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Bishnu Charan Dash, Mystic Eros Troubadours and the Vaisnava Poets of Medieval India.

Bishnu Charan Dash, Mystic Eros Troubadours and the Vaisnava Poets of Medieval India, New Delhi : Abhishek Prakashan, 2010 pp. 292.

Primarily designed as a cultural document on comparative medieval poetry, philosophy, religion and esoteric thoughts, the book Mystic Eros (Troubadours and the Vaisnava Poets of Medieval India) by Bishnu Charan Dash is a significant contribution to medieval scholarship. It is also an invaluable contribution to comparative literature precisely because the main focus of this book is a comparative analysis of the concept of Eros and Kama, the god of love in Western and Indian traditions respectively. Eros as longing of the sickening soul in Neo-Platonism is metamorphosed into Mystic-Eros in the Middle Ages, and while ascending the various steps of the chain of Eros, the soul experiences a constant oscillation between the sacred and the profane. With the Troubadours of medieval France, Eros is viewed as a binding force that tends to bridge the gap between sense and spirit within the periphery of courtly love (amour courtois)--a powerful plea for refined sensuality. Passion, often treated by preachers and theologians as a notorious element, is viewed as a pure and purifying emotion by the Troubadours.

Dash tends to argue that like the Troubadours, the Buddhist-Tantric-Sahajiya Vaisnava poets metamorphosed kama into prema and devised an elaborate eroticmystic ritual of ragasadhana (culture of love). Further, he has successfully juxtaposed the Troubadour technique of donnoi, deification of courtly lady (domma) and esoteric progression (Eros-Amor-Jois) with the Vaisnavite ladder of kama-prema-mahasukha after a deep comparative analysis of the lyrics of Trobadours and Vaisnava poets of medieval India.

The Mystic Eros is written with the remarkable felicity of language. Moreover, for easy understanding of the readers, the author has divided the book into five full-length chapters. The first chapter of the book traces the geneology of Eros in Greek mythology subsequently followed by its many-sided manifestation in classical philosophy, poetry and drama, medieval philosophy and religion ranging from the doctrines of St. Augustine, St. Boethius, Origen, Erigenna, Proclus, St. Bernard to the theory of Gnostics and Minne-mystics. The profane dimensions of pagan Eros combined with the platonic theory of ascent of Eros and the Neo-Platonic concept of Eros as mystical longing and sickening of soul for union with God, not only confronts the Christian concept of Agape, but also takes a reconciliatory turn in the Augustinian Charitas which is further assimilated into Christianized Eros ending finally in an identification of God, Eros and Agape. Obviously, God's identification with Eros prompted the medieval poets, mystics and singers of minne-piety to take an amorous view of the human longing for God which was further assimilated into the idea of worshipping 'woman' as Divine--an idea that gave birth to the cult of veneration of the beloved (domna) as the viaticum of spiritual union between the lover and God (Amor).

Chapter two is devoted to Kama, the Indian Eros that changes from its Vedic concept of 'creative energy' to amorous passion in erotics and classical Sanskrit literature, and from erotic-amorous longing for union, kama is metamorphosed intoprema-bhakti; and the assimilation of kama, prema and bhakti tends to resolve the duality between sacred and profane thereby paving the path for non-dualistic unity which is the summum bonum of life in Indian tradition.

The third chapter under the title Courtly Love: Passion and the Poetry of Troubadours tends to analyze the origin and elaboration of the medieval concept of courtly love as developed by the Troubadours of the high Middle Ages. Passion which was branded by the rationalists and Christian theologians as the most irrational and condemnable element in human nature carrying for the posterity the tragic burden of the Original sin, was glorified by the Troubadours as noble and ennobling experience that purifies as well as spiritually elevates the courtly lover. The Troubadours professed the doctrine of Eros, and at the same time expounded the aesthetics of pain. Denis de Rougement therefore aptly observes that in Troubadourian scheme of the ritual of romance, passion means suffering. Physical union being an anathema in courtly love, the Troubadour lover is thrown into the purgatory of passion in protracted separation from his domna. The fire of passion annihilates his baser desire; passion kills passion and in the process sensuality is metamorphosed into a refined emotion, a sublime and ecstatic experience. The courtly lover is transformed into an initiate, a practitioner of the mystic-erotic technique of donnoi that emphasizes observance of chastity and restraint (mesura) while serving the deified domna as the embodiment of divine wisdom and spiritual illumination.

While adulating adultery, the Provencal poets took a revolutionary and antichristian stand on the ground that marriage presupposes carnal possession which is detrimental to the spiritual growth and elevation of the lover-initiate. It is not physical possession, but humility, courtesy, service, wholehearted surrender and sacrifice for the sake of beloved domna which the courtly lover can claim to be his proud and precious possession. The Troubadours like Guillaume IX of Aquitaine, Bernart de Ventadorn, Jaufre Rudel, Marcabru and Arnaut Daniel emphasized the culture of cortezia (courtesy), jovens (youth), mesura (restraint) and jois (joy) and established woman as a religion and the domna (beloved) as the sole source of goodness and the fountain source of all virtues and joys on the earth.

Chapter four under the title Kama, Bhakti and Prapatti: Love Lyrics of the Vaisnava Poets of Medieval India is designed as a confluence of kama (love), bhakti (devotion) and prapatti (whole-hearted surrender), and provides a detailed analysis of their combined continuation in the love lyrics of Jayadeva and Candidasa centering round the amorous relationship of Radha and Krsna. At the same time, a conceptual analysis of Sahaja has been offered to trace the influence of Tantric-Buddhist-Sahajiya erotic-esoteric practices in the Vaisnava lyrics. The concept of sahaja as such signifies spontaneous and easy realization of the self and the ultimate Reality through the path of natural exercise of passions and emotions. The Sahajiyas break away from the traditional unnatural yogic practice of bodily torture and repression of natural propensities and recommend the transformation of kama (profane) into prema (sacred) that culminates into a sublime feeling of bliss (mahasukha). The ultimate aim of the Tantric-Sahajiya-Vaisnavas is to seek the underlying oneness (advaya) of everything through the natural union of male and female symbolically suggested by the union of the divine pairs--of Siva and Sakti, Prajna and Upaya, Radha and Krsna. Human body being the microcosmic representative of the macrocosmic universe, every man and woman must realize, according to Tantric-Sahajiya thought that their spontaneous and pure love and union tends to the supreme state of non-duality and bliss.

Similarly, the Sahajiya Vaisnavas realize that human love in its noble and ennobling intensity can be treated as divine. They prescribe the theory of attribution (aropa), and envisage behind the physical form (rupa) of every man and woman the real nature (svarupa) of the cosmic non-duality i.e. Siva and Sakti, Radha and Krsna. Thus, the sacred and profane, divine and human love are amicably reconciled in the Vaisnava lyrics of Jayadeva, Vidyapati and Candidasa. While differing from the orthodox vaisnavite distinction between kama and prema, the Sahajiya Vaisnava poets argue that kama forms the very basis of prema; and they stick to the old homoeopathic principle that poison is destroyed by poison only. Once the poison is destroyed through the ritual of chastity and love (ragassashana), humanity becomes divinity; man becomes a superman.

Chapter five constitutes the core of the book in so far as it attempts to institute a comparative study of the Troubadour concept of courtly love and the technique of donnoi and the Tantric-Sahajiya erotic-esoteric theory of the cult of passion (ragasadhana) and the culture of parakiya as adumbrated in the lyrics of Jayadeva, Vidyapati and Candidasa. Troubadour scholarship over the years has been profuse and right from C. S. Lewis (The Allegory of Love, 1966), Roger Boase (The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love, 1977), A. J. Denomy (The Heresy of Courtly Love, 1947), Dennis de Rougement (Passion and Society, 1951), L. T. Topsfield (Troubadours and Love, 1978) to Simon Gaunt (Troubadours and Irony, 1989), Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (The Troubadours: An Introduction, 1999). Scholars have sufficiently highlighted the historical, rhetorical, thematic, philosophical and cultural perspectives of this celebrated literary tradition. But, none has presented systematically the significant Indic influence on the Troubadour erotic-esoterism. Dash has taken much pain in reading the original texts/authors and then assimilating them into the framework of his book in a heroic manner. However, D. Rougement, O. V. Garrison (The Yoga of Sex, 1964) and Ezra Pound (Literary Essays, 1954 and The Spirit of Romance, 1952) are the pathfinders who have pointed to some oriental connection, particularly of Tantricism, with the Troubadourian erotic-mysticism. He frankly states that the present work is prompted by Ezra Pound's observation about the Troubadour erotic-esoteric ritual in which the domna is mystified as a hymn (mantram). Subsequently, Garrison's emphatic remark that "William of Poitiers, one of the first Troubadours, unequivocally spells out the Tantric nature of donnoi" (The Yoga of Sex p., 126), has remained a booster for him throughout the research work for finding out some viable connection between Troubadours and Tantric Sahajiya thought. The book testifies the author's vast reading and mature thinking, his wide range and depth, critical insight and comparative outlook, analytical bent of mind and logical rigour, and above all his assertive argument and critical style characteristic of a 'seasoned writer'.

Needless to say, the work under review would surely serve as a valuable source book for writers, readers, teachers, scholars and academicians who want to be fully acquainted with the Troubadours and the Vaisnava Poets of Medieval India.

Indu Swami

Department of English Assam Central University, Diphu Campus Diphu, Karbi Anglong, Assam
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Author:Swami, Indu
Publication:Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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