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Madhushala (The Tavern) -- Harivansh Rai Bachchan

Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #72) Madhushala (The Tavern)
  Seeking wine, the drinker leaves home for the tavern.
  Perplexed, he asks, "Which path will take me there?"
  People show him different ways, but this is what I have to say,
  "Pick a path and keep walking. You will find the tavern."

  Hark! The wine gurgles and splashes as it falls from the goblet.
  Hark! It sounds like the tinkling of bells on the feet of an intoxicated girl.
  We have reached there, a few steps are we from the tavern,
  Hark! Hear the laughter of the drinkers, as the fragrance of the tavern wafts through the air.

  Call it not lava, though it flows red, like a tongue of flame.
  Call it not the blistered heart, for it is only foaming wine.
  Lost memories serve the wine, that intoxicates with pain.
  If you find happiness in suffering, come to my tavern.

  He who has burnt all scriptures with his inner fire,
  Has broken temples, mosques and churches with carefree abandon,
  And has cut the nooses of pandits, mullahs and priests ---
  Only he is welcome in my tavern.

  Alas, he that with eager lips, has not kissed this wine,
  Alas, he that trembling with joy, has not touched a brimming goblet,
  He that has not drawn close the coy wine-maiden by her hand,
  Has wasted this honey-filled tavern of Life.

  My beloved wine-maiden seems a priest; her wine as pure as the Ganga's waters.
  With unbroken pace, she rotates the rosary of wine glasses.
  "Drink more! Drink more!" she intones in prayer.
  I am Shiva incarnate and this tavern is my temple.

  Only once every year, the fires of Holi are lit.
  Only once is the game played and are garlands of lamps lit.
  But, O, those who are lost in the world, come and see the tavern any day,
  The tavern celebrates a Holi, every morning and a Diwali every night.

  Whatever the taste on my lips, it tastes like wine.
  Whatever the vessel in my hands, it feels like a goblet.
  Every face dissolves into the features of my wine-maiden,
  And whatever be in front of my eyes, they fill only with visions of the tavern.

  Ah, Beautiful, your lovely face is like a crystal bowl,
  Whose precious gem is your beauty, sparkling like sweet, intoxicating wine.
  I am the wine-maiden and I am the guest.
  Where sit we together, there indeed is the tavern.

  A mere two days she served me but the young maiden is sulking now.
  She fills my goblet and passes it curtly to me.
  Her coquetry and charms are lost arts;
  All the tavern wishes now is to fulfil its obligations.

  Life is short. How much love can I give and how much can I drink?
  They say, "He departs," at the very moment that he is born.
  While he is being welcomed, I have seen his farewell being prepared.
  They started closing the shutters of the tavern, as soon as they were raised.

  O maiden! Which burning heart has been pacified by drinking?
  Every drinker repeats only one chant, "More! More!"
  Seeking satisfaction, he leaves behind so many desires.
  Of how many such hopes is this tavern a tomb?

  Yama will come as the wine-maiden and bring his black wine,
  Drink, and know no more consciousness, O carefree one.
  This is the ultimate trance, the ultimate wine-maiden and the ultimate goblet.
  O traveller, drink judiciously, for you will never find the tavern again.

  Each day, O companion, spills more wine from my life.
  Each day, O fortunate one, this goblet, my body, is burnt.
  Each day, O lovely woman, this wine-maiden, my youth, distances itself from me.
  Each day, O beauty, this tavern, my Life, is drying up.

  When from the earthen jar of my body, the wine of life is emptied,
  When the final wine-maiden comes with her bowl of poison,
  When my hand forgets the touch of the goblet, and my lips the taste of wine,
  Whisper in my ears, "the wine, the goblet, the tavern!"

  Touch not my lips with tulasi, but with the goblet, when I die.
  Touch not my tongue with the Ganga's waters, but with wine, when I die.
  When you bear my corpse, pallbearers, remember this!
  Call not the name of God, but call to the truth that is the tavern.

  Weep over my corpse, if you can weep tears of wine.
  Sigh dejectedly for me, if you are intoxicated and carefree.
  Bear me on your shoulders, if you stumble drunkenly along.
  Cremate me on that land, where there once was a tavern.

  Pour on my ashes, not ghee, but wine.
  Tie to a vine of grapes, not a waterpot, but a wine-goblet.
  And when, my darling, you must call guests for the ritual feast,
  Do this - call those who will drink and have the tavern opened for them.

  If anyone asks my name, say it was, "The Drunkard".
  My work? I drank and passed the goblet to everyone.
  O Beloved, if they ask my caste, say only that I was mad.
  Say my religion worshipped goblets and then chant with your rosary, "The tavern, the tavern!"

  O son, raise not water at my final rites, but wine in your palms.
  And sit somewhere, having filled the Ganga with wine.
  If you can wet the earth somewhere, my soul will be satisfied.
  Offer your libations to your ancestral spirits by reading repeatedly, "The tavern, the tavern."
-- Harivansh Rai Bachchan
The translation is mine, though I had one that was blessed by Bachchan
Sr. himself. I didn't think it captured the rhythm of the original, though. It
emphasised the meaning of each line more, and put words in that weren't in the
original. I have attempted to be as literal as possible and let the readers see
the meaning for themselves. I have also limited severely the use of upper-case

Of course, the force of the original is lost, for many reasons. Most Hindi and
Urdu poetry is written in a certain philosophical style (which is perhaps the
Sufi style mentioned in the quotes below), which is inextricably linked to the
language itself and, I believe, cannot be reproduced in English. At a more
mundane level, inadequate translation plays a role, for eg. the words "pran"
and "jeevan", which translate to "life" but which convey different senses of
the word.

Check out for the Hindi original of
the above. It is very badly spelt and has other glitches, but I couldn't find a
better version that doesn't require installing a new font on your machine.



When the book was first published in 1935, Harivansh Rai Bachchan found himself
famous overnight. Since then the original Hindi version has been translated
into English, Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam. It has been set to music and
choreographed and performed by celebrated Indian dancers. The full poem
contains 135 verses. [ ed: The 20 translated above are from the popular musical
rendition of the poem by Manna Dey and Bachchan Sr. himself. ]

The poem shows traces of the Persian Sufi style and is patterned, to some
extent, on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Bachchan, who has translated the
Rubaiyat into Hindi, has acknowledged the Persian influence in his work and
indeed it is this aspect of his poetry that sets it apart form the work of the
major Hindi poets of our time.

The range of the 135 verses of Madhushala is wide: wine and the tavern or
wine-house serve as the basic metaphors in the poem and symbolise the fillness
and intoxication of life as well as its pain and frustration. Love, Beauty,
Pain, Sorrow, Death --- all of these and more are woven into the rich texture
of the poem. Madhushala embodies the entire philosophy of Bachchan: the
passionate yearning of the soul for beauty ending only in frustration, the
pathetic scarcity and transience of beauty in the world, the agony of
disillusionment, the inevitability of death and a stoic acceptance of fatalism
as the only armour for the soul -- these are the themes of not only Madhushala
but of all of Bachchan's poetry.


Harivansh Rai Bachchan was born in 1907 and was educated at Allahabad, Banaras
Hindu and Cambridge Univeristies. He was the first Indian ever to receive a PhD
in English at the latter.

Returning in 1954, he taught and was also a radio broadcaster. He has published
seventy-five books, three for children, and has translated Shakespeare's
tragedies into Hindi.

[ed: Most people today, however, will perhaps identify him more easily as
Amitabh Bachchan's father. ]




1. Madhushala, Marjorie Boulton and Ram Swaroop Vyas, Penguin

2. Innumerable web sites, incl:

   a. [broken link]
   b. [broken link]

62 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Therese said...

Very beautiful in its woe of addiction and impending demise. May the
author know eternal peace and light.

T. Davis


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Anupam Mukherjee said...

A very nice one...encompassing a great many feelings and an entire lifetime
and still beyond...The beautiful folk touch is really nice.. I love the line
where he sez ..
"He who has burnt all scriptures with his inner fire,
Has broken temples, mosques and churches with carefree abandon,
And has cut the nooses of pandits, mullahs and priests ---
Only he is welcome in my tavern.".. thats real nice

pavan9s said...

Nice translation for a great poem. I enjoyed the essence of the literature

vaibhav arora said...

madhushala ko padthe sunthe
kadhe ho gaye sharir ke raunhte
yeh kaisa pyala pila diya tumne
aisi tumhari madhushala

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I have recently taken up a research on how Hindi peotry needs to be commercialised as an art form and my case study is Madhushala!

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Rosemarycxy878 said...

This opening stanza of the album is in the sonorous voice of Harivansh Rai Bachchan himself. After first stanza by the poet himself, Manna Dey takes over.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, it is a work of fiction. I never ever read a poem like this....

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This piece of mine is a fan’s tribute to Madhushala, one of the most popular works of poetry ever written in Hindi. Madhushala, one of those rare works which gained both critical acclaim and popularity, was written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan

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