Endless crow noises
A skull in the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger.
White-clad widowed Women
past the centers of their lives
are waiting to enter the Great Temple
Their austere eyes
stare like those caught in a net
hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith.
The fail early light catches
ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another,
a mass of crouched faces without names,
and suddenly breaks out of my hide
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
that fills my aging mother:
her last wish to be cremated here
twisting uncertainly like light
on the shifting sands
Dawn At Puri by Jayanta Mahapatra as a poem is not only a poetical piece from an Indian English poet, but from an Oriya Christian who has taught not literature, but physics in the classrooms. Jayanta is primarily an imagist for whom poetry is but imagism; image-making and a weaver of myths too, private and personal. As a poet, he is very complex and tedious as because images can never be explained easily and the second thing is this that he is a modern poet and that too from physics where the theories of light and darkness, the origin of the universe will definitely make a way for. In Jayanta, there lies in many a trait; feature. He is an image-maker, a myth-weaver, a dreamer, a visionary; a realist, a surrealist, a feminist; a modern, a modernist and a post-modern, psychological, sociological, historical. A poet regional, he is first an Oriya then an Indian, national and international. Generally, Puri, Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack are the hub round which the whole spectacle of his poetry revolves.
Though it is difficult to paraphrase an Indian English poem, shorter in form and expression, generally the modern poets, in addition to it, Dawn at Puri is a poem of Puri and the adjacent Jagannath temple and together with it, the faith and doubt implied in, inculcating, faith as for the queue of the devotees consisting mainly of the widows or the women past their hectic life while on the other hand the lepers as an unrecognized mass, deciphered and figureless twitch the soul for an expression, make us sorry for that, telling of how the Kingdom of God, what man's life and what it remains it here.
The poem begins with the endless crows crowing, not calling unexpected guests or something of the disaster to come, but in the likewise manner as it happens at Gaya relating to the pinda-dana. There must be crows to take foods offered to as the numbers are dwindling. If we see differently, taking Daruwalla under consideration, the vultures are difficult to be sighted on the doonger-varis and the Parsis are facing problems in connection with doing away with the dead bodies. But whatever be that, we are here on the sands of Puri marking the funerals; the pyres burning, so did see Jayanta Mahapatra. As a poem it is contradictory too as the poet with the cawing of the crows, refers to the theme of hunger and with it the scarcity of food and the plenty of food wasted. The poor country, food problem, hunger, literacy, uneducation and blazing earth all get referred to on the one hand while on the other the plenty and diversity of India lies it contradicting the thesis. Whatever be the point of deliberation, the poet refers to the cawing of crows, the pyres burning on the holy sands and the holy skull lying thereon.
The white-clad widows are waiting to enter the great temple, the gateway to heaven, Jagannath Puri temple who have nothing left with them to aspire for, dream or desire, past their centre of activity, taking time to, passing their lives. Here the poet makes us remember of Mahadevi Verma, Mira Bai and Suryakanta Tripathy Nirala who wrote the poem Bharat Ki Vidhwa, The Widow of India. Together with it, come the pictures of The Fakir of Jungheera by Derozio who marked on the banks of the Ganges at Bhagalpore and the dislodging of the obsolete and heinous Sati system taking to the days of William Bentick, Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar when they took to it as offence or sin against humanity and God.
Their austere eyes tell of their tearless faces, dried from weeping and the falling of tears, tuned stone and they are standing as rocks and stones never to melt anymore and the stare caught in the net of the dazzling feeble sunlight glistening at dawn.
The frail early light falling on the lepers and catching them light pains us with its imagery so do the poems of Nissim Ezekiel who hears the leper music on the platform and Daruwalla who refers to them and the amputees and here lies in the Christian sensibility at work, service to God is service to man. It is also an irony to see the lepers sitting at the gate of the rock-built temples, stupendous and magnificent in their structure, contradicting faith and doubt, human life and piety and questioning, what is God, what religion, where is He, who actually religious? Service or piety? Purity of feelings or in the false show of religiosity?
And in the midst of all this, the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre lights up the landscape reminding him of the wish of his ageing mother. It may not be applicable to him, but the people in a general way thinks of the feelings of the motherly old folks, as he is a Christian. But instead of it, her last wish to be cremated here twists certainly like light on the shifting sands.
The structure of Dawn At Puri is that of the three-line format and he has followed it unto the last. A small poem it transmutes and transforms many a thing. The first three lines of the first stanza speak about three things distinctly, the first about the crows crowing which but a common ornithological scenery here in India., the second line about the holy skull lying on the sands which was but once as living man and the third about heat and dust, hunger and poverty doing the rounds all over, a vast country to feed and clothe is the greatest problem, a country reeling under illiteracy, ignorance, backwardness, superstition, inaction and fatalism. Indian poverty described uniquely by the crows, astrologers, palmists, pundits and the middle men, the dana-doers and the dana-takers.
Though the poet does not say it, but it contains several layers of hidden meaning. Who can but say it that burning on the holy sands of Puri complex will have the privilege of crossing by the Gateway of Heaven? It is difficult to arrange for the makeshift logs for an outsider.
The second stanza is a line and count of the widows, Indian widows waiting to enter the Great Temple, perhaps with Jai Jagannath, Krishna Murari. The contrast is, what they to get? What for to pray to as there is nothing left in their lives?
The stanza is about the austere, waterless eyes of the widows who are so distraught and destitute after the death of their husband that these appear to be caught into the fishing nets by the dawn's shining strands of faith.
The fourth about the frail dawn light catching the leprous shells scrambled together, just as a nameless mass. Here we are dumb-struck to comment anything. Poetry turns useless here. Similarly piety too. Religion is not in rituals; pontifical shows. Where is God? Here doubt thrashes faith for being hypocritical and egoistic. Service to man is service to God.
The fifth stanza is a scenery of a dead body burning on the sea beach and the light lighting up it all. And suddenly breaks in the solitary sullen pyre out of his hide burning somewhere or far, telling of the last rituals being done, the body being cremated around the halo lit around with the flames feeding upon on the holy sands of the Puri temple. With it, the poet gets remembered of the wish of his ageing mother. The aging mother of the poet too feels it so.
The sixth one is all about the same wish of his old mother twisting certainly like light on the shifting sands. But light is light, frail and dazzling, shaky and shifting so are the sands so is faith, what to rely upon? Faith too changes and takes sides with, cannot be relied upon. There is nothing in this world certain and taken for granted. Everything is but in a flux, ever-changing, ever-shifting.
Dawn at Puri is a poem of faith and doubt stranded on the vast seashore of Puri marking the funeral pyre burning, the black crows crowing, the holy skull lying on the sands, the widows queued up to enter the Great Temple and the lepers scrambling as nameless figures. Crows and the skull picture a world raked by hunger, scarcity, heat, dust and thirst; depravity, mismanagement and trouble. The white clad women who are in rows about to enter the temple have nothing left with them just with the eyes looking waterless. What to ask for from the deity, deliverance or something else? The dawn light flashes upon and shifts to, frail and shaky in its presence. The lepers assembled add to the pity and misery of the poem and contrast faith with doubt and suspense. Where actually is faith? Why does God not see it all? Again the dawn light dazzles over the pyre burning on the sands. The sudden blaze lights up the sky reminds him of the wish of the mother who too likes it to be cremated here as Puri is the swargadwara. As dawn light is frail and shaky in its presence so is human faith staggering. Nothing is certain here, everything but temporary and transitory.
Dawn at Puri is actually a prelude to the asthi-kalasha and the epilogue to the pinda-dana. What is more remarkable about it is the use and application of imagery and the short structure assigned to it but lying with meaning and idea, thought and content. It is a Puri Jagannath Temple imagery; the sea beach where it continues the cremation.
Dawn at Puri By Jayanta Mahapatra is not a simple poem to be taken simply as it carries the images terse and tedious through a language dazzling with imagery and imagism, an Odiya Christian taking to the Jagannath Puri temple complex and the sea beach looking upon or adjacent to it, a poem of faith and doubt as well, not Victorian, but Indian, faith as for in the search for piety and doubt cast over as per the aspersion with regard to the sanctity of thought and expression. Such a thing none but a professor of physics can only say it employing the theories of light and darkness. The dawn, the break of it and its glisten clutches along not the widows past their centre of life with the eyes austere and hard, but the lepers disfigured and nameless identified as a mass strangely huddled together. How pitiful is it to view the scenes and landscapes, the light catching sight of and glistening over with the dawn-break to be contrasted with the cawing of the crows and the rituals, the rock-built temples and the lepers sitting at the entrance to the magnificent temple? The widows in the queues and rows for the turns to come tell of the contrast between faith and reality. whatever be that, the poem takes the recourse of its own. This is not the end of the story. The poet sees the solitary pyre burning on the sands and the lighting of it with the smokes arising out and with it, the last wish of his mother strikes him with her desire of being burnt on the holy sands of the Great Temple, which is but the swargadwara, the gateway to heaven.
A small poem, it can contain in so much of poetic idea and imagination; it is a marvel of imagery and reflection, picture and penetration. Everything is but frail and futile. A short poem it hides in the layers of meaning as we keep feeling them. How to say it which is what and what is what? Why is faith so frail? Why doubt seems to be lurking around? When doubt looms around, where does sacrosanct faith seem to be getting away? Where is God? Why does He not help the poor and the needy? Where is faith? What is life, man’s life? How his existence? What does it remain it here? The pyre and the ashes? If ashes lie in as remnants, what it in rituals? Is the holy skull the end of life? The mortal remain of a man or a theologian? To quote in the words of Nissim Ezekiel, if these cannot be explained, explain you not, as he says it in his poem, Philosophy.