A Homage to the Gangā (ಗಂಗಾಷ್ಟಕ)

The ಭಾವ-ಸಂದರ್ಭ (~emotional context) of this poem was Bendre’s visit to the Ganga during his ತೀರ್ಥಯಾತ್ರ (~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. While the translation has not followed this scheme, I have looked to keep a consistent rhythm throughout.

A Homage To The Gangā (ಗಂಗಾಷ್ಟಕ)

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

There is none that’s seen you who has not sung, your name rose on his lips;
As if a man may tie in song that rushing river which Shiva’s locks could not?
Yet I, beholding your blessed sight, could do little else but unlock
My lips: that the song which sprang forth might soothe the sorrowing heart.

O 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 did play the great empires 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 wailing 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 be; you came, you flowed and reached the sea; turned salvation-field yourself.

Where be Ayodhyā now? Where Dwārāvati of yore? Where Gōkula’s gardens?
O sole remnant of Rāma’s and Krishṇa’s fame; though all things succumb to time,
The Gangē lives so long as live the earth and sky; so long shall stand her idol white.
O, Bhagīratha of empire grand, it is the Gangā who is your claim to everlasting fame.

“If, from the bosom of the bathing princesses, the night’s leftover musk should fall; should then
This water with the waters of the Gangā mix, such blessed musk-deer’s salvation is certain.”
So sang the poet, and I, cut from the same cloth as he, believed him and in you bathed:
Then it felt as if my mother had herself in mukti’s waters bathed; for I am of her stomach made.

O mocking laughter of Shiva! Compassioned-gaze of Himālaya! White-bosomed stream of milk!
Who has flowed forever forth; the very heart within ma-Bhārati’s maternal-heart!
O, mother, the displays of your affectionate ways! Who the blessed one who sang your praise?
Let this my homage add to his lines of praise; let this be my knowledge-offering.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

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 Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Along with experiencing their fair share of ordinary troubles, Da Ra Bendre and his wife had to deal with the terrible grief of losing six of their nine children (including one when he was twenty and in his prime). Completely lost in his books, his poetry and his circle of friends (ಗೆಳೆಯರ ಗುಂಪು), Bendre left the responsibility of looking after the house entirely to his wife, a responsibility she bore with stoic fortitude. Never well-off, constitutionally frail, and constantly wounded by the deaths of her children, Shrimati Lakshmibai Bendre’s was an obviously difficult life. It is no wonder then if her smiles were often masks worn upon an inner grief. Not oblivious to her suffering, this is one the many (sympathetic) poems the poet has addressed to her – his wife and his sakhee.

A Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Hìding a grief that can’t be hid,
Behind the façade of a smile,
You came in laughter up to me;
Did you really think your love
Was such an àbsent-minded fool;
Tell me, who taught you such trickery?

You who tried in various ways –
By hugging and by nuzzling me –
To bring to me some happiness;
Is that really what you thought,
That I’m a lotus-eater of that sort;
That I am one who’s heartless?

Can by putting on a smile,
And by artful glances of the eyes,
An ùntrue happìness be made to play?
Can, àfter Mumtaz’s burial,
The building of the Taj Mahal
Make true sorrow go away?

O friend and partner of my life!
When ìn the temple of my heart
You move with such a secretness;
Hòw am I to think your laugh
The flower of a real joy;
When you are sùch an àctress?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Basavaṇṇa’s Chronicles (ತುಂಬಿ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು)

This was written as a nātya-gītā (dramatic-song), and was to be sung (to the background of single-stringed lute, an ēkatāri) by a wandering ascetic when he came upon Basavaṇṇa’s samādhi. While its inherent musicality makes it almost impossible to translate, I have tried to approximate some of the rhythm and the rhymes of the original. However, the refrain of the original is: thum thum thumthum thumthum thumthum thumbi bandhitta thangi thumbi bandhittu. The same word thumbi is used in a different sense in each refrain, a conceit impossible to translate.

(Note: Basavaṇṇa was a 12th century “social-reformer” who was the doyen of the vacana-sāhitya movement in Kannada. Vacanas are free verse pieces in simple Kannada, and extol Shiva. Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahādēvi were two other famous vacanakāras. Basavaṇṇa was eventually killed by people who opposed his “radical” ideas. This poem metaphorically relates the story of his life, the krānti (revolution) he inspired and his death.)

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

Basavaṇṇa’s Chronicles (ತುಂಬಿ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು)

It was more bright than light,
And slighter too than air,
It sprang like Gangē did
From the locks of Hara’s hair.
It róse in every nook and
Còrner of the body’s frame;
It joined head and toe and centre
And flooded them each the same,
Sister, a-full-filled did it come.
A-full, a-full, a-full, a-full,
A-full-filled did it come, sister,
A-full-filled did it come.

It had the fragrance of the flower,
And the sweetness of the song,
Like words of déep affection,
Onto the heart it sprang.
It honed in on the secret
Like the wisdom of the wise;
The lotus to this light unfurled:
Once móre did the honey rise,
Sister, a-buzzing came the bee.
A-buzz, a-buzz, a-buzz, a-buzz,
A-buzzing came the bee, sister,
A-buzzing came the bee.

It was so dark as Time,
It was so pale as Death,
It pouncèd like a hawk upon
A snake upon the heath.
It was as though the light of day
Had melted in the night;
It was as though fixation’s vessel
Was full up to its height;
Now, it’d spilt all its contents,
Sister, the end had come at last.
The end, the end, the end, the end,
The end had come at last, sister,
The end had come at last.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Little Black Pup (ಕರಿ ಮರಿ ನಾಯಿ)

An obviously satirical poem. “Milord” is the translation of the original poem’s “ಭಟ್ಟ,” a most felicitous translation if I say so myself.

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

The Little Black Pup (ಕರಿ ಮರಿ ನಾಯಿ)

The little black pup was whining away;
The voice of milord was shouting away.

Split-split splat-splat came down the rain;
Then rushed away along the drain.

The wind wailed like a stricken banshee;
The little black pup paddled furiously.

From the window of his cosy house,
Milord was looking out—curious;

The little black pup tried to get to the door;
A ‘thud!’ was the immediate answer.

O golly, O gosh, how brave of milord!
No house could have asked for a better guard.

‘I’d like to come in,’ said the little black pup;
‘You try, and I’ll kill you,’ replied his lordship.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

P.S: I have revised the second stanza of the poem to better reflect the original’s lines. My thanks to Sunaath Kaka for alerting me to the possibility of a better version and for offering his own couplet (which I have drawn from but not used).

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

New Year’s Day – Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ)

Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ) is a festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year (ಸಂವತ್ಸರ) according to the Hindu lunar calendar (ಪಂಚಾಂಗ). This tremendously popular poem by Da Ra Bendre – from his very first poetry collection, ಗರಿ – has become an inseparable part of the festival in Karnataka.

New Year’s Day – Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ)

Though years and new years come and go,
New Year’s dáy is here again.
To the new year it’s bringing new cheer,
And things that are newer and newer.

Within the shrubs of hoṇgē flowers,
The bees begin their songs of play:
Their symphoníes are heard again.
The fragrance of the flower spills
Upon the bitter tree of neem;
And lo, the glow of life is seen.

Bewitched by kāma’s fragrant shafts,
The mango tree has flowered forth;
It now waits eagerly for him.
And festooning the mango tree,
The parrots sing elatedly:
‘The harvest’s come, the harvest’s come!’

The year itself’s been born anew;
The world’s joy has a resting place
Within the hearts of all that move!
But in this single lífe of ours,
A single youth, a single prime;
Is that all that we desérve?

A death with every sleep we sleep;
New life with every waking day;
Why haven’t we been blessèd so?
O god-of-youth-unending!
O wanderer-untiring!
Does such a gift not interest you?

Though years and new years come and go,
New Year’s dáy is here again.
To the new year it’s bringing new cheer,
And things that are newer and newer;
But not a single one’s for man!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

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)

May only what is good be heard,
May only what is good be said,
May only what is good be seen,
May only what is good be spread.
May only what is good be done,
May good itself always pervade,
Feed on the good, breathe in the good,
May live among us good enfleshèd.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.