A Homage to the Gangā (ಗಂಗಾಷ್ಟಕ)

The ಭಾವ-ಸಂದರ್ಭ (bhāva-sandarbha: ~ emotional context) of this poem was Bendre’s visit to the Ganga during his ತೀರ್ಥಯಾತ್ರ (tīrthayātre: ~pilgrimage) through North India.

Though not half as famous as Bendre’s “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ“, this is easily the more intricate poem – with unusually long metrical lines that follow the aabb end-rhyme pattern. Indeed, the end-rhymes within the poem’s metrical intricacy was simply too much to emulate – which is why I have not attempted it. What I have aimed for, rather, is a consistent rhythm.

Recitation of the Kannada poem:

A Homage To The Gangā (ಗಂಗಾಷ್ಟಕ)

When the wish-cow of your affection yields ceaselessly the milk of song,
to simply think of you’s to meditate; all other rosaries naught but a noose.
Why slobber then that you aren’t mine? Did I unlock these lips in vain?
Do I not know how empty is this pride that fashions just a song?

There is none that’s seen you who has not sung, your name rose on their lips;
as if a man may tie in song the rushing river which Shiva’s locks could not?
Yet I, looking at your blessed sight, thought it would be wrong to not unlock
my lips; so that the song that comes forth may console the hurting heart.

Oh Gangē, the gold dust with which Bhārati once was filled;
the joyous faces of her fruit that once adorned your fertile banks!
Is there upon this earth a child that did not play within its mother’s lap?
Upon your river-lap played every great empire of our land!

Those avatāras strange that made the earth-mother fret
all came and swiftly left; the world returned to wilderness.
While you who came down for reasons else now flow as truth
eternal; more glorious she who bore you than the avatāras ten.

Like departed mother who hears her crying child, you rushed down
from your heaven-home; like brave who is not scared to wear this mortal coil.
Granter-of-salvation blessed, aloft on Shiva’s jewelled crest, what matters it where
you are; you came, you flowed and reached the sea; turned salvation-field yourself.

Where is Ayodhyā now? Where Dwārāvati of old? Where Gōkula’s gardens?
Oh sole remnant of Rāma’s and Krishṇa’s fame; though all things succumb to time,
Gangē will live so long as live the earth and sky; so long will stand her idol white.
Oh Bhagīratha of empire great, it is the Gangē who is your claim to a deathless fame.

“If, from the bosom of the bathing princesses, the night’s leftover musk should fall and then this water with the Gangē‘s waters mix, such musk-deer’s salvation is certain.”
So sang the poet, and I, cut from that very cloth, believed him and bathed in you:
it felt then as if my mother too had in mukti’s waters bathed; I am of her stomach made.

Shiva’s mocking laugh! Himālaya‘s compassioned gaze! White-bosomed stream of milk!
Who has forever flowed forth; the very heart within ma-Bhārati’s maternal-heart!
Mother, the displays of your affectionate ways! Who was it who sang your praise?
Let this homage of mine add to that praise; let this be my knowledge-offering.

Recitation of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.

Author: MKA

I'm Madhav, from Bangalore. I write my own poetry in English and translate Da Ra Bendre's poetry from Kannada into English. (You can read my poetry at https://madhavajjampurwritings.com/). I also translate sundry other Kannada writings into English. My favourite poets include Yeats, Tagore, Bendre, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, and Gerard Hopkins. If you'd like to get in touch, do write to me at mk.ajjampur@gmail.com. I'd be very happy to hear from you!

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