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A Valentine from very long ago

india Updated: Feb 19, 2011 22:45 IST
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So, did you? Collaborate in the mush and gush of Monday, I mean, for Valentine’s Day? I think it’s sweet despite the killer commercial pressure and I’d rather see people sending each other love tokens than being hateful and nasty, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, if some folks object, just remember you have scriptural and classical backing, I mean, it says so in Sanskrit; think Princess Rukmini sending an “elope-with-me” love note to Sri Krishna and Shakuntala scratching a ‘patia’ leaf-message with her fingernail to Dushyant.

Also, there’s this other really nice Valentinish story back in the Indian classics. It’s the curious tale of Vaak Devi, who was a wild child of the gods before they caught her and put her on that lotus as Saraswati, rather like in ‘Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater’. So anyway, the Devas (Class One celestials) and Gandharvas (celestial musicians) were both desperate to own Soma, the plant that produced amazing brain-juice. One day, the Devas noticed it had vanished from the heavenly realm and they suspected that the Gandharvas had stolen it away. Knowing how much the Gandharvas liked pretty ladies, they begged Vaak to intercede.

Sure enough, when the Gandharvas took one look at the ‘I’m-my-own-person’ Vaak, they were struck by a thunderbolt and suggested an unholy bargain to the Devas: Vaak in exchange for Soma (think 19th century French actress Sarah Bernhardt saying she would perform in Germany only if France got back Alsace-Lorraine from the Germans). Vaak was to be the prize for whoever could woo her successfully, a sporting suit that challenged Gandharva manhood (Objectification of women? It was for a set-up, okay?). The Devas gamely let them try first.

To charm Vaak, the Gandharvas began to recite the complicated formulae they’d managed to learn from the time they’d made off with Soma.

Assailed by a litany of ‘We know this, we know that,’ Vaak was not exactly swept off her feet. Yawning, she lifted an eyebrow at the Devas. Smiling, the Devas meditated awhile and created (‘shrishtva’) the veena. “So we shall make music, so we shall entertain you,” they sang, drawing Vaak irresistibly into their enchanted circle. That’s how, says the Brahmana (Vedic book) the Devas had the best of it.

In everyday terms, I’d interpret that little incident as a forward-looking Valentine cue, wouldn’t you? That scripture is saying that the best Valentine is the one that’s both fun and meaningful?

*Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture.