Danse indienne Bhrata Natyam Bruxelles / Poésie Telugu




Apsara (Karnataka)



When God Is a Customer (extraits)

Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others

Edited and Translated by  A. K. Ramanujan, Velcheru Narayana Rao, and David Shulman



Nous ne vous rapportons ici que de cours extraits de la préface et de l’introduction de cette étude sur la poésie Telugu ancienne, coutoise certes (« courtesan » en anglais), mais aussi religieuse dans le sens hindouiste de la « bâhkti », dévotion au Dieu, et aussi des textes eux-même, que nous limitons a trois. Pour le reste vous irez voir aux« Universtity Of California Press » Berkeley – Los Angeles – Oxford.


Comme dit plus bas, ces poésies était notamment chantées par les « devadasis », danseuses sacrées des temples du sud de l’Inde (suivre le lien…) et dont le Dieu était bien le Client, mais Client sans rival et qui ne s’offusquait pas de leurs liens amoureux terrestres, Client majeur en quelque sorte, celui auquel elle avait dédié leur être, corps & âme.



The poems translated here belong to the category of  padams —short musical compositions of a light classical nature, intended to be sung and, often, danced. Originally, they belonged to the professional caste of dancers and singers,  devadasis or vesyas (and their male counterparts, the nattuvanar musicians), who were associated with both temples and royal courts in late medieval South India.


Padams were composed throughout India, early examples in Sanskrit occurring in Jayadeva’s famous devotional poem, the Gitagovinda (twelfth century). In South India the genre assumed a standardized form in the second half of the fifteenth century with the Telugu padams composed by the great temple-poet Tallapaka Annamacarya, also known by the popular name Annamayya, at Tirupati. This form includes an opening line called pallavi that functions as a refrain, often in conjunction with the second line, anupallavi . This refrain is repeated after each of the (usually three) caranam verses. Padams have been and are still being composed in the major languages of South India: Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada. However, the padam tradition reached its expressive peak in Telugu, the primary language for South Indian classical music, during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries in southern Andhra and the Tamil region.


 Bharata Natyam Bruxelles / danseuse

 In general, Telugu padams are devotional in character and thus find their place within the wider corpus of South Indian bhakti poetry. The early examples by Annamayya are wholly located within the context of temple worship and are directed toward the deity Venkatesvara and his consort, Alamelumanga, at the Tirupati shrine. Later poets, such as Ksetrayya, the central figure in this volume, seem to have composed their songs outside the temples, but they nevertheless usually mention the deity as the male protagonist of the poem. Indeed, the god’s title—Muvva Gopala for Ksetrayya, Venugopala for his successor Sarangapani—serves as an identifying « signature, » a  mudra , for each of these poets.


The god assumes here the role of a lover, seen, for the most part, through the eyes of one of his courtesans, mistresses, or wives, whose persona the poet adopts. These are, then, devotional works of an erotic cast, composed by male poets using a feminine voice and performed by women. As such, they articulate the relationship between the devotee and his god in terms of an intensely imagined erotic experience, expressed in bold but also delicately nuanced tones. Their devotional character notwithstanding, one can also read them as simple love poems. Indeed, one often feels that, for Ksetrayya at least, the devotional component, with its suggestive ironies, is overshadowed by the emotional and sensual immediacy of the material.


On erotic devotion


From its formative period in the seventh to ninth centuries onward, South Indian devotional poetry was permeated by erotic themes and images….God appears frequently as a lover, in roles inherited from the more ancient Tamil love poetry of the so-called sangam period (the first centuries  A.D. ). Poems of this sort are generally placed, alongside their classical sangam models, in the category of  akam , the « inner » poetry of emotion, especially the varied emotions of love in its changing aspects. Such akam poems—addressed ultimately to the god, Siva or Visnu, and contextualized by a devotional framework, usually that of worship in the god’s temple—are early South Indian examples of the literary linkage between mystical devotion and erotic discourse so prevalent in the world’s major religions…


The padam poets clearly draw on the vast cultural reserves of Tamil bhakti , in its institutional as well as its affective and personal forms. Their god, like that of the Tamil poet-devotees, is a deity both embodied in temple images and yet finally transcending these icons, and they sing to him with all the emotional and sensual intensity that so clearly characterizes the inner world of medieval South Indian Hinduism. And yet these Telugu devotees also present us with their own irreducible vision, or series of visions, of the divine, at play with the world, and perhaps the most conspicuous attribute of this refashioned cosmology is its powerful erotic coloring.


Here an example from Nammalvar, the central poet among the Tamil worshipers of Visnu, who wrote in the southern Tamil area during the eighth century:


The whole town fast asleep,

 the whole world pitch dark,

 and the seas utterly still,

 when it’s one long extended night,

 if He who sleeps on the snake,

 who once devoured the earth, and kept it in his belly,

 will not come to the rescue,

 who will save my life?


Deep ocean, earth and sky

hidden away,

 it’s one long monstrous night:

 if my Kannan too,

 dark as the blue lily,

 will not come,

now who will save my life,

 sinner that I am?

 O heart, you too are not on my side.


O heart, you too are not on my side.

 The long night with no end

 has lengthened into an eon.

 My Lord Rama will not come,

 with his protecting bow.

 I do not know how it will end—

 I with all my potent sins,

 born as a woman.


 Bharata Natyam Bruxelles / kajuraho 1







« Those born as women see much grief,

 but I’ll not look at it, » says the Sun

 and he hides himself;

 our Dark Lord, with red lips and great eyes,

 who once measured this earth,

 he too will not come.

 Who will quell the unthinkable ills

 of my heart?


This lovesickness stands behind me

 and torments my heart.

 This con of a night

 faces me and buries my sight.

 My lord, the wheel forever firm in his hands,

 will not come.

 So who will save this long life of mine

 that finds no end at all?



Les 3 autres textes sont Ksetrayya…


We know next to nothing about the most versatile and central of the Telugu padam poets, Ksetrayya (or Ksetraya). His god is Muvva Gopala, the Cowherd of Muvva (or, alternatively, Gopala of the Jingling Bells), and he mentions a village called Muvvapuri in some of his poems. This has led scholars to locate his birthplace in the village of Muvva or Movva, near Kucipudi (the center of the Kucipudi dance tradition), in Krishna district. There is a temple in this village to Krishna as the cowherd (gopala ). Still, the association of Ksetrayya with Muvva is far from certain, and even if that village was indeed the poet’s first home, he is most clearly associated with places far to the south, in Tamil Nadu of the Nayaka period. A famous padam by this poet tells us he sang two thousand padams for King Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai, a thousand for Vijayaraghava, the last Nayaka king of Tanjavur, and fifteen hundred, composed in forty days, before the Padshah of Golconda. This dates him securely to the mid-seventeenth century….



A Woman to Her Lover


« Your body is my body, »

 you used to say,

 and it has come true,

 Muvva Gopala.


Though I was with you

 all these days,

 I wasn’t sure.


Some woman has scratched

 nail marks on your chest,

 but I’m the one who feels the hurt.


You go sleepless all night,

 but it’s my eyes

 that turn red.


     « Your body is my body , » you used to say


Ever since you fell for that woman,

 it’s my mind

 that’s in distress.


When I look at those charming love bites

 she has left on your lips,

 it’s my lip that shakes.


     « Your body is my body , » you used to say


Maybe you made love

 to another woman,

 for, O lord who rules me,

 my desire is sated.


Forgive me, Gopala,

 but when you come back here,

 I’m the one who feels small

 with shame.


     « Your body is my body, » you used to say



A Courtesan to Her Lover


Who was that woman sleeping

 in the space between you and me?

 Muvva Gopala, you sly one:

 I heard her bangles jingle.


As I would kiss you now and then,

 I took her lips into mine,

 the lips of that woman fragrant as camphor.

 You must have kissed her long.


But when I tasted them,

they were insipid

as the chewed-out fiber

of sugarcane.


     Who was that woman ?




Thinking it was you, I reached out for a hug.

Those big breasts collided with mine.

That seemed a little strange,

but I didn’t make a fuss

lest I hurt you, lord,

and I turned aside.


     Who was that woman ?


You made love to me first,

and then was it her turn?

Does she come here every day?

Muvva Gopala,

you who fathered the god of desire,

you can’t be trusted.

I know your tricks now

and the truth of your heart.


     Who was that woman ?



A Courtesan to the Messenger


Don’t go on chattering, just go away.

Why should he come here?

Tell him not to come.


It all happened so long ago,

in a different age,

another life.

 Who is he to me, anyway?


Think of the long nights I spent

 waiting for him, minute after minute,

 saying to myself, « He’ll come today,

 he’ll come tomorrow! »—


the hot sighs,

 lips dry with longing,

 nights aflame with moonlight.

 What more is there to say?


     Just go away !


I wore myself out watching the road.

 Counting the moons, I grieved.

 Holding back a love I could not hold,


listening to the screeching

 of peacocks and parrots,

 I passed the months of spring.

 Let’s have no more empty words.


     Just go away !


I even asked the birds for omens

 if Muvva Gopala was coming.

 I grew weak, watching my girlfriends

 join their husbands for love.


O god, do I ever have to see

 his face again

 with this body of mine?

 Once was enough!


     Just go away !


Print This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Autres cours au Dojo

Articles & Textes