Brahmakar

This is another seven hundred-plus year-old poem of Dnyaneshwar, going back fairly to the beginning of Marathi. You can hear it here http://aathavanitli-gani.com/Song/Vishvache_Aarta and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp3Dafna5Og (with English interpretation).

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Literal Translation

The universe’s longing in my mind lit
The whole body itself became Brahma

Fond love into me crowded
Marvel seen sky-form, good woman

On father-mother-lady-Rakhu easy, direct became
In the heart became bedecked in Brahma-form

[Alt. for “became bedecked”: “impersonated”, as by an actor]

-o-

The difficulties of translating this one are obvious – a complex spiritual experience tersely packed, archaic terms or dimly remembered senses of words used differently today, reference to the untranslateable Brahma known only as “not-this, not-this”. And then there is the “good woman” and the “on father-mother-lady-Rakhu”.

Let’s start with “ge maye”, good woman. The “ge” is the same as the “ga” from “Ketaki” – a close female companion or relative, and “maye” meaning “mother” or rather “mother-equivalent”, often used for someone who is close and loved but who needs to get with the program and needs convincing. The poem is addressed to such a person, and that tone is there throughout. In a sense it speaks to the followers of the path who may not yet be realized.

Then we come to “on father-mother-lady-Rakhu”. First it has to make grammatical sense, for which the entire phrase must be treated as the object. We can do so by considering the entity which is above his parents as the object, or by considering his father (who is his mother’s lord in this interpretation, in the sense of those times, at least), and whose name is Vitthal, to be the object. My preference is for the former, in which case the entity above his father-mother as well as the entity above (or beyond) Vitthal, his father’s name, is Brahma. Thus the line becomes: “Brahma easy, direct became”.

The second line is the main realization – “the whole body itself became Brahma”. So, in the first line, the Universe’s longing lighting the mind is not congruent – rather, Brahma lit the mind. Hence the first line must be interpreted as “the object of the Universe’s longing lit my mind”.

The second couplet speaks to the oneness of the realization – whether within him or in the sky, it’s the same “stuff”, and the third couplet speaks to the access to the realization – the easy and direct path to that which is also established in the heart.

Finally we come to Brahma. Need this be translated, and, if yes, how? First, note that this is not brAhman, meaning priest or learned person, nor Brahma, the creator. Rather, it is brahman, the “not-this, not-this” – meaning that it is not limited or conditioned in any way, not partial, and hence whole and relationless. In older scriptures, it is left unnamed as “tat” or that.

We note the completeness of Dnyaneshwar’s experience: That enlightened his mind, his body became it, it stood in his heart, and it became accessible in the cosmic form.

-o-

With this background, we can reword the literal translation:

That which the universe longs for, lit in my mind,
The whole body itself became that

That which is fondly loved crowded into me,
The marvel that is seen in the form of the sky

That became easy, direct,
The form of which is bedecked in the heart

-o-

Poetic translation in rhyming couplets of 15 syllables per line:

That which the universe longs for illuminated my mind,
Limitless became my entire body, without joints, unlined.

The fond and delightful, the beloved, pressed close into me,
The cosmic wonder in which are set all the worlds that can be.

The path is now easy and direct: you only have to start
Towards the pure, luminous presence resplendent in your heart.

-o-

Please read the comments below for an organic discussion of this translation, or read the “finished” version of these translations here: (pdf).

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9 thoughts on “Brahmakar

  1. Here’s another take in couplets of 12+10 syllables, with internal rhymes as in the original.

    -o-

    The world’s desire, secretly met, enlightened,
    The body brightened, all over and through.

    The fond beloved, crowded in a close embrace,
    A surprising grace, sky-high, good woman.

    The way to that nameless realm, easy and direct,
    The presence bedecked, standing in the heart.

  2. Sounds more Haikuish than a narrative, the sense kept suspended. Marathi original is elaborative in its own way, and that is important.

  3. Can be made more natural by loosening up the syllable count:

    The whole world’s hankering, in my mind brightened,
    The body lightened, with him through and through.

    The cherished love that crowded me in embrace,
    Is the wonderful grace, also in the sky, O good woman.

    The way to that realm, easy and direct,
    Is to him bedecked, standing in the heart.

  4. The world’s yearning is my mind brightened
    And the body lightened, through and through.

    The cherished love crowded me in embrace,
    O the grace shaped as the sky, — the good Woman.

    The way to the Parents is swift and direct,
    Easy and bedecked when standing in the heart.

    –0–
    Have a look at this. You may like to use it to arrive at the final rendering.

  5. There is new interpretation in this one – some clarifying questions:

    First line: “is my mind brightened” – seems to indicate that his realization is the solution to the world’s yearning?

    Fourth line: the good woman is also the grace/love?

    Sixth line: the method is to stand in the heart v. the solution is standing in the heart?

  6. Yes, there is the aspect of interpretation but perhaps it is admissible. The phrases like “dehabrahma”, “brahmakar” are so rich and powerful that these cannot be rendered easily in any direct translation; a free prose rendering might bring that sense of the original. Until then it could be a new creation.

  7. I’d combine the last two versions as:

    The world’s yearning in my mind brightened,
    The body lightened with him through and through.

    That cherished love crowded me in embrace,
    The wonderful grace shaped as the sky.

    The way to that realm is easy and direct,
    To him bedecked who stands in the heart.

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