches before them. The king's giving is a violent giving. The same holds for the next verse, though it presents a unique puzzle.
In the Deopara inscription of Vijayasena, occasioned by the king's installation of the Pradyumneśvara temple (in what is now Deopara village, Rajshahi district, western Bangladesh), we are presented with the following evocation of the sea change in Śiva's fortunes that the temple represents:
The god who went nude now has sparkling garments. He formerly had half a wife and now hundreds of ladies with lovely eyebrows, the luster of their bodies honed by jeweled ornaments, are his. He who dwelt at the cremation ground has cities full of citizens. They gave this beggar everlasting wealth-the Sena lineage knows well how to support the poor.
Again it is striking that the king's giving is of a force to, as it were, overpower the gods. What is really fascinating, though, is the version of the verse offered by the Saduktikarṇāmṛta as it has come down to us, a manipulation systematic enough to exclude scribal error:
The clothes of this naked man are in shreds and he is the husband of only half a woman. The body of that lady with lovely eyebrows is beautiful in a hundred ways, bereft of any jewel or ornament. The cities full of citizens have nothing to offer even a beggar who lives at the cremation ground. They did not spread wealth-the Sena lineage is truly ignorant of supporting the poor.
The ironic evocations of poverty are consonant with those generally emerging in the anthology literature of early medieval Bengal, yet the Saduktikarṇāmṛta poem refuses to be easily situated. It seems to be a simple lament of poverty, yet it also castigates the Sena family, with a lethal dose of sarcasm for the Deopara inscriptionintertext. The point for our purposes is that these verses can brazenly defy attempts to situate their value judgments-they are indeed often somewhat obscure and hard to interpret-reflecting what would seem to be nothing other than the immediacy of a narrowly local sensibility.
There were limits to what was said about the king in poetry and these limits were at times quite narrow. Certain tropes and styles are virtually inseparable from him. Thus the present discussion offers the parameters of an official poetic representation. At other times, the verses present statements and styles alien and apparently unassimilable to this official image, as the last verse that concerns us in this section again reminds:
Whether the king be angry, or having discerned modesty, be pleased with people like myself who wish for a ruler's unchecked glory, it is still proper to remark: If riches are to be received from the adornment of the Sena lineage as a reward for acts of service, then by whom is the arrogance of the wish-granting tree who answers one's desires finally to be stolen?
Umāpatidhara presents what seems like naked criticism. The king bestows wealth not as a gift, but as thinly veiled exchange. He is less than divine though he could assume the otherworldliness of a wish-granting tree, if he would just heed the poet's message.
If these verses present the dictation of the Sena court's official value universe, it is a value universe which poets were at once crafting and negotiating. Here, lived contradictions were not poeticized out of existence. Rather, in the hands of these poets they received, at least at times, forceful and poignant articulation. Poetry was at the Sena court not always a simple opiate, lulling the king's subjects into blissful dreams of his glories. At times it offers a puzzling and vastly complex cocktail of manifold effects, whose recipe one can only struggle to infer.
The Structure of Royal Imagination and the Structure of Royalty
Internal comparison among the verses of the Sena royal anthology and the Pavanadūta provides us with a multiplicity of aesthetic, rhetorical, and referential parallels. Through such consistent parallelism, these poetic elements confirm their status as central historical facts for the Sena world of the twelfth and early thirteenth century. There are likewise many elements of historical fact which these literary sources alone provide. We would, without them, never know of the bridge constructed by Ballālasena. We would never hear the name of the judge Madhu, the warlord feudatory Vaṭudāsa, or his son Śrīdharadāsa, the mighty and selfless friend of poetry. The most profoundly historical aspect of these texts, however, is not only found in what they refer to. History rules perhaps most of all the realms beyond the referential, inhering in what the texts' inexorable formal tendencies betray of the wishes and judgments they addressed to their times.
The Sena anthology proceeds directly from the inner circle of the king, and at least Śrīdharadāsa's father, but very possibly the anthologist himself as well-("Since childhood he could not restrain his measureless might")-had a definite material and symbolic role in the articulation of the state. Dhoyī held what seems to have been a quasi-official position at courts: he is universally referred to by the title "king of poets" (Gītagovinda 1.3; Pavana 101). The literary works we have examined inhabited the very center of their world, and thus the poems' central strategies of representation, their persistent negativity and displacement in conceptions of the king, reveal their role in negotiating a true crisis of the kingdom. The world of the king, which was also the world of these poems, had in fact recently become negative and displaced. Literature does not simply reflect this, it reflects upon it, using elements of reality for its own ends. The Janus-virtue trope and the might-in-the-negative trope incorporate negativity, rendering it positive and prestigious. The deferral and displacement at the heart of these poems replaces and relocates royal prestige.
In the poems examined, one finds repeated indication of managing a concrete contradiction, that of the king and his opponents, wealth and poverty, alongside a trope of surmounting potential aesthetico-moral contradiction. The Janus-virtue trope that recurs throughout implies an advanced contradiction, which is somehow negotiable, or else what is ultimately taken to be a "non-antagonistic contradiction," as Mao may have put it, which does not involve the opposition it may initially seem to suggest. A trope of contradiction and its conciliation is ubiquitous in this archive, as I have tried to point out, and clearly very basic to the way this community reflected on itself. This was a world at its extreme. The Khalji attack was soon to reveal the possibility of its eclipse. Its literary-political community had a vested interest in negotiating all the oppositions it could imagine.
This is not however to say that one's understanding of the Sena literature should be exhausted by the atmosphere leading up to the Khalji attack, or by the "influence" of this historical event, even though this is an inevitable part of how I interpret the compilation of the royal anthology in 1205 C.E. Rather it had a dialectical relationship with its world, which was immediately structured by this event and broadly structured by the collapse of regional sovereignties that defined the close of the early medieval period. In other words, it is a question of historical determination conceived broadly and dialectically, something much more deeply constitutive than "influence" or "reaction." Indeed the Saduktikarṇāmṛta is a compendium and it contains a lot of earlier material, but it was also put together at a particular time and place, in immediate confrontation with an invasion and the reshaping-relocation of the kingdom. It emphasizes its local contemporary poets (Umāpatidhara has the second largest number of contributions to the anthology), as well as its date. In fact its colophon, with the Śaka date 1127 (1205 C.E.), is the only piece of absolute chronology remaining from the Sena world. The Saduktikarṇāmṛta served at least partly to project the solidity of the literary state apparatus in the context of imminent political collapse, and this is hardly the only example from the early medieval or medieval periods of a literary anthology or scholarly compendium being produced under circumstances of military threat.
Yet if the literary salon of the Senas can be seen to open out onto its world in this way, it also presents a deep interior. The Sena literature represents both a Sanskrit locality and a Sanskrit localism. The first is most evident in terms of the poems' referentiality: so many verses talk about people and places of the Sena kingdom. The poems dramatize their immediate conditions of possibility in a way that earlier Sanskrit totally forsook; they share in the emergent self-referentiality generally characteristic of the Sanskrit literature of the regional states of the early medieval period. But there is an even deeper, slightly impenetrable interior to this poetry as well, which verges on a proud provincialism. This is best exemplified by some of the unusual poverty-themed poems and poems of self-castigation looked at in the last section above, but it is also generally discernible in subtle ways throughout. The poems have a tone and language all their own, such that they can perplex the outsider familiar only with the cosmopolitan idioms for which Sanskrit is best known.
Through its moments of confident departure from the cosmopolitan code, Sanskrit literature demonstrates that it truly had a life of its own at the Sena court. In this sense, it was most organically regional, most affirming of its powers to be idiomatic, just when the political conditions of its possibility were becoming most moribund. Sanskrit could begin to affirm an existence of a different size and shape in this political context, and in the process reveal, against all odds, a new singularity.
Poetry and Polity in Early South Asia
The patterns in literary life I have traced are made up of components that are in most cases partly continuous with a broader world of literary political practice. The elusiveness of the local patterns does not however constitute their nonexistence. That Sanskrit literary political discourse aspired to be "a view from everywhere in general and nowhere in particular" does not require one to be totally seduced by its aspirations. What Sanskrit wished to be was never exactly the same thing as what it was, especially at the close of the early medieval period, when the possibility of even regional, not to mention transregional cosmo-sovereignty, was becoming impossible.
The history of Sanskrit poetry is a study in a remarkable degree of consistency across time and space, as the work of many scholars has shown, but the consistency was never absolute and it had stronger and weaker moments. Sanskrit poets may have almost "engendered a world, or world within a world" but this was never, as Pollock puts it a little too forcefully, entirely "without difference." Pollock's own account, in its depth and subtlety, itself more than adequately reveals the very contradictoriness I am trying to point to, but accounts of the life of Sanskrit poetry smaller in scale may hold the strongest potentials for penetrating the veil of surface homogeneity, showing how the "world within a world" was never really closed to the world without. A reduced scale, or even microhistorical inquiry, can allow us to more closely define particular state forms as they interacted dialectically with literary forms, to address an array of details of political history that pertain to the study of Sanskrit literature.
To take the example of my own modest account, the Saduktikarṇāmṛta was such an intimate part of the Sena state that it literally begs to be read as such. The compiler Śrīdharadāsa identifies himself as holding a substantial feudal rank (mahāmāṇḍālika), and a verse by a judge named Madhu (dharmādhikaraṇamadhu) calls Śrīdharadāsa's father Vaṭudāsa "the very rod of Lakṣmaṇasena's right arm, harsh in meting out punishment." Here not just cultural/aesthetic but specific political practices can be found. The judge is a poet. Feudal lords sought to be lords of the literary. Literature was clearly itself a political practice, but it also communicated with more immediately concrete forms of political practice, like killing people and imprisoning them, activities probably not foreign to Śrīdharadāsa, his father Vaṭudāsa, and the judge Madhu. Poetry projects its dependence, its immediate proximity to state politics. Perhaps what we have before us is not a world within a world after all, and instead just the poetry that was found uniquely adequate to a former world and its violence.