Bhakti in the Modern Mode:Poems and Essays


Editors’ Introduction



            A selection of seventeen poems by twelve contemporary Marathi poets, chosen by S.S. Bhave and translated and annotated by A.R. Kelkar, is presented first, so that the reader may deal directly with the poetry.  This selection is followed by an essay by Bhave, linking the poems to age-old Hindu ideas. A response by Kelkar challenges some of Bhave’s statements and widens the perspective to one which goes beyond Indian/Hindu poetry.  Bhave, with his stress on the strength of tradition, has the last word. The result of this “coda” is not only the presentation of traditional Hindu ideas in modern Marathi poetry but also insight into the differing attitudes and interests of two contemporary Maharashtrian intellectuals.


            Although Kelkar and Bhave originally prepared “Bhakti in the Modern Mode” for this volume, we gave permission for slightly different versions of it to appear in Vagartha 21, (1978): 13-39, and in the South Asian Digest of Regional Writing 6(1973):3-28.  Bhave’s death on October 5, 1986, as this volume was being edited has unfortunately brought an end to Kelkar and Bhave’s dialogue (E.Z. and M.B.)




The Poems



B.S. Mardhekar1

Let the Hardness in Me Break2


Let the hardness in me break,

Let the sourness clear from my mind,

And let my voice sing

The notes of my love for you.

Let the taint in my known

Intention clear; and

Cast your seeds in the unknown

Font of my inspiration.

Let my freedom extend

Only to speaking forth,

Let the letters intone the shape3

Sent forth by your lungs

Let the greed of my tongue burn,

Let all hatred freeze, and

Let the quality of Draupadi herself 4

Grace the body of my speech.

Let the me-centered meanness vanish,

Let all into my embrace,

Let my feeling rival the test

Of the precision balance.

Let my ambition vaunt of

The pillars of your virtue, 5

Let my ambition throb to

The beats spoken by your heart.

Let my hands feel for and grasp

The rudder of your remembrance,

Let great patience pervade my temper

Readying itself for the great effort

I swear by the desire for you,

I swear by the devoid of luck,

I swear by my eyes

To keep my eyelids in vigil.

Grant me the courage, the humility

To see all that I must,

Let my intellect bend

Like heated steel,

And take through the senses

The impact of the world,

And burn to the core for that

Which lies beyond the senses.

You are the master of meaning:

This beggar is but the bearer of the word.

The asking knows no end

And the giver is the Lord

But what possibly can I ask for?

What possibly can you give?

In a world where you alone are the giver

And you yourself the taker!


When the heart Fills to the Brim6


When the heart fills to the brim

And sweat is wrung from the body

When words take the bit – thy bit,

Which digs firmly into their flesh,

Then may this sinful hand

Work some white on black –

Only then! Else, the selfsame

Black writ on white!


If Only Thy Stone-still Brow7


Have I not hurled names at thee? Even so

I come prostrate to thy feet,

Head laid low I look thee

In the eyes, letting my eyes scald.

When was the earth born? And

When did the blue fumes jell

Over massively?

When did this stillness

Quicken with mind joined to mind?

As a blue champak might bloom

Out of a blue conduit of fire

So bloomed a bed of sensings

And feelings from the joined consciousness –

But when?

What is discernible

Across the fire?

Or who, rather?

This hapless one sears his

Feekless feet over the coals

Why the distress?  Will the sky ever

Be laid low? I’ll live on, afire,

If only they stone-still brow

Stir before my eyes the least little!

Have I not hurled names at thee? Even so

I come prostrate to thy feet,

Head laid low I look thee

In the eyes, letting my eyes scald.



B.B. Borkar8

From across Five Red Hibiscus Flowers9


From across five red hibiscus flowers

Death greeted me: Aren’t they

Dainty? And luscious? I mean

These cups I’ve filled among these trees.

The wounds of Jesus came to my mind10

Sweet honey welling up from them:

A moment saw my mind thrilled

To see the Cross drenched in fragrance and nectar.



Just Back from Mother’s Home to Find11


Just back from Mother’s home to find

My home washed away

And my man gone I dunno where

Any my belongings mud

And my children gone their separate ways.

The line’s all open leaving

Me out on a limb, a lightning tree

Scaling the endless sky.

No home here or there: but their caresses

I now hug in the air.



Sharadchandra Muktibodh12

No Yearnings13


No yearnings

And no regrets,

Under the blue sky

Laughs the quiet sea.

Storms gather

Strange to relate,

Storms are led away

Bowing silently.

Roses in bunches,

Rosebuds growing

Sprinkling joy

The evening retires.

No yearnings

And no regrets.

Now abides in me

Your boundless glory.



P.S. Rege14

Hari on the Laps spends the Night15


Hari on the lips

Spends the night

The selfsameHari

The name is Hari

Hari Hari

Wooing this maid of the forest16

The livelong night, saying Hari.

Light in the heart

The livelong night

Light of the heart

Who else? The same Hari

Hari Hari

This flowering maid of the forest17

The livelong night, the flame in the heart

Light of the limbs

The livelong night

Hari’s the night

Hari’s thelimbs

Hari Hari

Blooming Radha, maid of the forest

The livelong night, limb by limb




An Earth House19


An earth house this, but it’s yours

Make it bright and strong and fair!

To this day I felt it was mine

Under the blind sway of self,

I stood guard at the doors

Bolting me in from surrender!

In my heart of hearts I now see

I am but of your retinue,

The riches of life within

Are but a shaft of your glory!

The glory that fills the stars

And lights up night and day

And brings life to this earth –

A speck of which lights me indoors!

What blooms in the flowers, thunders from the clouds,

Flows down the river, blows in the winds –

That same being of yours abides here,

No house of mine, it’s but your temple!

Not here either grandeur or splendour:

Your throne stands within all the same,

Tarry here a moment, call it your own

To let songs bloom songs over the void within!

In this dark recess for a moment

Light up the pure flame,

Light up the walk that’ll bear

Your shadow as long as they stand!



Arati Prabhu20

The Travelling Bed21


For god’s sake pull

The covers over my legs,

And don’t you, Lord, let

Vultures feast on this life

Cowering in your hands

The moments writ to my account

Hunger for the water of mercy,

The quilt, Lord, is held

Together by seams threaded

With my nerves.

The blood of Jatayu22

Is treasured by some lone vein,

Which in this tangled skein

Refuses to get lost –

It will give pain

Snuff out these cupped hands

And make a clean sweep,

May be then some time, Lord,

I’ll quit the travelling bed

To be on my way.





Dilip Purushottam Chitre23

Down the Paths of Lightning24



1.         Down the paths of lightning tumble the moments free,

            Through the darkness plunges the arrow unknown

Let one come to your house down the paths of lightning25

At the precise moment when cosmic knowledge strikes

The heartbeats hammer away at themselves,

So the lifebreaths escape into the storm.

Let one come to your house seeing it all,

Shedding the burden of a mind.


2.         Let one come to your house down the paths of lightning

            That are seen for a moment from the darkness

            It’s not for the feeble voice to sustain the notes

In octaves past the spheres of the compass

Let one rather come to your house wreathed in rivulets,

Lapsing into dust the while

When all streams of melody are lost,

It’s not for anyone to bear the pity of it.

Let one come to your house on the crest of the melody

Battering the doors of desire

Let the spirit expend itself in a burst of surrender

And the cosmic know come undone


3.         Down the darkness plunges the arrow unknown

Rapt in the driving patter of melodic feet

And burnt up in the enveloping moistness is my mind

Let one come to your house down a different path

Stricken by a different malaise

….. Across the sands the cloud-shade-water

to the brim ablaze, the fire within




Fragrance of Snow27


Don’t measure my steps

Along the path of deliverance:

The doors of the Cosmic Ovum

Have closed.

My tears sprout

The fragrance of snow –

Dammed on either side

By the eyelids


N.D. Mahanor28

Life Begins in Sorrow, Fills with Sorrow29


Live begins in sorrow, fills with sorrow,

Sorrow may stay to the end for aught I know and care.

The whole body burns on the pyre to see the others through.

The near and dear ones too keep their distance

Even gathering rosebuds turns out to be a chore

With life’s burden weighing you down –

With the eyes shutting the darkness in.

Then my farmland –30

Where the trees spread me a bed of roses.



Vasant Sawant31

Thou Art the Retreat32


Thou art the retreat

I am the wilderness

Send me the

Flower-wafting wind

Not the thorns

Send the bud

Not the words

But are charged anew.

From afar

[O so far]

I begin to see

The city of Pandharpur. 33



Fear Touches Not My Mind34


My mind ever

Longs for sandalwood35

Whose grace

Happiness or sorrow

Never disturbs

This longing

Is but a trance,

Transcendent its rhythm,

There fear touches not

My mind.



He’s the One36


He whom I walk around and who walks around with me,

He’s the one that walks men around

The roads don’t matter,

Each one has his own pace, treads his own soil.

The words on their lips may be Krishna, Buddha, Christ

Or Tukaram –

He’s the One they’re about.

Those who bring down the wall, build up the wall

Be it in Berlin or in China

In the end it is the word alone that lives,

That goes for me too only when I write a poem,

Then alone am I truly living.




You See I Am Not around Here These Days38


You see I am not around here these days

Though I do drop in once in a while –

Well, of course, I have my folks

Though I must say I find it difficult to keep track of things

You see I am not around here these days –

Where do I live?  You ask

As if you don’t know!

Well, it’s possible you don’t

Nobody visits that town –

A house? Certainly

So big, so big – the house hasn’t got any walls.

Ceiling? Yes, the ceiling of it is and isn’t

And a threshold of the same sort

A river crosses the threshold

In the river play moon and starlets.

Me? You must have seen the flowers discarded after p£j¡

Floating at the water’s edge – I’m among them somewhere

In them – well, and in the fresh dreams of the flowers.

Of course I have company

[What d’you call him – sure, he has a name

but it escapes me]

the silk thread is giving way slowly –

it has been digging

around the throat, which is just finding its freedom.

The song has come up to my lips – shall I?

The song of the time when the Katyayani Vrata was performed in the Yamuna:39

The robes have long been the Kadamba branches

Like the anatarp¡¶ – s¡vadh¡n!

I’m turned into the blue song

Flowing down the blue river – along with the discarded flowers.

I am not around here these days

Though I do drop in once in a while



Arun Kolatkar41

At the Holy sepulcher of Shri Dhyaneshwar42


Clear blue void of the sky

Narada, Tumbara, the clouds scattered

Gone is the halo brought on by the Gandharvas43

The moonchild plays by himself

Scattered is the devout Vaishnava throng

The fever of the drum has ebbed away

The v¢¸¡ strings stand still, as do the cymbals

The cowherds are back in their homes

The wreath stays, the petal withers

Entangled is the rib in the withered skein.44






            Thanks are due to the poets and their heirs who were generous with their permission and to those who commented on the translations and offered suggestions (Borkar, Rege, sawant, Bhave on their respective work and Nissim Ezekiel, Vrinda Nahar, James Beveridge, Maxine Berntsen, Eleanor Zelliot, Vinay Hardikar, and Bhave on the translations of the poems.)



Bhakti in Modern Marathi Poetry :

An Essay



            These poems are not just modern but contemporary, spread over the last twenty-five years or so.  “Modern poetry” in Marathi is about a century old.  Marathi critics generally date it from the poet Keshavsut [1866-1905].  Earlier Marathi poetry – in contrast to modern – is (it is held) renunciatory, other-worldly, spiritual, and devotional.  The British connection brought people into contact with values like liberty, equality, and fraternity.  With them came also rationalism, secular humanism, nationalism, the integrity of the individual, love of nature, the dignity of womanhood, and social reform.  “Modernity” for navmtv¡d as it is sometimes called in Marathi came to be identified with the composite of all these values. The Marathi poetry of the last hundred years is modern or navmatv¡d¢ according to the critics.


            A finer exploration of the century’s poetry, however, would not wholly bear out this assessment.  True, modern values gradually “arrived” and modernity was recognized as important. But the older values were by no means displaced, and did not suffer any real loss of prestige.  There has been a constant effort to achieve a synthesis of the two value systems, to accept the new without destroying the old, indeed to accommodate the new within the older framework.  This urge was in evidence in the poetic personality of Keshavsut cherished the notion of advaita (non-duality), the interpenetration of prak¤ti and purush (the female principle of passive knowingness).  Not too different is the pull underlying these lines of Kusumagraj:


            But then comes to mind (rousing even longings)

            The still small lamp flame near the hearth.


The union of the individual person and the Cosmic Person, the sense of one’s own incompleteness, and other such older ways of thought are still very much there.  The simple and direct expression of these beliefs – bhakti, in other words – is apparent in the poems of all the following major Marathi poets of this century – Keshavsut, Narayan Waman Tilak (a Christian minister), Vinayak, Balakavi, Govindagraj, Tambe, “Bee,” Yashvant, Madhav Julian, Savarkar, Anil, Kusumagrja, and Borkar.


            The poetry written after the Second World War accepted the revolutionary lead of B.S. Mardhekar and is held to be even more modern than the earlier poetry.  This is not to be denied. One can certainly characterize the “new” modern poetry (navkavit¡) in terms of a revolt against established values, a stance against the tradition (even against the notion of tradition itself), an excessively individualist view of life, a need to take a stand against any sort of establishment, and an acute sense of frustration engulfing any sort of optimism.


            One wouldn’t have been surprised to have found no room for the old bhakti theme in this new modernity.  But, notably, the devotional theme of the Indian tradition has a place in this poetry.  Let’s go over the selected poets and poems.


            Each poet has made a reference, mostly direct, to God or Hodhead – Lord (mur¡rÌ), by Mardhekar; Jesus, by Borkar; Hari, by Rege; Lord (prabh£), by Arati Prabhu; Dyaneshwar, by Arun Kolatkar. Then there is a direct address (the Marathi t£) in the poems of Muktibodh, Kusumagraj, Chitre, and Sawant.  Sawant also specifically speaks of Him (the Marathi to). Borkar has an indirectly suggestive mention: Mother’s home (m¡her), i.e., God’s house.  Padma alludes to Krishna’s Katyayani Vrata games.  Mahanor sees Godhead in his farmland (r¡n).


            The wholeness of God, the less-than-wholeness of oneself, and consequently the hoping for and begging of divine grace – these are the three important constituents of bhakti. And they are all there in these poems to a greater or lesser extent.



            Let the quality of Draupadi herself

            Grace the body of my speech


These lines are from a Mardhekar poem that has all the three elements.  It goes on to say:


            You are the master of meaning:

            This beggar is but the bearer of the word.


Lines which are not too different from the seventeenth-century saint-poet Tukaram’s :


            Breaking into the storehouse –

            All this is the Lord’s property –

            Me but a lowly porter


The poem is overfull of the sense of the less-than-wholeness of oneself – one has only to look at the harsh words Mardhekar hurls at himself:  hardness, sourness, taintedness, greed, hatred, meanness, vaunting ambition, and (in the third poem) haplessness.  In contrast, Muktibodh speaks of God’s wholeness as:


            Your bondless glory


(Glory is what the Almighty has – aishwarya (lordship) is the attitude of Ishwar.)  Kusumagraj refers to the body as earth house.  Arati Prabhu expresses an acute sense of the tangled skein and the abject hunger of existence, as does Dilip Chitre of the feeble voice. Mahanor speaks of life’s sorrow and burden.  Padma has chosen the image of discarded flowers, and Sawant spots the soil on everyone’s feet.


            The essential worthlessness of this world and the worth of union with God – or at least some treasured moments of realization “in this very body, with these very eyes” (in Tukaram’s phrase); life as the progressive winning over (s¡dhan¡) of this goal; the need of God’s grace to fulfill and complete this progress – this characteristic spiritual progression of the Indian tradition can be seen in the poems selected.  Arun Kolatkar writes:


            The fever of the drum has ebbed away.


The drum (m¤idang) is the earth (m¤id) that is body (anga). The ebbing of the fever of m¡y¡ (the magical illusion-creating energy) marks the fulfillment of s¡dhan¡, the liberation from the hold of illusion.


            Make it bright….

            Tarry here a moment…

Such is the prayer of Kusumagraj.


            Even so I ccome prostrate to thy feet…

So confesses Mardhekar.  Chitre has neatly expressed the traditional devotional image in


            Let the spirit expand itself in a burst of surrender

            And the cosmic knot come undone.


The power of surrender (l¡ch¡rÌt shaktÌ) is very much in the spirit of the medieval Marathi saint-poets. The bhakta (devotee) is the child – nay, the bade. God is mother.  Wherein does the power of the baby lie?  In its total dependence on the mother.  What is left for the baby to do?  To express openly and unreservedly this powerlessness, to send out a piercing howl without budging an inch, eyes shut tight and mouth stretched wide.  The mother runs down, picks it up, clasps it to her bosom. And she is doing no favour to the baby.  It’s her duty. It’s the baby’s privilege – this is bhakti, Marathi style.  Chitre’s poem is in august company. Grace wants


            The doors of the Cosmic Ovum

To open. That can’t be so long as the worldly bond has not snapped.


            The silk thread is giving way slowly

To realize this image of Padma’s is also to recall another breaking of the thread – the seventeenth-century sage, Ramdas’s


            For God’s friendship’s sake

            May I break with the near ones.


            The realization and the approach to realization – as described in these poems – is quite in line with the bhakti tradition.  Rege hints at the experiential progression in “Wooing…Flowering….Blooming.”


            The robes have long been draping the kadamba branches

            I am turned into the blue song

Says Padma

            The trees spread me a bed

testifies Mahanor.

            To the brim ablaze, the fire within

So runs Chitre’s line

            Me out on a limb, a lightning tree

this is Borkar’s variation; and

            Sprinkling joy

being Muktibodh’s.

            I look thee

            in the eyes letting my eyes scald

Such is the searing experience of Mardhekar, who has felt the power of that moment in:

            Then may this sinful hand

            Work some white on black-

            Only then!


            Suffice it, I should think.  Exploring the expanding circles of meanings through all these poems is letting oneself in for unending delight.  But that’s not what this essay is for.  The point, the question rather, is: why does this traditional bhakti theme appear in this ultra-modern poetry? Mardhekar, Borkar, Kusumagraj, and Muktibodh belong almost to the same generation, but nobody can accuse them of belonging to the same school! – the individualistic, pessimistic Mardhekar; the socialistic, radical Muktibodh; the incorrigibly romantic Borkar; the idealistic Kusumagraj.  The generation of Chitre, Khanolkar, and Sawant is again a different story.  Padma, Arun Kolatkar, and P.S. Rege do not admit of any labels. With all these differences, what is the source of this common affinity with the bhakti tradition?


            It is not for me to offer a complete answer – or even to choose from among the varied answers that might be forthcoming from sociologists, social psychologists, or ethnologists.  May be I can, however, suggest one for consideration – something “felt” along the way, so to speak.


            I think that, broadly, almost to a man, the Indian consciousness has remained just where it has been for centuries.  It accepts the idea of the other world, rebirth, the fruit of karma of past births, karma, God, nonduality, renunciation, s¡dhan¡, realization, liberation.  Indeed these ideas are ingrained in it.  Howsoever the context of life may later, howsoever modern it may become, the Indian preserves his detachment.  Once the life here is taken to be secondary, unreal, something to be quickly gotten through, one cannot really be excited about changes in it.  Maturity in age and attitude only confirms an Indian in this wisdom.


            Wisdom – am I not begging the question in so calling it?  Wisdom or folly, knowledge or ignorance – who can say?  A comparison with other peoples and times may be to our disadvantage.  But then which other attitude can support an individual into self-sufficient contentment irrespective of circumstance and society?  None that I know of.


            --Sadashiv Bhave

            Translated by Ashok Kelkar




A Response to Sadashiv Bhave’s Essay


            It may seem curious that Bhave repeatedly speaks of the Indian tradition consisting of a worldview and a simple and direct expression of it in bhakti. This, for him as for us, provides perspective for bhakti in contemporary Marathi poetry. But the perspective needs to be broadened further.


            It is not so much a question of a pedantic correction, namely for “Indian” read “Hindu,” for are not all the poets selected Hindus (in any case for census purposes)?  In point of fact, Bhave does mention the pre-contemporary modern Marathi poet Narayan Waman Tilak, born a Hindu and converted to Protestant Christianity, and Jesus, who makes his appearance in one of Borkar’s poems.  (Sadanand Rege is another contemporary Marathi poet who uses the Christ theme without being a Christian.  One may also recall the Indian Sufis or premam¡rgÌ (path of love) bhaktas among Muslims).


            Indeed, “Hindu” may not be enough of a correction to satisfy the exact historian.  After all Bhave’s account of the worldview is unmistakably Vedantic, and Vedanta is not the whole of Hinduism despite popularized accounts of it.  Hinduism is not a “book faith” (to borrow a convenient Greek complex of myth, ritual, philosophy, and morals which impinges on the life of a family or rather a person.



PAGE NO. 316 & 317 MISSING



worldly bonds.  The sense of anxiety has religious intimations, but not necessarily religious consequences.


            A second and perhaps more important point has already been hinted at when I spoke of Borkar and Sadanand Rege “using “ the Christ theme.  Sawant’s lines are quite explicit:


            In the end it is the word alone that lives,

            That goes for me too: only when I write a poem

            Then alone am I truly living


Here is a poet using the religious perspective for a poetic purpose, and not a s¡dhak (religious seeker) using the poetic stance to convey a spiritual quest.  The important thing is that one cold read Muktibodh’s poem as a mood poem and Chitre’s poem as a love poem.  One doesn’t have to, but one could.  But this already means that one doesn’t have to read either of them as a religious poem, though one certainly could and Bhave obviously has.  The modernist poets in Marathi pointedly reject a good deal of the inter-war poetry, which is their immediate heritage, as factitious and recognize a true lyricism in the medieval bhaktas – it is a poetic rather than a religious affinity.


            To write a bhakti poem in the modernist mode is perhaps to write a modernist poem in the bhakti mode.  Of course contemporary modernist Marathi poetry has many other modes; and Bhave of course is not denying that in confining his attention to a specially-made selection out of it.


--Ashok Kelkar



A Response to Ashok Kelkar’s Response


            “Indian” of course is not an exact rendering of bh¡ratÌya (or of belonging to Bharat) in my original Marathi version. (The Constitution of India, to be sure, speaks of “India, that is Bharat.”) “Bharatiya” reminds us, as “Indian” does not, of the Hindu tradition. Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Christians, nay, even the Marxists, of today’s Indian cannot help partaking of it – they are all Hindu-Bharatiya at heart.


            What is to be a Hindu-Bharatiya?  What does it involve?  Chiefly, the accepting of the other world as well as this world, the attempt to reconcile the two.  But between the two, the other world comes first.  Brahman and m¡y¡ are both real, but Brahman is the ultimate Reality, m¡y¡ being the provisional reality.  This ultimate/provisional duality has best been resolved into a unity in the Vedanta of non-duality (advaita).


            In the world of Hindu thought Advaita Vedanta is themost dominant.  In Maharashtra, moreover, all the bhakti sects, with the exception of the Mahanubhavs, are Advaita Vedantist and Veda-accepting.  And the Mahanubhavs were never accepted by the Marathi people, whos e aversion to them became evident as early as the latter half of the fourteenth century.  Not only is bhakti in Maharashtra Vedantist, but many other sects have been either brought into the bhakti fold or have disappeared.  Dnyaneshwar brought the Nath Sect into the Varkari fold in the thirteenth century, and Eknath the Datta sect in the sixteenth century.  The Ramdasi sect of the seventeenth century had no future after the death of its founder, Ramdas.  The highway of the Varkari sect has always remained the most frequented ever since the thirteenth century.  I should account for this fact on the following lines:


(1)     The unification of the Shaivas and the Vaishnavas in the Varkari sect – thanks to Dnyaneshwar, its thirteenth-century founder – constituted its strength.

(2)     To see God, Vithoba, in the image of a mother is the distinctive feature of bhakti in Maharashtra, which saved into from the excesses and the morbid possibilities of madhur (sweet) bhakti which sees God in the image of the beloved.

(3)     Another feature of bhakti in Maharashtra is the wonderful reconciliation of the spiritual and the temporal.  In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the saints’ way of seeing the practical life as but an aspect of the spiritual was innovative. Besides, this came in handy for coming to terms with the Islamic invasion.  Even Savta Mali, the humble gardener, could declare:


Onions, radishes, greens –

They’re all mother Vithoba to me:


            To spiritualize the practical life, to think of the allotted necessities of life as form of s¡dhan¡ – this bold step did not remain limited to Dnyaneshwar in the thirteenth century.  That everybody, a goldsmith, a tailor, a barber, a lowly Mahar, a humble serving maid, even a Muslim Varkari, came to realize this difficult abstraction is as much a token of the prior dissemination of advaita Vedanta to all strata of the Hindu-Bharatiya society as it is of Dnyaneshwar’s achievement.


            So, when the Advaita insight (dny¡n) of Dnyaneshwar was joined to the passion for God’s name (n¡m) in Namdev in Maharashtra, the way of bhakti proved to be not only the easiest way but the chief way – the Varkari sect becoming the principal vehicle.


            Naturally, in Maharashtra no less than in the rest of Bharat, the bhakta is no mere bard dreaming of union with God.  In his personal life he is a social worker. This two-fold urge is as present in the poetry of Keshavsut in the nineteenth century as in the contemporary poetry of Kusumagraj or Muktibodh.  Mardhekar’s poetry presents a clear retreat from the twofold stance, but most of the contemporary intellectuals of Maharashtra display this dual stance in their critical activity.


            So, therefore, the quivering unease of modernist Marathi poetry relates not only to the artist’s restlessness but also to the Hindu-Bharatiya tradition.  That’s why it is not possible to read Chitre’s poem as a simple love poem  there are word-images in that poem that definitely transcend the sentiment of love.


--Sadashiv Bhave

Translated by Ashok Kelkar





1.                  Bal Sitaram Mardhekar (1909-56) was a poet, critic, and literary theorist who also wrote novels and operetta.


2.         From ˸khÌ khÌ  kavit¡ (Bombay: Mauj, 1951):3-5.


3.         “Intone the shape”: the original word is k ¡k¡r  “shape,” whose other sense, “the vowel aa, often used by singers to sustain a note,” is also relevant here.


4.            “Draupadi”: the wife shared by the Pandavas who won the Mahabharata war; in a famous episode Dushshasan tries to disrobe her, but Krishna covers her nakedness in answer to her prayer; she is fiery in speech and purpose (in consonance with her birth from the sacrificial fire).


5.            “Virtue”: the original word tap (Sanskrit tapas) means power, especially power accrued through single-minded austerities: the element of penance or self-mortification may or may not be present.


6.         From ˸khÌ khÌ  kavit¡ : 1.


7.         From Mar·hekar¡ncÌ kavit¡  (Bombay: Mauj, 1959): 160-61


8.            Balkrishna Bhagavant Borkar (1910-84) was a poet and speaker.  He also wrote personal essays and a novel.  He wrote both in Marathi and his native Konkani and translated from English.

9.         From Caitrapunav (Bombay: Mauj, 1970):84


10.       It will be recalled that the stigmata marking Jesus’ wounds were five in number.


11.       From Caitrapunav, 1970:17.


12.            Shankarachandra Madhav Muktibodh (1921-85) was a poet, novelist, and Marxist critic, he was the younger brother of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, who wrote poetry in Hindi.


13.       From Y¡trik, 1957:134.


14.            Purushottam Shivram Rege (1910-78) was a poet, novelist, short story writer, literary theorist, playwright, and economist.


15.       From Priy¡l (Bombay: Mauj, 1972):73


16.       “Maid” theoriginal word gauri means “the fair-skinned maid,” also an epithet of the mother goddess.


17.            “Flowering”: the original word phulavit refers to the flowering of a bud as well as the growth of a flame.


18.            Kusumagraj (Vishnu Waman Shirwadkar, b.1912) is a poet, playwright, novelist, and speaker.


19.       From Kin¡r¡ (Pune: Deshmukh, 1952):75


20.       Arati Prabhu (Chintamani Tryambak Khanolkar, 1930-76) was a poet and song writer, a novelist, short sotry writer, and playwright.


21.       From Jogav¡ (Bombay: Mauj, 1959):39


22.            “Jatayu”: the vulture in the R¡m¡ya¸a that fights courageously by himself for Rama against Ravana.


23.       Dilip Purushottam Chitre (b.1939) is a poet, translator of poetry from and into Marathi, critic and commentator, dramatist, filmmaker, and writer of short stories and literary travelogues.


24.       From Kavit¡ (Bombay: Mauj, 1960):40


25.       “Your”: this poem could also be read as a love poem.


26.       Grace (Manik Godghate, b.1937) is a poet who has also edited literary reviews and written personal essays.

27.       From Sandhy¡k¡lcy¡  kavit¡  (Bombay: Popular, 1967):17.


28.            Namdeo Dhondo Mahanor (b.1942) is a poet who also collects folklore when he is not tending his farm.


29.       From R¡n¡tly¡ kavit¡ (Bombay: Popular, 1967):60


30.       “My farmland”: the original word r¡n also means woodland in other contexts, a farmland may have trees in it.


31.       Vasant Ladoba Sawant (b.1935) is a poet and the author of a forthcoming study of the Marathi travelogue.


32.       From Svastik (Bombay: Popular, 1973):52-53


33.            “Pandharpur”: with its temple of Vithoba, it is the City of God visited by the Vaishnava pilgrims of Maharashtra.


34.       From Svastik:53.


35.            “Sandalwood”: yields a lasting fragrance as it is ground to a paste, which is applied to the icon in a p£j¡.


36.       From Svastik:78-80; this is the fifth out of the six stanzas in the original.


37.       Padma (Padmavati Gole, b. 1913) is a poet.


38.       From Ëk¡shve·i (Bombay: Mauj, 1968):67.


39.            “Katyayani Vrata”: allusion to an episode narrated in the Bh¡gavata pur¡¸a; the Gopis  are bathing in the Yamune on a religious occasion of this name, Krishna playfully makes away with the milk-maids’ clothes, hangs them on a nearby Kadamba tree, and watches their discomfiture from the tree as he plays the flute.


40.       “The antarp¡¶”: the cloth held curtain-like between the bride and the groom by the priests reciting the wedding mantras, whose refrain is s¡vadh¡n! (alerting the couple and the others that the two are entering into the blessed union)


41.       Arun Kolatkar (b.1932) writes poetry inMarathi and English and translates Marathi poetry (some of it his own) into English, he is also a graphic artist.


42.       From Aru¸  Kolakarcy¡  kavit¡  (Bombay: Pras, 1977):49.


43.            “Gandharvas” : the court singers of Indra, the god of thunder, Tumbara being one of them.  The rishi Narada, along with Tumbara, sings in attendance on Vishnu.  The Gandharvas beclouded thenight sky to deceive Pururavas into losing Urvashi.

44.            Dnyaneshwar had himself immured, sitting in a trance. The term sam¡dhi refers to the mystic trance and metonymically to the holy sepulcher where a sany¡si is buried.  (Sany¡sis are not cremated.)  There is a tradition that he urged the poet Eknath in a dream to disentangle from his bones the roots of the tree planted on the spot.  Eknath, who did so, also edited the next text of Jµ¡ne¿varÌ, the poetic exegisis of the BhagavadÌgt¡.






            This was published in: Experience of Hinduism:  Essays on religion in Maharashtra.  Ed. Zelliot, Eleanor; Bernesen, Maxine. Albany. NY : State University of New York Press, 1988. (Indian ed. Delhi : Indian Book Centre). P.297-320.  The volume was a tribute to the Late Irawati Rarve.


            This was published earlier in 1978 (V¡gartha April). 1985 (in Marathi, Navbh¡rat).