Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 3
Let’s go through some more verses to find out what makes Charyā-lyrics unique.
Composed by Kamali pa –scholars place him between 800–850 AD. Kameli might have derived from the word ‘Kambal’ — blanket. Did he wear rough saffron cloth instead of fine saffron cloth? We don’t know — we have no way to know. He is anticipated to be a disciple of Kanhapa and an inhabitant of Kalinga (Odisha).
The boat of Kamali is loaded with gold,
With no room for silver as the boat poled.
Let’s sail towards the void called sky;
What went past shouldn’t come by.
Uproot the anchor and untie the rope
Sail guided by mentor with abiding hope
Look around carefully when you sail -
Rowing without oar cannot propel.
Look around left and right as you sail
On the voyage of life bliss will unveil.
(Remember the famous Tagore poem “Sonar Tari” (the golden boat)?
Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
The river is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.
One small paddy-field, no one but me -
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.
Who is this, steering close to the shore
Singing? I feel that she is someone I know.
The sails are filled wide, she gazes ahead,
Waves break helplessly against the boat each side.
I watch and feel I have seen her face before.
Oh to what foreign land do you sail?
Come to the bank and moor your boat for a while.
Go where you want to, give where you care to,
But come to the bank a moment, show your smile -
Take away my golden paddy when you sail.
Take it, take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labour here by the river -
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.
No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone -
What had has gone: the golden boat took all.
Do those compositions look same? No — apparently no. First one is talking about fulfilling a purpose; gaining eternal bliss by following the guidance of the wise mentor while sailing cautiously through the fluid life. Tagore’s poem can be (and are) interpreted as manifestation of loneliness and helplessness by western scholars. Western scholars found the influence of Wordsworth’s and Keats’s melancholic loneliness on Tagore in this poem. To an Indian reader, Tagore’s poem seems a follower of legacy of voidism planted in India’s own soil — manifested in Charya-songs thousand years back. Kamali pa seeks the eternal bliss in the void during his voyage guided by his guru while Tagore’s human waits eternally in the void seeking a place in the almighty’s boat to start a voyage towards the unknown. Ancient Indian philosophy recognizes Void as part of life — the monastic scholar integrates void with life while the 20th century poet stays with his inner self in the void observing life flowing before him.
O outcaste woman, your hut is outside town
Do you touch all those monks and Brahman?
Kanha free from disgust will make love to you
Standing naked before you, the yogi is your beau
You dance on the lotus with petals sixty four
On whose boat do you travel door to door?
You sell loom to others but spread mat for me
You are the reason for whom I’ve set myself free
For your sake I turned a wizard wearing garland of bones
You ate the lotus roots churning the oceanic zones
Once rituals over, I’ll kill you to take out your life
The soul of the outcaste will make Nirvana thrive.
But Charya 10 seems little disturbing. If we decipher this as per tantric tradition, it unequivocally tells us about the determination of a spiritual seeker’s obsession of reaching Nirvana removing all impure obstructions of life. But why does the composer need to use the simile of impurity with an outcaste woman? Is caste concepts only determined and maintained by Brahman class or also by the Tantrics, who perhaps adopted people from so-called lower strata to help their ritual practices but continued to consider them as polluted? Is this a monk’s way of expressing his helplessness before the almighty’s power or a poet’s regret for leaving home (probably social status too) falling in love with an outcaste woman?
Women’s role in these lyrics looks interesting. Monastic system emphasises on the negative influence of women on the path of salvation again and again. Women are not allowed in the monasteries. Therefore in contrast to Vedic hymns, we don’t find any trace of a women lyricist here. All composers of the lyrics are men. But they refer to women. They are aware of the existence of women outside the monastic domain but they consider women to be hurdle on the way to Nirvana. The Tantric scholar speaks of using women’s body as a part of ritual, but then compares her with impurity that needs to be removed. Avoidance of women — is this misogynist approach? Or shall we call this a monastic effort to escape from the world? We don’t know whether the poets imagined to be remembered after one thousand years when people would try to decode the meaning of their lyrics applying the logic of contemporary understanding. What I find remarkable is the development of a people’s religion at certain period of Indian history which denied accepting women as part of their community.
Another attention-grabbing point is Manifestation of Voidism which is distinct from the Upanishadic nothingness. Upanishadas belief in Paramatma. The soul, which cannot be touched by hunger, aging or death, mingles with that Paramatma, the formless almighty, at the end of its journey in the earth. Paramatma or Brahma is the truth here. On the other hand, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamiksutra defines truth as natural void. There is neither beginning, nor end. Nothing is born. Hence nothing dies. There is no act and therefore there is no driving force behind an activity. There is no heaven and Nirban is attaining the void. Why did the lyricists use worldly metaphors on the way to reach that “Void”? The Siddha reaches his freedom by freeing himself from all kinds of carnal temptations. The process of removing all worldly attractions is frequently described as killing own family members. Why are the symbols used by the Siddha are all taken from day to day life? The songs prove they were knowledgeable about boat-making and rowing, game of chess, country-liquor making, village life and even art of love-making — why are those references taken to describe the void? Scholars tell this signifies the end of Buddhist influence in the region. The influence of Buddhism, like any other doctrine-based religion, depended on preaching and gaining more number of believers. With passing time, the monastic ideology was being detached from householder’s life; it was also losing popularity among common people. Perhaps declining acceptance motivated Bajrayan followers to use metaphors from daily life to attract householder towards their belief at the end. I guess presence of another reason behind using these kinds of similes. A religious doctrine is made for people. People convert to that religion and start following new regulations. But in course of time, as more and more people become part of the religion, they bring in their own belief and cultural awareness, all of which intermingle under the umbrella of that religion. We don’t know the background of Siddhacharyas. But probably all of them, though staying in monasteries and following the same philosophy, continued revealing own distinct cultural understanding while composing poems which gave the monastic ideology a diverse make over.
We don’t know what actually led the monastic lyricists compose these songs using unusual figures of speech so that these remain incomprehensible to common people, even though the language they use is commoner’s colloquy, not the literary Sanskrit or Pali. Only thing sure is these will continue haunting us for their unique ways of expression, stylistics and contents developed in Eastern part of India over thousand years back.