Finding the (Un)Hidden Meaning

When I look back on my first Bhakti Theology Song, it doesn’t make any sense to me. The last two stanzas don’t have compatibility with the first two. Often, as I got the first word or sentence, I would continue to write as the words came to my mind.  The song ended asking for bhakti, though I began with Jnana. Of course I can say that the culmination of true Jnana is bhakti, and this is what I conveyed in this song too. But this is the way several later commentators and followers try to reconcile the contradictions which appear in the text or the teaching of their gurus and acharyas.

Out of my experience I can say that we should not try to dig out too much doctrine or theology from poems that, especially from bhakti and romantic poems. Exaggeration and too much of imagination is part of every poem. As Vairamutthu wrote (for a film) ‘Lie is the beauty to a poem’ as kajal (in Hindi; mai Tamil) gives beauty to the eyes (கண்ணுக்கு மையழகு; கவிதைக்குப் பொய்யழகு).

Oftentimes, we just add one word and even a sentence in order to fill the gap or complete the format. For example, I wrote four poems on April 30th 2014. In one I kept eight lines for each stanza. When I wrote the first stanza, I only had six lines. But I continued and in the rest of the poem all the stanzas ended with eight lines. Finally when I edited the poem, in order give an order, I added two more lines to the first stanza to make it have uniformity with rest of the stanzas.

Filling the gap either for music, or for meter or for grammar is quite natural in writing poems.  This we can note in Sanskrit, where in order to set the sloka or mantra to a particular poetical meter, extra words were added.1  Let me give one example:

asamsayam mahaabaaho mano durnigraham calam
abhyaasena tu kaunteya vairaagyena ca grhyate (6:35)

–Doubtless, O might armed the mind is restless and hard to control;
but by practice and dispassion, O son of Kunti, it can be controlled.

(Swami Ramsukhadas, Srimad Bhagavadgita: Sadhaka Sanjivani, Gita
Press, Gorakhpur, vol. I, p. 549, year not mentioned)

In this sloka, two names of Arjuna appears both in the first and second lines— Mahaabaaho and Kaunteya. If you remove both or one of them, it won’t complete the meter in which this sloka was written. The same is true with Tamil. Beginning and ending with words of similar sounds is known as ‘yeduhai’ and ‘monai’. It is part of the talent of a poet. Several times when we write poems, we will take care that the poem has maximum ‘yeduhai and ‘monai’.  Those who know Tamil can easily understand this.2

Therefore, projecting a doctrine or theology which the author never intends could mislead someone. Later interpolation also distorts the meaning. Though commentaries help us reconcile these disorders, sometimes they go beyond what the author intend to convey.

In our example, if you replace Mahaabaaho for Kaunteya and Kaunteya for Mahaabaaho, the chanting will look very odd. Since I don’t know any grammar, I cannot say why Mahaabaaho is in the first line and Kaunteya in the second. But if some over enthusiastic commentator began to give commentary on these two names of Arjuna, where would it end? Mahaabaaho shows his strength and Kaunteya his birth through the boon of Kunti to Surya, though all the children of Kunti are generally known as Pandavas as Pandu was their legitimate father. At the same time as they (Dharma, Bhima and Arjuna) were born to Kunti through her boon, they were also called ‘children of Kunti’ viz. ‘kaunteya’. But giving this additional information about Arjuna is not the intention of the author.

 

Endnotes

1. …{in} Samaveda … we have a series of chants in which the words fit the music in the first instance but less closely, or hardly at all, in those that follow. It shows that the words for the first had been carefully selected to fit the melody; after which others, different in length and number, were forced into the same format as if confined in a straitjacket.  When (p. 107) words do not fit, they are changed or transformed and embellishments called stobha are inserted.  They are meaningless like the sounds of a lullaby. According to a commentator, the term stobha is used even in daily life to refer to a meaningless string of sounds, something that may be uttered by a joker for killing time….— Frits Staal, Discovering the Vedas,: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights,  New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2008. pp. 107-08

…Insertion and transformation may have happened on several levels, as in the Rigveda verse: abhi tvaa suura nonumo ‘dugkhaa iva dhenavah/ iisaanam asya jagatah svardrsam iisaanam indra tasthusah, ‘we cry out for you, hero, like unmilked cows to the lord of this living world, to the lord of the unmoving world whose eye is the sun O Indra!’  It has been turned into a famous chant called Rathantara, ‘Excellent Chariot’.  It is one of the two that the Rigveda mentions. Its Samavedic form is: obhitvaasuuranonumovaa/ aadugdhaa iva dhenava iisaanamasya jagatassuvaardrsaam/ iisaanamaa indra / taa sthu saa o vaa haa u vaa/ aas// The stobhas are o vaa haa u vaa and aas. They may occur almost anywhere but have here been put at the end.—ibid. p. 109

2. Those who know Tamil can refer this in Bhakti Theology in Tamil for one song from Tevaram