Guest poem submitted by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #739) Song of Creation
Then there was neither Aught nor Nought, no air nor sky beyond. What covered all? Where rested all? In watery gulf profound? Nor death was then, nor deathlessness, nor change of night and day. That One breathed calmly, self-sustained; nought else beyond it lay. Gloom hid in gloom existed first - one sea, eluding view. That One, a void in chaos wrapt, by inward fervour grew. Within it first arose desire, the primal germ of mind, Which nothing with existence links, as sages searching find. The kindling ray that shot across the dark and drear abyss- Was it beneath? or high aloft? What bard can answer this? There fecundating powers were found, and mighty forces strove- A self-supporting mass beneath, and energy above. Who knows, who ever told, from whence this vast creation rose? No gods had then been born - who then can e'er the truth disclose? Whence sprang this world, and whether framed by hand divine or no- Its lord in heaven alone can tell, if even he can show.
Translated by John Muir, in 'Original Sankrit Texts', volume 5. Notes: The Creation Hymn is better known through Prof Friedrich Max Mueller's translation of it ([broken link] http://www.msci.memphis.edu/~ramamurt/gems/gem101.html) but I chose this version because I thought Muir had done a commendable job of metrification. The hymn itself is a favourite of mine, ever since I first heard the Hindi translation sung as the opening tune to Shyam Benegal's televised version of Jawahar Lal Nehru's Discovery of India. The climactic note of perplexity, voiced after all the esoteric speculations made on no less a subject than the origin of the Universe itself, has always fascinated me. To me, it conjures up the image of a sage looking defiantly into the skies, thumbing his nose up at the powers above and challenging them, with all their omniscience and omnipotence, to unravel this, the most mystifying secret of existence. Too, the hymn, and subsequent commentary, evoke the academic intensity and diversity of theological debates in Vedic and classical Hindu traditions. This presents a marked contrast to the ritualism and orthodoxy that suffuse the religion today. Muir's work contains a compact chronology of the dissections of this verse, in various Upanishads and Puranas. An interesting point made in one is that the author is not expressing the Creator's ignorance in the final line. Instead, he postulates that since all Being is part of the Creator, the Creator cannot "know" of any existence external to his own, simply because there is none. Muir, writing in 1880, with the hindsight of centuries of Humanism, preferred to believe that the "simple author" of the hymn could hardly have entertained such "transcendental notions." Sameer.