Dr. C. Narayana Reddy declares in the foreword to his volume in Telugu that he intended to write an epic in verse libre. Man is the protagonist of this epic titled “Viswambahara,” with vast universe as the canvass for the drama. It delineates the story of Man, irrespective of dates and names. Nature provides splendid back drop. In this elegant drama man dons different roles detailing prowess of mind.
Alexander, Jesus, Ashoka, Socrates, The Buddha, Lincoln , Lenin, Marx, Gandhi – myriad forms of Man. Lust, anger, greed, pride, introspection, ability to maneuver nature –so many variant shades in Man’s personality.
This volume seeks to chronicle the progress of Man from the beginning till date. Man’s endeavour has three dimensions – cultural, scientific and spiritual. In the process so many set backs. Though wounded, Man is not vanquished. These are the lines along which the poet wanted to pen the long poem.
Narayana Reddy firmly believes that this epic will provide immense satisfaction to all those who are able to understand and appreciate the spectacular saga of Man and his boundless expanse of aspirations.
Shiv. K. Kumar, a poet, novelist, passionate teacher and critic of eminence commends this epic splendidly in his foreword to the volume in English elegantly rendered by Amarendra. Kumar, capable of understanding the major concerns of Narayana Reddy, is willing to make allowance for appreciating the original poet’s sensibility. One has to agree with him, that Viswambhara is capable of enlisting enthusiastic, comparison with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s La Divine Commedia. This epic excellently records remarkable ambience where Man’s limited self and the unbounded divine spirit coalesce.
Narayana Reddy, the poet, propelled by poetic excellence seeks to project the munificence of the creator in endeavoring to present his effulgent self, through his major creation, Man. “God created Man in his own image”-- amply admired and affirmed in this volume.
Narayana Reddy, the quintessential writer, takes absolute delight in depicting man’s resurgence irrespective of his limitations He always maintained with humility that his poetry is known for alliteration, end rhyming and an underlying current of resplendent rhythm and wonders whether it is possible to transfer all these aspects into the target language.
Every translator tries to stick to the norms of his school of translation, while constantly straining to evolve a path and pattern of his own. Which ever translator ignores these aspects finds his own waterloo sooner or later!
A non-Telugu reader has to realize and relish the fact that Narayana Reddy and Amarendra, his translator, are both poets of eminence in Telugu, known for their flair for alliteration! Amarendra, peerless teacher of English literature and language, always delighted in drawing broad parallels between the best poetry of the west and the east. Thus, he may be mentioned as the earliest among the pioneers of comparative literature and cultural studies! Perhaps, he himself might not have realized the significance of his endeavors during his life time. He must have undertaken translation of ‘Viswambhara’ , purely an account of his personal liking for Narayana Reddy, the poet and the ever extending frontiers of themes and schemes of his poems.
Its is indeed a daunting task to convey through a short essay the tantalizing theme and alluring scheme chosen by the poet for his epic. Yet, a modest attempt is made to reflect upon this award winning volume.
‘Viswambhara’ has universe as its canvas and is universally appreciated. It has unveiled the cosmic view of the poet and his eminence has been aptly enhanced through numerous commendable awards. Dr Narayana Reddy received Jnaan Pith Award in 1988 for ‘Viswambhara.’
Singi Reddy Narayana Reddy chose ‘C’ which is in consonance with Telugu ‘Si’ and not ‘S’’ for his surname. This in itself amplifies the way in which the poet’s imagination and intent function. His creativity is stupendous, enormous and expansive. He has so far penned nearly 75 books, consistently bringing out a volume of poems on his birth day every year! Not many poets can equal or excel him.
The title of the epic Viswambhara is a synonym for the Earth. There are many attractive synonyms for The Earth. Among them the most bewitching term isVasundhara. The term implies that the earth proudly encompasses the areas where medicinal herbs, plants; glittering minerals like gold and silver; essential elements like sulphur and copper are abundantly available.
This earth—the origin and mother of Man in all his immaculate intentions to acquit himself most pompously and pertinently-- has always maintained a very low profile as far as similarly placed situations in the solar system are concerned. As every discerning intellectual acknowledges, there are innumerable planets pleasantly participating in the cosmic dance in this galaxy. Among them, the earth alone realizes and resplendently reflects the essential truth that Man, her child, has successfully spanned worlds admirably and emerged triumphant. Having acknowledged his birth and the underlying relationship, she has gracefully borne the burden of the labor. Hence, she is called Viswambhara, the universal mother who could bear any kind of remark for Man’s acts of commission and omission.
Viswambhara, true to its meaning potential, has delineated and depicted the delightful journey of Man from the beginning till this day.
“Man is the apex of the rhythmic throb of nature
Man is the image of revolving universe”
Then the poet goes on to elucidate the mighty realms ruled by the mind of Man, since he himself encompasses the universe.
“Within him a rapture
Which the moon beam did capture in its thrill.
Within him an agony
Stood in front the monsoon cloud.
within him a fury
The wild lion leaped forth.
With him a harmony
In front arose a gyrating symphony.”
Then we find the poet talking of subsequent events. He takes delight in depicting identity between Man and Nature.
“Nature’s voice shaped a poem.
The poem became mind’s embodiment
on the screen of the mind the bird of poesy
waves its wings like a mighty swan
unfolding the sheaths of time
sounding the fathomless depths of the world.”
Further, dwelling on the creativity of Man the poet states:
“The spirit of poesy was in anguish,
The tree shed its green foliage.
the sky dropped its starry tears;
the dark phase engulfed the sky
the earth was enveloped in smoky wreaths.
the spirit of poesy looked with blood-shot eyes;
sticks flashed like shining blades;
lumps of clay transmuted into orbs of fire;
bleating lambs roared like tigers
cages of bones felt the animation of tempest blasts.”
Narayana Reddy then declares :
“The spirit of poesy lifted up its chant--
the tapering swords became plowshares
spears became vibrant pens
deserts smiled as green stanzas
the flying eagles of steel became cooing doves of silver.”
Narayana Reddy’s poetry, chiefly characterized by Sabdaalankara , at once captivates and conquers readers of all dispositions. What is to be realized realistically and understood analytically is his supreme command over the language and craft. His peerless ‘poetic competence’ and unsurpassable ‘structuration competence’ make him an outstanding poet who is striding the poetic arena like a colossus. The poet dramatically and imaginatively projects the inalienable bond between ‘vak’ [word] and artha [meaning]. In his poetry one can delve into fathomless depths of the ocean and soar to the dizzy heights to experience exquisite of joy of imagination.
kattula orala miida
kaagitam porala miida
cheekaTi karrala miida
tambura burrala miida
The above lines are admirably translated into English by Amarendra.
“On leaves, on plates
on walls and on finger-nails
on the scabbards and on rolls of paper
on walking sticks and on the chambers of tanpuras
it flapped its pinions
it pranced with its hoofs;
it danced with out- spread hoods
it spread its tinted parasol.”
The poet then goes on to describe how man diversified into another aspect of creativity-sculpture. Narayana Reddy, the poet who provided lilting lyrics to numerous Telugu movies, is very well remembered with reverence by Telugu people for the immortal song he penned for the ever green art piece “Amara Shilpi Jakkana” when he stated:
“In these dark boulders
whose eyes took refuge
in these heartless stones
whose tender spirits pranced…”
[Translated by T.S. Chandra Mouli]
Amarendra, the translator, doesn’t lag behind. He exhibits his enormous reserves of creative energy in the following lines:
“The rock echoed with musical melodies unheard
The rock blushed like a veiled bride with bashful cheeks.
The rock shed bitter tears of sighing anguish
The rock ignited myriad flames of swords of frenzy.
Why does the rock feel one with the
Man that delves it?
Why does the rock feel kinship with the craving chisel
gnawing all over?
Is it because the rosy lips came to dwell
In those rocks where tigers roared?
Is it because the silken skeins of moonlight looms where
venomous vipers hissed?
The rock felt thrill upon thrill
Assuming visionary shapes
With nectarine grace
Holding up a mirror for the spirits’ face”
The third canto dwells at length on the divergent faculties of mind and its dazzling dimension during the further progress of man and his cultural and spiritual evolution.
“The mind is the foot of the tree
It sucks the sap from layers unseen
Boisterously it laughs,
The tender buds unfold as leaves.
It sometimes wails and weeps in aguish
The leaves fall off like drops of dew”
While giving different definitions to the mind of man ,the poet ecstatically enumerates its effectiveness:
“The mind is a mighty ocean
its craves to trespass the bounds it had set.
Its seeks to gulp in a drought the sister earth,
Its rushes whistling leap on leap
And it retreats whining;
It enfolds within the sky entire
It longs to spread out all over the blue”
The poet, a keen observer of the ongoing drama sarcastically remarks:
“Himagirula pai egasee manasee
iruku loyallo chorabadutundhi
arunodayanalunu prathistinechee manasee
piriki chikatloo digabdutundhi”
The version in English runs thus :
“The mind hovers over Himalayan summits
disdains not to enter dark crooked lanes
the mind ushers glorious dawns
gets entangled in gloom’s quagmire.”
While the poet glorifies the grandeur of mind and its efficiency, he is conscious of the limitations as well.
“Desire is the root of mind
Restive its nature
When desire multiplies it becomes lust”
Then the question unfolds amazingly:
“Is sorrow life’s essence?
Is there none emancipated from desire?
Is there no light devoid of a shadow!”
Stupefied by the demonic forces performing delirious dance of destruction and death, the poet raises a query in anguish:
“Shall the universe be reduced to ashes to gain a victor’s glory?
shall the lust for empires be slaked only with human blood?
can the hand that hacks a thousand gardens
make a single blossom bloom?
the mouth that utters the hideous shouts of death
can it fondle a single babe?”
Man’s inhumanity and greed for power fuel expansionist endeavors not only in India but all over the world. 20th century which has witnessed some of the bloodiest battles for power and global domination, has also been gifted with the precious preaching and noble acts of the mahatma, who has inspired Martin Luther King in America and Nelson Mandela in Africa.
Dr. Narayana Reddy, peerless exponent of Maatra-Chandas, quips:
“VinaashanaM jarigite kaadu
VievekaM perigithe gelupu
SamaraM ragilinchedi bheethi
SahanaM Warshincheedi preethi
AnuraagaM chese saasanamee
Amarendra, the translator, renders the passage thus:
“Not in destruction but in expanding illumination
true victory is scored
War kindles fear, compassion showers love
The sway of love is mightier than slaughter
That is the essence of rule”
Here, the poet maybe unconsciously echoing Jayantha Mahaptra’s sense of loss and humiliation resulting from the Kalinga war imposed on Orissa and her people by Ashoka, the emperor, who subsequently realized the futility of bloody wars and embraced Buddhism spreading the message of love and the significance of non-violence.
A buoyant optimist, the poet – for that matter any creative person – categorically confirms :
“The dawn rests not idle
without radiating the rays
spring-tide rests not idle
without wafting fragrance
flowing water rests not idle
without flooding the plains below,
revolting mind rests not idle
without darting questions far.”
The poet guides the questing spirit thus:
“The mind shuns evil only when it knows of good and ill
only when it knows of mire the foot walks steadfast,
only in the mind that is leveled, enquiry gets sharpened.
In the dust we can never behold the dawn.”
Then, Narayana Reddy presents the exciting expansive history of Man, where forces of darkness made a vain attempt to blur the brilliance of beaming spirits. Poignant reference to crucifixion of Jesus lends a new dimension to the discourse. Veiled references to dark hours in democratic free India in the not so remote past testify to the ever awakened social consciousness of Narayana Reddy.
The fourth canto throws up the question—
“How many stages in Man’s journey great?
How many changing phases in Man’s course?”
Now, the poet at once draws our attention to the similarity between a Man and a tree-an apt comparison- urge to survive , extend and perpetuate are the most common features.
Yet, death and decay threaten life on this earth—Viswambhara. One notices the poet dwelling at length on spiritual and philosophical aspects of Man’s life :
“The mortal frame is a top
set swirling by the animating breath
when does it come to a halt
who can tell us?
Man who cannot keep the body going
why does he proclaim that he is one with the divine?
Man who has no glimpse of what lies behind the veil
why does he propound the doctrine supreme?”
He further probes:
“Are these cloaks to conceal ignorance?
Are these the antics to cover up helplessness?
Can the woven cobwebs ever be solid mansions?
Can the tantalizing mirage with its flashing ripples
ever be an ocean concrete ?”
Narayana Reddy, the poet, asserts:
that his pet tricolor parrot
might at any moment be snatched away
by the six eagles that gnash their bills night and day;
that the five-petalled flower which enchants him
Might be blasted any moment by the hungry tempest of time.”
We also notice how situations shape ordinary men into heroes: ‘
“Ee rampaM koota leekunTe
eelaa puduthundi weNuwu?
Ee uli debbaa padakunTe
eelaa palukuthundi staaNuwu?”
[Viswambhara (Telugu)–– P-83]
Amarendra, the translator renders the lines as under:
“Without the gnawing saw
the reed cannot be fashioned as a flute,
without the stroke of chisel
the stone cannot be carved as an articulating idol.”
This perpetual pressure prompts Man to exciting, extending activity, so that he himself paves the path for redemption, resurgence and provides much needed twist and turn to the halted march to progress.
The fifth canto launches the reader into the blazing, buoyant realms of the poets’ superbly sculpted secure zones. The basic concern of any humanist is the well-being of the common man. A poet with a soft and socialistic out look always emphasizes the essential equality of human beings, irrespective of their back grounds:
“Diverse are the colors of cows
but is not their milk white?
Whatever be the color of skin
all blood is ruddy.
Coming out of the cave
you have entered the shrine. “
Narayana Reddy is endowed with remarkable gift of connecting the past and the present in portraying what is desirable and dignified.
“The hand that worked the wheel
the hand that framed the law
the brain that fashioned the poems
the mind that nurtured science
shared the same reward
shared the same regard”
The poet has not forgotten the way his motherland, India, secured freedom from foreign yoke and the man who magnificently, yet silently, led the masses.
“In the throat of salt
a fiery spirit arose
in the hum of the spindle
echoed the trumpet of war.
In a million hearts shone one luminous form,
in all corners of the land waved one banner.”
This modern epic suffers not in time warp. It celebrates most exultantly the dawn of independence:
“It is a peerless dawn
Sunrise at mid-night
The eager dawn flaunted
the tricolor banner;
every stream and ford chanted
the paean of liberation.”
Highly conscious of the constraint of times that thwart man’s progress, throwing his delicately, diligently drawn designs in disarray, Narayana Reddy affirms:
“When darkness sets its snare
to eclipse that vision
to obliterate that light,
when the mind’s brilliance gets tilted
thought as a weapon
conscience as a prop--
Man forges ahead
overcoming the environing hurdles.”
Reminding the discerning reader of what John Milton opined of the powers of the mind in ‘Paradise Lost ’, Narayana Reddy confidently declares:
Between the sage and the brute
between refinement and defilement
between impulsion and compulsion
between compassion and carnage
the mind holds the balance delicate
the mind saws the sad primordial.”
This superb scholarly work signs off on a note of robust optimism, reminding one of Robert Browning and his ‘Pippa’s Song.’
“Man is the robe of the mind
and the universe is the mantle of Man.
This is the earth’s perennial nature,--
this is life’s eternal feature.”
From the details mentioned above, one can conclusively confirm that Viswambharais a modern epic—Man is the protagonist. Cosmos is the canvas. Time eternal, time continuum plays a vital role in the drama narrated. Various vistas of life are graphically portrayed with the minutest of details. The language chosen is befitting the theme and scheme of this admirable work. Numerous characters lend luster to the brilliant drama. The theme is of abiding interest with lilting lyrical lines, sensuous images, amazing awareness amplifying several significant phases and moments in human evolution, rendering this brilliant piece of art qualify for the the sub-title—a modern epic. The poet’s competent handling of the subject and comprehensive delineation, incorporating all momentary moments, extend a sharp edge in making this work a peerless classic.
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Parts of this paper appeared in ASLE-India News Letter,2007.
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