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19. Ksetrayya

Seventeenth century

This great master of the padam form belongs primarily to the Tamil country under the so-called Nāyaka kings. Nothing solid is known about him. His signature line usually refers to his god as Muvvagopāla—perhaps "Krsna from the village of Muvva" (often identified with a village near KŪcipŪdi in Krsna District, though there are also other Muvvas further south, in North Arcot and in CittŪr near Kārvetinagaram). But the name could also mean something like "Gopāla of the jingling bells" and have nothing to do with any village.

One of Ksetrayya's padams refers to Vijayarāgahva Nāyaka of TañjāvŪr, Tirumala Nāyaka of Madurai, and the Golconda Padshah; this locates him clearly in the mid–seventeenth century. Unlike Annamayya, he is not firmly associated with any single shrine but seems to have wandered through south India—hence, by popular etymology, his name (from ksetra, "temple site" in Sanskritized form, he is Ksetrajña). It is more to the point, however, to imagine him in the courtesans' quarters of the temple towns; he sings of courtesans and their lovers, usually in a female voice, and his compositions were probably meant for performance by courtesans themselves. In the dance tradition, these songs were sung orally by the male teacher (nattuvaār) while the courtesan danced—a male voice singing in an adopted female persona a song composed by a male poet for a woman. Here the courtesan's lover or patron is addressed as the god Muvvagopāla, and the intimacy of feeling and knowledge between god and devotee is explicitly sexual in text and texture. Only an apologetic, post-Victorian sensibility has managed to mask the eroticism and tone in modern contexts of performance by offering spiritual or allegorical readings of these utterly uninhibited songs.



A Woman Speaks to Her Lover
It's true, I have my period,
but don't let that stop you.
No rules apply
to another man's wife
I beg you to come close,
but you always have second thoughts
All those codes were written
by men who don't know how to love
When I come at you, wanting you,
why do you back off?
You don't have to touch my whole body
Just bend over and kiss.
No rules apply.
What if I take off my sari
and crush your chest with my breasts?
I'll be careful, except with my lips.
Here is some betel: take it
with your teeth. No one's here.
I'm watching.
No rules apply.
You don't seem to know yourself.
Why follow these false taboos?
Haven't you heard that women like it now?
It's not like every day.
You'll never forget
today's joy.
No rules apply.
A Courtesan to the Madam
Never mind if he doesn't pay.
Let him come.
When he was rich,
he gave me whatever I dreamed of.
Some days you have money,

some days you don't.
Time doesn't flow evenly.
Never mind if he doesn't pay.
If I don't remember the good times,
God won't be good to me.
Why hesitate?
He's one of us.
Time goes, but the deed survives.
Never mind if he doesn't pay.
What's lost if he comes today?
Can I forget how he made love?
I don't want to be blamed.
Boats go on carts,
and carts on boats.
Never mind if he doesn't pay.
A Young Woman to a Friend[3]
These women, they deceived me.
They told me he was a woman,
and now my heart is troubled
by what he did.
First I thought
she was my aunt and uncle's daughter,
so I bow to her, and she blesses me:
"You'll get married soon,
don't be bashful. I will bring you
the man of your heart."
"Those firm little breasts of yours
will soon
grow round and full," she says.
And she fondles them
and scratches them
with the edge of her nail.
"Come eat with me," she says,
as she holds me close
and feeds me as at a wedding.

Those women, they told me he was a woman!
Then she announces:
"My husband is not in town.
Come home with me."
So I go and sleep in her bed.
After a while she says,
"I'm bored. Let's play
a kissing game, shall we?
Too bad we're both women."
Then, as she sees me falling asleep,
off my guard,
she tries some
strange things on me.
Those women, they told me he was a woman!
She says, "I can't sleep.
Let's do what men do."
Thinking "she" was a woman,
I get on top of him.
Then he doesn't let go:
he holds me so tight he loses himself in me.
Wicked as ever, he declares:
"I am your Muvvagopala!"
And he touches me expertly
and makes love to me.
Those women, they told me he was a woman!
The Madam to a Courtesan[4]
Woman! He's none other
than Cěnnudu of Pālagiri.
Haven't you heard?
He rules the worlds.
When he wanted you, you took his gold—
but couldn't you tell him your address?
Some lover you are!
He's hooked on you.

And he rules the worlds.
I found him wandering the alleyways,
too shy to ask anyone.
I had to bring him home with me.
Would it have been such a crime
if you or your girls
had waited for him by the door?
You really think it's enough
to get the money in your hand?
Can't you tell who's big, who's small?
Who do you think he is?
And he rules the worlds.
This handsome Cěnnudu of Pālagiri,
this Muvvagopāla,
has fallen to your lot.
When he said he'd come tomorrow,
couldn't you consent
just a little?
Did you really have to say no?
What can I say about you?
And he rules the worlds.
A Courtesan to the Messenger[5]
Don't go on chattering, just go away.
Why should he come here?
Tell him not to come.
It all happened so long ago,
in a different age,
another life.
Who is he to me, anyway?
Think of the long nights I spent
waiting for him, minute after minute,
saying to myself, "He'll come today,
he'll come tomorrow!"—
the hot sighs,
lips dry with longing,

nights aflame with moonlight.
What more is there to say?
Just go away!
I wore myself out watching the road.
Counting the moons, I grieved.
Holding back a love I could not hold,
listening to the screeching
of peacocks and parrots,
I passed the months of spring.
Let's have no more empty words.
Just go away!
I even asked the birds for omens
if Muvvagopala was coming.
I grew weak, watching my girlfriends
join their husbands for love.
O god, do I ever have to see
his face again
with this body of mine?
Once was enough!
Just go away!

[This padam is said to have been composed in two stages. When the court poets of Vijayarāghavanāyaka at Tanjavur complained to the king that he was elevating Ksetrayya—an "unlearned" singer, more at home with courtesans than with scholars—to an undeserved status, Ksetrayya sang all but the last two lines of this padam and went away, leaving the king's poets to complete it. They were unequal to this task and eventually begged Ksetrayya himself to complete the poem upon his return to Tanjavur. The story attempts to assimilate Ksetrayya to the familiar status of a court poet—despite the obvious inappropriateness of this category for a peripatetic devotional singer of love songs addressed to the god.]

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