Sep 18 2013

Mahendranath Battacharya – Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now

Published by at 9:37 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
            You’ve masqueraded in this world
            as a clown.
But I am punished inside
            and there’s nothing funny about Your jokes.
Oh Ma, sometimes You’re the air we breathe,
            sometimes the sky in the seventh underworld
            furthest away, and
sometimes the water in the sea
            You assume so many forms!
I have traveled to countless lands
and worn countless costumes; even so,
            Your marvels — ha! — never cease.

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that’s why it’s sunk
in attachments. Why else
            would these tricks of Yours
                  keep working?

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


/ Photo by kintosh /

Adrenaline and survivor’s euphoria have dissipated and the hard realities of the aftermath of last week’s flood are starting to sink in. I’m now hearing from friends and coworkers stories of the devastation caused by the inundation: people made homeless by the floods, farmers whose lands are damaged and their livelihoods lost, cherished mementos destroyed by the water and mud, discoveries that insurance policies don’t cover flood damage to homes.

What does one say in such circumstances? Given the size and destructive power of the flood in our area, we can say it’s a blessing that so few people died. When you have life, the rest is just “stuff,” right? But it is almost cruel to say such a thing to a person who has witnessed the destruction of all they know. And that stuff can be the stuff of life, the means of support, items imbued with meaning.

As someone who was not too harshly affected by the flood, my reflex is to give a pat response, to feel as if I’ve said something nice that then allows me to feel good about myself and move on. That’s not what traumatized survivors need, though. When material help can’t be offered or isn’t enough, saccharine words are no substitute. What people most need in that moment is to be heard, be seen. Look into their eyes and listen to their stories. Few things restore and renew hope as being honestly present with someone amidst their suffering.

I am reminded of a quote by the late Mother Teresa. I may be misquoting slightly, since I’m reciting it from memory, but it is something to the effect of, “The poor do not need your money. Money can be got. What they need is your hearts to love them.”

==

About today’s poem…

Battacharya, like several of the other great Kali poets of Bengal, evokes a teasingly plaintive voice when addressing the Mother Goddess Kali while, at the same time, berating his own misbehaving mind.

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
            You’ve masqueraded in this world
            as a clown.
But I am punished inside
            and there’s nothing funny about Your jokes.

For Kali, all of creation is the product of her lila, her play. Reality is a game of divine delight, an elaborate pretense of hide-and-seek, a sort of “joke” meant to prod awareness from sluggish matter. For those of us caught up in the dramas and attachments of our lives, we are repeatedly fooled by Mother’s tricks. We become dazzled by physical reality and imagine it to be the beginning and end of all existence. Joys on that level are intense, but never lasting, and losses seem so terribly permanent. Caught in that level of awareness, Mother’s “joke” doesn’t seem very funny.

When we become less attached to the dancing objects and experiences of material existence, the mind stops spinning, it settles, grows clear. It starts to see behind the great magic show an immense presence, waiting for us to see through the trick, and catch her glowing smile behind it all.

It all comes down to that cad, the mind…

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that’s why it’s sunk
in attachments. Why else
            would these tricks of Yours
                  keep working?

Have a beautiful day!






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

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Mahendranath Battacharya – Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now”

  1. jim carlinon 18 Sep 2013 at 1:12 pm

    people need to know we care
    “be kind everyone we meet is carrying a burden”

  2. Aravindaon 18 Sep 2013 at 10:46 pm

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the flood-hit people of Colorado.

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 19 Sep 2013 at 7:16 am

    I just came back from an idyllic retreat in Mount Desert Island,Maine, to hear the news of the devastation in Colorado and the massacre in Washington.DC and now Mexico and Canada and the continuing crises in Syria and all over.So hard to take in all that pain.
    I pray for the victims and the widening of my heart to live with greater compassion and love.

  4. Pegon 19 Sep 2013 at 7:55 am

    I love Kali but there are times when I dare not mention her name for fear of what will come from it. There are times when I can take no more and must rest from the near constant initiation earth Gaia and we puny humans are going through as we awaken. I know that these floods were cleansing but the accompanying devastation and loss must be felt and grieved. Then, slowly, as one moves through, can they see that they still live and the only true loss was their attachment to false beliefs. I have been through this level of abrupt horrific change, and I still stand in celebration with those who went through the flood. I hold balanced, love-filled energy so good healing work can be done. I hold you all within my warm loving embrace.

    You are correct Ivan, that trite comments that allows a person to then release themselves of further responsibilities is not what is needed here. I remember walking with a walker as a forty year old woman after months of rehab and someone just blithely telling me just get back to work. The comment devastated me and took all my successes and emotional failings and blew them to smithereens. I remember one nurse who was helping me get dressed one morning while I was in the hospital. She was helping me put on a pair of tennis shoes for my rehab session. My foot, for the first time after my accident, automatically lifted to help get the foot into the shoe. I stopped, looked at the nurse and asked if she saw that. She did. Inside, I was crying for joy and loss and the pain. I wish the nurse would have hugged me then, giving me a safe space to grieve. Rehab is measured by these tiny advancements. It called for a celebration–even one that is filled with joy and grief.

    Much love, Peg

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