Azhakin Cirippu (The Smile of Beauty) -An Appreciation

Alakin Cirippu

Special Souvenir by Government of Tamilnadu, World Classical Tamil Conference, 2010, Coimbatore.

After Subramaniya Bharathiyar, Puratchikkavignar Bharathidasan stands as a – colossus among the modern Tamil poets. The credit of resuscitating the art of Tamil poetry in the 20th century when it had almost lost its vigour and vitality goes to them. As a true disciple of his mentor, Bharathidasan substantially contributed to the enrichment of Tamil. He has left behind him not only his poems running to a few thousands, but also a long line of followers like, Suratha, Vanidasan, Kannadasan, Thamilanpan, Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram, Vairamuthu and others. When we consider the subject matter he deals with in his creative writings, we will come to the conclusion that Ezra Pound and he are of the same mould. As Dr. T.P. Meenakshisundaram rightly mentions, he goes beyond his master in his depth of force, in the breadth of his vision, in the length of his range and in the height of his poetry. Unlike his mentor, Bharathidasan had a long span of life and so enriched Tamil in a significant way all through his life that is from his 11″ year upto his last days. The Pantiyan Paricu, The Kutumpa Vilakku, The Irunta Vitu and the Alakin Cirippu are some of his master pieces. This short paper is an appreciation of his Alakin Cirippu (The Smile of Beauty). I confine myself to his poems on Nature alone.

The Alakin Cirippu portrays Bharathidasan as a poet who will stand comparison with the most famous Nature poets of the world, especially the English poets Wordsworth, John Keats, Shelley and Tennyson. In the words of Professor P. Marudha nayagam, there are ecstatic and illuminating accounts of the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature in his poems. His representation of nature, like that of the great romantic poets in English, is dynamic, panoramic and multitudinous.

The Alakin Cirippu was published by the poet in 1944. This work consists of 150 verses. They are distributed among 16 subjects namely Beauty in general, the Sea, the Southerly, the Forest, the Hill, the River, the Red Lotus, the Sun, the Sky, the Banyan, the Doves, the Parrot, the Darkness, the Hamlet, the Town and the Tamil language. Among these, the first chapter speaks of Beauty in general. It has only three verses. All the other chapters have ten verses each.

The first chapter is an introduction to this creative work. The three verses in this chapter give a clear idea of the poet’s conception of Beauty, an aspect of Universal sweep. The poet’s mind and heart are attracted by the rising sun, the sea’s expanse, the immense water surface of great effulgence, the groves with their flowers and foliage, the rubious setting sun, the parrots that perch in flocks on the branches of the banyan trees along the paths. She also dwells in the lustre in the babe’s eye, the smiling flame of the home-lamp, the fine movements of the finger of the dame who makes garlands, the majestic gait of the peasant who goes to his field, his ploughshare on his shapely shoulder and in the golden lustre of the paddy fields with their yields. He also beholds Beauty in the directions, the heavens, the things seen in the universe beneath the sky and above the earth and the mobile as well as the static things. The poet also emphatically states that she will be visible to a person who searches for her with a penchant. He calls her the sap of every useful thing in the world. For him, she is eternal who surpasses time and space. She is a maiden who will not die of old age. He exhorts the mankind to see her with true passion for men can be freed of every pain of life in their association with her. He personifies Beauty as a woman as many other poets do, and calls her as the giver of poetry and a danseuse who enacts her drama in the movements of a garland-maker. He says, the dame of Beauty fills his heart with joy, abiding in it permanently.

When we look at the things he includes in the list of the beautiful, we are surprised to find Darkness also which is the symbol of all that is evil in life. It also means that he sees Beauty as universal, all-pervasive and deathless. If she abides in light, she abides in gloom too. If she abides in the mobile, she abides in the static too. In the same way, she abides both in the positive and negative aspects of life. This view of beauty exactly coincides with the belief of an ardent devotee of God. Saint Manickavasagar hails Lord Siva, “O embodied Effulgence! O dense Murk!” Saint Nammalvar devotes a whole decad to illustrate the truth that God is both good and bad in the universe (6:3:1–11) The following is the first verse in this decad.

He who is penury and prosperity,

He who is Hell and Swarga,

He who is Hatred and Friendship,

He who is Venom and Ambrosia,

And who is all-pervasive, is my owner-Lord.

I beheld Him in the sacred shrine

At Thiruvinnakar of opulent folks.

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

If God is omnipresent to the devotees, Beauty is omnipresent to an atheist poet, Bharathidasan. Yes, he rises to the height of the Holy saints in his perception of the Eternal!!

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – That is all Ye know on earth, and ye to know” – John Keats.

Bharathidasan’s sensuous enjoyment of Nature

Bharathidasan is attracted by every object of Nature. He declares in the opening chapter of this beautiful work that the dame of Beauty gave him poetry in the flocks of parrots on every branch of the wayside banyan trees. Elsewhere he says that when he took up a sheet of paper to write a poem, natural objects rushed to him in a procession asking him to compose songs in praise of them. The first object that made its appeal was the Sky. Though he sometimes utilizes Nature to convey certain ideas dear to him, most of his Nature poems are the ones which glorify Nature for its own sake. As do all the world poets of Nature, our poet also enjoyed the physical beauty of Nature.

The shape, the multitudes of colours, the many kinds of noises, the actions of beasts and birds, everything enthralls him in a significant way. In this mood of elation, he praises the beauty of the rising sun and exhorts his imagined brother to enjoy the ever-fresh display of beauty by the ancient Mother Nature. He confesses that he needs billions and billions of eyes (wings) to enjoy the entire sea’s expanse and the beautiful sight of the heaven embracing it! He declares that, every gentle movement of the southerly, though invisible to his eyes, makes him feel enthralled. In his mood of elation, he calls the southerly his mother.

In a verse in praise of the Lotus flowers, he glorifies it as the dance of Beauty, whose feast of pleasure is unsatiating,

“I forgot myself; I lived in a world of bliss beyond compare! The golden particles, the southern breeze, the fresh fragrance, the sweet melody of the beehives, the innumerable heaped up flowers resembling several hundred rubious birds, all these are the sources of unsatiated joy!”

The poet forgets himself in the painting of the day time clouds in the canvas of the heavens. He sings thus:

“The sun-rays pervaded

The entire expanse of the day-time heavens!

The masses of gathered clouds

Presented their paintings in hundreds!

Flocks of elephants! Cascades of rubies of luxuriant radiance!

Azure hill-slopes! Spiraling smokes! Volcanoes!

Golden tigers! Groves of sapphire-blue flowers!”

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

This is one of his poems which bears witness to his deep attachment to Beauty and Nature. In all these paintings of Nature, we find no other ulterior motive than the simple enjoyment of Beauty.

Nature used as a Tool of Propagation of certain truths

Though Bharathidasan’s main aim in his work, ‘The Smile of Beauty’ is glorification of Beauty, he deviates from this main aim, at times, and uses it as a tool to express, certain moral values or social realities. In this attempt, we can say, he identifies himself with Nature i.e, he expresses his own personality. It is proverbial that he was a champion of the down trodden and the working class. His Utáran in the Puratchikkavi is none other than he himself when he speaks of equality and the contributions of the working class for the progress of humanity. The same feeling is expressed in his poems on Nature also.

Bharathidasan proves that he is a champion of the working class in many contexts. The best evidence can be seen in a verse in his poem on the “Sky” The starry heaven is depicted as if it were in sympathy with the working class thus:

All the workers on this earth they think,

are born only to suffer as destitutes

Whereas those pulaiyas who shoot arrows at their wounds in response

To their demand for freedom

are blessed to wallow in plenty!

Behold my young brother, how the vast sky

Which witnessed all through the day with its own eyes

This injustice done to them reacts now by remaining with blisters,

Namely the stars all over its body!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

In another poem in praise of the Doves, he expresses his idea of a casteless and creedless human society. The poet presents them in varied hues and varied situations and stresses the contrast between their unity and the foolish fights among mankind which stands divided by class and caste. He admires their taking food sitting in a circle showing no difference among them with a spirit of oneness. “There is no cutting and stabbing in their life; nor there is the superstition of the feeling of high and low!” Also he raises these birds to the level of universal mentors to mankind. The loftiness of their pattern of life is depicted as follows:

A hen dove never agrees to enjoy union

With another male but her own mate!

A male dove never glances at another’s mate,

Though she may stand glowing bright like fire-works.

It is only at the death of one of the pair

That the other seeks to choose a fresh mate!

Perhaps some rogues among them

Might have acquired such evil behaviour

From the wretched life of mankind.

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

He shows how the human society is in sharp contrast to these birds’ love-soused life.

The unity and brotherhood among the cows also are stressed in a verse in this volume. He praises the grazing cows thus:

In the pasture rich in dense growth of grass

Which produce the fruit of dewdrops,

The flocks of cows graze, all standing together,

With no thought of selfishness!

In another verse in the poem in praise of the sky, he places man in sharp contrast to Nature as follows:

How immense is the sky!

Just you think

Of yourself O man!

This earth İs a little guava fruit in which

You are merely a little ant!

Is it not true of everyone else?

Then how strange it is

That we madly speak of high and low!

This is a technique in which any gifted poet who has concern for the common weal identifies himself with Natural objects. Bharathidasan, as a poet who has immense faith in the might of mankind speaks thus in a poem:

His very life will hate a man that hates

To speak of the splendor of man’s race;

Mankind is a mountain marvellous;

Stand on its top yielding all equal status,

See with the eye of reasoning power,

A boon rare and a privilege; with it

Scan the entire sky vast and wide-ranging,

Realise manliness is the might of life.

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

The poet stresses in the poem cited above in praise of the sky, that, though man has the strength of intellect to progress more and more and achieve very great things, he should cherish humility. This humility can be realised only with the help of the limitless Nature namely the all encompassing heavens! The poet seems to stress that man should not grow arrogant however great his intellectual attainments be.

His power of imagination in painting Nature

The power of creating images of individual things or scenes is a fundamental requirement in the art of poetry. Our poet has established almost in all his works, his exemplary talent of creating appropriate images. We envision this power in him in the present work abundantly. This aspect abounds especially in his verses on the Lotus, the Banyan, the Doves and the Mountain.

The illuminated mountain unfolds in our minds through his poem thus:

The cascades are diamond steads!

The densely-leaved plants are green silk!

The sparrows are lumps of gold

And the cool flowers heaps of gems!

The tiger that springs upon the bull

ls the flash of lightning upon the moon!

The dry leaves are verily golden plates!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

The singing sparrows resembling the knob of the sky fly and fall on the luxuriant branches and shine like cat’s eyes! Feeding on the worms in abundance, they sing in delight the while, hopping with their fragile feet resembling the stalks of melliferous Mullai flowers! The ruddy buds of the lotus loosen a little and appear above the greenish leaf surface like the lamps with their beautiful flames, which the women hold in their palms in the houses densely dark! The dark young buds are verily heads of snakes that peep above the leaves in the pond!

Some flowers are like mouths;

Some are welcoming hands;

Some pure ones are the faces of women which come out of

the water when they bathe in the tank!

There are flowers innumerable

as if a thousand tumultous maidens

merrily sport in the tank!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

The poet now paints the picture of the individual petals of the lotus flower.

A petal is like the cheek of a child;

One resembles its eye; a third

resembles the lips that swell

in delight of women who

are enthralled as they

behold their loving spouses!

One resembles the vengeful heart of

the wicked, while another is the hand of the generous

who give their all to the needy.

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

Here are a few of his excellent paintings of natural beauty using the richest techniques of imagination! This imagination transforms the natural event of dawn into the ploughing of the land of gloom by the sun-farmer with his golden plough of his rays! The brightening of the East becomes the blossoming of the lotus that greets the world!

Scientific accuracy of observation is an aspect spoken by critics of Nature poetry. For instance S.A. Brooke says that in Shelly’s poem entitled ‘The Cloud’, “there is not one phrase, not one adjective, which is contrary of, or which does not illuminate, natural fact.” The poets of the contemporary age of enormous scientific advancement, have the chances of coming under the influence of science. It cannot be dismissed. This applies to our poet also. Science says that the rainbow is the reflection of the sun’s rays which pass through the clouds which are rich in water particles. This scientific fact becomes a fine painting made by Mother Nature, in the hands of Bharathidasan. The poem runs thus:

The wind thundered and caused

The long and flowery tree-branches sway;

The ripened mire of clouds filled the space

In which the sun-rays got buried,

Causing many a colour blossom forth

And take shape as the rainbow!

Behold my darling this beauty of Nature!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

‘The Smile of Beauty’ has good many paintings of Nature which bear witness to his great power of imagination. For the evening is the hour when the juicy fruit of the rubious sun sinks into the heavenly stream of molten gold.

He also says that it drapes the emerald body of the steep-rising hill with a shawl of unfading coral and presents it to the view of the world for its enjoyment. In his fertile imagination the gloom is a massive jackfruit, which the hands of the sun break open and take out the drupel of light and present it to the world. The reflection of the sun is seen into the waters of the wavy sea. The poetic mind of Bharathidasan conceives it as a silken cloth woven with the mixed strands of gold and cotton which waves by the wafting winds! The sight of the sun just before its setting in the dusky western horizon is depicted by our poet as follows:

The ball of the sun

wrought of the Kiliccirai gold

which the dame of the east

flung into the space,

fell into the grove fecund,

of the shoe-flowers,

namely the western horizon!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

He presents the dawn of the day thus:

The cocks crowed! The sun Lord Ploughed the land of gloom with his golden plough share, the spread-out rays.

The Burning Heavens

Bharathidasan’s poetic mind succeeds tremendously in evoking the sense of horror also in the readers as he succeeds in filling their heart with immense wonder and joy! The following verse in praise of the Sun is a good evidence to prove his matchless power of imagination of the horrible.

Even the melliferous flowers get charred

Even the red blazing fire turns into ashes!

The forest, the fields, the villages, the hills, the rivers and the oceans

All these are a flame!

Above all,

The day-making Sun himself

is burnt in the fire of his own making!

By the heat generated by the sky,

The very foot of this earth is burnt!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

The Dame of Gloom

Another fascinating painting of Nature of Bharathidasan, causes the reader stand struck with wonder. It is the picture of the dame of Gloom! He addresses the dame thus:

(O dame!)

You with your colossus body filling the entire space

from the earth upto the sky

Stood turning your back to the earth;

Then I beheld on your back

The diamond jewel rounded, of the cool moon

On your dark bun of your tresses!

At once my muddied heart rushed to my spouse!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

Here is a wonderful painting of words of the poet free from any trace of embellishment quite common in the world of poets! The description, though simple, does not fail to win our admiration. It only demonstrates his power of imagination as well as his keen observation of natural objects! The poet describes from his first hand knowledge, his eyes fixed steadily upon his object of description in the words of Wordsworth. It is the beautiful courting scene of a dove-pair!

It goes thus:

The cock-dove swiftly goes round his sweetheart

Lowering his head down when his beloved

With her fiery glances crosses over to the other side and then turns back,

raises her head and points out with her beak the ground

And warmly invites her lover, “Come hither my love!”

He paints another simple scene from the world of the doves thus:

A mother bird returns to its cage

after grazing; she opens her mouth

sitting before her fledgling

when the latter puts its bill into the mother’s mouth!

The mother now spits out the food she stored after grazing

and fills its child’s stomach!

When the mother’s feeding ceases, begins

the feeding of the father!

(Trans. A. Dakshinamurthy)

These are fine evidences to prove the poet’s keen observation of natural objects and his great power of imagination.