The Sound of the Kiss or The Story that Must Never Be Told

The Sound of the Kiss or The Story that Must Never Be Told

Product ID: 11356

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Author: Pingali Suranna
Translator(s): Velcheru Narayan Rao / David Shulman
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2003
Language: English
Pages: 220
ISBN/UPC (if available): 019566499X


Composed in the mid-sixteenth century, Pingali Suranna’s Telugu novel, The Sound of the Kiss, could be considered the first novel written in South Asia. It is both a gripping love story, a complex religious allegory, and a profound meditation on mind and language.

Shulman and Rao include a thorough introduction that provides a broader understanding of, and appreciation for, the complexities and subtleties of the text. Suranna’s masterpiece comes from a period of intense creativity in Telugu, when great poets produced strikingly modern innovations.

The novel explodes preconceived ideas about early South Indian literature: for example, that the characters lack interiority, that the language is formulaic, and that Telugu texts are mere translations of earlier Sanskrit works.

Employing the poetic style known as campu, which mixes verse and prose, Pingali Suranna’s work transcends our notions of traditional narrative. I wanted to have the structure of a complex narrative no one had ever known, he said of his great novel, with rich evocations of erotic love, and also descriptions of gods and temples that would be a joy to listen to.

This magnificent novel is hard to put down, and will appeal to anyone interested in classical Indian literature.


Telugu literature is undoubtedly one of the most important literatures in the world, and one of the few such literature about which almost nothing is known in the West. There are no scholars living (or otherwise) who are more qualified to comment on and to make available this literature than Narayana Rao and Shulman. This is a fascinating novel, even shifting in focus, ever changing in unexpected ways.

-George L Hart, translator, with Hank Heifetz, of Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom

The Kalapurnodayamu is a major work in every sense; enormous in scope, brilliant in content, rich in literary and religious meanings…an extended meditation on the nature of language and poetry, illusion and reality. This is certainly a major work in world literature, and deserves to enter the canon alongside such works as Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and the Gita Govinda. The translation is a magnificent work of scholarship by translators who are the world experts on translation from Telugu to English. The language is fluent and powerful…The notes are just right.
-Wendy Doniger, author of Splitting the Difference



Note on Pronunciation


The Beginning

Dvaraka City, Where the Story Begins
Kalabhashini on the Swing and Rambha

Narada Studies Music
Enter Manistambha
Manikandhara’s Pilgrimage

Rambha Entices Manikandhara
Kalabhashini Flies off with the Siddha
The Temple of the Lion-Riding Goddess
Kalabhashini Returns
Rambha Meets Rambha
Nalakubara Meets Nalakubara

The Story of Salina and Sugatri
Enter Alaghuvrata. Kalabhashini Is Sacrificed
Manistambha Tours the World with His Wife

The Baby Who Talks
Sarasvati Decodes Brahman’s Story
Manistambha and Sumukhasatti Exchange Genders
A Lecture on Yoga
Svabhava and Madasaya at Srisailam

Manikandhara Fights the Porcupine Demon
The Story of Alaghuvrata and his Sons
Satvadatma’s Question
Madhuralalasa Comes of Age

Kalapurna in Love
The Wedding of Kalapurna and Madhuralalasa
Abhinavakaumudi Becomes Jealous

Kalapurna Conquers the World
The Story of the Necklace
Invitation to a Second Reading
Guide to Pronunciation and List of Characters
Index of Names and Technical Terms