Vitthal

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Literal Translation

Holy water Vitthal field Vitthal
God Vitthal ritual worship Vitthal

Mother Vitthal father Vitthal
Brother Vitthal lineage Vitthal

Teacher Vitthal teacher’s god Vitthal
Treasure Vitthal without gaps Vitthal

Nama says to me Vitthal is found
Hence to the age of one quarter truth [Alt. age of darkness] there is no ripeness

-o-

This is an abhanga of Namdev, a contemporary of Dnyaneshwar, from about seven hundred years ago. It sings of his complete and single-minded concentration on Vitthal until everything is only Vitthal and evil has no play. You can hear it here:

From the point of view of translation, the language is straightforward. But there are words with specific deep meanings in the devotional tradition of India, such as “teerthakshetra” or holy-water-field, more naturally, a place of pilgrimage, “devapuja” or ritual worship of a god, and “gurudevata” or the deity that is the teacher.

There are also technical social and philosophical terms such as “gotra” meaning ancestral line which is deeply embedded in the relationships between social groups in India (for example, for marriage), and “kalikala” commonly known as “kaliyuga” or the present age in which virtue has diminished to one quarter of what it was in a previous age of truth.

Then there is the meditative repetition of the name “Vitthal” which we encountered previously in Dnyaneshwar’s Mogara poem.

The abhanga is expressed in compact lines of (2+3, 2+3), (2+3, 4+3), (2+3, 2+3), (2+3, 2+3), (2+3, 5+3), (3+3, 4+3), 13, and 11 syllables. So, in the main, the changing terms of just a couple of syllables are used to trigger deeply held associations.

-o-

Poetic Translation

The pilgrim is Eternal, the place is Eternal
The deity Eternal, worship is Eternal

Mother is Eternal, father Eternal
Siblings Eternal, kins are Eternal

Preceptor Eternal, the precept is Eternal
The treasure is Eternal, always Eternal

Nama says it is the Eternal I have found
Darkness all around can bear no fruit

-o-

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

10 thoughts on “Vitthal

  1. The intimacy which is there in “Vitthal” is not carried by “Eternal”; it rather sounds abstract or metaphysical. How about simply “He”? This could be made explicit by having “always Vitthal” instead of “always Eternal” in the third stanza.

  2. Abhay says another meaning for “pad nahi” (has no ripeness) is “cannot stand” or is defeated.

  3. Here is an alt. version with the “He” formulation.

    The pilgrim is He, the place is He
    He is the deity, the worship is He

    He is the mother, He is the father
    Brother and sister, the clan are only He

    He is the precept, the preceptor is He
    A natural treasure, unintervaled is He

    Nama says it is my Vitthal I have found
    A light is all around, all evil is gone

  4. “all evil is gone” sounds weak. How about “time (or doom) stand cannot” or something like that?

  5. Alt. for the last couplet:

    Nama says it is my Vitthal I have found
    A light is all around, a dark age is past

    Nama says Vitthal I discover
    In a new hour, the darkness withers

    Between the two, the second couplet is closer to the original because the first has the extraneous light.

  6. I’m not sure. How about the following?

    Nama says Vitthal I have found,

    He all around, and gone is the gloom.

    But now you can make your final choice.

  7. “Found” is better than “discover”. For intimacy as well as personal realization, “my Vitthal” is better. “He” can be used instead of “light”, thus tying with the rest of the poem. I’d choose “wither” since it captures both the senses of “pad nahi”. So:

    Nama says it is my Vitthal I have found
    He is all around, the darkness has withered

    Alt. for “darkness” could be “dark age” per “kalikala”. But it goes to whether his experience is universal and hence turning the tide of the whole age, or personal and excising the darkness in/around him. Perhaps “falsehood” or “illusion” …

  8. I find “withered” rather weak, coming at the end of the line, a feminine ending, long-short; “pad nahi” has a certain force. It could be something like “fled has the dark time” “hold cannot the dark time” “the dark time has ceased”…

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