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Archive for the ‘Kannada’ Category

Ash only knows the heat of burning

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy

A bonded labourer was my grandfather

Leaving the cattle at the tank bund

He gathered some water in cupped hands and drank

The news spread through the village

That the tank was defiled

Caste men threw him to the haystacks in flames

And burnt him alive


Unable to bear the burden of the burnt ashes

Mother earth sobbed in lightning and thunder

Then the Lord of the sky poured down as rain

And soothed her

Then was born my father

As cinder was covered in ashes


A bonded labourer was my father

Like his father, craving for a son like him

He prayed standing on his head and stretched his

Hands to the courtyard of the temple

The news spread through the village

That the God was defiled

Caste men lit fire to the hut

The skeleton of my sleeping father inside

Was burnt alive


Unable to bear the burden of the burnt ashes

Mother earth wept and cried, sobbing in earthquakes

The sea rushed in a deluge, soothing her and

Then was I born, a volcano


Now they can’t burn me,

They burn themselves trying to grab me

Because I have turned into

The letter that burns the ignorance,

A witness for the deathless truth


Translated from the Kannada original by the poet

My Body Is The Temple

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015


Rich build temples for Shiva

What can I, a poor man, do?

My legs are pillars

My body is the temple

My head makes the golden cupola

Oh, Lord of kUDala sangama

The standing will perish

The moving will stay on.


The Shared Mirror remembers Basava!

*Kudalasangama deva: Lord of meeting rivers

Translation by Neelanjana


Thousands of Rivers

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

But yesterday,

they came like a mountain,

my people.

They arrived in hordes

my men,


Black faces bearded with silver

burning eyes red with rage

burst through the blankets of sleep

breaking the barriers of day

breaching the bounds of night.

Earth heaved in the mountains of my men

and quaked to their dance of rage

and those who crawled in lines of ants

rose in paws of jungle beasts

and those who crept like reptiles

rose in cobra hoods.

They rose, my men, in mountains

shouting the red song

Down, down inequality

Down Caste Hierarchy

Down the bug that fattens on money.

Ah, they flooded and flowed in rivers,

my people, yesterday!

The town and village they inundated

they plunged to depths of unknown roots

they floated to heights of unseen stars.

See how by the bushes and under the trees

in the streets and in the alleys

they gather in hordes,

my people,

flushing down the ranks of Headman’s power

and the files of Money-lenders away.

These shout a shriek of defiance

those are struck dumb,

these thunder from angry throats

those fall silent.

Ah, the winds of Revolution,

my people,

have seized the throats of those cut-throats.

See how in the whirlwind

twist the police batons

and knives of secret agents.

See how the twigs and dry leaves

spin the debris of Vedas,

of Puranas and Shastras.

See how the dirt of ammunition

and hardware of gunmen

whirl in the whirlwind

of Revolution!

Ah, my people

how they flooded in thousands of rivers

to swell the Revolutionary Sea.


Siddalingaiah's Kannada poem translated by P Rama Murthy. Source: A string of pearls, Edited by H.S.Shivaprakash and K.S.Radhakrishna. Please read Siddalingaiah's interview here and a review of his book Ooru Kheri here

Service in the nude

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

The usual male priest
was praying to the deity – right, mother?
"The whole time I'm inside the sanctum,
the life in me is rotting away,
I have no entertainment," he said.
Ellamma appeared to him –
"Ask your heart's desire", she said.
"Once a year at your festival
the womenfolk should go naked
in your presence. The whole body
should be revealed to us,"
he replied.
"Granted," said Ellamma, and holding
her sari tight around her,
she climbed the hill.
In this way
an atrocity
was sanctioned by the gods and became
"service in the nude"

Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy's Kannada poem 'bettala seve'  translated by Prof. Rowena Hill. Read his other poems here and here

About Bettale Seve: The Dalit movement in Karnataka has had to deal with some of the most exploitative caste-based religious practices. These days various dalit organizations and leaders are engaged in raising awareness about 'Made Snana', and are struggling with the political process to get this practice banned. Back in the 80's and 90's dalit organizations worked hard to expose another reprehensible caste & gender  exploitative practice called 'Bettale Seve' or Nude-worship described in this poem.

Eventually in 1992, a ban was imposed on Bettale Seve at Chandragutti temple.

"Chandragutti, a village in Shimoga district is situated at a distance of 16 km, west of Sorab taluk. There is a temple of the goddess, built in 14th century, at the top of Chandragutti hill. The faithful from Dalit and bahujan communities were (are?) made to believe that the speciality of this temple is that Dalit women and men must go naked to worship this devi since the puranas says that if people go naked and pray to the devi they get all their wishes fulfilled, and people who do not follow these traditions meet with a lot of calamities . Hence, for hundreds of years, in the month of March, thousands of men and women were seen marching into the temple completely naked and offering their prayers to the goddess. Some emancipated youth tried to stop this practice in 1984. But these activists were thrashed by goons and supporters of the temple-priests, paraded naked, and made to worship the devi. The victims included police officials even women police officers.

A committee investigated the religious sanction of Nagna-puja gave a report in 1988 stating that there is no such sanction in Hinduism. Amidst hue and cry the practice was stopped. Still incomplete in implementation, the law stems out of a central objection that the presentation of nude women invariably is a prelude to their enticement into prostitution."

I must have a word with you

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

I must have a word with you
O cactuses and thorny plants;
I must put a question to the moon who borrows his light :
I should free the beautiful rose from thorns.

Wells are waterless and ministers speechless
Constables move about like thorny bushes,
O world, I must have a word with you.

From the white clouds which crowd like political speeches
Streams are not swelled
And green is not nourished.

Who has stopped the timely rain ?
Who has slashed the stars with rainbow ?
Who is hiding the sun so that darkness may bloat and bulge ?

Mango and jackfruit have been robbed
By those who are delivering souls
Which are neither male nor female.
O world, I must get to know you
And so I must have a word with you.

Siddalingaiah's  Kannada poem translated by Sumatheendra Nadig 

Siddalingaiah is a rare figure in contemporary India. A writer, poet, folklorist, academic, founder of Dalit Sangarsha Samhiti and former member of the Karnataka Legislative Council, Siddalingaiah is an exemplary public intellectual.. (read rest of the article here)


Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

After erecting three pillars

The gross, the subtle and the causal bodies

After beating the buffalo's rough hide with a staff

Of the manifest and the hidden to remove the flesh;

After tanning the hide with the fiber of dualism;

The caustic juice of quintessence;

The blemishes of the soul thus destroyed,

I have come to reach the sandals to the feet of the wearer.

Take care, not of the ground below

But of the path they tread

Do not be a slave to the hand-awl, the blade or the peg

Know Ramarama, your own true self

The joy of joys. 



Prose poems that could be sung, recited and performed forms the bulk of the Vachana literature of Medieval Karnataka. They were written to question and respond to dualities , largely by poets from the artisan and untouchable castes. Vachana poetry is also the longest, continuous critique of the caste system, spanning several centuries (11th to 18th century).

The Dalit poet, Madara Channiah is considered the father of Vachana poetry. He pioneered the effective use of metaphors from the everyday, marking a clear departure from the earlier ornate and contrived poetic traditions of ancient Kannada literature.

H.S Shiva Prakash says “ The manner in which this cobbler-saint combines abstract philosophical preoccupations with a vision of a society free of caste differences and expresses them in concrete metaphors taken from the cobbler’s trade is astounding”.  

Source: H S Shiva Prakash's chapter on 'Medieval Kannada Literature' in the book Medieval Indian Literature: an anthology, Vol 3. 

God’s caste

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010


What is the caste of God Narayana?

And Siva?

What is the caste of Atman?

And of Jiva?

Why talk of kula 

When God has blessed you.


By the Saint-Poet Kanakadasa. Eleanor Zelliot and Rohini Mokashi-Punekar in the book Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon write:

The sixteenth-century Kanakadasa of Karnataka was low caste although not untouchable. He was not allowed to enter the temple at Udipi and so, according to legend similar to that told of Chokamela, he went behind the temple to pray and the image of Krishna turned to face him, remaining in this position even to this day [….] Not surprisingly, Kanaka had strong words about caste and lineage (kula).

Life’s like that

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

To the ka ka

sound of cawing


father gets up, says

"mother the white

dawn has come."


Picking up his sleeping rag,

he puts it on, thinks

the calf might stray, and runs

to his master's house.


My mother his wife

follows behind him,

mucks out the byre,

spreads fresh dung on the floors,

cleans her teeth and cringes


filling a fold in her sari,

with the house's leftovers.


Under the noonday sun

father ploughs and sows

and draws water from the well;

he pours drops of blood

turned to sweat, and all

to fill someone else's corn bin.


Milking buffaloes, grazing

cows, fattening sheep,

taking them to water and bathing them,

herself without shelter,

my mother stands –

and not even a cup of milk

for her own child.

The lambs are sold for necklaces

for someone else's throat.


In her own house

there's no calf to prance around,

no cows to swing their horns,

no veranda to decorate

with rangoli.


But what devotion

to things that don't belong to her!


The bodies so battered

by master's bad temper

and mistress's selfishness

cling together and enter their hut.

As they fall asleep

an owl

says "guk".


Life's like that is a poem from Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy's selection of poems translated by Prof. Rowena Hill. In 2002, he conceptualized and directed the play 'Bahuroopi' with the Rangayana Repertoire for the National Drama festival held at Mysore. This poetry based drama reflected the theme of social justice in Kannada Poetry from the 10th Century onwards. 

M. Chinnaswamy is a noted public speaker and a vocal advocate for eradicating caste system, the inhuman practice of untouchability and against fundamentalism. He is the founder President, Buddhist Literary and Cultural Association, Gadag and Director, Dalith Sahithya Parishath, State Committee which is instrumental in spreading subaltern culture and literature. 


The sound that I make

Sunday, May 30th, 2010


                                                   (in the wake of Ambedkar)

The sound that I make

ears do not hear –

it breaks out

like hidden music.

Knocking, it doesn't strike

chords on the heart –

like a volcano

it streams flame,

kindling forest fires.


The sound that I make

does not ferment

like milk

and become butter –

as if smashing rocks

it beats,

cracked walls

tumble down harshly.


The sound that I make

does not deceive politely

or bury itself in the mouth –

it's a dazzling sword

brandished and

swung at earth.


The sound that I make

doesn't cool the eyes like sheet lightning –

like thunderbolts

it flashes


all inhuman


and conditions.


By Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy, translated by Prof Rowena Hill. 

He says:

 I had my own grammar, but experience was the main ingredient. That was why my poetry evaded imitation

To a rag-and-bone boy

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

In someone's shed

in someone else's arms

the boy has slept;

he gets up at dawn, kicks the laggard beside him,

hangs a bag over his shoulder,

and out he goes into lanes and filthy alleys.


He comes to a corporation dump,

stands with clasped hands as if discovering a treasure,

turns on himself and wades in;

his hands sift

as if removing a tiny piece of severed intestine

with a doctor's eye.


Among the broken glass there,

the plastic bottles,

the torn rubber condoms,

the old papers he lifts

where some housewife has wrapped a sickening red tampon –

below all that, something brings a smile:

a torn and patched two-rupee note.


Here and there, once pretty broken dolls

may kindle a light in his mind,

finding marbles can push him

into playfulness.


Like this broken eggshells may cut his feet,

he may thrust his hand into the pocket of old shorts

and touch a blunt blade

and the gush of spurting blood

will further squeeze his sapless frame.


Without parents, he has company,

though an orphan he is well satisfied!

What remains in cans emptied by rich men's children

or bottles thrown away by their fathers becomes holy water.

Leftovers sticking to leaf plates become prasad.

Opening his mouth for a bidi stub,

he leaves for the next lane.


Standing where he should not stand,

sitting where he should not sit,

scratching his sores

when flies and insects swarm round him,

shuffling and searching his precious collection

piece by piece again and again,

surrendering it for a few coins to the broker,

at last he throws himself down in someone else's shed,

someone else's child.


This week, The Shared Mirror is featuring poems by the Kannada Poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy. 'To a rag-and-bone boy' is one of the 41 poems translated by the British born Spanish poet, Rowena Hill. The Spanish versions have been published by the Venezuelan Govt. In her foreword she describes the poet's sensibilities thus:

A poet such as Chinnaswamy, whose mind is a constant source of images of all kinds and who has an unusual facility for playing with the sounds of his resonant language, will never allow himself to become a poet of pure lyricism and personal feeling. So that the subjects of his poems, which may sometimes seem even too crude, are the poverty of the untouchable peasants and the discriminations practiced against them in the villages, or their exploitation, often literally criminal, by “caste” people, or the suffering of mothers watching their children go hungry. Shit, rags, filth, are often centre stage in the poems.

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