The Dance of the Bear (ಕರಡಿ ಕುಣಿತ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s more popular, accessible (and underappreciated) poems. My introduction to Bendre’s poetry was when I listened to the sung version of this poem, many years ago. In the intervening years, I have travelled the familiar yet unfamiliar terrain of the Kannada language in ways I had never anticipated. But that is a story for another day.
For now, I will only say that the memory and the rediscovery of this poem sparked my relationship with Bendre’s poetry. In particular, the first two lines of stanza 3 (which read “ತ್ರೇತಾಯುಗ ರಾಮನ್ನ, ದ್ವಾಪರದ ಕೃಷ್ಣನ್ನ|ಕಲಿಯುಗದ ಕಲ್ಕೀನ ಕಂಡಾನ” in the original) and the untranslatable onomatopoeic refrain (“ತನ್ನsನ ತಾsನನ ತಂದಾsನ” – “) from line 2 of stanza 5 continue to draw me into their eddy of feeling.
The poem itself was inspired by the poet waking up in a railway coach and “seeing” a large bear at the door. When he went out and looked, it had disappeared. He learned later that an accident had happened at the very station he had “seen” the bear, an accident in which a number of people had lost their lives. It was the poet’s belief that one of those people had appeared to him in the form of the bear seeking release for their ātma (soul).

As usual, I’ve included my recording of the original Kannada poem. The sing-song rhythm is taken from B.R Chaya’s version, tuned by Gururaj Marpalli.

(The only reason I haven’t included only Marpalli’s version is because it is missing a stanza – the 6th stanza. Nonetheless, I urge you all to listen to it. It really is wonderfully tuned.)

Note: Please refer to the afterword for information about the “ages” referred to in the translation.

The Dance of the Bear (ಕರಡಿ ಕುಣಿತ)

Wrapped in a coat of hair he came; his wrist
Held a metal wristlet; his hand held a stick of play;
He hummed as he came, and he tapped as he came;
Then he stood as the bear round him played.

From which wilds did he snatch this bear,
That lived contentedly on honey?
“Now dance before the rich man’s house,”
He said – “Dance for him and he shall pay.”

This bear’d seen Rama in the trēta age;
Dwāpàra’s Krishna and kali’s Kalki it had seen.
As the krita age drew to a close, he fed
On the jambu fruit by the river gleaned.

“Mothers come, your children bring;
Come ward off the evil eye.
Tie round their necks these hairs of his
That hold the strength of Bhima‘s thigh.”

“Dance you rascal, dance,” he says:
Thun-naa-na thun-naa-naa thun-dhaa-na he plays;
Sniff-sniff snuff-snuff dances the bear;
“Whát a lovely dance,” all say.

This dance is danced to feed the man;
For him the bear’s in chains and bands:
“My god,” he prays, “give the man his share,”
Looking to the heavens with joined hands.

The wily man makes dance and prance
This life: he hides behind and pulls the strings.
In the name of the bear he earns his bread;
As though such means will salvation bring.

Since man began to have dance for him
The ox, the monkey and the bear;
‘It is man’s mind that dances not the bear that
Prances,’ – so thinks the poet and his thinking shares.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಸೂರ್ಯಪಾನ,” first published in 1956.

Recitation of the English translation.

Note: Like it often is, Sunaath Kaka’s Kannada explication of this poem on his website was of great help during the translation. My thanks to him.

Afterword:

Hindu mytho-cosmology offers a cyclical view of the universe’s evolution and devolution through its idea of four yuga-s (or ages or epochs): the Krita (or Satya) yuga, the Trēta yuga, the Dvāpara yuga, and the Kali yuga. The belief is that dharma (~right conduct) decreases in each succeeding age. At its zenith in the Krita Yuga, dharma continues to dwindle until it reaches its nadir in the Kali yuga. This necessitates the pralaya (~the reabsorption; the dissolution) of the universe and its subsequent srishṭi (~creation, emergence). This cycle of pralayasrishṭi is ceaseless. That is to say, pralaya and srishṭi are attached in the same way as the front and back of a coin. Interestingly, per this cosmology, we are living now in the Kali yuga.

In this context, note the ‘magnificence in miniature’ of the first two lines of Stanza 3. That the poet has, in just two lines, managed to convey the bear’s grandness through the ‘passing of the ages’ and a reference to historo-mythological figures seems to me nothing short of wondrous.

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

Sanskrit poetics gives great significance to the  rasika (ರಸಿಕ) or the sahrudaya (ಸಹೃದಯ), both words that mean ‘an appreciative spirit’, ‘(one) of the same heart.’ Steeped deeply in Hindu culture and poetics, Da Ra Bendre held similar beliefs and several of his poems speak directly to the rasika (ರಸಿಕ), even inviting him to take part (through his appreciative understanding) in the poem’s creation.
In this poem, the pollen (ಪರಾಗ) is the poet (and his poem) who call earnestly on the bee (ಭೃಂಗ) to come and partake of their (poetic) juice.

(The destructive-creative aspect of this exchange between the bee and the flower is captured by Bendre himself in another of his poems where he says: ಅಯ್ಯೊ ನೋವೆ! ಅಹಹ ಸಾವೆ! ವಿಫಲ ಸಫಲ ಜೀವಾ).

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

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

Come, dear bee, come,
Why wander so detachedly?
When the call of the fragrance is
Sweet, is an invitation necessary?

This fragrance holds within itself
The song-juice of the unripe fruit;
And within the honey of the flower
Is hid the rasa of tomorrow’s fruit.

In the poem’s heart, in the lotus’s womb,
The pollen waits on tiptoe;
Your slightest kiss itself’s enough
Fór a new creation to show.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಸಖೀಗೀತ,” first published in 1937.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Peacock-Smile (ನಗೀನವಿಲು)

One of Bendre’s poems from the early period, with a wonderfully original conceit. The peacock and the koel serve as metaphors. The language of the original is folksy, Dharwad, and abounds in end-rhyme, assonance, and onomatopoeia (mina mina mina minchatitta: ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿಂಚತಿತ್ತ). Though the onomatopoeia is untranslatable, I have looked to include a measure of assonance and end-rhyme in the translation. The unusual sentence-structure is a consequence of this attempt.

Also, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is Mysore Ananthaswamy’s.

The Peacock-Smile (ನಗೀನವಿಲು)

Woman, upon your lips
Did play a peacock-smile;
Did play a smile, did flee a smile;
Did it look cloudward the while.

A-flash a-flash a-flashed the smile;
Did rise the smile, did fall the smile;
Did fall the smile, did glow the smile:
Did the land and waters gleam the while.

Within your eyes the coloured gaze
Did dance thakadimi dance;
Did dance and prance; did droop and fade:
Did play coquette at every chance.

At the tip of the mango-tree-of-the-mind
Did sit a kōel all alone;
Did sit and never sing a note:
Did gaze on you with look forlorn.

A living life was suffering;
Did wail all through the day and night;
Did wail all through, did flail all through:
Did search for something with its might.

With a rain of tears too
Did it pour forth its woe;
Did pour its woe, did plead its case:
Did wilt when no response did show.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗರಿ,” first published in 1932.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Come To Sādhanakēri (ಬಾರೊ ಸಾಧನಕೇರಿಗೆ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s most popular song-poems (ಹಾಡುಗಬ್ಬ), he wrote it as a ಸ್ವಗತ (swagata: ~soliloquy) when the unexpected loss of his job forced him to return to his house “ಶ್ರೀಮಾತಾ” in Sādhanakēri, Dharwad.

Here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is Praveen Godkhindi’s; and was originally recorded by Pallavi Arun. Unfortunately, that recording is missing the third stanza of the poem.

Come To Sādhanakēri (ಬಾರೊ ಸಾಧನಕೇರಿಗೆ)

Come to Sādhanakēri,
Back to your town where you were merry.

To the chariot pulled by the rains;
The green has risen up the plains;
The green into the town has grown;
The green along the paths has shown.
A very piece of heaven’s fallen here;
Is there anyone who is not cheered?
Come to Sādhanakēri,
Back to your town where you were merry.

The mountain’s face itself has turned;
The singing koel is sweet-throatèd;
The fences too are flower-fingered;
The land’s youth has returnèd.
And mother-earth has stretched and risen;
For Shrāvana’s beauty it is the season.
Come to Sādhanakēri,
Back to your town where you were merry.

Look on the shadow-play of the clouds above;
The multitude of flowered groves;
The countless honey-bees that hover;
The spell within the yakshi’s bower.
Come watch the butterflies that play
In groups above the meadows gay.
Come to Sādhanakēri,
Back to your town where you were merry.

The trees have stretched toward the sky;
Within the shrubs are songs of play;
The wind itself wings all around;
All anxiousness has fled this ground.
Tell me, friend, where else is there
A sight like this, a sight so fair?
Come to Sādhanakēri,
Back to your town where you were merry.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

For a change, I’ve sung 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 its 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 do span the skies
Ready to descend upon Bhārati’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.

I (ನಾನು)

It seems fitting to start this blog with Bendre’s own estimation of himself as the poetic-power Ambikātanayadatta – the son of five mothers (ಐದು ಐದೆಯರು).

Here is a video of Bendre reciting this poem. Incidentally, this is perhaps the only video recording available of Bendre reading out his poetry.

(ನಾನು)

I am the indivisible pollinic-glory born of the cosmic-mother’s lotus-womb;
I am the upright idol fashioned from a fistful of the earth-mother’s clay;
I am the scintillating light found within the million deepāwaḷis of mother-Bhārati;
I am the outspreading wind fed on the fragrance of Kannada’s mother-lotus;
I am the animate compassion drunk on the milk and blood of mine own mother;
These mothers five make up the vital airs of this breathing frame;
The Nārayaṇa of the lotus-heart has turned into the mortal Datta;
As Ambikātanaya he mirrors here in Kannada the universe’s inner voice.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.