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Translation of Oothukkadu Venkata Subba Iyer (circa 1700-1765)’s « THAYE YASHODA » by T. Wignesan
This devotional song and poem in Tamil (the principal Dravidian language which has spawned over twenty languages in the southern Indian sub-continent) is –unlike
Western poetical traditions – strictly composed to accord with
set musical rules and conventions, melodies and rhythms/beats (ragas and taalams), much as Tamil poems are required to adhere to complex and elaborate classical Tamil prosody and conventions (ethugai and monai, initial rhymes and alliteration). This poem is a plaint by Gopi cowherdesses who are « molested » by the mischievous Krishna.
The Tamil language which has a continuous and prolific literary corpus on record dating from centuries before our common era is – on a par with Sanskrit – an officially-recognised classical language of India.
The transliteration cannot however convey to the non-Tamil ear the euphonic qualities of the poem, so I give here a link to a rendition of the song/poem by Sudha Ragunathan for those who may be interested – the Carnatic ensemble here being made up of the mridangam (drum), the tambura (stringed-instrument which keeps time in the background), the flutes (both in bamboo and brass).
There are, of course, many notable versions of this song, such as, by Karthik or by K. S. Chitra, among others, but, I’m sure, none will grudge Sudha Ragunathan her very inspiring execution, sustained by the faithful mridangist.
From a Hindu-and-Tamil point of view, the Brahmin poet here (born at Needamangalam, near Mathurai, the ancient cultural centre of Tamil culture) cannot easily be excelled by any of his compatriots, even after three centuries.
O ! Mother Yashoda* ! – in whose cowherd caste Mayan*
Listen to this plaint of pranks he plays
Anupallavi (refrain) :
Oye ! the novelty ! O ! Mother ! What ethereal goings-on !
Listen ! No child – ammamma* ! like yours in this wide world
Have I ever laid eyes on !
Caranam (stanza) One :
Anklets jingling – bangles clinking – pearl necklaces rustling
He descended on the street entrance
Heavenly bodies rejoicing – Earthly beings eulogising
Feet and hands rhythmically moving to the beat
He, the blue-hued Kannan*, He came dancing* entranced
« Balan* » I called leaping to welcome Him - O! Yashoda!
(And) taking me for the host who garlanded Him
Planted He a kiss on my lips
Is not He ? Krishnan* ? who plays these many pranks
Your son ? Even in the presence of four eavesdroppers
O ! what shyness overwhelms me ! while this plaint I lisp
Caranam (stanza) Seven :
As dusk fell the day before yesterday feigning familiarity
He came close and performed many magical feats
Even if the butter were a mere glob in size, says He would leave
If I could let him have it (then) He touched my frontal knot
(Or sari's end-knot) and undid it - defiant in spirits
Yes, that indeed was the Vasudevan* ! O ! Yashoda !
Yet mistaking Him for a human child
I cradled Him in my lap, there to nurse
(And) while watching bewitched His glorious face
He revealed to me in his mouth all the vastness* of the Universe !
* « Yashoda » : the baby Krishna’s foster-mother, belonging to the cowherders’ caste.
* « Mayan » : another word for God
* »GopalaKrishnan » : Krishna’s full-name, the most adored deity in the Hindu pantheon..
* « Krishna » : supposed to be the eighth Avatar of Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe in the Hindu Trinity of the Godhead Brahma.
* »ammamma » : « amma » is the formal address by children to their mother, but, here, the repetition can invoke both astonishment and disbelief.
* « Kannan » : the familiar pet-name for Krishna.
* « Balan » : yet another pet-name for Krishna.
* « narttya » : the art of classical dance, referring most probably to the southern Indian
style, known as Bharatha Natyam, in which Krishna is featured dancing with his wives Radha and Rukmini, according to legend, of course..
* « Vasudevan » : another name for Krishna.
* "vastness" : by this one word I have tried to convey what in Tamil is an elaborate image of "God (Indra) having created the two-times-seven worlds"
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