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Birds of a feather: Vamana bhatta bana's hamsasandesa and its intertexts.

Courier poetry is perhaps the richest and most vital literary genre of premodern South Asia, with hundreds of poems in a great variety of languages. But other than dubbing these poems "imitations" of Kalidasa's classical model, existing scholarship offers very little explanation of why this should be the case: why poets repeatedly turned to this literary form, exactly how they engaged with existing precedents, and what, if anything. was new in these many poems. In hopes of raising and beginning to answer such questions. this essay closely examines one such work, the Hamsasandesa of Vamana Bhatta Bana (fl. ca. 1400), and its close correspondence with two important intertexts: Kalidasa's Meghasandesa and Vedanta Desika's Hamsasandesa. I argue that Vamana Bhatta Bana's work is an intricate mosaic that is put together from pieces--both absences and presences--that are taken from both these poems and that make sense only if we are familiar with their sources, and that this mosaic is nonetheless a surprisingly new and independent statement. On the basis of this analysis, I go on to suggest that novelty in the genre is partly made possible (and manifest) precisely through dense engagement with the vocabulary. figures of speech, situations, and other building blocks of the intertexts. a practice that often results in a heightened mode of density.


A resident of Alaka, Kubera's mythical northern city, gets exiled to the south as a punish?ment tor neglecting his duties. He is lonely, lovesick, and worried about the well-being of the beloved he left behind. At some point toward the end of his exile, he decides to send her a sign of life and a message of encouragement, for which purpose he identifies a rather unlikely courier. This whole incident is detailed in a short poem in Sanskrit that uses the Mandakranta meter and consists of two parts. In the first, the hero leads his airborne courier above much of the Indian subcontinent and across the Himalayas, all the way up to Alaka. In the second, the courier is gradually directed to the miserable beloved and asked to deliver a moving message that describes the hero's efforts to summon her through artwork, imagination, and dreams, efforts that fate is quick to disrupt.

Sound familiar? Think again. This is not a description of Kalidasa's famous Meghaduta, known as Meghasandesa in the south (hereafter MS), but of a poem written about a thousand years later, probably at the close of the fourteenth century, the Hamsasandesa of Vamana Bhatta Bana (hereafter HSVBB). (1) Given even the few details I have already mentioned, it is easy to see why the sole printed edition of this poem--brought out by an obscure publisher in 1941 and based on a single imperfect manuscript--never became the target of any serious analytic study. (2) Even if it momentarily appeared on the radar of a handful of scholarly surveys, it was deemed a particularly slavish imitation of Kalidasa's masterpiece, one of dozens if not hundreds. (3) Indeed, at first glance, the resemblance the "daughter" poem bears to its "mother" is particularly striking, including its frequent use of vocabulary that is lifted straight from Kalidasa's template. such as niyatavasati (permanent address) and a kailasat (all the way to Kailasa), to give examples only from the very beginning of the poem. (4)

But we should not rush to equate repetition with repetitiveness. From its stunning opening words to its beautifully alliterative closing stanza, the HSVBB sets out to innovate and to surprise its reader every step of the way, and I will argue that its methods of achieving this effect provide a particularly useful starting point for a much-needed study of innovation in the vast corpus of courier poems, perhaps the richest and most vital of South Asia's premodern literary genres. (5)

In this paper I would like to discuss some of the ways in which Vamana Bhatta Warp uses this immensely rich textual corpus, the result of a thousand years of intense courier activity, in order to say something new about yet another courier. In this discussion, I will repeatedly invoke the analytic tool of intertextuality, which has often been blunted through its employment for two equally futile task': the rather mechanical identification of sources or "influences" in essentially dyadic structures, and the license to hear anything in a text's "echo chamber" in a manner that is presumably unstructured and hence unrestricted by authorial intention. (6) Instead, I argue that innovation in this world is enabled by an intricately structured and conscious engagement with a plurality of significant intertexts. In the case of Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem, I will show that novelty arises primarily through a reflexive engagement with the important "mother-poem, through an equally playful conversation with a highly influential but now largely ignored "sister" poem, and through correspondence with a pool of additional texts, some in languages other than Sanskrit. I believe that it is the combination of these intertextual relations (or axes) that charges the HSVBB's well-worn format and subject matter with new energy.


It is crucial to understand that from the very start Vamana Bhatta Bana sets out to undermine key aspects of the Kalidasa template he is using. To begin with, contrary to the precedent set by Ka Hasa and followed by many other courier poets, the HSVBB seems to need no introduction. It does not start by describing its hero's plight from a narrator's viewpoint and makes no apologies for his strange choice of courier.7 Instead, the poem begins in medias res and in the hero's own voice: we immediately hear him requesting a gander to carry his message. Note the respectful but affectionate designation he uses in approaching the bird: saumya (0 good Sir!). Kalidasa's demigod hero, the yaksa, has already addressed his cloud in this fashion, but only later in the work, after they have become acquainted, and certainly after the poet has introduced both him and the cloud to us (MS 49, 83). The redeployment of saumya in the very first verse of the HSVBB is an early indication that repetition does not always amount to repetitiveness, and that familiar items may serve new tasks in this poem.

Even more startling than the absence of an introduction is what the hero says when he is introducing himself, ostensibly to the gander but really also to the readers. It turns out that the speaker is not just another lovelorn fellow in exile but the original yaksa himself, the hero of Kalidasa's famous poem, and it is hard to think of an opening line that is more intertextually charged than his first three words, so 'ham yaksah, which could be translated variously as "It's me, the yaksa," "I'm that yaksa," or perhaps even "It's me again, the yaksa." Finally allowed to tell his story after a millennium, the yaksa is in a hurry to set the record straight and correct a whole range of things that Kalidasa got wrong. For one thing, he wishes to reveal his identity. Kalidasa deliberately kept him anonymous--the MS famously opens with kascit ... yaksah ("A certain yaksa," MS 1)--and intentionally employs indefinite language in touching on various aspects of his biography. By contrast, the yakp in the HSVBB immediately gives his name. Daksa, as well as that of his beloved, Kandarpalekha (HSVBB 1.1), and later supplies other information that Kalidasa never disclosed, such as the exact amount of time left on his exile calendar (two months; HSVBB 2.120).8 Moreover, there are many things that Kalidasa got terribly wrong, such as the actual location of the yaksa's exile (not in Ramagiri but much farther away, on Mount Malaya, near the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula), the route that the courier is to travel, and, of course, the courier's identity: not a cloud but a gander. (9)

Where is this new information coming from, and what is its significance? Clearly there is an element of parody here. Vamana Bhatta Bana carefully chooses his words so as to echo and tease Kalidasa's. The words so 'ham yaksah carry a playful dig at the intertext's kascit ... yaksah, and naming the yaksa Daksa may be a humorous note on the fictional nature of Kalidasa's character, as in other rhyming names of the Joe Shmoe variety. (10) But many of the changes and innovations mentioned thus far make little sense in the context of Kalidasa's MS, although some of them may be traceable to a larger discursive domain that emerged around it. For example, Vamana Bhatta Bana may have taken his tally of the remaining months of exile from the vast commentarial literature that emerged on Kalidasa's poem, where such calculations abound. (11) If this is the case, our author may have intentionally introduced into his courier poem information that first originated from the discursive intertextual space created around Kalidasa's, or it may be that by Vamana Bhatta Bana's time the MS was no longer separable from the traditions found in its commentaries. But all of this does not explain the most important changes that Vamana Bhatta Bana has inserted into the yaksa's story, namely, the relocation of his place of exile, the dramatically different path on which the courier is sent, and, of course, the courier's identity.

In this context we should note another intriguing aspect of the HSVBB. It seems reasonable to assume that authors of poems in this genre send their couriers to regions and places with which they, the authors, are personally associated. This, presumably, is why Ujjayini, the supposed seat of Kalidasa, occupies such a prominent place at the heart of the cloud's journey in the MS (MS 27, 30-38). Vamana Bhatta Bana is known to have lived and worked in two Deccani kingdoms. He was first associated with Vijayanagara, probably in the last decades of the fourteenth century, and then joined the court of Vemabhupala in Kondavidu, in the Andhra country, where he wrote this king's biography (Vemabhupalacarita), among other works. (12) Indeed, the meager scholarship about this author is virtually confined to his Andhra connections in books such as Contribution of Andhra to Sanskrit Poetry. (13) But if one assumes that Vamana Bhatta Bana sent his courier to visit his favorite locations in Andhra, one is in for a surprise. The gander does fly through the skies of Andhra, but this leg of his flight is swift and uneventful, with hardly a stopover. Not only does the gander not see Vijayanagara and Kondavidu, the cities with which the poet was associated, but he also comes across no other city or community at all in the region. The same poet who in his Vemabhupalacarita lovingly describes the towns and temples that his king crossed during his military campaigns mentions no king, temple, polity, town, or village belonging to the Deccan. (14) Only three terse verses are dedicated to this entire region, and in them we hear only of the rivers Krsna (and its tributary, the Tungabhadra; HSVBB 1.37) and Goda, next to which, the poem briefly notes, Rama and Sita lived during their exile (HSVBB 1.38). There is nothing in Andhra that the gander should see before entering its great river systems, and the swath of land between them is laconically referred to by the fact that it would take three to four days to cross it ([krsnam] uttirya tricaturadinollanghitadhva sameya | godam; HSVBB 1.38). After this, the gander is immediately directed to the jungly region at the foot of Mount Vindhya and then to Vindhya itself, both of which are occupied only by elephants, bees. and heavenly nymphs but no humans (1.39). There is thus no mention whatever in the poem of the people and culture of Andhra, let alone of the Telugu language. (15)

In stark contrast, the Tamil country occupies a uniquely prominent place in the HSVBB. Although the distance that the gander has to cross in Tamil airspace is a tiny part of his cross-subcontinental journey, exactly half of the fifty verses detailing the journey are dedicated to its Tamil leg (HSVBB 1.12-36), and a great deal of attention is given to the Tamil landscape, with all its cultural, religious, and historical richness. Indeed, this first, southernmost segment of the gander's travels is to be done leisurely, with recommended detours and overnight stops at various cities, temples, and rivers, but as soon as the courier is directed farther north, there is a sudden change of pace. The vast territories from the edge of the Tamil land in the south to Alaka in the far north apparently lack attractions and resorts, and so it seems no longer advisable for the gander to check in for a night. Instead, the yak,5a hastens his courier (e.g.. HSVBB 1.49, 51) through areas that, with the exception of Rama's capital of Ayodhya and the river Ganges, seem increasingly bleak and hostile. These include Gandagi, with its dark, poisoned water that the gander should not drink, even if it is thirsty, and with its inedible fruits (HSVBB 1.52); the gruesome field of the Kurus, a "slaughterhouse of a whole race of evil kings" (kunrpatikulaghatabhumim, 1.53); and the dark and dangerous Kraunca Pass in the Himalayas, where one has to navigate blind (1.58, on which more below). It is only past the Himalayas, on Mount Kailasa, in the second part of the poem, that the gander will again reach friendly territory. Here it will find relatives and pleasurable spots and will be advised to rest and regroup before delivering its message.

Nothing we know about the poet's biography seems to explain these deviations from the Kalidasan template and the disproportionate emphasis on Tamil space. It is possible, of course, that Vamana Bhatta Bina had undisclosed Tamil roots, and that he composed his courier poem at a period when he was not associated with any Andhra polity, perhaps in his youth. (16) But it is also possible, and in fact equally likely, that the explanation lies not so much in the poet's personal history as in that of his genre and primary intertexts. As it turns out, the HSVBB corresponds very closely with another courier poem, the Hamsasandesa of Venkatanatha (also known as Vedanta Desika; the poem is hereafter referred to as HSVD), written much closer to Vamana Bhatta Bana's time. (17) In this poem it is Rama himself who asks a courier to carry a message to Sita, held captive in Ravana's castle in Lanka. As I show below, the ties between the two poems are undeniable.


Let us begin with the most obvious point of resemblance between the two poems. namely, the choice of a courier, which is identical in both. But it is not just this one correspondence that calls to mind a relationship between the two identically named works, but a series of airtight echoes. Think, to take a random and rather simple example, of the reference to the gander's ancestry at the beginning of the HSVBB, where the yaksa asks the bird to remember its forefather, the great gander who served as the god Brahma's vehicle, before starting its journey (dhyatva hamsam tava kulagurum tam virincaupavahyam; HSVBB 1.7). The implication is that a descendant of such an altruistic and able ancestor will neither refuse nor fail to carry out the mission given to him by the exiled yaksa. There is, of course, a precedent for this in Kalidasa's poem, where the yaksa alludes to the cloud's ancestry from a glorious family of clouds and his role as Indra's personal aide (jatam vamse bhuvanavidite puskaravartakanam | janami tvam prakrtipurusam kamarapam maghonah ||; MS 6). But it is hard to miss the direct allusion to the words of Vedanta Desika's Rama, who, in turn, appeals to his gander's role in carrying Brahma by using the very word for vehicle, aupavahya, that Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa also uses (ahuh siddhah kamalavasater aupavahyam bhavantam; HSVD 1.6). What we see even in this simple example is the potential complexity of the multitextual interaction. Here we have a case where Kalidasa provides Vamana Bhatta Bana with the paradigm, namely, an appeal to the messenger's ancestry and ties to certain divinities, whereas Vedanta Desika supplies him with the value or gander-specific inflection. (18)

This complexity can intensify exponentially because our author's playful engagement with his intertexts is constantly used for all sorts of richly innovative purposes. Consider, for example, the important question of who will be keeping the courier company during his travels. In Kalidasa's poem the cloud must part from its dear friend (priyasakham), a mountain that sheds tears born of longing whenever the two reunite (MS 9). It is thus a relief that the cloud is to be accompanied by a flock of ganders, of all birds, all the way to Kailasa (MS 11, 23, 73). Then there are the rivers on the way, which are the cloud's partners in a series of highly erotic encounters. And although, given the rather nebulous nature of this courier, the issue of a "she cloud" does not come up, we are told at one point that the cloud is traveling with a "wife," Lady Lightning (khinnavidyutkalatrah; MS 38), and at the very end of the work the yaksa asks the cloud never to be separated from this partner (ma bhud evam ksanam api ca te vidyuta viprayogah; MS 111). In Vedanta Desika's poem, this same question is given a somewhat different answer. Rama's gander has to ask leave of the lotus pond (padmini; HSVD 1.15), whose relationship with the bird is closely based on that of the cloud and the mountain in the mother text. Luckily, clouds will accompany the gander, one of Vedanta Desika's many deliberate and playful inversions of Kalidasa's intertext. (19) Here, too, there are rivers to be met, although the erotic dimension of these encounters is now significantly downplayed. But it is only in Riima's very last words to the gander that we hear of the gander's actual female partner, a goose. Rima, like the yaksa in Kalidasa's poem, wishes for his messenger that in all future journeys it will never part from its mate ("You can roam freely / through all worlds. You'll be joined, / my dear gander, by your Queen Goose, / perfectly attuned to you in all ways / like Laksmi to Visnu"; svairam lokan vicara nikhilan saumya laksmyeva visnuh | sarvakarais tvadanugunaya sevito rajahamsya ||; HSVD 2.48), although this female goose, so far never mentioned in the poem, has no part in the gander's journey toward Sita. (20)

Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa, by contrast, sees no reason why the reward for helping another separated couple should be the helpers' own separation (perhaps only Rama could be selfish enough to request this from his courier), and he asks the gander and goose to travel in tandem. To signal his wish to break from the cruel precedent set before him, the verse wishing the courier never to suffer the lonely fate of his sender, found at the very end of many intertexts, is replicated right at the start of what is now a joint journey:
anvetu (21) tvam priyasahacari seyam ardranuraga
ksantum nalam ksanam api ca ya viprayogam tvadiyam |
no ced yasyaty aham iva bhavan chocaniyam avastham
ko va loke virahajanitam vedanam sodhum iste || (HSVBB 1.3)
Take your beloved companion along!
Her love is so tender she cannot survive
even a second without you.
The last thing I wish you is to be like me, which.
I'll admit, is pathetic.
Who in the world is strong enough to endure the
tortures of separation?

Bits from the mother poem (ksanam api ... viprayoga) (22) and the sister poem (where the union of goose and gander is eventually promised) are combined to create something that is quite different from both. The yaksa wishes that his courier never suffer his plight, and hence he sends it on what now becomes a strictly conjugal journey, which is only natural since, as is well known (for example, from Kalidasa and Vedanta Desika), geese fly to Lake Manasa, on the slopes of Mount Kailasa, in order to nest. From this point on, Vamana Bhatta Baia goes out of his way to remind readers that the traveling of the courier is done in tandem (HSVBB 1.3, 1.4, 1.9, 1.11, 1.17, 1.51. 1.58, 2.75, 2.121). For example, the gander and goose are asked not to delay on the way (HSVBB 1.4), but the gander is instructed to ensure that the goose never succumbs to exhaustion, so that whenever this tender creature feels tired, the gander is to allow it to rest in forest clearings and to feed it with lotus honey directly from its beak (HSVBB 1.9). (23)

Some of these references to the goose are, again, cases where a Kalidasan template, such as the request that the courier not tarry or the instructions for resting on the way (e.g.. MS 13, 22), is given a new, avian inflection, following Vedanta Desika's sister poem, but now suited for a pair of birds. In other instances, however, Vamana Bhatta Bana seems to engage Vedanta Desika more directly while never forgetting the Kalidasan precedent, as we shall see in a particularly striking example in section 5 below. More generally, however, Vamana Bhatta Bana's strategy can be seen as a clever compromise between his two main intertexts. Like Kalidasa, he allows the gander to have a female companion, albeit one that is female not just in the grammatical sense. Thus the poem describes the two birds as a loving couple of husband and wife and includes their lovemaking and lovers' quarrels (e.g.. HSVBB 1.17, 51). This allows the poet to counter Vedanta Desika's somewhat puritan reaction to Kalidasa's HS: as in the HSVD, the eroticism of the encounters with rivers is toned down in the HSVBB. but now it gets directly and repeatedly channeled into the conjugal unit of gander and goose.


I will have more to say about this tandem flight later, but first let me return to the all-important question of the route charted in the HSVBB. David Shulman and I have elsewhere discussed the ways in which Vedanta Desika. in his gander poem, systematically inverts many of Kalidasa's choices in the MS. For example, we argue that Rama's separation from Sita, which formed the precedent and background for Kalidasa's yaksa, is brought to the fore in the HSVD, which thus presents itself as a sequel that nonetheless precedes the original. We also show that the courier, a gander that has just returned from a long journey to Alaka in the northernmost point on kavya's compass, is now directed in the opposite direction, to Lanka, its southernmost tip. (24) It can be said that Vamana Bhatta Bana sets out thoroughly to undo these inversions. He places Rama and Sita back in the backdrop and returns to the original yaksa; his poem is thus a sequel that provides the truth withheld by the original. This temporal uninverting also dictates a similar spatial move, and Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa, as we have seen, again redirects his courier to Alaka in the north. But simply stating that our poet sets out to undo prior inversions fails to capture the nature of his engagement with the route assigned to the gander in Vedanta Desika's sister poem, an engagement that must have led to the relocation of the yaksa far to the south of his original spot in Kalidasa's MS and may have formed the raison d'etre of the entire poem. This is because the two ganders, not unlike Dr. Seuss's Zaxes, travel the very same route in diametrically opposite directions and with very different spiritual agendas.

To realize this, we have to examine both journeys, beginning with that of Vedanta Degika's southbound gander. This bird is sent across five geopolitical units that make up the Tamil country before crossing the ocean to Lanka. The first unit is the Tirupati area, where Visnu Venkatesvara's presence on Mount Anjana (which is also the serpent Sesa) is the primary focus, but which also includes the river Rushing Gold (suvarnamukhari), whose banks are haunted by hunters and the moon-crested Siva (an allusion to Siva's temple in Kalahasti; HSVD 1.21-24). The second unit is Tundira and its capital Kanci. The directions given to the gander refer to Visnu's becoming a dyke at the request of Brahma (since the flooding unleashed by the goddess threatened to disrupt his rite of creation) and focus on his Varadaraja temple on Elephant Hill, which is described at length. Also mentioned are the rivers Vega and Kampa; in the mango grove next to the latter the presence of moon-crested Siva is mentioned again (HSVD 1.25-34). Unit three consists of the Chola country and the Kaveri delta. The river itself, rich in pearls and areca trees, is prominently featured as superior to the Ganges, and various sacred locations around it are mentioned: Vara and White Cliff (probably Visnu's temple at Tiruvallarai), Lunar Pond (said to be superior to Lake Manasa in the north), a shrine of the goddess Nil, and, most important, a long description of Srirangam with its Sesa drone dedicated to Visnu and Laksmi (HSVD 1.36-46). The fourth unit is the Pandya kingdom and its capital city Madurai. Here the main landmark is the Alagar Malai temple, located on Bull Mountain just outside the city, where Visnu "the Beautiful" has brought a southern Ganges down to earth. Also mentioned is the fact that the Pandya kings, armed by Siva, imprisoned the clouds to ensure a regular supply of rain (HSVD 1.47-50). The fifth and final unit is the southern coast, where the main points of interest are the limpid Tamraparni and its various attractions (pearls, perfumed winds that blow directly from the aromatic sandalwoods growing on Mount Malaya, and the sage Agastya, who lives nearby) and the coastline with its palmyra and pandanus trees (HSVD 1.51-54). (25)

Vamana Bhatta Bapa's gander is sent on the same route, made of the same ecological and geopolitical units, but in reverse. Its journey begins with the southern coast, featuring the fragrant coastline (perfumed by winds that carry sandalwood scents from Mount Malaya, as well as aromas from the nearby cardamom fields) and the glassy Tamraparni, with its plethora of pearls (HSVBB 1.8, 12-14). Then comes the Pandya kingdom, where Siva helped build a dyke to stop the river Vaigai from flooding the city of Madurai, and whose kings, we are reminded, keep the clouds under arrest. Additional attention is given to Madurai itself, in whose beautiful mansions the gander can rest and mate with his goose (HSVBB 1.15-18). The third unit is the Chola country. The river Kaveri is again featured as a southern Ganges, and the coconuts growing on its banks are said to have scooped up and thus contain an essence from heaven. Again, there is a list of sacred sites, although, with the exception of a brief mention of Srirangam (said to be even more esteemed than Visnu's abode in Vaikuntha), these are now located farther north and feature Cidambaram with its dancing Siva, beautifully described, and Arunacala, home to Siva's fire-made lingam (HSVBB 1.19-28). The fourth unit is the city of Kanci, where Visnu's manifestation on Elephant Hill as a result of Brahma's request is the first landmark. The focus, though, is on Siva's Ekambaresvara temple on the banks of the river Kampa (which mocks the Ganges), where Parvati worshipped the earth-made lingam under a mango tree, and where the gander should spend the night (HSVBB 1.29-34). The last and rather short unit is the northern Tirupati area. Mount Ataxia is first mentioned as a playground of the ancient boar (potri puranah) who is Visnu before the gander is directed to Kalahasti, on the banks of Rushing Gold, where the god giva is at home (HSVBB 1.35-36).

It should be clear that at the heart of both gander poems the two authors chart a nearly identical map of the Tamil world. Stretching from the mountains in the north to the coastline in the south, it consists, first, of the very same ecological units, each with its typical flora and fauna. The map is also organized along the time-honored political and cultural division into the polities of Tundira with its capital Kanci (originally ruled by the Pallava kings), the Chola country and the Kaveri delta, and the Pandya country around the city of Madurai, and as is common in courier poems, flirtatious women embody their communities. (26) Even more important, all five geocultural units are represented by sacred rivers, riverside shrines, and mountaintop temples, each of which is replete with a mythical past. The two poems thus share a strong intertextual relationship not only with each other and with Kalidasa's work and its commentaries, but also with the local puranas, Tamil texts in which these pasts are delineated and which began to extend their influence even outside the Tamil region around Vamana Bhatta Bana's time. (27) The two assigned routes converge on the same main dots of the Tamil sacred matrix, with the variation resulting from a different method of selection (on which more shortly). In fact, it is clear that the two poets share a vision of the Tamil geography as sacred, handily competing with the north and even with heaven itself. We are again advised to pay attention to the complex intertextual dimension of this southern local patriotism: it is not a coincidence that it is the northern places of worship visited by the cloud in Kalidasa's MS that are now said to be eclipsed, even though the practice of speaking of such places as "heaven on earth" begins with the mother poem itself. (28) In this connection it should be noted that Vamana Bhatta Bana closely follows Vedanta Desika in sprinkling his poem with repeated digs at clouds. It is not by chance, for example, that both poets allude to the clouds' "imprisonment" in Madurai.

But it is precisely the close similarity between the two routes that enables us to see their crucial differences. Vedanta Desika's Rama sends his gander on a pilgrimage that--not surprisingly, given the identity of both author and hero--is decidedly Vaisnava in nature. The southbound gander is sent to the main Visnu sites in the country: Tirupati's Venkatesvara temple, Varadaraja's shrine in Kanci, and Srirangam on the banks of the Kaveri. Saiva shrines are very briefly alluded to but are unmistakably placed in the background in the HSVD's sacred map. This is yet another way in which Vedanta Desika inverts Kalidasa's template, where Siva, who resides outside Alaka, is the ultimate destination of the cloud's spiritual journey, and where Saiva shrines form the heart of the cloud's pilgrimage as a devotee. (29) Here too, Vamana Bhatta Bana undoes his predecessor's inversion. In his poem the yaksa redirects the courier to Siva's abode outside Alaka (HSVBB 1.5). and his northbound gander is sent on a patently Saiva voyage. The main Vaisnava nodes from the sister poem are still on the map, but the focus now shifts from Tirupati to nearby Kalahasti, from Varadaraja's shrine to Ekambaresvara's just next door, and from Srirangam to Cidambaram's dancing Siva and Arunacala's fire lingam farther to the north. (30)

It is crucial to understand that it is not just the span of attention that the two poets dedicate to the sacred sites of one or the other god that sets their religious worldviews apart. Rather, the two ganders, one a Vaisnava pilgrim and the other a Saiva, are invariably instructed to treat the sites of the rival god with no more than touristic curiosity and only those of their deity as actual objects of devotion. Rama directs his gander to bow before Visnu in a variety of sites and promises the southbound bird that this god will shower it with the unbounded love of his gaze:31 he says nothing of the sort about Siva, to whom he alludes only in passing. And Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa, who devotes considerably more space to Visnu in his work than Siva is allotted in the sister poem, nonetheless gives his gander instructions that entail the exclusive worship of Siva., often using the same vocabulary and imagery as his Vaisnava predecessor and promising his northbound courier equal rewards. (32)

Consider, in this context, the following verse, in which Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksp tells the gander of Siva's fire lingam in Arunacala:
  kolakaro madhuripur adhas tvadvapuh so 'pi vedha
  drastum nobhau ciram asakatam yasya mulagradedau I
  saphalyam te sapadi bhavita caksusoh pasyatas tam
  saksatkaram sakalam analastambharupasya sambhoh II
  (HSVBB 1.26)
  The Killer of Madhu below in the shape of a boar,
  and, dressed in your fine feathers,33 the Creator,
  both tried long and failed to see
  the base and crest of that pillar of fire.
  All you have to do is look, and at once
  Siva will reward your pair of
  eyes with the fruit of revealing himself
  in full form.

Siva famously turned himself into an endless column of fire, the tips of which neither Visnu, the mighty killer of Madhu, nor Brahma, the creator of the world, could reach. In the sister poem Rama repeatedly invokes the image of Visnu's supremacy over all other gods; apropos of Kanci, for example, he tells his gander, "The highest gods roam its streets, / crowned by particles of pure dust / stirred up when the Lord of Elephant Hill / gallops past on his horse" (yadvithinam karigiripater vahavegavadhutan dhanyan renums tridasapatayo dharayanty uttamangaih; HSVD 1.27). Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa inverts this hierarchy by referring his Saiva gander to the story of the fire pillar, the form in which Siva is worshipped in Arunaca1a. (34) Note that the yaksa makes sure to allude to Visnu's humble position "below" (adhas) Siva and to his rather unattractive form as a boar." Note also that the two eyes of the gander, a humble devotee, are promised a reward that even the two highest gods could not reap: a full view of the endless Siva. This paradox is clearly reminiscent of Vedanta Desika's Vaisrjava theology in the sister poem and elsewhere, but the language used to describe it also recalls Kalidasa's poem, where the cloud, visiting Siva's Mahakala temple, is promised a full reward (phalam avikalam, MS 34; see also MS 24) for sounding its thunders during the morning puja.

In directing his gander in Tamil skies, then, Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa constantly keeps in mind the spiritual voyage assigned the courier in the sister poem, and he makes sure to send his winged messenger on a very similar path but with an entirely different spiritual trajectory. In fact, at certain points along the way, he takes pains to rebut highly specific snide remarks that his Vaisnava predecessor directed at Siva. To demonstrate this, I will examine two pairs of examples. The first comes from the verse in which both works first introduce the Madurai area. I begin with the words of Vedanta Desika's Rama:
  nityavasam vrsabham acalam sundarakhyasya visnoh pratyasidan
  sapadi vinato bhagadheyam nath syah I yasyotsarige balivijayinas
  tasya manjiravantam patho divyam pasupatijatasparsahinam vibhati
  II (HSVD 1.49) Soon you'll arrive at Bull Mountain.
  Here Visnu, "The Beautiful."  is always at home.  Here the humble
  find fortune.  Humble yourself.  When God stretched his foot high,
  his anklet set free the heavenly river that fell straight into the
  lap of this shining mountain, shunning Siva's tangled hair.

In the first half of this verse Rama explains the sanctity of Bull Mountain, just outside Madurai, where Visnu "is always at home," and instructs the pilgrim bird about the proper form of worship. In the second half he adds a layer of local lore by identifying the adjacent river with the heavenly Ganges. As the story goes, when Visnu "stretched his foot high" in the process of defeating Balin (balivijayinah), his anklet set free the heavenly Ganges. This reference is then used to highlight the superiority of the Tamil landscape, which is where we come across a humorous put-down of Siva. The local Ganges, Rama points out, was touched only by Visnu's anklet before falling "straight into the lap" of Visnu's mountain. It thus escaped the lot of its northern namesake, which had to run through the untidy dreadlocks of Siva, lord of the beasts (pasupati).

When he describes his gander's arrival at Madurai, Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa is quick to settle the score:
  tvaddrsya set bhavati madhura srimati rajadhani sampadbhedair
  dhanadanagarivibhramam darsayanti I devo yasyah
  savidhatatatinisetunirmanahetoh svairam murdhna mrdam udavahat
  svarnadimalikena 11 (HSVBB 1.15) Madurai, the sublime seat of
kings, will come into view, displaying such riches you could
easily confuse it with Kubera's city far north.  God himself
once signed up with its river corps in the cause of building
a levee, (36) carrying sandbags on the very head that's bedecked
with the heavenly river.

That the material and spiritual assets of Madurai can compete with those of Alaka, Kubera's city, should come as no surprise to readers familiar with Vedanta Desika's poem. where the Pandya country has already been said to possess "villages and towns teeming with temples, / by far superior to Alaka" (pamm alakaya spardhamanair ajasram punyavasaih purajanapadaih; HSVD 1.50). Nor are we the least bit surprised to hear of a divine presence in the town, and of a story subordinating even the heavenly Ganges to a local stream. Indeed, note how Vamana Bhatta Bana manages beautifully to capture the spirit of one of the most cherished games. or Was, Siva ever played in Madurai by referring to the Ganges. The incredible signing up of this supreme god as a simple laborer on the local embankments is marvelously underscored by the image of his carrying sandbags on the very head that meanwhile easily blocks the mightiest waterway in the cosmos. 37 But something about this image must also ring strangely familiar if we recall the dig from the intertext: exactly at the point where the sister poem had associated the Ganges with Visnu's anklet and disassociated it from the "tangled hair" of the lord of the beasts, the river from heaven is promptly restored to its place as bedecking Siva's locks.

For my second example, I turn to Kalahasti, again beginning with Vedanta Desika's Rama:
  stokonmagnasphuritapulirzam tvannivasecchayeva draksasy arat
  kanakamukharam daksinam anjanadreh I asannanam vanavitapinam
  vicihastaih prasunany arcahetor upaharati ya nunam
  ardhendumauleh II nirvisyainam nibhrtam
  anabhivyaktamanjupranado mandadhutah pulinapavanair
  vanjulamodagarbhaih I avyasamgah sapadi padavim samsrayanyair
  alanghyo bandikuryus tatavasatayo ma bhavantam kiratah
  II (HSVD 1.23-24) A little to the south of Mount Mnjana you'll see
  the river, Rushing Gold, slightly lifting her skirt in the hope that
  you'll nest on her shore.  With her waves she reaches out and gathers
  flowers from the riverside groves, her gift to the moon-crested god.
  Enter her secretly, murmuring sweet cries, caressed by the breeze
  from her shores with its scent of scarlet flowers.  But don't get too
  attached.  Hit the road, where no one can reach you.  Don't get
  caught in the snares of the hunters who haunt the river.

This passage immediately follows a loving description of Tirupati on Mount Anjana, where the gander is instructed to worship Visnu along with gods and men (HSVD 1.21-22). By contrast, Rama does not even name Siva's adjacent sacred site, Kalahasti, alludes to the presence of the "moon-crested god" only in passing, and certainly does not recommend him as an object for the gander's devotion. Still, there is nothing that seems offensive in this description, and Rama even refers to the river as collecting and offering "flowers from the riverside groves" to Siva. Indeed, at first sight, this seems like a highly ordinary piece of courier poetry: an encounter with a river that is erotically and spiritually charged, a standard reference to the riverside flora and scented winds, a common reminder to the messenger not to tarry, and the occasional warning about roadside dangers. But the unostentatious notice on which the verse ends may be more biting than it seems. Is it a mere coincidence that Rama warns his gander about hunters precisely where Siva was famously worshipped by a particularly boorish devotee, Kannappar, a hunter whose libation consisted of his bloody, half-chewed catch? (38) Is Rama actually wooing the gander away from the gory practice of worshipping the rival god lest it inadvertently become its sacrificial offering? It is hard to answer this question with certainty, but examining the parallel verse from the HSVBB may offer some help:
  aksnor agre tadanu bhavita kalahasti girls te tasyopante
  kanakamukhari nama kallolini ca I tire yasyah kalitavasater murdhni
  sambhoh kirato gandusambhahsnapanavidhaya prapa gangadharatvam II
  (HSVBB 1.36).
  Straight ahead your eye will spot a mountain, Kalahasti, and on its
  slopes a river they call Rushing Gold, where Siva made his home, and
  where a hunter once bathed this god's head with a mouthful of
  spit--his way to become one with the Bearer of the Ganges.

The location and presence of Siva in Kalahasti are spelled out in the first half of the stanza, which consists mostly of straightforward road directions, before the reader is suddenly confronted with a set of startling events in the second. Emerging, as it were, from the shade of the laconic snide remark in the intertext, the hunter Kannappar comes into full view, as do his shocking way of showing his devotion and his equally shocking reward. By spitting his offering on the very head that holds the holy Ganges, this lowly devotee literally reached the state of bearing the Ganges himself (prapa gangadharatvam) and became one with his god. The verse thus proudly celebrates the bhakti ideal that the story of Kannappar embodies, namely, that the road to salvation is open to anyone who loves God passionately and is willing to give him all he or she has (Kannappar famously tops the offering of his chewed-up prey to Siva with both of his own eyes). The impure and dangerous nature of the offering is by no means a drawback, nor should the inversion of hierarchy (man offering a divinity his leftovers) and its welcoming by the god come as any surprise to someone like Vedanta Desika, who in his Dayasataka speaks of himself as a beggar, with only his impure misdeeds as his gift, and yet expects the goddess Compassion to rush out to greet and embrace him.39 It is hard to know how much of this theological interplay can be plausibly read into the verse, but it seems no mere chance that Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa, while assigning his gander the route from the sister poem, only in reverse, and sending his courier to Kalahasti, makes sure also to reverse his predecessor's description by turning the hunter (kirata) who was earlier named as this site's menacing hazard into its main attraction.


Examples of close textual engagement with the HSVD continue long after the northbound gander ceases to ruffle the feathers of its predecessor over the sacred geography of the south. Even outside Tamil aerial territory, when the author more or less follows a route that was charted only by the mother poem, the HSVBB constantly borrows ideas, images, and at times whole phrases from the sister work, always in complex and innovative ways. Consider, for example, Vamana Bhatta Bi'ma's response to a unique and beautiful verse from the HSVD, in which Rama directs his courier across the ocean. Here, first, are Rama's words to his gander:
  sthitva tatra ksanam ubhayatah sailadrngavatirnaih sratobhedair
  adhigatagunam caruvispharaghosaih I laksyikurvan dasamukhapurim
  saumya patraprakrsto velacapam sara iva sakhe vegatas tvam vyatiyah
  II (HSVD 1.54) There, my dear friend, two split streams pouring down
  from both flanks of the mountain supply the shore, curved as a bow,
  with its string and the pleasant twang of their torrent. Standing on
  the peak, aim yourself at the city of the ten-headed demon, and let
  go--like a well-feathered arrow.

This verse by Vedanta Desika, with its striking visual image of an arrow shot from a bow, has no apparent parallel in Kalidasa's MS. Instead, it corresponds to the specific geographic niche on the South Indian coast, the mission of crossing the ocean to "the city of the ten-headed demon," and, of course, the feathered courier in question.

To the challenge posed by this verse, Vamana Bhatta Bana responds in the following marvelous manner:
  krtva paksau viyati vitatau kincid akuncitagrau tenodica [*cim?]
  stimitagamano banamargena gacchan I pascadyantim tamasi dayitam asu
  samjnapayetha nadair lilavalitataruninupurodghustakalpaih II (HSVBB
  1.58) Stretch both wings wide, bend back their tips ever so slightly,
  and head north, going still, following the flight of an arrow.  But
  hurry! It's pitch-dark. Sound your trill--it rings like a jingling
  anklet on the foot of a girl who seductively saunters--to guide your
  beloved who is trailing behind.

As in Vedanta Desika's poem, we again find an image of the gander aiming at a target and then letting go, like an arrow, and here too there is a reference not just to visuals but also to sound effects, although the twang of the torrent-turned-bow is now replaced with the trill of the flying gander, which Vedanta Desika has already compared to the ringing of an anklet (HSVD 1.3, 2.1, 2.20). Grafting the anklet's audios onto the arrow image allows for several surprising effects. First, it is used to remind the reader, yet again, that the gander's is not a solo flight, and that it needs to guide its beloved goose, who is trailing behind, on the dark path. Second--and perhaps not unrelated to the added female presence--it creates a dramatic contrast between the "going still" (stimitagamana) of the gander and the seductive gait (lilavalita) of the girl with the anklet.

Note, however, that the narrow that the gander now has to cross is no longer the strait between the Tamil coast and Lanka, as in Vedanta Desika's poem, where the gander is flying south, but the northern trail of the Himalayan Kraunca Pass, also known as "Gander Gate" (hamsadviira), as in Kalidasa's poem (MS 57). As Vamana Bhatta Bana reminds us in the immediately preceding verse, this path is basically a hole in the rock that was shot through and thus created by an arrow, that of Lord Bhargava (gaccheh krauncam gaganapadavilanghanam srngajataih I madhye yasya prakrtikathine manasevasinam vo margam cakre sapadi bhagavan bhargavo marganena II; HSVBB 1.57). The invocation of an arrow at this point is thus infused with meaning as a result of Vamana Bhatta Bana's close engagement with both of his primary intertexts: the gander, stretching its wings out and curving back the tips of its feathers, flies like an arrow, and hence like the gander in Vedanta Desika's poem, and it flies in the trail of an arrow, that is, the Kraunca Pass, just like the cloud in Kalidasa's poem. (40) Both of these meanings are aptly packed into the pregnant clause panamargena gacchan, "following the flight of an arrow." (41) We begin to realize the complexity of Vamana Bhatta Bana's detailed and deliberate correspondence with his literary targets. Our author has created an intricate mosaic that is put together from pieces--both absences and presences--that are taken from both poems and that make sense only if we are familiar with their sources, and yet this mosaic is a surprisingly new and independent statement. In the process of creation, he also throws new light on his intertexts and on the numerous components of the courier template itself--in this case the fact that on the last leg of his route, before reaching the final destination (and the end of the first part of the poem), the courier has to pass through a dangerous strait: a final leap of faith.

6. ALAKA AND LANKA Even when the gander reaches Alaka, its final destination, the description is reminiscent not only of the millennium-old portrayal of this fabulous northern city by KaHasa but also of the sister poem's portrayal of Lanka, Ravana's capital far to the south. To begin with, consider the special attention Vedanta Degika gives to Lanka's flags, which in one instance he imagines as taking part in a citywide royal welcome for the gander, and in another as signaling Lanka's challenge to heaven. Vamana Bhatta Bana's description of Alaka also includes two verses that feature its flags and employs very similar themes and images, as a comparison of the two pairs of relevant stanzas will demonstrate. Let us turn first to Vedanta De[section]ika's poem, beginning with the gander's moment of arrival to Lanka in the concluding verse of the work's first part:
  tasmin draya bhavati bhavataa carusaudhavadata lanka- sindhor
  mahitaputine reijahanzsiva Una II tvarn egantam pavanataralair ya
  pataketpadedaih paksair abhyuijigamisur iva sthasyati dravyanadii II
  (HSVD 1.60) There, nesting in the splendid sand, Lanka, washed white
  with palaces, will reveal herself just to you, like a queenly goose.
  You'll hear her beckoning call. With streamers flapping in the wind,
  she'll be whirling her wings as she rises up to welcome you on
  adhyasinCz bahumanimayam tutigairtigain suvelam dikpale.yu
  prathitayafasii raksasii rakryaniatia I ogre meror amaranagarim yei
  paritskarabhamna tviihayeva dhvajapatamayem agrahastiin dhunoti II
  (HSVD 2.3) Poised on the jewel-studded peak of Mount Goodshore, and
  well guarded by that Demon whose fame
  is sung by the four guardians of the compass, this city, decked with
  gold, brandishes her banners as if poking lingers in the face of her
  rival, the city of the gods. on the roof of the world.

Ravana has famously conquered the city of the gods, looted its riches, and brought them all home to Lanka (as I note below, Vedanta Desika's Rama inventories some of the spoil). This remote southern city has thus basically replaced Indra's capital as the hub of the world, and so it is Ravana, not any god, "whose fame is sung by the guardians of the compass.- In short, Lanka has every reason for "poking fingers in the face" of her rival city, located on "the roof of the world," and for this act, too, her banners come in handy.

Now let us turn to Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem:
  tam udbhutadhvajapatalatamrstanaksatrapanktim drstva ramyam
  dhanadanagarim modamanam bhavantam I danasrotahkalusitajalam
  majjatam diggajanam amesyanti prakatitamudam manasam
  tvatsagandhah II gacchan madhyenarapatipatham vijanair vitakhedo
  gangasrotahsakalasarucam ketanalipatanam I karne kurya
  nakhamukhamuhustadanodyadvipancinadodancan navanavarasam
  kinnarigitabandham II (HSVBB 2.74. 76) A mass of banners that wipes
  the stars clean is the first thing you'll see of Treasurer's Town. a
  stunning city that already delights you.  Then an escort of your kith
  and kin will lead you to where the elephants that hold the earth are
  immersed in ecstasy: Lake Manasa, whose water is soiled only by their
  passion sap.  Proceed right through the middle of King's Road: rows
  of streamers that distill the splendor of the Ganges will fan you and
  remove your fatigue.  Open your ears: ceaselessly squeezing the
  strings of their lutes with lunette-like bows, heavenly nymphs will
  sing a recital that tastes entirely fresh.

The gander is again greeted with great fanfare and in a way that is reminiscent of the sister poem, even though the situation and location are quite different. There is no reason, for instance, for Alaka to be imagined as a queen goose flying up to meet the winged messenger, because the royal gander is already accompanied by one, and because real geese--the gander's "kith and kin" that actually nest in Heart Lake--take off and form an actual airborne escort.43 Still, Treasurer's Town, so named after its king, Kubera, treasurer of the gods, also uses white streamers "that distill the splendor of the Ganges" to welcome the arriving gander. These streamers are now imagined as lines of fan-holding attendees, standing on both sides of King's Road to honor the high-ranking visitor. Alaka also shows an unmistakable upward trajectory that, as in the case of Lanka, is seen in its flags, "a mass of banners that hides the row of stars.- Moreover, the sights that this welcoming city offers its guest are again supplemented with sounds, this time an enchanting recital produced by an ensemble of heavenly nymphs that tops off the red-carpet treatment. Finally, note that whereas the dikpalas, "the four guardians of the compass," are forced to sing the fame of Lanka's king, perhaps because their wives are kept captive in the city jail (rodham yasyam anuvidadhate lokapalavarodhah; HSVD 2.2), Alakd's Lake Manasa truly captivates the diggajas, the elephants of these guardians. Thus these magnificent beasts that normally hold the earth on their backs are now submerged in its waters "in ecstasy," seasoning the water with their "musk."

The pair of stanzas from Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem also contains some unmistakable echoes of Kalidasa's poem--think, for example, of Kalidasa's description of Alaka's rooftops as "licking the sky" (abhramlihagrah prasadah; MS 64). the recital for Siva sung by the heavenly nymphs (MS 56), and the verbatim quote "will lead you" (nesyanti tvam; MS 61), to mention only a few--but, again, the net result of all this borrowing and reworking is a set of strikingly new stanzas: Alaka welcomes us with a song that "tastes entirely fresh" (navanavarasam), as the poet himself may be hinting.

The shared imagination of flags is but one example of a larger phenomenon. Through the convex lens of courier poetry, the extremely remote citadels of Alaka and Lanka, one lying beyond the subcontinent's northernmost mountains and the other beyond its southernmost coast, emerge as a closely related pair of twin cities. There are good reasons for the strange affinity between the two fabulous towns. For instance, they are governed by a pair of brothers, Kubera and Ravana, who share, among other things, a taste for luxury in general and a fondness for one fancy aircraft in particular: the puspavimana, originally registered in Alaka and the property of Kubera, is stolen by Ravana and brought by him to Lanka (after defeating Ravana. Rama gets to borrow it for a ride home to Ayodhya). This coveted vehicle, moreover, is not the only item that the two rhyming cities, Alaka and Lanka, both claim, and this is true especially in courier poetry. Here both white cities, explicitly and implicitly compared to each other," are repeatedly said to share unimaginable assets that eclipse even those of Indra's capital, such as the wish-fulfilling trees of heaven, heavenly nymphs, and powerful divinities in residence. The presence of all these in Lanka is, of course, the result of Ravana's regime of theft and terror. As Vedanta Desika reminds us, Ravana brutally kidnapped Sita and other goddesses (HSVD 2.1, 2, 4, 6), whereas the wishing trees, in whose fragrant juices Lanka is "immersed, top to bottom," were "hauled away from heaven and transplanted, / without blinking an eye, by the gods themselves, / in their dread of the Demon" (raksobhitaih svayam animisair ahrtasthapitanam mandaranam madhuparimalair vasitam maulidaghnaih; HSVD 1.59). Note that these trees' juices were already mentioned in Kalidasa's poem as the source of Alaka's fragrant winds and savory wines (MS 62, 66), and it is thus not surprising that they, along with other divine assets of the northern city, reappear in a new form in Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem:
  yasyam tattannidhiparicayamreditasrivilasas tyagaslagham
  suravitapino duram udyapayantah I dataro na kvacidapi jand yacitaram
  labhante citram yat tat sakalabhagavan adimo bhiksur aste II
  (HSVBB 70) There is no wealth they don't already know, those living
  replicas of Fortune, who eclipse by far
  the fame that wishing trees in heaven have amassed through charity:
  Why, givers in this town can nowhere even find a taker! And yet,
  amazingly, the god of everything is a fellow citizen, the world's
  number-one beggar.

The wealth of Alaka is unimaginable--it hosts "living replicas of Fortune," or of Sri. another name for Sita--and inexhaustible, like the wishing trees in heaven, or, indeed, like Lanka. But unlike the southern twin city from the sister poem, into whose soil the wishing trees were involuntarily transported so that Ravana alone enjoy their fruits and into whose realm Sri was abducted as his personal prize, here the emphasis is on the voluntary presence of assets (as we have already seen in the case of the elephants that hold the earth) and, even more, on sharing the wealth. Indeed, Alaka's charity is so intense that it has reached its limits, so that givers abound, but takers are nowhere to be found. Clinching this paradoxical description of sharing as amassing and of plenty as paucity, the poet concludes by referring to the city's highest-ranking divinity. It turns out that its greatest asset is none other than the freely roaming mendicant, Siva, "the world's number-one beggar."

Again, this paradoxical and humorous statement, like many of Vamana Bhatta Bana's truly innovative lines, stems from something analogous to sedimentation in the age-old genre of courier poetry. Vedanta Desika has modeled his description of Lanka on that of Kalidasa's portrayal of Alaka, and Vamana Bhatta Bana deliberately reemploys elements from his predecessor's description of Ravana's glassy citadel when he returns to depict Alaka. The result is an amazing increase in density, both spatial and temporal, a phenomenon the poet himself thematizes. Consider, in this connection, the following verse, in which the yaksa directs the gander to his own private garden:
  sima tattadvitapijanusam sampadam artavinam yogya bhumir
  malayamarutam alayah sitatimniim I ganjasala madhupasudrsam
  kelisaudham pikanam udyanam me tava nayanayor utsavam tatra kutyat
  II (HSVBB 83) It's the zenith of arboreal riches--on every tree at
  every season; a fitting place for the southern breezes, and home to
  cool ones; a treasury of beautiful bees, and a ballroom for partying
  cuckoos; Just wait until your two eyes feast on my garden.

The opening line of this verse describes the garden's wealth in terms of what seems to be a constant fruition of a vast variety of trees (note the repeated use of the reduplicated pronoun tattad- to create a sense of a complete set), normally yielding their fruits each in a different season. Perhaps I am reading too much into the adjective artavinam, modifying the arboreal "riches" (sampadam) and literally meaning "of the seasons." But one has to recall that speaking of Ravana's Asoka grove, where Sita was held in the sister poem, Vedanta Desika explicitly stated that "all six seasons work / round the clock, tending the trees / in his garden" (nityodaram rtubhir akhilair niskute vrksavatim; HSVD 2.7). and that in a verse of Kalidasa's MS that the great Andhra-based commentator Mallinatha believed to be inauthentic but on which he nonetheless proceeded to comment, Alaka's trees and lotus ponds were said to be in constant blossom (padapa nityapuspah ... nityapadma nalinyah). (45) One also has to keep in mind that heroes of messenger poems often depict their hometowns as experiencing time in a uniquely holistic manner, in contrast to their own devastatingly fragmented notion of temporality, and that the yaksa in our poem does not differ from his predecessors in this respect. (46) In addition to this temporal constancy, augmented, as we have seen, by intense intertextual resonances, the poet also depicts Alaka as embodying a strange spatial simultaneity. This northernmost city is somehow also "a fitting place for the southern breezes" that blow from Mount Malaya in the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, just as it is a home for local cool winds. In other words, Alaka is home to cool air currents from every end of the world, just as its gardens are home to "every tree," and as its lake holds submerged the elephants from all corners of the compass. This amazing density is further augmented in the second half of the verse by the description of the garden as teeming with melodious bees and cuckoos, already familiar from prior descriptions of Alaka. (47) And it is this density or depth--the fact that each part of the garden is made of other gardens from other time zones, and that each word is made from other words from other poems--that makes it a feast (utsava) for the onlooker's eyes. (48)


The density only increases when Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa turns to describe his beloved and entrusts the gander with a message for her. Here, in the most delicate and heightened part of any courier poem, the work's engagement with both its primary intertexts is intensified, with images and verbatim quotes being piled up to the point of dizzying anyone who has read them:
  lekham indor iva dinamukhe dinattam asnuvanam bhagnopaghnm
  iva navalatam chayaya mucyamanam I meghapaye saritam iva tam
  bibhratim ekavenim drstva yavad bhavasi karunasokayor ekapatram
  II (HSVBB 101) Like the crescent moon at the crack of dawn, mired in
  misery: like a tender vine on a broken branch, renouncing her
  brilliance; and like a rivulet whose cloud has left, reduced to one
  plait.  As soon as you see her, you'll be filled with one blend
  compassion with anguish.

This richly alliterative verse is so profuse with bits from its intertexts that it is hard to know where to begin. Vedanta Desika's description of Sita with its long chain of similes is particularly dominant here, even though the emphasis is no longer on the beloved's being ridiculously out of place ("Like a burst of pure moonlight / in the dog-eater's hut"; suddham indoh svapacabhavane kaumudim visphurantim; HSVD 2.13) and in great danger ("like a doe within reach of a tiger"; vyaghropetam iva mrgavadhum; HSVD 2.14), and Kalidasa's imagery and language are also never far behind. Thus the comparison of the beloved to a tender vine whose supporting branch has been broken and whose brilliance is receding (bhagnopaghnam iva navalatam chayaya mucyamanam) combines two very similarly worded images in the parallel portion of Vedanta Desika's poem, where Sita is described as a flower tossed to the mud (pankaslistam iva bisalatam, HSVD 2.14) and her arm-vines as losing their luster (latabhih . . . chayaya kimcid unam, HSVD 2.21). The image of the lonely beloved as a fragile sliver of the moon (lekham indor iva dinamukhe dinamukhe dinatam asnuvanam) likewise appears twice in the parallel section of the sister poem, once in the context of surrounding clouds (meghacchannam iva sasikalam; HSVD 2.14) and once, as here, at dawn (sandhyaragavyatikaravatim candralekham ivanyam; HSVD 2.19), but it also harks back to Kalidasa's portrayal of the yaksa's beloved in the relevant portion of the mother poem (indor dainyam . . . bibharti, MS 81; pracimule tanum iva kalamatrasesam himamsoh, MS 86). The pregnant phrase "the cloud has left" (meghapaye) is lifted verbatim from Vedanta Degika's work, although it is originally found in an entirely different context, wherein the gander is asked to start its journey now that the monsoon is over and "the clouds are history" (another dig at Kalidasa's MS),49 while the image of the beloved in a single braid and the comparison between the braid and a river (saritam iva tam bibhratim ekavenim) are signature Kalidasa (adye baddha virahadivase ya sikha dama hitva . . . ekavenim, MS 88; venibhutapratanusalila tam atitasya sindhuh MS 29).(50)

Even more important, both intertexts contain what seems to have become a standard component of courier poetry: a reference to the compassion that the messenger will feel on seeing the miserable addressee. Kalidasa's yaksa predicts that the sight of his beloved will not leave the cloud dry-eyed (tvam apy asram navajalamayam mocayisyaty avasyam) and points out, in one of his typically pregnant general statements (arthantaranyasas), that someone who has a soft (or moist) inner soul (ardrantaratma) is naturally prone to compassion (karunavrttih; MS 90). Vedanta Desika's Rama, in turn, foresees an uncontrollable flood of sorrow for his gander and backs the prediction with a generalization of his own:
drstva tasyas tvam api karunam tadrsim tam avastham
saksyasy antah svayam upanatam sokavegam na sodhum I
kravyadanam dasavadanavat kvapi jatav ajatah
nalambante katham iva dayam nirmalatvopapannah II (HSVD 2.24)
Seeing her in that heartbreaking state, you too
will not be able to hold back a surge of sorrow
swelling up in your pure heart. It would take a ten-faced
Ravana, who feeds on flesh, not to feel
a pinch of pity.

We can clearly see in these verses the building blocks that Vamana Bhatta Bana uses to create the much more condensed line ending the stanza given earlier: "As soon as you see her, you'll be filled with one blend: / compassion with anguish." Both "compassion" (karuna) and "anguish" (soka) are taken straight from his predecessors' relevant verses (Kalidasa uses soka in this context, and Vedanta Desika employs both), although here--perhaps not inappropriately, given the sort of textual appropriation in which he is engaged--the emphasis is on combining and containing the two rather than on swelling and gushing. Indeed, despite the fact that the elements making this final line are so familiar, their blending has a strangely novel ring. This is primarily because of the added meaning that the two emotion names convey when they are juxtaposed in a single compound, in a way that immediately calls to mind the theory of aesthetic response (rasa). According to the reigning strand of this theory, the basic emotion of anguish (soka), once experienced in a play or a poem, is transformed in the sensitive observer or reader into the purely pleasurable, aestheticized emotion of compassion (karuna). But interestingly, Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa predicts that his gander will experience both at once (bhavasi karunasokayor ekapatram, literally, "become a single receptacle of both compassion and anguish"). Both the simultaneity of response and the order in which they are mentioned in Vamana Bhatta Bana's verse suggest a residue of anguish even in the supposedly rapturous aesthetic experience of compassion and thus call to mind a nascent view that challenges rasa theory in its classical form and holds that the experience of the nonpleasurable is not completely free of displeasure.(51)

What is true of this verse is also true of this entire section of the poem: despite, or perhaps thanks to, its extremely dense intertextuality--the fact that this section actually consists of bits and pieces of its main prior texts--it yields a new statement about the state of mind of lovers and readers, if not about human psychology more generally. In particular, Vamana Bhatta Bana uses the verses describing and addressing the beloved--the "inner sanctum" of his poem--to present a polyphonic vision of the mind and a much more nuanced view of the powers of imagination than those seen in earlier works in the genre. Recall, in this context, that Kalidasa's yaksa dwells at some length on his and his partner's frustrating attempts somehow to summon each other through various imaginative or artistic means. Typically, it is the constant flow of tears, a symptom of the harsh reality, that prevents one lover from painting the other's image on canvas, playing the other's song on the lute, or falling asleep and dreaming of the other. (52) The fault seems to lie not in the imaginative moments or creative states of consciousness (samkalpa, usually in the plural), however tenuous and fleeting, but in the tyrannical regime of fate, the real culprit in Kalidasa's poem. (53) Kalidasa does recognize that, from an external point of view, the reality of dreams may be questionable, just as is, say, the reality of a cloud as a messenger. But his entire poem hinges on the voluntary suspension of such realizations in favor of complete empathy with the far richer and in that sense truer internal world of the lover, and a reader who fails to adopt this powerful, creative empathy--and the tradition seems to have had its share of such skeptical readers--fails to understand his poem. (54) As for Vedanta Desika's Rama, although he is working with the same materials and blaming fate for his separation from Sita, he is even more positive in his appraisal of the imaginative and meditative capacities than Kalidasa's yaksa. Thus he describes Sita as actually holding him in her mind through yogic concentration and contemplation and states that he, too, can join her in his mind, so that the two of them actually overcome fate and attain a union that is just as real as, if not far more real than, any coming together. Given the divinity of Vedanta Desika's characters, there is an important religious message here about the ability of uniting with god by means of the believers' mentation.(55) Vamana Bhatta Bana, by contrast, offers a more complicated model of the mind and a more detailed and mixed appraisal of its various capacities. Particularly striking is the negative value placed on the mental and imaginative capacities, which are presented in his poem not as potent, albeit temporary, solutions to the problem of separation but also as painful, counterproductive, and even dangerous processes that can make it worse. Consider, in this context, the yaksa's following description of his beloved:
sa [manye]ta ksanam iva dinam kalpavad vasateyim
kuryad bodhad api bahumatam cetanavaiparityam I
candralokad api visarasam candanad apy alatam
mandaspandad api ca maru[tah kalpaye]d vajrapatam II (HSVBB 97)
A second seems like a day to her,
a night like an aeon.(56)
She prefers insentience to mindfulness,
poison to moonlight,
coal to sandalwood balsam,
and she'd rather be hit by a hurricane
than be touched by the soft flutter
of the breeze.

The idea that time is experienced as endless by the separated lover is familiar to readers of both Kalidasa and Vedanta Desika, (57) although again, the old materials are presented in a new form. Here the experience of time is taken as a sign of the harmful state of mind of the beloved and the dangerous way she cognizes reality (manyeta, if this reading is correct). Likewise, although there is nothing new in the idea that lonely lovers are particularly vulnerable to soft and pleasant substances such as moonlight, sandalwood balsam, and the fragrant breeze, this is tied in the HSVBB to the imaginative faculty (again, assuming the correctness of the reading kalpayet, which nicely echoes kalpavad in the first line). But what is most striking and new about this verse is that this dark view of the mind is taken to its only logical conclusion in the beloved's wish to renounce it altogether and opt for insentience (cetanavaiparityam).

The yaksa's negative views of the mind in general and its imaginative capacities in particular are corroborated by his own experience, which he describes in his message:
samkalpaughair manasi hahudha bhidyamane nisayam I
nairantaryad api nayanayor muncator asruvarsam II
magna kim syam iti kila dhiya tatra tatsannikarsan
nidra duribhavati kimuta svapnasamdarsanani II (HSVBB 116)
At night, a deluge of imagination
shatters my mind to pieces,
and my eyes pour down a nonstop
torrent of tears.
"I better not drown"
is what Sleep must be thinking
as she keeps away from me.
to say nothing of visions in dreams.

As in previous courier poems, the speaker, always in endless tears, finds it hard to fall asleep and dream of the beloved. But in this case imagination is not only the victim but also the main culprit, since it is a "deluge of imagination" (samkalpaughaih) that "shatters [his] mind to pieces," thereby causing a "nonstop torrent of tears." Indeed, if in past poems, and especially in Vedanta Desika's, the mental capacities of the lovers played an important role in keeping the mind a focused and integrated unit, here they cause a complete and painful disintegration, a point that is highlighted by the conceit of sleep as an autonomous individual, sensing the dangers inherent in the fragmented subject and fleeing from him, along with "visions in dreams."

The problem, then, is not that imagination is ineffective or useless. but rather that its effect is not entirely positive and is potentially threatening. This point is powerfully brought home in the message's climactic description, directly engaging the statements about imagination found in its primary intertexts. In Kalidasa's poem there is the yaksa's beautiful description of himself as entering his beloved "body into body / the lean into the lean" (angenangam tanu ca tanuna), but only from afar (duravarti). "in his imagination. / while hostile fate blocks his path" (samkalpais tais visati vidhina vairina ruddhamargah; MS 99). Then there is Vedanta Desika's emphatically optimistic statement about the powers of the mind: "Our bodies touch / in the southern wind. / Our eyes meet / in the moon. /. . . However far away / fate has taken you from me, / I still find my way / into you" (dehasparsam malayapavane drstisambhedam indau . . . duribhutam sutanu vidhina tvam aham nirvisami; HSVD 2.40).58 To these and other related verses in these two intertexts, Vamana Bhatta Bana's yaksa answers by providing the following description of his dream once he finally succeeds in falling asleep:
svapne tabdham kathamapi samaslisya sanandabaspam
[tva]m utkanthaglapusam yavad amantrayami |
mithya nedam punar iti maya tatksanam cintyamane
tavad daivam vighatayati nau turnam utpadya bodham || (HSVBB 117)
In my dream I find,
can't say how,
and embrace,
tears of joy in my eyes,
you, who are frail from longing.
But no sooner do I call your name,
thinking, just then,
"This can't be untrue,
not again,"
than fate quickly wakes me
and does us apart.

What strikes me most about this masterful verse is the reflexive and meandering way in which the yalca relates his dream experience. The attainment in the dream--that it is the beloved who is attained is still not mentioned--is the first thing he reports, as if accomplishing it is easy, although this is immediately followed by the reflective adverb kathamapi (can't say how), suggesting the great difficulty inherent in this inner act. (59) Then follows samaslisya (literally, "having embraced"), and it may be significant that this gerund signifying the physical union is divided between the two sides of the yati caesura. (60) The act of embracing is followed by another adverb sanandabaspam (with tears of joy), telling of the yaksa's jubilant emotional state during this dreamed embrace, and for once it seems that imagination is capable of bringing about something other than tears of sorrow. Then the reader discovers the object of the yalca's embrace: "you" (tvam), who is immediately modified as "frail from longing" (utkanthaglapitavapusam). This modification portrays the dream union in realistic terms, since the yaksa meets his beloved as she is in the here-and-now of the poem. not in some past or future state. But it also serves to introduce separation into this dreamed union and to contrast the two lovers: he is finding and embracing her, shedding tears of joy, while she is still experiencing separation from him. (61) Apparently she has not yet recognized his presence, which suggests that their union is still not complete. He has to call her (amantrayami), and at this point a suspenseful gap is opened by the use of the relative yavad (no sooner), whose correlative tavad (than) is more than a line away. Embedded in this gap we find a recorded piece of the yalca's conflicted consciousness, reflecting (cintyamane) on his situation "just then" (tatksanam). Ostensibly stating his confidence in the reality of the experience, the negative phrasing "this can't be untrue" (mithya nedam) and the powerful presence of the word punar ("again") point to a dramatic realization that this union is indeed unreal, as were numerous similar experiences in the past. (62) This, then, leads to the yaksa's swift and cruel wakeup by fate, only to find that he is alone again.

Note how, in this detailed exploration of the self, the dream is experienced as both tangibly real and palpably unreal, joyous and bitterly painful, and therefore enabling a union while exacerbating the sense of separation. Seemingly, the second in each of these pairs sequentially follows the first, but in fact, they not only follow one another repeatedly, as part of the roller coaster of endless imaginations, but are somehow experienced simultaneously or mutually inseparably, just like karuna and soka. This simultaneity is indicated by the zigzag progression of the reported dream and by the residual awareness of the reality of separation within the dreamed union itself.

What we have here, then, is a new and complex thematization of imagination, just shortly before the period when, as David Shulman shows in a pathbreaking book, this faculty is becoming the topic of heightened attention as part of a new theorization of the mind and the self in South India. For an in-depth study of imagination as it is now reimagined across texts and media in the region, the reader is referred to Shulman's book. (63) Here I wish to point out only that the imaginative and the intertextual processes seem inseparable in Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem. This is partly because, as we have seen throughout, novelty in his text--and this is true also of the new notion of imagination--becomes manifest only through his dense engagement with the situations, materials, and vocabulary of the intertexts. But another reason for the link between the imaginative and the intertextual is suggested in the unfortunately incomplete verse that immediately follows the one translated above, where the yaksa concludes that being able to imagine beyond the present moment, as painful as this may be, is also key to one's survival:
kim va kuryam kati nu divasan jivitam dharayeyam
param kim syad virahajaladher ity alam te vikalpah |
a samprapter janakatanaya bhartur alambya dhairyam
dina raksobhavanavasatau ... || (HSVBB 2.118)
What else can I do? I have to stay alive
just a few more days.
Is there a shore beyond this sea of separation?
You just have to imagine. (64)
All the way up to his coming. Sita held on
to the grit of her husband, miserable though she was,
in the monster's den. .

The verse breaks off just before the last yati caesura, and it is a pity that we do not know what else the yaksa had to say about Sita's mindset throughout her imprisonment by Ravana. But it seems significant that he alludes to it and to the subject matter of his sister poem precisely at the point at which he asks his beloved to keep imagining and believing. (65) Indeed, it is not just Vedanta Desika's poem that is being evoked here, but also Kalidasa's classic, where the Rama and Sita theme is constantly in the background (as commentators roughly contemporaneous with Vamana Bhatta Bana were busy demonstrating in detail), (66) if not the entire pool of courier poetry. Imagination will take you across the ocean, but this leap also seems to depend, paradoxically, on its great depths. Seeing beyond the moment is veering into other texts.


Why are there so many courier poems? Scholars have all too easily explained this question away by dismissing the extremely prolific genre as "imitations" of Kalidasa. Given this perceived pervasive unoriginality, all that most Indologists felt a need to do was to document the existence and extent of the corpus (and that, too, in a very partial manner) and comment how this or that poet, while "too often imitating Kalidasa, sometimes even slavishly ... occasionally shows traces of natural poetic grace." (67) But even if we set aside, for the moment, the question of originality, my discussion of Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem at the very least indicates that the position assigned to Kalidasa's MS as the genre's sole inspiration can no longer be accepted. As I have shown, Vedanta Desika's Hamsasandesa is just as important an intertext for Vamana Bhatta Bana's namesake work as Kalidasa's MS, and to fail to understand the close textual engagement of this work with its southern sibling is to fail to understand the poem.

Indeed, to believe that Kalidasa's MS alone reigned in the kingdom of courier poetry is to assume that nothing ever really changed in this genre in the millennium and a half after its composition. But the fact is that things changed and changed quite quickly. The HSVBB could not have been composed much later than thirty years after the death of Vedanta Desika around 1369. This suggests that within decades of its composition the HSVD became a highly influential work, a poem that an aspiring courier poet like Vamana Bhatta Bana could not have ignored and one with which he could trust his readers to be familiar. Nor should we presume that the influence of the HSVD was limited to the Tamil region and the lower Deccan in the period immediately after its composition. The broader impact of Vedanta Desika's poem needs far more research, but his Hamsasandesa seems to have enjoyed lasting popularity well beyond its area of composition because it left a traceable mark on much later courier poems composed in areas as far away as Kerala and Bengal. (68) Moreover, it is likely that the HSVD was not alone, and that there were other influential courier poems in other regions. This seems particularly true of the Sukasandesa, probably a rough contemporary of the HSVD. As Unni has already demonstrated, the Sukasandesa was quoted soon after its creation by the Malayalam poem Unnunilisandesa and other works in both Sanskrit and Malayalam. (69)

Another poem worth mentioning in this context is another Hamsasandesa by the Kerala-based author Purnasarasvati (hereafter HSPS). This particularly beautiful and totally unstudied work, also probably of the same period as the HSVD, (70) is engaged in a project closely akin to that of its contemporary namesake: both redeploy the basic Kalidasan template for religious voyages that involve different aspects of god Visnu (the HSVD has Rama send a message to Sita in Lanka, whereas the HSPS has Krsna in Mathura receive one from a woman follower who is madly in love with him); both place their senders in the south and celebrate the main centers of worship in the Tamil country (although the route in the HSPS has an important Kerala component, whereas the HSVD dismisses Kerala as unworthy of visiting). (71) There thus seems to be some connection between the two works, and there are also occasional close echoes between the HSPS and the HSVBB (although nothing like the systematic engagement of the latter with the HSVD), so that all three gander poems are indeed birds of a feather. (72)

The picture that emerges from even the minimal available data suggests a pattern far more complex than the simplistic notion of endless and purposeless "imitations" of a single source. Between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries there seems to have been a sudden surge of engagement with Kalidasa's MS throughout South Asia in a variety of languages and in regions as remote from one another as Gujarat in the northeast and Sri Lanka in the far south. (73) This textual engagement, although by no means uniform, seems to be part of regional efforts to envision and create local maps--political, cultural, linguistic, religious, and sectarian--and thus is often done in conversation not just with the classical Kalidasan template but also with local traditions and texts. (74) Moreover, at least in some areas this new engagement quickly resulted in highly influential courier poems such as the HSVD, poems that later works, produced in increasing quantities, engaged in complex, multiparty conversations.

To say more about the unfolding of courier poetry in the absence of additional research and data would be irresponsible, and one can only hope that the long and multifaceted history of this genre will become the subject of renewed scholarly attention. (75) But I believe that my study of the HSVBB allows me to posit tentative observations about the possibilities for innovation in this genre and the way these involve intertextuality. To begin with, I argue that it is precisely through repetition--or what others have called "imitation"--that courier poetry managed to reinvent itself so successfully. Of course, there are many ways to repeat even a single work such as Kalidasa's MS. It is well known, for example, that poets have reused truncated verses from it while topping them off with new endings, composed sequels (and perhaps also prequels) to the yaksa's story, produced Kalidasa-like verses and inserted them into manuscripts of the MS, and, of course, composed additional courier poems that replicate key aspects of Kalidasa's original. (76) The point is that these and other modes of replication are by definition innovative insofar as they engage or even activate an older work. As the famous "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" by Borges serves to remind us, even to reproduce the original text verbatim is to create a new text. (77)

More specifically, my reading of the Hamsasandesas by Vedanta Desika and by Vamana Bhatta Bina points to a whole range of intertextual strategies that infuse this line of courier poetry with innovativeness. These include, first, elements of parody (as we have seen in the naming of the yaksa in the HSVBB), digs directed at the intertext (the most obvious of which is the repeated put-down of clouds in both gander poems), and a great variety of inversions: temporal, spatial, and other (for instance, the reversal of roles between clouds and ganders). These are probably the simplest and most basic modes of intertextual practices that the two poems employ, but even they allow for great complexity as soon as more than one text is brought into the conversation. For example, we have seen that the HSVBB undoes some of the HSVD's inversions of the MS or redeploys a gibe such as "the clouds are history" (meghapaye) in an entirely different context, thereby taking the sting out of it. A closely related phenomenon is the way the response of text 3 to text 2 packs a punch by invoking text 1. Think, for instance, of Vamana Bhatta Bana's pointed responses to Vedanta Desika's snide remarks about Siva in Kanci and Kalahasti as charged by the precedent of Kalidasa's MS, where Siva and not Visnu is the object of devotion. Such un-inversions and redeployments are thus packed with added layers of reference and reflexivity.

This brings us to the questions of depth and density, which David Shulman and I have already raised in connection with the HSVD. (78) It is easiest to see the potential for growing density in this line of texts in relation to space. If the HSVD superimposes Kalidasa's map of the entire Sanskrit world on the Tamil country, now envisioned as a sacred land whose waterways and mountains embody the sacred rivers and summits of the north with a dominant Vaisnava inflection, Vamana Bhatta Bana's poem recalibrates this map by imbuing it with the Saiva sacred nodes as well. This is particularly apparent in his long and loving description of Kanci, now saturated by gods and holy rivers flowing from a great variety of localities and texts. Kanci now contains pieces of Ujjayini and Alaka as described in the MS, images and sites redeployed from the HSVD (itself responding to Kalidasa's descriptions), an additional Ganges, Siva temples, and various local elements corning from Saiva puranas, to mention but a few aspects of this town as it is now portrayed. There seems to be no end to the potential of this sort of thickening on the local level, and it is therefore no surprise to find that in the seventeenth-century Bhramaradutakavya by Rudra Nyayapancanana, the description of Kanci that Rama gives his courier, a bee in this case, extends to no less than thirty-six verses that are divided into two long chunks, one charting Siva's Kanci and the other portraying the Vaisnava map of the same town. (79) And although the texts mentioned above have a clear investment in Tamil space and its centers, a similar kind of spatial density is also found at the edges, in the description of the fabulous far-off lands that are the destination of the couriers in question. Vedanta Degika portrays his Lanka as embodying Kalidasa's Alaka, and Vamana Bhatta Bana packs this already-dense description of Lanka into a reenvisioned Alaka, which never before seemed so lush and ready to demonstrate its literary assets.

This growing density need not be conceived merely in spatial terms. In fact, the above examples can be seen as instances of engagement with what the poets have identified as the basic units of the courier template. Some of these are geocultural, such as a central city (Ujjayini, Kanci) and the far-off destination (Alaka, Lanka). But other units can be seen to stand in relation to a poem's narrative and thematic structure: the description of the miserable lover, his choice of a courier (a point on which the HSVBB is loudly silent), the appeal to the courier's ancestry, the question of who will keep the courier company along the way, or the final dangerous strait he has to cross before reaching his destination. Such units can be highly specific, say, a reference to the compassion the courier will feel on seeing the beloved, or to a private memory that only the two lovers share. But other units are more comprehensive, as in the case of the meditation on the nature of imagination pervading the last part of all three poems I have discussed.

There are two crucial aspects that we need to realize about these units. First, it is precisely through repeated takes on such elements--plot junctures, themes, images, and, in some cases, specific geographic sites--that poets in this genre innovate, sometimes radically, as we have seen in Vamana Bhatta Bana's rethinking of imagination. In other words, innovation in this genre is the direct result of repeatedly revisiting the same building blocks, which can be done in a variety of ways, from silence to assigning them new "values," rearranging, relocating, and mixing together different units, so that often the denser a unit becomes with remnants of its precedents, the more novel it is. Second, it is precisely these repeated engagements with the units that make the "original" template what it is. In other words, courier poets do not respond to a clearly defined genre; rather, they define it through their repeated takes, especially in important regional poems such as the HSVD and the Sukasandesa. Thus it is no wonder that some of commentators on the MS also composed their own courier poems (Purnasarasvati), and that the first systematic definition of the units that make up the genre by a critic such as Dharmagupta begins to appear in commentaries not on Kalidasa's MS itself but on a poem such the Sukasandesa. Of course, as Unni has already noted, Dharmagupta's division of the Sukasandesa into twelve parts is constantly mindful of Kalidasa's MS, (80) which only proves the point that part of what is new about later courier poems is the way they enable us to read the highly influential MS anew. I can say that my own experience reading the HSVBB was of numerous small discoveries about the MS, a poem I have been reading and rereading for more than twenty years, and to some extent about the HSVD as well. (81)

The preceding statements by no means exhaust the possible range of explanations for the extreme productivity of the courier genre across regions and languages and its resilience well into the colonial and postcolonial eras. I offer here only very tentative hypotheses that require further corroboration while leaving out a variety of issues that seem to me crucial to the larger phenomenon. These include the reconceptualization of space in courier poetry, especially the move toward a greater specificity of place and human characters in some of the later poems; the engagement with modes of courier poetry that come from outside the Sanskrit tradition, as in the case of Tamil tutu poems (82) or Persian models; and the great variety found among subgenres in different linguistic media. The vastness and vitality of this phenomenon, which make the study of this genre so difficult and necessitate a concentrated and collaborative effort, are also its most intriguing aspects. Why did authors keep coming back to the theme of sending a courier while situating their heroes and heroines in locations and situations that seem to have nothing to do with one another? This question must remain open for now, although if the preceding analysis of the HSVBB proves anything, it is that the answer partly lies in the question, in the sense that the long-standing experimentation with this module has, by virtue of its accumulated results, empowered it and made it a particularly potent tool for further experiments.


Primary Sources

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Hamsasandesa of Purnasarasvati. Edited by K. Sambasiva Sastri. Trivandrum Sanskrit Series 129. Trivandrum: Government Press, 1937.

Hamsasandesa [Hamsaduta] of Vamana Bhatta Bana. Edited by Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri. Samskrta-Duta-Kavya-Samgraha Series 4. Calcutta: Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri, 1941.

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HSPS. See Hamsasandesa of Purnasarasvati.

HSVBB. See Hamsasandesa [Hamsaduta] of Vamana Bhatta Bana.

HSVD. See Hamsasandesa of Vedanta Desika.

Kavyalamkara of Bhamaha. Edited by Batuk Nath Sarma and Baldev Upadhyaya. Kasi Sanskrit Series 61, 1928. Rpt. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, 1981.

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Meghaduta of Kalidasa with the Commentary of Vallabhadeva. Edited by E. Hultzsch. London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1911.

Meghaduta of Kalidasa with the Sanjivani (by Mallinatha), Caritravarddhini, Bhavabodhini, and Saudamani Commentaries. Edited by Brahmasankara Sasti. Kashi Sanskrit Series 88. Varanasi: Chaukhamba, 1959.

Meghasandesa of Kalidasa with the Commentaries Pradipa of Daksinavartanatha, Vidyullata of Purnasarasvati, and Sumanoramani of Paramesvara. Edited by N. P. Unni. Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1987.

MS. See Meghaduta of Kalidasa. Edited by S. K. De.

Samdesa Rasaka of Abdul Rahman. Edited by Sri Jina Vijaya Muni and Harivallabh Bhayani. Singhi Jain Series 22. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1945.

Sukasandesa of Laksmidasa. Edited by N. P. Unni. Delhi: NAG Publishers. 1985.

Vemabhupalacarita of Vamana Bhatta Ba. Edited by J. K. Balasubrahmanyam. Srirangam: Sri Vani Vilas Press, 1910.

Secondary Sources

Aufrecht, Theodor. 1900. Nachahmungen des Meghaduta. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 54: 616-20.

Barnett, L. D. 1927. Review of Pavanadutam of Dhoyi (edited by Chintaharan Chakravarti). Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 2: 349-50.

Bronner, Yigal. 2010. Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Bronner, Yigal, and David Shulman. 2006. A Cloud Turned Goose: Sanskrit in the Vernacular Millennium. Indian Economic and Social History Review 43: 1-30.

-- . 2009. "Self-Surrender" "Peace" "Compassion" and "The Mission of the Goose": Poems and Prayers from South India by Appayya Diksita, Nilakantha Diksita and Vedanta Desika. New York: New York Univ. Press and JJC.

Chakravarti, Chintaharan. 1927. Origin and Development of Dutakavya Literature in Sanskrit. Indian Historical Quarterly 3: 273-97.

De, S. K. 1957. See Meghaduta of Kalidasa in Primary Sources.

Godakumbura, C. E. 2010. Sinhalese Literature, 3rd ed. Battaramula: Department of Cultural Affairs.

Hiltebeitel, Alf. 1980. Draupadi's Hair. Purusartha 5: 179-214.

Hopkins, Steven. 2004. Lovers, Messengers, and Behaved Landscapes: Sandesakavya in Comparative Perspective. International Journal of Hindu Studies 8: 29-55.

Pieris, Anoma. Avian Geographies: An Inquiry into Nationalist Consciousness in Medieval Lanka. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 33: 336-62.

Radhakrishnan, E. P. 1936, Meghaduta and Its Imitations. Journal of Oriental Research Madras 10: 267-74.

--. 1939. Some More Dutakavyas in Sanskrit. Journal of Oriental Research Madras 13: 23-28.

Rodriguez Monegal, Emir, and Alastair Reid, eds. 1981. Borges, a Reader: A Selection from the Writings of Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Dutton.

Shulman, David. 1980. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

--. 2012. More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Somasekhara Sarma, M. 1948. History of the Reddy Kingdoms (Circa 1325 A.D., to circa 1448 A.D.). Waltair: Andhra University.

Sriramamurti, P. 1972. Contribution of Andhra to Sanksrit Literature. Waltair: Andhra University. Tubb, Gary, and Yigal Bronner. 2008. Vastutas Tu: Methodology and the New School of Sanskrit Poetics. Journal of Indian Philosophy 36: 619-32.

Unni, P. N. 1985. See Sukasandesa of Laksmidasa in Primary Sources.

--. 1987. See Meghasandesa of Kalidasa in Primary Sources.

I started thinking about this essay while I was teaching Vamana Bhatta Bana's works to a particularly gifted group of Sanskrit students at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2010, and I continued to shape my ideas in conversations with Charles Hallisey. David Shulman, and Gary Tubb, who were among the participants in a group that first met to discuss courier poems in Madison, Wisconsin, at a preconference during the 40th Annual Conference on South Asia (October 2011). Earlier versions of this essay were delivered at the 15th World Sanskrit Conference in New Delhi (January 2012) and at a meeting of the India Forum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (April 2012). I thank the participants in both meetings for their insightful comments, and I am also indebted to the anonymous readers of this essay for their extremely useful suggestions.

Journal of the American Oriental Society 133.3 (2013)

(1.) From information about his patrons and contemporaries that Vamana Bhatta Bana provided in many of his works, it can be demonstrated that this poet worked in Vijayanagara's court during the 1380s and later in Kondavidu under King Peda Komati Vema (r. 1402-1420) in the early 1400s (Somasekhara Sarma 1948: 470-73; Sriramamurti 1972: 69-76). For a speculation that he composed the HSVBB early in his career, see n. 16 below.

(2.) The poem was published in 1941 by Jatindra Bimal Chaudhuri in Calcutta as number 4 in the short-lived Samskrta-Duta-Kavya-Samgraha Series. The edition is actually based on two manuscripts, but the second is a paper copy of the first. The published edition's title page calls it the Hamsaduta rather than the Hamsasandesa, but it is the latter name that appears in the colophon and also seems to have been in vogue in works of the time (for example, Unni's list of courier poems in Kerala mentions four Hamsasandesas but no Hamsaduta: Unni 1985: 9-31). Of course, several works in the genre, beginning with Kalidasa's classic itself, go by both -duta and -sandesa endings alternately.

(3.) For example. "This is a close imitation of the Meghasandesa" (Sriramamurti 1972: 72).

(4.) Compare HSVBB 1.1 and 1.6 with MS 43 and II, respectively, for these set phrases. Unless otherwise noted, all references to the text of Kalidasa's poem are to S. K. De's 1957 critical edition.

(5.) Initial surveys of the genre include Aufrecht 1900; Chakravarti 1927; Radhakrishnan 1936, 1939; De 1957: 6-8; and Unni 1985: 7-32 (for the particularly productive Kerala scene). Sec also Unni 1987: 4-10 on Kalidasa's impact on poets in the south more generally.

(6.) For more on this topic, see Bronner 2010: 257-65.

(7.) As noted by Dharmagupta while commenting on the Sukasandesa, the structure of courier poems following the Kalidusan example necessitates a short opening section (adivakya) that introduces the acts and choices of the lonely lover. On Dharmagupta's discussion. see Unni 1987: 16-21 and also section 8 below.

(8.) In referring to the HSVBB, I am following the numbering scheme of the published edition: the work is divided into two parts. but the verses are numbered consecutively from beginning to end, with a total of 121 verses.

(9.) This fact, too, is cleverly packed into the pregnant opening line because the reversal and hence the identification of so 'ham and hamsa have a long history in Sanskrit that goes back to the Upanisads.

(10.) I am grateful to Gary Tubb for this suggestion.

(11.) The numbers, however. vary. Vallabhadeva is of the opinion that seven to eight months have passed (katicit saptastan masan, ad verse 2, p, 2 in Hultzsch's 1911 edition); Mallinatha gives a more decisive estimate of eight months (katicit masan astau masan, ad verse 1.2, p. 4 in the 1959 Kashi Sanskrit Series edition), which, as he goes on to explain, means a remainder of four months; and. in fact, many southern commentators read an extra verse into the poem that specifies that the remainder is actually four months (masan anyan gamaya caturo, verse 2.43 in P. N. Unni's 1987 edition). Another fact that Vamana Bhatta Mina's yaksa supplies about himself, namely, the reason for his exile, seems to invoke the ongoing rich exegetic discussion emerging around the MS more directly. Ka'Hasa states only that the yaksa was cursed because he neglected his duties (svadhikarat pramattah, MS 1.1). In the HSVBB, however, the yaksa reports that he disobeyed the orders of his master (ajnabhagnar: HSVBB 1.1). Although this may seem like a very minor variation, the commentarial literature of the period describes at some length the nature of Kubera's order and the reasons for the yaksa's failure to comply with it. and it seems only reasonable to assume that lantana Bhatta Bana's language here is based on this discussion. See Unni 1987: 11-13 for a brief summary of the growing commentarial discussion about the source or context for the narrative frame of the MS.

(12.) Somasekhara Sarna 1948: 470-73; Sriramamurti 1972: 69-76.

(13.) See, for example. Sriramamurti 1972: 69-76. 14. One particularly long and masterful description in the Vemabhupalacarta is that of Daksarama, its Bhimesvara temple, and its red-light district (pp. 191-205).

(15.) E.g., HSVD 1.20.

(16.) The HSVBB is one of Vamana Bhatta Bana's few works that does not come with information about its time and place. On the basis of information from other works, though, Somasekhara Sarma believes that this author "seems to have spent his early life at Vijayanagar in educating himself" (Somasekhara Sarma 1948: 470).

(17.) Vedanta Desika's standardly given dates are c. 1268-1369.

(18.) For Vedanta Desika, however, the ancestry of the bird is slightly different. It is Brahma himself who was the first gander, capable as he was of parting the ocean of the Vedas (HSVD 1.6: vedodanvadvibhajanavido vamsajam visvamurteh, Sanskrit geese are proverbially capable of separating different liquids), and it is the current gander, rather than its ancestor, who carries Brahma around (aupavahyam bhavantam). Also, we should note that in the HSVBB, the appeal to the courier to remember his ancestry is found a bit later in the plot than in both precedents, once the initial request has been made and as part of a list of things that the courier is to do before departing. As we have already come to expect, repetitions are never exact.

(19.) See Bronner and Shulman 2006: 12-16.

(20.) Note also the comparison of the birds' union to that of Visnu and Laksmi, another form of Rama and Sita, still waiting to be united. All translations from the HSVD are from Bronner and Shulman 2009.

(21.) I am following the emendation of the editor of the printed edition; the manuscript reads man ye tu.

(22.) See also na syad anyo 'py aham iva jano yah paradhinavrttih (MS 8).

(23.) Only the act of delivering the message is to be done alone, for which purpose the gander will first have to deposit the goose with relatives in Lake Manasa (HSVBB 2.75) before reuniting in the final verse, as in previous poems (HSVBB 2.121).

(24.) Bronner and Shulman 2006: 12-16: 2009: xxiv--xxvi.

(25.) The desert region between the Chola and the Pandya realms is also briefly alluded to (HSVD 1.47), allowing Vedanta Desika to capture another fivefold division, that of the five regions of the ancient cankam poetry (Bronner and Shulman 2009: xxx).

(26.) Compare HSVD 1.37 with HSVBB 1.28 for one example of the depiction of girls from the Chola country.

(27.) There is evidence that several Srivaispava teachers toured Andhra around Vamana Bhatta Bana's time and spread their faith. Significantly, Vedanta Desika's son. Varadacarya (also known as Nainaracarya), is said to have been one of them (Somasekhara Sarma 1948: 315-16). As an example of the growing reach of Tamil sacred lore in the Andhra country in this period, consider the dominant presence of the Srivilliputtur story in the Amuktamalyada of Krsnadevaraya, the subject of a University of Chicago dissertation currently being written by Ilanit Loewy Shacharn.

(28.) See, in particular, the description of Ujjayini as a "precious piece of heaven / bought, with their last karmic pennies, / and smuggled down to earth / by exiles from paradise / who overspent their piety" (svalpibhute sucaritaphale svarginam gam gatanam sesaih punyair hrtam iva divah kantimatkhandam ekam: MS 30).

(29.) Siva's residence just outside Alaka is mentioned by Hasa at the outset (MS 7), and the cloud's journey includes extensive visits to Saiva temples and sacred sites, in which the cloud is to participate in a variety of rites and forms of worship (MS 33-36, 43-45, 50-52, 55-56, 58, 60, 71). Vaisnava sacred geography is mentioned briefly and only in passing, mostly at the periphery of the map (MS 1, 15; the cloud is also compared to this god's color. MS 57). But the cloud is never asked to visit a Visnu temple and pay homage to this god or members of his family.

(30.) Note that of the matrix of the five lingams of Siva, which are made of earth, air, fire, water, and ether and allow "the very elements of the universe, like the deity, [to be] localized in individual shrines in the Tamil land" (Shulman 1980: 82), a nearly complete set of four is given in the HSVBB. We find, in order of appearance. Cidam-baram (ether lingam), Arunacala (fire lingam), Kanci's Ekambaresvara temple (earth lingam), and Kalahasti (air lingam). Only the water lingam of Tiruvanaikka seems to be missing.

(31.) See, for example: "You, too, / can serve him with an ardent heart. / Join the crowd" (samghaso badhyamanam saktya kamam madhuvijayinas tvam ca kuryah saparyam; HSVD 1.22, apropos of Visnu in Tirupati); "Go there, bow your head in homage / to this town" (tam asidan pranama nagarim bhaktinamrena murdhna; HSVD 1.27, speaking of Kanci in the context of the first mention of Visnu's temple on Elephant Hill); "When you bow to him he'll take you in, / bathe you in his happiness. / and shower you with the exquisite bounty / of his eyes" (angikuryad vinatam amrtasarasamvadibhis tvam avirmodair abhimatavarasthulalaksaih kataksaih; HSVD 1.34, again speaking of Varadaraja on Elephant Hill); "Make sure you go there too, / my friend, / and bow in good faith / to the Sesa throne" (sraddhayogad vinamitatanuh sesapitham bhajethah; HSVD 1.45, apropos of Srirangam).

(32.) For example: "Bow to the dancer, the master of steps, / Siva whose throat is black" (nrttakridabhinayacaturam nilakantham bhajethah; HSVBB 1.24, apropos of Cidambaram); "Bow your head in homage, from a distance, / to this river of the gods" (durad enam tridasatatinim bhaktinamro bhajethah; HSVBB 1.46, apropos of the Ganges, flowing down from Siva's hair--the language is highly reminiscent of HSVD 1.27, quoted in the preceding note). Additional examples are given in the main text below.

(33.) tvadvapuh, literally "taking your body," that is, the body of a gander.

(34.) Shulman 1980: 42.

35. The boar shape of Visnu is also mentioned elsewhere in the poem, when Visnu in Tirupati is called "the ancient wild boar" (potri puranah; HSVBB 1.35).

(36.) savidhatatinisetunirmanahetoh. literally. "for the purpose of building a levee at the nearby river."

(37.) For a summary of this story, see Shulman 1980: 76-77.

(38.) See Shulman 1980: 135-37 for a summary of the Kannappar story.

(39.) See, for example, Dayasataka 70; cf. Bronner and Shulman 2009: xli, 123. In the context of the Kannappar allusion it is also interesting to note that Vedanta Desika imagines the goddess Compassion as a huntress and begs her to trap him, her devotee (Dayasataka 95, 99; cf. Bronner and Shulman 2009: xliv--xlv, 139-43).

(40.) In fact, a piece of Kalidasa's parallel stanza (tenodicim) is deliberately redeployed here by Vamana Bhatta Bana, if my emendation of the text is correct (the published edition reads tenodica).

(41.) This phrase may also refer to the unique path of the poet himself, a self-avowed follower of Bana, whose name means "the arrow." I am grateful to David Shulman for suggesting this interpretation to me.

(42.) MS 64. The image is future developed in HSVD 2.1.

(43.) The poem explicitly identifies the lake as their nesting place or home (yasya vahya bhavati sarasi manasam vo nivasah; HSVBB 2.71). and we are later told that the gander's local relatives will take the goose in while the gander delivers its message (tatratyesu priyasahacarim tam imam samnivesya; HSVBB 2.75).

(44.) Vedanta Desika not only crafts his description of Lanka after that of Kalidasa's Alaka but also explicitly compares Lanka's captive goddesses' "raids on the heart" to the gander's "Heart Lake home" in Alaka (HSVD 2.1) and makes a reference to the presence of the pupavimana, parked next to Ravana's palace (HSVD 2.6).

(45.) The verse, found immediately after 2.2 (p. 78 of the 1959 Chaukhamba of the Meghaduta with Mallinatha's commentary), also includes references to the constant presence of bees and birds and to the fact that the moon is always full at night (nityajyotsnah ... pradosah). Since Mallinatha lived sometime in the fourteenth century in the Deccan, it quite possible that Vamana Bhatta Bana was familiar with this and other MS verses of doubted authenticity as part of the large pool of courier poetry. In addition, many commentators on MS 65 explain that the six flowers it mentions represent the six seasons, concurrently present in Alaka (see, for example, Purnasarasvati, pp. 122-24 in Unni's edition).

(46.) See, for example, the echoing pair of MS 86 and HAD 2.33 and Bronner and Shulman 2009: xxxi-xxxiii.

(47.) See, for example, the verse mentioned in n. 45 above.

(48.) For discussions of spatial and temporal depth in the HSVD, see Bronner and Shulman 2006: 16-22 and Bronner and Shulman 2009: xxiii-xl.

(49.) HSVD 1.10. See Bronner and Shulman 2009: xxv--xxvi for a discussion of this verse and the significance of this phrase.

(50.) The idea is that the beloved's single braid can be untied only by her returning lover: the river, for its part, is reduced to a tiny plate in the absence of its lover, the cloud, and grows wider when the latter returns to fill it again with fresh showers. In Vedanta Desika's poem. however. Sita wears her locks disheveled (HSVD 2.18). For the connection between hairstyle and the state of being away from one's man, see Hiltebeitel 1980.

(51.) On this nascent view. see Tubb and Bronner 2008: 624-27.

(52.) MS 82. 102 (painting); 83 (playing the lute and singing): 87 (attempting to fall asleep).

(53.) Fate is always harsh (vidhina vairna"; MS 99) or cruel (krurah . . . krtantah; MS 102). Imagination and dreaming, however, have promise, and at one point the yaksa warns the cloud not to wake his partner at night, in case she has "somehow found me in her sleep" (pranayini mayi svapnalabdhe kathamcit; MS 94),

(54.) See the Kavyalamkara of Bhamaha 1.42-44 for a nonsympathetic response to the whole idea of messenger poems that perhaps includes a grudging acceptance of Kalidasa's cloud messenger. For the more empathic reader that the poem itself envisions, see MS 103. where the goddesses of the forest are described shedding tears at the sight of the yaksa hugging the air while uniting with his beloved in his dream.

(55.) See, in particular. HSVD 2.22-23 for a description of Situ's meditative powers, and 2.40, where Rama speaks of both of them as meeting and sharing a single bed.

(56.) Note the syntactic reversal in translating ksanam iva dinam as "a second seemed like a day" instead of "the day was but a moment." I believe the poet placed ksanam first for metrical rather than syntactic reasons.

(57.) See my discussion in section 6 for examples.

(58.) See Bronner and Shulman 2009: xxxiii--xxxv for a discussion and full translation of these two verses.

(59.) This very adverb already appears in the verse where Kalidasa's yaksa reports on his dream union with his beloved (MS 103). See also the synonym kathamcit when the beloved is dreaming of him in MS 94.

(60.) This is a rather rare phenomenon. In the entire poem, consisting of 484 metrical quarters (121 verses), I was able to locate only two other instances (HSVBB 61c, 99d) where a word is divided in the middle by the yati caesura.

(61.) In Kalidasa's poem, by contrast, when the yaksa describes his imagined union with the beloved, their symmetrical emotional state is described by the phrase "tears into flowing tears" (susrenasradravam: MS 99).

(62.) Another possibility is to take punar as contrastive ("but." "however"), turning this thought fragment into a rhetorical question: "but isn't it false?" I am grateful to one of my anonymous readers for this suggestion.

(63.) Shulman 2012.

(64.) I understand alam te vikalpah to mean that the imagination (vikalpah) is potent or powerful enough (alam) for the task of seeing beyond the ocean of separation. A very different interpretation is that he is telling her: "enough" (alam) with such anxious thoughts (vikalph)," although for this to be the meaning, the instrumental (vikalpena) is more natural. It is unfortunate that no commentary exists to offer some help on this and other interpretative questions.

(65.) The most direct echo here is of HSVD 2.46. where, after having promised her that he will soon cross the ocean, kill Ravana, and take her home (2.43-44). Rama asks Sita to hang on by thinking of precedents such as those of Saci, Indra's wife, and Parvati, Siva's wife. The HSVBB offers a few other interesting references to the Ramayana, although those are mostly apropos of localities relevant to the Rama story, Ayodhya in particular (1.48-50).

(66.) See Unni 1987: 11 for Daksinavartanatha and Mallinatha on this topic.

(67.) There are quite a few articles dedicated merely to recording "imitations" of Kalidasa, from Aufrecht 1900 and his discussion of "Nachahmungen" all the way to the present. The quote is from Barnett's discussion of Dhoyi (Barnett 1927: 349). Even Unni, who has contributed more to the study of courier poetry than anyone else, comments: "Later writers who tried their hands at this mode of composition only emulated Kalidasa and did not present any originality. Naturally later sandesakavyas did not get sufficient attention from lovers of literature" (Unni 1985: 32).

(68.) Examples include several Hamsasandesas from Kerala that are surveyed in Unni 1985, and especially the two anonymous poems mentioned on pp. 24-25 and 30-31 (Unni himself speculates about the influence of Vedanta Desika on the latter work, composed in the nineteenth century). Then there is the Bhramaradutakavya by the seventeenth-century Bengali poet Rudra Nyayapancanana. This poem, like the HSVD, has Rama send a messenger. this time a bee, to Sita, just after the return of Hanuman from Lanka. From the very first verse, the poem betrays close familiarity with Vedanta Desika's. Compare, for example, the last half of the first verse of both poems: pratyavrttim manasi vimrsann anjaneyasya ninye dirghakalpah [*pam?] kathamapi tada dirghadirghany ahani ||, Bhramaradutakavya 1.1; and pratyayate pavanatanaye niscitarthah sa kami kalpakaram kathamapi nisam avibhatam visehe ||, HSVD 1.1. It should also be noted that both poems have their messenger sent to a similar set of sites en route to Lanka, as I mention below.

(69.) See, for example, the comments in Unni 1985: 6 (on the influence of this poem on the Unnunilisandesa), 13 (with regard to Udaya's Mayurasandesa), and 16 (apropos of Vasudeva's Bhrngasandesa).

(70.) For Purnasarasvati's date and works, see Unni 1987: 66-80.

(71.) For Kerala, compare HSPS (25-33) with HSVD 1.18 (sahyasanno 'py anatisubhagah pascimo nityavarsah). Obviously, the HSPS ultimately goes beyond the south and culminates in the Mathura area (HSPS 38f.).

(72.) I will mention here three echoes between the HSVBB and the HSPS that seem to me particularly significant. When describing the river Tamraparni, Vamana Bhatta Bana mentions the aromas from the seashore cardamom fields (velam elavanaparicitam; HSVBB 8). While this feature is not found in the HSVD, it agrees almost verbatim with Purnasarasvati's description of Kerala (velam elavanasurabhitam; HSPS 32). The second example has to do with Srirangam, which both poems describe as the eternal and best abode of Visnu. Compare HSVBB 21 (... mangalam rangam agre | yad vaikunthad api bahumatam sasvatam dhama saureh) with HSPS 14 (kalpapaye 'py avigatalayam ... srirangakhyam puram atha vi ser dhama bhaumam tridhamnah |). Finally, note that the speaker in Purnasarasvati's poem also refers to the gander's role as Brahma's vehicle (aupavahya; HSPS 6) when requesting its service as a courier.

(73.) For Gujarat. see the Samdesa Rasaka of Abdul Rahman. (I am grateful to Andrew 0llett for our conversations on this poem and for helping acquire a copy of its edition.) As for the Sri Lankan materials, see Godakumbura 2010: 183-208.

(74.) Hopkins 2004; Bronner and Shulman 2006; Pieris 2010.

(75.) This is the goal of an international group of scholars led by Charles Hallisey that gathered for the first time at a preconference during the 40th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison, October 2011. 1 have benefited greatly from the group's initial conversation and would like to thank all the participants for the extremely helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. I also want to thank Professor Hallisey for inviting me to take pan in a workshop on Sinhala sandesa poetry that took place in Colombo in August 2012, from which I learned a great deal.

(76.) For a brief discussion of these methods, see De 1957: 6-8, 23-24.

(77.) Rodriguez Monegal and Reid 1981.

(78.) Bronner and Shulman 2006: 16-27; 2009: xxiii-xl.

(79.) Bhramaradutakavya 41-76. Siva's Kanci is described in 46-67, and Visnukanci, so named by the poet (68), in 68-76. In fact, Kanci seems to become a fixture of courier poetry produced in the south early on. It is thus significant that Purnasarasvati locates his message-sender in this sacred Tamil city (HSPS 71).

(80.) See n. 7 above.

(81.) I am grateful to David Shulman for his help in clarifying my thoughts on this point.

(82.) Again, the poem by Purnasarasvati is of particularly interest in this connection. A Sanskrit work that adheres to the Kalidasan template in many aspects from meter to structure, the HSPS also taps into the Tamil tutu tradition by presenting its heroine as falling in love with Krsna while he was out on a procession (HSPS 72); the work also occasionally deploys Dravidian rhyming patterns (see, for example, HSPS 81).

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Date:Jul 1, 2013
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