INTRODUCTION TO JAYANTA MAHAPATRA –‘DAWN AT PURI’  

 

UNIT STRUCTURE

1. Learning Objectives
2. Introduction
3. the poet

1. His Life
2. His Works
4. The text of the poem

1. Context of the poem
2. Explanation of the poem
3. Poetic Techniques
5. Style and Language
7. Let Us Sum Up
8. Further Readings
10. Possible Question

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 
After going through this unit, you will be able to:
explain the poem “Dawn at Puri”
describe the context, the poetic devices and the language employed by the poet .
value the poem in its totality

INTRODUCTION


This unit  makes  an  attempt  to  acquaint  you  with  the  poem ‘Dawn at Puri’ composed by Jayanta Mahapatra who has occupied a prominent place among   Indian poets writing in English. You may have read his other important poems “Again ,One Day , Walking by the River “ ,where the poet observes a real Cuttack scene . Mahapatra, in his poems, writes more about Orissa than about India as a whole . You must surely have heard about and visited Puri sometime in your life and here we are going to see Puri through the eyes of Mahapatra . In the poem under discussion , Mahapatra attacks the  age-old traditions and practices which make people suffer rather than give peace and solace ..

We will discuss in detail  the  stated  issues in  the following  sub-units. We will also analyze the poem  in a  critical  fashion    which  will help  you  to  make  sense  of  the  intention  of  the  poet  behind  writing  this  poem. After reading this unit you will be interested in reading his  poems and also about his eventful life.


 
 

The poet


Jayanta Mahapatra is  one of the most  celebrated Indian poets . His poetry is closely associated and identified with the place, Orissa. Now let us briefly discuss  his life and  works .



His  Life

Jayanta Mahapatra, born on 22 October 1923 in Cuttack, belongs to Orissa . He had his early education in English medium at Stewart school, Cuttack. Mahapatra comes from a Christian family. This piece of information is hardly known  .His grandfather could be  called a ‘rice Christian’ because in the time of famine and starvation he sought refuge from a Christian mission and in the process adopted a new faith for himself and his family .  After his Master's Degree in Physics, he became  a teacher in 1949 and served in different Government colleges of Orissa. He retired in 1986 as a professor of physics at  Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Jayanta Mahapatra began writing poems rather late in comparison with his contemporaries. But this late beginning does not in anyway lesser achievement. His poems have appeared in most of the reputed journals of the world.He won the Jacob Glatstein  Memorial Prize of Poetry (Chicago) in 1975, and the Sahitya Academy Award in 1981.


His  Works    

 I have given you a few biographical details which will help you to explain Mahapatra’s attitude in the prescribed poem . Now let us make a brief  survey of his poetical  works . As I  mentioned earlier, Mahapatra began writing his poems only when he was  thirty eight  years of age . His early poems  written when he was younger, were mostly about love's selfishness. His first collections were Close the Sky , ‘Ten by Ten ’ written in 1971.

In the same year ,another collection Svayamvara & other poems(1971)also appeared .Both these collections speak of promise rather than of  achievement .After some years he published two other  collections,  A Father’s Hours (1976) and the much lauded work A Rain of Rites (1976). The setting of  A Rain of Rites is  Orissa and it is a profound human document . After that many  other collections followed :Waiting (1979),The False Start (1980), Life Signs (1981),Selected Poems (1987), Burden of Waves and Fruit (1988), Temple (1989), A Whiteness of Bone (1992). The collection Relationship (1980),  brought him the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award in 1981. Mahapatra  also published a collection of short stories  in English and a collection of original poetry in Oriya . From 1979 to 1985 he edited a creative journal, Chandrabhaga. He was also the founding editor of Kavvya Bharati .

 The poems evoke melancholy notes while  childhood memories occupy a considerable space in his poetry. His commitment to and identification with Orissa becomes a reiterated theme in most of his poems including the one that we are going to discuss.




THE TEXT OF THE POEM


 

Endless crow noises.                                                 

‘Empty Hunger ’- is the back of the skull which is empty .Also represents bowl of a beggar . Here it talks about the material hunger of people who throng the temple premises.

      A skull on the holy sands
Tilts its empty country towards hunger .

 

White –clad widowed women                                 

Widowed Women –widows who live a life of austerity in temple premises .

      past the centres of their lives
are waiting to enter the great temple .

Strands of faith –here the poet talks about  cruelty in customs . Widows live a self imprisoning , austere life which reflects in-humanity in customs .

      Their austere eyes                                                 
stare like those caught in a net ,
hanging by the dawn’s shining strands of faith
 
The frail  early light catches                                   
ruined , leprous shells leaning against one another ,

Twisting uncertainity – It means that rational explanation
of customs and traditions cannot justify the faith of custom –ridden devotees . 

      A mass of crouched faces without names ,

and suddenly breaks out of my hide                   
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre

Shifting sands – It refers to time

      that fills my aging mother :



her last wish to be cremated here
Twisting uncertainty like light
on the shifting sands .

Context  of  the  Poem


Dawn at Puri”  is taken from the collection A Rain of Rites . The poem is set in Puri in  Orissa ,   the holy city of Lord Jagannath . The collection, A Rain of Rites is  out- and-out  shaped by the cultural heritage of Orissa in particular and that of India in general . Jayanta Mahapatra, like Arun Kolatkar in Jejuri, is disappointed with the hollowness of traditional practices and customs . Here he purposely   depicts the holy city Puri which is famous as one of the most revered pilgrimage towns for the  Hindus . Being  born in Orissa , his sensibility is totally moulded by Oriyan landscape  and an Indian sensibility.

 


The  Explanation  of  the  Poem


The  poem “Dawn at Puri” narrates  by describing  the Oriyan landscape,  especially the holy city of Puri  . Before I begin to discuss the poem ,let me tell you that Mahapatra  is deeply rooted in Indian culture  and ethos with which he is emotionally attached as a poet . Though the language of expression is English  his sensibility is

‘Oriya’. I have  repeated this point because in order to appreciate the  prescribed poem  it is important to understand his  sensitive attitude  to the  native socio cultural practices . Here in the poem under discussion, Puri is the living protagonist for him .Puri is not only a setting but also a protagonist because he presents a graphic description of Puri as a central character .Here Puri is personified. 

At Puri, we find a stretch of beach called Swargadwara  or ‘Gateway to heaven’ where the dead are cremated . Many pious Hindus and widows  feel that it is possible  to attain salvation by dying at Puri  . Mahapatra states:  “Her last wish to be cremated here/ twisting uncertainly like light/ on the shifting sands.”

Puri is not only famous as a place for the  four ‘ dhams ‘or ‘sacred cities’ but also for the ‘math’ or the monastery set up by Shankaracharya . Lord Jagganath is the main deity in Puri who is in the form of Lord Vishnu . The way Mahapatra delineates the events and incidents in the poem shows us that he disapproves of what is going on under the cover of tradition and practices. You will notice how life “lies like a mass of crouched faces without namesand you also can see  how people are trapped by faith as expressed in  the expression “caught in a net “. The shells on the sand are “ruinedthe word ,   leprous” is suggestive of decadence  and infirmity . The poem evokes loss of identity , anonymity, death , disease  and decadence . As I have mentioned above,   most of the Hindus wished to be cremated in the land of Lord Vishnu.  The speaker’s mother also had such a  last wish, the wish  to be cremated in Puri. This is  fulfilled by the  effort of her son in the  blazing funeral pyre which is seen as “sullen and “solitary” .The poem winds up on an uncertain note like the corpse of his dead mother .

 
Don’t you think the title evokes many interpretations ? The title of the poem is very suggestive as it does not talk about only one particular dawn which might have been particularly unpleasant because one’s mother is not cremated everyday . But personally  one could  feel that  this dawn could be made more special .The  poet is suggesting that all dawns at Puri are more or less similar with dead mothers being cremated everyday and crows’ cawing along with skulls and hunger  indicating poverty- ridden India which shows absolute  “Indianness“. The poem is about feelings and compassion for the people who suffer . Let me tell you that the poem is 

really  a scathing attack on  tradition and traditional  practices which are mostly ruthless and biased . The poet bears no sympathy for rituals and hollow traditions. What we notice in the poem is emptiness of tradition , the indifference of  society and fossilized Hindu culture.

LET US KNOW 

Jayanta  Mahapatra, like other  Indian English poets has written  many poems with specific Indian titles : “Indian Summer Evening  in an Orissa Village”, “The Orissa Poems “etc.  Indian Summer is a small  poem on the Indian landscape  and season ..


CHECK YOUR PROGRESS


  1. What picture of Puri  is  the  poet trying to convey through the    poem “Dawn at Puri”?
  1. What is the significance of the title, “Dawn at Puri “ ?


ACTIVITY


 

    • Does the landscape  described  by the poet suggest  a typically ‘Indian ‘ scene ?Can you think of some other poem where the title depicts a landscape of  India?
    • Don’t you think that you have now understood the poem better ? Try to explain it to another friend of yours with a different perspective and see how well you have understood it ?
    • Make a list of the words which show the poet’s critical attitude to rituals .

 

Poetic Techniques


 ‘Dawn at Puri’ is a beautiful poem giving full play to images that are vivid and hard hitting . The sentences are purely descriptive and you can notice that whatever the poet has described seems to be almost  happening in front of our eyes . Can you not actually visualize  Puri ? The poet beautifully creates the mood leading from one image to the other. The “ skull on the holy sands /tilts its empty country towards hunger” suggests the hunger of the entire nation  . The images  are mostly negative and critical . “Ruined , leprous ” suggests decay and sickness.The image of the  blazing  funeral pyre is suggestive  of death that keeps happening every moment , everyday ,everywhere. Let me tell you that  the images reflect  bite , anger and a sense of decadence. They are realistic and they capture the contours  of the temple environment . “Dawn at Puri” exemplifies the fact that the poet opens up questions beyond the temple without supplying answers . The title of the poem , as I have mentioned , is also very suggestive .

Let us know
Another poem from the collection  Life Signs (1993)Evening Landscape By the River  takes us back to a familiar landscape . Here, instead of  the sands of Puri at dawn we wander on the banks of the river in Cuttack at dusk .

CHECK YOUR PROGRESS


1. Highlight the negative  images  used  by the poet. Comment on the poetic techniques used by the poet ?
2.Explain  the words“Ruined” , “leprous ”?




STYLE AND LANGUAGE



     
This is a short  poem of 18 lines consisting of six stanzas of three lines each . The language of Jayanta Mahapatra  is descriptively simple  .It is employed to present  a graphic description of Puri . But the poem hides  the poet’s acutely  sensitive  as well as critical attitude to the question of faith symbolized by Puri .But  the craftsmanship of the poet is revealed through his  apt use of words and phrases and the way he plays with them . The free verse used by him gives to the poem a certain ease  and fluency . The narrative succeeds in depicting a familiar  physical scenes with hidden meanings .   


LET US KNOW 

In the poem “Taste for Tomorrow” from the volume Waiting we find vignette of Puri with many symbols and images of reality.
At Puri, the crows
The one wide street
Lolls out like a giant tongue,
Five faceless lepers move aside
As a priest passes by.
And at the street’s end
The crowds thronging the temple door.
A huge holy flower.




LET US SUM UP


In this unit you have read about the great Indian English poet , Jayanta Mahapatra,  and his poem “Dawn at Puri “. By now you must have understood that Mahapatra’s poetry is shaped by Oriyan sensibility . ‘Dawn at Puri ’is a patch- work   of evident  reality . It captures  a morning landscape on the beach of Puri .Mahapatra’s depiction of the temple environment is both absorbing and realistic . In fact, this presentation of the temple ambience reminds us of Arun Kolatkar’s ‘Jejuri ’. The images of crows , the skull , the widows , the lepers, raise important questions beyond the temple . You must have noticed how  Mahapatra in this poem  juxtaposes memory , faith and metaphysical belief . You have then learnt about the various poetic techniques employed by the poet .The poem is explained in a way that will help you to understand its deeper meaning. There is also  ashort note on the style and language . You should now be able to illustrate  , explain  and appreciate Jayanta Mahaptra’s  poetry in general and the poem in particular effectively -.Don’t you think that we have aroused your interest  to read some other Indian English Poems ?

 

FURTHER READINGS



Pandey,Mithilesh K.Contemporary Indian Literature :A Humanistic Perspective . 1999:Kalyani Publishers :New Delhi
IGNOU .Indian English Literature  .IGNOU:2001
IGNOU.Understanding Poetry :The Indian Poets .IGNOU.1991


POSSIBLE QUESTIONS


1.What is the central idea of the poem ?
2. In the poem “Dawn at Puri ”what are the images you can find ?
3. Show how Jayanta Mahapatra depicts the dawn about the Temple .
4. What is the significance of the following lines:

Endless crow noises.
A skull on the holy sands
Tilts its empty country towards hunger .
White –clad widowed women
Past the centres of their lives
Are waiting to enter the great temple

5. How does an evening end in Puri ?Comment
6. “Her last wish …..shifting sands ”.-Explain these lines .




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