by Rajendra Singh Baisthakur
Mahati, (Mydavolu Venkata Sesha Satyanarayana), an Indian classical poet in English by his own right, writes, apart from short poems, long poems based on Hindu Epics and mythology. His widely read Finding the Mother is based on The Ramayana, his favourite epic. His Hare Krishna is based on The Bhagavatham, the story of Sri Krishna. His first book is The Golden Lotus and a recent one, Bhakti. His poems are published in several international magazines regularly. The Ganges is a story about a mythical king Bhageeratha who is an icon of perseverance. Indians consider the Ganges, not just as a river, but as mother. She is called Ganga and affectionately called ‘Gange’ and ‘Ganga mayya’ (mother Ganga) even today. The entire poem is personification of the river.
King Bhageeratha’s sixty thousand great-grandfathers were burnt to ashes by saint Kapila’s powerful gaze for their mischievous behaviour. As per Hindu rituals, after the dead body is cremated, a small portion of the dead man’s ashes had to be submerged in any holy river. Till then the dead man’s soul would not be eligible to go to heaven. So, to submerge the ashes of so many, a river had to be brought that way to wash away the ashes. Being a descendent of the dynasty, it was the responsibility of Bhageeratha to see that his ancestors went to heaven. He was advised to get the Ganges, a river, from heaven. So Bhageeratha tried to get it to the earth and to see that it flowed over the ashes of his ancestors. Now let us see the flow of The Ganges from the pen of Mahati.
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The book is organized into three sections. The first Section is ‘Prayer’, second is ‘Ganges’ and third consists of many short poems with the title ‘Saadhana’. The Ganges is presented in seven parts. In the first part Mahati describes the birth of the Ganga. She took birth as a spring from the feet of Lord Vishnu. She is considered pure and holy. She flowed along heaven ‘where angels ply’. She was ‘playful’ with a ‘wary gait’. Everyone welcomed her as ‘destroyer of sins’. Dhanvantari, the lord of herbs and medicine, gave her ambrosia to make her waters sweet and healthy. He foresaw her future and had told her that one day she would reach the earth to wash off the sins of human beings. All the gods blessed her as they drank and bathed in her water. In the second part we find king Bhageeratha standing erect with hands raised above his head and gazing at the hot Sun, on a hot summer day, without a wink. Avoiding his royal comfort he was at a place which was like a ‘furnace’. His deep meditation continued in all the seasons to please god and see that his ancestors reached heaven. The reason behind Bhageeratha’s meditation and the purpose of it is narrated in the second part. He was attempting a ‘task Impossible’. In the third part we have Bhageeratha’s penance to please the Creator which made him almost a skeleton. Then Lord Brahma appeared and granted his wish. He asked Ganga to fulfill the wish of Bhageeratha. But after his going she told Bhageeratha that when she came down to earth there should be somebody strong to bear her mighty gush. She advised him to pray to Lord Siva to bear her heavy fall from heaven. In the fourth part Bhageeratha tries to please Siva. He made his body stand upside down on his right thumb and started meditation in that posture. Siva came with his consort Uma and had asked Ganga to descend on his head. In part five Ganga, a maid with ‘violent passion’ was in ‘rapture throes’ for a ‘rendezvous’ with Siva and descended on his head with all her force as if to see if he could control her. He confined her in his long hair and she was unable to stir. She realized her maiden rashness and the omnipotence of Siva. All her pride was humbled. Again Bhageeratha prayed to Siva to release her. He did and Ganga could come out to flow on earth. In the sixth part, Ganga, ‘no more a carefree girl’, flows as Bhageeratha leads. In the last part, inadvertently, Ganga submerges the ashram of saint Janhu and to teach her a lesson he drinks the whole river. Then Brahma came and asked the saint to release the river for Bhageeratha. The saint sent out Ganga through his ear. She flowed on and moved over the ashes of Bhageeratha’s ‘cursed ancestors who burned sans pyres’ washing away their sins and enabling them to go to heaven. Thus Ganga came to earth from Heaven because of Bhageeratha.
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Here are a few glimpses of Mahati’s poetic charm:
He describes the movement of Ganga as an active maid
“She raised and fell, careened, wobbled and veered.
she flowed to left, usurped the right, deluged
the highs and flooded lower realms.”
He presents Uma, wife of Lord Siva as
“Themother smiled like showering flowers white!”
“Her eyes cool pools of kindness, voice soft hum
of honey bees ….”
When Lord Siva was about to appear before Bhageeratha
“lakelets swelled up to their brims and lo
opened their liquid eyes to have a clear
and pleasant glimpse of …..”
Well suited to his theme he presents some philosophical concepts
He writes about human predicament as
“Abrupt is birth, wary the tread, and a sudden flee
the death. Aware too well, we still corrupt
our lives with greed and waste with deeds inept.”
Ganga, proud of her power and charm, was ready to play coy with Siva when she descended on His head. So the poet made Him say she was
“About to create a holocaust this dame!
both love and ire are dangerous when run
Mahati displays deep understanding of Philosophy when he presents an unfamiliar concept of Siva’s trident being the destroyer of the three gunas (the qualities of Satva, Raja and Tamas which separate the Absolute from the transient)
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“that slayer of triple traits;
the Trident spear …”
Mahati believes in Bhakti (devotion) as a way to salvation and surmises
“Can worldly bonds be snapped by prayer
and can quiet muse destroy one’s arrogance
He makes a meaningful statement that devotion and love are the same when he says
“Bhakti and love are the same, but manifest
they differently! They have to fructify
Thomas Hardy, an English Novelist, questions God’s ways saying, “Are we flies to wanton boys”. So does Mahati when he said, “He makes to break, just like an impish boy”.
In the poem “Seven Ages of Man” Shakespeare says that life is a drama in which each plays his part.
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Here Mahati makes humbled Ganga say, “Hence let me play my part in this drama” of Maya.
Man puffed up with ego had to finally surrender before God. Here Siva creates a situation for Ganga through which her powerful ego subsides and she surrenders to Him. “all airs to fast destroy”.
Even in his smaller poems we find a deep philosophical tinge.
“Take heart my friend! Beneath thy sensual fold
there hides a lidded eye –let it unfold!”
(“Snakes and Ladders”)
Some of Makati’s passages show his skill in describing things.
Bhageeratha after his meditation for a very long time appears as
“Almost a skeleton now with stinky raw
flesh hanging loose from bones, on which wild crows
ere having royal feast, with courtly bows.”
Crows sitting on his body eating his flesh ‘with courtly bows’ — what an expression!
There are some graphic expressions “shivering with ecstasy”.
“the king waited, with dropping frozen tears”.
“the body camphor white and diamond bright” (Siva).
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Mahati is adept in dramatizing for greater effect.
At the outset the flowing away of Ganga from the feet of Vishnu is described as
“…. a nectarous froth
there bubbled out …..
oh like a daughter who betrayed the troth
to parents made, to reach a beau uncouth.”
The poet does not seem to have any problem in describing ‘chaste’ Ganga as an eloping girl.
When the sons of King Sagara abused saint Kapila and when he opened his eyes
“When opened they, O my
O my, ejected flames like blazing spears”
And burnt to soot those dolts, ere felt they fear.”
Lord Siva appeared to have fun by teasing his consort Uma when He asked Bhageeratha
“‘You want me hold that river dame
and place on earth’, glanced teasingly at Ma
Uma and smiled. “
Siva was playful with Ganga too.
“The lord just smiled and made a mocking bow”
Mahati uses romantic expressions too
“angelic arrogance and a virgins quandary”
“… long flowing tresses, glowing eyes
And tempting smiles! Ganga was aroused to cries!”
The poet takes liberty to make some bold statements through proud Ganga
“The Gods are kind and gullible too”
“Once here, my raving senses fast turned numb!”
Landing of Ganga on the head of Siva has a yogic dimension. Head has Sahasraara chakra (A lotus with thousand petals) and is the right place for humbling the pride of Ganga. And ‘Kreem’ is a holy sound that invigorates spiritually.
heard a peacock song … kreem, kreem, ….”
The poet uses Dramatic Monologue, a beautiful technique for powerful clear expression of one’s mind. Ganga realizes the advances of moon on the head of Siva and says
“Oho! I now realize! You are here at His
Behest, to test devotees His ..”
Like Wordsworth Mahati uses Pathetic Fallacy where in human emotions are attributed to nature or parts of it. When Ganga started flowing on earth he cautions her saying
“watch out for stabbing stones
the prickly shrubs with stubborn thorns”
No article is complete without noticing the language employed by the writer.
Any writer worth his name would choose his diction suited to the theme he attempts to write. Mahati’s diction too, is suited to his classical themes. John Milton chose a grand style with high sounding words for his poems based on biblical themes (“things unattempted yet in prose or thyme”). Compared to other works of Mahati, his diction in The Ganges is easier to follow. Unlike the turbulent chasm of the earlier works, here is a smooth flow of words like the sober movement of a wide river to make us feel the poem. His creative use of language is seen in expressions like “‘Bolt-hit’ some trees caught fire”. Mahati shows his prowess in Prosody by employing different rhyme schemes and a variety of poetic forms like Ballad, Sonnet etc, in his smaller poems.
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As Mahati’s poems are read internationally, to understand things related to Hindu beliefs and rituals foot notes for non English concepts or words like ‘Fire-quintate’,’ Indra’, ‘ten senses’, ‘Bilva’, ‘Daamru’, ‘Rajput’, ‘Linga’, ‘Om’, ‘Mridanga’, ‘deva’, ‘ringing collars of holy bull’ etc, becomes a necessary tool for proper understanding of his work.
Apart from foreigners, most of the Indian youth too are not aware of the story of Bhageeratha. Along with knowledge of Indian mythology, the feeling one gets after reading The Ganges and Other Poems is satisfaction of reading good poetry.I recommend this book to young and old, Indians and foreigners as the reader will get a feel of Indian values, culture and way of thinking.
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Mahati’s email Id: [email protected] His book can be reached through
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194535646/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_9vsdGbA3MN174.
About this author: Rajendra Singh Baisthakur, Professor in English (Retd.), is a Poet, Critic, Translator, Thinker and an active person in social media. He has been publishing poems, papers related to different fields including Literature. His research on Matthew Arnold got him a valued research degree. He is interested in Literature, Music, Philosophy, Writing and Translation.
email: [email protected]