Category Archives: The Music Of Hindoostan


Madhu_Nath__00001                                                       Madhu Nath and his Sarangi



Madhu Nath and His Performance

Chapter One

First Encounters

Try as I might, I cannot remember the first time I met Madhu Nath, the senior author of this volume. That I came to record his performance of Gopi Chand was initiated neither by me nor by him but by his relatives Nathu and Ugma Nathji—some of my closest associates during my residence in the Rajasthani village of Ghatiyali. Madhu, although born in Ghatiyali, settled many years ago in another nearby village, Sadara. Therefore, although he celebrated life cycle rituals among his kinfolk in Ghatiyali, and periodically performed there, he spent most of his time in Sadara. This accounts for my being unaware of him as a special person after over a year’s residence in Ghatiyali and a deep involvement with several households of his relatives there.

Because of manifold links between pilgrimage and death, I had been systematically recording “hymns” (bhajans ) sung on the eve of funeral feasts by the Nath caste and non-Nath participants in the sect which they led. I had grown increasingly interested in the Naths’ peculiar approach to death and the liberation of the soul (Gold 1988, 99–123). When Madhu was directly introduced to me as a singer, in January 1981, I was reminded that my bhajan recordings of April 1980 were made at hymn sessions, first for his son and then for his wife. I had actually attended both their funeral feasts. This latter significant connection was phrased as, “You ate his son’s and his wife’s nukti” —nukti being the little sugary fried balls that are one of the most characteristic foods of ceremonial village feasts (called nukta ). During these particular feasts I must have seen Madhu, as I have seen so many
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other hosts at dozens of similar events, harried and anxious to keep all his guests satisfied, with no time for casual conversations. Madhu always wore his pale red-orange turban tied low, almost hiding and also supporting the heavy yogis’ earrings that might otherwise have caught my attention.

My memorable and formal introduction to Madhu Nath took place over half a year later when, after six weeks in Delhi and Banaras, where I had been recuperating from hepatitis, I returned to Ghatiyali accompanied by Daniel Gold (then friend and colleague but not yet husband). Daniel, as a historian of religions researching the sant tradition in North India, had become interested in Ghatiyali’s Naths when I showed him the transcribed texts of their hymns—many of which had the signature (chhap ) of the poet-saint Kabir, and some of which employed the coded imagery common to Sant poetry (Gold 1987; Hess and Singh 1983).

Daniel expressed his desire to talk with persons learned in Nath traditions, and my research assistant Nathu Nath introduced to him several members of his family and sect. The last person he brought to us was Madhu, and that evening—Daniel’s last in the village—Madhu performed, and I duly recorded, Gopi Chand’s janmpatri or birth story. I was immediately intrigued and delighted: here was a living bard singing a story that was obviously about the same character as Temple’s Punjabi version, yet evidently startlingly different in certain prominent details. I recalled from Temple nothing about Gopi Chand’s being won as a boon by his mother’s ascetic prowess or borrowed from the yogi Jalindar. Yet these were the dominant elements that framed the plot of Madhu’s “Birth Story.”[1]

Until that first evening with Madhu Nath I had largely confined my recordings of folklore to much briefer performances: women’s worship tales and songs, and men’s hymns. Yet now I felt compelled to obtain the whole story of Gopi Chand, despite its lack of direct relevance to my pilgrimage research, and the perceptible ticking away of my finite time in India. My recording sessions were not continuous; Madhu made a trip to Sadara to look after his fields when he had finished the “Birth Story” (in one night) and the “Journey to Bengal” (in two). Persuaded to return so that I could have the complete tale of Gopi Chand, he next gave me “Gopi Chand Begs from Queen
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Patam De,” which belongs chronologically between the segments on birth and Bengal, and “Instruction From Gorakh Nath”—the conclusion. Seven years later I returned to Rajasthan with the express purpose of recording from Madhu the tale of Gopi Chand’s maternal uncle, Bharthari of Ujjain. Despite the gap in time, the circumstances of the recording sessions in 1988 were not very different from those of 1981, except that the loudest crying baby on the second set of tapes belonged not to my host’s household or neighbors but to me.

In January 1981 when I came to know Madhu Nath he did not strike me as a man undone by loss and mourning, although in 1980 he had buried first one of his two sons and then his wife. The son had suffered a long and debilitating illness through which he was intensively and devotedly nursed by his mother. She had, I was told, kept herself alive only to serve her child and had not long outlived him. Accompanying this double personal loss, Madhu had incurred the great economic stress of sponsoring two funeral feasts. I saw others driven to or beyond the brink of nervous collapse by just such accumulated pressures.

Yet Madhu Nath was calm, confident of his power with words, always entertaining, and sometimes very humorous. Retrospectively, I wonder if he did not derive some of his solidity, following this very difficult period of his life, from the teachings of the stories that he told so well again and again—stories with the bittersweet message that human life is “a carnival of parting.” Another factor in his equilibrium could have been the Nath cult’s promise of release from the pain of endless rounds of death and birth, and thus certainty of his wife’s and son’s liberation.

It is also true, however, that I approached Madhu Nath as a source of art and knowledge rather than as a man who had recently suffered much grief. We never spoke of his family; indeed, we hardly exchanged any personal courtesies of the kind that constitute much of normal village social intercourse. Madhu teased me sometimes—making jokes at my expense during the spoken parts of his performance—but outside the performance itself we did not talk very much in 1981. In short, although he was a wonderfully expansive storyteller, Madhu seemed to me a reserved and veiled person.

I did not attempt to obtain even a sketchy life history from Madhu Nath until my 1988 visit. My experience then confirmed in part the intuition that our lack of personal relationship could be attributed to
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him as much as to me. My attempt at a life history interview rapidly degenerated, or evolved, into an illuminating session of “knowledge talk,” rich in myth but skimpy on biography. What follow here are the bare outlines of Madhu’s career as I gleaned them from that leisurely and rambling conversation, supplemented by a few inquiries made by mail through my research assistant Bhoju.

Madhu, a member of the Natisar lineage of Naths, was born in Ghatiyali, but in his childhood he was sent to live with an elder brother already residing in nearby Sadara. His brother was pujari or “worship priest” in Sadara’s Shiva temple.[2] The thakur or local ruler of Sadara—and this would have been in the thirties when thakurs still ruled—came into possession of a pair of yogis’ earrings and took a notion to put them on somebody. Madhu, and other Naths who were listening to our conversation, concurred on the consistent if seemingly superficial interpretation that the Sadara thakur was endowed with great sauk (a term translatable as “passionate interest”) in such works. Perhaps more salient, they also suggested that enduring “fruits” (phal ) accrue to the one who performs such a meritorious act. And they offered as evidence the information that, even today, when independent India’s concerted attempts at land reform have greatly reduced the circumstances of Rajasthan’s former gentry, there is “nothing lacking” in the Sadara thakur’ s household.

Whether we see Madhu as beneficiary or victim of the thakur’ s sauk, the rationale for his becoming the recipient of these yogis’ earrings appears to have been more economic and social than spiritual. The landlord deeded some fertile farmland to Madhu’s family in exchange for cooperation on the family’s part. As for Madhu himself, he was young and clearly his head was turned by the attention he received in the ceremony, and the pomp with which it was conducted. Fifty years later he described to me with pleasure the feasts, the processions, and the “English band” that were for him the most impressive and memorable aspects of this function. He stated that, although two “Nath babajis”[3] were called to be ritual officiants, he had no personal
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guru. For Madhu, his own ear-cutting seems to have been completely divorced from the kind of spiritual initiation with which it is consistently associated, not only in the tales he himself delivers but in other published accounts.

Nevertheless, this experience and its visible physical aftermath—the rings themselves—surely set Madhu apart from the other young men of his village world. Although Madhu did not state this in so many words, what he did make clear was that after the ritual he found himself restless and unsatisfied with the life of an ordinary farmer’s boy. His brother sent him out to graze the goats, but he felt this was “mindless work” (bina buddhi ka kam ) and quarreled with him. Evidently the economic fruits of Madhu’s ear-splitting were being reaped not by Madhu but by the senior male member of his household. The brother declined to support a non-goatherding Madhu; Madhu declined to herd goats. At this juncture, Madhu decided to set off on his own. As he put it, “There was no one to control me so I had a sarangi [the instrument he plays to accompany his performances] made by Ram Chandra Carpenter.” Madhu continued, “I rubbed it,”—meaning he did not know how to play properly—”and went to all the big feasts.”

Madhu then listed a number of events (weddings, holiday entertainments, and so forth) that he had attended in several villages where Naths performed their tales, both for their own caste society and at the request of other celebrating groups. In the course of these meanderings Madhu hooked up with his mother’s brother’s son, Sukha Nath, who was already an accomplished performer. Madhu began by informally accompanying and making himself useful to Sukha. Eventually they agreed on an apprenticeship. Madhu said, “I’ll go with you,” and Sukha said, “Come if you want to learn.” Madhu then sought permission from his grandmother in Ghatiyali, telling her—as he recalled it for me—”I’11 wash his clothes, I’ll serve him, I’ll live with him.”

Madhu appeared to remember the years of his discipleship fondly, and no doubt selectively. He described eating two meals a day of festive treats for weeks at a stretch when he and his cousin were commissioned to perform for relatively wealthy patrons. It was particularly at such special events—the only occasions when the stories are narrated from beginning to end rather than in fragments as is the usual custom—that he mastered Sukha Nath’s repertoire. This comprised the three epics Madhu himself performs: Gopi Chand, Bharthari, and the
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marriage of Shiva. Madhu also knows countless hymns and several shorter tales.[4]

At a time that Madhu estimated to be about five years after he acquired the yogis’ earrings, he was married, eventually becoming the father of two sons. After his brother’s death, the Sadara property came fully into Madhu’s possession, as did the service at the Sadara Shiva temple. He seems then to have settled into a life divided between agricultural and priestly tasks in Sadara and exercise of his bardic art in a group of nine surrounding villages, including Ghatiyali.
Madhu Nath’s Performance

Members of the Nath caste in Madhu’s area of Rajasthan inherit and divide the right to “make rounds” (pheri lagan!a) and to collect grain donations, just as they do any other ancestral property. When a father’s right must be parceled out among several sons, they receive it as “turns.” The Rajasthani word for these turns is ausaro, but English “number” is also commonly used to refer to them. Of course, some who inherit the right to perform have no talent to go with it. For example, Madhu explained to us, when his cousin Gokul Nath’s “number” comes, Gokul seeks Madhu’s assistance and they make singing rounds together, for which Madhu receives a part of Gokul’s donations.

Besides what a performer collects while making rounds, designated Nath household heads also receive a regular biannual share of the harvest—called dharo —in the villages with which they are affiliated. In 1990 this share, for Ghatiyali’s Natisar Naths, amounted to two and one-half kilos of grain at both the spring and fall harvests from every landed household in eight villages. In Ghatiyali itself, where the Natisar Naths are landed residents, they do not collect dharo, although they receive donations on their performance rounds. Madhu explained that dharo was not allotted to Naths for singing, but rather for the “work” of removing locusts—a magical power that the caste claims. Nowadays, he concluded, they sing because there are no
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locusts, thanks to a governmental extermination program (clearly a mixed blessing for Naths).

It seems that performing Gopi Chand-Bharthari may have recently been transformed into an inherited right, in order to preserve the patron-client relationship founded on locust removal.[5] By asking the kind of imaginative “what if” question that I always felt was too leading but from which we often learned the most, my assistant Bhoju elicited further support for this interpretation. What, he asked Madhu, would happen were he to practice his art in someone else’s territory? Would there be trouble? Madhu responded with a firm denial: “We jogi s make rounds; we could go as far as Udaipur. We are jogi s so no one could stop us.”

Twice a year, when it is his turn, Madhu Nath makes rounds in his nine villages. In any village on any given night, rather than remaining in a single location, he moves from house to house in the better-off neighborhoods, or temple to temple among the lower castes. At each site he sings and tells a short fragment of one of his lengthy tales—choosing what to sing according to the request of his patrons or his own whim.

Madhu is highly respected as a singer and storyteller of rich knowledge and skill who can move an audience to tears. His performance alternates regularly between segments of sung lines, accompanied by music which he plays himself on the sarangi —a simple stringed instrument played with a bow—and a prose “explanation” (arthav ). In this explanation he retells everything he has just sung, using more colorful, prosaic, and often vulgar language than he does in the singing. The spoken parts are performances or communicative events as clearly marked as the musical portions are. Whereas Madhu’s ordinary style of speaking is normally low-key and can seem almost muted, his arthav is always enunciated distinctly and projected vigorously. The arthav, moreover, often incorporates the same stock phrases and poetic conceits that occur in the singing.

During both my 1981 and 1988 recording sessions, Madhu was

usually accompanied by his surviving son, Shivji, who sang along in a much fainter voice that was prone to fade away when, presumably, he did not remember the words. However, there were some occasions—notably more in 1988—when Shivji carried the words and Madhu faltered. Shivji played no instrument and did not participate at all in the arthav .

As I worked on translating Madhu’s words, I replayed the tapes of his original performance. Inspired by Susan Wadley’s exemplary demonstrations and discussions of the ways an epic bard in rural Uttar Pradesh self-consciously employs various tunes and styles (Wadley 1989, 1991), I began to try, in spite of my musical illiteracy, to pay attention to Madhu’s use of “tune.”[6] My initial impression of Madhu’s music had been that it was monotonous; what kept you awake was the story. This is partially but not wholly true. Compared to the bard Wadley describes, Madhu Nath’s range of musical variations seems limited; yet he does deliberately modulate emotional highlights of his story with shifts in melody and rhythm.
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Madhu uses two patterned tunes, which he calls rags , in Gopi Chand and two different ones in Bharthari, where he also recycles both Gopi Chand rags . All four melodic patterns are flexible in that although each engenders verbal verse patterns, the melodic patterns frequently and readily change to accommodate narrative needs. In what I call Gopi Chand rag 1, for example, each verse normally has three similar lines and one longer concluding one. Long narrative sequences, however, may repeat the short lines many more times than three before concluding. And for an emotional or dramatic climax the long concluding line may repeat once or even twice. The main rag identified with Bharthari begins with a prolonged Rajajiiiiii —”Honored King … “—that seems to signal the plaintive voice of the king’s abandoned wife. Part 1 of Bharthari is performed in a style different from any of the others, its melody less interesting and less emotional, that seems to me in keeping with its orientation to external action.

Ethnomusicologist David Roche (personal communication 1991) describes Madhu Nath’s musical style as one influenced by caste traditions but infused by new influences. He says that the melodic phrases are “pan-North Indian”—not particularly Rajasthani. Madhu Nath’s musical style is, according to Roche, a “contemporary bhajan style” reflecting the influence of regional religious dramas and mythological films. Roche finds Madhu’s music historically influenced by the harmonium—an instrument introduced to India by Christian missionaries from the West in the late nineteenth century and soon passionately adapted to Hindu devotional singing. This influence is apparent to Roche in Madhu’s “intonation and diatonicism, with emphasis on major and mixolydian mode tetrachords.” Although Madhu uses no harmonium—nor do other Rajasthani Nath epic performers I have met—many of Madhu’s relatives and caste-fellows in and around Ghatiyali participate in bhajan -singing groups regularly accompanied by harmoniums.

That Madhu employs the term rag to refer to the melodies he plays probably represents a folk usage rather than a significant link to Indian classical traditions. Once Madhu told Bhoju that he “always” sang in asavari rag , a named rag within the classical system. Because I was hearing four distinctive melodies, I hoped that Madhu had a name for each of them. I made clips from the tapes and sent this “sampler” back to the village with Bhoju. Bhoju wrote, “I took that
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rag tape and listened to it with Madhu Nath, Shivji Nath, Ugma Nath, and Nathu all together, but no one could tell a particular name of the rags .” Rather, the assembled Naths used labels such as “the melody of rounds” (pheri ko rag ) or “Gopi Chand’s melody” (Gopi Chand ko rag ). This seems to confirm Roche’s suggestion that Madhu’s music is not to be labeled among any fixed traditional systems but rather is part of a creative synthesis continually emerging in North Indian folk music.

It is widely acknowledged that any folk performance situation is a dynamic, interactive event,[7] and this statement certainly describes Rajasthani performances in general and Madhu Nath’s in particular. I shall examine the several ways in which Madhu and his audience sustain this dynamic during individual performances. Before doing so, however, I wish to suggest some broader contextual factors that contribute to these occasions but are more diffuse and difficult to pinpoint.

Rajasthan’s regional culture includes a rich and diverse body of living oral performance traditions. These enliven a daily existence that may be both monotonous and laborious. On the one hand, an urban Westerner like myself, landed in a place like Ghatiyali, is overwhelmed by the abundance of festivals, rituals, all-night singing sessions, storytelling, and other lesser and greater artistic and communicative events; during my first months in the village I often felt that I was feasting at a perpetual banquet of live music and theater, with no tickets required. On the other hand, in 1979 81 the villagers had no TVs and few radios or tape recorders, while the nearest cinema was a costly three-hour journey distant. Any performance event punctuated the humdrum grind of labor-intensive agriculture.

Nath performance traditions must be viewed within this cultural frame: they exist as one genre in a wealth of related genres; they also exist as valued entertainment in a society not yet made blasé by multiple media. Rural Rajasthani society, moreover, venerates religious experts and accords recognition to many from different ranks and with varying sectarian affiliations. Like most of the region’s popular folk traditions, Madhu Nath’s performances meshed with his audience’s twin passions for entertainment and enlightenment. Although Madhu himself protests that his stories are not siska , or
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“instruction,” audience members claim that they are. The Nath tales are not unique, nor are they the most highly prized of performances available to Rajasthani villagers. Yet they have a welcome and secure place in the annual round.

Madhu Nath at times refers to the entire tale of Gopi Chand or Bharthari as a byavala , a term that one dictionary defines as a god’s wedding song (Platts 1974). Before returning to Rajasthan in 1987 I speculated that both tales might be so described because they were somehow anti-wedding songs. However, as I was to learn, a third long narrative in Madhu Nath’s repertoire is “The Wedding Song of Lord Shiva” (Sivji ka byavala ); it seems clear that he has named the others accordingly. Most villagers do not use the term byavala to refer to Madhu Nath’s performances and often simply call them varta . This label reveals their kinship with other epic tales of Rajasthani herogods whose singing and recitation may be called varta , too.[3]

According to the sensible, informed, and flexible definitions proffered in the recent important volume Oral Epics in India , the Bharthari-Gopi Chand tales fall beyond doubt in the epic genre. Epics in general are characterized as narrative, long, heroic, and sung (Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989, 2–4; Wadley 1989, 76). In the South Asian context, Blackburn and Flueckiger suggest, the quality “heroic” may be understood in three distinct ways. An epic may exhibit martial, sacrificial, or romantic heroism. Both the martial and sacrificial types “turn on themes of revenge, regaining lost land, or restoring lost rights,” and stress “group solidarity”—all of which would apply to other Rajasthani epic-length tales. Romantic epics, by contrast, “celebrate individual actions that threaten that solidarity” (1989, 4–5). Clearly the tales of Bharthari and Gopi Chand belong in the “romantic” category if they belong anywhere. Yet our heroes are hardly traditional, undaunted lovers.

It might seem that the tales celebrate individual action that threatens group solidarity, but as I will discuss in more detail in the afterword, yogis gain nothing from a damaged social order. Rather, they maneuver for an intact social order that supports yogis. What then makes these tales romantic? Unless we consider them as stories of the union between guru and disciple, Bharthari and Gopi Chand are romances of parting. The theme of love in separation is a pervasive
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one in Indian literature. Longing for an absent lover—whether soldier, ascetic, or clerk in the city—has inspired much poetry on mortal love (Kolff 1990; Vaudeville 1986; Wadley 1983), as well as an entire genre of devotional expression. But most literature inspired by love in separation suggests at least a movement toward, or the possibility of, future reunion. Bharthari and Gopi Chand, by contrast, continuously and irrevocably move farther and farther from their loved ones. Madhu Nath’s performances of Bharthari and Gopi Chand can be styled romantic epics celebrating separation rather than union, if we keep clearly in mind that the separation they establish is eternal.[9]

One factor distinguishing these stories from many others heard by villagers is that, although sung and told in the local dialect, they are not indigenous to Rajasthan—a matter I will deal with more extensively in chapter 3, where I attempt to trace their origins. Gopi Chand and Bharthari have been incorporated into Rajasthani traditions, and Rajasthani traditions have been incorporated into them. But these Nath tales are not self-defining epics that contribute to the identity of a regional culture—the kind of tales that people call “ours” (Blackburn et al., eds. 1989; Flueckiger 1989). Indeed, for Rajasthani farmers, Gopi Chand and Bharthari are stories of the exotic, in two senses. First, they are about other lands; second, they are about world-renouncers.

That Gopi Chand and Bharthari were understood in some ways as alien was brought home to me very strongly in 1988 when I asked some village men if they would want to be like Bharthari or Gopi Chand, and some village women if they would like their husbands or sons to emulate those figures. An almost universal answer from both sexes was “No, I wouldn’t have the courage.” Although some renouncers encountered and interviewed in temples spontaneously referred to Gopi Chand or Bharthari as exemplary in their capacity for tyag , or “relinquishment,” no ordinary persons held them up as role models.[10]

There is a real difference between my “induced”[11] performances
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of both tales and the performances that most villagers hear twice a year when Madhu makes his rounds. They hear fragments, and often their favorite fragments are repeated from year to year. People’s understanding may be limited by lack of familiarity with the whole story. Most of those whom Bhoju or I questioned were easily able to retell the most popular episodes from both tales.[12] Few villagers, however, had heard either tale from beginning to end from Madhu, although a number had seen theatrical performances at religious fairs. Several members of leatherworker castes (regar and chamar ) claimed to know very little about the stories; one complained that when Madhu came to his neighborhood he only spoke “a few lines” and left again.

My own experience of immediate audience reactions to the performances of Gopi Chand and Bharthari is limited to the context of the event which I sponsored, for I never observed Madhu “making rounds” (although he was recorded doing so by my colleague Joseph Miller). In the setting of my performance the responses were quite limited. After three or four hours of listening, until well past midnight, we would usually hurry home when Madhu ended his singing. Indeed, he often closed a night’s session by saying to me, “Now go to bed.”
Madhu Nath’s Stories in Synopsis

It has been said of at least one Indian epic—and may be true of most—that no one ever hears it for the first time. Western readers, who have not participated from childhood in the culture that produces these stories, may need a “pony.” Throughout these introductory chapters I often talk about events and characters in Madhu Nath’s versions of Bharthari and Gopi Chand. Therefore, as points of reference for those citations, I offer skeletal plot summaries in advance, segmented and ordered according to Madhu Nath’s performance as it is translated in this book (see also figs. 4 and 5).

Bharthari’s “Birth Story” (part 1) describes how his father was cursed by his own father to enter a donkey’s womb. The donkey suc-
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4. Family relationships in the tales of King Gopi Chand and King Bharthari.

ceeds after lengthy efforts in marrying a princess and founding a city, Dhara Nagar, where his three offspring—Bharthari, Vikramaditya, and Manavati—are born.

In part 2, Bharthari is king of Dhara Nagar and married to Queen Pingala. He rides out hunting and kills a stag, whose seven hundred fifty does, widowed, curse King Bharthari that his women will weep in the Color Palace as they do in the jungle. They then hurl themselves on the dead buck’s antlers and thus commit sati .[13] Bharthari wonders if his own wife is equally devoted. He sends her a handkerchief soaked in deer’s blood with the message that he is dead. Pingala knows this is a test but decides to die anyway. Bharthari has other adventures in the forest but eventually returns home to find Pingala a heap of ashes. He goes mad with remorse, until the yogi guru Gorakh Nath arrives, demonstrates the illusory nature of life and death, and finally restores Pingala to the king.

Part 3 finds Bharthari sleepless and unsatisfied. Convinced that nothing in the fluctuating world matters, he abandons his wife and renounces his throne to seek initiation from Gorakh, who sends him back to the palace to beg alms from Pingala and call her “Mother.”
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5. Nath guru-disciple lineages in the tales of King Gopi Chand and King Bharthari.

She reproaches him but gives the alms. This difficult task accomplished, Bharthari returns to Gorakh Nath’s campfire.

Gopi Chand’s “Birth Story” (part 1) opens with Manavati (Bharthari’s sister, married into “Gaur Bengal”) instructing her only son, Gopi Chand: “Be a yogi.” She then reveals in a long flashback how she obtained the boon of a son from Lord Shiva although no son was written in her fate. In order not to break his promise, Shiva allows her to borrow one of the yogi Jalindar Nath’s disciples, and she chooses Gopi Chand. The loan has a limit: after twelve years of ruling the kingdom, Gopi Chand must become a yogi or die. As a wandering ascetic, however, he will gain immortality. Gopi Chand, possessing eleven hundred wives and sixteen hundred slave girls, is not pleased with his mother’s bargain.

In part 2 Gopi Chand tries to get rid of the guru by putting him down a well. But it is Gopi Chand who dies, and only the power of yogis saves him. Restored to his palace, he follows his mother’s instructions and has his ears cut by Jalindar. The guru then sends him to beg alms from Queen Patam De, his chief wife, and to call her “Mother.” Although Patam De finally fills his alms bowl, when her mother-in-law literally twists her arm, Jalindar has to rescue Gopi Chand from the palace, where he is surrounded by weeping women.

Against his mother’s and guru’s advice, Gopi Chand heads for Dhaka in Bengal to say goodbye to his sister, Champa De Rani (part 3). On the way he is harassed by seven lady magicians who transform him into various animals and abuse him. Jalindar sends a party of yogis to rescue him but it fails. The guru himself then accompanies
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a second group, which succeeds. Gopi Chand proceeds to his sister’s; she dies of grief in his arms but is brought back to life by Jalindar. Gopi Chand spends some happy time with her and then leaves alone.

In part 4 a dispute arises between,Jalindar’s disciple Kanni Pavji and Gorakh Nath. Kanni Pavji tells Gorakh that his guru, Machhindar Nath, is enjoying women and lathering sons in Bengal; Gorakh tells Kanni Pavji that his guru,Jalindar, is at the bottom of a well. Gorakh goes to Bengal and rescues Machhindar, destroying his wives and sons along the way. Gorakh then brings seven species of locusts out of the well, tricks, Jalindar into giving immortality to Gopi Chand and Bharthari, and convinces him to emerge. All the great yogis then feast one another. At Gorakh Nath’s “wish-feast” Kanni Pavji’s disciples wish for improper foods and are degraded.
Madhu Nath’s Performances for Me

It is winter. We assemble in that part of the Rajasthani village house called a pol —a covered entranceway wide enough to form a room that lies between street and courtyard, often with raised platforms on either side for storage or sitting. This area is a shady breezeway in the summer and a shelter in the winter. By the time we gather there after the evening meal it is already dark and slightly chilly. Everyone, male and female, has wrapped a shawl or blanket over his or her usual daily attire. In the center of the pol is a small fire of dry sticks that burns low, even its frugal warmth a luxury in this wood-impoverished region.

In January 1981 I had already lived fifteen months in the village, but recording Madhu Nath was my first experience as performance patron. I received a quick education in how to fulfill this role with appropriate liberality. I must supply the singer and his son with a “bundle of biris”—biris being harsh, leaf-wrapped cigarettes smoked by almost all males who have not taken a vow of abstinence. I must treat performers and audience to tea each night, which involved purchasing tea leaves, sugar, and milk in advance—the last item not always easy to buy in the evening. In addition, a quarter- or half-kilo of gur , unrefined brown sugar, was indispensable. The singers required gur to soothe their throats (Madhu had an awful cough, which did not deter him from relishing the biris ). A generous patron should pass small lumps of gur round to all the listeners once or twice in the course of an evening.
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At the beginning of our recording sessions my comprehension of the sung segments of Madhu’s performance was very limited. How pleased I was to benefit from the custom of arthav or explanation, in which Madhu repeated everything he had sung and elaborated on much of it. During the arthav , members of the audience who have passively listened to the sung portions are more actively engaged by a vital performer. A formalized element of performer-audience interaction in Rajasthan is the part played by the hunkar . A hunkar , which can only be awkwardly glossed as someone who makes the sound hun —a kind of affirmative grunt—is a standard feature of any storytelling event, from women’s worship stories to men’s informal anecdotes.

At first I thought the hunkar ‘s function was to offer a perfunctory reassurance to the performer that at least one person was really listening. Given the distracting surroundings of many village performances—often including clamorous childern and simultaneous competing activities—such assurance may indeed be needed. However, after being pressed more than once into fulfilling this role myself (which my frequent misunderstandings at times made me bumble or fake quite awkwardly), I began to perceive that a good hunkar can elicit a tale-teller’s enthusiasm whereas a poor one can discourage a full telling.

A hunkar ‘s responses can shape the performance content as well as its quality. This too I learned from personal experience. On relistening to my tapes it was evident to me that when I played hunkar to Madhu, if he was in a generous mood, his arthav was noticeably changed: he used more standard Hindi (versus Rajasthani) vocabulary; he explained cultural phenomena he thought I might not understand; he glossed terms he suspected I was failing to grasp. For example, to my uncertain grunt following the line “Gopi Chand ruled the kingdom,” he added, “Gopi Chand ruled, like Indira Gandhi rules.”

The opposite case, a situation far more comfortable if sometimes less educational for me, would be when someone who knew the story well acted as hunkar . That person might even supply key lines if Madhu seemed to be dallying before giving them. During climaxes other audience members chimed in, adding their bit to the hunkar ‘s own responses, which also became less perfunctory. Thus when King Bharthari surveys the seven hundred fifty magically created look-alike Queen Pingalas—a vision both awesome and slightly comical—a number of spontaneous commentators (audible on the tape but only selectively included by the scribe) added their exclamations to the
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hunkar ‘s: “They looked just alike, all seven hundred and fifty!” Their faces were exactly the same!”

Madhu deliberately evoked audience participation by identifying persons in the story with persons in the audience.[14] One way he did this was by caste. For example, when Jalindar Nath’s disciples arrive in Bengal they encounter a gardener. Since there was a man of the gardener caste in the audience, Madhu named the gardener in the story with his name. Besides naming story characters after audience members, Madhu sometimes named audience members after story characters. Thus throughout the Gopi Chand performances he gently teased a younger relative by calling him “Charpat Nath” after one of the powerful yogi figures. This stuck, so that when Bhoju or I met that young man outside the storytelling context, we would call him Charpat.

The entire performance of Gopi Chand took five recording sessions, each from three and one-quarter to four and one-half hours long; it filled the better part of eleven 90-minute cassettes—or over sixteen hours of tape. Each night’s session was broken up by short intervals of batchit (conversation), during which the recorder was shut down, usually following the arthav and preceding a new sung section, but sometimes coming between singing and arthav . During one of the breaks strong sweet tea would be passed round and eagerly swallowed, its caffeine and warmth both welcome.




The first part, the “Birth Story,” was recorded in its entirety on 24 January 1981. It took two sessions, on the nights of 26 and 27 January, to record the whole “Journey to Bengal” episode. This was followed by a twelve-day hiatus in our recording (during which much transcription and translation work went forward). Madhu then performed “Gopi Chand Begs from Queen Patam De” on the night of 9 February and “Instruction from Gorakh Nath” on 10 February.

When I returned to Ghatiyali at the end of 1987, after an interlude of almost eight years, it was in order to record Madhu Nath’s version of the tale of Bharthari, and my arrival was no surprise. I had written well in advance to Nathu and Bhoju. There were several surprises in store for me, however—one so serendipitous that, looking back, it seems like a most improbable stroke of fate. The very aged mother of
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Nathu Nath, my former research assistant, had died. His caste had decided to hold a major funeral feast to which Naths from villages all over the area were invited. Because this feast coincided almost exactly with the time I had to spend in Ghatiyali, it was certain that Madhu would be there, and not in Sadara as I had feared. It also presented a remarkable opportunity for Daniel Gold and me to meet many knowledgeable Naths. Much of my understanding of that caste’s identity, presented in chapter 2, is the result of our conversations with Nathu’s guests.

Word circulated among those attending the funeral feast that a foreigner was interested in their verbal art, and their caste lore in general. Several groups of strangers knocked at my door, a number of whom announced their capability and willingness to perform Gopi Chand-Bharthari. Even Nathu, who seemed to be annoyed with Madhu for reasons that never became clear to me, strongly suggested that I should record someone else’s version. But I held out for Madhu, feeling that the continuity of my translation project required the same bard and that all these other potential singers presented an almost frightening distraction.

It was out of the question to record in Nathu’s house, as we had in 1981, because the rooms were virtually overflowing with guests and all seating and tea-making resources were seriously overtaxed. Instead, we spread a carpet on the newly plastered courtyard of the Rajput house that had been my home in 1979–81 and was my camp this trip. We thus had cloistered Rajput women in the audience, and I was able to compensate for an old injury done to my former landlady. She had been angry with me eight years ago for not inviting and escorting her to the Gopi Chand sessions. Now she was able to savor Bharthari in the comfort of her own home.

Again, it was winter and we wrapped ourselves in shawls, savored our tea breaks, and sucked on gur . Madhu’s performance got off to a somewhat slow start; Bharthari’s birth story has more repetition in it than any other segment of either text. But soon Madhu warmed to his themes. His rendition of the central part of Bharthari—containing the best-loved climax when the king madly circles Pingala’s pyre—was perfectly delightful and aroused much audience appreciation. Besides myself, Daniel, and our two inattentive sons, our gathering always included my research assistant Bhoju; my landlady; her daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and nieces; and a variable number
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of neighbors and friends, who wandered in by plan or chance. Nathu, immersed in the work of the funeral feast, was unable to attend.

Madhu completed Bharthari’s tale in three recording sessions held on the nights of 28, 29, and 30 December 1987. This represents approximately eight hours of recording, filling five and one-half 90-minute tapes. On the whole, the performance atmosphere for Bharthari was very similar to that for Gopi Chand eight years before, with only a few perceptible differences. Madhu’s cough seemed a little worse; Shivji’s singing seemed a little better; Bhoju was the hunkar most of the time and played his part vigorously.
Translation in Practice and Theory

Toward the conclusion of part I of Madhu Nath’s Gopi Chand, Manavati Mother has at last won the boon of a son. She goes to select from among the yogi Jalindar Nath’s fourteen hundred visible disciples the one that pleases her the most; then Jalindar will loan him to her by having him reborn as her child. But until she spots beautiful Gopi Chand, the queen is far from delighted with her prospects as she scans the meditating yogis. Her words—as Madhu Nath narrated them and I recorded them in 1981—were as follows: “What will I do with such bearded fellows? What will I do with such twisted limbs, or ones like this who don’t even understand speech (boli hi na hamjai )? What will I do with them?”

When Madhu Nath thus elaborated the queen mother’s expressions of distaste there was laughter among our small company—laughter that was dutifully noted in parentheses by Nathu Nath when he transcribed the recording. Why was there laughter? Because, as Madhu enunciated “those who don’t even understand speech,” he gestured toward me. True to his characterization of me as uncomprehending, although I laughed along with the rest, I did not catch this quick jest at my expense. I thought we were laughing at the images of yogis as unattractive, defective persons not likely to make it in the world. But Bhoju, my research assistant, explained Madhu’s jibe to me, as kindly as possible, when we read the transcribed text together a week or so later and the scene was still fresh in his memory. Over the words “those who don’t even understand speech” I penciled “like Ain-Bai,” my village name (this third-person notation symptomatic I suppose of self-alienation common in fieldwork experience), and soon forgot about it.
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Six years later, as I embarked on a Mellon postdoctoral fellowship that centered on the Gopi Chand tale, I rediscovered Madhu’s little “joke” and paused to ponder this characterization of me—a confident, well-funded translator and published ethnographer—as someone who didn’t even “understand speech.” It brought to my mind a moment described in the preface to my book on pilgrimage: my first evening in the company of Bhoju Ram Gujar, the young village man who was later to become my closest assistant, pilgrimage brother, and eventually coauthor. During this night he had excited and tired us both by steadily imparting to me in lucid grammatical Hindi the mystical and multiple meanings of esoteric Rajasthani hymns as they were being performed during an intense all-night singing party celebrating the new benign identity of a restless ghost.

When it became apparent to this young man, around two or three in the morning, that I was exhausted and had ceased to absorb his explanations, he chided me by quoting a Rajasthani saying. “For you,” he said, “all this is ‘brown sugar for a deaf-mute’ (gunge ka gur ).” Steeped as I was in the rich village world, consuming its sweets but unable to hear its language clearly, where would I find the tongue to tell of it? In my published preface I exclaim, “What a perfect metaphor for the anthropological enterprise!” (Gold 1988, xiv). This metaphor, simultaneously evoking inexpressible delight and human disability, seems equally applicable to the efforts of translation—especially the translation of a multidimensional, interactive communicative event into a linear, soundless, printed story. In the remaining pages of this chapter I examine the phases of my translation efforts, returning in the end to some other metaphors—of hopelessness and possibility.

The first round of translation for Gopi Chand was certainly the most enjoyable. During February and March 1981 except for two short trips, each of a few days’ duration, to wrap up loose ends in my pilgrimage research, and the usual distractions of festivals, rituals, and the interpersonal psychodramas that I had finally come to accept as part of village life, my time and attention were remarkably centered on the recordings and rapidly emerging written text of Gopi Chand.

I employed both Nathu Nath and Bhoju Gujar full time during this period. Ugma Nathji, nonliterate but more knowledgeable than Nathu in his caste’s teachings, was also often on the scene. We worked in two neighboring rooms, each opening on the same courtyard but not adjoining the other, as was the architectural custom in the village. Nathu (with or without Ugma Nath) would sit in one room, listening
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to tapes and transcribing Madhu’s words with painstaking accuracy. In the other room Bhoju and I sat side by side at a small desk doing our “translation work” (anuvad ka kam )—as we explained it in most unsatisfactory fashion to the many skeptical questioners who wondered how we passed our days. This work involved reading through the pages Nathu had transcribed and stopping everywhere I had a problem with the Rajasthani. Bhoju would then endeavor to clarify my confusions with explanations and glosses in Hindi. I made notes in pencil directly on the transcription, in an ad hoc mixture of English and Hindi.

Occasionally, when confronted by something extremely puzzling, we would resort to the nine-volume Rajasthani Sabad Kos (Lalas 196–278; hereafter RSK ) with its ponderous definitions in Sanskritized Hindi. Far more often I just wrote the meanings of words as Bhoju dictated them to me. Sometimes he embellished his verbal descriptions with sketches, demonstrating, for example, the design of a kind of earring or the shape of a particular clay pot.

In midafternoon scribe and translators all took a long tea break together and often talked and joked in terms of the stories and the bard’s language. If Nathu, whose caste identity was Nath or Yogi, had to go somewhere, Bhoju would recite the bard’s favorite couplet: “A seated yogi’s a stake in the ground but a yogi once up is a fistful of wind.” Gossiping about the passion of an illicit lover when aroused by his woman, Nathu might say, “It was just as if a wick were lit to one hundred maunds of gunpowder”—parroting the bard’s stock metaphor for Gopi Chand’s emotional crises. Thus the text’s special language merged as I learned it with everyday life.

I had not the slightest sense of what I would do with the results of all this effort. But I found the protracted routinized translation work to be very soothing. It filled my days and kept my mind from dwelling on all the things I would never be able to finish, or even begin, as time ran out. Inevitably but nonetheless abruptly, when we were but a few pages into part 4, I at last had to leave Ghatiyali. I did not spend any time with the text again until 1987—six years later. The summary of Gopi Chand’s story, which I included in my dissertation (Gold 1984) and ensuing book (Gold 1988) as well as in the article that I coauthored with my husband (Gold and Gold 1984), was done from memory. As I discovered to my chagrin when I did return to the text, it contains a few errors, the result of my imperfect compre-
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hension and memory lapses, combined with Madhu’s occasional vagueness. For example, I stated in that summary that Jalindar Nath rescues Gopi Chand from Death’s Messengers; actually it is Gorakh Nath who, after taunting Jalindar with the news that his given disciple is dead, frees Gopi Chand so dramatically.

The second round of translation work, still only for Gopi Chand, began in 1987 when, supported by a Mellon Foundation Fellowship at Cornell University, I sat daily at a computer with Nathu’s transcription in my lap and typed directly onto the screen a rough and literal English version. I never lifted a dictionary during this stage but worked entirely from my own knowledge of the language and Bhoju’s glosses that I had jotted down six years earlier. By late summer 1987 I had a 250-page double-spaced English typescript. The last 80 pages were by far the roughest since they covered the final segment that I had never read through with Bhoju. I think of this as the “reading-for-meaning” phase of my translation. At this point I felt I had a full understanding of the story and wrote several interpretive essays (Gold 1989, 1991).

Convinced, however, that nothing I said about Gopi Chand’s story would be fully valid unless I knew Bharthari’s as well, I made plans to return to Rajasthan over winter break 1987–88. During that hectic six-week trip I had nothing comparable to the earlier daily routine of eight or nine hours in which I used to sit peacefully reading with Bhoju. I did manage to go over and solve most of the problems encountered in part 4 of Gopi Chand. Although I set the transcription process in motion for Bharthari, I left the village with only twelve pages on paper. Nathu completed the rest after my departure; Bhoju made interlinear notes in red ink and forwarded it to me.

Later still (from June through September 1989) supported by an NEH translation grant, I entered yet another phase, during which I relistened to all the tapes. The tapes made me aware of nuances of meaning totally lost in transcription and helped me to relive interactive dimensions of the performance in which I had participated but which I had forgotten during my subsequent fixation on the story. As Madhu’s wonderfully gruff and expressive voice, or his minor-key melodic sarangi riffs filled my ears, and I stared at fiat words on the grey shrunken screen, I despaired over the inadequacy of all translation.

While my ethnographic self retreated, stymied, I became obsessed
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with definitions. During these months I compulsively read dictionaries, searching for every word I did not “know”—a category arbitrarily comprising every word for which I was relying solely on Bhoju’s glosses—in a series of dictionaries (Rajasthani-Hindi, Hindi-Hindi, Hindi-English as required). I made alphabetical lists with cross-references. Words that I found in none of these references, or whose dictionary definitions did not coincide with Bhoju’s, I listed, and every month letters filled with these queries flew back to India. Bhoju often consulted Madhu himself or Madhu’s son, Shivji, before responding.

Toward the end of this unpleasant and laborious period, another translator and I were able to bring Bhoju to America. I had the uncanny experience of sitting in my Ithaca office, subzero temperatures outside, with a village voice in my ears. By then my involvement in these stories and the tradition that generated them extended beyond firsthand ethnographic experience; I had read numerous variants from other regions and times and was working out my interpretations. No longer did I passively take dictation from Bhoju; occasionally I found myself arguing with him.

When Gopi Chand’s wife reproaches him for becoming a yogi, she says: “Grain-giver, I taste bitter to you, but you think that yogi’s just swell. He shoved a loincloth up your ass and put these earrings on you. He pierced your ears and put these great big earrings in them.” In the village in 1981 Bhoju told me that the word the queen used for “earring” meant “yogis’ earring” because of course that’s what she was referring to—the yogis’ earrings her husband wore. But the word itself, muraka , refers to a small earring worn by ordinary men. It is not one of the several special words for yogis’ earrings, most often called darsai or “divine visions.” I thought the queen was being deliberately disrespectful by using this word, as she surely was about the loincloth up the ass—employing a crude term for anus. Bhoju, however, said she was just an ignorant woman who didn’t know the right word for yogis’ earring.

Later in the scene Gopi Chand calls on his guru for help and threatens that if the guru doesn’t come he’ll go back to taking care of his kingdom and get rid of his “earrings-and-stuff”—calling them murakyan vurakan —thus further exaggerating the queen’s disparaging terminology. The echo-word formation readily implies “earrings and all the rest of this yogic paraphernalia.” To me it seems to confirm
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Gopi Chand’s interpretation of the queen’s language, adopted when he is momentarily swept over to her perspective (and I see him as constantly backsliding thus from a yogic to a householder’s viewpoint). The bard is quite unlikely to have used the wrong word by accident as he himself wears these “divine visions” and is extremely conscious of their special power. Bhoju was still not convinced.

I relate this dispute because it reveals nicely how much of a translator’s problem lodges not so much in words but in contexts. To translate muraka as yogis’ earring—even though that is what it refers to—would be simply wrong. But to translate it as “earring” also leaves something out: the fact that it is the wrong word for the type of earring referred to. Any solution to such moments must transact a compromise between fluidity and semantics. As is no doubt too often the case, I resorted here to a footnote where I gave both sides of the argument.

Eventually I arrived at the most challenging and vexing task: to take the repetitive, awkwardly phrased, but reasonably accurate product of all this labor and transform it into something palatable, pleasurable, charming. After all, Madhu’s performance was all those things. I no longer feel quite deaf and dumb, but what I have to offer is not exactly brown sugar. My first decision was to use the written word and the printed page traditionally. I respect and admire the groundbreaking efforts of Dennis Tedlock (1983) and Elizabeth Fine (1984) among others, who have tried to develop innovative ways of putting oral performances on paper. Yet I myself find it difficult to enjoy their productions aesthetically. Such devices as uneven type sizes, slanting lines, and coded symbols do provide a far better record of oral performance than plain linear print. But as access to an aesthetic experience, for me at least, they fail. My immediate reaction to uneven type and arcane symbols is an almost automatic blurring or skimming impulse rather than transformed awareness. Whether this is common or idiosyncratic I do not know. In any case, I have taken a different route.

Surrendering music and largely surrendering audience interaction, in a sense I gave up on sustaining an oral mode; readers will have to supply that from my descriptions and their own imaginations. What I tried to reproduce is the rough charm and spontaneous flow of Madhu’s speech, without falsely embellishing it. The fourth round was literally countless rounds, for I could not say how many times I went over the English version, rearranging, rewording, and cutting.
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Eventually I had to make substantial cuts, by which something is certainly lost, but much is gained for all but the most patient English readers.

I cut in three ways, or at three levels. On the grossest of these, I made the decision —after translating the entire performance — to omit the sung portions except for those that open and close each of the seven parts of the two epics. A few other maverick segments of sung text slipped in because they advance the plot significantly with no spoken explanation covering the same ground. Normally, however, the explanation gives all that was sung and more. The singing does not present beautiful poetry; it lacks rhyme and its meter is strongly subordinated to the sarangi rags . The pleasure in it, I have come to believe, both from discussions with Madhu’s audience and from my own experience, is largely musical. But the pleasure of the arthav is intentionally verbal—and is therefore a pleasure much more easily translatable to the printed page.

The second level of cutting involved condensing most of a particular scene when it replicated almost exactly another that was fully translated. Such scenes are limited. The biggest reduction from the original involved the encounter between a begging yogi and a group of slave girls that occurs once in Bharthari and three times in Gopi Chand. Of these four instances, two were substantially condensed as noted within the text. Another highly repetitive moment is the contest between yogis and lady magicians; I gave Gopi Chand’s initial encounter fully but condensed whenever possible, and so noted, the subsequent encounters between Charpat Nath, followed by Hada Nath, and their Bengali enemies.

The third level of cutting is the one that makes me as a folklorist most uneasy, but its execution may contribute most to making this text generally accessible. This is the excision of innumerable internal repetitions—repetitions that give the oral performer time to think, that give his audience time to take it all in, but that on the printed page become rapidly tedious. My aim was to retain enough of these to leave the English with a colloquial, oral “flavor,” but to remove enough to keep the story moving at an acceptable pace.

Let me give an example, from the opening scene of Gopi Chand. The queen has just told her son to be a yogi, and he is questioning her knowledge of yoga. My translation in this book is as follows:
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Then Gopi Chand said, “But mother, you live in purdah inside the palace, and yogis live in the jungle. They do tapas by their campfires in the jungle. But you live in the palace. So, how did you come to know any yogis?”

Madhu Nath’s original speech translated word for word goes like this:

Then Gopi Chand said, “Oh, Manavati Mata, you live in purdah inside the palace and a yogi, yogis, they live in the jungle. They live in the jungle performing tapas by their campfires, and you stay in the palace, so how did you come to know yogis? How do you know them? Yogis live in the jungle, in the woods. And you live inside the palace, so how did you get to know them, you?”

I think this example speaks for itself, and it is perfectly typical.
Pottery Lessons

The act of translation is often enough metaphorically maligned, in images that include the translator as executioner, bigamist, and traitor.[15] Fortunately, more benign images also exist. Perhaps the most pleasing of these, especially to an anthropologist steeped in notions of empathy, is that of the translator as friend, sharer, intimate—evoked by Kelly, who cites Rosecommon’s seventeenth-century essay. Kelly writes of a “sharing between friends” that is “not merely informational: friends add to the information they share, a joy in the act of recounting it and a vicarious sharing of each other’s experience on terms special to the friendship” (Kelly 1979, 63).

If part of a positive vision of translation is intimacy, another part is craftsmanship. Yet it is just such praiseworthy traits as skill, technique, and knowledge that contribute to the translator’s self-image problem. If translation is skill then it is something less than art, a secondary act. Among all the metaphors proposed for translation, one of the most elegant and subtle is that of Walter Benjamin, whose essay “The Task of the Translator” begins with the skilled but artless act of gluing together pot shards but moves rapidly beyond this mundane figure into luminous visions.
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Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way, a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.

Later in the same paragraph Benjamin continues: “A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully” (1969, 78–79).

Several metaphors are working on several levels here. On the one hand matching the pieces of a broken pot is like the reproduction of meaning in translation; and on the other the original and the translation are themselves both fragments, not wholes. Abandoning the pots with their shapes, Benjamin goes on to speak of covering and translucency. The translation does not cover the original but allows light to shine through—not from it, however, but upon it. There appears to be, in that light, a premise of a reality bigger than both translation and original. When I read Benjamin it reminded me of a broken pot in the Rajasthani bard Madhu Nath’s own stories—a pot that can be neither glued together nor replicated.

This pot appears in King Bharthari’s tale in the central episode of part 2. Here the yogi Gorakh Nath mourns for his broken clay jug, deliberately mocking King Bharthari’s mourning for his cremated queen. The king says the jug is easily replaced, and the yogi retorts that the queen is too. They agree that the yogi will restore Queen Pingala to life if the king replaces the jug. The king commandeers the labor of scores of potters, but the yogi uses his “divine play” (lila ) to spoil the potters’ work so they fail to get the original jug’s color just right. When cartloads of jugs are delivered by exhausted potters, Gorakh Nath scorns them, holding up his shards of a slightly different color, and demanding once more a jug just like the one that broke:

So King Bharthari grasped his feet and prostrated himself. “Grain-giver, I’ve done the best I could, good or bad, I’ve ordered what I could. Now, Grain-giver, that’s enough. Good or bad, black or fair, make me a Pingala. Just as I’ve brought these jugs, black or yellow, so bring her, black or yellow.”
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Of course, the yogi is able to summon up not one but seven hundred fifty identical queens and the sameness of their faces, clothes, and jewelry are elaborated upon to the audience’s considerable wonder. On the surface the point seems to be that yogis are more powerful than kings or potters: without divine power, a king can’t even replicate the form and color of a common clay jug; with it a yogi can infinitely multiply the form and color of a human being who has burned to ash.

Gorakh Nath’s pottery lesson, however, goes beyond such trumpeting of yogis’ magic power. For even perfect reproductions are illusions, if there is no graspable reality in the original. This lack of reality operates on several levels. We do not even know whether any of the seven hundred fifty Pingalas is the real Pingala—since she burned up and all these may just be Gorakh Nath’s saktis , enslaved female spirits in Pingala’s form. But, even if one of the restored queens is the real one, she is still no better than a whore (as Gorakh Nath makes clear) because no human love endures forever. All of them, perfect copies though they are, are just as false as the cartloads of jugs that do not match the original jug. They represent distractions from higher or calmer realities for which the yogi’s unblemished and irreplaceable jug of pure cool water may itself be a sign.

Walter Benjamin’s pottery lesson indicates that translating from one language to another might be like the act of matching fragments to rebuild a shattered whole, but that this work is neither perfect reproduction nor an illusory effort doomed to failure. Ultimately, Benjamin’s images push our thoughts beyond the translator and his work, to consider the relation between languages, suggesting that a shared human capacity for communication exists beyond particular tongues.

Why do I thus laboriously juxtapose these very different uses of broken-pot images emerging from different cultural discourses and created for different didactic aims? One solid if small reason is that it seems to me auspicious that for both Nath yogis and European literary criticism a broken pot and its reconstruction or replication may become metaphors for the possible and the impossible, indicators of communication between two worlds (whether of French and German poetry, or of yogis and kings, or of Rajasthani peasants and Western readers). One ephemeral but larger reason for this pottery lesson is that both Benjamin’s and Gorakh Nath’s metaphors point beyond cycles of disintegration and reconstruction to some more stable area of light
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or truth. For those of us who spend our days translating texts and cultures, this is encouraging.

Yellow or black, I have tried to make these tales stand up. Lacking yogis’ magic along with much other knowledge and skill, I have labored even longer and harder than Bharthari’s potters. I can only hope that the imperfect results presented here are, as Benjamin advises, limpid to the light of the original.






(Courtesy of UCLA)




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Rag Chandrakauns

Lilavati of Bhaskara










The City Of Dreadful Night

by Rudyard Kipling

The dense wet heat that hung over the face of land, like a blanket, prevented all hope of sleep in the first instance. The cicalas helped the heat; and the yelling jackals the cicalas. It was impossible to sit still in the dark, empty, echoing house and watch the punkah beat the dead air. So, at ten o’clock of the night, I set my walking-stick on end in the middle of the garden, and waited to see how it would fall. It pointed directly down the moonlit road that leads to the City of Dreadful Night. The sound of its fall disturbed a hare. She limped from her form and ran across to a disused Mahomedan burial-ground, where the jawless skulls and rough-butted shank-bones, heartlessly exposed by the July rains, glimmered like mother o’ pearl on the rain-channelled soil. The heated air and the heavy earth had driven the very dead upward for coolness’ sake. The hare limped on; snuffed curiously at a fragment of a smoke-stained lamp-shard, and died out, in the shadow of a clump of tamarisk trees.

The mat-weaver’s hut under the lee of the Hindu temple was full of sleeping men who lay like sheeted corpses. Overhead blazed the unwinking eye of the Moon. Darkness gives at least a false impression of coolness. It was hard not to believe that the flood of light from above was warm. Not so hot as the Sun, but still sickly warm, and heating the heavy air beyond what was our due. Straight as a bar of polished steel ran the road to the City of Dreadful Night; and on either side of the road lay corpses disposed on beds in fantastic attitudes–one hundred and seventy bodies of men. Some shrouded all in white with bound-up mouths; some naked and black as ebony in the strong light; and one–that lay face upwards with dropped jaw, far away from the others–silvery white and ashen gray.

‘A leper asleep; and the remainder wearied coolies, servants, small shopkeepers, and drivers from the hackstand hard by. The scene–a main approach to Lahore city, and the night a warm one in August.’ This was all that there was to be seen; but by no means all that one could see. The witchery of the moonlight was everywhere; and the world was horribly changed. The long line of the naked dead, flanked by the rigid silver statue, was not pleasant to look upon. It was made up of men alone. Were the womenkind, then, forced to sleep in the shelter of the stifling mud- huts as best they might? The fretful wail of a child from a low mud-roof answered the question. Where the children are the mothers must be also to look after them. They need care on these sweltering nights. A black little bullet-head peeped over the coping, and a thin–a painfully thin– brown leg was slid over on to the gutter pipe. There was a sharp clink of glass bracelets; a woman’s arm showed for an instant above the parapet, twined itself round the lean little neck, and the child was dragged back, protesting, to the shelter of the bedstead. His thin, high-pitched shriek died out in the thick air almost as soon as it was raised; for even the children of the soil found it too hot to weep.

More corpses; more stretches of moonlit, white road, a string of sleeping camels at rest by the wayside; a vision of scudding jackals; ekka-ponies asleep–the harness still on their backs, and the brass- studded country carts, winking in the moonlight–and again more corpses. Wherever a grain cart atilt, a tree trunk, a sawn log, a couple of bamboos and a few handfuls of thatch cast a shadow, the ground is covered with them. They lie–some face downwards, arms folded, in the dust; some with clasped hands flung up above their heads; some curled up dog-wise; some thrown like limp gunny-bags over the side of the grain carts; and some bowed with their brows on their knees in the full glare of the Moon. It would be a comfort if they were only given to snoring; but they are not, and the likeness to corpses is unbroken in all respects save one. The lean dogs snuff at them and turn away. Here and there a tiny child lies on his father’s bedstead, and a protecting arm is thrown round it in every instance. But, for the most part, the children sleep with their mothers on the house-tops. Yellow-skinned white-toothed pariahs are not to be trusted within reach of brown bodies.

A stifling hot blast from the mouth of the Delhi Gate nearly ends my resolution of entering the City of Dreadful Night at this hour. It is a compound of all evil savours, animal and vegetable, that a walled city can brew in a day and a night. The temperature within the motionless groves of plantain and orange-trees outside the city walls seems chilly by comparison. Heaven help all sick persons and young children within the city to-night! The high house-walls are still radiating heat savagely, and from obscure side gullies fetid breezes eddy that ought to poison a buffalo. But the buffaloes do not heed. A drove of them are parading the vacant main street; stopping now and then to lay their ponderous muzzles against the closed shutters of a grain-dealer’s shops and to blow thereon like grampuses.

Then silence follows–the silence that is full of the night noises of a great city. A stringed instrument of some kind is just, and only just, audible. High overhead some one throws open a window, and the rattle of the wood-work echoes down the empty street. On one of the roofs, a hookah is in full blast; and the men are talking softly as the pipe gutters. A little farther on, the noise of conversation is more distinct. A slit of light shows itself between the sliding shutters of a shop. Inside, a stubble-bearded, weary-eyed trader is balancing his account-books among the bales of cotton prints that surround him. Three sheeted figures bear him company, and throw in a remark from time to time. First he makes an entry, then a remark; then passes the back of his hand across his streaming forehead. The heat in the built-in street is fearful. Inside the shops it must be almost unendurable. But the work goes on steadily; entry, guttural growl, and uplifted hand-stroke succeeding each other with the precision of clock-work.

A policeman–turbanless and fast asleep–lies across the road on the way to the Mosque of Wazir Khan. A bar of moonlight falls across the forehead and eyes of the sleeper, but he never stirs. It is close upon midnight, and the heat seems to be increasing. The open square in front of the Mosque is crowded with corpses; and a man must pick his way carefully for fear of treading on them. The moonlight stripes the Mosque’s high front of coloured enamel work in broad diagonal bands; and each separate dreaming pigeon in the niches and corners of the masonry throws a squab little shadow. Sheeted ghosts rise up wearily from their pallets, and flit into the dark depths of the building. Is it possible to climb to the top of the great Minars, and thence to look down on the city? At all events the attempt is worth making, and the chances are that the door of the staircase will be unlocked. Unlocked it is; but a deeply sleeping janitor lies across the threshold, face turned to the Moon. A rat dashes out of his turban at the sound of approaching footsteps. The man grunts, opens his eyes for a minute, turns round, and goes to sleep again. All the heat of a decade of fierce Indian summers is stored in the pitch-black, polished walls of the corkscrew staircase. Half-way up, there is something alive, warm, and feathery; and it snores. Driven from step to step as it catches the sound of my advance, it flutters to the top and reveals itself as a yellow-eyed, angry kite. Dozens of kites are asleep on this and the other Minars, and on the domes below. There is the shadow of a cool, or at least a less sultry breeze at this height; and, refreshed thereby, turn to look on the City of Dreadful Night.

Dore might have drawn it! Zola could describe it–this spectacle of sleeping thousands in the moonlight and in the shadow of the Moon. The roof-tops are crammed with men, women, and children; and the air is full of undistinguishable noises. They are restless in the City of Dreadful Night; and small wonder. The marvel is that they can even breathe. If you gaze intently at the multitude, you can see that they are almost as uneasy as a daylight crowd; but the tumult is subdued. Everywhere, in the strong light, you can watch the sleepers turning to and fro; shifting their beds and again resettling them. In the pit-like court- yards of the houses there is the same movement.

The pitiless Moon shows it all. Shows, too, the plains outside the city, and here and there a hand’s-breadth of the Ravee without the walls. Shows lastly, a splash of glittering silver on a house-top almost directly below the mosque Minar. Some poor soul has risen to throw a jar of water over his fevered body; the tinkle of the falling water strikes faintly on the ear. Two or three other men, in far-off corners of the City of Dreadful Night, follow his example, and the water flashes like heliographic signals. A small cloud passes over the face of the Moon, and the city and its inhabitants–clear drawn in black and white before– fade into masses of black and deeper black. Still the unrestful noise continues, the sigh of a great city overwhelmed with the heat, and of a people seeking in vain for rest. It is only the lower-class women who sleep on the house-tops. What must the torment be in the latticed zenanas, where a few lamps are still twinkling? There are footfalls in the court below. It is the Muezzin–faithful minister; but he ought to have been here an hour ago to tell the Faithful that prayer is better than sleep–the sleep that will not come to the city.

The Muezzin fumbles for a moment with the door of one of the Minars, disappears awhile, and a bull-like roar–a magnificent bass thunder– tells that he has reached the top of the Minar. They must hear the cry to the banks of the shrunken Ravee itself! Even across the courtyard it is almost overpowering. The cloud drifts by and shows him outlined in black against the sky, hands laid upon his ears, and broad chest heaving with the play of his lungs–‘Allah ho Akbar’; then a pause while another Muezzin somewhere in the direction of the Golden Temple takes up the call–‘Allah ho Akbar.’ Again and again; four times in all; and from the bedsteads a dozen men have risen up already.–‘I bear witness that there is no God but God.’ What a splendid cry it is, the proclamation of the creed that brings men out of their beds by scores at midnight! Once again he thunders through the same phrase, shaking with the vehemence of his own voice; and then, far and near, the night air rings with ‘Mahomed is the Prophet of God.’ It is as though he were flinging his defiance to the far-off horizon, where the summer lightning plays and leaps like a bared sword. Every Muezzin in the city is in full cry, and some men on the roof-tops are beginning to kneel. A long pause precedes the last cry, ‘La ilaha Illallah,’ and the silence closes up on it, as the ram on the head of a cotton-bale.

The Muezzin stumbles down the dark stairway grumbling in his beard. He passes the arch of the entrance and disappears. Then the stifling silence settles down over the City of Dreadful Night. The kites on the Minar sleep again, snoring more loudly, the hot breeze comes up in puffs and lazy eddies, and the Moon slides down towards the horizon. Seated with both elbows on the parapet of the tower, one can watch and wonder over that heat-tortured hive till the dawn. ‘How do they live down there? What do they think of? When will they awake?’ More tinkling of sluiced water-pots; faint jarring of wooden bedsteads moved into or out of the shadows; uncouth music of stringed instruments softened by distance into a plaintive wail, and one low grumble of far-off thunder. In the courtyard of the mosque the janitor, who lay across the threshold of the Minar when I came up, starts wildly in his sleep, throws his hands above his head, mutters something, and falls back again. Lulled by the snoring of the kites–they snore like over-gorged humans–I drop off into an uneasy doze, conscious that three o’clock has struck, and that there is a slight–a very slight–coolness in the atmosphere. The city is absolutely quiet now, but for some vagrant dog’s love-song. Nothing save dead heavy sleep.

Several weeks of darkness pass after this. For the Moon has gone out. The very dogs are still, and I watch for the first light of the dawn before making my way homeward. Again the noise of shuffling feet. The morning call is about to begin, and my night watch is over. ‘Allah ho Akbar! Allah ho Akbar!’ The east grows gray, and presently saffron; the dawn wind comes up as though the Muezzin had summoned it; and, as one man, the City of Dreadful Night rises from its bed and turns its face towards the dawning day. With return of life comes return of sound. First a low whisper, then a deep bass hum; for it must be remembered that the entire city is on the house-tops. My eyelids weighed down with the arrears of long deferred sleep, I escape from the Minar through the courtyard and out into the square beyond, where the sleepers have risen, stowed away the bedsteads, and are discussing the morning hookah. The minute’s freshness of the air has gone, and it is as hot as at first.

‘Will the Sahib, out of his kindness, make room?’ What is it? Something borne on men’s shoulders comes by in the half-light, and I stand back. A woman’s corpse going down to the burning-ghat, and a bystander says, ‘She died at midnight from the heat.’ So the city was of Death as well as Night after all.



Old Lahore_


By James Thomson

Per me si va nella citta dolente.


Poi di tanto adoprar, di tanti moti
D’ogni celeste, ogni terrena cosa,
Girando senza posa,
Per tornar sempre la donde son mosse;
Uso alcuno, alcun frutto
Indovinar non so.

Sola nel mondo eterna, a cui si volve
Ogni creata cosa,
In te, morte, si posa
Nostra ignuda natura;
Lieta no, ma sicura
Dell’ antico dolor . . .
Pero ch’ esser beato
Nega ai mortali e nega a’ morti il fato.



Lo, thus, as prostrate, “In the dust I write
My heart’s deep languor and my soul’s sad tears.”
Yet why evoke the spectres of black night
To blot the sunshine of exultant years?
Why disinter dead faith from mouldering hidden?             5
Why break the seals of mute despair unbidden,
And wail life’s discords into careless ears?

Because a cold rage seizes one at whiles
To show the bitter old and wrinkled truth
Stripped naked of all vesture that beguiles,                10
False dreams, false hopes, false masks and modes of youth;
Because it gives some sense of power and passion
In helpless innocence to try to fashion
Our woe in living words howe’er uncouth.

Surely I write not for the hopeful young,                   15
Or those who deem their happiness of worth,
Or such as pasture and grow fat among
The shows of life and feel nor doubt nor dearth,
Or pious spirits with a God above them
To sanctify and glorify and love them,                      20
Or sages who foresee a heaven on earth.

For none of these I write, and none of these
Could read the writing if they deigned to try;
So may they flourish in their due degrees,
On our sweet earth and in their unplaced sky.             25
If any cares for the weak words here written,
It must be some one desolate, Fate-smitten,
Whose faith and hopes are dead, and who would die.

Yes, here and there some weary wanderer
In that same city of tremendous night,                    30
Will understand the speech and feel a stir
Of fellowship in all-disastrous fight;
“I suffer mute and lonely, yet another
Uplifts his voice to let me know a brother
Travels the same wild paths though out of sight.”         35

O sad Fraternity, do I unfold
Your dolorous mysteries shrouded from of yore?
Nay, be assured; no secret can be told
To any who divined it not before:                         40
None uninitiate by many a presage
Will comprehend the language of the message,
Although proclaimed aloud for evermore.


The City is of Night; perchance of Death
But certainly of Night; for never there
Can come the lucid morning’s fragrant breath
After the dewy dawning’s cold grey air:
The moon and stars may shine with scorn or pity             5
The sun has never visited that city,
For it dissolveth in the daylight fair.

Dissolveth like a dream of night away;
Though present in distempered gloom of thought
And deadly weariness of heart all day.                      10
But when a dream night after night is brought
Throughout a week, and such weeks few or many
Recur each year for several years, can any
Discern that dream from real life in aught?

For life is but a dream whose shapes return,                15
Some frequently, some seldom, some by night
And some by day, some night and day: we learn,
The while all change and many vanish quite,
In their recurrence with recurrent changes
A certain seeming order; where this ranges                  20
We count things real; such is memory’s might.

A river girds the city west and south,
The main north channel of a broad lagoon,
Regurging with the salt tides from the mouth;
Waste marshes shine and glister to the moon               25
For leagues, then moorland black, then stony ridges;
Great piers and causeways, many noble bridges,
Connect the town and islet suburbs strewn.

Upon an easy slope it lies at large
And scarcely overlaps the long curved crest               30
Which swells out two leagues from the river marge.
A trackless wilderness rolls north and west,
Savannahs, savage woods, enormous mountains,
Bleak uplands, black ravines with torrent fountains;
And eastward rolls the shipless sea’s unrest.             35

The city is not ruinous, although
Great ruins of an unremembered past,
With others of a few short years ago
More sad, are found within its precincts vast.
The street-lamps always burn; but scarce a casement         40
In house or palace front from roof to basement
Doth glow or gleam athwart the mirk air cast.

The street-lamps burn amid the baleful glooms,
Amidst the soundless solitudes immense
Of ranged mansions dark and still as tombs.                 45
The silence which benumbs or strains the sense
Fulfils with awe the soul’s despair unweeping:
Myriads of habitants are ever sleeping,
Or dead, or fled from nameless pestilence!

Yet as in some necropolis you find                          50
Perchance one mourner to a thousand dead,
So there: worn faces that look deaf and blind
Like tragic masks of stone.  With weary tread,
Each wrapt in his own doom, they wander, wander,
Or sit foredone and desolately ponder                       55
Through sleepless hours with heavy drooping head.

Mature men chiefly, few in age or youth,
A woman rarely, now and then a child:
A child!  If here the heart turns sick with ruth
To see a little one from birth defiled,                   60
Or lame or blind, as preordained to languish
Through youthless life, think how it bleeds with anguish
To meet one erring in that homeless wild.

They often murmur to themselves, they speak
To one another seldom, for their woe                      65
Broods maddening inwardly and scorns to wreak
Itself abroad; and if at whiles it grow
To frenzy which must rave, none heeds the clamour,
Unless there waits some victim of like glamour,
To rave in turn, who lends attentive show.                70

The City is of Night, but not of Sleep;
There sweet sleep is not for the weary brain;
The pitiless hours like years and ages creep,
A night seems termless hell.  This dreadful strain
Of thought and consciousness which never ceases,            75
Or which some moments’ stupor but increases,
This, worse than woe, makes wretches there insane.

They leave all hope behind who enter there:
One certitude while sane they cannot leave,
One anodyne for torture and despair;                        80
The certitude of Death, which no reprieve
Can put off long; and which, divinely tender,
But waits the outstretched hand to promptly render
That draught whose slumber nothing can bereave (1)

(1) Though the Garden of thy Life be wholly waste, the sweet
flowers withered, the fruit-trees barren, over its wall hang
ever the rich dark clusters of the Vine of Death, within
easy reach of thy hand, which may pluck of them when it


Because he seemed to walk with an intent
I followed him; who, shadowlike and frail,
Unswervingly though slowly onward went,
Regardless, wrapt in thought as in a veil:
Thus step for step with lonely sounding feet                5
We travelled many a long dim silent street.

At length he paused: a black mass in the gloom,
A tower that merged into the heavy sky;
Around, the huddled stones of grave and tomb:
Some old God’s-acre now corruption’s sty:                 10
He murmured to himself with dull despair,
Here Faith died, poisoned by this charnel air.

Then turning to the right went on once more
And travelled weary roads without suspense;
And reached at last a low wall’s open door,                 15
Whose villa gleamed beyond the foliage dense:
He gazed, and muttered with a hard despair,
Here Love died, stabbed by its own worshipped pair.

Then turning to the right resumed his march,
And travelled street and lanes with wondrous strength,    20
Until on stooping through a narrow arch
We stood before a squalid house at length:
He gazed, and whispered with a cold despair,
Here Hope died, starved out in its utmost lair.

When he had spoken thus, before he stirred,                 25
I spoke, perplexed by something in the signs
Of desolation I had seen and heard
In this drear pilgrimage to ruined shrines:
Where Faith and Love and Hope are dead indeed,
Can Life still live?  By what doth it proceed?              30

As whom his one intense thought overpowers,
He answered coldly, Take a watch, erase
The signs and figures of the circling hours,
Detach the hands, remove the dial-face;
The works proceed until run down; although                  35
Bereft of purpose, void of use, still go.

Then turning to the right paced on again,
And traversed squares and travelled streets whose glooms
Seemed more and more familiar to my ken;
And reached that sullen temple of the tombs;              40
And paused to murmur with the old despair,
Hear Faith died, poisoned by this charnel air.

I ceased to follow, for the knot of doubt
Was severed sharply with a cruel knife:
He circled thus forever tracing out                         45
The series of the fraction left of Life;
Perpetual recurrence in the scope
Of but three terms, dead Faith, dead Love, dead Hope. (1)

(1) Life divided by that persistent three = —- = .210.


Although lamps burn along the silent streets,
Even when moonlight silvers empty squares
The dark holds countless lanes and close retreats;
But when the night its sphereless mantle wears
The open spaces yawn with gloom abysmal,                    5
The sombre mansions loom immense and dismal,
The lanes are black as subterranean lairs.

And soon the eye a strange new vision learns:
The night remains for it as dark and dense,
Yet clearly in this darkness it discerns                    10
As in the daylight with its natural sense;
Perceives a shade in shadow not obscurely,
Pursues a stir of black in blackness surely,
Sees spectres also in the gloom intense.

The ear, too, with the silence vast and deep                15
Becomes familiar though unreconciled;
Hears breathings as of hidden life asleep,
And muffled throbs as of pent passions wild,
Far murmurs, speech of pity or derision;
but all more dubious than the things of vision,             20
So that it knows not when it is beguiled.

No time abates the first despair and awe,
But wonder ceases soon; the weirdest thing
Is felt least strange beneath the lawless law
Where Death-in-Life is the eternal king;                  25
Crushed impotent beneath this reign of terror,
Dazed with mysteries of woe and error,
The soul is too outworn for wondering.


He stood alone within the spacious square
Declaiming from the central grassy mound,
With head uncovered and with streaming hair,
As if large multitudes were gathered round:
A stalwart shape, the gestures full of might,               5
The glances burning with unnatural light:—

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: All was black,
In heaven no single star, on earth no track;
A brooding hush without a stir or note,                     10
The air so thick it clotted in my throat;
And thus for hours; then some enormous things
Swooped past with savage cries and clanking wings:
But I strode on austere;
No hope could have no fear.                               15

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Eyes of fire
Glared at me throbbing with a starved desire;
The hoarse and heavy and carnivorous breath
Was hot upon me from deep jaws of death;                    20
Sharp claws, swift talons, fleshless fingers cold
Plucked at me from the bushes, tried to hold:
But I strode on austere;
No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,                   25
As I came through the desert: Lo you, there,
That hillock burning with a brazen glare;
Those myriad dusky flames with points a-glow
Which writhed and hissed and darted to and fro;
A Sabbath of the Serpents, heaped pell-mell                 30
For Devil’s roll-call and some fete of Hell:
Yet I strode on austere;
No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Meteors ran                   35
And crossed their javelins on the black sky-span;
The zenith opened to a gulf of flame,
The dreadful thunderbolts jarred earth’s fixed frame;
The ground all heaved in waves of fire that surged
And weltered round me sole there unsubmerged:               40
Yet I strode on austere;
No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Air once more,
And I was close upon a wild sea-shore;                      45
Enormous cliffs arose on either hand,
The deep tide thundered up a league-broad strand;
White foambelts seethed there, wan spray swept and flew;
The sky broke, moon and stars and clouds and blue:
Yet I strode on austere;                                  50
No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: On the left
The sun arose and crowned a broad crag-cleft;
There stopped and burned out black, except a rim,           55
A bleeding eyeless socket, red and dim;
Whereon the moon fell suddenly south-west,
And stood above the right-hand cliffs at rest:
Yet I strode on austere;
No hope could have no fear.                               60

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: From the right
A shape came slowly with a ruddy light;
A woman with a red lamp in her hand,
Bareheaded and barefooted on that strand;                   65
O desolation moving with such grace!
O anguish with such beauty in thy face!
I fell as on my bier,
Hope travailed with such fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,                   70
As I came through the desert: I was twain,
Two selves distinct that cannot join again;
One stood apart and knew but could not stir,
And watched the other stark in swoon and her;
And she came on, and never turned aside,                    75
Between such sun and moon and roaring tide:
And as she came more near
My soul grew mad with fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Hell is mild                  80
And piteous matched with that accursed wild;
A large black sign was on her breast that bowed,
A broad black band ran down her snow-white shroud;
That lamp she held was her own burning heart,
Whose blood-drops trickled step by step apart:              85
The mystery was clear;
Mad rage had swallowed fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: By the sea
She knelt and bent above that senseless me;                 90
Those lamp-drops fell upon my white brow there,
She tried to cleanse them with her tears and hair;
She murmured words of pity, love, and woe,
Shee heeded not the level rushing flow:
And mad with rage and fear,                               95
I stood stonebound so near.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: When the tide
Swept up to her there kneeling by my side,
She clasped that corpse-like me, and they were borne        100
Away, and this vile me was left forlorn;
I know the whole sea cannot quench that heart,
Or cleanse that brow, or wash those two apart:
They love; their doom is drear,
Yet they nor hope nor fear;                               105
But I, what do I here?


How he arrives there none can clearly know;
Athwart the mountains and immense wild tracts,
Or flung a waif upon that vast sea-flow,
Or down the river’s boiling cataracts:
To reach it is as dying fever-stricken                      5
To leave it, slow faint birth intense pangs quicken;
And memory swoons in both the tragic acts.

But being there one feels a citizen;
Escape seems hopeless to the heart forlorn:
Can Death-in-Life be brought to life again?                 10
And yet release does come; there comes a morn
When he awakes from slumbering so sweetly
That all the world is changed for him completely,
And he is verily as if new-born.

He scarcely can believe the blissful change,                15
He weeps perchance who wept not while accurst;
Never again will he approach the range
Infected by that evil spell now burst:
Poor wretch!  who once hath paced that dolent city
Shall pace it often, doomed beyond all pity,                20
With horror ever deepening from the first.

Though he possess sweet babes and loving wife,
A home of peace by loyal friendships cheered,
And love them more than death or happy life,
They shall avail not; he must dree his weird;             25
Renounce all blessings for that imprecation,
Steal forth and haunt that builded desolation,
Of woe and terrors and thick darkness reared.


I sat forlornly by the river-side,
And watched the bridge-lamps glow like golden stars
Above the blackness of the swelling tide,
Down which they struck rough gold in ruddier bars;
And heard the heave and plashing of the flow                5
Against the wall a dozen feet below.

Large elm-trees stood along that river-walk;
And under one, a few steps from my seat,
I heard strange voices join in stranger talk,
Although I had not heard approaching feet:                10
These bodiless voices in my waking dream
Flowed dark words blending with sombre stream:—

And you have after all come back; come back.
I was about to follow on your track.
And you have failed: our spark of hope is black.            15

That I have failed is proved by my return:
The spark is quenched, nor ever more will burn,
But listen; and the story you shall learn.

I reached the portal common spirits fear,
And read the words above it, dark yet clear,                20
“Leave hope behind, all ye who enter here:”

And would have passed in, gratified to gain
That positive eternity of pain
Instead of this insufferable inane.

A demon warder clutched me, Not so fast;                    25
First leave your hopes behind!—But years have passed
Since I left all behind me, to the last:

You cannot count for hope, with all your wit,
This bleak despair that drives me to the Pit:
How could I seek to enter void of it?                       30

He snarled, What thing is this which apes a soul,
And would find entrance to our gulf of dole
Without the payment of the settled toll?

Outside the gate he showed an open chest:
Here pay their entrance fees the souls unblest;             35
Cast in some hope, you enter with the rest.

This is Pandora’s box; whose lid shall shut,
And Hell-gate too, when hopes have filled it; but
They are so thin that it will never glut.

I stood a few steps backwards, desolate;                    40
And watched the spirits pass me to their fate,
And fling off hope, and enter at the gate.

When one casts off a load he springs upright,
Squares back his shoulders, breathes will all his might,
And briskly paces forward strong and light:                 45

But these, as if they took some burden, bowed;
The whole frame sank; however strong and proud
Before, they crept in quite infirm and cowed.

And as they passed me, earnestly from each
A morsel of his hope I did beseech,                         50
To pay my entrance; but all mocked my speech.

No one would cede a little of his store,
Though knowing that in instants three or four
He must resign the whole for evermore.

So I returned.  Our destiny is fell;                        55
For in this Limbo we must ever dwell,
Shut out alike from heaven and Earth and Hell.

The other sighed back, Yea; but if we grope
With care through all this Limbo’s dreary scope,
We yet may pick up some minute lost hope;                   60

And sharing it between us, entrance win,
In spite of fiends so jealous for gross sin:
Let us without delay our search begin.


Some say that phantoms haunt those shadowy streets,
And mingle freely there with sparse mankind;
And tell of ancient woes and black defeats,
And murmur mysteries in the grave enshrined:
But others think them visions of illusion,                  5
Or even men gone far in self-confusion;
No man there being wholly sane in mind.

And yet a man who raves, however mad,
Who bares his heart and tells of his own fall,
Reserves some inmost secret good or bad:                    10
The phantoms have no reticence at all:
The nudity of flesh will blush though tameless
The extreme nudity of bone grins shameless,
The unsexed skeleton mocks shroud and pall.

I have seen phantoms there that were as men                 15
And men that were as phantoms flit and roam;
Marked shapes that were not living to my ken,
Caught breathings acrid as with Dead Sea foam:
The City rests for man so weird and awful,
That his intrusion there might seem unlawful,               20
And phantoms there may have their proper home.


While I still lingered on that river-walk,
And watched the tide as black as our black doom,
I heard another couple join in talk,
And saw them to the left hand in the gloom
Seated against an elm bole on the ground,                   5
Their eyes intent upon the stream profound.

“I never knew another man on earth
But had some joy and solace in his life,
Some chance of triumph in the dreadful strife:
My doom has been unmitigated dearth.”                       10

“We gaze upon the river, and we note
The various vessels large and small that float,
Ignoring every wrecked and sunken boat.”

“And yet I asked no splendid dower, no spoil
Of sway or fame or rank or even wealth;                   15
But homely love with common food and health,
And nightly sleep to balance daily toil.”

“This all-too-humble soul would arrogate
Unto itself some signalising hate
From the supreme indifference of Fate!”                     20

“Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?
I think myself; yet I would rather be
My miserable self than He, than He
Who formed such creatures to His own disgrace.

“The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou               25
From whom it had its being, God and Lord!
Creator of all woe and sin!  abhorred
Malignant and implacable!  I vow

“That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,
For all the temples to Thy glory built,                   30
Would I assume the ignominious guilt
Of having made such men in such a world.”

“As if a Being, God or Fiend, could reign,
At once so wicked, foolish and insane,
As to produce men when He might refrain!                    35

“The world rolls round for ever like a mill;
It grinds out death and life and good and ill;
It has no purpose, heart or mind or will.

“While air of Space and Time’s full river flow
The mill must blindly whirl unresting so:                   40
It may be wearing out, but who can know?

“Man might know one thing were his sight less dim;
That it whirls not to suit his petty whim,
That it is quite indifferent to him.

“Nay, does it treat him harshly as he saith?                45
It grinds him some slow years of bitter breath,
Then grinds him back into eternal death.”


It is full strange to him who hears and feels,
When wandering there in some deserted street,
The booming and the jar of ponderous wheels,
The trampling clash of heavy ironshod feet:
Who in this Venice of the Black Sea rideth?                 5
Who in this city of the stars abideth
To buy or sell as those in daylight sweet?

The rolling thunder seems to fill the sky
As it comes on; the horses snort and strain,
The harness jingles, as it passes by;                       10
The hugeness of an overburthened wain:
A man sits nodding on the shaft or trudges
Three parts asleep beside his fellow-drudges:
And so it rolls into the night again.

What merchandise?  whence, whither, and for whom?           15
Perchance it is a Fate-appointed hearse,
Bearing away to some mysterious tomb
Or Limbo of the scornful universe
The joy, the peace, the life-hope, the abortions
Of all things good which should have been our portions,     20
But have been strangled by that City’s curse.


The mansion stood apart in its own ground;
In front thereof a fragrant garden-lawn,
High trees about it, and the whole walled round:
The massy iron gates were both withdrawn;
And every window of its front shed light,                   5
Portentous in that City of the Night.

But though thus lighted it was deadly still
As all the countless bulks of solid gloom;
Perchance a congregation to fulfil
Solemnities of silence in this doom,                      10
Mysterious rites of dolour and despair
Permitting not a breath or chant of prayer?

Broad steps ascended to a terrace broad
Whereon lay still light from the open door;
The hall was noble, and its aspect awed,                    15
Hung round with heavy black from dome to floor;
And ample stairways rose to left and right
Whose balustrades were also draped with night.

I paced from room to room, from hall to hall,
Nor any life throughout the maze discerned;               20
But each was hung with its funereal pall,
And held a shrine, around which tapers burned,
With picture or with statue or with bust,
all copied from the same fair form of dust:

A woman very young and very fair;                           25
Beloved by bounteous life and joy and youth,
And loving these sweet lovers, so that care
And age and death seemed not for her in sooth:
Alike as stars, all beautiful and bright,
these shapes lit up that mausolean night.                   30

At length I heard a murmur as of lips,
And reached an open oratory hung
With heaviest blackness of the whole eclipse;
Beneath the dome a fuming censer swung;
And one lay there upon a low white bed,                     35
With tapers burning at the foot and head:

The Lady of the images, supine,
Deathstill, lifesweet, with folded palms she lay:
And kneeling there as at a sacred shrine
A young man wan and worn who seemed to pray:              40
A crucifix of dim and ghostly white
Surmounted the large altar left in night:—

The chambers of the mansion of my heart,
In every one whereof thine image dwells,
Are black with grief eternal for thy sake.                  45

The inmost oratory of my soul,
Wherein thou ever dwellest quick or dead,
Is black with grief eternal for thy sake.

I kneel beside thee and I clasp the cross,
With eyes forever fixed upon that face,                     50
So beautiful and dreadful in its calm.

I kneel here patient as thou liest there;
As patient as a statue carved in stone,
Of adoration and eternal grief.

While thou dost not awake I cannot move;                    55
And something tells me thou wilt never wake,
And I alive feel turning into stone.

Most beautiful were Death to end my grief,
Most hateful to destroy the sight of thee,
Dear vision better than all death or life.                  60

But I renounce all choice of life or death,
For either shall be ever at thy side,
And thus in bliss or woe be ever well.—

He murmured thus and thus in monotone,
Intent upon that uncorrupted face,                        65
Entranced except his moving lips alone:
I glided with hushed footsteps from the place.
This was the festival that filled with light
That palace in the City of the Night.


What men are they who haunt these fatal glooms,
And fill their living mouths with dust of death,
And make their habitations in the tombs,
And breathe eternal sighs with mortal breath,
And pierce life’s pleasant veil of various error            5
To reach that void of darkness and old terror
Wherein expire the lamps of hope and faith?

They have much wisdom yet they are not wise,
They have much goodness yet they do not well,
(The fools we know have their own paradise,                 10
The wicked also have their proper Hell);
They have much strength but still their doom is stronger,
Much patience but their time endureth longer,
Much valour but life mocks it with some spell.

They are most rational and yet insane:                      15
And outward madness not to be controlled;
A perfect reason in the central brain,
Which has no power, but sitteth wan and cold,
And sees the madness, and foresees as plainly
The ruin in its path, and trieth vainly                     20
To cheat itself refusing to behold.

And some are great in rank and wealth and power,
And some renowned for genius and for worth;
And some are poor and mean, who brood and cower
And shrink from notice, and accept all dearth             25
Of body, heart and soul, and leave to others
All boons of life: yet these and those are brothers,
The saddest and the weariest men on earth.


Our isolated units could be brought
To act together for some common end?
For one by one, each silent with his thought,
I marked a long loose line approach and wend
Athwart the great cathedral’s cloistered square,            5
And slowly vanish from the moonlit air.

Then I would follow in among the last:
And in the porch a shrouded figure stood,
Who challenged each one pausing ere he passed,
With deep eyes burning through a blank white hood:        10
Whence come you in the world of life and light
To this our City of Tremendous Night?—

From pleading in a senate of rich lords
For some scant justice to our countless hordes
Who toil half-starved with scarce a human right:            15
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From wandering through many a solemn scene
Of opium visions, with a heart serene
And intellect miraculously bright:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.                   20

From making hundreds laugh and roar with glee
By my transcendent feats of mimicry,
And humour wanton as an elvish sprite:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From prayer and fasting in a lonely cell,                   25
Which brought an ecstasy ineffable
Of love and adoration and delight:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From ruling on a splendid kingly throne
A nation which beneath my rule has grown                    30
Year after year in wealth and arts and might:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From preaching to an audience fired with faith
The Lamb who died to save our souls from death,
Whose blood hath washed our scarlet sins wool-white:        35
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From drinking fiery poison in a den
Crowded with tawdry girls and squalid men,
Who hoarsely laugh and curse and brawl and fight:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.                   40

From picturing with all beauty and all grace
First Eden and the parents of our race,
A luminous rapture unto all men’s sight:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From writing a great work with patient plan                 45
To justify the ways of God to man,
And show how ill must fade and perish quite:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

From desperate fighting with a little band
Against the powerful tyrants of our land,                   50
To free our brethren in their own despite:
I wake from daydreams to this real night.

Thus, challenged by that warder sad and stern,
Each one responded with his countersign,
Then entered the cathedral; and in turn                     55
I entered also, having given mine;
But lingered near until I heard no more,
And marked the closing of the massive door.


Of all things human which are strange and wild
This is perchance the wildest and most strange,
And showeth man most utterly beguiled,
To those who haunt that sunless City’s range;
That he bemoans himself for aye, repeating                  5
How Time is deadly swift, how life is fleeting,
How naught is constant on the earth but change.

The hours are heavy on him and the days;
The burden of the months he scarce can bear;
And often in his secret soul he prays                       10
To sleep through barren periods unaware,
Arousing at some longed-for date of pleasure;
Which having passed and yielded him small treasure,
He would outsleep another term of care.

Yet in his marvellous fancy he must make                    15
Quick wings for Time, and see it fly from us;
This Time which crawleth like a monstrous snake,
Wounded and slow and very venomous;
Which creeps blindwormlike round the earth and ocean,
Distilling poison at each painful motion,                   20
And seems condemned to circle ever thus.

And since he cannot spend and use aright
The little time here given him in trust,
But wasteth it in weary undelight
Of foolish toil and trouble, strife and lust,             25
He naturally claimeth to inherit
The everlasting Future, that his merit
May have full scope; as surely is most just.

O length of the intolerable hours,
O nights that are as aeons of slow pain,                  30
O Time, too ample for our vital powers,
O Life, whose woeful vanities remain
Immutable for all of all our legions
Through all the centuries and in all the regions,
Not of your speed and variance WE complain.               35

WE do not ask a longer term of strife,
Weakness and weariness and nameless woes;
We do not claim renewed and endless life
When this which is our torment here shall close,
An everlasting conscious inanition!                         40
We yearn for speedy death in full fruition,
Dateless oblivion and divine repose.


Large glooms were gathered in the mighty fane,
With tinted moongleams slanting here and there;
And all was hush: no swelling organ-strain,
No chant, no voice or murmuring of prayer;
No priests came forth, no tinkling censers fumed,           5
And the high altar space was unillumed.

Around the pillars and against the walls
Leaned men and shadows; others seemed to brood
Bent or recumbent in secluded stalls.
Perchance they were not a great multitude                 10
Save in that city of so lonely streets
Where one may count up every face he meets.

All patiently awaited the event
Without a stir or sound, as if no less
Self-occupied, doomstricken while attent.                   15
And then we heard a voice of solemn stress
From the dark pulpit, and our gaze there met
Two eyes which burned as never eyes burned yet:

Two steadfast and intolerable eyes
Burning beneath a broad and rugged brow;                  20
The head behind it of enormous size.
And as black fir-groves in a large wind bow,
Our rooted congregation, gloom-arrayed,
By that great sad voice deep and full were swayed:—

O melancholy Brothers, dark, dark, dark!                    25
O battling in black floods without an ark!
O spectral wanderers of unholy Night!
My soul hath bled for you these sunless years,
With bitter blood-drops running down like tears:
Oh dark, dark, dark, withdrawn from joy and light!        30

My heart is sick with anguish for your bale;
Your woe hath been my anguish; yea, I quail
And perish in your perishing unblest.
And I have searched the highths and depths, the scope
Of all our universe, with desperate hope                    35
To find some solace for your wild unrest.

And now at last authentic word I bring,
Witnessed by every dead and living thing;
Good tidings of great joy for you, for all:
There is no God; no Fiend with names divine                 40
Made us and tortures us; if we must pine,
It is to satiate no Being’s gall.

It was the dark delusion of a dream,
That living Person conscious and supreme,
Whom we must curse for cursing us with life;              45
Whom we must curse because the life he gave
Could not be buried in the quiet grave,
Could not be killed by poison or the knife.

This little life is all we must endure,
The grave’s most holy peace is ever sure,                   50
We fall asleep and never wake again;
Nothing is of us but the mouldering flesh,
Whose elements dissolve and merge afresh
In earth, air, water, plants, and other men.

We finish thus; and all our wretched race                   55
Shall finish with its cycle, and give place
To other beings with their own time-doom:
Infinite aeons ere our kind began;
Infinite aeons after the last man
Has joined the mammoth in earth’s tomb and womb.          60

We bow down to the universal laws,
Which never had for man a special clause
Of cruelty or kindness, love or hate:
If toads and vultures are obscene to sight,
If tigers burn with beauty and with might,                  65
Is it by favour or by wrath of Fate?

All substance lives and struggles evermore
Through countless shapes continually at war,
By countless interactions interknit:
If one is born a certain day on earth,                      70
All times and forces tended to that birth,
Not all the world could change or hinder it.

I find no hint throughout the Universe
Of good or ill, of blessing or of curse;
I find alone Necessity Supreme;                           75
With infinite Mystery, abysmal, dark,
Unlighted ever by the faintest spark
For us the flitting shadows of a dream.

O Brothers of sad lives!  they are so brief;
A few short years must bring us all relief:                 80
Can we not bear these years of laboring breath?
But if you would not this poor life fulfil,
Lo, you are free to end it when you will,
Without the fear of waking after death.—

The organ-like vibrations of his voice                      85
Thrilled through the vaulted aisles and died away;
The yearning of the tones which bade rejoice
Was sad and tender as a requiem lay:
Our shadowy congregation rested still
As brooding on that “End it when you will.”                 90


Wherever men are gathered, all the air
Is charged with human feeling, human thought;
Each shout and cry and laugh, each curse and prayer,
Are into its vibrations surely wrought;
Unspoken passion, wordless meditation,                      5
Are breathed into it with our respiration
It is with our life fraught and overfraught.

So that no man there breathes earth’s simple breath,
As if alone on mountains or wide seas;
But nourishes warm life or hastens death                    10
With joys and sorrows, health and foul disease,
Wisdom and folly, good and evil labours,
Incessant of his multitudinous neighbors;
He in his turn affecting all of  these.

That City’s atmosphere is dark and dense,                   15
Although not many exiles wander there,
With many a potent evil influence,
Each adding poison to the poisoned air;
Infections of unutterable sadness,
Infections of incalculable madness,                         20
Infections of incurable despair.


Our shadowy congregation rested still,
As musing on that message we had heard
And brooding on that “End it when you will;”
Perchance awaiting yet some other word;
When keen as lightning through a muffled sky                5
Sprang forth a shrill and lamentable cry:—

The man speaks sooth, alas!  the man speaks sooth:
We have no personal life beyond the grave;
There is no God; Fate knows nor wrath nor ruth:
Can I find here the comfort which I crave?                10

In all eternity I had one chance,
One few years’ term of gracious human life:
The splendours of the intellect’s advance,
The sweetness of the home with babes and wife;

The social pleasures with their genial wit:                 15
The fascination of the worlds of art,
The glories of the worlds of nature, lit
By large imagination’s glowing heart;

The rapture of mere being, full of health;
The careless childhood and the ardent youth,              20
The strenuous manhood winning various wealth,
The reverend age serene with life’s long truth:

All the sublime prerogatives of Man;
The storied memories of the times of old,
The patient tracking of the world’s great plan              25
Through sequences and changes myriadfold.

This chance was never offered me before;
For me this infinite Past is blank and dumb:
This chance recurreth never, nevermore;
Blank, blank for me the infinite To-come.                   30

And this sole chance was frustrate from my birth,
A mockery, a delusion; and my breath
Of noble human life upon this earth
So racks me that I sigh for senseless death.

My wine of life is poison mixed with gall,                  35
My noonday passes in a nightmare dream,
I worse than lose the years which are my all:
What can console me for the loss supreme?

Speak not of comfort where no comfort is,
Speak not at all: can words make foul things fair?        40
Our life’s a cheat, our death a black abyss:
Hush and be mute envisaging despair.—

This vehement voice came from the northern aisle
Rapid and shrill to its abrupt harsh close;
And none gave answer for a certain while,                   45
For words must shrink from these most wordless woes;
At last the pulpit speaker simply said,
With humid eyes and thoughtful drooping head:—

My Brother, my poor Brothers, it is thus;
This life itself holds nothing good for us,                 50
But ends soon and nevermore can be;
And we knew nothing of it ere our birth,
And shall know nothing when consigned to earth:
I ponder these thoughts and they comfort me.


How the moon triumphs through the endless nights!
How the stars throb and glitter as they wheel
Their thick processions of supernal lights
Around the blue vault obdurate as steel!
And men regard with passionate awe and yearning             5
The mighty marching and the golden burning,
And think the heavens respond to what they feel.

Boats gliding like dark shadows of a dream
Are glorified from vision as they pass
The quivering moonbridge on the deep black stream;          10
Cold windows kindle their dead glooms of glass
To restless crystals; cornice dome and column
Emerge from chaos in the splendour solemn;
Like faery lakes gleam lawns of dewy grass.

With such a living light these dead eyes shine,             15
These eyes of sightless heaven, that as we gaze
We read a pity, tremulous, divine,
Or cold majestic scorn in their pure rays:
Fond man!  they are not haughty, are not tender;
There is no heart or mind in all their splendour,           20
They thread mere puppets all their marvellous maze.

If we could near them with the flight unflown,
We should but find them worlds as sad as this,
Or suns all self-consuming like our own
Enringed by planet worlds as much amiss:                  25
They wax and wane through fusion and confusion;
The spheres eternal are a grand illusion,
The empyrean is a void abyss.


I wandered in a suburb of the north,
And reached a spot whence three close lanes led down,
Beneath thick trees and hedgerows winding forth
Like deep brook channels, deep and dark and lown:
The air above was wan with misty light,                     5
The dull grey south showed one vague blur of white.

I took the left-hand path and slowly trod
Its earthen footpath, brushing as I went
The humid leafage; and my feet were shod
With heavy languor, and my frame downbent,                10
With infinite sleepless weariness outworn,
So many nights I thus had paced forlorn.

After a hundred steps I grew aware
Of something crawling in the lane below;
It seemed a wounded creature prostrate there                15
That sobbed with pangs in making progress slow,
The hind limbs stretched to push, the fore limbs then
To drag; for it would die in its own den.

But coming level with it I discerned
That it had been a man; for at my tread                   20
It stopped in its sore travail and half-turned,
Leaning upon its right, and raised its head,
And with the left hand twitched back as in ire
Long grey unreverend locks befouled with mire.

A haggard filthy face with bloodshot eyes,                  25
An infamy for manhood to behold.
He gasped all trembling, What, you want my prize?
You leave, to rob me, wine and lust and gold
And all that men go mad upon, since you
Have traced my sacred secret of the clue?                   30

You think that I am weak and must submit
Yet I but scratch you with this poisoned blade,
And you are dead as if I clove with it
That false fierce greedy heart.  Betrayed!  betrayed!
I fling this phial if you seek to pass,                     35
And you are forthwith shrivelled up like grass.

And then with sudden change, Take thought!  take thought!
Have pity on me!  it is mine alone.
If you could find, it would avail you naught;
Seek elsewhere on the pathway of your own:                40
For who of mortal or immortal race
The lifetrack of another can retrace?

Did you but know my agony and toil!
Two lanes diverge up yonder from this lane;
My thin blood marks the long length of their soil;          45
Such clue I left, who sought my clue in vain:
My hands and knees are worn both flesh and bone;
I cannot move but with continual moan.

But I am in the very way at last
To find the long-lost broken golden thread                50
Which unites my present with my past,
If you but go your own way.  And I said,
I will retire as soon as you have told
Whereunto leadeth this lost thread of gold.

And so you know it not!  he hissed with scorn;              55
I feared you, imbecile!  It leads me back
From this accursed night without a morn,
And through the deserts which have else no track,
And through vast wastes of horror-haunted time,
To Eden innocence in Eden’s clime:                          60

And I become a nursling soft and pure,
An infant cradled on its mother’s knee,
Without a past, love-cherished and secure;
Which if it saw this loathsome present Me,
Would plunge its face into the pillowing breast,            65
And scream abhorrence hard to lull to rest.

He turned to grope; and I retiring brushed
Thin shreds of gossamer from off my face,
And mused, His life would grow, the germ uncrushed;
He should to antenatal night retrace,                     70
And hide his elements in that large womb
Beyond the reach of man-evolving Doom.

And even thus, what weary way were planned,
To seek oblivion through the far-off gate
Of birth, when that of death is close at hand!              75
For this is law, if law there be in Fate:
What never has been, yet may have its when;
The thing which has been, never is again.


The mighty river flowing dark and deep,
With ebb and flood from the remote sea-tides
Vague-sounding through the City’s sleepless sleep,
Is named the River of the Suicides;
For night by night some lorn wretch overweary,              5
And shuddering from the future yet more dreary,
Within its cold secure oblivion hides.

One plunges from a bridge’s parapet,
As if by some blind and sudden frenzy hurled;
Another wades in slow with purpose set                      10
Until the waters are above him furled;
Another in a boat with dreamlike motion
Glides drifting down into the desert ocean,
To starve or sink from out the desert world.

They perish from their suffering surely thus,               15
For none beholding them attempts to save,
The while thinks how soon, solicitous,
He may seek refuge in the self-same wave;
Some hour when tired of ever-vain endurance
Impatience will forerun the sweet assurance                 20
Of perfect peace eventual in the grave.

When this poor tragic-farce has palled us long,
Why actors and spectators do we stay?—
To fill our so-short roles out right or wrong;
To see what shifts are yet in the dull play               25
For our illusion; to refrain from grieving
Dear foolish friends by our untimely leaving:
But those asleep at home, how blest are they!

Yet it is but for one night after all:
What matters one brief night of dreary pain?              30
When after it the weary eyelids fall
Upon the weary eyes and wasted brain;
And all sad scenes and thoughts and feelings vanish
In that sweet sleep no power can ever banish,
That one best sleep which never wakes again.              35


I sat me weary on a pillar’s base,
And leaned against the shaft; for broad moonlight
O’erflowed the peacefulness of cloistered space,
A shore of shadow slanting from the right:
The great cathedral’s western front stood there,            5
A wave-worn rock in that calm sea of air.

Before it, opposite my place of rest,
Two figures faced each other, large, austere;
A couchant sphinx in shadow to the breast,
An angel standing in the moonlight clear;                 10
So mighty by magnificence of form,
They were not dwarfed beneath that mass enorm.

Upon the cross-hilt of the naked sword
The angel’s hands, as prompt to smite, were held;
His vigilant intense regard was poured                      15
Upon the creature placidly unquelled,
Whose front was set at level gaze which took
No heed of aught, a solemn trance-like look.

And as I pondered these opposed shapes
My eyelids sank in stupor, that dull swoon                20
Which drugs and with a leaden mantle drapes
The outworn to worse weariness.  But soon
A sharp and clashing noise the stillness broke,
And from the evil lethargy I woke.

The angel’s wings had fallen, stone on stone,               25
And lay there shattered; hence the sudden sound:
A warrior leaning on his sword alone
Now watched the sphinx with that regard profound;
The sphinx unchanged looked forthright, as aware
Of nothing in the vast abyss of air.                        30

Again I sank in that repose unsweet,
Again a clashing noise my slumber rent;
The warrior’s sword lay broken at his feet:
An unarmed man with raised hands impotent
Now stood before the sphinx, which ever kept                35
Such mien as if open eyes it slept.

My eyelids sank in spite of wonder grown;
A louder crash upstartled me in dread:
The man had fallen forward, stone on stone,
And lay there shattered, with his trunkless head          40
Between the monster’s large quiescent paws,
Beneath its grand front changeless as life’s laws.

The moon had circled westward full and bright,
And made the temple-front a mystic dream,
And bathed the whole enclosure with its light,              45
The sworded angel’s wrecks, the sphinx supreme:
I pondered long that cold majestic face
Whose vision seemed of infinite void space.


Anear the centre of that northern crest
Stands out a level upland bleak and bare,
From which the city east and south and west
Sinks gently in long waves; and throned there
An Image sits, stupendous, superhuman,                      5
The bronze colossus of a winged Woman,
Upon a graded granite base foursquare.

Low-seated she leans forward massively,
With cheek on clenched left hand, the forearm’s might
Erect, its elbow on her rounded knee;                       10
Across a clasped book in her lap the right
Upholds a pair of compasses; she gazes
With full set eyes, but wandering in thick mazes
Of sombre thought beholds no outward sight.

Words cannot picture her; but all men know                  15
That solemn sketch the pure sad artist wrought
Three centuries and threescore years ago,
With phantasies of his peculiar thought:
The instruments of carpentry and science
Scattered about her feet, in strange alliance               20
With the keen wolf-hound sleeping undistraught;

Scales, hour-glass, bell, and magic-square above;
The grave and solid infant perched beside,
With open winglets that might bear a dove,
Intent upon its tablets, heavy-eyed;                      25
Her folded wings as of a mighty eagle,
But all too impotent to lift the regal
Robustness of her earth-born strength and pride;

And with those wings, and that light wreath which seems
To mock her grand head and the knotted frown              30
Of  forehead charged with baleful thoughts and dreams,
The household bunch of keys, the housewife’s gown
Voluminous, indented, and yet rigid
As if a shell of burnished metal frigid,
The feet thick-shod to tread all weakness down;           35

The comet hanging o’er the waste dark seas,
The massy rainbow curved in front of it
Beyond the village with the masts and trees;
The snaky imp, dog-headed, from the Pit,
Bearing upon its batlike leathern pinions                   40
Her name unfolded in the sun’s dominions,
The “MELENCOLIA” that transcends all wit.

Thus has the artist copied her, and thus
Surrounded to expound her form sublime,
Her fate heroic and calamitous;                             45
Fronting the dreadful mysteries of Time,
Unvanquished in defeat and desolation,
Undaunted in the hopeless conflagration
Of the day setting on her baffled prime.

Baffled and beaten back she works on still,                 50
Weary and sick of soul she works the more,
Sustained by her indomitable will:
The hands shall fashion and the brain shall pore,
And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour,
Till Death the friend-foe piercing with his sabre           55
That mighty heart of hearts ends bitter war.

But as if blacker night could dawn on night,
With tenfold gloom on moonless night unstarred,
A sense more tragic than defeat and blight,
More desperate than strife with hope debarred,            60
More fatal than the adamantine Never
Encompassing her passionate endeavour,
Dawns glooming in her tenebrous regard:

To sense that every struggle brings defeat
Because Fate holds no prize to crown success;             65
That all the oracles are dumb or cheat
Because they have no secret to express;
That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain
Because there is no light beyond the curtain;
That all is vanity and nothingness.                       70

Titanic from her high throne in the north,
That City’s sombre Patroness and Queen,
In bronze sublimity she gazes forth
Over her Capital of teen and threne,
Over the river with its isles and bridges,                  75
The marsh and moorland, to the stern rock-bridges,
Confronting them with a coeval mien.

The moving moon and stars from east to west
Circle before her in the sea of air;
Shadows and gleams glide round her solemn rest.             80
Her subjects often gaze up to her there:
The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance,
The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance
And confirmation of the old despair.




Rag Todi – तोड़ी

Rag Todi


॥ स्वक्ष ॥

Todī (तोड़ी)     c     des     es     fis     g     as     h     c

In the Karnatic system, ‘Todi’ ragam is commonly referred to as “HanumantaTodi” and is placed as the 8th in the melakarta system and being an ancient raga it was called Janatodi.

Todi is a sampoorna raga, i.e. a raga with all 7 notes and perfectly symmetrical tetra-chords as swaras. It has S-shudha, R1-Rishabham, G2-sadharana gandharam, M1-shudha madhyamam, P-Panchamam, D1-shudha dhaivatam, N2-kaishiki nishadham and S.

The poorvanga (S to P) and uttaranga (P to S) are very balanced. The jeeva swaras of Todi are GMDN. Their usage in prayogas during raga aalapana of Todi brings out the beauty of this raga. Nyasa swaras are GMPDN. One can weave different patterns of notes centred around these notes, but some prayogas without panchama (P) sound very beautiful.

Todi lends itself beautifully for slow medium-paced kritis, varnams, tillanas, viruttham etc. For example, tAyE yashOdA undan | Adi | UttukkADu venkatasubbaiyer, from the movie Morning Raga. The swara kalpana’s and the ragam-taanam-pallavi coupled as fusion music was simply fantastic and Era napai | Adi | Patnam Subramanya Iyer, is another varnam aptly suitable for ragam-taanam-pallavi, where all swaras should be handled softly and each note is suitable for Gamaka prayoga or oscillation.

This page has a composite list of all the Karnatic todi ragam songs. Looking at the “peculiar compositions” by Ramaswami Dikshitar (svarastAna pada varNam) and “Ma manini” Dr.MB.Krishna (which i remember partly, egad :-S), you will find them constructed without words. The whole song consisting of pallavi, anupallavi and charanam is composed with only the 7 swaras… WOW!!

Practically speaking, each of these songs in Todi, sounds different at first. The difference is not because of the lyrics, which albeit different, but look at the swara sthanas (hint: arohanam and avarohanam) which differ. Shruti-bhedam i.e. while singing alap, using tharasthayi R as S, makes Todi sound like Kalyani, but since it interferes with bhava (emotional flow of the raga) which should not be done extensively.

The composers have the liberty of starting off anywhere but are still bound within the raga metrics and that is their playground for creativity. Ofcourse each composition can have a different talas (beats) and no two songs of the same raga will sound alike, else your credibility as a composer is zilch. Duh, imagine the precarious position of the hindi film music composers(?), who are renowned for -copying- err.. being inspired .. *cough*…. by other peoples tunes frequently.

Now you must be wondering how a listener will know who is the composer of a particular song in say raga: Todi.

Simple…. Every composer had a signature embedded in the song he/she wrote, akin to the “comments” that programmers include in their programs. Some composers used a pseudonym/pen name and some their real names but they always inserted their names in the charanam (last stanza) of the song, never earlier. Humility matters

Legend has it that some not-so-famous students of famous composers in order to give credibility to their compositions used to pen them in their “famous composer teachers” names and bask in their shadowed glory. I am not sure how true this is and dont particularly care. Its more fun to enjoy the music!!

In Hindustani music there are quite a few ragas with the suffix Todi but sounds very different from the Karnatic HanumantaTodi. Example : The Hindustani Gurjari Todi, Mian ki Todi, Multani Todi etc., do not resemble the Carnatic Todi. This is true for many ragas which only share a common raga name.

There are many compositions in HanumantaTodi. Every southern Vaggeyakara has composed in Todi. SriThyagaraja has composed around 30 kritis and the speciality is that each one highlights a different nuance of the ragam.

1] The kriti ‘Dasarathe’ starts in mantra sthayee “D” and emphasizes the prayoga of gamaka-laden “D”.
2] The kriti ‘Dasukovalena’ centres round Madhya sthayee “D”.
3] The kriti ‘Koluvamaregada’ starts at Taara sthayee “S” and comes down the avarohana slowly. Shyama Sastri has done a slow vilambit kala kriti with Swarajati Raave, thereby bringing out the slow beauty of this raga.

TO-DO in Todi, including the derivative janya ragas are :

1] Venugana ramana | Mishra Chapu.
2] Dasuko | Misra Jhampa | Thyagaraja.
3] Koluvamaregada | Adi | Thyagaraja.
4] Rajuvedala (Srirangam Pancharatna) | Rupakam | Thyagaraja |
5] Sri Krishnam Bhaja (on Guruvayurapan) | Adi | Dikshitar |
6] Ninne Nammi | Misra Chapu | Shyama Sastri |
7] Raave (Swarajati) | Adi | Shyama Sastri |
8] Sarasija nabhada | Misra Chapu | Swati Tirunal |
9] Thamatham en | Adi | Papanasam Sivan |
10] Tanigai Valar-Khanda Chapu- Papanasam Sivan |
11] Kartikeya- Aadi- Papanasam Sivan |
12] Anjananandam | Adi |
13] Annaiyargal vanam nadi vandar | Adi |
14] Dasharathe dayanidhe | Adi
15] En inge vandu | Adi
16] Jatadhara shankara devedeva | Adi
17] Rasa loka vaibhoga | Adi
18] Tale sharanam amma | Adi
19] Tannam taniyaha senrale | Mishra Chapu
20] Urugada manam enna manamo | Adi
21] Vandavarai varum enrazhaittu mani polum | Adi

Janya (derivative) raga :

1] Bhuvana moha saundara sukumara | Dhanyasi | Adi
2] Nada nada nada krishna | Dhanyasi | Adi
3] Padmini vallabha dehi pradehi | Dhanyasi | Adi
4] Natajana kalpavalli | Punnagavarali | Adi
5] Nila vanam tanil oli vishum niraimadiyo | Punnagavarali | Adi
6] Na dhru dhim tadana tomtana (tillana) | Sindhubhairavi | Adi
7] Shen shiva jatadhara shambho | Sindhubhairavi | Adi

By SVAKSHA on 2008 May 3



Rag Todi_Time_Wheel


Todi (Hindi: तोडी) is a Hindustani classical raga which gave its name to the Todi thaat, one of the ten modes of Hindustani classical music. Ragas from the Todi raganga include Todi (a.k.a. Miya ki Todi) itself, Bilaskhani Todi, Bahaduri Todi, and Gujari Todi.

The equivalent raga in Carnatic music is Shubhapantuvarali. The Carnatic raga Todi is the equivalent of Bhairavi and does not have any similarity to the Hindustani Todi.


* 1 Aroha & Avaroha
* 2 Vadi and Samavadi
* 3 Pakad or Chalan
* 4 Organization and relationships
* 5 Samay (Time)
* 6 Rasa
* 7 References
* 8 External links
* 9 Literature

Aroha & Avaroha[edit]

S r g M+ d N S’ or
‘d ‘N S r g M+ d N S’ or
S r g M+ d P, M+ d N S’ or
S r g M+ P, M+ d N S’

S’ N D P M+ G R S or
S N d P M+ d M+ g r g r S
Vadi and Samavadi[edit]

komal Dha and komal Ga
in ascent re, ga and dha are intoned slightly low, and tivra ma is very sharp. In descent the intonaltion of all these notes is normal [2]
Pakad or Chalan[edit]

The distinctive phrase is r/g-\r\S, where r may be subtly oscillated.[3]
Pa is omitted in ascent, but present and often sustained.[4] Kaufmann mentions that some musicians would call Todi with Pa Miyan Ki Todi, but others would see no difference between Todi and Miyan Ki Todi.
Sometimes the ascent is performed without Sa, starting from Ni.
Organization and relationships[edit]

Miyan Ki Todi is similar to Gujari Todi and many movements are common, but in Gujari Todi Pa is omitted and there is more emphasis on Re and Dha.
Like Miyan Ki Malhar Miyan Ki Todi is said to be composed by Tansen, but this seems unlikely as the Todi scale in Tansen’s time was the scale of today’s Bhairavi and the name Miyan Ki Todi appears first in the 19th century literature.[5]
Samay (Time)[edit]

Todi should be performed in the late morning[6]


Todi is nearly always shown as a gentle, beautiful woman, holding a veena and standing in a lovely green forest, surrounded by deers. Kaufman cites the Sangita-Darpana “With a fair erect body like the white lotus, and delicate like the gleaming dew drop, Todi holds the vina and provides fun and frolic to the deer deep in the forest. Her body is anointed with saffron and camphor”

1. Jump up ^ Benward and Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.39. Boston: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
2. Jump up ^ Kaufmann 1968
3. Jump up ^ Bor 1997
4. Jump up ^ Bor 1997
5. Jump up ^ Bor 1997
6. Jump up ^ Kaufman 1968, pg. 551


The River of Unapprehended Sentiments…



Drifting across the wind, down the river
towards a frail shack at the river’s bank,
amidst the gardens where the tulips rule;
with sun’s radiating carmine as my boatswain
I sail into the misty waters miles down to the meandering turn.

Desolate shack,
the air redolent with tulips’s scent
and empty glasses reeking with the fumes of beer,

Roseate faces standing at the doors,
adjuring me to dock the boat and join the house.

Moving away from the vital life:
to the elan-vital of the noble souls,
some known faces and some unknown ones:
gathered at the consummation of the herd’s incorporeal blend.

“Am I here to listen to eternity’s call?
or here to see you all?”

Seeking answers in those bewitching eyes
which enticed me from across the meandering river:
on a sojourn to these lands of the Immortal Life.

True that you’re my clan, and this is my land of love and peace
But, I am yet to pay my valediction to those waiting my return up the stream
I honor your love, but so to speak:
I can’t betray those promises I am to keep.

Let me afloat, Up again to the Lands I call home,
and years after,
command the Tramontana to rise above the Mountains in the north,
as it shall blow towards me to deliver your call,
I shall sail again, to this shack of tranquility and peace
down the river, drifting across the wind.

Courtesy of MALVIKA

see link below :

Ragas for The Late Evening

Rag M3





Rag M4



The Musical Empire of Baroda

H H Sayajirao Gaekwad

H. H.  Sayajirao Gaekwad


click image to read on….