Feb 04 2013

Mahendranath Battacharya – Screening its face amongst lotus stalks

Published by at 8:58 am under Poetry

Screening its face amongst lotus stalks
by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

Screening its face amongst lotus stalks
the golden bird
            contented
            limbs listless with love
                  eyes open
sleeps on the flower with v, s, s, and s
emblazoned on its petals.

In a flower bud above
reigns the mantra “ram.”
Repeat “ram! ram!”
            and fan the flames red;
surround the swan with heat.
Let no obstacle stand in your way;
get to work —
you are young and fresh.
Break this fake sleep and snap out of your dreams;
then the storms of this world won’t concern you.

Oh soul, whip up the wind; let the bird fly
            flower to flower
towards Her mate in the sahasrara.
When that happens the five elements in you
            earth, water, fire, wind, and ether
will dissolve, and you’ll be free
            to merge in the Supreme.

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott


/ Photo by FirenzeLotus22 /

This poem by Mahendranath Battacharya is a stunning example of the beautiful and technically precise language that emerges from the Tantric Kundalini tradition of Yoga. But the meaning might not be obvious at first glance. Let’s spend some time together unlocking its meaning, and I think you’ll see what a profound poem this is…

Screening its face amongst lotus stalks
the golden bird…

First, what is the “swan”, the “golden bird”? It is the awakening Kundalini Shakti, the spiritual force that typically lies dormant at the base of the spine. The Kundalini is more commonly described with serpent imagery, as a sleeping snake curled around an egg in the seat. But when it awakens, it rises up, or flies up. This is why you’ll get unusual imagery of winged serpents among various spiritual traditions, or sometimes snakes that turn into birds or birds that hold snakes in their mouths. The Kundalini is experienced as being serpent-like when it is dormant, and bird-like when it is awakened and rises.

In this poem, the “golden bird” at first is “Screening its face among the lotus stalks…” The lotus flower is a common Hindu metaphor for the chakras, or subtle energy centers, primarily located along the spine. Mahendranath Battacharya describes the Kundalini as “screening its face among the lotus stalks,” meaning it is initially hidden from conscious awareness. It is there and very much alive, but constant sensory input overwhelms the chakras, in effect hiding the Kundalini from notice.

Hidden and unnoticed, the Kundalini “sleeps on the flower with v, s, s, and s / emblazoned on the petals.” The repetition of the letter S doesn’t make as much sense in English, but it is a reference to the three Sanskrit variations of hard s, soft sh, and hard sh. In Kundalini Yoga, these four Sanskrit letters are visualized as being inscribed on the “petals” of the base chakra. In other words, this is both a technical and poetic way of saying that the Kundalini rests in the base chakra and must be awakened.

In a flower bud above
reigns the mantra “ram.”
Repeat “ram! ram!”

The mantra “ram” is often associated with the third chakra at the solar plexus. This chakra is commonly described as being the seat of the will and the gateway to the higher realms of awareness. It is a sort of energetic ‘traffic cop’ — when the third chakra is sluggish, it tends to keep the energies of the lower chakras bottled up, but when it is cleansed and invigorated it starts calling to the lower chakras, ‘Wake up!’ and to the Kundalini, it urges, ‘Rise! Rise!’ So, when Mahendranath Battacharya tells us to repeat “ram! ram!” he is saying to awaken that third chakra, which in turn warms and rouses the Kundalini.

Let no obstacle stand in your way;
get to work —
you are young and fresh.
Break this fake sleep and snap out of your dreams;
then the storms of this world won’t concern you.

But, of course, to do this, we must shake off our spiritual sluggishness. We must “get to work” and purify the mind, stretch the awareness, cleanse our energies. Yet, what else is all of our life force for? We have vitality, we are “young and fresh;” we should put it to good use! We must break the “fake sleep and snap out of [our] dreams” of limited perception and the false sense of self.

Oh soul, whip up the wind; let the bird fly
            flower to flower
towards Her mate in the sahasrara.

Mahendranath Battacharya urges us to “let the bird fly / flower to flower / towards Her mate in the sahasrara.” That is, we must let the Kundalini Shakti awaken and rise from chakra to chakra along the spine until it reaches the sahasrara or crown chakra. This is where the union occurs between the Divine Feminine (the awakened Kundalini Shakti) and the Divine Masculine (the Heavenly Spirit or Father Sky recognized in the crown center). When the two merge, we are finally One, and the Supreme is perceived within and without everywhere!

…and you’ll be free
            to merge in the Supreme.






Mahendranath Battacharya

India (1843 – 1908) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

Mahendranath Battacharya wrote many Shakta poems (poems to the Goddess) in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Some of his poetry gave a particular emphasis to Indian nationalism, reflecting the growing Indian determination to throw off the yoke of the British Empire. In this nationalistic poetry, India was personified as a Mother Goddess who must slay the (foreign) demons who oppressed Her children.

Even within this nationalistic element, Mahendranath Battacharya’s poetry had a definite mystical, devotional element, as well. And the poet himself is popularly considered to have been a great holy man.

More poetry by Mahendranath Battacharya

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Mahendranath Battacharya – Screening its face amongst lotus stalks”

  1. Lindseyon 05 Feb 2013 at 2:22 am

    Thanks Ivan – your commentary was just what I needed to internalise this great poem this morning…too much bottled up energy in me, so hopefully now will flow better…. Lindsey

  2. Pegon 08 Feb 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you Ivan. I enjoyed reading this. Once more I am astounded by the power of this energy. Seven years, more or less, the fire then the white death of exhaustion, New brain wirings. I am in awe at how this is possible.

    Peg

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