Love poetry

19 May,2024 07:18 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Devdutt Pattanaik

This was long before there was a separation between body, mind and heart, that happened during the Bhakti movement

Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik

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Love is missing in the Veda. Vedic gods did not care much for it. Neither did Vedic sages. They spoke of fertility ie, sex for children, but rarely about sex to express affection or experience pleasure.

About 2,000 years ago, songs from the Tamil region were composed by women and men in the Kaveri, Vaigai and other river basins. Love was the inner affectionate realm of the household. We notice there is hardly any difference between love and lust. This was long before there was a separation between body, mind and heart, that happened during the Bhakti movement.

Here the body is desired, the mind is loved and the heart is worshipped simultaneously. Here marriage and fidelity do not seem to be the primary concern as much of the poetry deals with pre-marital and extra-marital relationships. Mothers do not disapprove.

Here is a woman expressing her longing for pleasure
Like sweet milk, now spilt, un-sucked by a calf, uncollected in a vessel, my complexion is being eroded by lovesickness, neither enjoyed by him, not retained by me.

Here is a boy enchanted by a girl.
A tiny, beautiful snake can bring down a mighty elephant. Thus, have I been brought down by that girl with sparkling teeth and bangled wrists.

This is how a man describing love.
Without shame, when in love, one is even desperate to ride a toy horse made of palm stem, and a wreath of flowers, and be the laughingstock of the marketplace.

Here is the anxiety of separation.
Terrifying is the rooster's call. Dawn is a cruel sword that cuts me away from my beloved's arms.

Here is the torment of loss.
He stroked my hair, he hugged me, and wiped my tears. What has become of him now? It's harvest time. Winter has come. But not him.

Here is a woman mocking her lover who has returned to his wife
This man - from that village, where fish in fields snatch mangoes that fall from nearby trees - having broken his promises to me, has gone back to his son's mother, his body now a puppet whose string she pulls.

Here is a wife forgiving her unfaithful husband.
Young man - from the land of sapphire lagoons where plants bear thorns like squirrel's teeth - know this: this life ends, another follows, and all I seek is t be your wife, mistress of your heart.

Here a girl nudges her lover to propose marriage.
She has become suspicious. My mother. Did she notice the strange fragrance on my hair, or the lovesick pallor on my face? She says nothing. But sighs and finds excuses to keep me in the house.

Where do we find such love poetry today? In a few lyrics of a few film songs, maybe. As religion rejects love, and confuses it with fidelity and loyalty and submission to authority, we need to return to the romantic love where gods and goddesses were those magical beloveds who understood us despite our physical, emotional and sensual shortcomings.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at

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