Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tale of an Anklet

This ancient Tamil epic is just about as weird as the South Asian anklet pictured above. (recently seen at a special exhibit at the Art Institute)

Such anklets served as portable safe deposit boxes -- where a woman could carry her valuable gem stones with her at all times.

In this story, the woman, reunited with her wayward husband, takes the anklet to a jeweler to get the contents appraised so she can raise some cash.  The jeweler turns out to be dishonest - the husband is accused of theft and  executed on the spot by order of the king. Upon the subsequent proof of  his innocence, the king dies of shame and the woman, in her fury, rips off her own breast and throws it in air -- where it explodes into a firestorm that destroys the entire city.

If the  execution of the husband was a great injustice that demanded retribution -- what about the slaughter of an entire city's innocent population? 

Yes -- it's a whacky story -- and it gets even whackier -- and bloodier -- when a neighboring kingdom recognizes the woman as a goddess and wages a protracted military campaign to obtain blocks of stone suitable for statues in her honor.

The final episodes of this epic are tedious accounts of pointless battles.

But the  first episodes are drenched with sub-tropical sensuality, as you get the feeling that all of nature is copulating, or about to.

Here is a passage, selected at random from the opening verses:

The lake of sweet waters seemed a woman,
The swan's elegant gait, her walk,
The redolent water lilies dripping with honey,
Her fragrance. The lotus, her red lips.
The cool, black sand, her thick hair.
To the notiram raga of bees singing
With the voices of poets, the lake opened
Her eyes of radiant blue lotuses


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