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.

A Prayer – 2 (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ – ೨)

Another poem inspired by (and with shades of) an Upanishad mantra, “ಸಹನಾವವತು | ಸಹನೌ ಭುನಕ್ತು | ಸಹ ವೀರ್ಯಂ ಕರವಾವಹೈ | … ”

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

Let us together learn
and together play
and doing so together understand;
let us together eat
and together drink
and doing so together do the work at hand.

Let us together walk
and together feel
and together hear and speak;
let us together grow
and together shine
and together and together reach for the holy peak.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

A Prayer – 1 (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ – ೧)

A poem inspired by (and with shades of) the Upanishad mantra, “ಓಂ ಭದ್ರಂ ಕರ್ಣೇಭಿಃ ಶೃಣುಯಾಮ ದೇವಾ । ಭದ್ರಂ ಪಶ್ಯೇಮಾಕ್ಷಭಿರ್ಯಜತ್ರಾಃ …”

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

Let only what is good be heard,
let only what is good be said,
let only what is good be seen,
let only what is good be spread.
Let only what is good be done,
let good itself always pervade,
feed on the good, breathe in the good,
let good live among us enfleshed.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Descent of the Ganga (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s most famous poems, revealed to the world when he recited it at the close of his President’s Speech at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in 1943. Per his own admission, the rapturous reception it received left him reeling.

Here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.

Additionally, here is a video recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem and the English transcreation.

The Descent of the Ganga (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)

Come down, mother,
come down;
from Hara’s locks,
from Hari’s feet,
from the rishi’s thighs,
                     slide forth.
Quench the devās as you come,
wet the regions as you come,
feed every being as you come,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

My salutations I offer you,
I shall wear and wrap you,
so do not hesitate, you,
                      spill forth.
Leave the heavens behind and come,
plummet through the skies and come,
stream along the land and come,
come down, yes mother, come,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

Within the regions of my head,
in front of and behind my back,
up and down inside my blood,
                      surge forth.
Washing each atom of the eye,
tuning every fibre of each sigh,
sprouting words inside the mouth that’s dry,
                      swell forth.
Come, take your place within my breast,
come, roll through the waters of my chest
come, in my very quick do take your rest,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

Come as the lightning flashed,
come as the whirling waters splashed,
come – return – as the thunder smashed,
come calling on
           the abandoned wretched,
           the devitalised aged,
           the waterless parched,
come down, mother,
come down.

Oh cow’s compassion for its calf,
oh mother’s love on her child’s behalf
oh grand benediction from high above,
                      enfold us in your clasp.
Shiva’s compassion unblemished,
tinged only by Shakti’s slightest red,
incarnate maternal-love full-blooded,
                      come, come down,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

Come, none but you can wash us clean,
come, every other power is mean,
come, or we shall remain unclean;
come, feed us in our very marrow,
come, circle our land that’s lying fallow,
come, breathe life into these deadened hollows.

Beloved, into whose waters fell
reflections from the gods’s dream-well,
That made your pool of consciousness swell.
Gangē, with new-opened eyes;
Gangē, who now does span the skies
ready to descend upon Bhāratī’s thighs
from the starry-flowers
of the holy pārijāta’s bowers
that fed upon your showers.
Worshipped by the tulsi garland,
perfumed by mandāra’s scent,
you alone are both parents.
Born of an ecstatic rasa flood,
you are none but the fluid
fruit of SacchidānandaBrahma’s blood.
Come on down, mother, come to play;
come júst this once, I pray:
for my tears of joy I cannot stay.
           Yes, mother, such a fall is what they meant
           when they talked of the avatāra, the descent.

Like a boon to one who’s prayed,
like one in compassion bathed,
like river full-filled and flooded,
bouncing and uninhibited,
                      rush forth.
For your darling you come searching,
yes, come searching, mother,
                      come rushing.

Come, renew the breath of life,
come, swell; and illuminate this life,
come, show yourself as flesh and blood,
come, wash your hands of all the mud,
come, alight upon this earth for good,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

Come, Shambu-Shiva-Hara’s thought-consummate
come, Datta-Narahari’s grandmother-great
come, come, to Datta, son of Ambikā late,
                      come down, mother,
                                 come down.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Here is my recitation of the Kannada translation.

Note: I was only able to approach this translation thanks to the wonderfully thorough and fascinating Kannada explication provided by Sunaath Kaka on his blog. To receive his praise for this translation (when I shared it with him two years later) was particularly gratifying. My thanks to him.

Afterword:

The story of the Gangā’s descent – the gangāvataraṇa – is, along with the churning of the ocean, one of the magnificent triumphs of the Hindu mythological imagination.
Wildly and wilfully aswirl in the heavens, the beautiful (and arrogant) goddess Gangā is asked by Brahma to descend to the earth in answer to King Bhageeratha’s intense meditation. It is Bhageeratha’s wish that Gangā’s waters wet his forefathers’s ashes and relieve them of the terrible curse that has kept their souls from gaining release.
But prima donna that she is, Gangā (who is displeased by Brahma’s command) begins her descent by plummeting through the skies with a speed clearly too much for the earth-mother to bear. The consequence of her haughtiness is that she is caught firmly by Shiva in his thickly matted locks from where she tries, in vain, to escape. The unflagging meditation of Bhageeratha moves Shiva into releasing her earthward, in a controlled manner. Gangā, however, is not going to let anybody boss her and no sooner does she reach the earth than she charges forth in a joyous recklessness and disrupts sage Jahnu’s yagna.
Incensed, Jahnu swallows her whole – which forces Bhageeratha to once more begin his beseeching prayers, this time to Jahnu. In course of time, Jahnu too is moved to release Gangā who, finally chastened by her experiences, flows gracefully to where Bhageeratha is waiting with his forefather’s ashes. And having wet those ashes with her sacred waters and having helped Bhageeratha pay off his dues, she continues on her course – sanctifying every piece of earth she touches and making her home in the Hindu imagination as ತಾಯಿ ಗಂಗೆ, गंगा मैया, Mother Gangā, Gangā Ma, Gangā Dēvi.
The sublime Kannada poet, Da Ra Bendre, read out his prayer-poem “Gangāvataraṇa (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)” at the end of his presidential address to the Kannada Literary Congress in 1943. What followed, naturally enough, was a rhapsodic, rapturous reception that left him reeling. Moved to write the prayer by the Bengal famine of 1942, he calls like a present-day Bhageeratha upon Mother Gangā to descend again, metaphorically, and relieve the people of his land of their suffering.
Brimming with ನಾದ (nāda: ~euphony), ಪ್ರಾಸ (prāsa: ~rhyme) and ಲಯ (laya: ~ rhythm); flowing effortlessly like the Gangā herself; full of Hindu mythological references; and containing a devotion comprehensible only to the true devotee, no translation can do the poem adequate justice.
Nonetheless, I have attempted in this translation (which is more correctly a ಭಾವಾನುವಾದ or a transcreation) to convey some of the grandness of the poem. I confess that I was myself surprised by what I think are successful renditions of some particularly difficult parts.