Back in the 19th century, the Asiatic Society had spearheaded projects for rediscovery of ancient manuscripts. One manuscript that was discovered by the erstwhile Vice President of the society – Haraprasad Shastri – is a collection of Vajrayana/Sahajyana Buddhist verses titled Charya. It consists of poems written by Buddhist Tantrics from Bengal between the 7th to the 11th centuries AD. The philosophies that lie behind these poems belong, presently, to Tibetan Buddhism, because, after Buddhism was wiped off Bengal & eastern India in the 11th-12th centuries by Brahminical aggression, scholars, monastics and poets of this Tantric discipline of Buddhism took refuge in Tibet where the religion spread. It is said that the philosophies of Tantra, of the Nath praxis as well as of the Baul minstrels came to be from these verses.

These literary heritage can be considered as a part of the Bhakti movement because they offer counternarratives to Brahminical and Advaita-Vedantist aggression, and, as I have explained in the first part that I have titled ‘Letter to the Reader’, they bring to light how and when the theories of Unitarian Voidism of the Buddhists were converted into those of Unitarian Vedantism of the caste-Hindus.

The language used in these poems has been termed ‘Shandhyo Bhasha’ or Twilight Language because most of the songs have multiple folds of meanings, like the Baul and Fakir songs. It is said that the Bangla language evolved from this, and these poems are considered as the first literary output of the Bangla language. Other than the songs, Haraprasad Shastri had written a Mouthpiece and some notes on the identity of the Tantric Buddhist poets. All these were published together by Bongiyo Shahityo Porishawd way back in 1916.

The Charya songs represent this wisdom of absolute equality. At the heart of this wisdom lies Karuna – compassion – which is to unite with Shunya – the unqualified void – to show the seekers the path to liberation from all the sadness of the world – to Nirvana.

However, though the basic philosophies of the Charya mystics survived even after Buddhism had fallen to the power-maddened gall of the priestly classes and the feudal gentry, their literary creations were lost from the subcontinent during the medieval ages. Nonetheless, those creations survived in Tibet – through translations and annotations that were studied and archived by the scholars of Tibetan Buddhism. This is because, during the medieval times, Thunder Vehicle Buddhism – from within the folds of which had arisen the Easy Path of the Charya bards – despite having waned away from the subcontinent in the face of violent Brahminical terror – had thrived in Tibet. Even in the 17th century we find scholarly Lamas from Tibet such as Taranath who studied the literary resources of the Easy Vehicle and of the Nath Path, researched on the lives of the earliest Tantric bards who created such literature and thus helped in the continual sustenance and development of discourses on these philosophies and literature.

Song 1

The body is like a tree with five branches.
Darkness enters the restless mental-trenches.
Strengthen the quantity of Great Bliss,
Ask and learn from the Guru, Lui says.
How must everything meditate?
Within sorrow, pleasure sees its death.
Swerving past ties of rhythm, avoid the false hope,
Embrace the wings of the void-loop.
I have seen this in meditation, Lui says,
Inhalation and exhalation are two sitting place.

Song 2:

A pail cannot contain the milk of tortoise,
While crocodiles eat tamarind from the trees.
The courtyard is inside the room, listen wife,
At midnight the earings is stolen by the thief.
Daughter-in-law is awake, father-in-law falls asleep,
Where to find the answer to the questions that grow?
During the day she is afraid of the crow,
At night she goes to amorous erotica-phase.
Kukkuripa sang a charya such deep,
One in million hearts can comprehend the trace.

Song 3

The winemaker enters two rooms,
She ferments the ale with smooth foams.
Hold your mind in peace and then drink,
Make your shoulders perfectly align.
May body be free from age and death’s brink,
When the sign is seen on the tenth door.
Motivated customers who walk in,
They can not leave the place anymore.
A small pitcher, very small is its neck,
Birupa Says: move steady; do not shake.

Song 4

Ride the three circles, oh! Yogini, hug me, and kiss,
Mashing the lotus, we shall make love in the evenings.
Yogini, I won’t live a moment without you, without us;
I will kiss your mouth and drink the nectar of the lotus.
Friction can’t besmear Yogini, she spreads throughout,
Hurled, she enters orient via jewel’s root.
Lock and key on the mother-in-law’s door,
Cut two burstout wings of the sun and moon for sure.
Gundaripa says: I am skilled in mystique lovemaking,
Between man-woman flags of clothes keep fluttering.

Song 5

Cosmic River moves dark in somber speed,
Two muddy shores, the middle is not so deep.
Chatilla makes a bridge for the sake of religion,
Those who wish can cross without being oblivion.
With the axe of Nirvana sharpened dagger,
Split the tree of illusion and join the planks together.
When climbing the bridge, do not go left or right,
Bodhi is near you, do not go any further, be uptight.
Those who want to go the other side of the river,
Ask Chatillapa, the greatest Guru who replies never.

Song 6

Who do I give up and who do I take?
Hunters shout from all sides of the stake.
The deer’s own enemy is his own flesh,
Bhusuku hunter doesn’t spare on any instance.
The deer touches no grass, nor drinks water,
He doesn’t know where the doe, his partner.
The doe calls out listen O deer,
Leaving the forest go elsewhere.
Thus the deer sped, leaving no hooves behind,
Bhusuku says ‘this shall not reach an unwise mind’.

Song 7

Roads blocked by truth and untruth,
Kanh saddened by breathing in and out.
Where will Kahn go and live to be precise?
He who is supposed to be wise is also unwise.
They are three, three, they are three different,
Kanh says: ‘the world is cleansed’.
Those who had come all went away,
Comings and goings make Kanh sad.
Kanh sees the city of life is nearby, kanh say,
‘Yet it’s a concept my mind never had’.

Song 8

Loading the boat of pity with gold,
No room left for silver to unfold.
Go on Kamli, glide towards the sky,
How does the cycle of past lives fly?
Take the anchor and loosen the rope,
Sail ahoy asking the Guru of hope.
Ride on the boat, and look around,
Without oars can any move be found?
Mixing road to right and left, he found his way;
Towards happiness, to a Great Blissful day.

Song 9

Destroy the stronghold of sun and moon,
Free the self from bondage that you own.
Kanh leads an antisocial life, floats around,
Entering lotus-forest, calmness he found.
When the female elephant’s passion is set,
On fire by male, universal rain makes it wet.
Six kinds of living beings by birth gets perfection,
Being or not doesn’t make a hair-strand humble.
Ten forced jewels from the ten directions,
Slay the elephant of ignorance without trouble.

Song 10

Your hut lies outside the city, Dombi woman,
Comes and touches you shaven head Brahman.
Dombi woman, I shall make love of genitals,
Kanhu is naked kapalik yogi who has no hate.
There is a Lotus with sixty-four petals,
Oh poor Dombi, ride and dance on it.
O Dombi, let me ask you a sincere question:
Whose boat, Dombi, you ferry by on?
You sell the loom and wicker-backets to others,
You spread flat the bamboo mat for your lovers.
For you I have discarded listless theater-sack,
I left the actor’s suitcase in the back.
You are Dombi, I am the Tantric,
I wear a necklace of bones for your sake.
Dombi, churning the sea, eating Lotus roots you thrive,
I shall kill you, Dombi; I shall not let you survive.

About author

Tanvir Ratul
Tanvir Ratul 3 posts

Tanvir Ratul, born 2nd June, lives in Liverpool; he mainly writes poetry and nonfiction and ideologically opposes the concept of literary organization based on profit making mechanism. He is currently working as a researcher and faculty member at a University, his teaching interest remains within Literature and Creative Writing, whereas, research domain includes Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics. Published Books are: কবিতা সংকলন: ঘোরের লাটিম আর সুতার জ্যামিতি ঢাকা তলপেট, -অন্ধগান, -সর্বনাম গ্রাম, -চামড়ার খাতা আর জুয়ার কলম। শব্দার্থের এপিঠ ওপিঠ -বিশ্বায়ন, গেরিলা নামেই অর্ধেক পিনিক, -শেষকথা পানপাত্র, -পরিশিষ্টে আমি ও আমরা। বক্ষপিঞ্জর বনাম ওষ্ঠ আর চোখবন্ধের কবিতা। He has translated 'Television of the Rotten Soul' (Poems of Falguni Ray, jointly with Atindriyo Chakraborty), and Charyapada by himself into English. He is the editor of the magazine Lastbench- available online and also in print. Since 2001, he successfully runs Antivirus Publications which aims to promote excellence in arts through affordable means.

5 Comments

  1. Mesbah Alam Arghya
    March 05, 17:16 Reply
    I sincerely appreciate this work, assuming that these translations have been done from the original. A treat to read! Very interesting introduction as well. The fact that a correlation has been drawn between the Charyapada and the Bhakti movement is thought-provoking. That aside, if I may, I'd like to submit a rather tangential question-- The focus of this writeup is obviously not on the demise of Buddhism from India, but rather on the wonderful survival story of the Charyapada through time. However, while presenting a bit of a hint about the reasons behind the demise of Buddhism from its birthplace, the intro seems to put the blame entirely on the 'violent Brahminical terror' only. The question is, was this really the only reason? Or, were there some other major phenomena, alongside the brahmanic persecution, that also played their parts? Was there any historical evidence found indicating corruption and discord inside the Buddhist schools themselves? Did the early phases of the coming of Islam contribute? (What we definitely know is that Buddhism didn't evaporate from the face of India overnight. It was a slow, thus a very complex process, that took place over a period of time and hence, may have received many induction points along the way (Brahmanic persecution being one of them)). My greetings to the author.
  2. Tanvir Ratul
    March 05, 18:31 Reply
    You have raised some important questions. I wish I had the scope to answer accordingly, but all I can say is, 'the introduction presented here' is just one small cluster of a 8000 words appendix. Along with this version of translation that I did, Atindriyo Chakraborty also translated another version based on Explanatory Notes by Munidatta/Meenanath/Luipa (from Haraprasad Shastri & Taraprasanna Bhattacharya, Bongiyo Shahityo Porishawd, 1916 and Nilratan Sen, Sahityalok, 2001). We also have an alternate Contextual Translation from Dr. Mahbubul Haq's references with complete (every single poem, every single line, every single word) tables of meaning. Atindrioyo also translated Haraprasad Shastri's original introduction, which is not that long, only around 64 pages (20000 words), but the explanatory notes that needed to be prepared for that original introduction, made me add another additional 120 pages. And the biographies for all the bards were not neglected either. Altogether the total word count(ing...) is 1,20,000. The 'introduction presented here', though we might have failed to address every single aspect of Charyapada in this project, is indeed just a 'tip of the iceberg'. So the distorted impression may be caused by the limited scope of abstraction.
  3. Mesbah Alam Arghya
    March 05, 20:10 Reply
    Thanks for the information about the actual work. It sounds rich and voluminous indeed. I was unaware of that. Can I Order the book online?
    • Tanvir Ratul
      March 05, 23:55 Reply
      Its still unpublished, except the 'compact kindle edition' containing only these 50 songs which is just a tribute as 2016 was the centennial of the discovery of lost-Charyapada. But hey, its always good to get feedback from a serious readers on a 'working progress', aye? I will arrange the manuscript to be sent to you. Regards

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