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Translation of Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s poem: “Asai Mugam” or “Beloved Face”
By T. Wignesan
Out of mind that beloved face has gone – this
Tragedy who can I confess it to – My Dear
The chest never voids feelings of love – yet
Can the memory of His face be lost forever?
Even as it appears in the mind’s eye – there
Kannan’s* true image does not appear complete:
Even if His beauteous face manifests itself – that
Choice blossoming smile conceals itself replete.
He who toils not knowing any respite – He
Whose Self works selflessly in aim altruist:
Even as you espy His mouth enunciate – that
Illustrious burgeoning form’s between and betwixt.
The pity eyes may not comprehend - in life
Kannan’s real form cannot be erased:
As if in the bosom of mature women – alas
Might one naïve*for once be recognised.
The bee that’s made to forget honey – glowing
Fullsome in blossom yet oblivious the flower:
The paddy that forgets the nourishing sky – such
In this entire world can never be true, My Dear.
If one cannot at will recall Kannan’s face – these
Two eyes would they be of any use staying open?
Since paintings of Him cannot be seen – verily
How might this life serve any purpose, Companion?
*Kannan: the endearing Tamil sobriquet for Krishna,
supposedly the Eighth Avatar of Vishnu, one of the trinity of gods of the God-Head Brahman.
*PEthai: also means a simple-minded woman; a girl from five to seven years old; or a haemophrodite.
(from the sequence: “Kannan – My Lover (2)” in Bharathiyar Kavithaigal. Chennai: Kavitha Publications, 2006, pp. 273-274.)
Asai mukam maranthu pOccE
rAgam : PILAHARI
Asai mukam maranthu pOccE - ithai
yAriDam solvEnaDi thOzhi?(Refrain)
nEsam marakkavillai nenjam - enil
ninaivu mukam-marakkalAmO?(Ref: Asai)
kaNNil theriyuthoru thOTram - athil
naNNu muka vaDivu kANil - antha
nalla malar chirippai kANOm?(Ref:Asai)
Oivu mozhithalum illAmal - avan
uruvai ninaittirukkum uLLam?
vAyu-muraippathuNDu kaNDAi - anda
mAyan pugazhinaiyai pOthum?(Ref: Asai)
kaNkaL purinthu viTTa pAvam - uyir
kaNNan uru marakkalAccu?
peNgaLinattilithu pOlE - oru
pEthaiyai munbu kaNDathuNDO ?(Ref: Asai)
thEnai maranthirukkum vaNDum - oLi
chirappai maranthu viTTa pUvum?
vAnai maranthu irukkum payirum - intha
vaiyya muzhuthum illai - thOzhi?(Ref: Asai)
kaNNan mukam maranthu pOnAl - intha
kaNgaL irinthu payan uNDO?
vaNNa paDammum illai kaNDAi - ini
vAzhum vazhi yennaDi thOzhi?(Ref: Asai)
Paratiar Chuppiramaniam (Bharathiyar Subrahmaniayam) – 1882-1921
Chuppiramaniyam who distinguished himself with his compositions at the early age of eleven was conferred the title of « Bharathiyar » by the King of Ettayapuram though he later moved away from his court to become a teacher in Madurai and a journalist in Madras (Chennai). Having lost his mother at five and his father at sixteen, he was married at fourteen to Sellamma, and yet he found time to work for the Indian Independence Movement : he was present at the Congress in Calcutta where he met the old guard under Swami Vivekananda, and later at Rajagopalachariyar’s place in Chennai, he met Mahatma Gandhi. He had had to escape British colonial disapproval for his activities by finding refuge in Pondicherry under French connivance from 1911 to 1918. He wasn’t quite happy there either, so on his re-appearance in Tamil Nadu (Madras Presidency), he was arrested and remanded for a month. He continued to write and publish, and, in 1917, his most popular collection: Kannan Pattu was released. In 1921, he was badly mauled by the temple elephant at ThiruvallikkENi, and he passed away – due to stomach complications – on September the 12th., at the age of 39.
Bharathiyar or « Mahakavi » (Great Poet) belongs in a long and reverred line of « saintly » poets, beginning in the sixth century with the ALVARS, and who closely resembled the Sufi poets and thinkers of the later centuries. Though born into the Brahmin caste, he disavowed all forms of social and racial discrimination and forsook the intervention of the priestly caste’s rites and ceremonies (chants and mantras) to reach out to God through direct exhortations, a form of devotion which has universally characterised the poetical effusions of these adherents throughout centuries. One might even say that when the Nobel Committee conferred its literary prize on Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, the Swedish Academy was indirectly honouring innumerable collections in all the vernaculars in the sub-continent.
This poem has been widely set to music, from the eminently classical renderings of Mahathi and Karthik to the jazzed-up versions by Shankar Tucker, the latter an American clarinettist from Massachusetts making inroads into Carnatic music traditions by introducing Western classical harmony and counterpoint. The moving version by Suchitra Karthik whose voice sustains the tense and solemn mood of the poem is – sadly – drowned by the orchestra’s insensitivity (the ghatam’s painful clock-work beat) to her rôle as the principal performer. All the Carnatic classic versions are commendable even if some (Karthik’s) tend to become exercises in restraint in a low key mode. The Iyer Sisters Vidya and Vandana’s version is certainly most captivatingly nuanced, but one wishes their soothing voices would take off now and then into the release of energy the poem’s spiritual fire commands.
© T. Wignesan – Paris, 2015
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