Narsinh Mehta: Still and Always: Passion?

This post comes after a long silence. Many of the days were filled with brain blankness, a condition I think I was born with but a condition that has certainly increased in the last five years. Many others were filled with living: family, friends, activities, pursuits, travel. Almost all were positive, happy, good. A few negative, not so bad a track record for a permanent pessimist.

One silver lining throughout this hardly-gray existence shines comfortingly brighter.

When I am reading and translating Narsinh Mehta, there is an inner rightness, a sense of peace, and yes, even purpose that casts a transcendent light. Being genuinely engaged with the poetry, with the ideas, with the pure sense (more than emotion, greater than thought) of the experience is a state “devoutly to be sought.”

Thus, a confession.

Indian literary thought emphasizes a principle of experience called rasa. In Natya Sastra, Bharat Muni codifies the concept and classification of this untranslatable Sanskrit term. In 2003, Neelima Shukla-Bhatt has provided an in-depth understanding of this term to an English-speaking readership in her to-be-published dissertation: Nectar of Devotion: Bhakti Rasa in the Tradition of Narsinh Mehta, accepted by Harvard University. She settles on translating Rasa as “Nectar.” It is a good approximation and in her discussion she explains the concept very well.

The aspect of experience “nectar” captures perfectly is “tasting.” A vast amount of  Gujarati literary criticism or commentary takes this approach when sharing literature.  Called aswaad [literally, “taste experience”], the discussion focuses on the meaning and effect of the work as a felt experience, as one might talk about a gourmet dish but involving all the five physical senses, plus mental states.

If you are or were, as I was, imprisoned within the late 20th century Euro-American view of literary analysis and creation, the more cleverly removed from the text you are by talking about subtexts, or deconstruction of the creative process, or indeed using incomprehensible semiotic or post-modern jargon, the more impressive your statements. For the record, each one of these is an essential intellectually valid pursuit. But, from such a vantage point, waxing lyrical over how many ways a literary work pleases us is just gauche.

Imagine my consternation when I discover that while this view is now rampant in contemporary Gujarati criticism, I am firmly in the camp of the ancient rasa approach!

So, two takeaways for you, my reader.

One. My joy in reading and translating Narsinh Mehta’s phenomenal poetry demands that I keep sharing bits of it to others, almost evangelically.

Two, with deep gratefulness for my stringent academic training, I am happy to report that  creativity lives in the passion of the pursuit not in codification.

Thus, Rasa = Passion.

{Genuine, sincere, content-oriented comments very highly appreciated.}

About meenapoetartisan

word lover, meaning maniac, bilingual with metalingual interests, sometimes potter, poet, playwright, writer, mover to music, always a pontificator.
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