The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is currently featuring a special exhibition entitled “The Enigmatic Image: Curious Subjects in Indian Art.” The show, curated by Stephen Markel, includes the image featured on the front of Professor Heidi Pauwels’ new book, Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century India: Poetry and Paintings from Kishangarh.
The striking calligraphy depicted in the image is of an early Urdu poem Ishq-caman, “The Garden of Love,” written by Sawant Singh, the poet-prince of Kishangarh (Rajasthan) in the first half of the eighteenth century. The verses of the poem (in the Devanagari script) are portrayed as garden beds irrigated by the tears of the poet. The image is displayed together with an installation of Pauwels’ translation of the text it contains, excerpts of which appear below.
Excerpts of Professor Pauwels’ translations from “The Garden of Love”:
(Poem around the border):
In the glittering fair of the world, many religions are on display,
But for the exquisite lover, the only faith is that of love.
(Poems in the garden beds):
1. Love provides a glimpse of God, like sunlight of the sun:
Where there is love, there is God: mighty, unsurpassed beauty.
6. Every religion and philosophy, it all tastes the same.
Truly, without the imprint of love, it is all in vain.
13. In the garden of love, tread carefully when you enter:
You will drown in the middle of the road! Find refuge from the rough path.
29. O my beloved, what can I do? My love will be disclosed.
How to hide the fire of love, when my heart explodes?
38. Can the tale of beauty be captured by a poet’s conceit?
If your heart or eyes grew tongues, then you could begin to speak.
39. How can the story of love be told? No one will believe a word.
Only who has suffered it firsthand, in truth can claim to know.
41. If the tongue of your eyes relishes wondrous beauty’s delights,
If you tend the garden of love, it will flourish and thrive.
42. A fountain springs from the eyes, a waterfall of pain.
As long as the heart’s soil is pure, the verdant garden of love will remain.
(Poem in the middle):
The game of love is hard to play!
Pondering the human, searching the divine,
Whoever has found love and stays in love,
His body cannot be broken,
Though under love’s banner he may be impaled.