The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


I was shy at our first union; he was obliging with hundreds of skilful flatteries; I spoke with sweet and gentle smiles he loosened the silk-garment on my hips; O friend! Make him make-love to me passionately, I am engrossed with desire for love.

In the late-twelfth-century Indian kingdom of Orissa the poet Jayadeva composed the epic Gita Govinda. Its twelve chapters were not intended to be read, but sung and danced by torchlight, the centerpiece of bhakti temple worship. The song expresses the core principles of bhakti, from the Sanskrit bhaj (to share, to love), a path of religious living in Hinduism, and a heightened, feverish devotional style that spread across the Indian subcontinent between the fourth and the ninth centuries. The bhakti concept emphasizes a striving for spiritual intimacy with the divine, often expressing spiritual devotion in the language of erotic lust.

The Gita Govinda recounts the relationship between the amorous goatherd Govinda (an incarnation of the god Krishna) and Radha, a cowherd. When Radha discovers that Govinda has been unfaithful, she hides herself among the creepers in the forest, and implores her friend to help win the god back. Her verses are exquisite and sensual, recalling the sexual intensity of their first meeting and the yearning she now feels for the absent deity. They encapsulate a feeling that in Sanskrit is called viraha, usually translated as “longing” or the particular kind of love felt during separation or abandonment. An aspect of sringara rasa (erotic and romantic love), one of the nine rasas, or themes, that shape human experience, viraha is a feeling of incompleteness without a loved one, and a fixation on the ECSTASY of the longed-for reunion.

Viraha recalls other formulations of romantic infatuation, not only the erotic—the poetry of the Occitan troubadours, or the inconsolable longing expressed in Portuguese fado music (see: saudade). The difference is that viraha is also a religious feeling, and ultimately an optimistic one. The full twelve chapters of the Gita Govinda—in which Krishna realizes the mistake of his infidelity, experiences viraha for Radha, and the pair reunite—symbolize the soul’s quest to find its spiritual home.

Viraha is often contrasted with Christianity’s separation between “carnal appetites” and higher spiritual love (see: DESIRE). But in truth, even Christian writers have made the union with God decidedly racy. “Batter my heart,” implored John Donne in one of his sonnets addressed to the Holy Spirit; “ravish me.”

See also: LOVE.