Akha’s explications are precise but not parochial. Akha’s language is often condensed but never dense. He does not engage in long-winded discourse, but like a field commander engaged in a battle to awaken the human soul he transmits curt, nearly telegraphic, messages. With his urgency and brevity, this artisan-artist speaks in an almost modern voice.
On the path of a spiritual quest, Akha;s poems provide a map, a shelter, and an affirmation of immediate knowledge. Once the transitory discomfort of being awakened has passed, one relises the enormous compassion with which Akha shares with us his recognition of the Supreme Being as well as the unity of us all.
Akha was not a poet in the narrow sense of an author of works in verse form. He was poet in the sense of ‘Kavi’, a bard or singer who is gifted with insight, enlightened, wise, a seer and a sage. Further, he was a mystic but not in the sense of promulgating occult rituals or rites in the guise of obtaining spiritual knowledge or prowess. On the contrary, he expressly criticized such dark practices as being devoid of true spiritual truths and leading to hellish consequences. He tried to guide the listeners of his poems to inner awakening, while at the same time emphasizing the singular responsibility of the soul to recognize itself and identify with the Supreme Being.
Krishnaditya, Pramod Thaker, is a Gujarati writer. He teaches ethics and philosophy and is also a physician. His published works include Yatraparva, a collection of poems; Railway saloon mam lakhayelo report, a play in tree act; translations of Luigi Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author, Henry David Thoreau’s essay Life Without Principle, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Literary Ethics.
Several years ago on a pleasant September morning, one of the professors in a university in the USA, where I had been teaching a course on ethics, asked me if I would come and recite some poems by kabir in his class on the mystic poets of India. He thought, and I readily agreed, that though the students did not have knowledge of Hindi- and were nor required to have it- they might benefit if they heard Kabir’s poetic voice in the original language. For this assignment, I had selected six or seven poems by Kabir. At the appointed time in a class, as I was reciting the poems, I also gave the English translation of those poems extemporaneously in response to some questions from the students. I also mentioned to them that Kabir was part of a great spiritual awakening that had swept across the whole of India and lasted for several centuries. As an illustration of this point, I recited a few of Akha’s sestets that I remembered form my school days. As a matter of course, I then offered English translations of those sestets. As I recited those sestets, I was struck by the ease and eagerness with which the students, who had never heard of Akaha or even know anything about the Gujarati language, were able to readily understand him. I noticed the power of Akha’s ability to convey his ideas with conciseness and clarity.
Within less than a year after this event, Umashankarr Joshi came to Boston and I had the privilege to be his hose. In one of our meetings with another American professor of Indian Studies, Unashankar Joshi mentioned that if he had to chose one poet to bring to modern society, he would chose Akha. This opinion of his was like an expression of my own sentiments, albeit unexpressed ones at that time. This further encourage me to pursue the project of translation Akha.
The translation of those few sestets die as a guest lecture was the spark that illuminated my path. On the way, it led to publication of the translation of selected sestets under the title Wings of the Soul. Even then I knew that I was still learning to understand Akha. Meanwhile I got busy with other writing and responsibilities. Only recently, I was able to pick up the project again, translating all the remaining sestets and revising the translation of all the previously translate sestets afresh. This book is the final result of these efforts.
Akha, (Akho, Aksaya: Sanskrit for imperishable; ) was a major spiritual poet of India. He was born and live in Gujarat, India, in the first half of the seventeenth century A.D. He was a goldsmith by trade, which, in the context of his time, is to say that he belonged to the sub-caste of goldsmiths. He was married and spent his working life in the city of Amadavad.
Tradition has it that two incidents occurred connected with his occupation which proved pivotal in changing the course of his life and mission. First, while working in the mint of the local ruler, he was falsely accused of stealing and was briefly incarcerated until proved innocent of the charge.
The second incident goes something like this. It is said that there was a woman whom he considered as his own sister. One day she asked for and obtained a gold necklace in lieu of the money she had deposited with Akha for safekeeping. After she picked up the finished necklace and went home, she wondered if Akah had cheated her of her gold by mixing inferior metal with it. She recalled a popular saying, “The goldsmith would steal from his own sister. “ To allay her doubts, she had her necklace appraise by another goldsmith who had to make a small nick in the chain to test the gold. The appraiser reported that Akha had not diluted or stolen any gold from her by, on the contrary, had added some extra gold. Thus, the necklace was more valuable than she had thought. As the appraiser was unable to repair the cut that he had made dor testing purposes, he advised the lady to take the ornament back to the goldsmith who had originally handcrafted it. Upon returning to Akha, since she was too embarrassed to admit that she had suspected him of pilfering, she blamed the cut in the necklace in some rodent’s teeth. Of course, to Akha’s professional eye, it was obvious that the cut was made by a goldsmith’s instrument. With further questioning, he learned the full story of her distrust in him. This and the previous episode made him disenchanted with so-called worldly relationships and resulted in a great deal of introspection on his part.
After leaving his occupation, he traveled in different parts of India in search of spiritual knowledge. In the course of his outer and inner pilgrimage, he achieved self-recognition. He realized the oneness of individual self and the Universal Spirit. From then on, Akha is said to have found his poetic voice and created poems in various forms, which have endured in the hearts of listeners for over three centuries.
India in its middle period, the centuries immediately preceding Akha’s arrival in the scene, had witnessed a great reawakening of spiritual heritage, On the other hand there was a long tradition, spanning several centuries, of the languages of India, including Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Gujarati. On the other hand, in practice, the higher ancient spiritual truths seemed to have been reduced for the most part to narrow- minded sectarian squabbles and outward performances of rituals sans spiritual content. Added to this was the presence of the Islamic religion and reign evoking fresh responses from the usually tradition- bound Indian society.
In such an atmosphere and probably to some extent as a reaction to it, a series of poets arrived who articulated the fundamentally Indian ethos in new and reinvigorated forms. There was Mira with her devotional songs depicting longing and love for krisna. There were Tulasidas and Surda, Namadev and Narasimh Maheta, Many would know Narasimh Maheta, who lived in Gujarat about two centuries befor Akha, as the poet of the favorite song of Mahjatma Gandhi, ‘vaisnav jan to tene re jahiye je pid parayi jane re’. (We should call a devotee of Visnu only the one who knows the suffering of others.) Narasimh Mahet’s poems are predominantly devotion(bhakti)-oriented in tone though several of his poems also clearly have knowledge(jnan)-oriented though he is also author of several beautiful devotional poems.
But as a poetic soul mate, Akha is probably closest to Kabir than anyone else. As Kabir spoke criticizing the false, superficial, ritualistic, religious practices- be they Hindu or Islamic-so also spoke Akha about the oneness of the self(‘atma ‘) and Supreme Being (‘paramatama’). Llike Kabir, Akha also hadno patience with any of the sectarian internecine quarrels.
Akha was a mystic poet. Here we must be careful in our understanding of both of these terms. He was not a poet in the narrow sense of an author of works in verse form. As a matter of fact, he viewed such poets with disdain as mere versifiers. He was a poet in the sense of ‘kave’, a bard or singer who is gifted with insight, enlightened, wise a seer and a sage. Further, he was a mystic but not in the sense of promulgating occult rituals or rites in the guise of obtaining spiritual knowledge or prowess. On the contrary, he expressly criticixed such dark practices as being devoid of true spiritual truths and leading to hellish consequences. He was, the, a mystic in the sense of a knower of the deep and transcendental mystery of the Supreme Being. The reason that the epithet of the mystic poet is most apt for Akha is that he masterfully conveyed in words what is essentially beyond words. He tried to guide the listeners of his poems to inner awakening, while at the sometime emphasizing the singular responsibility of the soul to re-cognize itself and identify with the Supreme Being.
A superficial reading of Akha may prompt someone to concluded that his writings will full of paradoxical theses. At one point, he may seem to be extremely critical of teachers (‘guru’), and at another point, he may seem to be advocating necessity of having a teacher. But, such contradictions are more apparent than real. To grasp the real meaning of his words, one must pay attention to the context in which he is speaking. Then it becomes quite clear that he is against teachers (‘guru’) who themselves are unenlightened and are only plying the trade of teaching to earn a living. Such teachers are mere ‘heavies’ (‘guru,,’ heavy), instead of spiritual masters, which is the popularly understood meaning g of the word guru. Thus, Akha’s approach a right one there. IN that role, depending on the listener’s stage of development, he asks him to look up to the sky or down to the earth with the singular purpose of spiritual advancement. The fact that many parts of his poems have become proverbs of common currency in Gujarat over these many centuries attests to the unique appeal of Akha in the poetic tradition of India.
There are several works by Akha in verse form in the Gujarati language. One particular group of verses, written in sestets, was usually collected under a heading which reflected a common theme, e.g., Disciple Section, Teacher Section, etc. In the sestets, his style is idiomatic, colloquial, and often pithy, reminding us of the Zen masters. He urged the seeker of knowledge to avid marrow sectarian quibbles and advised him to get on with the business of self- realization by understanding that there is only One, Infinite, Supreme Being who is manifested in all of us and in everything.
The design of Akha’s poems is at times quite intricate, and yet its persuasion remains so compelling that one is tempted to provide a detailed analysis of one’s appreciation of his poems. Akah, like all such masters and poets, has spoken from his most direct and immediate knowledge of the soul. Therefore, it is not difficult to find other poetic voices similar to that of Akha within the vast treasury of India’s spiritual literature in including the Rigved, the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads in the Sanskrit language and several works in many other languages of India. However, the aim of the present work is neither to provide a treatise on poetic with reference to Akha’s poems nor to provide a detailed account of the philosophical and philological foundations of his poems. If one were to embark on such an enterprise, then even a brief commentary would occupy as many pages as the translation itself.
Akha’s explications are precise but not parochial. Akha;’s language is often condensed but never dense. He does not engage in long-winded discourse, but like a field commander engaged in a battle to awaken the human soul, he transmits curt, nearly telegraphic, messages. With his urgency and brevity, this artisan –artist speaks in an almost modern voice.
On the path of a spiritual quest, Akha’s poems provide a map, a shelter, and an affirmation of immediate knowledge. Once the transitory discomfort of being awakened has passed, one realizes the enormous compassion with which Akha shares with us his recognition of the Supreme Being as well as the unity of us all.
Translation is a delicate process involving transporting words and their fragile and not so fragile meaning from one language to another. This is especially true in the case of a poet like Akha. He moves easily from the strictness of the technical language of metaphysics to the casualness of a language heard in a city square. As some of the rhymes and rhythms of the original are lost in translation, one hopes that enough is gained by fresh insights into meanings that, at least on a preliminary reading, might seem to be well concealed in the original.
Having read and re-read Akha’s magnificent poems in the Gujarati language – I practically grew up with them- I felt like sharing them with others who may not have access to Gujarati. And it is in this spirit that I have translated these poems.
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