Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration (South Asia Across the Disciplines)
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Beginning in the sixth century C.E. and continuing for more than a thousand years, an extraordinary poetic practice was the trademark of a major literary movement in South Asia. Authors invented a special language to depict both the apparent and hidden sides of disguised or dual characters, and then used it to narrate India's major epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, simultaneously.
Originally produced in Sanskrit, these dual narratives eventually worked their way into regional languages, especially Telugu and Tamil, and other artistic media, such as sculpture. Scholars have long dismissed simultaneous narration as a mere curiosity, if not a sign of cultural decline in medieval India. Yet Yigal Bronner's Extreme Poetry effectively negates this position, proving that, far from being a meaningless pastime, this intricate, "bitextual" technique both transcended and reinvented Sanskrit literary expression.
The poems of simultaneous narration teased and estranged existing convention and showcased the interrelations between the tradition's foundational texts. By focusing on these achievements and their reverberations through time, Bronner rewrites the history of Sanskrit literature and its aesthetic goals. He also expands on contemporary theories of intertextuality, which have been largely confined to Western texts and practices.
poets allowed twinning to dominate long sections or even entire poems, just as they later did with ślesa. Thus the anonymous Ghatakarpara (a short, twenty-verse poem that is believed to have preceded Kālidāsa) is marked by twinning throughout, and Kālidāsa’s Raghuvamśa contains a lengthy section in which each verse contains a pair of verbal twins.8 Finally, as with ślesa, poets tended to use yamaka meaningfully. For instance, Gary Tubb demonstrates that Kālidāsa’s twinning ampliﬁes the thematic
likely Nītivarman’s patron.7 What we do know for certain is that Nītivarman’s poem was once quite popular and widely read. It was cited by literary theorists from central and western India, as well as by many grammarians and lexicographers from a variety of localities.8 Today, however, the work is little known even in Bengal, where its transmission was uninterrupted. In 1929 Sushil Kumar De published the poem’s only printed edition, for which he also produced a learned introduction and thorough
only on the identity of the trident-bearing, divine ﬁgure near the monolith’s center. This ﬁgure is Lord Śiva, granting a boon to an ascetic, who is standing to his left (ﬁgure 4.2). But who is this austere, famished, unshaven penitent, standing on one foot with his hands raised to the sun in adoration? Local tradition, backed by one faction of scholars, identiﬁes him as Arjuna, obtaining Śiva’s supreme weapon to avenge the dethronement of the Pāndava brothers by their rival cousins—a famous
two targets, also saw a steady trickle of wordbooks catering for the needs of bitextual writers (if not composed by them); and the bitextual eﬄorescence of the eleventh and twelfth centuries coincided with a commensurate lexicographical boom. 5.3 sanskrit bitextuality in a vernacular world The centuries surrounding the turn of the ﬁrst millennium CE saw dramatic changes in the literary practices of South Asia. In a series of groundbreaking publications that culminate with his monumental
where the poet quotes his patron as commissioning the work with the following words: To compose even a single verse with two meanings is hardly possible. If one creates a whole such poem, the literary community is all applause. But you have the learning it takes to produce a true miracle: pairing the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata in the vernacular (bhāsā).42 We are by now accustomed to ślesa poets declaring their victory over their medium. Indeed, Pi]gali Sūranna unmistakably echoes the