Mahfil. v 7, V. 7 ( 1971) p. 175.


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THE FIFTY STANZAS OF A THIEF

A translation of the Caura-pafica-^ika s attributed to Bithana. by Richard Gombrich

The Fifty Stanzas of a Thief are traditionally attributed to Bilhana, who was active in the second half of the eleventh century A.D. A Kashmir! Brahman, he travelled to various Indian courts, and probably settled in Kalyana (in modern Hyderabad), where he wrote a long historical poem celebrating his patron the Calukya king Vikramaditya VI Tribhuvanamalla (1076-1127).

The thief has stolen the affections of a princess, and the poem in detached stanzas describes their clandestine love. Evidently extrapolated from the poem itself (especially stanzas 31, 28, 49, 27) is the legend surrounding its composition: the poet had fallen in love with the daughter of a royal patron; when her pregnancy was noticed he was caught, imprisoned, and condemned to death; but as he was led to execution in the king^ presence, he recited these reminiscences of his happier days, and the king was so moved that he ordered his release and formally gave him his daughter in marriage.

The poem is a straightforward and unelaborate example of a major genre of Sanskrit literature called kdvya. Kavya corresponds precisely to no English term; but the one-word English translation is "poetry." Kavya^ like poetry, is usually in verse but not coextensive with verse; not all verse is kavya^ nor is all kavya in verse. The ancient Indians were prolific in theories of poetics and hence in definitions of kavya; but perhaps the commonest definition is in terms of a quality called rasa,. This word is a metaphor from tasting, and means "flavor." The English word used in corresponding context is probably "atmosphere," and the nearest approximation within our tradition is "mode." But both these lack the correct connotations, so I shall go on using "flavor." Kavya then, or poetry, is any coherent speech or writing which is informed by flavor. A flavor is an emotion or sentiment, not experienced directly as in real life, but esthetically, so that it affords a calm enjoyment, a dispassionate pleasure in the passions. This esthetic transfirguration is described as the "universalization" of our passions so that we experience them without being involved in a real situation: a man who sees two lovers in real life, it was said, might undergo emotions of lust, repulsion, or envy; but in reacting to a work of art, he experiences their passion as the type of his own experience of love. There are usually held to be eight basic flavors: love, mirth, grief, anger, heroism, fear, loathing, amazement. Some of these are subdivided; our poem has both the subdivided flavors "love in separation" and "love in



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