Casual notes from Indian Poetics Course
By Maitrika Kumari Rathore
Article 2 Photo2 2

What is the purpose of beauty? It makes me brave. It braces.

The sovereign and the devadasi, queen and ‘dev’dasi are both associated with divinity. It gives them license. They’re above and out of the system.

Dr. Angma D. Jhala on how palace women used the purdah to their advantage:

“In this way, women could see out (beyond the curtain or palace walls) yet not be seen by an external viewer. On one level, this could be seen as a subversive act, for women were able to see but not be seen. They were able to use their gaze (despite architectural or spatial limitations) to resist and in certain cases bypass patriarchal control or intervention within palace life. Thus, although traditionally sanctioned, the purdah gaze simultaneously allowed some zenana women to contest tradition and arguable to redefine it. This same gaze did not extend to the men (whether patriarchal elites or colonial administrators) who often did not have access to the interior spaces or social practices of the zenana” (Jhala 88) [emphasis, mine].

The purdah is a mystery device, keeping secret the whims and fancies of the one who wears the veil. Whether as an architectural screen or now sometimes seen as a veil or ‘ghoonghat’, it is almost always ‘beautiful’, like the jhaorkhas of mehrangarh or a mukaish sequined chiffon odhna donned by a bride in front of her in-laws. It is a subtle entrapment.

The king and the yogi are separate from the system, not by being at the edge but by being at its center. The king is the purveyor of the system and the yogi is as much part of the system, earlier as an advisor to the king and now as a mascot of the image of India. The secrecy for them is not preserved.

For the devadasi and the sovereign queen, there is still more secrecy till date; they have hidden histories that are now being unearthed as parallel commentaries about life in India and our identity today.

Ghatatva. The gaze; by veiling the face, it’s ‘isness’ becomes apparent. The ‘is’ is situated in the foundation, the shape of one’s nose, the color of an eye, that which is. The isness is a movement, like the blur behind purdah. A tremor of the atoms.

In ‘Health, Healing, and Beyond’, T.K.V. Desikachar writes that his father taught in way of ‘experienced language’ (10). He said, “The relationship between the word and its meaning is eternal, it is not a fabrication” (11).

NJ asked ‘is fiction a human need for the purpose of knowing being?’ The purdah is one such whimsical fiction.

A subtle cause of contemplation. Sankhya is the school of causality. The isness is within the is and the is within the isness. But for getting there we must borrow the wings of fiction.

‘Did my desire will the world or did the world come first?’ if the world came first I only knew it when I had the desire to rest my gaze upon it, to sing about it, to describe it, name it and hence bring it into existence.

The contemplative spectator: “to my mind, this growth of chauvinism and fundamentalism is a direct result of a progressive collapse between religion and philosophy. Today, Indian philosophy seems to be viewed as less empirical, discursive, or reflexive, since it has come to be so closely associated with religious doctrine or myth” NJ (Johar 321).

“Is fiction a human need to know I am?” “I feel ‘I am’ but I don’t ‘know’” word and body. The body is not the body and the word is not the word. This has been my utter confusion. And now I ‘feel’ I’m nearing the proximity of ‘knowing’. The body exceeds and the word suggests this excess.

Adhikaar. I don’t want adhikaar over my body but over the suggestive excess that can only be poetically established. This makes me sovereign. For really, what else is left?

Natyashastra.  Sangraha (indexing) karika (caption) nirukta (etymology). The organization (sangraha, the body into asan, the mind into poetic discourse) happens through karika (sankshipt caption, it is not a description, it is a giving life to) through the sounds that channel through speech (the sound of rain, the sound of the earth, the sound of aum, through the roots of etymology, nirukta).

Pragna- Insight that arises from the body.

Abhinaya; to become transparent. Reaching transparency is indirect, like the isness of veiling. The use of matter (body) to go beyond it (exceed). The use of word to re-establish matter. Material poetry. Dreaming, re-infusing spirit into matter, that is etymology. ‘Noun is the embodiment of restlessness’ Nirukta by Yaask. “the meaning of speech is its fruit and flower” (Yaask) the taste of fruit and flower must be savoured through poetic excess, word alone. One becomes transparent through suggestion. Only a peak.

Not a simple affair

‘loving god, like loving another human being is never a simple matter’ (When God is a customer)

‘That which belongs to the word in the mind is an object’ padaarth . pada (word) aarth (meaning)! ‘word comes first, word illuminates the object.’


“abhinaya is inducing absent-mindedness. Figment of my imagination but it is spatially erupting in exteriority”

Ghunghat is the ‘vibhaav’

“the linguistic preoccupation of classical Sanskrit is to break down or reduce a word etymologically so that it can eventually be made to rest in its dhatu, its irreducible root”

The meaning of speech is its fruit and flower
Root ………. Fruit

My roots are a historical being between marwar and mewar. Tracing my matrilineage. And understanding history. Also the lineage of my (undisciplined) practices of yoga, dance, literature (that is my bark and upbringing). And in watering these roots, I get the fruit of my art and flower of my speech and poetry. This is the connection between my identity as a performing artist and my social, cultural and religious identity. They are linked like word to body. Like fruit to root.

This coming together is a sacred impulse. yoking

Knowing and being. Tender tension.

Easy attention.


Works Cited – 

Jhala, Angma D. “Imperial Cosmopolitanism, Royal Patronage, and Zenana Courts.” Peacock in the Desert, curated by Karni Jasol, edited by Angma D. Jhala, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2018, pp. 81-104.

 Desikachar, T. K. V., and R. H. Cravens. Health, Healing, and Beyond: Yoga and the Living Tradition of T. Krishnamacharya. 1998. North Point Press, 2011.

Johar, Navtej Singh. “The contemplative spectator: Seeing as mode of stilling the mind.” Movements of Interweaving: Dance and Corporeality in Times of Travel and Migration, edited by Gabriele Brandstetter, Gerko Egert, and Holger Hartung. Routledge, 2019, pp. 321-342.

Maitrika Kumari Rathore is a student of performance based out of Jodhpur. She likes to read, write, and observe melancholy. She was one of the participants of the Indian Poetics course offered by Navtej Johar at Studio Abhyas.

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