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Dutch Sankskritist Herman Tieken got himself into some academic deep water with his peers a few years ago by publishing a book in which he claimed that old Tamil had developed far less autonomously than had thus far been assumed, and had in fact been influenced by Sanskrit as well.

Tieken also has an alternative reading of the Kāmasūtra, claiming that far from being a manual for uninspired lovers, was in fact a satire of the Arthasastra, a handbook for royalty and affairs of the state.

Now he has translated (with Peter Khoroche) India’s earliest lyrical poetry; 701 short poems about farmers and love. Snatched the following book description from SUNY Press:

The oldest surviving anthology of lyric poems from India, the Sattasai presents the many aspects of love and provides a realistic counterpart to the Kāmasūtra. An elegant translation of the Sattasai (or Seven Hundred), India’s earliest collection of lyric poetry, Poems on Life and Love in Ancient India deals with love in its many aspects. Mostly narrated by women, the poems reveal the world of local Indian village life sometime between the third and fifth centuries. The Sattasai offers a more realistic counterpart to that notorious theoretical treatise on love the Kāmasūtra, which presents a cosmopolitan and calculating milieu. Translators Peter Khoroche and Herman Tieken introduce the main features of the work in its own language and time. For modern readers, these short, self-contained poems are a treat: the sentiments they depict remain affecting and contemporary while providing a window into a world long past.

Peter Khoroche is a former lecturer in Sanskrit at the University of London and has previously translated Ārya Śūra’s Jātakamālā. Herman Tieken is Assistant Professor of Sanskrit and Tamil at the Kern Institute, University of Leiden, in the Netherlands. He has translated several Tamil, Sanskrit, and Prakrit texts into Dutch, including the Sattasai and, most recently, the Kāmasūtra.

Some fragments from the Leiden University website:

Who is not captivated by a woman’s breasts,
That, like a good poem,
Are a pleasure to grasp,
Are weighty, compact, and nicely ornamented?

(Poems of Life and Love p. 193, nr. 651)

With its leaves pushing through
The gaps in the fence
The castor oil plant seems to be telling
The youths of the village
“Here lives a farmer’s wife With breasts this big”

(p. 19, nr. 6)

When he comes what shall I do?
What shall I say?
And how will it be?
The girl’s heart trembles
At her first chance to be reckless

(p. 31, nr. 52)

Traveler,
If you ever want to see your wife again,
You’d better take another road.
For in this wretched village
The landowner’s daughter
In her desperation,
Is fishing with a very wide net

(p. 155, nr. 515)

When her rivals take a freezing cold bath
Before dressing for the festival,
The youngest wife shows her privileged position
By not bothering

(p. 93, nr. 274)

Read first chapter of Poems on Life and Love in Ancient India
Hala’s Sattasai
: pdf

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