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Jul 29, 2016

Dawn at Puri: Mahapatra

                   Dawn at Puri By Jayanta Mahapatra

Dawn at Puri is one of the most beautiful poems written by Jayanta Mahapatra laced with thought and idea, imagery and reflection. A modern poem by a modern Indian English poet, it is short, but reflective. Just a few lines of poesy mesmerize our imagery and thought which the readers can feel it. The poem is scenic and landscapic too. The Jagannath Puri temple complex with the sea beach is the purview of deliberation.

Crows, innumerable in number, keep cawing, crowing and flying around with the skull lying on the sands tell of different stories. A void all around and a kingdom hit by want, hunger and depravity. This is how he begins the poem set with the three-liners. This is but one scene.

While on the other the white-clothes wearing widows are lined up in rows and queues to enter the Great Temple, who have nothing left with them, all standing in utter submission, held by strong faith and belief.

Their eyes with the looks cast appear to be the ones caught in a net hanging by the dawn’s shining strands of faith. Faith and doubt, uncertainty of living and shaky presence of man seem to possess unawares. What is faith? Where is God? What it in one’s karma, what it in one’s dharma? How the suffering?

Again, the light dazzling light, radiating and glistening is so frail and flimsy that it takes to, falls upon the lepers lying defaced and assembled together clamouring for deliverance. Here one can reflect upon life’s meaning if one likes to search for. Here lies the pity of life. The element of pity purges and galvanizes us. What to ask for? What to get?

And in the meantime, a little far off, one can see the solitary pyre burning on the sands adjacent to the temple complex which also engages the ageing mother of his.

She also wants it that she be cremated here after her death keeps shifting and changing places as do keep desire, shadow, light and imagery.
  
Endless crow noises
A skull in the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger.

White-clad widowed Women
past the centers of their lives
are waiting to enter the Great Temple

Their austere eyes
stare like those caught in a net
hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith.

The fail early light catches
ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another,
a mass of crouched faces without names,

and suddenly breaks out of my hide
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
that fills my aging mother:

her last wish to be cremated here
twisting uncertainly like light
on the shifting sands

The title of the poem is just and appropriate as it is about the dawn breaking upon in the vicinity of Puri as if someone were photographing the Puri temple complex and the sea adjacent to. The idea is one of imagery, thought and reflection and the images like those of the photographer. Endless crow with the noises is the trailer of the starting, the picture of the poem. A holy skull spooky and reminiscent of tells a different story of man and the world, life and afterworld imagery. What is existent here? What is it that lives in here?  Human hunger, the hunger of the belly is the main thing.
The smoky blaze of the pyre too is a heart-rending scene. One day he was alive, one day he is burning on the funeral pyre, is the thing. The wish of the poet’s mother represents the wish of every Hindu as Jagannath Puri is the swargadwara through which one may enter the gateway to heaven. The cawing of the crows tells of hunger, want and scarcity.

The words which the poet has used in are very beautiful words and expressions. What is life? Where to go? He has taken them all while clutching it all with just one dawn. Endless crow noises, a holy skull in the sands, white-clad widowed women, dawn’s shining strands of faith, ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another, the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre, twisting uncertainty light, etc. add to the beauty of the poem.
J
ayanta Mahapatra as a poet is first of all an imagist and then anything else we call him. There is word-play; there is photographic quality in him. A professor of physics, here he pictures a dawn break so nicely, engaging in thoughts and ideas so serious and profound.

Dawn at Puri clearly shows it how imagery has been used and applied in while dealing with the topic in hand. There is nothing as to derive for pleasure sake as he does not write with that in his mind. Those who do not know Mahapatra may not understand him at first go. They may take time to understand him as he is not a simple poet to be understood so easily. A poet of some Oriya background, he lapses into abstract thinking. Oriya places and things engage the poetic canvas of his and he longs for them in his creativity. Puri, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Baleshwar and others figure in his poetry so often.

The words he has used in are very meaningful and his poems are really a break from tradition and convention. The linguistic beauty is so prominent in him in the form of word-play and imagery shifting as do man’s times and situations.

The starting lines of the small poem outwit us with the use of imagery and reflection, thought and idea, picture and penetration:

Endless crow noises
A skull in the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger.

Crows cawing and flying and the skulls on the holy sands of Jagannath Puri lie in contrasting with each other, telling of a country hit by hunger, want, greed, thirst and the desire for fulfillment. Human thirst, human hunger, how to quench it, how to calm down, overcome it? The skull on the holy sands is a different view of life felt after the asthi-kalasha and the pinda-dana.

The smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre burning is indeed a very beautiful expression full of meaning and picture indescribable:

and suddenly breaks out of my hide
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
that fills my aging mother:

One who has not visited Puri will like to visit after reading the poem. Such is the charm of the poem, but the meaning lies in hidden from us. As the dawn-light is frail and shaky so is faith hankered after and professed by us. The world is full of contraries and contradictions. We are just walking shadows. Nothing exists here, lasts in. Nothing is permanent here. Where is God? In service or piety? One needs to reckon with. What are the widows left with? The poet leaves so many questions unanswered just for the readers to feel in. What should we done for them? What is our duty towards them? We have forgotten all that. Just as a photographer keeps taking the snaps so does he with his poetical camera under the shadow of the Great Temple of Jagannath Puri at dawn-break drawing parallels and comparing them with to reflect upon.



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