100 Great Indian Poems, A Selection


This is a selection from 100 Great Indian Poems (see the Editor’s note here)

Chill Out

Busy right now with my precious bamboo flute,
my delicate fingers on the holes.
Darling, can’t snuggle you now,
I’m lost fiddling this melodious flute.
Chill out – eat some chilli!
Can’t squeeze you right now.
Busy with my precious little bamboo flute,
my delicate fingers on the holes.

(Transcreated from Gondi by Gabriel Rosenstock and Abhay K.)


Soul Song
—Abhay K.

I was always here
as blowing wind
or falling leaves
as shining sun
or flowing streams
as chirping birds
or blooming buds
as blue sky
or empty space
I was never born
I didn’t die.


Selections from Amaruśataka

The house parrot overheard
the lovers’ sweet nothings
all through the night,
when the sun arose
he spilled the beans;
members of the household
heard every syllable.
When she heard her own sweet words
the woman placed a ruby earring
in front of the bird, hoping he’d take it for
a pomegranate full of seeds –
bite into it and shut up. (16)

Love’s chain has broken,
our friendship gone,
mutual respect and affection
he’s just some other dude
strolling down the street.

But my eyes follow him, sweet friend,
I can’t help admiring him
day in and day out:
how strange it is
that my heart
hasn’t cracked open. (43)

(Transcreated from Sanskrit by Gabriel Rosenstock and Abhay K.)


Selections from The Rigveda and The Upanishadas
Gayatri Mantra

We meditate
on the glory of that Being
who has produced this universe
May He enlighten our minds.

Gayatri Mantra is dedicated to the Sun deity Savitr

(Translated from Sanskrit by Swami Vivekananda)


Selection from Saduktikarṇāmṛta

She didn’t even stop me
by saying, ‘Don’t leave!’
Nor did she ask -
“would I be away for long?”
She didn’t weep long enough
to wet her cheeks
I was ready to depart
when she came
offering me a drink
for the road and placed
a fresh mango blossom
on my palm.
I could not move an inch. (923)

(Transcreated from Sanskrit by Gabriel Rosenstock and Abhay K.)


Selection from Śārṅgadharapaddhati

As the bright day dawns
washing their podiums, they
gossip about politics and the antics
of the other sadhus,
they’ve been up till midnight
weaving their flowers and grass
for worship rituals.

Later, pretending to practice yoga
and austerities, they hang around
until they catch a glimpse of city girls
gently washing their supple breasts.

Thus these rogues
pass their time
by the river. (4028)

(Transcreated from Sanskrit by Gabriel Rosenstock and Abhay K.)


Selections from Therigatha

Free, fabulously free
free from three trifles -
pounder, pounding bowl and my wicked lord
free from endless births and deaths
the chains that fettered me down
are suddenly no more.


A woman set free at last, how free
how gloriously free I am from drudgery
of kitchen, harsh hunger pangs
the sound of empty pots,
free from that whimsical man
the spinner of yarns
peace at last

lust and hatred have gone
I rest under the shade of sprawling trees
and cherish happiness.

(Transcreated from Pali by Abhay K. and Gabriel Rosenstock)


The Description of Uma’s Lovemaking

Shiva taught her how to make love
in their bed; Parvati offered him back
herself, full of grace of a young woman,
like a present one gives to one’s guru
She trembled in pain as her bitten
lower lip was released slowly
Parvati took a deep breath of cool air
coming from the crescent moon in Shiva’s hair
While kissing her long hair
dust fell into Shiva’s third eye
Parvati blew it off with her perfumed breath
fragrant as the smell of a blossoming lotus
So the lord of the beasts whose mount is Nandi-
the Bull, gratifying Kama, the God of Love
by immersing himself in pleasures of senses
lived for a month with Uma in the Mountain King’s palace.

(Transcreated from Sanskrit by Abhay K.from Kumarasambhava 8.17-8.20)


Without My Body
—B.B. Agarwal

When I returned home this evening
a strange incident happened :
nobody noticed me.
My wife did not ask me for tea
my children too kept away from me
my servant, showing great impertinence
kept on cleaning the floor
as if I did not exist.
Well, am I here or not?

Suddenly, then, I realize
with a feeling of great astonishment.
My body is missing.
I want to switch on the radio –
my hands are missing.
I want to speak –
my mouth is gone!
I have vision, alas! no eyes.
Ican think – but my head is missing
How have I returned home?

Slowly I started to understand:
I left my mind in the office accidentally while heading home.
My hands still hanging from the bus-strap.
My eyes still scanning the office files;
my mouth stuck to the telephone.
And my feet left standing in a queue, no doubt.
That’s how I returned home today, without my body.

Vision of a bodiless life
is the essence of Indian philosophy
But is the exhaustion weighing down the bodiless me
also a part of it all?

(Translated from Hindi by Abhay K.)