Synopses & Reviews
No Hindu god is closer to the soul of poetry than Krishna, and in North India no poet ever sang of Krishna more famously than S=urdD=as-or S=ur, for short. He lived in the sixteenth century and became so influential that for centuries afterward aspiring Krishna poets signed their compositions orally with his name.
This book takes us back to the source, offering a selection of S=urd=as's poems that were known and sung in the sixteenth century itself. Here we have poems of war, poems to the great rivers, poems of wit and rage, poems where the poet spills out his disappointments. Most of all, though, we have the memory of love-poems that adopt the voices of the women of Krishna's natal Braj country and evoke the power of being pulled into his irresistible orbit. Following the lead of several old manuscripts, Jack Hawley arranges these poems in such a way that they tell us Krishna's life story from birth to full maturity.
These lyrics from S=ur's Ocean (the S=urs=agar) were composed in the very tongue Hindus believe Krishna himself must have spoken: Brajbh=as=a, the language of Braj, a variety of Hindi. Hawley prepares the way for his verse translations with an introduction that explains what we know of S=urd=as and describes the basic structure of his poems. For readers new to Krishna's world or to the subtleties of a poet like S=urd=as, Hawley also provides a substantial set of analytical notes. "S=ur is the sun," as a familiar saying has it, and we feel the warmth of his light in these pages.
Surdas is unarguably the best known poet in Vrajbhasha, the most widely understood of the medieval Hindi literary dialects. He is the foremost Hindi poet of Krishna devotion and his verses are canonical in the Krishnaite tradition, which today is particularly vital in Western India. The verses are sung popularly throughout the Hindi-speaking regions. As with most legendary poet-singers in Indian oral tradition, Surdas's authorship has been attributed to a great many verses. In his case, these constitute a very large corpus of devotional lyrics to Krishna, known in Hindi as the Sur Sagar, "Sur's Ocean." In this volume, Jack Hawley offers a selection of his charming translations of the most appealing of these poems, arranged according to such themes as "Krishna growing up," "the pangs and politics of love," and "The Ramayana."
Hawley's monumental annotated translation and commentary on the full corpus of lyrics attributed to Surdas, accompanied by Kenneth Bryant's edition of the complete Vrajbhasha text, will be published within the next few years in our South Asia Research series. In the meantime, this abridged edition will appeal to a wide range of scholars and students of Hinduism and Indian culture.
About the Author
John Stratton Hawley is Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University.