Saturday, April 14, 2007

Setu A Rhyme

Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith (1826-1906) was a Sanskrit Scholar during British rule over India, and he retired as the Principal of Banaras College. He has produced translations of various Sanskrit texts into English, including the Sayana's Bhashya of the Vedas, and Kumara Sambhava of Kalidasa. He also produced a very poetic rhyming translation of the Valmiki Ramayana, between 1870 and 1874. Reproduced below is that part of his awesome poetry, which deals with the saga of Setu.

The first context is that Rama and Sita, along with Lakshmana and others, are returning from Lanka to Ayodhya on Pushpak Vimana. From the Pushpaka, Rama points to Sita different locations on earth, where he had been in absence of Sita. During this discourse he points at Setu, as follows:

Look, love, the unconquered sea behold,
King Varun's home ordained of old,
Whose boundless waters roar and swell
Rich with their store of pearl and shell.

O see, the morning sun is bright
On fair Hiranyanabha's height,
Who rose from Ocean's sheltering breast
That Hanuman might stay and rest.

There stretches, famed for evermore,
The wondrous bridge from shore to shore.
The worlds, to life's remotest day.
Due reverence to the work shall pay,
Which holier for the laps of time
Shall give release from sin and crime.

In another context, earlier in the book, the event of Setu construction is described thus:

And every stream and brook renowned
In ancient story girt him round.
Then, as the waters rose and swelled,
The king with suppliant hands upheld,

His glorious head to Ráma bent
And thus addressed him reverent:
'Air, ether, fire, earth, water, true
To nature's will, their course pursue;

And I, as ancient laws ordain,
Unfordable must still remain.
Yet, Raghu's son, my counsel hear:
I ne'er for love or hope or fear

Will pile my waters in a heap
And leave a pathway through the deep.
Still shall my care for thee provide
An easy passage o'er the tide,

And like a city's paven street
Shall be the road beneath thy feet.'
He ceased: and Ráma spoke again:
'This spell is ne'er invoked in vain.

'Now let a wondrous task be done
By Nala, Vis'vakarmá's son.
Who, born of one of Vánar race,
Inherits by his father's grace

A share of his celestial art.
Call Nala to perform his part,
And he, divinely taught and skilled,
A bridge athwart the sea shall build.'

He spoke and vanished Nala, best
Of Vánar chiefs, the king addressed:
'O'er the deep sea where monsters play
A bridge, O Ráma, will I lay;

For, sharer of my father's skill,
Mine is the power and mine the will.
'Tis vain to try each gentler art
To bribe and soothe the thankless heart;

In vain on such is mercy spent;
It yields to naught but punishment.
Through fear alone will Ocean now
A passage o'er his waves allow.

My mother, ere she bore her son,
This boon from Vis'vakarmá won:
'O Mandari, thy child shall be
In skill and glory next to me.'

But why unbidden should I fill
Thine ear with praises of my skill?
Command the Vánar hosts to lay
Foundations for the bridge to-day.'

He spoke: and swift at Ráma's best
Up sprang the Vánars from their rest,
The mandate of the king obeyed
And sought the forest's mighty shade.

Unrooted trees to earth they threw,
And to the sea the timber drew.
The stately palm was bowed and bent,
As'okas from the ground were rent,

And towering Sáls and light bamboos,
And trees with flowers of varied hues,
With loveliest creepers wreathed and crowned,
Shook, reeled, and fell upon the ground.

With mighty engines piles of stone
And seated hills were overthrown:
Unprisoned waters sprang on high,
In rain descending from the sky:

And ocean with a roar and swell
Heaved wildly when the mountains fell.
Then the great bridge of wondrous strength
Was built, a hundred leagues in length.

Rocks huge as autumn clouds bound fast
With cordage from the shore were cast,
And fragments of each riven hill,
And trees whose flowers adorned them still.

Wild was the tumult, loud the din
As ponderous rocks went thundering in.
Ere set of sun, so toiled each crew,
Ten leagues and four the structure grew;

The labours of the second day
Gave twenty more of ready way,
And on the fifth, when sank the sun,
The whole stupendous work was done.

O'er the broad way the Vánars sped,
Nor swayed it with their countless tread.
Exultant on the ocean strand
Vibhíshan stood, and, mace in hand,

Longed eager for the onward way,
And chafed impatient at delay.
Then thus to Ráma trained and tried
In battle King Sugríva cried:

'Come, Hanuman's broad back ascend;
Let Angad help to Lakshman lend.
These high above the sea shall bear
Their burthen through the ways of air.'

So, with Sugríva, borne o'erhead
Ikshváku's sons the legions led.
Behind, the Vánar hosts pursued
Their march in endless multitude.

Some skimmed the surface of the wave,
To some the air a passage gave.
Amid their ceaseless roar the sound
Of Ocean's fearful voice was drowned,
As o'er the bridge by Nala planned
They hastened on to Lanká's strand.

About Ralph Griffith
Valmiki Ramayana translated by Griffith

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