The Ideal Indian Woman

19 Sep

… looks like one strange animal. Kidding! Please do not send a morcha to my house. I’ve gone fishin’.

If you’re reading this blog but usually like to read ancient Indian poetry or know something about the subject because you’re freaky like that, then this is my lucky day because i have a favor to ask.

I’ve been trying to find this poem for some time now – it describes the ideal, presumably Indian, woman thus (I paraphrase heavily):

Her eyes are those of a doe

Her nose is a parrot’s beak

Her braid is a long, black sinuous snake

And her walk is that of a elephant

I’m pretty sure my puny attempt at half-remembered translation has stripped the lines of all grace and meaning (well, read them – they sound ridiculous!) but they were beautiful in their original form and they opened my mind to a new way of thinking about the world in which we live and human beings in general. Also, Disney cartoons but that’s a different story.

Now as I remember it, it was written in Sanskrit or one of the early vernaculars (Pali or Prakrit) and in my memory at least it described the many charms of Draupadi. I could be making this up – it could well be a general guideline for women to aspire to, the same way “skinny + fair/tanned depending on culture you live in” are the general instructions for young women today.

I normally have an excellent memory for things that I like but the year we came across this was an incredibly boring year for Hindi at my school, chiefly because our teacher had developed a habit of skipping over anything in the least interesting with the words “Well, you can read this at home, can’t you?” To this day I have recurring nightmares that I’m sitting for my Hindi exams and not only have I not “read this at home” but I have mysteriously lost the ability to read Hindi at all!

What was I saying?

Ah yes – so if any of you kind people out there remember your ancient poems and this one in particular, could you please let me know who wrote it or its title? Much appreciated.


Posted by on September 19, 2008 in Books, Life, Personal


Tags: , , , ,

17 responses to “The Ideal Indian Woman

  1. meena

    September 19, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I dont claim to know any ancient Indian poetry but do remember that all simile-ridden descriptive poems like this are usually traced to Kalidasa:)

  2. M

    September 19, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    hmm..that sounds vaguely familiar from long-ago school days…maybe something from Vikram aur Betaal – or Shyamala Dandakam? Did you study that in school???


  3. Pitu

    September 19, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I did 4 yrs of Sanskrit and this is the sort of thing Kalidasa would’ve written. My dad was a Math genius and his favorite book of all time was Bhaskara’s ‘Lilavati’. When he realized my hatred of Math and love of literature, he introduced me to Vedic math and texts like these, but no dice 😉 I maintained my hatred of Math. Anyway, sorry couldn’t be of any help but definitely look into Kalidasa.

  4. harini calamur

    September 20, 2008 at 12:42 am

    funny 🙂
    it probably explains all the dances in Hindi films….
    and if i am not mistaken, the pic is that of ‘padmapani bodhisatva’ … a form of buddha !

  5. dipali

    September 20, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Hmm! Reverse of anthropomorphism, apparently:)

  6. Kanan

    September 20, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    My memory for Hindi poetry sucks bad because I never appreciated it when I studied it. I’ll ask around if anyone else I know knows of this.

  7. Amey

    September 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I am not entirely sure, and I will confuse you a bit more: This looks like something Kalidasa would say 😉 Or maybe from Mricchkatika.

    That said, putting “like” in the lines makes them sound much better, and much less mutant freaks.

  8. pitu

    September 20, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    That’s the problem with poetic license. I was just humming this Marathi song and the one line made me pause for a second. It goes ‘ Jashi mavaltya unhat, kevdyachya banat, NAAGIN salasalalee’

    Bad translation follows-
    ( the setting sun, in the kewda forest, a cobra slithered)

    Um, did you just compare a woman to a COBRA?? A slimy, cold, reptile? And this is sexy??! Uff!

  9. Kanan

    September 20, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I asked my dance teacher and she says the description sounds like a Sanskrit poetry that she’s read that describes Sita or Radha in one of the epics. She also mentioned Kalidasa. Hmm..

  10. Amrita

    September 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for racking your brains over this. I thought of Kalidasa myself, but I’m pretty sure it’s not him. I then thought of Bhartrihari but I think that’s too early for this poem. Something tells me it’s around 11th – 12 century. Within a hundred years of that anyway. I’m thinking Bilhana but I don’t think that’s right either, somehow. 😦 this is going to drive me crazy.

    Meena- poor ol’ Kalidasa 😀

    M – nope, the mahabharata and the Ramayana were the only two complete works that we read. It might be an excerpt. i’ll have to look it up.

    Pitu – lol, no but I’ll look into Lilavati instead. Or a translation anyway coz my Sanskrit lessons did absolutely nothing for me other than give me a dread of it.

    Harini – all i know is, it’s from the Ajanta Ellora caves and I thought it was vaguely appropriate and cool looking 😀

    Dipali – More like that movie, The Animal.

    Amey – but that’s now he wrote it! Or at least not how I remember him writing it.

    Kanan – thank you so much for asking! It could be a later version of one of the epics. Radha is more likely than Sita imo because I remember the poem being very sensual. What kind of dance, btw?

  11. Pitu

    September 21, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    ‘Radha is more likely than Sita imo because I remember the poem being very sensual’

    Heh. Don’t be so sure. I once read a Sanskrit passage from some version of the Ramayana and it described Rama looking for Sita right after the abduction (him and Lakshman had just returned from chasing the golden deer) and he is asking the trees and animals in the forest if they have seen Sita. The description made me go red in the face- he is remembering his wife and talking about Sita’s awesome thighs and breasts and stuff- not kidding you. All in earshot of Lakshman. Ewww. Gave me the heebie jeebies but what to do, am a prude like that 😉

  12. A Cynic in Wonderland

    September 22, 2008 at 1:07 am

    i reckon its kalidas.

    also do read manu on women. interesting stuff that is.

  13. Amey

    September 22, 2008 at 10:33 am

    @Pitu: You stole my comment 😉 BTW, if you were heebi-jeebied, imagine what Lakshman would have felt.

    Oh, and about the female cobra, the subject of the song (and her “walk”) is being compared to that of cobra, and its sinous movement. A catwalk in nau-wari, if you will 😉

    @Amrita: Like Pitu said, Sita, Draupadi and other assorted “heroins” of our epics are not always depicted as just faces. They do have their moments.

    As for the translation, I always mix my Sanskrit “samas”, but as far as I remember, the “like” is hidden in the samas.

  14. M

    September 22, 2008 at 11:03 am


    Isn’t Viram-aur-Betaal one of the Mahabharata’s many digressions?


    snakes aren’t cold and slimy! They are beautiful, and feel like solid muscle…gorgeous creatures!


  15. Pitu

    September 22, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Amey: Seriously, bechara Lakshman lol. About the song, I got that but still, ewww. ROFL at catwalk in nauvari!

    M: Ugh, we have to agree to disagree. My mom thinks snakes are ‘beautiful’ as well! Anyway, even if I were to agree that snakes are ‘gorgeous’ I still don’t get any comparison with women. Metaphors like mrignayni (doe-eyed), meenakshi (fish-eyed) etc are fine but reptiles! Hmmph. Then again it’s all subjective. The finest compliment I ever received was when my hubby noticed a gorgeous blue brindle greyhound at the dog park and said I looked like him 😀 I was thrilled!

  16. narendra shenoy

    September 22, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    According to my dad, a woman who has the gait of an elephant is called gajaga-mini. I guess the woman who has the dimesions of an elephant is called gajaga-mega.
    (Pathetic.I know.)

  17. Amrita

    September 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Pitu – HAHAHAHA!!! That makes me think better of Rama actually.

    Cynic – yeah it’s on a list but every time I get close to it, I just can’t bring myself to pick it up 😦

    Amey – Oh that I know. But the most sensuous ones seem to be about Radha, then Draupadi, then the rest. I don’t remember Sita getting any love in that way. Now I need to find that Lakshman passage!

    M – It could well be. I don’t remember. 😳 Also Snakes = ARRGGGHHH!!!! I once saw a pic of a two headed mutant snake (poor thing) and it’s to date the only time I’ve ever screamed out loud.

    NS – Ahem! Better not crack that quip around the house. 😛

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