Translation: Excerpts from Kamayani

* Famous Hindi work of Jayshankar Prasad, translated by Usha Kishore *
Hindi Poet Jaishankar Prasad
(30 Jan 1890 :: 14 Jan 1937)
Canto I:   Chinta (Thought)

On the spiring summit of the Himalayas, sheltering
under shadowed stone, the lone man, with tearful eyes,
watched the swelling deluge.   Below was water,
above ice; one fluid, one frozen.  One elemental prime –
call it what you may, listless or live.
Strewn across the vast horizons, ice frozen like his heart;
striking the foot of silent stone, purging winds surged.  
A youthful sage, he sat meditating on dead gods.  
Below him, waters of the deluge mercifully waned.  
Above him, rose quivering deodar trees, snow clad,
frozen into stone.  There he sat, lithe limbs pulsing
in the prime of youth, veins overflowing with spirited élan;  
virile face furrowed by grief, reckless youth ebbing away
in subtle streams.  Anchored to a great banyan tree, his boat
lay on dry land; descending was the deluge, emerging
was the earth;  seeping out in agony, his woeful tale
that only listening nature did hear, with knowing smile.

Usha Kishore
O first furrow of thought, O serpent of world’s weald,
hissing like the first tremor of volcanic fire!   
O fickle maiden of misery, O brow’s line of loss!
O sweltering quest of opulence, O deceitful ripple
of mirage!  O feral fate of stars, O slender swirl
of streaming venom!  O death of immortality, turning
a deaf ear to reason’s voice! Harbinger of decay,
O brooding thought, beauteous curse!  O comet
of the mind sky, sensuous sin of sacred spring!
Would you linger long? Would you slay this wayward
immortal?  Would you delve into my depths?  Would you
cloak the heart’s verdant dreams in storming hail?
Would you hide in mind’s chasms, a dark jewel? 
Wisdom, desire, intellect, hope, thought, what do
I call you? Begone sin!  Begone with your wiles! 
Come oblivion! Sorrow seize me! Silence shroud me!
Begone awareness!  Fill my void with languor!

Thoughts of bygone bliss dye my infinitudes
with shades of sorrow.  O herald of greatness,
you have failed, dissolved!  Devourer or Saviour,  
you are the fish that brought in the deluge!
O tempests, dancing day and night in lightning’s flame!  
Disciple of incessant desire! O night sky between the stars,
despondent destiny!  In the roaring thunder of vainglorious
gods, all is ruined!  O dazzling deities of immortality, your
deafening battle-cries echo today in heartrending woe!  
Invincible is nature, vanquished we all, floating on
vanity’s sensual stream!  All is drowned, grandeur
and glory, all engulfed by this mighty ocean!  Immortal
revelry drowned in the almighty roar of the deluge !

What of immortal revelry?  Dream or delusion?  
Was that pleasured night of genesis, a conspiracy of stars?
From redolent realms, life’s drunken sighs did rise!  
In riotous chaos rang the will of profligate gods! 
Lusty revels converged on immortal spheres
like virgin snow frozen upon the milky way!  
In heaven’s arms abounded power, glory and
bliss; in waves of bliss, opulence did swell.  Glory,
grandeur and splendour, all swirled around, like
the blushing rays of new born sun, in the waters
of seven seas; in flowering woods, rapture unbound.  
Their power unravelled; weary nature, trodden and
quelled.  Under heaven’s tread, earth did tremble
each day.  If we be gods, why not our creation chaos?
Unawares, calamity did rain!  All gone, gone was the
dalliance of heavenly nymphs, smiling like the dawn
of moon,  frolicking like drunken bees.  Such was that
wayward drift, that winèd flow of passion, all drownèd
in tumultuous flood.  O heartbreak and wailing woe! 

Translator’s Note
Jaishankar Prasad, one of the most eminent figures of Hindi Literature, is a proponent of the Chhayavad Movement (Neo-Romanticism), which incorporates romanticism, mysticism and humanism. The epic Kamayani, often interpreted as a philosophic allegory of life, is one of the greatest works of contemporary Hindi Literature. Indian philosophy and Hindu myth are juxtaposed in this epic, which illustrates the influence of Vedic texts and Kashmir Shaivism, a non-dualistic Tantric Shaiva tradition based on the recognition of the self’s identity with the Universal Consciousness of Shiva. The narrative of Kamayani is based on the Vedic flood myth and the patriarchal flood hero, Manu. The epic comprises of 15 Cantos, each Canto representing an emotion (often personified) experienced by Manu after the Great Deluge. The epic opens with the protagonist Manu brooding over the void left by the deluge, like Milton’s Satan, after his fall in Paradise Lost. Manu’s emotions unfold with the sequential narrative and moves from angst to bliss, with a plethora of other emotions in between. This epic, abounding in symbolism and metaphor, is written in varied verse forms: prose poetry, quatrain, rhyming couplet and other stanzaic verse and is interspersed with descriptions, monologues and dialogues, redolent with a plethora of images and symbols. My approach in this translation has been to recreate the mellifluous poetry and to highlight the cultural milieu in the contextual interpretation, with reference to the Vedic element, the Kashmiri Shaivism and the mysticism. One instance is my contextual translation of the word पवमान, as “purging wind” in the line: नीरवता-सी शिला-चरन से टकराता फिरता पवमान, translated as “striking the foot of silent stone, purging winds surged. पवमान literally means “wind”; here I have alluded to the पवमान मंत्र (the purification manta) of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (I.3.28) : असतो मा सद्गमय, तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय, मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय (Lead me from untruth to truth, Lead me from darkness to light, Lead me from death to immortality). Another reason for this choice is the protagonist’s opening contemplation (Canto I) on darkness, light, illusion, reality, death and immortality. The idea of purging is based on the authorial Vedic influence and my reading of the text; I have interpreted the deluge as cleansing and uplifting the protagonist.