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How Medieval Gynocentrism in India shaped the European Tradition of Courtly Love - Part 2

Courtly Love and Women in Ancient India and the Arabic – Hebrew Narratives in Poetry and Art in Mozarabic Al Andalus in Spain and the Iberian Penisula!

2. More Growing Evidence of the Muslim Sufi and Indian Denominator as the Source of European Gynocentrism and Courtly Love!

In recent times more links were established to draw a connection between European courtly love and its Eastern counterpart including Eastern Europe and the Middle East itself. So, although they touched on a different aspect, namely that of the woman’s experience of life, the place of women, and their position in the fin amour concept, the bottom line is that there’s no doubt about the existence of such connection. Two notable scholars have made important insight into the matter and their study proved the existence of universal courtly live experience in poetry. One of the researchers was Theodor Frings and the other was Peter Dronke. The most important contribution of the German philologist Frings was to point out similar poetry in ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Scandinavia, Serbia, and Russia. All of them alongside the routes I’ve described above and in many other studies of mine.

On the other hand, Peter Dronke in his study stressed the man’s conception of love in the universal courtly love experience. He has found evidence of love lyrics in Egypt, Georgia, Islam\ Spain, France, Germany, and Italy/ as well as medieval Latin literature. All of them were pointed out in this discussion and the other research that I publish on my website. Yet, both these scholars have left India and classic Sanskrit out of the picture. This is where I want to chime in and show how Indian gynocentrism shaped and influenced the troubadours, courtly lovers (through Islamic and Jewish narratives), and subsequently modern feminism, gynocentrism, and even misandry. Unfortunately, this omission was a big problem because both classic Sanskrit literary texts, as well as Hindu religious traditions, are rich in courtly-love folklore and ideals.

Either way, courtly love poetry, and chivalric prose were cultivated extensively in classic Sanskrit (500 B.C. -A.D. 1200). Like medieval Latin in Europe, and Arabic in Spain, Sanskrit was often considered to be the Lingua Franca, spoken at court and in religious institutions like monasteries. It was the regular language of conversation among the educated classes of different provinces and the chiefly written language of ancient India. The tales of chivalry, like the stories of Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, Arthur, Roland, Lancelot, and Gawain, are found in the two great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, compiled between 500 B.C. and A.D. 800 and the Puranas which were composed after 500 A.D. These epics contain not only tales of valor but also stories of love such as those between Ram and Sita, Sita and Havana, Nala and Damayanti, Satyavan and Savitri, the Pandava brothers and Draupadi.

Some love poetry is found in the Indian epics, but mostly like “The Iliad and The Odyssey” the subject provides matter for subsequent poems and plays written on heroes and heroines in love. Many love lyrics are found in the maha kavya or court epics and dramas. This was, of course also the reality in the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule where both Jewish and non-Jewish troubadours performed their poetry and literature. These old Hindu love lyrics found their way to Sanskrit anthologies compiled during the medieval period (1000- 1200). Three of the best-known anthologies are the Subhasitaratnakosa (a treasury of fine verses), compiled by Vidyakara at the end of the eleventh century; the Subhaitiivali (a necklace of fine verses), ascribed to Vallabhade’va, probably of the twelfth century; and the Padhati (anthology) of Sarangadhara of the fourteenth century. These are exceptionally large collections containing respectively 1, 738, 3,527, and 4,620 stanzas each of which is made of several lines. The subjects treated in this anthology are the following: the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon (150 verses), spring (39 verses), summer (24), autumn (27), God of love Q1), adolescence (50), on being in love (70), lovemaking (53), messages of the go-between (24), the offended women (65), the woman separated from her lover (52), among others.

These anthologies were compiled as textbooks for use at court for the education of princes or in the monastic schools for the training of teaching clerics. This seems like another link between the two cultures. The literary origins of European courtly love not only can be partly traced back to Christian clergy but especially to the aristocracy. Also, the use of the books in courts reminds us of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s courts of love as well as Eleanor’s and the Troubadour’s final goal of educating the masses. A distinct example that comes to mind is Andreas Capellanus (Capellanus meaning “chaplain”), also known as Andrew the Chaplain, and occasionally by a French translation of his name, André le Chapelain, was the 12th-century author of a treatise commonly known as De Amore (“About Love”), and often known in English, somewhat misleadingly, as The Art of Courtly Love, though its realistic, somewhat cynical tone suggests that it is in some measure an antidote to courtly love. Little is known of Andreas Capellanus’s life, but he is presumed to have been a courtier of Marie de Champagne, and probably of French origin.

Anyway, Capellanus’ work De Amore was written at the request of Marie de Champagne, daughter of King Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine. In it, the author informs a young pupil, Walter, of the pitfalls of love. A dismissive allusion in the text to the “wealth of Hungary” has suggested the hypothesis that it was written after 1184, at the time when Bela III of Hungary had sent to the French court a statement of his income and had proposed marriage to Marie’s half-sister Marguerite of France, but before 1186, when his proposal was accepted. De Amore is made up of three books. The first book covers the etymology and definition of love and is written in the manner of an academic lecture. The second book consists of sample dialogues between members of different social classes; it outlines how the romantic process between the classes should work. This second work is largely considered to be inferior to the first. Book three is made of stories from actual courts of love presided over by noble women.

Back to the Hindu poets, they too wrote most of these poems at the bidding of patrons for reward or of the muse for pleasure like their European counterparts. Their audience in the culture of the Hindus valley was to be found in the courts of kings and the vassal subkings which the wealthy and educated members of the society, not excluding mercantile and priestly classes, frequented the same way as it was in Europe. The occasions were festivals at which dramas were performed and poetic symposia were held. Not only did the poets sing of love as play, but also saw love as a serious occupation of man.

Bhartrhari puts it thus:

In this vain world,

when men of intellect

Must soil their souls with service,

to expect

A morsel at a worthless prince’s gate,

How could they ever hope to renovate

Their spirits? – were it not that

fate supplies

The swinging girdles and the

lotus eyes- Women, with swelling breasts

that comfort soon,

W caring for the beauty of the

rising moon.

Bhartrhari also argues that the search for pro-fane love is the second-best choice in this mutable universe:

In this vain fleeting universe, a man of

Wisdom has two courses: first, he can direct his time to pray, to save his soul,

and wallow in religion’s nectar bowl:

But, if he cannot, it is surely best

To touch and hold a lovely

woman’s breast,

And to caress her warm round

hips and thighs,

And to possess that which between

their lies.

Therefore, it is not surprising to note that Guillaume of Aquitaine (1071-1127) expresses similar sentiments:

What good will you have if I shut

myself in cloisters, and you’ve got

no lover? Lady, we can have

the whole world’s joy if we both love

In these love poems, the poet is anxious to attribute high status to the women whom he celebrates in art. After describing the physical beauty of young women, he takes great delight in depicting the various psychological conditions of women in love. The god of love is credited with the implanting of the seeds of love in women. This love gradually develops into a fever which the go-between tries to assuage by bringing the lovers together. The poet treats the physical side of the erotic theme without transgressing the cultural canons of good taste. He sees his heroine not as a mere instrument for the satisfaction of her lover, but as a partner in passion.

All of those aspects as we have seen, evolved in later development in Sufi Islam as elaborated by Rumi and from there in Islamic Spain as well as Hebrew Troubadours and Poets. The free atmosphere, the partying, the beauty of girls (and boys), the veneration of women as the divine equation to the worship of God worship with the worship of women and worshipping women as the worship of God are all interconnected, interrelated, and of the same matter. However, being a more balanced stage, according to Indian literary tradition, both sexes proudly display the tokens of their passion in the form of marks made by nails and teeth. Another genre of this poetry that was used by Troubadours and adopted from the Rumi school of Islam and Sufism, was the idea of infidelity. However, in the Indian tradition, it is derivative of the lover’s quarrels, and they are seen as a part of love play; however, they also arise from the infidelity of the man who is blamed for it which might be the source of this double standard. Indeed, in the same way, as does Rumi and do the Troubadours, the Indian poet admires and praises the constancy and fidelity of his heroines, but he also speaks about fornication and adultery in a tolerant tone, at times. The courtly love that the Indian poets of the epic and classic periods celebrate can be defined as a moral sentiment that causes one or both lovers to be attracted to the beloved under the irresistible influence of the god of love and the power of destiny and which leads the lovers to marriage and procreation of children. Here we have an extraordinarily strong connection where we can trace back the most inner and crucial aspect of the Troubadours’ courtly love back to its Indian origin as later evolved and elaborated in the Sufi Islam of Rumi.

Rumi wrote that a “Woman is the radiance of God; she is not your beloved. She is the Creator—you could say that she is not created.” Not only that the woman resembles Rumi’s thought of God himself, quite a heretical teaching in itself, but, as we have already seen in the above discussion, Rumi’s concept of the lover and the beloved also encapsulates God himself is of Indian origin. Thus, here we have heard another crucial link between the troubadours, Rumi as to the understanding that worshipping God means worshipping women and worshipping women means worshipping God and the gynocentric ideal of courtly love in India. Hence, the above elaboration of the troubadour origins does not only suggest that courtly love was directly influenced by Islamic (as well as Jewish) mysticism, specifically the Sufi tradition, and in this context, particularly that of Rumi, but that of their common denominator that is India. On a side note, it also calls attention to an unexpected and little-known fact of immense significance in Islam: in the same way as in the center of courtly love and subsequently, feminism stands for the worshipping of women as a part of the Great Goddess and the Black Madonna, at the center of Islam, which gave feminism its imagery, stands the Sacred Feminine which makes it no less a gynocentric tradition than any other culture existing from the beginning of human history. Sufism, the path that gave birth to Rumi, treasures the esoteric secret of womanhood and in that it resembles the troubadours that albeit sometimes different interpretations and applications followed the same gynocentric path and quest in ending their suffering through the assimilation into the divine feminine and in fact subjugation both to its cosmic energy as well as its earthly form of the human female.

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