Feminine Mythique History & Culture

World through the eyes of a woman

Famous emperor of Vijaynagara, Krishnadevaraya

Famous emperor of Vijaynagara, Krishnadevaraya   | Photo Credit: arranged

Krishnadevaraya assumes the voice of Andal to get the viewpoint

A question that I’ve been thinking about recently — can men write about women? And how do men write about women?

This has led me to another realisation — How women are presented is important. For we tend to internalise depictions of women and construct our own identities based on these ideas. If narratives, literary or mainstream, project women as weak and whimsical, or feisty and strong, we too, tend to construct ourselves in alignment with these ideas. So often what is regarded as feminine is perceived in opposition to the masculine — so if a story portrays a man as strong, a woman must be weak; if a man is cast in the role of a rescuer, a woman then must be the hapless victim in need of rescue.

But is there literature where the idea of men and women merge into one? Where the feminine can be found in the masculine and the masculine in the feminine? Where gender boundaries seem to disappear? Where men can see through the eyes of women?

Krishnadevaraya’s epic poem, ‘Giver of the Worn Garland,’ seems to me, to do precisely this. Krishnadevaraya, the famous emperor of Vijaynagara, was not merely an able ruler and administrator but was also a sensitive poet and aesthete, who collected a number of famous poets, including the famous Telugu poetess Molla, at his court.

On Goda

His own epic poem centres on a woman —the female poet and saint Andal, or Goda, as Krishnadevarya refers to her. Andal, herself, is a deeply erotic poet, and her own story ends with her merging into the idol of her divine lover, Vishnu. Her poems reveal a complex, sensual, human and provocative relationship with the divine. In the ‘Giver of the Worn Garland’ — beautifully translated by Srinivas Reddy and published by Penguin classics — Krishnadevaraya emphasises this provocative, questioning aspects of this relationship.

Writing in Andal’s voice, the emperor says:

“O Friends! those songs you’ve sung of Vishnu’s deeds

I don’t think they’re fair. All the women

Who truly loved him, were left without a care.”

(77, ‘Giver of the Worn Garland’)

The king-poet expands on this later, still in Andal’s voice:

“Ravana’s sister changed into a beautiful maiden

and approached Rama with genuine love,

but instead of handling her without a fight,

he had her mutilated for all to see.

Without any thought of Sita, he got into a meaningless war

and she suffered all the pain of abandonment and longing

(79, ‘Giver of the Worn Garland’)

Bhakti poetry, the category of poetry that Andal’s poems fall into, focuses on an intimate, un-mediated relationship between the devotee and God, between the lover and the Beloved. Krishnadevaraya, by writing in the voice of a woman, like Nammazhvar, who wrote poems imagining himself as the heroine and his deity, Vishnu, as the hero, bridges the distance to his God.

But something else also happens in this process: Krishnadevaraya, to this writer, is seeing the world through the eyes of a woman.

The writer is the author of ‘The Mahabharatha - A Child’s View,’ ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Missing Queen’

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 12:48:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/krishnadevaraya-in-his-poem-sees-the-world-through-a-womans-eyes/article22137938.ece

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