By Bāṇa
Translated by David Smith


No Sanskrit poet is more interesting, original, or greater than Bana. His prose poem “Princess Kadámbari” is his supreme achievement. His patron, King Harsha, ruled much of northern India from 606 to 647 CE from his capital at Kannauj.

“Princess Kadámbari,” a work of fiction set in keenly observed royal courts, has everything. A love story doubled and redoubled in rebirth, the romance was so influential that its title became the word for a novel in some modern Indian languages.

In free form verse, the experimental poem embodies enormous originality. Animals, flowers and mythology, as well as humans are presented in sympathetic detail. The complex coherent structure will culminate in a breathtaking conclusion.

The two love affairs that dominate the poem have not yet begun in this first volume, where we hear of rituals to obtain a son, and the upbringing of a prince. Altogether the reader is given perhaps the fullest presentation of classical India available in a single work.

The chief narrator, here reborn as a parrot, thus remembers the assault of a wild hunter on his home in the hollow of a tree:

“The brute pulled out my father
who was repeatedly striking him with his beak and crying out,
and squeezed the life out of him.
But me, wrapped in the fold of my father's wing,
because I was very small, and had shrunk my body in terror,
and because I had the rest of my life to live,
somehow he did not notice.
And he dropped him, headfirst, neck broken, dead,
to the ground.
As for me, my neck wedged between his feet, hidden in his lap,
I fell down with him.”

558 pp.  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-4080-4  |  ISBN-10: 0-8147-4080-4  |  Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation

About the Translator

David Smith is Reader in Indian Religions at Lancaster University. He is the author of Ratnákaras Hara·víjaya: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Court Epic, The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India, and Hinduism and Modernity.