A reading of Song 1 in Hindi by Subhash Jaireth
Translations, improvisations and interpretations
Girdhar gasyan sati na hosyan
This pada is for Girdhar. I’ll not commit to sati,
my Lord must the guardian of my heart.
Husband you are not, nor brother-in-law, Ranaji,
I yearn to be a Radha for my Lord.
Bhakti can’t be stolen. I never have been cruel.
So who would dare to cause me any harm?
Don’t think I’d swap a sacred beast to ride a mule,
there’s no sense in departure from my path.
Free my arms from bracelets, wipe off the wedding mark,
I’ll wear a holy necklet, annoint my face with paste,
take off my kardhani, my sari will be plain,
Govind will hear my song and play his flute.
I understand the hardship of a sadhu’s path,
but if I follow, I will see Girdhar.
Translated by Hazel Hall
There are many obscure images in Song 1. Assisted by study materials, recordings and research, I tried to discover the poet’s intent. Slant rhyming helped me to partly recreate the soundscape and balance Meera’s playful defiance with the crisis at hand, keeping to the original text as much as possible.
I won’t sit on the pyre and burn Ranaji,
my heart belongs to Girdhar for whom I sing,
I’m no one’s wife, sister or daughter, for I’m
a willing slave of my Lord, my endless spring.
I’m not a thief Ranaji, nor do I wish to hurt anyone,
so why do you want to cause me pain?
You ask me to give up an elephant for a mule:
a deal I don’t accept; it’s silly, laughable, in vain.
I’ll take off the ivory bangles, rub off the crimson tilak,
I’ll don the rosary necklace, and paint on me the chandan paste;
Take back your precious jewels Ranaji, for they can’t
match the songs I sing for Govind, my true soul mate.
I’ll follow the path of the sadhus Ranaji,
for this is my final wish, my blessed fate.
Translated by Subhash Jaireth
Translating the love songs of Meerabai into English presents a challenge, and the challenge lies in achieving the right balance between the meaning, mood and the soundscape of these intensely sonorous songs.
As I began translating them, I first tried to reproduce their end-rhyme pattern in English. But I soon discovered that the such a translation sounded laboured, contrived and unnatural. This forced me to focus on the rhythm instead, and to use rhyme flexibly and floatingly. In my translation I have tried my best to preserve the number of lines. In a few songs this hasn’t been easy because the language of the original is so precise and measured that I needed more words to convey the meaning and the mood.
Not for me a widow’s death by fire.
My breath will swell Girdhar‘s song.
I was never yours, husband. I belong
to one master only, body and song.
I covet nothing, harm no-one—
yet you, husband, wish me ill.
Why would I leave love’s summit
to live again in your foothills?
Take my silks, my wedding rings.
I have no need for these things.
I paint myself with Chandan
and sing my Girdhar’s praises.
Ahead lies the pilgrim’s path.
To walk it is my desire.
Translated by Penelope Layland
I have preserved the rhyme pattern of the original Hindi in both these translations, but have taken some liberties with the imagery, seeking equivalents that I hope evoke the sense if not the particularity of the Meerabai’s original songs.
I’ll sing for my Girdhar, I won’t become a sati
(Triolet 1 for Govinda)
I just want to sing for my Govind
He’s the only one I’m bound to.
I’m not a martyr or a slave or a sati to anyone
I just want to sing for my Govind,
unadorned, I’ll walk the paths the sadhus walk on.
Swapping elephant for mule is not a deal I’m drawn to,
I just want to sing for my Govind,
He’s the only one I’m bound to …
Translated by Sandra Renew
I have chosen to improvise on Meerabai’s work using the triolet form. This form requires that the language is stripped right down so that the message to be sung in the temple is very direct and explicit, allowing the promotion of both rhythm and mood, keeping the tonal quality of the original piece.
Meerabai – Song 2 (a reading in Hindi and translations, improvisations and interpretations)
Translating Love Songs of Meerabai, an introduction and overview by Subhash Jaireth (translation workshop leader)
Songs of Meerabai (1498-1556), an introduction by Sandra Renew (Not Very Quiet founding co-editor)
About the translators who participated in Subhash Jaireth’s translation workshop for Poetry on the Move (September 2020)
We gratefully acknowledge Recent Work Press for allowing us to republish the introduction, ‘Translating Love Songs of Meerabai’, and Song 2 translation by Subhash Jaireth. Both were published previously in Rain Clouds: Meerabai (Recent Work Press 2020).