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Title: Secret Words in a Closed World
Subtitle: The Sâhityalaharî of Sûrdâs and the mystic language to share Krishna's hidden garden
Author(s): VAN DER VELDE, Paul
Journal: Studies in Spirituality
Volume: 11    Date: 2000   
Pages: 254-283
DOI: 10.2143/SIS.11.0.505284

Abstract :
A great deal of the poetry composed by Brajbhâshâ (a form of medieval Hindi), poets of Northern India, was addressed to a restricted group of initiates. These were usually considered to be people who had developed a distinguished taste for aestheticism; they are considered to be what is called rasikas or sahridayas, people with understanding of the right 'taste' or 'mood' (rasa) - in short, people with 'their hearts in the right place'. They share this quality above all with the poets who are rasikas. Here audience and artist meet one another. The fact that they are both devotees of Krishna implies that they belong to such a group, otherwise, they simply would not have the right feeling or understanding of the particular poetry. Sometimes, being a devotee, a bhakta, is considered the same as being a rasika. This poetry was considered to be a powerful means of transporting the devotees through time and space to the other world, the world of Krishna's eternal and simultaneous 1713, the eternal game in which the devotees are allowed to take part.
In due time, a strong tradition arose of capturing and even manipulating the human mind in order to make it experience what a divine being in the lîlâ goes through. Poets had various means of creating poetry that could captivate the mind of the rasikas in order to make them experience what the poet had gone through. In doing so, the poets had a store of signs, symbols, and metaphors that they used to lead the mind to their goal. Of course, the rasika's experience could only be communicated if the hearer, reader. or person listening to the words of the poets was also a rasika. Many of the verses of the medieval poets did not so much educate the audience into a communion of rasikas as they reinforced the fact that the audience was already made up of rasikas. Usually, if students were to develop into rasikas, the guidance of a properly qualified guru was needed to initiate and direct the spiritual process of the novices. The world to which access was given by the Krishnaite poets is an excIusive world: it remains inaccessible to non-Vaishnava, the non-initiated, and the non-devotee.
The poet Sûrdâs (1478?-1563?) is remarkable in the realm of medieval Hindi literature. Many legends surround his personality, an important one states that he was blind from birth. Thus, a Krishnaite audience would say that his visionary powers (pratibhâ) were all the more remarkable because all his works are primarily characterized by strong visual images. This makes him into a prime rasika, or rasikarâja, a 'princely seer'. Whether or not Sûrdâs actually wrote all the poems attributed to him is not of great importance to the devotee. The saint's life sets the example and serves as the final arbiter.
The Sâhityalaharî ranks among the most complicated works of the medieval Hindi tradition. India certainly is not without parallels in terms of secret languages addressed only to an exclusive group of initiates. Access to these poems, written in the drshTikûT- 'hidden from sight' - style, is even more restricted than its rasika predecessors. In order to understand the poet, one needs to be thoroughly aware of his subtle abilities to sway the minds of his audience. moreover, a deep and vast knowledge is needed of mythology, astrology, vocabulary, etcetera. Yet there still remain other ploys to which the poet may resort in order to reach his goal.
In this article the ten first poems of the Sâhityalaharî are analyzed to discern the destination to which the poet is leading us. It is a world that needs to be constructed out of bidden signs, suggestions, ironies, ambiguities, etcetera. Moreover, each verse contains an alankâra, a figure of speech, and a hidden description of one or more of the traditional heroes or heroines from the ancient aesthetic tradition that concentrates on nâyikânâvakabhedâbhedâ, the 'situations in which heroes and heroines are separated and united'. These heroines and heroes may serve as the prime bearers of the rasa. the 'mood' or 'taste' that the members of the audience are to experience to bring them into the hidden realm of Krishna. where love rules and aesthetics set the tone. Whether or not they are able to do so, depends on their being rasikas, aesthetic connoisseurs, or on their receiving the grace of Krishna or his divine lover Râdhâ.

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