Maitreyee B Chowdhury

The Tungabhadra was in spate,
the rains better than ever.
The breeze from the river, now habitual visitor-
At ten each night, the curtains would lift on a precious Zenana,
lover of the queen, the river sang.
Chinna Devi sat in abstract silence,
the red dot that adorned her hand, bordered an enriched terracotta wall-
She was Sita in decadent unsettledness,
prisoner of her own accord-
queen of Vijaynagara, dancer at heart.

Soon it would be time for Mahanavami –
Durga would be worshipped in every possible human form,
memory brought bheebatsa !
Twenty dancers would dance on the dusty road-
with her mighty lover, this dancer would watch,
hands moving from Trishula, to Anjali to Swastikam.
The Dasara Dibba would come alive-
nine days and nine nights,
the poor would rejoice, alms be given,
kindness thrust upon, Sultans unknown.
Her legs spread, the queen sat,
a courtesan in every thigh.
The hair soaked in blood,
beggars in every papilla.

The breeze tonight sang of yesterday,
of a far away Matunga asleep.
All summer she had danced on those stones,
bare feet burnt,
as her lover in disguise,
(a future king) watched.
Purandaradasa had sung,
while the rain poured,
a one fifty year old Champa
in Vittala temple blossomed.
Tonight her old friend slept
with the Vijayanagara jyoti as its crown.

The Andhra Bhoja, third ruler of the Tuluva
Kṛṣṇa Deva Rāya would be awake still,
and yet he had not called her.
Just beyond the dot on her hand,
a red dirt road stretched-
The Neem had turned yellow.
From another unadorned street on another wall,
another queen sat, and then another-
Like prisoners of time,
dolls of passion gone mute,
bereft of dance, laughter and shringar-
they held court, over his highness’s groins.
The Varaha, sun, moon and dagger-
flew strong on every temple pillar,
how they mocked her tonight.

In the corridors of courtesans,
sleep is uneasy- frightening even.
Growing placid, almighty and a queen- became a morning bath, soon.
She had shrunk her feet and grown three breasts.
Fine silks moulded her thighs,
in the corner of a tiny feet,
an anklet, somehow survived-
every night, the curtains sang Raag Biraha,
the price of a crown too high.
The right thigh twitched,
desire ran down empty halls of a stone empire.
Nimble shadows ran on dusty roads,
down to the courtesan’s lane- of familiarity and songs.
Her home lay empty and lit every night, somewhere there-
the smell of Jasmine had poured into her lover’s vein,
crystallized her anklets,
kings and queens, they had become.

The Sultans came,
an empire looted, Vijayanagra died.

On moonlight nights, near empty and broken
a courtesan still dances with the Tungabhadra.
Matunga echoes her call,
a lone Krishna weeps on Shaivaite land.

* Footnotes
Saalumantaps- Shops from the Vijayanagra era, still present in Hampi.
Zenana- Persian word for women(Has reference to the Zenana Mahal in Hampi)
Bheebatsa- An expression in Bharatnatyam, expressing disgust.
Matunga- A Hill in Hampi
Jyoti- Fire( reference here to the royal torch that was lit every night on Matunga Hill)
Andhra Bhoja- A title given to Krishnadeva Raya- meaning the king of the Andhra land
Shringar- to dress up
Varaha- Boar( refers to sign on the Vijayanagara flag)
Raag Biraha- A Raaga in Indian classical music- Biraha denotes sense of longing

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Maitreyee B Chowdhury
Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a poet and writer based in Bangalore. She is the author of 'Where Even The present Is Ancient: Benaras' and 'Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen- Bengali Cinema's First Couple'.