Bendre’s famous, much-discussed poem “ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhaavageeta)” is, by general critical consensus, understood to be a (self-reflexive) delineation of Bendre’s ‘poetic credo’; in other words, his poem about poetry. Translated directly, a bhaavageeta is a ‘heartful song’, a song that is an expression of feeling. To Bendre, who closely identified himself and his poetry with the rishis of the vedas and their riks, much of his poetry relied on shravaṇa or the ‘act of hearing’. The poem, then, was the shruti or ‘what is heard’. Like Bendre himself says in the poem “Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)”, the nature of the poetry he wrote was mantra-like – which made it resonant while often putting it ‘beyond mere meaning’.
Furthermore, the fruit of such a temperament and poetic stance was a poetry brimful of naada, i.e. euphony; which, in turn, made it eminently singable. (Indeed, Bendre is known to have sung his poems to himself, to his wife, to his children as well as to crowds of every possible size.) This credo of Bendre’s is also the likely reason the bhaavageeta of 20th-century Kannada literature is generally taken to correspond to the ‘lyric (poem)’ – itself a reference to a composition that was, originally at least, meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre (or some other musical instrument).
From a historical point of view, Bendre’s earliest poetry was written a decade of so before the creation of his ‘ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhaavageeta)’ poem. That same period saw the birth of a musical tradition within Karnataka that would come to be called the bhaavageete or sugama sangeetha. Starting at about the same time in two far-apart regions of the Kannada-speaking land (with P Kalinga Rao in the Old Mysore region and Hukkeri Balappa in the North Karnataka region), the bhaavageete saw classically-trained rasika musicians use their talents to musically transmit, to the Kannada masses, some of the best Kannada lyric poetry of the time. As the greatest modern exponent of the Kannada lyric, some of Bendre’s greatest lyrical triumphs — including “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ (gaṅgāvataraṇa)” and “ಹುಬ್ಬಳ್ಳಿಯಾಂವಾ (hubbaḷḷiyāvā: ~the fellow from hubbaḷḷi)” — became popular favourites on account of their being tuned and sung.
If I chose to offer this summary of the bhaavageete tradition (whose name’s connection with Bendre’s poem is not something I’m certain about), it is because this almost-hundred-years-old tradition is solely and directly responsible for acquainting me with the poem whose translation you see below. While I can’t remember when I first listened to the poem, I know that I liked it enough to want to listen to it again – and again – and again. Soon enough, I was smitten by it and it had become a constant companion of my evening runs; a pitstop (on my playlist) that I looked forward to with a particular keenness.
And as had happened several times before, this repeated listening made parts of the poem especially familiar – that kindled in me a desire to translate it – that got me thinking during my run of the possible translation or transcreation of this or that set of lines – that served, eventually, as a springboard to my making a concerted effort to translate the poem in its entirety.
So that is what you see here: a poem whose (lyrical) character inspired a musician to set it to music – which music attracted me and gave me access to the poem’s lyrics – which lyrics drew me inwards and tasked me with their translation.
The Kannada song:
Recitation of the Kannada poem:
Who is that who like the ground
spins silently beneath?
I stand here in my pridefulness –
stamping it down with both my feet.
Gulping fire – spilling light
who is that there in the dark?
Fading – growing – illuminating,
its standing-ground cannot be marked.
A thousand million stars appear
licking the figure of the night;
but what are they to the star-of-day;
here it comes – blinding the sight.
The dawn, the dusk, the light, the dim –
play and mix and mix and play;
spanning the ages they push on
towards a sun-time somewhere.
I’m a traveller on forever’s path,
my search is for the quintessence;
I’ll rush my search though it may mean
melting like shade in this essence.
Recitation of the English translation:
(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಹೃದಯ ಸಮುದ್ರ”, first published in 1956.
P.S: Those curious about the poem ‘ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhaavageeta)‘ should know the poem is nine stanzas long. Each stanza has three lines. And while the entire poem is virtually untranslatable on account of both its ನಾದ (naada) and its many (cultural) allusions, I like to think I have done a reasonable job of transcreating the last stanza (with its extremely famous opening line).
The churn and churning of the word brought forth a euphony
it felt a joy – it spread a joy – in its own love it was happy
it did not mean – it did not want – it was just lyric poetry
© Madhav Ajjampur
If you have enjoyed this translation and the recitations, I hope you will consider buying my recently-released book (!) of English translations of selected Bendre poems. The book is titled The Pollen Waits On Tiptoe. If you are living in India, you can buy the book by going to this page.
THREE IMPORTANT MATTERS:
1. If you are living abroad, you will, unfortunately, not be allowed to buy the book on Amazon India. Therefore, if you would like one or more copies of the book, please write directly to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your details.
2. Buying 10 or more books will entitle you an overall discount of 30%. To avail yourself of this discount, contact MUP directly at email@example.com.
3. The book is also available as an ebook. The app hosting the ebook is called VIVIDLIPI and the book can be purchased at this link. (Since the publisher does not have an agreement with Amazon, I am afraid the book is not available on Kindle.)