• Translation

The Legend of the Pariah


The Pariah’s Prayer


Great lord Brahma, lord of spirits,

From whom all life traces its seed;

Standing at creation’s summits,

Was your will to only breed

Brahmins, lofty nobles, and kings—

Were these all you created?

Did you also carve out dwellings

For the apes and our base kind?

Never are we nobly titled:

Wallowing in wretchedness,

Drawing sustenance from the spoiled,

Which repulses every witness.

Let them think what they may profess,

Let it be so as they desire,

But your love remains hot like fire,

For you know that none are stainless.


With this prayer hear my plea, master,

Make us your kin through your graces,

Otherwise, now justly confer

On us that which binds our races.

For you once raised a Bayadere

To heaven and made her a god.

We too kneel now on the sod,

Asking that you hear our prayer!


The Legend Once a highborn Brahmin wife Made her way to gather water, Her lord was renowned for the great And faultless justice he oversaw. She pulled from the ancient streams The lands purest crystal waters, Needing neither jug nor pitcher, Which had no use for her pure hands And heart that were unstained by guilt: Instead the waters were transformed Into pure and crystal spheres, Which she effortlessly carried With the ease of sacred spirits To her house and noble husband. One beautiful morn, she arrived To the sacred river Ganges, Bowed in prayer before its floods— Suddenly, from the high heavens, In a sudden flash of lightning, There appeared an image in the water: A god-sent young man’s enchanting Visage, sparkling in the river. Forged within the divine mind, Beholding it she found herself Gripped by an overwhelming force: Transfixed by the faultless vision, It returned each time she shunned it. Overcome, she fell down to her Knees; with trembling hands, she vainly Tried to lift the sacred water— Alas, all her strength had vanished: As she looked on helplessly, The sphere dissolved and its waters Drained back into the Ganges. Losing her step and bodily strength, Could she even turn back homeward? Might she escape or might she perish? How could she find help or counsel When all her wits were fled and gone? So she stumbled before her husband; So he judged her as he saw her. Then of righteous mind he retrieved His sword and dragged her to a hill, Where guilty criminals perish— Alas, there was no way to flee. For, how could the guilty find words That could only free the guiltless? With his blood-stained blade, he turned back, Pensively making his way home; There he found his son, waiting. “Father! Father! Whose blood is this?” “The guilty’s blood,” replied the father. “Impossible! The blood does not Stick as it does with guilty ones: It flows as the fresh wound’s blood flows. Mother! Mother! Where have you gone? Has my father been unjust? Tell me what crimes he’s committed!” “Quiet! Quiet! Her blood it is!” “Whose blood is it?” “Quiet! Quiet!” “Is that blood my mother’s blood? Speak! “What has happened? What offences? Hand me your sword, I’ll take it now! Slay your wife if you must slay her, My mother, however, never! Faithful wives must follow husbands In death through immolating fire, Faithful sons must follow faithful Mothers to the blade of the sword. “Stop, enough!” Exclaimed the father. “There’s still time, but hurry quickly! Place the head back on the torso; Then gently touch her with the sword, Then she will arise, alive again.” Rushing, breathless, he soon found her; Searching for the proper body And head found among the mound of Corpses strewn across the blood-soaked Hill—What a horror! What terror! He grabbed his mother’s severed head, Did not kiss the deathly features, But bound her head with the nearest Torso, and then blessed the body With his sword, finishing the rites. A colossal image arose: In the unchanging sweetness of His beloved mother’s pure lips, The following words were spoken: “Son, oh son! What have you conjured? Your mother’s corpse lies over there, Shamelessly left beside the head Of a vile rotting miscreant, Justly punished for its crimes. You’ve affixed my head to her corpse, Binding our two halves, forever: Among gods will I now remain Wise in mind and wild in action. Yes, that heavenly young visage Appeared sweetly before my eyes, But when it sank into my heart, Suddenly, lust took me over. “It will always be returning —always rising, always sinking— One moment bright, one moment dark, So has our lord Brahma willed it. For, he was the one who conjured That magical image of an Enchanting young man with sparkling Eyes to entice and seduce me; For, gods may practice seduction If they desire to do so. Now must I, a Brahmin's woman, With my head once in the heavens, Live out the pariah’s true pain— How the dungy earth weighs me down! “Son, go now to your father’s home! Comfort him without remorse or Grief, or any vain hopes that might Lead you into untamed darkness: Wander throughout all the world, Make your way through all the ages, Letting even the lowest know That great Brahma hears their prayers. “They are not lowly in his eyes, Those who lay helpless, paralyzed, With a savagely burdened soul, Lost in darkness without solace, Whether Brahmin or pariah; When they set their sights on upwards, It will be heard and will be felt: For, above a thousand eyes watch, A thousand ears quietly listen— Nothing remains in the shadows. “When I rise up to his gold throne, He won’t overlook the horror That engulfed my lowly body, His eternal graces reach me, Benefitting all his creatures. He will see the horror wrought, Then in humble adoration, Meekly will I try to impart What his lofty being inspires, What his higher mind unveils. But my true thoughts and feelings, Will remain a mystery.” The Pariah’s Thanks Great lord Brahma, sacred maker, Creator of all creation; You remain my one true master, Each must give his adoration. Listening are your thousand ears, Even to the lowest creatures; You are he who all things hears, All must know your divine features. Set your sights now on this woman, Transfigured by her grief-filled days. From now on I’ll worship one God— The secret of his works and ways.

Translation © David B. Gosselin