Shyamaladandakam Kalidasavirachitam. Translating the Divine Woman: A Translation of Kalidasa's Syamala Dandaka. Trans. by Usha Kishore and M. Sambasivan. Rasala: Bangalore, 2015. 96 pp.
Most of us know the poet Kalidasa's work, Shakuntalam. But his work Shyamaladandakam is popular perhaps among musicians and religious folk. Why did Usha Kishore choose to translate this poem? This work is unique in its emphasis on goddess as woman; she is Mahadevi, the great goddess, combining the powers of many Hindu goddesses; most importantly, she can be invoked and be made part of the human female. As Kishore explains in her introduction: "We have translated the Goddess as the divinised form of womanhood." Therefore, the translators address her as "woman" throughout the poem, instead of "goddess" to show that the goddess as woman is a Hindu concept. In our contemporary context in the West, this transposition creates our feeling of connection with the possibilities available to the woman. "Woman" combines all the qualities ascribed to goddess-as-woman.
The Divine Woman is the daughter of sage Matanga. She is known by various names, Matangi, Uma, Syamala, Kalika, and so on. She is"woman," "muse," "mother," "daughter," "beloved," "maiden," bestowing and fulfilling--thus always acting and communing with her worshipers.
The book is visually beautiful, with each single stanza of the Sanskrit text placed on the left page and the English translation on the opposite page, therefore leaving plenty of white space for the reader to contemplate each verse both in Sanskrit and in English.
The English translation is unique for it tries to capture the essence of the original text while leaning on the poetic possibilities available in English to express the essence of the stanza, its metaphors and imagery.
"Your alluring eyes
feigned blooms on tendril brows
arching like the frolicking flowered bow of Kama;
watering the world with your wined word of wisdom."
The translators pay attention to the alliterative lines, the imagery, and the economy of words of the original text, At the same time, they make the lines contemporary by their use of line and stanza breaks, other kinds of spacing, English imagery, use the word "woman" instead of "goddess," and verbs such as "watering"and "frolicking" to highlight the stylistic conventions of Sanskrit poetry.
Here is another example that highlights the interesting syntax and line arrangements in the second stanza of the first section:
rapt in the cadence of celestial melody,
its rising notes swaying your nipa-twined hair around your hips:
O maiden of the mountain."
The word "woman" is a line by itself, drawing attention to the object of the images of her sensuality suggested by the cluster of images--"nipa-twined hair," "celestial melody," "cadence," "rising notes"--transferring our attention from the swaying hair to the swaying hips.
At times, Kishore weaves definitions into the lines, thus eliminating any need for an end note. For example, stanza 5, in section 1, ends with "Rame" in the Sanskrit original, which Kishore translates as "Rama, / goddess of grace," thus accentuating the alliterative beauty of the line. In the following stanza, she does something similar: "susvare" in the Sanskrit original is translated as "woman, / melody manifest," again drawing the reader's attention to the holder of the attribute.
Attentive to sound patterns, nature imagery, mellifluous cadence of the lines, Kishore creates a poem that is pleasurable to read.
Divided into 5 sections, each section offers the reader enough space to ruminate the essence of the meaning of woman: What does woman mean? Who is she? What are her qualities, both physical, psychical, and emotional? How is she connected to nature and the elements? Interestingly, the woman / goddess is associated with water:
"The profound circle of your navel,
darkly ornamented by a ring of fine moss-like hair,
is a lake whirling in eddies."
The navel is suggestive of the umbilical cord which connects us to the source. The lake suggests womb. And woman as water, fluid, ever-flowing, not fixed.
The rapture of invoking her finally highlights her as the icon of verse. She holds the richness of language.She bears the "crystal rosary, book of knowledge, rope, and goad" in her "lotus hands." She is endowed with "sweet speech."
The chapter on Kavya or Sanskrit poetry is a synopsis that is informative, as is the glossary at the end of the book.