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Unidentified manuscript: The Answer

Michael Rabe, 15 Nov 1996

From Fri Nov 15 11:57:07 1996
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 1996 08:20:50 -0500
From: Michael Rabe <>
To: "dominik wujastyk (at ucl)" 
Subject: Re: Indologic Eureka

Dominik and fellow Indology-netters:

I am pleased to announce a successful completion of the task of translating the text that accompanies the Krannert Museum's 16/17th c. manuscript page that was posted on the Indology Website on 21 January, 1996. Annette van der Hoek, an Indologist in the Netherlands [], has recently risen to the task of translating the text, and while its authorship remains unknown, this is what she reads:

nirkhata ne(m)n bhaii cakacuu(m)dhii //52//
pata pare c jha(m)khata mukha dekhyau//
abe ruupa nakha sikha lo(m) pekhyau//
upamaa(m) kahu(m) pata(m)tara kohuu(m)//
sura nara naaga lo(m)ka mana mohuu(m)//
badana kalaa nidhi puurana tarunii//
upamaa(m) aura na kou baranii//

(properly in transcription the t in line 2 and the first one in line 4 should have a dot written underneath as a sign of their retroflex character; double vowels, aa, ii, etc. would properly be written as a single one with a line overhead to indicate their long pronounciation. The m in brackets would normally be an m with a dot put over it and is to be pronounced as a nasal.)

Looking with the eyes I have become blinded.//52//
(But)when the veil fell off I saw her grieving face.
Now,from head to toe her beauty was perceived.
How can I give any adequate comparison;
in my mind I am bewildered as are Gods, men and snakes.
The face of the young woman is like a full moon.
No other comparison can be given.

As to its larger purport, she very graciously adds (after consultation with Dr G. H. Schokker of Leiden Univ.):

Although the verse is a description of beauty we do agree (because of the sadness perceived on the otherwise beautiful lady's face in line 2) that it is still a Biraha poem (poem of separation) so typical of the Bhakti or devotional period of Hindi literature (1400--1700 A. D.) and describing the separation of Radha from her beloved Krsna. (even if it concerned the separation of a more worldy couple it would still be read as a symbol for Radha-Krsna as well).

The poet voices his opinion of the almost outer worldly beauty of the lady described by mouth of one of her lady-friends, a Sakhi (revealed by grammatical gender). Sakhis are classically the go-betweens between lovers and ofcourse have the job of consoling the heroine in distress when need be. So it does seem that the painting (Radha with Sakhis attending on her) sticks pretty close to the poem but the fact that the verse stops so suddenly where the painting begins, gives rise to the idea that the painting is a later addition. (Has the manuscript ever been checked for possible text underneath the painting?)

Maybe the painter got the general drift of the poem -that may not have been exactly in the Hindi he spoke- and thus managed to stay stay quite close to the text. The fact that the heroine (the taller lady) is still wearing her veil unlike the one in the poem, suggest this may have been the case. He did place the scene in the typical "kunj", the grove bordering the village where Krsna used to meet his beloveds (or where they would stand waiting for him..) and which is considered a kind of "krisna-gate" that also stands as a symbol for Krsna himself. The grove is the borderland between village and forest, between culture and nature, between God (Krsna) and mankind (Radha), and as such is often mentioned in Bhakti poetry.

We think that possibly the poet wanted to emphasise the contrast between the heroine's beauty and ,at this particular moment, her sadness; elaborating on the beauty more in this verse and probably picking up the distinct Biraha theme and connected sadness in one of the later verses of his undoubtedly lengthy account. (worse than this mail)

As far as placement in time is concerned we suggest the 16th or 17th century, just so as not to assume we have made the rare find of a 15th century manuscript and based somewhat on the handwriting. More detailed study of the handwriting and the paper would naturally lead to a more precise estimate.

> It's nice when these new media of ours actually help with real
> intellectual issues (INDOLOGY is surprisingly good at this, I think).
> Let me know when you have pulled together the responses, and have a
> "siddhaanta"saastra", and i can post it with your original image for a few
> weeks, before withdrawing the stuff, perhaps.
> best wishes,
> dominik (on october 29th)

P.S. I would be remiss not to add thanks also to Y. Malaiya, [malaiya@CS.ColoState.EDU], who also provided a reading on August 29th. As his contained a few unresolved questions of construction I hadn't posted further notice when Annettee stepped forward. By way of token compensation, however, I must urge everyone with graphical browsing capability to take a look at his own COMPREHENSIVE Website devoted to the Languages and Scripts of India,


It includes links to several other manuscript illustrations as well.

Last modified: Mon Dec 19 10:41:03 2011

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