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Archive for June, 2011

Siva-vakkiyar’s Padal

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011



Why, honey is the bee's saliva;

the beetle's saliva is on the flower,

the cow's milk itself is mixed with the saliva of the calf!

why should there be so much fuss over it? 




 Milk does not return to the udder, nor butter to the butter-milk;

Nor the life within the sea-shell, if it breaks, to its body;

The blown flower, the fallen fruit, do not return to the tree;

The dead are not born, never, never, never, never! 


Sivavakkaiyar, known to laugh at those who bathe for cleanliness' sake and yet are unclean at heart, comments on pollution associated with human saliva. It is considered terribly unclean and forms a core ritual avoidance in brahmanism. Sivavakkiyar refuses to consider saliva unclean in itself in the above excerpt (48) from one of his padal (songs). In the next padal (36), Sivavakkiyar refutes another central tenet of brahmanism, the theory of transmigration. 

Source: A history of Tamil literature. C Jesudasan and Hephzibah Jesudasan.

Read Sivavakkiyar's anti-caste poem here

Sivavakkiyar the Siddha poet, belonged to the cult of Tamil Siddhas which dates back to the 8th century. The Siddha teachings are often excluded and made obscure as heresy. These poet saints were radicals.

Because Siddhas scoff at the Vedic sacrifices and rituals and all forms of worship of icons they were considered to be iconoclasts. They are constantly at war with the upholders of the caste system and violently oppose the practice of untouchability. A tamil Siddha scoffs at untouchability by raising a pertinent question whether the bones, flesh and skin of an upper caste woman (brahman) and a lower caste woman (paraiya) are distinguishable on the basis of caste. He asks: are they numbered on the basis of caste? 

The above reference is attributed to Sivavakkiyar. His heretical approach of opposing any kind of orthodoxy particularly that of the brahmanical order, caste system and idol worship, ensured the exclusion of his work from the Saiva canonical literature. Some of his poems though have survived. 

Source: a) Hindu Spirituality: Postclassical and modern. K.R. Sundarajan, Bithika Mukerji. b) The poets of the powers. Kamil Zvelebil.

Smell of untouchability

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

It is just as well
that I got to know 
your blindness
from the very start.

Simply because my feet
touched the ground
you are seeking to purify it, 
sprinkling holy cowdung water.

Had I requested 
your house on rent
you would have been enraged
and driven me out
like a pariah dog.

Perhaps you do not know
that the land your house stands on
is surrounded by air
suffused with my dirty breath.
The bricks of your house
have been made from clay
from the river bed
where my humble hut stands, 
moulded by the supple hands
of men whom you have discarded, 
calling them untouchable.

Now you have moved
into your beautiful house
you preach that untouchables
are not human beings, 
that they are worse than animals, 
to be despised.

Dear sir, 
if you have the moral courage, 
strip open the walls
and look at the rubble 
and see, 
how each atom of brick and sand
bears the sweet smell
of untouchability.  


Basudev Sunani is an Oriya poet, his poems have been translated by Rabindra K Swain and  J P Das. His poetry collections include Asprushya (Untouchable), Karadi Haata (Bamboo Shoots Market) and Chhi (Sneer), and several critical essays and short stories. He is a veterinarian by training, his blogposts can be found here.

Courtesy: The Poem Hunter

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)

Akkarmashi, an excerpt

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

…….. from author's note.

My mother is an untouchable, while my father is a high caste from one of the privileged classes of India. Mother lives in a hut, father lives in a mansion. Father is a landlord; mother, landless. I am akkarmashi  (half-caste). I am condemned, branded illegitimate. 

I regarded the immorality of my father and mother as a metaphor for rape. My father had privileges by virtue of his birth granted to him by the caste system. His relationship with my mother was respected by society, whereas my mother is untouchable and poor. Had she been born into the high caste or were she rich, would she have submitted to his appropriation of her? It is through the Dalit movement and Dalit literature that I understood that my mother was not an adulteress but a victim of a social system. I grow restless whenever I read about a rape in the newspaper. A violation anywhere in the country, I feel, is a violation of my mother.

I have put in words the life I have lived as an untouchable, as a half caste, and as an impoverished man. There is a Patil in every village who is also a landowner. He invariably has a whore. I have written this so that readers will learn the woes of the son of a whore. High-caste people look upon my community as untouchable, while my own community humiliated me, calling me 'akkarmashi'. This humiliation was like being stabbed over and over again. [….] 

……… The Outcaste

[….] Dada was the first son of the first wife of Dastagir Jamadar. Dada was married to a woman from Barhanpur, but they were childless, so his wife deserted him. Since then Dada has been living with Santamai. He has groomed me with great affection, as if I were his own child. Neither his religion nor my caste was a hinderance to us. Is it man who is a hinderance to religion or is it the other way around? Is the premise of religion greater than man's? Is religion made for man or man made for religion? Does man cause religion to degenerate, or is it religion that degenerates man? Can't man exist without religion and caste?


[…] Once, we had a guest and no money to pay even for his tea. Kashinath, the tea-stall owner was away. So we couldn't ask for credit. Old man Ghenappa who looked after the tea-stall in Kashinath's absence would not give us credit. We were in a fix and felt helpless. I sat in a corner like a barren hen trying to hatch an egg. Dada was waiting for a bus. Santamai's face looked like a cave discovered during excavation, while the guest sat like a refugee.


Source: The Outcaste Akkarmashi Sharankumar Limbale. Translated from Marathi by Santosh Bhoomkar 


Note: Sharankumar Limbale is the Regional Director (Pune Division) of the Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik. A well-known Dalit activist, writer, editor, and critic, he is the author of 24 books. 

Santosh Bhoomkar (Translator) Reader and Head, Department of English,and In-charge, Postgraduate Faculty of Arts, Shri Saraswati Bhuwan Arts and Commerce College, Aurangabad.

Untouchable’s Complaint

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011


Day and night we are suffering,

We will share our grief with the ruler.

Even god is not listening to our problems

Don’t know how long will we suffer.


We go to churchman’s court and

Become English after conversion.

Oh lord, conversion doesn’t work

How to show our face, we impious.


Broke the pillar and saved Prahlada,

Rescued Gajraj from the clutches of Graha.

Where Duryodhna’s brother pulled Sari,

Appeared there and provided clothing.

Killed Ravan and supported Vibhishna,

Raised the mountain on finger tip.

Don’t know where, now you sleep,

You have become heedless to our pain.

It appears you dislike our contact

As you know that we are Dom.


We do labor day and night,

And earn two rupees for that.

Thakurs have comfort sleep at their home,

We plough fields then pay we get.


The ruler’s battalion is deployed and

We get caught to serve them unpaid.

Such job we do with closed mouth,

To the government, this will be said.


We won’t beg like Brahmin begs

Won’t stir lathi like Thakur stirs

Won’t cheat like Sahu does while measuring

Won’t steal cow like Ahir gets away with

Won’t write poems like a bard

Won’t go to Court wearing turban

We’ll shed sweat to live our life,

Together at home we share our food.

Our body is made of flesh and bone,

Similar body the Brahmin has got.

He is worshipped in every house,

As the whole region has become his host.

We do not go close to well,

We get drinking water from mud.


One of the early poems on Dalits was composed by Heera Dom. It was titled ‘Achhut Kee Shikayat’ (Untouchable’s Complaint).  The poem was written in Bhojpuri language.  It got published in ‘Saraswati’ in the year 1914. This is my translation of the poem. The Bhojpuri text can be accessed here.  

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