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By Govardhana
Translated by Friedhelm Hardy

When Go·várdhana composed his “Seven Hundred Elegant Verses” in Sanskrit in the twelfth century CE, the very title suggested to an educated Indian audience that this was a response to the 700 verses in the more demotic Prakrit language traditionally attributed to King Hala, composed almost a thousand years earlier. Both sets of poems were composed in the āryā metre. Besides being the name of a metre, in Sanskrit āryā means a noble or elegant lady, and Go·várdhana wished to reflect and appeal to a sophisticated culture.

These poems each consist of a single stanza, almost as condensed and allusive as a Japanese haiku. They cover the gamut of human life and emotion, though the favourite topic is love in all its aspects. Problems are stated, rarely solved; the usual comment on them takes the form of a poetic conceit. Often the condensation of meaning is achieved by punning, so that the translation has to represent more than one meaning and be far longer than the original.

You young mango bud!
You got plucked by my friend
so that you could see her chest
as she raised her arm.
Never mind –
it is your bright future
to obtain the highest place.

No paint was disturbed on her forehead,
her body shows no fatigue,
no bite marks can be seen on her lip.
That clever fellow plucked the lotus
without touching the water.

c. 346 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-3687-6  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-3687-4  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

Friedhelm Hardy (1943–2004) was Professor of Indian Religions at King’s College London. He is the author of The Religious Culture of India: Power, Love and Wisdom and Viraha-Bhakti: The Early History of Kṛṣṇa Devotion in South India.