Sense and Sensuality in Indian Religious Literature
A particular poem, Nurse 1126″ taken from Sanskrit Poetry From Fiduciary’s “Treasury’, emphasizes the lustful emotions and romantic experiences that accompany the south winds as well as the significance of a reticular sense object that holds an extremely valuable place in Indian religious culture – sandalwood. The strange inclusion of the sense of smell and the sense object of sandalwood in this poem, which deals nearly exclusively with the sense of touch, raises a variety of questions pertaining to the significance of this inclusion and the relationship between the senses of touch and smell as well as the senses in general.
Meanwhile, upon examination of the Kamala sutra the sense of smell and the scents of objects comes into play in a context of Indian literature associated not with esthetics poetry but with a much more technical and instructive guidebook. In this case, the sense of smell is used to convey not simply emotion but allows the reader to make a wide range of inferences about characters, the text, and the values of the time period.
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Ultimately, despite stemming from the same sense of smell, the usage of this sense can differ widely between different genres of texts and even within a single genre conveying a multitude of emotions, facts that, though seemingly follow a trend, are in fact unique to the text. The aforementioned poem from Sanskrit Poetry From Fiduciary’s “Treasury’ expresses romantic and mysterious undertones through metaphors and the establishment of a particular mood or Rasa. This entire poem uses a complex and extended metaphor that draws upon the movement and qualities of the south winds to represent a seemingly mysterious and well-traveled lover.
The winds are personified as having associated with and wooed a variety of women from regions such as Andorra, Tamil, Ceylon, and Kraal. This metaphor capitalizes upon the ethereal, fast-moving, gentle, caressing, and aromatic nature of air and the south breeze and applies it to the poem’s apparent description of a ascribable lover. This poem furthermore utilizes two specific moods or Rasa, which are emotional flavors that one tastes or feels upon experiencing the words of the writer. The two Rasa used in the poem are peacefulness and romance.
The poem establishes a peaceful mood both by using a repetitive sentence structure which has a seemingly calming effect on the reader as well as by using light and airy words such as “tousled”, “kissed”, and “perfumed” that give the poem a quaint and dainty feel. The poem also gives of a feeling of erotic excitement by the description of the erotic actions of the breeze and its apparent metaphor for a desired lover. The breeze has apparently touched the breasts, hairnets, mouths, and cheeks of women from a variety of regions in India indicating the attractiveness of this lover and the great deal of experience and ability he has with women.
The two Rasa, peacefulness and romantic excitement, appear to complement each other and bring about a unique experience within the reader. Rather than feeling solely lustfulness that would usually be felt in poems that utilize only erotic excitement, the element of peacefulness evokes feelings of love in contrast with lust. Because of the peaceful Rasa, the reader perceives the well-traveled lover not as a womanlier but as a gentleman who truly loves and brings happiness to the women he meets. Upon reading the poem, one inevitably comes to the question of “why is that last line included in this poem? At first glance, it certainly appears that the line “gently the south winds blow, perfumed with sandalwood” does not fit with the rest of the poem that emphasizes the breeze’s touch upon the breasts, hair, and bodies of women. Furthermore, what exactly is the importance and significance of the particular sense abject sandalwood that its scent was noted in the poem? Ultimately the inclusion of the sense of smell and the specific sense object, sandalwood, in the poem gives additional depth to the two Rasa expressed within the poem. Smell is often used in Indian literature to express erotic desire and passionate lust.
For example, the lingering and distinctive scent of a long-gone lover brings about both lustful and mournful emotion as one realizes that he or she has lost their love. Smelling that scent would undoubtedly bring about happy and painful memories of that lost love. The inclusion of sandalwood then similarly affects the peaceful Rasa evoked by the gentle and repetitive nature of this poem. Sandalwood is conventionally used in Indian literature as a valuable scent known for its cooling, relaxing, and calming properties as well as for its relationship to love.
Conventional Sanskrit poetry and literature often indicates that sandalwood grows in Southern India and is carried by south breezes northward, bringing love as it travels toward its northern mistress. Thus the aroma of the south breeze plays a pivotal role in both characterizing the advertorial lost-lover and establishing the two central Rasa used within the poem. Though not the central sense used within the poem, that honor obviously goes to touch, by including the sense of smell in the last line of the poem, the writer adds a great deal of depth in the poem that could not have been created solely through a description of touch.
One could not have touched the bodies of the women that the south breeze has touched but one could have smelled the scent of the sandalwood that accompanies the breeze and felt the emotions brought about by it. Ultimately he sense of smell drives the poem drives poem forward by promoting the mysterious, lustful, and peaceful mood of the poem and by applying emotions that are associated with the smell of a lover to the metaphorical lover described within the poem. The Kamala Sutra, however, is a type of text that contrasts starkly with the flowing, soothing aesthetics of Indian poetry.
Gone are the descriptions of soft scented winds slowly caressing the bodies of young, beautiful lovers; in their place are descriptions of scented oils belonging to “women of the harem”, the scent of lust ND erotic desire and act, the proper scent of desirable men and women, and the scent of man’s “worn-out” clothing. In this text, good or desirable scents and the corresponding sense object may correspond to wealth and power as the harem girls are said to have been given gifts of scented oils from kings and men of wealthy descent in return for bodily pleasures and favors.
These gifts are described as “leftovers of a deity’ indicating the importance and value placed upon scents due to the powerful emotional attachment and memory stimulation that can be drawn from this sense. Looking at the nature of the text, one can glean other characteristics of this sense – the Kamala Sutra is a guide-like manual on navigating the world of eroticism, sex, and romance. The sense of smell is present on nearly every page during descriptions of the smell of various objects, sexual and nonsexual. Thus, smell is quite clearly related to erotic sexual desire, even in sacred books of instruction.
When reading through the Kamala Sutra it is seemingly impossible to come across an account of a sexual encounter without some description of one’s scent or the scent of scarred clothing, sexual tension, and erotic desire, and one’s breathing; sex and smell practically go hand in hand in this text. Ultimately this text reflects the Indian culture’s view on the sense of smell – it has the gentle caress to stir love and romance, it has the sudden spark to kindle hot, erotic, sexual desire, and it has the power to create perceptions of grandeur, wealth, and power.
While the two cited texts, poetry from Sanskrit Poetry From Fiduciary’s “Treasury’ and the instructive Kamala Sutra, may seem to use the sense of smell in a very similar manner, their ascriptions and usage of the sense is in fact quite unique. The referenced Indian poem uses the sweet and desirable scent of sandalwood to convey emotions of romance and desire in order to add depth and aestheticism to the poem.
Meanwhile, the Kamala Sutra uses the sense not to draw out emotion in the reader, as the text is more of sacred and instructive manual, but to give the reader the ability to infer characteristics of the their own lives or the lives of others, whether it be romance, erotic desire, or wealth and power. The difference lies in the desired outcome in the deader after using the sense of smell as a tool to convey information or emotion. The ability of this sense to convey a multitude of outcomes in readers represents the multifaceted nature of smell.
Unlike other senses which are relatively concrete – the sense of touch is constant based on the object one is touching, the sense of sight is constant based on the object one is viewing – the sense of smell is much more fluid and up to the interpretation of the subject. Because of this unique characteristic of the sense of smell, it allowed writers of Indian literature the ability to use the sense f smell to relate multiple emotions and inferences to the reader, with each being unique to the reader and unique in and of itself.
While in contemporary American culture and literature, the sense of smell takes a back seat to the more concrete and reliable senses such as sight and touch, this is not so in Indian culture. Smell is used in all texts – poetry, instructive manuals, sacred texts – liberally due to its unique ability to convey multiple emotions and facts. Based on the two referenced works, smell occupies a sacred place in Indian literature and could seemingly be considered he foundation of love, sexual desire, and wealth and power as seen in the role it plays in this culture’s literature.