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BY JOHN BEAMES, B.C.S., &c. &c.
A SPECIAL interest attaches to the six short hymns which I now lay before the public for the first time. Not only do they represent a large and widely popular class of compositions hitherto almost unknown to European scholars, but they are at the same time absolutely the earliest known specimens of Bengali literature, and thus present to the philologist a means of solving many very obscure and difficult problems, while to the student of Indian philosophy they exhibit to the fullest extent the natural and unrestrained sentiments of a follower of the Vaishnava creed its first and purest stage.
These hymns are still sung in every village in Bengal. I believe there are some thousands of them living on the lips and in the hearts of the peasantry which have never been reduced to writing. Collections have been made, and I believe a few have been published in Bengali, but not in such a way as to be generally accessible to English readers. From their internal structure and from historical considerations they may be ascribed to the end of the fourteenth, and beginning of the fifteenth century, and are therefore genuine representatives of the speech of Bengal five hundred years ago.
Râg Sindhûra madhur-tâla.
Surpassing collyrium (in blackness) delighter of human kind,
Conquering in hue the cloud-masses:
Tender as the dawn, redder than the nelumbium,
His feet adorned with manjîra:
See, dear friend, shines the king of youths:
(His face) expanded with nectared smiles is fair
(so that) the moon has become dim from shame:
Annihilating the pride of the lotus with his eyes,
Binding with his eyebrow's snake-like noose,
The race of women, distress of goddesses:
Made musical by bees hangs the beautiful
Garland of keli and kadamba flowers:
In the heart of Gobind Das is ever firmly fixed that gracious form.
The lines being very long I have divided each one into two, with the exception of the third, which is a sort of chorus, and shorter than the rest. The whole piece thus consists of eight lines. The end of each line is marked by a colon (:).
Hear, hear! Mâdhava, pitiless body!
Fie on such love as this of thine!
Why didst thou say a word of meeting,
At night thou goest with another?
Having made deceitful love to Râï (Râdhika)
Thou makest sport with another woman.
Who says that Kânh is the crown of lovers?
Like thee another fool there is not in the world.
Leaving the diamond thou delightest in glass;
Fie! Fie! on thy enamoured words.
Bidyâpati says--O thou who resemblest the champak
Râï will not look on thy face.
(Krishna begs pardon.)
|Mâdhav comprehending the sentiments of Râï,|
at her feet rolling on the earth:
Mâdhav remains holding her two feet in his two hands,
still Râï was averse:
Again making entreaty Kânh (says):
I am obedient to thee, thou knowest it well,
Why dost thou burn my soul?:
If thou wilt not look on my face,
to what place shall I go?:
Without thee to what end shall I preserve my life,
I will abandon my own life:
When Kânh had made all this entreaty,
and still she looked not on his face:
Gobind Das says vain was hope,
weeping really then went Kânh.
(Radha repents of her coldness.)
|"Hari! Hari!" she calls, lying on the ground she rises up.|
Speaking trembling words.
Looking at the blue sky thinking of his wandering,
She asks from the birds wings:
"What avails the moon, thick smearing of sandal paste,
Kisalaya leaves, or lying on the ground?
Bring him, friend, bring him to my feet," a remedy
Gobind Das knows not.
(Râdhâ's regrets at the long absence of Krishna.)
|I have remained in much fear enduring this body|
Not having been near that ocean of delight;
Not one of my companions has been in my power;
As the madana creeper stinging the hand;
Again how many entreaties have I made humbly
Even so the sin in my heart understands not its error.
What fortune was mine in a former life?
Again I have come to attain this reward.
Bidyâpati says, speak not this grief,
Thus has occurred the first seperation.
There is a mystic meaning in all these kîrtans which it is worth while to draw out more clearly.
The old Aryan element-worship had led to the creation of a multitude of gods between whose varying attributes and powers a considerable amount of confusion must necessarily have existed. In the long centuries of depression under which the Brahmanical religion languished during the supremacy of Buddhism, the necessity of introducing some order into the grotesque and crowded Pantheon of the Hindus must have forced itself upon the mind of the Brahmans.
The monotheism of Buddha, affording as it did one definite person upon whom the popular mind might fix itself, led to the idea of elevating either Šiva or Vish.nu into the supreme place. The shadowy parama Brahma of an earlier age became personified in one brother of the rival gods, and gradually the incarnation of K.rish.na, an Indian rendering of the great Christian fact received through the medium of later Buddhist legends, shaped itself into a distinct creed and won an immense and ever increasing popularity.
A further development awaited it when the Muhammadans came to India. The emotional or unphilosophical monotheism which they professed p. 326 made a deep impression on the philosophical minds of the Hindus, and led to that outbreak of new religious theories which was reduced to system by Chaitanya in Bengal, by Râmânand and his disciple Kabir in Hindustan and by Nânak in the Panjâb. Vish.nu is the supreme being; the whole Hindu Pantheon sinks into the position of ministers to his will; by a further extension of the same line of thought this supreme being is in everything--he is everything. We must love him, for we are a part of his essence. He has provided us with a concrete expression of this love, in his sports with Râdhâ and the gopis. Let us then meditate on these, let our hymns and songs be of these. Let Râdhâ typify the human soul and K.rish.na the divine essence. But in man's nature the divine and the animal are strangely mingled--he is half god, half beast. The glowing temperament of the Indian poet, unrestrained by any of those curbs and checks which Europe has agreed to obey, led him into the wildest excesses. The love at first intended to be purely spiritual degenerated into mere earthly lust, and the scenes between Râdhâ and her lover are often more suggestive of the brothel than of the temple.
I give as an example of the least offensive of this class a short kîrtan.
|To a young girl in love there is no pleasure,|
In her heart Madana causes double pain;
All her companions assembling lay beside her
Starting, starting, the girl heaved sighs,
When taking her into the arms she contorts all her body,
As spells are disregarded by the young serpent.
Covering her closed eyes with her hands,
As a sick man takes medicine;
For a moment is the pain, for life is the joy;
From this O girl! why do you turn your face?
Bidyâpati says, hear, o Murari!
Thou art the ocean of love, the girl is but young.
This is Horace's
"Nondum subactâ ferre jugum valet
Cervice; nondum munia comparis
Æquare, nec tauri ruentis
In venerem tolerare pondus."--Carm. II, v.
But it is at first sight rather startling to see the metaphor applied as it is in this case to the first effect upon the soul of the awakening influence of divine love. Accustomed as we are to keep the flesh and the spirit widely apart and to regard them as antagonistic to one another, it is strange and revolting to be brought face to face with a phase of thought in which the fleshly serves as a type of the spiritual. Unaided human nature has in Vaishnavism soared high and nearly touched the goal of truth, but for lack of revelation it has fallen back and lies grovelling in the mire.
In conclusion, I must acknowledge the source whence I obtained these interesting hymns. I have to thank Babu Jagadishnâth Rai for his kindness in procuring them for me, for assisting me with his advice in translating and making notes on them.
He has promised to endeavour to procure for me some more of them, which if the specimens herein given should prove interesting to any class of readers, I will publish in due course hereafter.
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