Theme: Humanity

The Brahmin

(From the Chaandogya Upanishad)

In the shades of the darkening woodlands
On the banks of the river Saraswati
The evening sun had just set;
The sons of the rishis
Bearing on their head
Loads of timber from the woods
For their sacred fire
Had returned to the hermitage;
They had brought their gentle cattle too
Back to the fold
After their daylong grazing;
Having taken their evening bath
They had assembled
In the compound of the hermitage
Lighted by the holy fire
And taken their seats
Around their mentor Gautama.
Peace prevailed like deep meditation
Above in the boundless sky
Where the stars in clusters
Like curious scholars
Were seated in rows
In deep silence.
Now the quiet hermitage became busy;
The great sage Gautama
Told his disciples
'Be attentive, my sons,
Now I shall talk about the Supreme Being'.
At that very moment
A young boy with his hands full of offerings
Entered the compound;
Putting them on the feet of the sage
And saluting him in reverence
Told in his sweet young voice
'Divine sir, I am eager to learn
The knowledge of the divine
I have come for initiation
My name is Satyakama
I am a resident of Kushakshetra'.
Whereupon the sage smiled
And in gentle words
Told the boy,
'I wish you well my son.
But what is your pedigree?
Only the Brahmins have a right to know such things'.
To this the boy gently replied,
'Sir, I don't know my pedigree
I seek your leave
To ask my mother
And come back tomorrow'.
So saying and paying reverence to the sage
Satyakama went
Taking the dark forest path.
He crossed on foot
The crystal clear waters
Of the narrow Saraswati
And arrived at his mother's cottage
Which stood on the sandy banks
And silently slept at the village-end.
Within the cottage
The lamp lighted in the evening
Was still burning;
And mother Javala reclining at the door
Was waiting for her son;
Seeing him back
She pressed him against her breast
And kissed his forehead and wished him well.
Satyakama asked,
'Tell me mother, what is my father's name,
What is my pedigree?
I had gone to Gautama for initiation
And the sage told me
Only the Brahmins have a right to divine knowledge'.
 Hearing this
The mother in a subdued voice
And with a bowed head told,
 'In poverty at my young age
I had conceived you
After serving many people,
You have been born to unmarried Javala,
I don't know who is your father, my son'.
On the day following
The fresh and fair morning had broken
On the treetops of the hermitage.
All the scholars,
Like dew-bathed fresh morning light
Like rays of spiritual flames
Brightened by devotion,
Having taken their morning bath
With their matted locks of hair still wet
Like the very pictures of purity and beauty
Were seated around their preceptor Gautama
At the foot of the ancient banyan tree.
And in harmony with the songs of the birds,
The humming of the bees
And the murmurs of the flowing streams
There was rising a sombre and sweet melody
Of the divine sama songs
Sung by the young students in a collective tune.
At such a moment
Satyakama came and saluted the sage –
With a steady gaze he waited in silence.
The teacher blessed him and asked,
'What is your pedigree, my fair boy?'
Raising his head the boy replied,
'Sir, I don't know.
I had asked my mother
Who has told me –
‘I had conceived you after serving many people,
You have been born to unmarried Javala,
I don't know who is your father –'
Hearing this
The students began to murmur in a low voice
As the bees become agitated
When a stone is thrown at their hive –
Seeing the impudence of the boy
Quite unbecoming of an Aryan
All were awe-struck
Some smiled in derision,
Some hurled abusive words
The sage Gautama stood up
And with his outstretched arms
Embraced the boy and told,
'My son, you are not a non-Brahmin.
You are the best of the twice-born,
You have the true pedigree'. 

Transcreation of the poem Brahman from the collection Katha by Rabindranath Tagore.

The original in Bengali script may be viewed at
In ancient times caste in India was not hereditary.


More By  :  Kumud Biswas

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