Journal Article

Painting words, tasting sound: visions of Krishna in Paramanand's sixteenth-century devotional poetry

AW Sanford

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 70, issue 1, pages 55-81
Published in print March 2002 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online March 2002 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaar/70.1.55
Painting words, tasting sound: visions of Krishna in Paramanand's sixteenth-century devotional poetry

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Paramanand was a sixteenth-century saint from the Braj region of India who composed devotional poetry addressed to the Hindu god Krishna. His poems are still sung today in homes and temples according to daily and yearly ritual cycles. According to the Vaisnava tradition, one of the major sixteenth-century Hindu devotional communities, Paramanand himself saw Krishna's play, and his lyrics are so profound that contemporary devotees can see themselves as players in Krishna's 'other-worldly', or better, nonworldly, games. Vaisnavas know these games as lila. I argue here that the aesthetic experience of hearing Paramanand's lyrics has provided an occasion for devotees through the centuries to experience a complementary sensual experience: see Krishna (darsana). Ultimately, every Krishna worshipper has the same goal: to participate in Krishna's games. Each of Paramanand's poems contains the potential for a highly individualized experience in which a devotee may ritually and sensibly join in Krishna's lila. Each poem, therefore, contains the seeds of a synaesthetic transformation of language into vision. The dominant figure of speech underlying Paramanand's poetry is the metaphor of seeing Krishna through words. I consult the literature on synaesthetic transformation to explain how Paramanand transforms words into sight. To hear Paramanand's lyrics is to see Krishna.

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Subjects: Religious Studies

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