Birds of a Feather Vāmana Bhaṭṭa Bāṇa’s Haṃsasandeśa and Its Intertexts
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Courier poetry is perhaps the richest and most vital literary genre of premodern South Asia, with hundreds of poems in a great variety of languages. But other than dubbing these poems “imitations” of Kālidāsa’s classical model, existing scholarship offers very little explanation of why this should be the case: why poets repeatedly turned to this literary form, exactly how they engaged with existing precedents, and what, if anything, was new in these many poems. In hopes of raising and beginning to answer such questions, this essay closely examines one such work, the Haṃsasandeśa of Vāmana Bhaṭṭa Bāṇa (fl. ca. 1400), and its close correspondence with two important intertexts: Kālidāsa’s Meghasandeśa and Vedānta Deśika’s Haṃsasandeśa. I argue that Vāmana Bhaṭṭa Bāṇa’s work is an intricate mosaic that is put together from pieces—both absences and presences—that are taken from both these poems and that make sense only if we are familiar with their sources, and that this mosaic is nonetheless a surprisingly new and independent statement. On the basis of this analysis, I go on to suggest that novelty in the genre is partly made possible (and manifest) precisely through dense engagement with the vocabulary, figures of speech, situations, and other building blocks of the intertexts, a practice that often results in a heightened mode of density.