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.

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.

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, O 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 rolling waters splashed,
Come as the thunder smashed,
Come back.
Come calling on
           The abandoned wretched,
           The devitalised agèd,
           The waterless parchèd,
Come down, mother,
Come down.

O cow’s compassion for its calf,
O mother’s love on its child’s behalf
O grand benediction from high above,
                      Enfold us in your clasp.
Shiva’s compassion unblemishèd,
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.

O, beloved, into whose waters fell
Reflections from the gods’s dream-well,
That made your pool of consciousness swell.
O Gangē, with new-opened eyes;
O 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,
Perfumèd 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 come a-searching,
Yes, come a-searching, mother,
                      Come a-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, O Shambu-Shiva-Hara’s thought-consummate
Come, O Datta-Narahari’s grandmother-great
Come, O 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.

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:

Here is my recitation of the translation.