In the world's busy market-place, O Shyama

by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)


Original Language Bengali

In the world's busy market-place, O Shyama,
     Thou art flying kites;
High up they soar on the wind of hope,
     held fast by maya's string.
Their frames are human skeletons,
     their sails of the the three gunas made;
But all their curious workmanship
     is merely for ornament.

Upon the kite-strings Thou hast rubbed
     the manja-paste of worldliness,
So as to make each straining strand
     all the more sharp and strong.
Out of a hundred thousand kites,
     at best but one or two break free;
And thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands,
     O Mother, watching them!

On favoring winds, says Ramprasad,
     the kites set loose will speedily
Be borne away to the Infinite,
     across the sea of the world.

-- from Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, by Elizabeth U. Harding

<<Previous Poem | More Poems by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen) | Next Poem >>


/ Photo by thegoodlifefrance /


View All Poems by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Navaratri, the Hindu festival celebrating the Nine Nights of the Divine Mother, started over the weekend. Of the nine nights, the first three are dedicated to Durga or Kali, who destroys illusion. The next three nights are dedicated to Lakshmi, who grants wealth, both spiritual and material. The final three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom.

Since this is the beginning of Navaratri, I thought I'd feature a poem by Ramprasad dedicated to the Goddess Kali...


I'll be honest: In my opinion this English translation doesn't quite soar the way its kites do, but the poem still fascinates me. Ramprasad evokes a dynamic vision in our minds of the great and terrible Mother Goddess flying kites and laughing with delight.

Before we go further, we must first recognize that Ramprasad is a practitioner Tantric meditation. Tantra is often misunderstood and reduced to a sexual practice, but Tantra is actually rich and complex tradition of meditation, visualization, and energetic practices that attempts to engage all of life and life's energies, while awakening divine energies within. And Tantra has a special affinity with the feminine faces of the Divine, such as Kali. It is true that there are branches of Tantra that work with sexuality as part of its practice, but those are "left hand practices" that have been somewhat looked down upon until modern times when they've been popularized in the West.

What I think is especially worth remembering about Tantra when thinking about this poem is the Tantric practice of ritualized visualization. Tantric practitioners during their meditations formulate in their minds highly complex and precise sacred patterns and iconic representations of the deities. The more precise and clear the image summoned forth in the mind's eye, the more the meditator comes into alignment with the sacred energy represented by the image.

I suspect that this poem, with its very specific imagery, can be approached as such a meditative image: each element has a precise meaning and relates to everything else in a specific way. So take a moment to reread the poem and try to construct the scene in your own mind.

So... We have kites.

In the world's busy market-place, O Shyama,
     Thou art flying kites


The Mother Goddess is flying kites in "the world's busy market-place." What are these kites? They are individual human souls.

High up they soar on the wind of hope,
     held fast by maya's string.


They are borne up by the "wind of hope." This wind might thought of generally as spiritual aspiration, or it could be very specifically prana, the breath that animates and propels all life.

But they are held by maya's string. Maya is the illusion of the world. It is the illusion that surface appearance is all there is of reality. That illusion is the cord that holds the kites, keeping human souls bound to the earth despite their urge to fly free.

Their frames are human skeletons,
     their sails of the the three gunas made


The fact that the frames of the kites are made of human skeletons may sound gruesome, but the imagery of Kali often has shocking elements like that. Kali forces us to confront death and fear in order to dispel our illusions. We pass through death to know we cannot die. We experience loss to know that our true nature is never held or lost, it simply is. Kali represents that aspect of the Divine that loves us too much to let us remain comfortable with safe self-delusions and prods us to know our full selves and the full mystery of being.

The gunas referred to are an important concept in Indian metaphysics. All of nature is said to embody some combination of the three gunas: Sattva (purity, lucidity), rajas (movement), and tamas (lethargy, darkness). People, too, are said to be composed of these qualities. It is said that through these qualities, worldly energies and karmic tendencies manifest. So when the sails of the kites are composed of the gunas, that is what catches subtle, rising wind and gives direction to the kites.

Upon the kite-strings Thou hast rubbed
     the manja-paste of worldliness,
So as to make each straining strand
     all the more sharp and strong.


This is a delightful detail, but will only make sense with a bit of explanation. Ramprasad is describing a game of kite contests. In this game, children would line their kite strings with glue and tiny bits of glass (the manjja-paste). The glue both strengthens their own kite's string, while giving it the sharpness necessary to cut their opponent's string. The object was to wrap your string around your opponent's, and cut their kite. Then the fun became chasing the freed kite as it sailed loose through the sky.

Here, Kali's manja-paste is worldliness. It makes the string, maya's illusion stronger, while becoming more abrasive to others. This leads to painful, jostling contests of worldly existence.

Out of a hundred thousand kites,
     at best but one or two break free


But-- for those who are ready, that struggle becomes means of liberation, when the string of maya snaps and the soul is no longer tethered to the ground.

And this is what most delights the Goddess:

And thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands,
     O Mother, watching them!


We sail free across the Infinite, Mother's laughter trailing behind us!

On favoring winds, says Ramprasad,
     the kites set loose will speedily
Be borne away to the Infinite,
     across the sea of the world.



It's a cool, crisp autumn morning here. The sky is so blue that all the world comes into a glistening, sharp focus found no other time of the year. It might just be a good day to go outside and fly a kite...



Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen - Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
More Books >>





In the world's busy