Book Reviews

Amma's Gospel: Poetic Confluence

of Spirituality, Mysticism and Devotion

Amma's Gospel by Rajender Krishan
Paperback ISBN-13 : 978-1-947403116 Amazon ebook ASIN : B08LSYFLN4
Available on Amazon USA  | Amazon India  Also available in Tamil

India’s greatness as a literary and cultural nation is commonly believed to be ingrained in the conventional excellence of scriptural affluence, spirituality, mysticism and philosophy, in addition to many more. Oriental philosophy, particularly Vedantic philosophy - Vedas, Upanishad s- finds acceptance and relevance with reverence even in the expanding realm of modern science, particularly Quantum Physics. The troika of the spirit, intellect and life force thrives in either domain of knowledge and wisdom for their betterment,   unification and harmony. Indian literature feels pride in age-long tradition of devotional songs and metaphysical musings. Instances are galore; they can be seen even in the regional literatures of India. Like the classical devotional writers such as Vidyapati, Kabir, Surdas, Tulsi, Meera Bai, Raskhan and so on, Aurobindonian school of spiritual and mystical poetry is supposed to have given a different dimension to this sort of writing in Indian English Poetry to a considerable extent.

In the contemporary stream of eternal devotional and spiritual writings Rajender Krishan, a New York-based Indo-American poet, gets his name studded with celestial light of emancipatory illumination, by virtue of his debut poetry book “Solitude and other poems” and the recent book of gospels, entitled “Amma’s Gospel” which is a vivid account of the poet’s journey through the spiritual introspection to divine realization. He takes us with him, through his poetry, in the world of metaphysics and devotion from the mundane reality of existence. The poet has adroitly used his ‘Amma’ as a metaphor of beauty, patience, experiences, insights, devotion, introspection and hope of Indian lore and learning, trove of scriptural treasure and most importantly, inner conscience of man.

Rajender Krishan’s Amma's Gospel is a collection of forty-five evocative, reflective, philosophical, devotional and mystical poems which highlight importance of spirituality in human life. These poems, soaked in spirituality and mysticism, revolve around eternal themes of mysteries of life, death, cessation, and rebirth, renunciation and salvation. In addition, it also offers resolutions to the contemporary complex problems of human life. What is more remarkable about the present collection is that the poems are like the gospels - pearls of wisdom - profound truths, couched in charged words of spirituality and philosophy which open up a new vista on us. With a serious reading of the poems, readers are sure to feel fulfilled, elevated, revived and enriched. The titles of all poems are well chosen echoing the poetic and objectified essence and authorial intention. The book is the outcome of his subjective take on existential dilemma resolved by his insightful Amma with her oft-sought relevant guidance. The poet seems to be celebrating fond memories of his grandmother in whose memory the book is dedicated as a humble tribute. The poet reveals:

Whenever I am confronted with dilemma, I end up invoking Amma (my paternal grandma – Shrimati Ratan Devi: 1900-1982). I invariably get answers to the questions and also her guidance to deal with the difficult situations in life. As a humble tribute, this collection contains several poems where I have reflectively reminisced Amma, in an attempt to appreciate her fond memories and seeking her forever relevant guidance.

What is unique about the book is that it embodies the pictorial presentation of illustrations that aptly describe each and every poem. These wonderfully crafted illustrations make the poems comprehensible and enjoyable indeed. And for this Niloufer Wadia deserves accolades. She has beautiful eyes and hand to pen a poetic mind!

The book opens with the invocative poem “Om”, sacred and spiritual sound, which is symbolic of ‘primordial energy’. Like a man with spiritual bent of mind seeks the blessing of God before he undertakes a journey, Rajender ji also, before he shares his insights with us, chants and paints in words the inexplicable power of this cosmic sound -

The Only Verse
Manifesting eternally
The Universe (page 33)

He further offers his salutations through the poem ‘Namaste’, to the One ‘That pervades the entire Cosmos’. He has deep reverence for the sacred space of divinity that houses ‘The very Cause of Life’. The poem resounds the symphony of love, light, truth, harmony, enriching humility, compassion, fortitude that God endows us with, in times of solitude.

Amma is central to his poetic reflection and creativity. She is a metaphor, a symbol that he uses for expression of his philosophy of life that he has learnt in his life. His Amma ji is a simple, God-abiding lady who has not forgotten to follow Indian style of living even after facing colonial subjugation and suppression though she gained independence/ only to become a refugee,/ a migrant in her own country/ in the post-partitioned India. This is how the poet introduces his grandmother to his readers. Scenic beauty of evening housing her aroma is still felt around the poet who captures social, countryside and innocent rituals performed in Indian society:

Lighting the diya for the daily Aarti
Offering gratitude, seeking fortitude
Amma would engrave in our ambience
the Principle, that transforms even today
into a blessed and enthralling epoch
each time she walks down my memory lane. (page 37)

‘Leela’ is another beautiful poem dealing with supreme power of control- The Master Puppeteer! He describes this unified field of divinity as ‘Invisible and mysterious, as if nowhere, while effectively being now here, always within from birth to death’. People who want to get connected with Him are born and wander only to find a soothing place in His heart. He remarks:

the cosmos of Life
— in this eternal Leela —
wanders ad infinitum
in search of the miraculous
here, there, and everywhere. ( page 43)

The poet still remembers her saying, her explanations given in all contexts and the didactic lesson imparted to him. Following extract (also used as a refrain in the book) as part of great lesson of life taught to the poet by his Amma is expressive of Indian cultural and spiritual ethos -

Love yourself
by being true to yourself
Be not in haste to react
First anticipate then contemplate
then respond
Follow the right path
Be happy
Be successful. (Amma’s Gospel/ page 45)

‘Amma’s Gospel’, the titular poem, is deep and insightful in many a way. It is at the same time simple, elaborating and responsive with her classic, didactic and encapsulating vignette. She explains to the poet the repercussion of ‘the path of deceit’:

Stop electing
the path of deceit
in the journey of life
The path of deceitfulness
makes you the key contestant
against your very own self
while cruising through
the vagaries and variables
in the play of life
The sham and deviousness
of playing blame games
makes you a gadget of ego
that traps and ensnares
leading to a fraudulent integrity
of tumbling self-esteem
unable to see its very own reflection

‘Why Pray?’ underlines the power of prayer. She explains like a seer that offering and showing gratitude, through prayer, ‘brings fortitude/ With yearning to be in His Grace.’ Most importantly, her sermon ends up with beautiful lines –

Do not hanker, despise greed
Let other riches seek you
And remember always
You get what you deserve
Only when it becomes due (page 50)

In the poem “Cyclical”, the poet attempts to reiterate the eternal cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction, termed as ‘Leela’. Indeed, ‘cycle of physical birth and death is a subset of a larger cycle of Nature. All that happens in the world or life is the game plan of Prakriti and Purusha. Amma calls this a mere play the inexorable Leela. The poet writes of this Leela as:

incomprehensible plan
encompassing all laws
of physics and chemistry
in the form of
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
as the trinity
of creation, sustenance and destruction
manifesting eternally
from the unknown Energy
that has countless names (page 54-55)

The poet’s “Quest” and curiosity lead him to his Amma to seek the answer to yet another mystical question of ‘births and deaths’ and of course ‘salvation’. To understand all this saga, she suggests:

Be Silent and Listen
To what Life wants to say
Meditate on the experience
Get not attached
Simply immerse
Become the Witness
Relax (page 58)

Further, Amma tells him that the quest will never come to an end; it will ever go on and explains to the poet -

All conceptual debates
of birth, death, cycles, salvation
known and unknown
will adjourn and merge
in the abyss of silence
The Leela will march on
with the vibrance and radiance
of its own glory (page 59)

The poem “Word” reveals the power of words. Spiritually speaking, chanting of just one word would prove the key to unlock the supreme potential within, that encapsulates the absolute existence. That’s why she explains:

Be it any word
its several layers
concealed within
connect to other words
forever expanding
as the tree of life (page 62)

The poem “Amma”, a poem of memory and reflection, sums up the values and ideas, traits of Amma, an epitome of good and pious qualities of life, human pathos, Indian ethos, feminine insights etc. The poet takes pride in recalling her ‘lullabies’, ‘nurturing’, ‘parathas’, ‘command’, ‘generosity’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’. She was really much more than ‘Caring. ’

Even during the Pandemic time, the poet acts on the gospels of Amma to deal with the unprecedented situation. The poem ‘Healing’ is a testimony to the fact that each of her wisdom drenched words has a therapeutic impact on the poet- befriending the death and self-control and internal discipline. She mentions Patanjali’s yoga sutras and initiates him -

clean, committed, content,
honest, kind, loyal, non-violent,
persevering, poised and tolerant,


a cheat, greedy or a thief. (page 72)

‘Connection’ bespeaks of the ‘serenity of her silence’ while ‘her deep eyes talk conveying much’. Amidst the life leading words of Amma, the poet also remembers the wise words of his father who gives him the lesson of parenting. In “Destination”, the poet tends to recall his nuggets of wisdom -

Parenting is nothing
but a path
which changes
generation after generation
but never the destination.
The destination
always is emancipation
of the Self. (page 84)

While “Poise” talks of taming the wild impulses - ‘in all humility grows strong/ to reign the wild horses/ galloping in mind’s racecourse’, “Shiva”, on the other hand, symbolically represents and advocates the co-existence. The poem “The Present” is an incisive poem which attempts to define the time with a new metaphor -

Bound in the limits of
Time, Space and Causation
The perception of the present
the natural gift from God
remains perpetually camouflaged
within the diurnal shades (page 95)

“Gurdwara” is Kabiresque in content and intent. Imbued with the ethos of Sufism the poem is simple but spiritually powerful and soul-uplifting. The poem makes a trigonometry of thoughts, endeavors and devotion, finally leading to salvation of soul -

The realization
The attainment
− will simply be –
the primordial energy
the sound of the silence (page 104)

“Nature” unravels the mysteries of duality of existence and life and calls the process - two sides of the same coin, thus eulogizing the divine oneness of all objects of nature and the emotions.

as an eternal recurrence
thereby manifesting
Life of cyclic seasons in
the pairs of opposites
      Love and hate
      heaven and hell
      joy and sorrow
      birth and death …
      as the obverse and reverse
      of the same coin
One is amazed by this duality
as the singularity of Oneness
that the Gurus talk about (page 113)

“The Mystic” qualifies a mystic in terms of many acts of human life -

Desire compels learning
to accumulate something.
The mystic by unlearning
evolves to arrive at nothing (page 113)

“Impetus” is remarkable for the beautiful definition of a karmayogi

who doesn’t get daunted, but
accepts the surfacing challenges
and strives dedicatedly
to overcome the obstacles,
is actually the true Karma Yogi (page 117)

“Life” redefines life with noble symbols and metaphors. The poet says that’ Life is the only constant/ that is forever changing/ This four-letter word/ encompassing dynamic vibrance/ mysteriously challenging.’ The poem ends with a beautiful and mystical note -

Life - the eternal mystic
moves on
with its own conundrum
of paradoxes, riddles, puzzles
in myriad hues
of vagaries and variables. (page 121)

‘Heaven and Hell” is a beautiful poem which deals with philosophical construct of mythological heaven and hell. The poet regards it a state of mind or temperament of ‘one’s own persona’. He gives it a new meaning and remarks:

If welcomed
with hugs and smiles
sweet home is the heaven
reflecting one’s virtues
and good deeds

Instead, if nagged
and neglected - wretched hell is the house
mirroring one’s cruelty
immorality and misdeeds (page 139)

The beautiful anthology ends with “Renunciation” giving birth to the divinity of the soul. It alludes to the emancipatory process of transformation from seen to unseen, from gross to subtle, from death of the body to deliverance of soul from the existential bondage.

Accepting with gratitude
whatever life bequeaths
to become burden free
of all likes and dislikes
One, fearless of any loss
or worrisome of any gain
immerses in pure relaxation,
until the vacation is over (page 149)

He senses ‘fragility of life’. He is now under realization of transitory stay in this world. With this insight he reiterates that everything of life, however valuable it may be, finally becomes trivial and valueless. The lifelong bondage gives way to the ultimate truth of life. No fear, loss, gain stays permanently; they are lost and immersed in the ocean of eternity. And Soul with the Supreme Soul.

To sum up, with “Amma’s Gospel”, Rajender Krishan, the poet seems to have extended the frontier of poetry by carrying forward the flag of ancient Indian tradition of profound spiritual, philosophical, mystical, devotional heritage and cultures. His experience is dense, and the expression is lucid. Keen observation of human life and predicament,  rumination over life and death, utterances of profound wisdom, philosophical effusion, articulation of spiritual quest, intense longing to belong to the realm of divinity, glorification of a human figure as a beacon of devotion, with keen insights into spirituality and mysticism are some of major and distinct features of his poetry. He undertakes an inner voyage from the material and corporeal world of senses, to the celestial realm of self-awareness, and purity of soul and the experience followed by realization finds a brilliant expression in his poetry. His quest leads him and his self to soul - Self- realization. As the apex of his spiritual experiences and metaphysical musings, his poetry has a powerful undercurrent of universality of appeal for those who wish to explore meaning of existence and search for the identity.

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More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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