Literary Shelf

Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak (1921-1966)

Unique Poet of Promising Transition

Founder of Free Verse Front, Kundurti of hallowed memory for all poetry enthusiasts in Telugu, began and concluded his ‘intro* to a collection of Tilak's poems, quoting “our boy - a very solid boy". I don't know and perhaps nor does anyone for that matter - and it is not so important either - as to when where and of whom Balagangadhara Tilak had uttered this. But in this very pleasant evening of an imaginative poetic meet the sentence appears totally appropriate for an inviting beginning.

Placed in the context of the growth and flowering of Modern Telugu poetry, Tilak arrives on the scene of creative expression of imaginative experience at a time of very promising transition approximately between bhava kavitwa period and abhyudaya kavita emergence. He emphasizes the most important aspect of anubhooti, the summum bonum of visionary experience.

Balagangadhar Tiiak is a unique poet for many reasons. First, he had came to be reputed even before he was published. Secondly, he had a credo of his own and a mystique of his own. Thirdly, he had humanistic convictions and an imagination that stayed ever ignited, thanks to his classical bent of mind. Firmly rooted in our ethos, it was his good fortune that he emerged on the literary scene when the winds of transformation and total change had been blowing. As Kundurti, one of his admirers who later wrote a seminal kind of introductory essay to the much valued volume Amrutam Kurisina Raa Tri, wrote he brought into play a distinctive and captivating style which made him stand head and shoulders above his peers. I quote’ "Tilak is worthy of being listed among those new poets who led free verse to a new height with the richness of their genius." (All the quotes and poems in this are in my own translation).

Kundurti rightly mentioned two of Tilak's lyrics "prardhana" and "aarta geetani" as his most sublime, adding that "only he could write them". The observation that Kundurti with his insight into poetic achievement made stands out poignant as long as free verse lives. I quote;  "However progressive (abhyudaya) the idea and feeling (bhaava), unless it is given expression in subtie brilliance, it would not shine with effulgence. Tilak through his practice indicated that even progressive poetry could be given expression to beautifully without being insipid."

Tilak began writing in the early 40's of the last century in the previous millennium when bhaava kavitwam and abhyudaya kavitwam were vying for pride of place. Krishna Sastry and Sri Sri were renowned matinee idols of the muse in demand by the youth they inspired and encouraged to express themselves. Tilak took poetry seriously and believed that in the fortunate it is ingrained as Tilak's very life would stand testimony to. As an artist, he has his mystique not surprisingly in his incomplete poem naa kavitwam lOnEnu dorukutaanu, "I would be found in my poetry."

I would consider the statement his credo and that he deliberately left it a fragment, unfinished. (I remember Francis Bacon*. “‘What is justice?' asked jesting Pilate and did not pause for an answer.") The unfinished composition is a declaration of the poet's faith. I translate:

"Every poetry (sic) in a way is what the poet wrote about himself since isn’t it that all poetry is ultimately subjective?
I would be found in my poetry."

After having admitted two major influences on him, Krishnasastry and Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, in as much detail as a poem would pithily permit he goes into describing his stance in social / civil life. Tilak in this aspect is an intellectual and humanist. I translate his lines.

Along with the words of myriad stars, kingdoms Armies, revolutions, people, centuries Eddying before my eyes -1 becoming "I" - I stood on the other edge of consciousness. And then he goes on: “Poetry would change. The nature of poetry is changing." He states that hereafter that one should write on technique and the form of prose poetry. He had no patience to write on such, for several have been at it, with more patience and more thought. At this stage comes his averment:

The secret of creation the creator not knowing Is strange, wondrous, wondrous, strange 'Why did you give birth to this kind of boy What changes and powers have worked in you? If asked so no mother would be able to answer.

Life-force (prana) decides for itself as to what form to take Which form would suit it, it would determine It is not that the body is formed first and prana enters it.

Pat on the heels of this comes the intriguing question:

"Isn't it that prosodic verse has been there for hundreds of years?
Prosodic structures are there, why are you relinquishing them"

Here comes the composition to an abrupt end. The poet's voice trails off into silence. Was it deliberate or wholly unintended? Was it a mere pause to make up his mind? None would ever know. It is an unheard melody forever enchanting.

Poised between the romantic and progressive, drawn to the classical exuberance and the urgency of progressivism, he must have found it indiscreet to come up with any declaration at that stage. Perhaps he intended to answer the question he raised for himself but fate cut short his mundane stay in a hurry. He was a poet bridging the classical Sanskrit disciplines and the humanistic socialist thrust. Anubhhooti seasoned with samaajika spruha found a harmonious fusion in him. His distinctive style, fashioned deliberately, is loaded with an arresting mixture of Sanskrit provoking the reader to think beyond the superficial and an intense humanistic fervor of a feeling man. Here is a sampler:

Love Song about the City (1956)

With an arm round the slim waist of the Tank Bund
Drawing the beautiful City's face near
Gazing into the eyes of Abids tired with hoping
Kiss the cheeks reflecting the light of her lamps

Naubatpahad is effulgent like a jewel in her hair
Bunjara Hill breasts aquiver with amorousness
Underneath the soft petticoat of the nylon sari
The glory of buttocks and thighs of Secunderabad titillate

Amidst the thousands of sad songs of thousands of bars
The lust-arousing dance of the youthful woman transports
Through the door of the harem slightly ajar
Haltingly blows the stagnant air
From the moonlight spilt on the Hussein Sagar
A drunken sweet-sad tale of a lovelorn beauty is heard

While the warm feet feel the Smell of wilted flowers
Unrevealed lasciviousness flows out every night on the roads
The thick-headedness of the Telugus sweeps oddly
Along with the folds of dhoti roughly near MLA
Quarters Embrace lightly, loosely the growing beauty of the City
That grew from the coquetry of the astute female
Spilling out demure blushes of affectation in royal courts
Into the unhidden nakedness of industrial civilization
In the eyes drooping with lust, lust, intoxicating perfume of musk
You start with a jerk when the petrol stench hits you abruptly

River Moosi would be carrying silently, pathetically
The crude love-making and the grime of sin
The old eagle Charminar ruminating on her past glory
Cries aloud; "Deceit"... "Deceit".

Even so youth has not abated: delicacy has not diminished
Long live, Lady Love!
Hyderabad is the love god's bow
That has held close the feudal secrets.

My Poesy (1941)

My poesy is not a mystique
And not at all about what you say the mindset
And not, capitalism, socialism
Not dear confusion confounded, replete with senility

Moonlight oceans with glassy waves
Lamps of perfumes from joohi flowers
Enchanted worlds of diamond columns
Sandalwood structure of beautiful strange wonders

Birds from the bottomless ocean of pain
Blood vessels made by warriors of the holy law
Powers of sacrifice, of love and principles of peace
(Are) the resplendent voices of the scimitars of my art

My letters are doves of compassion ever wet with tear gushes
My letters are divine elephants bearing powers of the people
My letters are beautiful girls playing in moonlight

The night it rained nectar (1962)

The night it rained nectar
All were in sleep I alone,
Opening door, leaving home
Somewhere, far away Going beyond hill, beyond the dell,
Walked into the meadow of moonlight
And stood there

Divine damsels in the sky
Were gracefully running about
Star anklets on their feet
Were ringing loudly, melodiously
In their braids Parijata flowers hanging in bunches and bunches
Weighed down with heavy breasts and buttocks
They were bending like youthful bows.
Glancing, glancing at me, musically laughing said they:

Look! Look! That man
Handsome, a man
Bliss becoming a man
Wearing crown of dreams
With silken –tassels swaying
Penning lyrics of radiant music in the corners of his eyes
Playing veena of white smiles on his red lips
Conquered secrets none ever found out
One who loves life, one who know living
The sun risen or the fresh, new clouds of colorful imagination
He alone, for sure is our lover, man, our bridegroom

It rained musically
The stream of nectar flowed down
I drank in joined handfuls arid returned
Asked Grief and Death to get out
Pulled over me the sweet desire Kashmir sheet
Bore life like a garland of smiling hibiscuses
Put forward my first step in the victory march

The night it rained nectar
All were in sleep
Gone into slumber, tired of daily life
Embraced habit and un-independence
Courageless, slept folded into themselves
Could not hear the joyous invitation
Of the endless celebration of consciousness

For that reason, poor ones
Even till today none ever knew
That I am immortal!

Tilak shall remain a poet for the new age. New entrants in the field and enthusiasts cultivating poesy would do well to study his poetry in depth not just to become worthy practitioners but to grow with insightful observations about contemporary poetic achievement.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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Views: 3588      Comments: 6

Comment Exquisite piece of literary analysis and a critique par excellence!
Sir, may I request you to please enligten me as to the details of the original poem Sri Tilak translated in AKR with the title NEEVU (in Telugu)
What is the title of the original poem? Who is the poet?
Can you please give a link to the original poem and the poet?
Thank you. Regards.
R B R Sarma

R B R Sarma
11-Jun-2021 01:29 AM


Engaging. Lyrics are so fine. Poetry
penetrates consciousness and awakens man.


28-May-2016 19:45 PM

Comment a lot remains to be done
this could just be a small beginning
more enthusiasts should come up for this ' yajna' which it is

V V B Rama Rao
18-May-2016 21:23 PM

Comment An interesting insight into the unique poetry of Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak that was to inspire hundred of others - buttressed by appropriate translation of some illustrative poems by Dr VVB Rama Rao.

U Atreya Sarma
17-May-2016 11:11 AM

Comment dear dr mouli
thanks for your comment
there are several greats in telugu lit
people like us have to bring those to greater understanding and very great fame by writing about them in our boloji which has been a friend to all penmen and more importantly pen-women
all the best

dr v v b rama rao
15-May-2016 23:35 PM

Comment Thanks for an erudite and enthralling account of Tilak's poetry.The poems translated into English carry and communicate the flavour of Telugu poems gracefully.Patience, painstaking work and desire to share delightfully yield rich dividends, as is evident here.regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
15-May-2016 22:46 PM

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