Sandēsa Poems across the Palk Straits

I: Anoma Pieris: Avian Geographies: An Inquiry into Nationalist Consciousness in Medieval Lanka,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 33: 3, 336—362…..presented here as Abstract….

ANOMA PierisDoes the concept of a bounded national geography predate modernity and colonization in South Asia? Does it carry with it particular internal processes and prejudices that have withstood decolonization? Was it produced through an urban imagination?

This essay focuses on Sri Lanka’s medieval period when competing urban centres and territorial politics thrived in the region. It proposes to reconstruct a lost architectural heritage through a literary genre of Sandesa Kavyas (message poems), which capture the island’s urban geography prior to its destruction by European colonizers. In each of fifteen poems, and over several hundred verses, we follow the journeys of birds across a highly contested geo-political landscape, allegorically linked to a religio-mythical universe. More critically, these avian geographies map the emergence and dissemination of an urban national consciousness in South Asia, prior to colonization. This essay focuses on the shortest of these poems, the Salalihini Sandesaya (hill mynah’s message) to raise questions regarding the methodological scope and historical context of this literary genre.

II: Steven P. Hopkins: The Flight of Love …..unpubld  memo on work in progress

Steven in HanoiThe Flight of Love: A Messenger Poem of Medieval South India by Veṅkaṭanātha.  A full translation and comparative study, with introduction, notes, and afterward, of Veṅkaṭanātha’s Haṃsa-sandeśa (The Goose Messenger), a Sanskrit “messenger poem” (sandeśa-kāvya).  I will situate this 14th century religious adaptation of a secular genre of love poetry within a wider comparative context of South Indian Tamil, Sanskrit, and Sri Lankan Sinhala traditions of “messenger” poetry.  I will look closely at the significance of messenger poetry in the literary construction of regions and sacred landscapes (“beloved places” as “geo-cultural and social/political imaginaries”) and explore the ways in which Veṅkaṭanātha re-envisions the pan-Indian story of Rāma and Sītā (both god and goddess, king and queen) in his sandeśa, composed in a regional “southern” Sanskrit, using motifs of vulnerable love and violent emotion present in his own South Indian Tamil devotional tradition — the agonies of separation, lament, loss, keening desire and anticipated bliss, written into the living particularized bodies of lover and beloved, in the “messenger” goose, and in the landscapes surrounding them.


ANOMA PIERIS teaches at the Dept of Architecture University of Melbourne

STEVEN HOPKINS is Professor of Religion, Department of Religion ,Swarthmore College

THe ljnk to the South Asia article may conceivably be gained via





Alan Srathern 2006Towards the source-criticism of Sitavakan heroic literature. Part One: The Alakesvara Yuddhaya: notes on a floating text,” Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities 32: 23- 39.
Strathern, Alan 2007 Kingship and conversion in sixteenth-century Sri Lanka, Cambridge University Press.

Strathern, Alan 2008 ”Towards the source-criticism of Sitavakan heroic literature. Part 2: The Sītāvaka Hatana: notes on a grounded text,” Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities 34.

Strathern, Alan 2010 ‘The role of Sinhala group identity in the ‘Sinhala rebellion’ against Bhuvanekabahu VI (1469-77),’ in G. Perera (ed.) The Portuguese in Sri Lanka and Goa,  Kandy: ICES, pp. 13-27.

Strathern, Alan 2011 ‘Treachery and ethnicity in Portuguese representations of Sri Lanka,’ in Ricardo Roque and Kim Wagner (eds.) Engaging colonial knowledge: reading European archives in world history, London: Palgrave, pp. 217-34.

Michael Roberts 2012 “Sinhalaness and its Reproduction, 1232-1818,” 13 March 2012, AND in Asanga Welikala (ed.) The Sri Lankan Republic at Forty: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice, Colombo, Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2012, Volume I, pp. 253-87………….. ISBN 078-955-1655-93-8.

Michael Roberts 2013 “Confronting Charlie Ponnadurai: Clarifying the Context of Disparaging Ethnic Epithets in Sri Lanka over the last 180 years,” 18 August 2013,

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