Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Victory Hymn

The war-weary Rama stood
With his slackened bow and hushed quiver
Worried in the battlefield of Lanka
In his battle against demon Ravana.

Just then came sage Agastya to him
Chanting the sacred and divine hymn –
Aditya Hriday, the holiest of hymns,
Capable of vanquishing
Even the most powerful of enemies….

O Sun-god!
Dispeller of darkness,
Glowing with the gold-like lamp of light,
Painting the eastern sky
With your myriad coloured rays,
Riding seven green-hued horses
With radiance adorned.
We bow to your majesty.

Ever-radiant Lord of the creation,
Seed of the universe,
Begetter of the world,
Fount of radiance, your rays animating
And sustaining the world’s existence,
And preserving the entire universe,
Appareled in shining beams;
Penetrator of darkness,
Remover of human sorrow.
We bow to you again.

Lord of the skies!
Life-giver to the universe,
Creator of water,
Causer of heavy rains,
Maker of sunshine,
All-pervading form;
Most refulgent of all refulgent things.
Brown-pigmented, red-hued,
Source of all death,
 Seer of past, present and future,
O Lord of the east!
We bow to you again and again.

O lord of planets and stars!
Creator, preserver and destroyer,
You, who exist within the souls of all spirits,
And keep awake even while they sleep,
You are capable of bestowing the fruits
Of all actions in the entire creation.

O king of the day!
Attired in a thousand rays,
You are victory personified,
And the source of all benediction,
O awesome dazzle of the universe,
Who make the lotus-buds bloom,
Overflowing with radiance, you are
Dispeller of darkness and ignorance,
Remover of inertia and cold,
Destroyer of the enemy,
When you assume your terrible anger,
Your aura of brilliance is like melted gold,
O bright-bodied, killer of darkness,
We bow to you yet again.

Having chanted the holy hymn
Thus spoke Agastya -

O heroic, gallant Rama
The very embodiment of Truth and Valour,
Shed this false shadow of inaction.
Here I give you this holy hymn of the Sun-god.
Whoever chants this hymn
In adversity, suffering and in fear,
Is at once rid of all suffering and dread.
The reverent chanting of this holy hymn
Always brings forth victory.
 It is an eternal hymn
Bringing the highest blessings,
Destroying all sins, worries and sorrows,
And bestowing longevity and invincibility.

O Raghav, descendent of Raghu,
By chanting this holy hymn thrice,
You will easily kill Ravana
And all the demons of his vast army.
Victory will bow and kiss your divine feet.
In this great war against Injustice and Evil.

Having given this  holy message
And his divine blessing to Rama,
The sage Agastya then quietly went back
To where he had come from.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Picture Poems

My Picture Poems

The Wall

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’
It stands there silent and enigmatic.
Between desire and fulfilment.
Who raised it? This ugly wall?
How come it stands here brazenly
With its pockmarked face –
Hard, stony, savage, harsh, pitiless - 
Grimacing with criss-crossed shadows?
Rugged with malice and contumely.
It divides. It hides. It shuts out.
Blocking tear-filled eyes,
From gentle solicitous emotions,
Choking sighing sorrows,
From piercing its concrete barbarity.
Snuffing candles on vigil
For those who perished in pain.
Will it be there forever –this wall -
Indestructible, undemolishable, perpetual?
‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’
That stands forever silent and enigmatic.
Between desire and inertia.

                   Tea with Donne

Good Morning, dear Sun!
Come sit with me
And have a cup of tea.
You look so fresh today,
So radiant, so bright-eyed,
Filling half our world
With your golden ray;
Peering into every window,
Every nook and crevice,
Teasing lazy lovers from their beds;
Writing musical scores
On shimmering cobwebs;
Hastening the yawning buds
To bloom soon before noon,
Whispering to their opening petals
That their tender short story
Has a lovely end by the even-song.
Meanwhile, dear Sun,
Come, sit with me
And have some tea.

                       Hi, Krishna!

Hi, Krishna!
What’re you doing here
Under this tree on my street?
And where is Radha, your beloved beauty?
And all those Gopis
Whom you had left naked in the pool
As you stole their ghanghras and cholis?

Ah, today I am not in a mood for all that
Today I am here in your street
Beneath this tree with my flute…
Today I want to tell you something…

Oh, really? How good of you to think of me!

Today I come to tell you who you are
You are me – none else – me and me alone.
For days I had been watching you
Going on morning strolls, deep in thought.
I knew you were thinking of me
And of the music of my flute.
So I came to tell you I am only you
And you are always in me.

Come, come, Krishna,
You are only taking me round and round
In circles, baffling me with your enigmatic words.
Now, tell me seriously about your true self;
Are you only what you look,
As you stand here under this tree on my street,
Wearing that peacock-feather’d hair-band 
And playing that divine tune on your flute?

Indeed, this is how you see me.
This is how I appear in the mirror of your heart.
But let me make known to you my divine manifestation.
I am the Atman that dwells in the heart of every mortal creature.
I am the beginning, the life-span and the end of all.
I am the beginning, the middle and the end in creation.
I am the Time without end: my face is everywhere.
I am triumph and perseverance: I am the purity of the good.
I am the knowledge of the knower.
I am the divine seed of all lives.
Nothing animate or inanimate exists without me.
Indeed, my divine manifestations are limitless….

Oh, enough, enough, my Krishna.
To me you are best in this enchanting form
With your peacock-feather’d hairband
And that lovely flute on your lips,
Standing beneath this tree on my street
Where daily I take my morning strolls.

Peepbo Sun
Look, the sun comes peeking at my door
Stealthily every morning, playing peepbo,
And stands momentarily transfixed
Scowling at the criss-cross maze
Of sharp angles and rectangles
Cutting into each other in rage
 And creating a fascinating chiaroscuro
Of bright light and deep shadows
Of a magical cryptogram
Written on the perplexed floor
Or is it some visible soundless song
Printed on time’s music sheet


The Fugitive
       Shivapujan Sahay
Translated by Mangal Murty

 [Shivapujan Sahay (1893-1963)  wrote this Hindi story in 1923. It is among a group of only 16 stories that he wrote which were first published in 1935 in a collection named Vibhuti. It also belongs to an interconnected group of four stories based on historical accounts available in James Tod’s celebrated Annals & Antiquities of Rajasthan. The time of these stories falls during the decades in the early 14th century when there were frequent battles between the Mughal rulers in Delhi and the smaller Kingdoms in Rajputana. The plot of this particular story relates to the battle between the Mughal Emperor Allauddin Khilji and Hammir Dev, the King of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, about 500 miles south-west of Delhi. The romantic love-story that forms the core of the plot seems to have been based on some folk tale as narrated by Tod in his Annals.]

The great Pathan King Allauddin had a passion for hunting. He was so ardent a huntsman   that large expanses of forests were left abandoned in his kingdom specially for this purpose. In his passionate pursuit of hunting he would camp in these forests with his harem of begums for months together.

In India, the Vindhyas are a famous mountain range, sprawling over a wide area, skirting as it were the charming waist of the land mass, with dense natural forests of incomparable beauty. Stretches of sleepy green tranquility lie crisscrossed with dark, fierce swathes of perilous forests. Herds of nimble deer would prance around bower-kissed pools of pristine water, as also there would be lairs of wild lions spattered with the gushing blood of their newly killed prey. There would be numberless trees filled with the music of myriad-coloured birds, as also hissing pythons curling round them.

Royal tents dotted one sequestered grove beneath a hill, some of them decorated with  gorgeous Kashmiri shawls,  tied with multi-coloured tent-pins and silken strings. Ornate bedsteads with starry canopies lay languorously around in these royal tenements. In their centre lay a large circular velvet shamiana surrounded by a flowery garden.

The golden sun was  about to hide its face behind the hills. Allaudin had been out on a hunt. The begums were amusing themselves with chess and card games in the central shamiana. Sometime it would be a nine of Hearts seeming to score, and soon a Jack would try to get the better of a Queen. At another game of Chess at one time a pawn by its devious moves would become the Queen, or the King himself would get cornered into a Checkmate. Lilting laughters would then ring all round the flower-filled gardens. Amidst all those dulcet gigglings, often a soft serene radiant smile would suddenly light up on a pair of lissome lips which had enough tipsiness to make the King sozzled.

The begums decided to go for a swim in a nearby pool, and soon rushed there with their maids. Armed guards readily surrounded the vacant royal harem tents for security. A train of maids followed the queens with their royal clothes, but were soon sent back. The absence of the King had brought a sense of boundless freedom and joie de vivre. Clad only in their loosely worn saris, with their arms round their shoulders, the bevy of beauties walked on their nimble feet into the copse. To savour their unbounded freedom they had not brought even a single bandi with them.
They went chatting, giggling, sprinting ahead, jesting and nudging each other impishly. They would smilingly chide awhile the thorny bushes in which often their anchals would get entangled. One or two would mimic the koels in their cooings, some others would try to chase the fluttering butterflies flying around, looking like flashes of lightning in the darkening evening scene.
Once at the pool they took off their saris and piled them in a lovely heap nearby. The pristine pool of the forest was fragrant with the aroma of lotus flowers, open-petalled or half-opened, and all radiant on the tranquil waters of the pool, teased by the black-bees, as the water fowl cooed around.

Overjoyed, the begums looked at each other, breaking into mischief-mixed smiles. In no time, their happiness and abandon became euphoric and gay. Very soon the nature-nurtured lotuses bowed their blushing heads, petals closed, before those golden lotuses that always lolled in the Pathan King’s pool of consciousness.

Dark clouds filled the horizon. A heavy downpour seemed imminent. But the next moment the clouds disappeared and the sky broke into a glow. Suddenly there was some commotion in a nearby bush as if two venomous snakes were fighting each other. Terror-struck, the begums stopped their water-frolics and gigglings, their ears trained towards the hissing joust in the bush. Mortally afraid, they slowly came out of the pool one by one. The commotion was getting fiercer.  The nearby bushes shook and swayed. They  started running, but a storm had arisen. They couldn’t even see their way ahead. The wicked storm soon blew their saris into the bushes. Helter-skelter, the begums, oblivious of their lost saris, ran for their lives where they could. Velvety skins were rudely pricked and scratched by thorns, but the fear of the King made them heedless of their pain.

Seeing their unclad mistresses trembling in panic and fear, the bandis tried hard to hide their smiles. The price for leaving them behind had been well-paid! But the bandi of the favourite begum was very flustered not to find her darling mistress among the frightened begums. A sudden hush fell all around. All blood froze. Horsemen were quickly dispatched into all directions in the dense forest. But there was no trace anywhere of the new begum. The horsemen came back with their heads bowed in shame. The other begums had their hearts beating dreadfully. The watchmen began tearing their hair. The favourite queen’s bandi pulled out a dagger to plunge into her heart. But the senior begum caught her raised hand – “Stop! The horsemen have returned, but their Sardar hasn’t come back yet. That might augur well!”

The Sardar was still circling around the pool, prying closely into every thicket, every shrub and bush, yet to no avail. Suddenly a strange fragrance filled his nostrils. He was struck with alacrity, focusing all his senses there. All at once he looked askance as his eyebrows lowered in shame, and throwing his silken turban, eyes still lowered, he asked the lissome beauty to wrap it around her nudity. The begum was shivering in cold, her black tresses loosely strewn around her glowing nude body, like snakes curled round a sandalwood sapling in a forest. Languidly she had wrapped the soldier’s turban like a sari around herself. But it had a distinct masculine odour in it which made the begum restive.

“I am shivering with cold. Can’t you do something to bring me comfort?” – wailed the begum.
     “Should I light up some fire here?” said the Sardar.
    “And what about the fire that burns in my heart?”
   “ Order me, and I would do as you say”.
   “Hold me in your arms to love me.”
   The shocked Sardar said, “I would be playing with my life then.”
   “ Anyway, you are now caught in the snare of certain death.”
   “But your royal honour is dearer to me than my life”.
   “But you seem to love my honour more than me.”
   “That to me is still more precious. Otherwise I wouldn’t have dared so far.”
“Then forget the fear for my life. I can take care of that with a twinkle of my eye. But you are needlessly endangering your own life now by opting for a poison chalice and refusing to kiss this cup of nectar hung around your lips. Don’t you know how I can make the King dance to my tunes?”
“My gracious lady, I know everything. But the offence is extremely grievous. My proven integrity, and my diffident soul forbid me to exceed my limits.”
“And you have no care for the turbulence in my heart. No more of hesitancy now. Your promotion to the highest position is assured.”
   “But I would rather shun such an act of disloyalty. Please forgive me.”
  “You have already hurt a she-snake. Don’t retreat now.”
   “ Great lady, there is a limit even to the wildest daring.”
   “Yeah, then let me start the game myself.”
The Sardar was gripped by his qualms. But the begum lost herself in her passionate frenzy. The soft bed of the silence-filled copse soon overflowed with the wild intermingling of two streams of unrestrained desire. A lion emerged from a nearby thicket as the begum reached fulfillment. The Sardar then strung his bow with a smile and killed the animal with a single arrow. The animal was dead and alongside the begum, too, lay supine. Passion was requited into satiety. All nimbleness lapsed into lassitude. All scratches and nicks seemed like the living alphabets of a lifelong bond of union. And all, all was finally enveloped in an enduring embrace, firmly sealed with a passionate kiss.

The begum rode back on the horse to the royal harem. And the Sardar took the string of precious pearls as a gift of love, touched it to his heart, and kissed it smilingly. He only wondered how luck, like a wild storm, had blown his way, bringing him such a rich bounty.
On a moonlit night, Allauddin was on a merry boat-trip with his new begum in the Jamuna river facing his royal palace. The royal boat was surrounded at appropriate distances by other boats of beautiful female singers. On the dark tranquil waters of the deep river the rays of the moon seemed to play a game of diamond dices. It was as if the luminous night-sky was pouring out the milk of a radiant moonlight.
Softly pressing the delicate chin of his favourite begum, Allauddin said – “You, breath of my dear life, seeing your resplendent face, even the moon goes hiding in shame. Look how it is soon about to drown itself into the river out of sheer shame. The begum bent her neck like one of a wine-jar to look that way and smiled. Her eyes reflected the glow of her beauty. The face gleamed with radiance, as her cheeks suddenly flushed rosy.

Allauddin was by now in a stupor of delight. The wine had already roused his dalliance, as the passion-filled begum was totally possessed by fervid desire and the royal boat-ride swayed with the rhythms of love. She was lying embraced in the sinewy arms of the King who was lost in those luscious kisses of his lovely partner.

Suddenly two river-beasts seemed to grapple with each other just there. There was a loud splash as if the river itself had been shuddered awake. The boat shook violently for some moments. The embrace got loosened. The kiss lay broken. And the begum couldn’t help a titter.
“  "What made you laugh so loud, my love”, asked the King.
   “Nothing, my lord; for no particular reason. Believe me”.
   “That can’t be, and you must tell me. I am sure you are lying this time, and it may not be   good for you”, said the exasperated King.
   “Howsoever be it, but there was no reason behind it.”
The King tensed as he took it as a jibe against his manhood. Feeling chagrined and skimpy, he fell into deep annoyance. Nothing would hurt a man more than the derision of his manliness by so beautiful a lover.
    “Tell me the truth, or be ready to die by hanging tomorrow.”
    “How regrettable my lord that you should be so peeved by such a trifle.”
    “Enough of your impertinence now. Go ahead, if you still value your life, and tell me what it’s all about.”
    “If my lord can spare my life, I will tell you…”
 “I give you my word. If you tell me the truth, here and now, I will hold you in my arms again and love you till the dawn.”
    “If your lordship spares one more life… I will tell you all.”
    “Granted, but go ahead at once.”

To cut the long story short, the begum spoke so excitedly about the chivalrous Sardar’s manliness and prowess that Allauddin’s face flushed red. He would only grind his teeth, wring his hands and beat his head in extreme rage. The begum then realized the folly of revealing her deepest secret so naively to the King.

The very next morning, both the begum and the Sardar were thrown into prison. Condemned to hunger and thirst, the day of their execution was fixed. Luckily, the Sardar’s brother was the chief of the jail guards and the brother of the begum was the police chief. By their daring collusion they helped the condemned duo to escape from the prison. When the King came to see, he only found a string of tied clothes hanging across the outer prison wall.

The fugitive duo went round asking for shelter and protection from the various powerful kings in the country, but most of the kings and chieftains even in Rajputana refused to provide refuge to them. Desperate for their safety, they approached King Hammir in his Court. The Sardar begged in a plaintive voice for security. Hammir was deeply stirred by the beseeching prayer of the fugitive couple, his forehead aglow with pride and gallantry. Descending from his throne, he came to the Sardar, and embracing him, said – “No power on earth can harm you now. So long as this Rajput King Hammir is alive you shall have all protection here, in the safe refuge of Rajasthan. Shed all fears henceforth and live with total security within the precincts of my fort. Whoever seeks refuge here shall have full protection under these arms of mine. Now be fearless and give me your full account.”

The astonishing tale of the Sardar cast a spell on the entire Court of King Hammir, and a thousand swords came unsheathed when it ended. The Sardar now became fully assured of his security as he lived within the lofty walls of the royal fort. The begum also was deeply touched by the grace and beneficence of the Rajput ladies of the palace as she lived  under full security among them.

Allauddin’s spies carried all this news to their King who sent a clear threat of total annihilation to the Rajput King. But Hammir declared from the highest tower of his fort – “I don’t care a fig for such hollow threats from a coward King.” And the surrounding hills resonated with the Rajput King’s solemn averment. Even the high walls of the fort echoed back the Rajput’s proclamation – “ Each here shall lay down his life for the honour-bound protection promised to our shelter-seeker.”

In no time, the raging winds carried this grandiloquent message to the ramparts of the Delhi fort. For a moment, Allauddin’s heart shuddered in dread. But the Prime Minister was immediately summoned and an instant proclamation was issued for a devastating attack on Chittorgarh. An army of the elite 50,000 soldiers immediately marched towards Chittorgarh.
On this side, Hammir invested the Sardar with the rank of his Army Chief by tying the designated turban on his head with his own hands. Many of his Rajput courtiers tried to dissuade their King from doing so, but Hammir reposed full faith in the daring and gallantry of a war-hardened fighter.

Fully arrayed in battle dress when Hammir went to seek his mother’s blessings, she kissed his forehead saying – “ Victory in the battle may honour you, my son. I am sure you will prove worthy of my milk and the ideals of Rajput valour with which you were brought up.” But she was startled when Hammir, for a moment, put aside the bow and arrows and his mighty sword and stood rather pensive before her.
“Why this untimely sorrow, my son?”

Hammir then said that  this was a special day when he wouldn’t be satisfied merely with the traditional blessing; he would rather have a blessing filling him with the invincible ferocity of a lion.
“Today, dear Mother,” said he, “I need your special blessing which will enable me to annihilate the enemy totally or sacrifice my proud head at the feet of goddess Durga in the battle.”
“So be it, my son!”, said the proud Rajput queen Mother, as her breasts seeped with milk oozing out of a mother’s love.

The battle went on for weeks. The Rajput army showed its gallantry in ample measure. Allauddin was totally flabbergasted by the valour of his enemy forces. All his arrogance was totally shattered.
In the battle Hammir always kept himself around the Sardar to ensure him full protection. But when the final day arrived, the Sardar found himself completely surrounded in one corner of the battlefield by the Pathan army. He amazed the Pathans by his fierce fighting, killing scores among his enemies, but couldn’t emerge out of the siege. Rushing like a storm Hammir arrived there, leaving the crucial bloody battle that was taking place at the fort’s main entrance. He cut through the enemy siege with his lightning sword and freed the besieged Sardar from the deadly orbit.
But soon both the fugitive and his protector were overwhelmed by a fresh rushing squad of the Pathan army. The battlefield appeared to be flooded by streams of blood. Death itself stood before the two brave heroes to welcome them. It was the Sardar first who seemed to implore Death to take him into its fold before it welcomed his protector. But Hammir himself appeared insistent for Death to take him first into its lap so that the valiant Sardar could follow him into the gates of Heaven. Both the heroes seemed to vie with each other as they prepared for their last journey, but Hammir was able to win precedence. Meanwhile, the Sardar had already brutally slain Hammir’s attacker.

Finally both the Sardar and his protector King lay gasping in the lap of Death who laughingly said to them – “O Maharana, and O Muslim Sardar! Both of you are truly blessed! If both Hindus and Muslims learn from your noble example to live together in harmony and good faith, then this great land which belongs to you both, shall be free from all hatred and violence, bringing some respite to me as well. I feel truly blessed today to have both of you in my lap – one a chivalrous and daring Muslim Sardar, and the other a lion-hearted protector of his shelter-seeker. I don’t know when again I shall have such a good fortune when the likes of you shall adorn this lap of mine.”
                                                * * * * *