Here’s a symbol of romantic love that predates Hallmark and Valentine’s Day.
In the Akam (love) poetry1 of Tamil culture, the classical poets sang of a passionate and all-consuming love, as represented by the Vēnkai tree (genus Pterocarpus) that grows in the hills of India and the Valli creeper entwined around its sturdy trunk:
Listen, tender vine living on the dark mountain
of the one who skinned the mountainous
elephant—don’t be sad,
for the light will shine off the limestone palace
of our home mountain, and flow onto the blackness
of your home mountain, and make it white.
The mountain/ tree represents the mighty beloved, and the vine his lover, who clings to him for support. This union of lovers is really an allegory for the union, at long-last, of Truth with its seekers.
Contrary to so much philosophy, for the poets, the quest for truth, like the quest for love, isn’t a solitary one:
As though one full soul, drowning in a sea of bliss,
became two, and there in the endless sea danced,
like those with grace
of the lord of the meeting place,
that will never dry up and will never reach its end,
our sea of bliss is this shining love.
More profound than a heart, don’t you think?