Wednesday, May 20, 2009
At Sridhar Srigudda (English shi -- 3 poems)
At Sridhar Srigudda   the rain comes   once again
electricity dies away   while lightning flares
tomorrow's my birthday   listening to night's rain
moutainside serenity   dissolves time's cares
I'll be 53   my life's plan not yet plain
I await a Calcutta job   my love affairs
are merely notes now   Bhairavi's sweet pain
my olden sarangi again prepares
Again late rain   again the lights are gone
to inscribe a poem   I use a mobile phone
bright lightning flares   deep thunder rolls anon
from yon one hears   the dinner-bell's brass tone
without an umbrella   sambhar I'll forgo
intoning verses   in my room alone
alas   "only myself   I do not know"
tonight at least   night's lovely dark is known
The Mother whom they invoke   is deep and hidden
her universe   reveals itself in parts
time will draw a line   through every line I've written
though it shine a spell   for some few eyes and hearts
I've yet to compile   a book of Asia verses
inspiration flashes out   in fits and starts
on tomorrow's stage   what my mind here rehearses
there's another's tongue   that this perchance imparts
Composed (in the instance, as SMS poems) May 19th [poem 1] and May 20th [poems 2 & 3]
Since some decades, I've periodically explored -- as here -- poems "in the Chinese manner" (flowing from my study of classical Chinese in the 1970s). The 8-line poem with 5 characters per line (mirrored by 5 stresses in these English lines) is the most basic and prevalent form of classical shi (often with the rhyme scheme seen in poem 1; the scheme used in poems 2 & 3 is my modification). [Note: in these particular poems, I've not followed some aspects of the form (especially concerning grammatical parallelism -- which in the most classical phase was pretty much requisite in the 2nd & 3rd couplets), though at times (in other poems in this form) I've delighted in exploring such.]
Sridhar Srigudda is an unusual temple complex and spiritual school located by a small hill near Kengeri (southeast of Bangalore City), off the Mysore Road. I've enjoyed living here (as a guest) all week, happy to say. Worship practiced (by the resident guru, Gurumatha Amma, and her students) includes the Tantrik Shaktism tradition known as Sri Vidya -- a tradition remarkably expounded and illuminated by Ammaji's ever-flowing discourses (which are oftentimes perhaps 20% in English, the balance in Kannada). One feels one has dropped into a gone world or century (in some respects), though spiritual principles underlying the ornate language and symbolism seem by no means antiquated.
In all, I've found this a fascinating follow-up to my couple-day stay at a Tibetan / Mahayana Buddhist monastery (Kopan Monastery) in hills near Kathmandu, a few weeks ago.
notes on poem 1:
line 2: "electricity dies away" . . . perhaps for some readers not resident in India, it might not immediately occor as obvious that when it starts raining, electricity (in one's abode) is apt to die out (one then resorts to candles). The (concurrent) lightning was of course literal; but coincidentally, recent recitations (heard from the Lalitha Sahasranama) had included names that note lightning as a special form of the Goddess.
line 7: Bhairavi -- an early-morning (or, in practice, oftentimes late night) raaga having four flat notes. This raaga is heard in many bhajans (devotional songs). In Hindustani concerts, it is fairly customary to conclude the program with a rendition of this raaga -- hence its strong familiarity. Bhairavi is one form of Devi (the Goddess), counterpart to the terrible-glorious form / aspect / phase of the life of Siva called Bhairava.
line 8: sarangi -- a bowed string instrument of Hindustani music.
notes on poem 2:
line 5: sambhar [Mid-20th century, via Tamil from Sanskrit sambhāra "collection"] -- a delicious soup made from lentils and vegetables, found ubiquitously in South India (and a staple at the temple kitchen)
line 7: "only myself   I do not know" -- this line forms the refrain in a ballade by François Villon.
note on poem 3:
line 1: "The Mother whom they invoke" -- in the tradition here noted, Devi (the universal Mother) is, as Lalitha Tripurasundari, understood to include comprehensively (in her triune nature) all aspects of Maha-Kali [consort of Siva], Maha-Lakshmi [consort of Vishnu], and Maha-Saraswati [consort of Brahma]. (In a different context and style, this idea has likewise been expounded by Sri Aurobindo -- albeit he looks at the Shiva-consort aspect under two rubrics [Maheshwari and Mahakali], bringing the number of fundamental facets of the Mother to 4 rather than 3.)
A locus classicus, Shankaracharya's Sanskrit poem Tripura Sundari Ashtakam (in 100 verses), has been rendered by Gurumatha Amma as a poem in the Kannada language; -- and the verses (along with their associated 100 yantras) are inscribed in polished granite at one garden shrine at Srigudda, aface a murti [statue] of Tripura Sundari. This new version of Shankara's ancient mystic poem was recently lent musical interpretation in a recording session (supervised by Ammaji) of my dhrupad music-gurus, the Gundecha Brothers. In connection with this recording project, Ammaji (with a group of her students) came and resided for several days at our gurukul [music school] Dhrupad Sansthan, some few months ago. At that time, she invited the music students to view Sridhar Srigudda in Bangalore as an extension of our Bhopal gurukul (hence my visit).
Initially I'd given the 3 poems individual titles --
1   ("mountainside serenity")
2   ("night's lovely dark")
3   ("through every line")
But as a linked sequence, such prolixity of titling seems excessive.