Jiviche jivlage majhe Krishnai Kanhai

We present this work in honor of Janmashtami.

Kanhopatra
Indian
15th century

 

O Krsna
mother
heart of my heart,

O dark one,
with beautiful eyes,
have mercy on me,
my birth is low,
my reputation black as night.

O dark one,
with beautiful eyes, please,
have mercy on me.
The Vedas proclaim you
champion of the low
savior of the downtrodden
like me.
Kanhopatra surrenders
again and again,
O dark one,
have mercy on me.

Translation by Sarah Sellergren

Gather Violets O Narcissus

We present this work in honor of Muharram.

Habba Khatoon
Indian
1554 – 1609

 

Rain has come, and fields and fruit trees sing,
Spring has come, and Love, the Lord of Spring,
Dandelions have lifted up their faces,
Cold has gone and every wintry thing!
Forget-me-not the forest graces,
Iris and the lily spring will bring.
Gather violets, O Narcissus,
Winter’s ashes from our door I fling!
The water bird the lake embraces,
How can frost upon your petals cling?

Translation by Nilla Cram Cook

I Will Not Lift My Veil

We present this work in honor of the 320th anniversary of the poet’s death.

05-26 Zeb
Zeb-un Nissa
Indian
1638 – 1702

I will not lift my veil,—
For, if I did, who knows?
The bulbul might forget the rose,
The Brahman worshipper
Adoring Lakshmi’s grace
Might turn, forsaking her,
To see my face;
My beauty might prevail.
Think how within the flower
Hidden as in a bower
Her fragrant soul must be,
And none can look on it;
So me the world can see
Only within the verses I have writ—
I will not lift the veil.

Meeting the Prophetess

We present this work in honor of Dr. Ambdekar Jayanti.

04-14 Meena
Meena Kandasami
Indian
b. 1984

 

Leave your books behind.

Since memory,
Like knowledge, is a traitor,
Erase every hoarding of your horrible past.

At last, when you enter her world
Of fraying edges and falling angels
Don’t barter words where touch will do and be the truth.
For once allow her silence to sear, strip your life-layers
Because she who knows the truth will not know the tale.

Endless Ages

We present this work in honor of Buddha Purmina.

04-08 Bodidharma
Bodidharma
Indian
c. 470 – c. 520

 

Through endless ages, the mind has never changed
It has not lived or died, come or gone, gained or lost.
It isn’t pure or tainted, good or bad, past or future.
true or false, male or female. It isn’t reserved for
monks or lay people, elders to youths, masters or
idiots, the enlightened or unenlightened.
It isn’t bound by cause and effect and doesn’t
struggle for liberation. Like space, it has no form.
You can’t own it and you can’t lose it. Mountains.
rivers or walls can’t impede it. But this mind is
ineffable and difficult to experience. It is not the
mind of the senses. So many are looking for this
mind, yet it already animates their bodies.
It is theirs, yet they don’t realize it.

To a Butterfly

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.

03-26 Varma
Mahadevi Varma
Indian
1907 – 1987

The rain is about to fall,
Come through my window, butterfly.

Outside, when they become wet,
Those charming colors will melt away,
The flower will fall to the ground,
It won’t be able to save you, small butterfly,
Come through my window, butterfly!

A little one will manage to catch you,
He will place you in a small box and take you away,
After, he’ll paste you into a book
You’ll die, then, butterfly,
Hide inside my window, butterfly.

Without a Place

We present this work in honor of Bihar Divas.

03-22 Anamika
Anamika
Indian
b. 1961

 

This is how the shloka goes —
women, nails and hair
once they’ve fallen
just can’t be put back in place
said our Sanskrit teacher.

Frozen in place out of fear
we girls held on tight to our seats.
Place, what is this ‘place’?
We were shown our place
in the first grade.
We remembered our elementary school lessons
Ram, go to school, son,
Radha, go and cook pakora!
Ram, sip sugar syrup,
Radha, bring your broom!
Ram, bedtime, school tomorrow
Radha, go and make the bed for brother.
Aha! This is your new house
Look Ram! Here’s your room
“And mine?”
Oh, little loony!
Girls are wind, the sun and the good earth
They have no homes
“Those who don’t have a home,
where do they belong?”

Which is the place from where we fall
become clipped nails, fallen hair trapped in combs,
fit only to be swept away
Houses left behind, paths left behind
people were left behind
questions chasing us, too left behind
Leaving behind tradition,
it seems to me I’m as out of context
as a short line
from a great classic
scribbled on a BA examination paper

But I don’t want
somebody to sit down and
analyse me
to pigeonhole me
At long last, beyond all contexts
with real difficulty
I’ve gotten here

Let me be hummed
like an abhang,
unfinished.

 

Translation by Arlene Zide

65th Poem from Daasarathii Satakam

We present this work in honor of Uzhavar Tirunal.

01-16 Ramadasu
Bhadrachala Ramadasu
Indian
1620 – 1680

Wonder was it when a rock touched by your foot became a youthful woman,
Wonder was it when a multitude of boulders floated on water in steadiness,
But, what wonder it is when a man by constant thinking of you obtains salvation? on
This earth, pleasant one to the daughter of earth, Daasarathii, ocean of kindness!

from The Virsimhdevcarit

We present this work in honor of Pongal.

01-14 Keshavdas
Keshavdas
Indian
1555 – 1617

 

When Generosity and Greed set out to see Jahangirpur
They saw a huge array of forts, towns and villages –
How could I possibly recount all their names?
They saw lakes and rivers that made them glad.
Then they approached the ‘Bir lake.’ Seeing the magnificent Bir lake
They sought the appropriate terms for describing it.
It gives such pleasure on earth, this body of water!
It is marvelous, clear, vast, and profound in its depths.
It is home to blossoming flowers, bright like a star-lit sky.
It is a place of great coolness, where the heat of summer is forbidden entry:
Abode of scents, a place of beauty, effacer of the world’s cares
Like the goddess Candika in its dark hue.
The tall waves are a cluster of clouds releasing their spray in the wind
At sunset the water takes on a red quality,
Waves shimmering like lightning, removing the sorrow of men’s hearts.
Night and day peacocks dance in all directions to the spray of the lake
The lotuses bloom, their white luster like moonlight…

 

Translation by Allison Busch