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The twelfth-century Gīta-govinda of Jayadeva has a reputation as the last great poem in the Sanskrit language. It holds two other distinctions. First, it appears to be the first full account in poetry of Radha as Krishna’s favorite among the gopis or cowgirls of Vrindavana. Secondly, it seems to be the first historical instance of poetry written with specified ragas or musical modes assigned to its lyrics. The poem-cycle occurs in twelve cantos with twenty-four songs distributed among them, about 280 stanzas in total. It presents the love affair of Krishna and Radha as an acutely human love affair, from initial “secret desires” and urgent lovemaking to separation — nights of betrayal, mistrust, longing, feverish anguish, strange Imaginings — and finally to a consummation as spiritual as it is carnal. Jayadeva’s birthplace is uncertain — some think Orissa, some Mithila, some Bengal. Accounts make it clear he had carefully trained himself as a poet in the Sanskrit tradition, learnéd and in command of classical metrics, when he took a vow to wander as a homeless mendicant, to sleep no more than one night under any tree. On this endless pilgrimage he passed through the coastal city of Puri in Orissa State, one of India’s cardinal pilgrim destinations and home to the huge Jagannath Temple. There in Puri, the chief priest and administrator of the Jagannath Temple had a vision. In it Krishna told him that Jayadeva should marry his daughter Padmāvatī, a dancer dedicated to the temple, settle down, and compose a devotional poem of unprecedented beauty to Krishna. The result was the Gīta-govinda. At one point while composing his poem, overwhelmed that he had to write words that belonged to Krishna, Jayadeva, unable to continue, put down his stylus and went to the river to bathe. When he returned he asked for his meal. Padmāvatī exclaimed that she had already fed him. Confused, Jayadeva looked at his manuscript; the words he had felt unable to compose sat inked onto the palm-leaf page. Krishna had visited in Jayadeva’s absence and taken a hand in his own poem—then, mischievously disguised as the poet, stayed on to eat Jayadeva’s lunch. Meeting Padmāvatī wakened in Jayadeva the bedrock emotion, the rasa, of love. What had been distant accounts of spiritual grace, a familiar theme for poetry, or even a set of metaphysical abstractions, came alive in his own body: the merging of spiritual and erotic ecstasy. Under Padmāvatī’s hands Jayadeva learnt that the old tales, the yogic teachings, and the cycles of loss and longing were no far-off vision. They are tasted through one’s senses. You could say that all the metaphysics and yoga practices of India—heady, magnificent, intricate, contradictory—return in the end to a single imperative: love. I think it the genius of Radha-Krishna poetry to take the hair-splitting metaphysics of India, lift them from our easily bewildered minds, and relocate them in the glands of the human body. Krishna devotees say that in our current dark era, the Kali Yuga, not everyone can practice meditation; few can wrap their minds around subtle doctrine or follow the eight stages of yoga. Everyone can taste the desolations and ecstasies of love, though; this is where one finds Krishna. Some centuries after Jayadeva’s death, the Jagannatha Temple instituted the Gīta-govinda as its sole liturgy, with Padmāvatī’s dances performed in the sanctuary. All day and into the evening loudspeakers mounted on poles around the temple send the poem in loud song across courtyard and roof top, out to the cashew groves and semi-arid scrublands threaded by jackal and cobras.
By Nilesh Mondal
“The world is but a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page”, Augustine Hippo said, thus making travelling and literature two sides of the same coin, one a necessity for the other. Travelling doesn’t just open up new places to us, it also opens our eyes to newer perspectives, enables us to see the same places in a different light. Madhura Banerjee’s debut collection of poetry, A Tenant of the World, published by Power Publishers, aims to do just that by introducing us to familiar places, and helping us look and familiarise ourselves with them through her eyes, an attempt in which she succeeds to a large extent.
Madhura establishes from the beginning of the book itself what her idea of travelling is: the mingling of myriad cultures and taking the stories from one city and spreading it into the corners of another. Poetry for her is akin to the traveller’s spirit, unperturbed by boundaries and borders, spread across a range of geographical dissimilarities. The scope of her poetry stretches from the mountains of Kashmir, Himachal and North Bengal, to the age-old cities of Lucknow and Calcutta and even the illustrious desert of Rajasthan. Her voice is bold and seldom constricted, easily shifting from the dreamy narratives about the majestic Himalayas, to the nostalgic ruminations about changing cityscapes. This versatility of narration is in all probability, the most interesting part about her book.
This becomes apparent when we consider two very different poems, the first one called ‘If Pahalgam Were Love’, where she writes:
“Love is the conical shaft of highway highlights
Caught mid-flicker, against the wicker of fir,
Letting the red molten wax of daybreak
Flow into the valley of flowers mid-bloom”
The serenity in her tone however is swapped for one that depicts a sense of urgency in the poem ‘Bengali Jetties’, where she writes:
“When it rained at an unusual hour
In an unusual time that April,
It filled the trails of your footprints-
A muddy assurance of your departure-
Weighing down the red dust,
Making agony resist the summer wind.”
She Revathi Raj Iyer, author of My Friendship with Yoga released at the New Delhi World Book Fair, […]
By Awanthi Vardaraj These female Indian poets were all trailblazers; they were among the first, and it is on […]
By Nilesh Mondal
Title: An Ode to Shimla
Author: Sanjeev Bansal
Publisher: Frog Books
Price: Rs 172
When Ernest Hemingway was famously quoted as saying “there is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”, you can well assume he was either being sarcastic, or making an understatement of epic proportions. Writing poetry, especially, is a task both arduous and more often than not, unrewarding. It boils down to the understanding of one’s own perspectives, expertise in the observation of occurrences both mundane and trivial, and with the deftness of an artist, the ability to weave them into happenings at once exaggerated but magical.
Sanjeev Bansal, in his debut collection of poetry attempts to do the same with places and people he has long formed a sturdy emotional attachment with. However, despite his efforts, his poetry doesn’t dazzle but leaves a strong sense of unfulfilled expectations at the end of his book.
The title of the book, An Ode to Shimla, is aptly chosen since almost all of the poems in this collection speak of Shimla, which is also the place the poet spends his weekends at and has a strong connection to. His poems sound almost like little love letters written to the place, heavy with metaphors that speak of Shimla’s beauty, appeal and the surprises it hides in itself and offers only to those who seek them. Although his sentiments for Shimla are commendable, what makes it really hard for readers to relate and connect to his intended emotions, is how he chooses to write his poems. Sanjeev’s poems lack the translucency that is the essential mark of passionate writing. They are cryptic and hard to decipher, and reading through the poems is like peeking into his secret diary — an act that feels more uncomfortable than exciting. The poem “Poet of Crowned Oak Tree”, for example:
“In the scented perfume, magnifying when night desires of melancholic hunger,
But my mind’s beautiful Chimera fades,
And time’s epoch returns me to boisterous towns again,
Where the color of Serene comes in spots among moldings of an Entablature”
There were two recurring problems with the narrative that however remain unresolved. First is Sanjeev’s use of archaic words (mostly pronouns) like thine, thee, ye, etc., in the midst of poems clearly contemporary in nature. While it adds no added value to the narrative itself, the use of these words are distracting as well for the readers. Secondly, he chooses to use words that are long and complicated (mostly adjectives) and don’t advance the narrative or add beauty to the imageries itself, but instead sound cluttered and out of place while reading through the poems. An example of this is the poem “Change my Origin Oh Mother”:
“Change my circle O daystar, towards Mother Karma,
Downpour the showers from the archaic thick forest,
Rebound me to the redolence in the form of perished blade
Into the divine cloistered field of peace and silent rock,
Where perspiration from the bank of margin rivers,
Scented the wave of deciduous leaves, lives in heart again,
That beats among the throng of prodigious Scots pine”
Bukowski stares at me Karan Mujoo is a writer currently living in New Delhi.
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T. S. Eliot in his rather little-known essay, Dante (1929), wrote ‘It is a test that genuine poetry […]