Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal / Edition 1

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This vibrant collection presents 145 brief Bengali lyric poems dedicated to the Hindu goddesses Kali and Uma. These poems—many of which are presented here for the first time in English translation—were written from the early eighteenth century up to the contemporary period. They represent the unique Bengali tradition of goddess worship (Saktism) as it developed over this period. Included are forty poems by the most famous of all Sakta poets, Ramprasad Sen (c.1718-1775) and ten lyrics by the renowned 20th-century poet Kaji Najrul Islam. McDermott's lucid introduction places these works in their historical context and shows how images of the goddesses evolved over the centuries. Her lively translations of these poetic lyrics evoke the passion and devotion of the followers of Kali and Uma and shed light on the history and practice of goddess worship.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book has now set the standard in the field of Bangala Sakta literary studies and, I would venture to guess, will maintain that position for years to come. Singing to the Goddess is both a text to use in the classroom and a poetry anthology to savor." —Journal of American Oriental Society
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195134346
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel McDermott is Assistant Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College.

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Read an Excerpt

Is my black mother Syama really black?
People say Kali is black,
but my heart doesn't agree.
If She's black,
how can She light up the world?
Sometimes my Mother is white,
sometimes yellow, blue, and red.
I cannot fathom Her.
My whole life has passed

She is Matter,
then Spirit,
then complete Void.

It's easy to see
how Kamalakanta
thinking these things
went crazy.

Kamalakanta Bhattacharya

Oh Mind, you don't know how to farm;
your human field has fallen fallow.
Cultivate it, and the crops you'll grow
will gleam like gold. Fence it round with Kali's name
so your harvest won't be harmed.
The Wild-Haired One is strong;
Death won't come near that fence.
Don't you know? Your crops will never fail--
not in a day, a year, or a century.
So apply yourself, Mind;
work to reap your harvest.
The Teacher sowed the mantra;
now water his seed with devotion's showers.
And oh, if you can't do it alone, Mind, take Ramprasad along.

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Table of Contents

Pathways to the Sakta Poetry: Sources, Precedents, and Influences 3
Poets for the Goddess 7
Family Resemblances: Sakta Padavali as Bhakti Poetry 11
The Challenges and Choices in Designing an Anthology 12
Notes on Transliteration, Translation, and Word Definition 14
The Poems
Kali among the Corpses: Poems of Battle 19
The Cosmic Goddess of Transformation 38
The Magician's Daughter and Her Playful Deceptions 47
"What Kind of Mother Are You?" Cries of Complaint 52
Petitioning the Compassionate 66
"Oh My Mind!": Instructing the Self 76
Prioritizing Paths: Tantra, Devotion, and Ritual 92
The Experience of Kundalini Yoga 103
In Defiance of Death 118
Adoring the Daughter: Agamani and Vijaya Poems for Uma 123
Notes 153
A Guide to Selected Names, Terms, and Texts 173
Discography 181
Index of Poems by Author and First Line (English) 183
Index of Poems by Author and First Line (Bengali) 187
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