About The Book:
Ramprasad Sen was born in the second decade of the eighteenth century in Halishahar in (then) Bengal. He was a great saint in Shakta cult. But, he was too a natural poet and composer.
The songs are hymns to Goddess Mother Kali couched in rustic words and symbols of everyday life. Yet, most of this symbolism is a rare mosaic of the occult mystery of Tantrashastra and carry a double meaning. Thus, flying kites, the blind ox trudging routine endless circles of the village oil-machine (ghaani), the small town courtroom, the sailing craft of life - are all symbols of the highest mystic Shakta worship of Goddess Durga or Kali (Mahashakti).
The English rendering aims to echo the nuances of the original in its threefold uniqueness: (a) simplicity and rustic symbols, (b) their inner spiritual mystique, and (c) muse and rhymes. The volume will treat the English speaking world to a taste of this rare Indian spiritual songs and poetry.
About The Author:
Prof. Shyamal Banerjee is a student of English literature. Teaching of Swamiji and Sri Aurobindo. English (Hons.) and M.A. (Econ.) of Calcutta University. First in English in IAS Former Sr. Professor, IIM (Joka), Kolkata. Author of many books and poems in English (and Bengali) - he took to translation spurred by a challenge to bring rare and unique Sanskrit and Bengali classics to the European reader without spoiling the savour and muse of the original. The result was his rendering into English of Michael Madhusudan Dutt's Meghnad Badh Kavya (Original in Bengali); Vidyasagar -The Ocean Man of Compassion (Karunasagar Vidyasagar in Bengali); Kalidasa's Meghadootam; Srimadbhagabad Geeta (original in Sanskrit); and now The Divine Songs of Sage Poet Ramprasad (original in Bengali).
In any human system, in every clime and country, literature has given expression to the nuances of individual and social life. It is but natural, for, the emotional world of life as it is lived must find expression. This expression is both a joy and a compulsion. All emotions, yearnings are a charge, pent up fury that beaks barriers to come out in the open. The lava that erupts from out the crater of the volcano or the massive fluid that cascades as the mountain falls is victims of the same compulsion. And the joy is immanent. The color and the sound and the smell of the millions of sensuous manifestations of Nature around us are all bubbling with the joy of creation. The longings of the inner being have an urge of reunion with its creator, as he is revealed in the existential worlds.
Songs and poetry have ever served as the spontaneous vehicle of this conscious psychic life of man. In this inner bower of man's life religious devotion to a Power that is supreme-both immanent and transcendent-has always occupied a central position. Nothing else, it seems, lends any meaning to the life of the individual as we know it in this mortal world.
Devotional songs have enriched all literatures of the world. It is particularly so in India literatures of the world. It is particularly so in Indian literatures in all of its many languages. The normal man has a passion for the supernormal. The reach must always elude the grasp, or, as the poet says 'what is Heaven for?' Nature is endowed with power, and so it is benign and beautiful. The ancient man perceived his God as the wielder of Supernatural power, the Fire, the Sun, the Rain, and the Winds who decide the destiny of man, against whom man was powerless, weak and insignificant. That is the beginning of all forms of worship.
As man's philosophic search for his Creator continued, God was bestowed with not only power but love, compassion, benign weal for all his creations. The Godhead was imbued with properties, virtues as he took immense and multitudinous forms. The Hindu pantheon of gods and deities came to be as wide as the relations of man with his Creator. The rishis (sages) of the Vedanta searched for the essence of this Godhead. The avenues were diverse, the paths of worship were many and God was perceived or realized in various ways. Advaitavada occupied a large stream of Hindu philosophy. There is only one God; all manifestations are merely his symbols as he is revealed. God is immanent in everything is in God. Without God nothing exists. The whole of existence is but an image of the reality and Reality is God-infinite, uneroding, unborn, undying.
Along with this Vedantic approach to God, many streams of worship and philosophy went along and imbued man and society for ages. Taking off from Vedic legends the Hindu pantheon was overflowing with deities, endowed with various qualities, virtues and powers. Indra, Varuna, Surya, Vishnu, Shiva, Agni, Vasus, Usha and a hundred others. It is a curious phenomenon that the deities that filled the horizon of human perception-they seem to be many and, at the same time, one. This vision is not one of polytheism; this is not indeed monotheism either, although the concept of the monistic Godhead seems to flow as a ubiquitous under current. But the legion gods do not also submit themselves to henotheism. It is not the worship of One God of one's own psychic realm with realization that there are many others. It is a worship of a deity, and then the deity seems to be one and the same as the Supreme Being, the one Almighty Godhead. And these gods are interchangeable, clearly conceived as different forms of the same Almighty being. Thus Vishnu (Lord Krishna), the Goddess Durga or Kali, Lord Shiva and others in the pantheon are often realized as an image of the same Supreme being.
In the poetry and songs of the period, in the last millennium these variations of worship and perception of Godhead are eloquently manifest.
The image of the Godhead is bound to be colored by the perception of humanity. The worshipper and the worshipped were bonded by common ties. The deities and the Godhead were humanized. They were superhuman beings of course, and yet not free from the laws and virtues of humanity. The human soul marched toward Godhead for the ultimate reunion. Perception of the world as a playground of Godhead, with its littleness and essential futility, continued as an under current of all sagely souls. Human relations with Godhead were overwhelmed with love and worshipful submission. The being could easily interchange sex and gender. Indeed, the very concept of Godhead had no element of distinction of gender. The Supreme is the only Male, Purusha. All creation was the will of God. God wanted to manifest Himself in Nature (Prakriti). Prakriti was conceived as the Female form, Mahamaya, the Goddess Kali or Durga-an image of God Himself, one and the same with God.
In Bengal right from the twelfth century, the Vaishnava cult of religion had a large sway. Countless devotees had filled the pages of literature with the sweet and loving relationship of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavana. With the advent of Sri Chaitanya in Nadia in Bengal worshipful songs and dances on the love and devotion of Radha for Sri Krishna had reached a culmination. The songs of the devout poets in Brajaboli-Vidyapati, Chandidas, Gobindadas, Sekhar and others and Jayadeva in Sanskrit had enriched Indian literature purely for their poetic qualities apart from their place in the devotional history of the land in which they are unquestionable landmarks.
Along with the Vaishnava cult of worship, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries religious life in Bengal saw the ascendance of the Shakti cult of worship. Goddess Kali, Tara or Durga was the most important Mother Goddess as the object of worship of philosophers, poets and sages in the last three centuries. One form of Goddess Durga was Uma, daughter of the Great Himalayas and mother Menaka. Uma is a daughter of the mountains, the sweet beautiful girl, who was married away to Lord Shiva. Uma is also Parvati in the great works of poet Kalidasa. She is ever the sweet charming daughter of every household in the sprawling land of India.
Foremost among the sage poets of the Shakti cult was Ramprasad. His songs and lyrics are of immense variety and are a phenomenal blend of the secrets of the sagely Tantric ways of worship with the sweetest relations of love and submission of the child and the mother. Ramprasad embodies the popular worshipful love and submission of the land to the Mother, as the Supreme Goddess in all her manifestations. The poet is aware that the only mission of life is love and worship of Mother Goddess and everything else is fruitless and futile:
"I have lost my days in fruitless fun,
My mission lost, charmed by bewitching time
The poet is agonizingly conscious that all human relations are but transitory. The real and only life-selfless and eternal-can exist at the feet of the Mother herself.
Ramprasad uses the commonest of the common rustic lore and language, often, in his songs devoted to the Mother. He often uses symbols and metaphors taken from ordinary life. Thus he uses the symbol of the dice game in one of his songs:
The song is a plea to the Great Goddess, symbolizing the game of dice in which the poet seems to have lost in life.
Another symbol is the game of kite flying. Song no.27 (in this collection) throughout uses the various phases of kite flying till the kite is cut off its strings and loses its moorings. The poet uses the simile as an image of life in its heart-breaking pursuit of the worship of the Mother.
Ramprasad's lyrics and songs are rich in imageries and eloquent sensuous description of the Mother. The curious blend of power and charm, the ravishing woman engaged in war-is exemplified in the songs, nos. 33 to 39.
The culmination of the Shakti cult was perhaps seen in the great sage of modern times Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna preached the oneness of all religions. He said again and again that God can be reached through every creed and religion. There are as many ways to reach him as there are creeds. The seeds of this consciousness are also seen in Ramprasad's songs and poetry. Song no. 17 is an eloquent statement of the oneness of relations and the sameness of Godhead. Ramprasad declared-"Oh Mother Kali, you became Lord Rashbehari, as the amorous lover in Vrindavana."
There was inevitably some little rivalry between the votaries of Vaishnava cult and those of Shakti cult. Ramprasad shows the great awareness of the futility of religious fanaticism or conflicts among creeds and beliefs. He perhaps is the symbol and culmination of the immanent sublimity of the Hindu religion which embraces all religious forms of worship in its catholic unifying stream.
Ramprasad was a natural poet. His scholarship was well known; his love of language made him proficient in many literatures including made him proficient in many literatures including Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit and of course, Bengali. Most of his songs and lyrics were composed on the spot and have come to us through memorization by his listeners and disciples. Many of the songs have great lyric beauties. They embody many secrets of Tantric Sadhana and sagely revelations of the progress of worship for realization of Godhead. At the same time, the literary beauty and quality of the songs have made them immortal in the literature of Bengal. Among the common people of Bengal, throughout the rustic world Ramprasad's songs are on the lips of every devout soul. The songs reflect various emotional moods and relationships between the child and Mother, the sweetness of the Mother as a young girl as Uma, the daughter of the Indian household-the Supreme power of the Great Shakti, are all there in unforgettable lyric words and imageries through the songs of the great sage.
The attachment of the sage poet to the land of Bengal has captured the life and thoughts of countless people of the land, in a language that is their own and through symbols and metaphors which are bywords of village life and ex-perience.
Ramprasad was born in the second decade of eighteenth century, in a distinguished family in village Halishahar in Bengal (now West Bengal), about 60 kilometers from Kolkata. His father was Ram Ram Sen and grandfather Rameshwar Sen.
The Sen family of Halishahar was known for its liberal traditions and devotion to the Tantric cult of Shakti (Goddess Kali) worship. Ramprasad was a talented child. He showed early studies included Persian and Urdu with a good deal of knowledge of Sanskrit and the Shastras.
At the age of 22, he was married to Sarbani. But that Ramprasad was not an ordinary person was evident from his early life. He showed little interest in the affairs of the world and concerns of the family. Even as a boy, he was often absent-minded, sad and melancholy for no apparent reason. Often he sought teacher (guru), he increasingly delved into his spiritual life and the path of worship of Goddess Kali. At this time, the great Tantric sage Pandit Agam Bagish came to town. Ramprasad saw him in solitude and received lessons from him. From then on he was fast losing himself in his search for realization of the Mother Goddess Kali.
The family had its fears and anxiety. Ram Sen,- Ramprasad's father, was fast losing health and the affairs of the family got into serious financial difficulties. At this juncture Ram Sen suddenly died leaving the burden of the impoverished family on the shoulders of Ramprasad.
The stark reality of life's struggle in the world now stared Ramprasad in the face. Unaccustomed to the burden of domestic life and not knowing any means of earning money, Ramprasad was miserable. He prayed to Goddess Mother for help but there was no relief.
Then one day in desperation he left for Calcutta to seek a means of livelihood. After some effort he got a job in the house of Durga charan Mitra, a zamindar at Garanhata in Calcutta. His monthly salary was Rs.30. Ramprasad was delighted and grateful to the Mother. But very soon the poet and seeker forgot himself and went about writing songs and hymns in the praise and worship of Goddess Kali across the pages of his accounts books.
Moved by the Great Mother's grace he wrote:
"Oh Mother, make me thy treasurer
I am not ungrateful Shankari, oh Mother."
From now on Ramprasad was lost immersed in chanting of Mother's name. Song after song filled the pages of the books of accounts of the zamindari of his master. Charged and overflowing with emotion and lest he should forget, the worshipful lyrics must be recorded as they came like fragrance from the churned petals of the jasmine flower.
It came to such a pass that Ramprasad's allotted work was neglected, errors started creeping in, routine tasks fell into arrears. His colleagues and seniors were unhappy and then angry. They reported to the master on Ramprasad's lapses. For a time the kind-hearted master took no notice. But one day, disgusted and worried he sent for Ramprasad. The officials took him to the master with all his books. The master picked up the book and was surprised-all over the book were written the name of Goddess Kali and Durga and devotional songs dedicated to them. The first song that the master read-
The master was overwhelmed, his eyes filled in tears, he embraced Ramprasad and said, "Ramprasad, you are not meant for this humdrum work of the world. Go back home and do your worship and write your songs. You will get a monthly sum of Rs. 30 at your home."
Relieved of his immediate financial straits Ramprasad went about his spiritual pursuits with even more zeal. The sagely years of Ramprasad's life are a saga of spiritual growth of a human soul and is filled with marvels.
One anecdote goes-the fence around Ramprasad's cottage fell into disrepair. It was not mended for want of money. One day, Ramprasad started doing the fence himself. His young daughter Jagadeeswari was helping him with the binding chords sitting by his side. This went on for some time when suddenly Jagadeeswari left without telling her father. Ram prasad failed to notice it. However, the work went on and the binding chord was fed to Ramprasad as usual. After a while Jagadeeswari returned. Surprised, she asked father who it was that supplied the chords to him. Ramprasad equally lost said,-why you have been doing it all the time! When he was told that the daughter was away for quite a bit of time Ramprasad was overwhelmed knowing that Goddess Mother came as a young girl to help with his work.
There is another story of his life:
One day a young beautiful woman came to listen to Ramprasad's devotional songs. Ramprasad was then going for his bath. He asked the woman to wait for him. When he came back from his bath, he found that the woman had vanished. In wonder and fear he looked around for her. His eyes fell on the wall of the place of worship and read the writings: "I am Goddess Annapurna. I came to hear your songs. I cannot wait now. Do come to Kashi (Varanasi) and recite your songs to me."
Ramprasad felt miserable. He could not sleep. He decided at once to proceed to Kashi to sing his songs before Mother Goddess Annapurna.
On his way to Kashi at Triveni (in Hooghly district in West Bengal) he dreamt a dream: "You need not come to Kashi, you can sing your songs her itself." Filled with joy Ramprasad gave out his entire soul and sungha series of worshipful songs devoted to the Mother. The songs came out like a cascade of holy waters from heaven as if Goddess Saraswati herself sat on his tongue.
There is still another anecdote in his life: "The day after Kalipuja, at the immersion ceremony Ramprasad composed four songs standing neck-deep in the Ganges river. It is said that at the end of the fourth song when the words "the last rite is over (Dakshina hoyece)" were uttered the 'vital wind' from his being pierced the crown of his head and melted into eternity.
The life and work of sage poet Ramprasad as of his illustrious successor Sri Ramakrishna is a treasure house of the metaphysical lore of the country. It sits on the crown of Bengali literature which is bound to shine with undiminished brilliance as ages wear on.
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