Amarushataka – A Hundred Verses of Love from Ancient India


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#Didyouknow that a poet-king by name Amaru/Amaruka has composed a hundred verses on love and erotic longing, an important aspect of being human, back in the 8th century? The text has been read, appreciated. illustrated and translated by many as well. A translated text by C. R. Devdhar of 1959 says the following –

“The Amarusataka is a centum of lyrical pieces, each complete in itself, enshrining in delicate cameo like pictures, various fleeting emotions, moods and attitudes, couched in language which makes for magical beauty and charm. Often the lyrics assume a dramatic form which dynamically unfolds the working to a climax of a set of actions and circumstances evolved from one another. Thus, these pictures – ” these moment’s”- are not static, though they seem to have arrested and frozen the lover’s thoughts, moods, actions and desires into the span of just four lines”. 

Let’s check out this seemingly lyrically beautiful love text which is also classified under erotic poetry of India.

What is Amarushataka?


It is a collection of hundred (shataka) beautiful love lyrics tinged with the erotic in different situations in a love equation. The situations include the joys of union, agony of separation, jealousy, anger among others. The subject relates to shringara rasa (essence of romance, passion, erotica) which further involves courtship and dalliance, heartache, estrangement, wounded pride, longing and union and the joys and sorrows connected with it between lovers. There seem to be more verses on longing and separation. This work is held in high esteem in Sanskrit literature from India which was composed in the mid-8th century. However not much is known about life of the poet Amaruka, except that he could be most probably King Amaru of Kashmir.

It has even been compared to poet and dramatist Kalidasa’s work and Bhartṛhari’s Sṛngarasataka. It has even been a benchmark to judge other poetry. The 9th century Kashmiri literary critic and philosopher, Anandavardhana (820-890 A.D) declared in his Dhvanyaloka that “a single stanza of the poet Amaru may provide the taste of love equal to what’s found in whole volumes.” which gave the work an important position in Sanskrit literature. Four different versions of the text occur in India, ranging from 96 to 115 stanzas. There is a Southern version which was edited in 1420 A.D by Vemabhupala. The work has been translated by many scholars both Indian and Western. There is a general feeling that some stanzas could be the work of different poets among some scholars, but the Indian tradition has treated Amarushataka as one poet’s work.

It is believed as per a legend; the great Hindu saint Adi Shankaracharya, during his debate with Maṇḍana Miśra, was asked questions on love by the latter’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati, which he could not answer. In order to learn the philosophy of ‘Kama’or ‘Erotic Love’, he enters the body of King Amaru after his death to learn the nuances of love and intimacy and then he can make love to the women of his harem – a different one every night for a hundred nights, and realises that each experience is different. He could answer her questions after this. He wrote it down in verses and so some people attribute the ‘shataka’ to him!

Amarushataka in paintings


Some translated verses from the text of ‘Amurashataka’ are presented here to understand the lyrical work with its nuances which has been captured in Indian painting mainly by the Malwa School in the 17th century. The folios of some illustrated texts from Malwa, dated to the mid-17th century seem to be scattered across the globe in different collections. The CSVMS Museum at Mumbai has a large collection. The translations mentioned are only representative of the situation the painting may be depicting; and not exactly what is written on the top of the paintings. Peacocks are a symbol of love or the absent beloved sometimes, it is well depicted in the paintings.

Portraits of women in architectural settings such as pavilions, terraces, gardens and courtyards were very popular in Malwa School of painting. These nayikas (heroines) do not represent a specific woman, but represent emotional states, situations and moods. They yearn to be united with their lovers, the nayakas, and this is often compared with the soul’s yearning to unite with the divine.

‘’Now I know everything.

Please go. Talking is pointless.

You don’t bear the

slightest blame,

fate has simply turned from me.

If your so abundant love

comes to this

what pain could I experience

if hateful life—

mere flicker of nature—



– a  translation by by Andrew Schelling

The painting Confidante talking to heroine’s lover depicts a conflict in which the heroine is not happy with the lover’s conduct and is expressing the same through her confidante. She is sitting behind her. She is also referred to as female messenger or ‘duti’ who used to deliver messages, resolve the proverbial ‘lovers tiff’ or could even cheat on her friend!

Confidante talking to heroine’s lover, Malwa, circa 1650-60. Asia Society and Museum, New York. Wikimedia

The painting Wife waits for husband, shows a distraught woman waiting for her lover in the palace late into the night. He does not seem to have turned up. This illustration depicts either the agony of separation combined with the sweetness of anticipation.

’As far as the eye could reach, she scanned the path by which her lover was to come; but as the day declined and darkness crept apace, and the traffic on the roads ceased, her heart was filled with despair, and sadly she took but a single step homewards, and thinking, “Could he not have come this moment?” she quickly turned her neck and looked back again’’


– a translation by C. R. Devadhar.

Wife waits for husband, Malwa painting, early 17th century, Smithsonian Freer Sackler Gallery. U S A. – Image: Wikimedia

In the painting Heroine talking to her confidante the heroine is seated on a short-legged settee and is confiding to her sakhi or confidante about her lover and to which the ‘sakhi’(confidante) is expected to respond and advise. The heroine is pining for her absent lover and discusses her melancholy mood with her confidante. 

‘’In playful feigned anger, hardly had I asked him to go away when the hard headed man sprang from the bed and just walked away. My shameless heart just pines for the merciless on who trampled on my love. Tell me o dear what do I do?’’


– a translation by Harsha V. Dehejia

Heroine talking to her confidante, page from a Amarushataka, Malwa, circa 1670, LACMA, Los Angeles, U S A. – Image: Wikimedia

In the painting Tryst with the beloved, the lovers have met and are in happy space. It seems to be raining and they are sitting close to each other on a pavillion as it thunders outside.

‘’Swept away on the flood of the river of love’s passion, and held back by the dam in the form of the elders of the house, the lovers are unable to satisfy their desires ralthough they are in close proximity ; all the same facing each other with limbs that appear to be painted pictures, they drink the nectar ( of love ) brought to them through the lotus-stalks in the shape of their glances’


a translation by C. R. Devadhar.

Tryst with the beloved, Malwa painting, 17th century. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota, U S A. Image –

In the painting The distressed heroine, the nayaka (hero) enters the chamber of the nayika (heroine). She looks upset and her hand is rubbing her forehead in confusion. He stands before her with arms down. Two peacocks seem to be calling loudly. Like most Malwa paintings there is an ornate scrollwork at the lower end of the painting.

‘’Coming every day at the break of dawn, thou hast robbed my eyes of sleep; I feel very light in my body as thou hast helped to remove the heaviness of my drooping spirits; (listless that I am, my sense of self-respect is lost and I am made to look small.) Innocent that you are, you have done nothing improper. I have discarded the fear of death. Now go, thou art in pain. What I would do towards my cure, that with thou hear later on’’


– a translation by C. R. Devadhar.

The distressed heroine, Malwa painting, 17th century. From a Sotheby’s collection.

In the painting Apologetic lover, the nayaka (hero) in the chamber of a nayika (heroine) is asking to be forgiven for his mistakes. She looks away angrily while holding her veil. She is trying to push him away. His hand is on her shoulder with a love-lorn look on his face. A situation depicted very well by the artist.

“Fair maiden, break your silence, I am at your feet. Your anger has never been like this’ – when he said those words he gave sideward glances, shed profuse tears, but said nothing.”


– a translation by Harsha V. Dehejia

Apologetic lover, Malwa painting,17th century. From a Sotheby’s

In the painting Return of the Errant Lover, the nayika has been waiting for her beloved who has come maybe come back days after the promised date. The garland in his left hand depicts love and union with one’s beloved.

“When her guilty beloved comes home the beloved skilfully uses her eyes. They are anxious when he is at a distance, perplexed when he comes near, they grow big when he speaks……………..,…her eyes have become skilled in transforming itself to her lover’s mood’’


– a translation by Harsha V. Dehejia

Return of the Errant Lover, Malwa, circa 1660, LACMA, Los Angeles, U S A. Image: 

Return of the Errant Lover, Malwa, circa 1660, LACMA, Los Angeles, U S A.

Thus, we see from the above translations and the paintings that poet Amaru, has indeed understood all the nuances and situations in love in its various aspects and has truly portrayed the essence of Shringara in his beautiful work which has attracted artists and their patrons to the text to illustrate the verses.

References –

  1. C. R. Devadhar, ed. (1959) Amarusatakam (A centum of Ancient Love Lyrics of Amaruka); a literal translation of the complete text, Poona: Motilal Banarsidass.
  2. Andrew Schelling, tr. (2004) Erotic Love Poems from India: selections from the Amarushataka, Boston: Shambhala Publications.
  3. Dehejia, Harsha V (2017) Amarushataka: a centennial of love songs, New Delhi: D.K Printworld (Pvt) Ltd.

Image credits: The copyright for the images used in this article belong to their respective owners. Best known credits are given under the image. For changing the image credit or to get the image removed from Caleidoscope, please contact us.



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