Posted in Books, Poems, Sahitya Akademi

Lament of the Flowers [ Pushpa Vilapamu] by Karuna Sri, [ Jandhyala Pappaya Sastri, 1912, -1992] translated from the Telugu

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I came across this poem recently, in The Sahitya Akademi collections, and really liked it. It must be better in the original Telugu, but the translation is below:

—————————————–

Bent on worshipping you

I woke up with cock-crow:

Bathed, clad in pure white,

Entered an orchard to fetch flowers.

As I stood by a plant, held the bough

And touched a flower, lo: all the flowers raised

Their voices in chorus, wailing, ‘Must you kill us all?’

My hear sank, something flashed in me, as ‘Lament of Flowers’.

‘Will you nip us all and collect in baskets

As we play in the tender leaf-lap of our mother

And sell us to gain salvation? What use

Any worship, when you are heartless?

‘We are dull heads, you are wise;

You have intellect, imagination;

Has your heart turned to stone?

Doesn’t it yield a few flowers to offer to god?

‘While we breathe,  we air the identity

Of our creeper- mother—enjoy rocking freely

In her hands–and as the hour approaches,

Contented we close our eyes–at her holy feet.

We facilitate the air dashing scents; feast the bees

That court us with sweet nectar; please the eyes

Of the likes of you; why this selfishness and–

Stop, don’t snap us–Do you sever mother and child?

‘You’re fine–cutting other’s throats for your sake—

How mean of you to acquire merit thus? Will the Master of all

Accept this bloody offering? Won’t the all knowing Lord

Receive our poor souls? Why an intermediary?

‘Strangling our throats with a thread of wool,

Sending needles through our hearts, they bind us

To deck their fashionable hairdos—

Alas, pitiless indeed is your fair sex!

‘Squeezing us in presses to the last drop

Of life, you men make attar

With our heart’s blood to was the foul

Smell of your bodies, O murderer!

‘Alas! All those luxuriating beasts of men

Sprinkle us on their beds, trample our tender bodies

Under their heavy feet–crush and crush– and next

Morning throw us out, all faded and unpetalled.

‘Offering all our priceless tender sweet lives

At your feet, aren’t we lost,lost? Having

Plundered our youth, beauty, you sweep us away

With a broom! Do men have any ethics?

You are born in the land of the Buddha,

Why is natural love just dead in you?

O murderer, murdering beauty,

Tainted indeed is your human birth.

For God’s sake leave your worship,

Don’t cut our innocent throats!

Oh! What grace can you earn

Killing us with your own hands?’

Thus admonished by the flowers–so

I thought–I had no hands to pick them;

To report the matter to the Lord

Thence I came, all empty-handed.

[1944, trans K Godavari Sharma.]

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Posted in Books, Buddhism, India, Pali texts, Sahitya Akademi

A wonderful gift

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Some time ago I had written about the translations of the Sahitya Akademi and how much I appreciated them. I had their selected collection of Medieval Indian Literature and  a month ago, a good friend sent me a wonderful gift–the Ancient and Modern selections, each in three volumes. The ancient series has selections from Vedic Sanskrit, Pali, classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsa, Tamil and Kannada, while the modern series has the whole range of languages, which had not developed in ancient times.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from the Sutta Pitaka, a Pali text, on dialogues with the Buddha. Potthapada puts a question to the Buddha. ‘Is the world eternal? Is this alone the truth and any other view mere folly?’

‘That, Potthapada, is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion.’ Then Potthapada asked each of the following questions: ‘Is the world not eternal? Is the world infinite? Is the soul the same as the body? Is the soul one thing, and the body another? Does one who has gained the truth live again after death? Does he not live again after death? Does he both live again and not live again after death? Does he neither live again, and not live  again after death? ‘ And to each one the Exalted One made the same reply: ‘That too, Potthapada, is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion.’

‘But why has the Exalted One expressed no opinion on that?’

‘The question is not calculated to profit, it is not concerned with the dhamma, it does not redound even to the elements of right conduct, nor to detachment, nor to purification from lusts, nor to quietude, nor to tranquilization of heart, nor to real knowledge, nor to insight, nor to nirvana. Therefore I express no opinion about it.’

 

Posted in Books, India, Literature, Sahitya Akademi

Sahitya Akademi

Medieval Indian Literature
Medieval Indian Literature
Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature
Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature

The Sahitya Akademi is in the news these days, with one writer after the other returning their awards to protest against intolerance in the country, while other writers are against this form of protest. I don’t belong to that elite category of writers whose opinions matter, but it got me thinking about why I appreciate the Akademi so much. It is nothing to do with its awards but about the unsung people who form its staff, about the editors and translators, and the wonderful books they produce.

It is only through the publications of the Akademi that I have been able to read and know about Indian literature, past and present. I can read English, Hindi, and minimal Sanskrit and Gujarati [not enough to understand a book], have tried to learn Bengali and Telugu without much success, but what about the other languages, Tamil, Malayalam, Manipuri etc etc?

On my shelves is the wonderful Encyclopaedia of  Indian Literature in six volumes, that I went through page by page, a wonderful resource that I used to identify writers on religion for my book on Hinduism. Once I had chosen a few out of the hundreds, I used the Akademi translations to read their work. It is because of these my Hinduism book is so different from others on the same topic, as I have been able to include the best of regional literature.

And I hope the Akademi continues to produce these books, which I feel are its most important work.

[spell-check is trying to correct the spelling, but this is how the Akademi spells its name]