Sacred Topoi of Mythical India in the Literary Work of Mihai Eminescu, the Romanian National Poet

Diana Câmpan, University of Alba Iulia, Romania


This paper attempts to explore some of the main important Indian topoi that were active in the creative imaginary of Mihai Eminescu, the Romanian National Poet (1850-1889). Not very many researchers from abroad know that Mihai Eminescu developed his own philosophical approach and, by far, Indian culture caught his attention through the richness of symbols, through the complexity of fundamental theories on world cosmogony and extinction, sacred topoi and through its fruitful mythology. Not at all by chance, one of the strongest voices who studied the literary work of Mihai Eminescu from this new perspective is the Indian author Amita Bhose, who lived for several years in Romania and who decided to learn Romanian language especially for being able to read Mihai Eminescu’s poetry in the original language and to translate it for Indian people.

[Keywords: Creative Imaginary, Indian topoi, Romanian National Poet, Indian Researcher, Multiculturalism]

 Indian culture, with its exotic mythology and consecrated archetypal structures was one of the privileged Eastern landmarks in the creative imaginary of the Romanian national poet, Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889). During his Philosophy studies in Vienna and Berlin, Mihai Eminescu, who is considered to be the “last great Romantic” of the world, thoroughly studied the ancient Oriental philosophies. By far, Indian culture caught his attention through the richness of symbols, through the complexity of fundamental theories on World cosmogony and extinction, the gods’ migration between Earth and Heavens, the codes of human feelings and not least, the geographies of Paradise that were perfect for the Romantic Age escape temptations. Other sacred topoi are, for instance, Nirvana, a sky of stars seen in a mirror, the coral palace, the temple, but the most mysterious space of all is the repose or the ”ahistorical void”, a place of refuge and protection, with re-balancing virtues in which the potential state, the untriggered energeia, the One and unrepeatable have not yet received a norm or a shape but are still potentialities.

Amita Bhose, a great lover of Romanian literature translated into Bengali a volume of Eminescu’s poems and analysed the influence of mythological India on Eminescu’s work by means of a direct and academic connection to the authentic values of Hindu culture. Born in 1933, in Calcutta, Amita Bhose followed her husband (Dipak Kumar Ray, Ph.D. in Oil Geology) to Romania, in 1959. She loved Romanian people and culture so much that she decided to learn Romanian language perfectly. She started translating M. Eminescu’s poems into Bengali and she published, in 1969, in Calcutta, Eminescu: Kavita (Eminescu: Poems). Amita Bhose came back to Romania several times, and in 1971 she started a PhD programme in Philology, in Bucharest, with a thesis about The Indian Influence on Eminescu’s Philosophy. After finishing her PhD training, she became a collaborator of the Oriental Languages Department of the University of Bucharest – Romania, where she taught an optional course in Bengali language and literature. In 1978 she published her most important book about Eminescu and India, a complex study about the close connection between M. Eminescu’s literary work and the Indian philosophy and mythology.

At a careful look at Eminescu’s research, literary historians (and Amita Bhose herself) have signalled a few aspects of Indian thought and mythology that Eminescu became aware of and studied thoroughly. Thus, it is well known that during his studies in Berlin, the poet attended the Sanskrit language course held by professor Ebel, and because of his interest in Sanskrit he later translated parts of Franz Bopp’s Critical Grammar of Sanskrit Language and copied much of Bopp’s Comparative Glossary of Sanskrit Language. Eminescu did more than copy the text. He also analysed and made connections between terms, which is a proof that he knew the deep semantics of the Sanskrit word aksara (which he explains by “quod non perit, immortale”, “syllaba sanctissima”) and of the sacred syllable OUM (meaning “seed”, “essence”). He was very knowledgeable about Buddhism, as it may be inferred from his manuscripts, in which he mentions having read E. Burnouf’s Introduction à l’histoire du Buddhisme Indien. He also read Bh?gavad-Gita and analysed concepts of Brahmanism, which he later used in his poems; he studied the theses of N?g?rjuna’s nihilist thought, the psycho-cosmogram with the ten circles of Mandala, he developed concepts like Nirvana, samsâra (cycle of birth and death, wheel of destiny), the world’s gold seed or matrix (Hiranjagarbha), he knew all ancient Indian gods and used them in his own work, he read several of Kalidasa’s works. Speaking about assuming Traditional Indian doctrines, Romanian ideologist Constantin Barbu notes that “the emptiness doctrine in M?h?yana Buddhism was darker and more tempestuous than Vedic hymns; for the most radical M?h?yana nihilist thinker, N?g?rjuna, also known to Eminescu, there is no: 1. cessation (nirodha); 2. origination (utp?da); 3. annihilation (uccheda); 4. eternity (???vata); 5. unity (ek?rtha); 6. multiple meanings (n?n?rtha); 7. appearance (?gama); 8. disappearance (nirgama)“ (Barbu 24).

Our intent is to analyse the Romantic perspective of mysterium tremendum shifted towards Oriental philosophical and imagological potentialities, which Mihai Eminescu appears to have used as an ontological support for the explanation of logos. We begin our analysis by accepting the idea that, for the Romantic man’s archetype, assuming the sacred is a characteristic of what Phillipe Van Tieghem calls “the inner Romanticism”, but also of the mystical experience of the creative self, mentioned with a fascinating relevance by Mircea Eliade, himself a great lover of Indian culture: “…the poet discovers the world as if he had been present at the birth of the world, as if he had lived the first day of creation. From one perspective we can say that any great poet recreates the world, as he strives to see as if Time and History did not exist” (Eliade.a: 72).

For Mihai Eminescu, loneliness and retreat to isolation in view of initiation are principles of dignity. M. Eminescu built a semantic and a deeply metaphorical bridge between what Hindu culture calls Karma (“fate”) and “the blind will to live” (a concept borrowed from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer), thus giving birth to several extremely powerful lyrical motifs. As the human being was created equal to gods and subjected to his body’s desires, he finds ways to rebel and come back to himself, to cross boundaries, to escape and protect himself against the petty exterior. Throughout Eminescu’s work, we encounter a series of professions of non commitment and return to the inner depths of the self, while craving for the grand sites of knowledge and escaping to sacred places: silence and non-sight (stopping words in thought and refusal to look at the superficial outside world), solitude, melancholy, return to the past through remembrance, reaching privileged places and states (childhood and old age, climbing the magical mountain or the temple, return to origin).

We shall try to follow the manner in which several of these concepts are reflected in Eminescu’s poetic imaginary, bringing to life the sacred topoi of Indian mythology during full European Romantic culture…Access Full Text of the Article

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