Pahili Raat


Literal Translation

Came laughing the first night
Lighting lives’ wick [spun wick or blossom-wick]

As light falls on me
Blossoms in a prime my youth
Laughed the young woman trembling
In eyes’ palace

Alluring beautiful flower of life [Alt. being]
On the feet of the husband offering love
With the touch of union
Melted in half-body

Bashfulness confounding as I gather
Happiness also of mine looks stealing
His [Alt. Its] impression leads me pulling
Into the heart of dream


This is a song of a newlywed bride feeling a mixture of joy, apprehension, devotion, and the promise of fulfillment. You can hear it here:

The language is straightforward except for the word “ardhanga” which means half-body as well as a wife, or as in English, the better half.

There is lightness and innocence, a naturalness to the experience and its expression which the poetic translation attempts to capture in eight syllables per line.


Poetic Translation

The bridal night with bliss arrives,
A lamp is lit of braided lives.

As shines the candle light on me,
My youth in prime felicity
Of a trembling bride, there arise
The smiles in depths of joyful eyes.

Enchanting is the flower of life,
The offered love of man and wife;
In the gentle touch of union
The two dissolve but into one.

Bewildered, bashful, I reclaim
Senses lost in a happy frame;
His presence leads me like a stream
In the heart of a lovely dream.


[Alt. for line 1 to avoid repetition of bride]
The night of troth with bliss arrives,

[Alt. for line 14 — better, but uses 9 syllables instead of 8]
Into the heart of a lovely dream.


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


8 thoughts on “Pahili Raat

  1. For better flow, the comma can be moved from after bride in line 5 to after felicity in line 4 – enabling some simple changes:

    As shines the candle light on me,
    With youth in prime felicity,
    In a trembling bride there arise
    The smiles in depths of joyful eyes.

  2. Here’s a different version, more English but still true to the original:

    In peals of joy the night arrives
    And lights the wick of braided lives.

    As the candle shines on me,
    With youth in prime felicity,
    My bridal heartbeats fail and rise,
    A smile brightens my dreamy eyes.

    Enchanting, beautiful are the flowers
    Of devotion, this love of ours.
    In the gentle touch of union
    Dissolve our beings, two in one.

    Bewildered, bashful, I decree
    My senses back from a reverie
    And follow the draft of a blissful stream
    Into the heart of a lovely dream.

  3. I’m not sure about the “peals of joy”. Looks easily found! What about “eagerness of joy”?

    “youth in prime felicity” –> “youth in bursting felicity”

    “fail” –> “tremble”

    “dreamy eyes” –> “desirous eyes”

    “enchanting, beautiful” –> “alluring, beauteous”

    “drift of” –> “rush of”


    Some quick suggestions…

  4. The “peals” were to invoke laughter which is in the original, but also to invoke the festivity of the wedding which must have preceded. I thought “peals of joy” was rather novel [but a search reveals that the phrase is known, though not common, and is associated with weddings, so it’s apt]. In general, I gave this setting continuity with the preceding activity (wedding) at the beginning and the ensuing (rest-of-life = “lovely dream”) at the end.

    Also, I interpreted the setting more or less symmetrically between the two (man and wife), because an asymmetric treatment soon starts to feel like the bride is a trapped animal or is excessively naive.

    The entire phrase “heartbeats fail and rise” was to indicate the “tremble”. Substituting “tremble” for “fail” gives the bride too much anxiety with heartbeats rising. Also, the heart and dream in this stanza is reflected in the heart-dream in the last line to give the setting continuity with the rest of life.

    “Prime” reflects the “bahar” in the original. Bursting, desirous, beauteous, etc. start to make it artificial, detracting from the naturalness.

    “Drift” suggests ease, while “rush” has a headlong, and probably temporary, connotation – plus the assonance with “bliss”.

    On the whole, this one descended en bloc and turned out well with the change to “drift”. So I’ll leave it.

  5. I’m not denying naturalness of the rendering, but the whole traditional setting leans more towards the description of the bride than of the groom; predominantly it is her emotional state that is the theme of the song. I’ll not go by the symmetry-argument which is more western than the tropical Indian. But I’ll leave it at this.

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