Narsinh Mehta Poem 5 Discussion

Palang Paaye or The Foot of the Bed

In poem number five, the woman who loves Krishna takes matters into her own hands. After the incredible experience of seeing her Beloved playing with not one, but two women in poem number four, and learning to accept a completely different level of devotional love or passion, she makes a stand. She minces no words in getting to the point. The poem begins, “To the foot of the bed, I shall tie your arms.”

In some broad and deep metaphysical sense, her Lord belongs to all and there is an incredible sweetness in the shared love that all the followers of Govind experience. There is a catch though. “Last Night (poem 4)” very subtly shows a difference. The experience of the individual devotee woman leads her to say, “More satisfying than being in his embrace was to see thus my lord’s loving face.” The poet offers an editorial clarification,

“Says Naarasahinyo: such love is forever new, where all merge in Govind’s good graces.”

As the observer, not the actual participant, the poet volunteers an explanation that permits a veil of approval to be drawn across a scene that in basic human terms is just not acceptable. For an individual human being it is virtually impossible to consider the idea that her lover indulges in love-play with one or more rivals. Mehta’s keen observation of this very basic instinct demonstrates his empathetic understanding of the human dealing with the Divine. So when the broader metaphysical concept of God loving every individual equally needs to be clarified in poem #4, Mehta does so in his own voice and words, “Says Naarasahinyo.”

For the protagonist, the gopi who has suffered the risk of social and familial stigma to follow Krishna, such understanding cannot instantly become fully illuminating or acceptable. So in “The Foot of the Bed (poem #5),” she asserts her own personal right as the premier devotee, Saying in effect, You are here with me. What can you do if I tie you to the bed and don’t let you leave?

Her passion is strong, frank, and besotted. She is being shameless but will only use flower ropes. Her rivals will wait for the Beloved in vain. Even if they get angry, He cannot go to them. More to the point, she is getting smarter. She uses one of his own names against him. He is called Vanmaali, literally the forest-gardener, the caretaker of all growing things. Why, she demands, did you plant me in love if you were not going to help me grow? And then, like a typically jealous person, she says, even a honeybee caught in the heart of the flower he loves is ready to die. She likes the idea of that fate, sacrificing her Lover, more than sharing Him.

And again, Narsinh Mehta intervenes in his editorial voice. The Lover God has no hesitation in submitting His entire self: tana, mana, prana, that is, body, mind, and soul, to the temple that is her devoted lotus-like heart.

“The Loving One offers His body, soul, mind to the beloved’s own palace.”

Now that he has observed and has begun to understand the power of the passionate devotee, the poet expresses his own feelings and needs. You know how to capture the Beloved and hold Him, Mehta says to the gopi. Won’t you teach me how to turn God’s averted face towards me?

“Says Naarsinhyo: O gopi, why won’t you teach me / How to win back His fancy?”

In the original text, Mehta uses the phrase, jyam rees ootare, literally, “as sulk reduces.” The Gujarati word rees carries an entire contextual treasure chest in the language of love-play. When lovers quarrel the emotion they experience is “sulking.” This reaction turns into a further reaction of unwillingness to come together, to make up. The phrase for making up is maan manaavavun literally translates as “restore pride”and appears in other poems and we will address the whole range of its connotations at another time. But here the devotee poet observes an amazing example of restoring the Divine Lover’s pride.  Almost unable to believe that such a unique way to reconcile can work, the poet creates an intricate harmony in the way he phrases his appeal for help. Saying “won’t you,” implies that she might be unwilling to share her successful technique and allows the poet to acknowledge that the gopi’s strategy came from her own heart made jealous by the Beloved’s attention to other rivals. Why would she want to share her idea? Still, he claims his own right to the attention of the Divine Lover and challenges her sense of total ownership. What right does she have to keep this discovery to her self?

“The Foot of the Bed” provides an excellent example of a special effect of the way Mehta’s poems are sung. They are always designed as lyrics for songs. The pattern of repeating the first line, a portion of the first line, or a portion of the first stanza after every new verse helps bhajans sung in groups, to come back to and remember the initial idea. Note how this refrain pattern works in this particular poem. Immediately following the poet’s question to the gopi, the song moves back to her own story, “To the foot of the bed, I shall tie your arms with flower ropes.” Here is her technique, frankly and freely offered. Now the poet or the audience must make a choice to imitate and perhaps succeed or fearfully reject as too extreme and possibly fail. Closed yet open-ended, this kind of structure allows the ideas and images to reverberate and makes the lyric memorable.

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word lover, meaning maniac, bilingual with metalingual interests, sometimes potter, poet, playwright, writer, mover to music, always a pontificator.
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