Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Panchali’s Pledge by Subramania Bharati, translated into English by Usha Rajagopalan, Hachette India,
Pp 272 (PB), Rs 350.
MAHAKAVI Subramania Bharati’s Panchali Sabadam is considered one of the finest pieces of poetry in Tamil. Pouring his emotions into the issues of India’s independence and women’s liberation, he took the pledge of Draupati to a new level of inspiration. Usha Rajagopalan’s translation of the poem into English as Panchali’s Pledge has happily retained the original work’s spirit. Bharati saw the plight of Panchali as that of Bharat Mata, let down by those who swore to protect her even as some of the most valiant men of the day looked on helpless. She alone, unarmed, fought back and not only won her freedom but that also of her warrior husbands.
Bharati (1882-1921) wrote this poem while in exile in Pondicherry, where he had taken refuge as the British police was in his hot pursuit for his extremist writings and speeches. Bharati was greatly influenced by Tilak and while in Pondicherry interacted with Sri Aurobindo Ghosh at an intellectual spiritual plain.
The poem begins with Duryodhan’s devious plans, his jealousy and confessions to Shakuni and ends with Draupati’s pledge to not tie her hair till she applies the blood of Duryodhana and Dushashan. Set in differing metres, the poem yields to easy read. Using simple words and rich imagery Bharati conveys the anger of Panchali. Her questions to the elders in the Kuru Sabha are pointed and tanting. The longest passage belongs to Vidhura when he admonishes Duryodhan and his friends.
Here is a sample of the poem:
And then did Devi Draupadi speak:
‘Om! I pledged on Goddess Parashakti.
The crimson blood of evil Dushasana
And the blood of the most despicable
Duryodhana must meet and mingle.
I will smear it on my hair and then
wash it off with scented oils. Only then
Will I comb and braid my hair.’
At this the celestial beings chanted, ‘Om!’
At this the sky rumbled and said, ‘Om!’
At this a powerful quake rocked the earth,
A cyclonic wind buffeted the sky with dust.
The five great elements of nature affirmed
That the sole lord of the earth is Dharma alone.
And thus we’ve come to the end of our narration.
May the whole world live forever in great bliss.
Translator Usha Rajagopalan is a well-known writer and has translated several Tamil works into English. This translation is a job well-done.
(Hachette India, 4th and 5th floor, Corporate Centre, Plot no.94, Sector 44, Gurgaon – 122 003)