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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Basavanna’s Verses : Hindi translation of selected Vachanas

Basava (ಬಸವ), born in 12th century Karnataka, was the progenitor of the Lingayat tradition within Shavism – Veershaivism, an independent egalitarian movement that sourced its inspiration from the larger and much older frameworks of Bhakti traditions in South Bharat. This new revolution was as much social as it was spiritual, and along with Brahminical rituals that dominated the Hindu ways of devotion then, also sought to do away with the prevailing attitudes of social discrimination on gender and caste lines.

At the core of the Lingayat philosophy of life is the continuous practice of single-minded devotion to Shiva,  and the doctrine of “Kāyakavē Kailāsa” which means “to work [Kayakave] is to be in the Lord’s Kingdom [Kailasa]”. 

The Poetry

Vachanas (literally, that which is said) form the backbone of the Veershaiva religious canon. Though this genre of poetry predates the inception of Veershaivism itself, it does owe most of its flourish to the works of Lingayat saints such as Allama Prabhu, Akka Mahadevi, Basavanna and Dasimayya.

The revolutionary streak of Veershaivism permeates through its poetry too. Vachanas are not written in Sanskrit, the liturgical language, or not even in the high-brow Kannada of the court, but in local ‘sub-standard’ dialects, the Kannada of the common folk. The Vachanas are free verse poems that reject any pretence of a metre for their lines or the stanza form for the verses. This makes them seem refreshingly modernist in nature.

Both of these innovations together allow for a high degree of originality and spontaneity that is not very easy to miss. This is not unique to Lingayats alone though. All bhakti poems are characterized by that unique undercurrent of raw emotion, a helpless soul in despair, alone in the world, feeling the searing pain of separation from Bhagwan, its cry now embellished, now withdrawn, but always present.

But I do believe that Vachanas, even as a sub-genre of devotional poetry, have a unique flavour not found anywhere else, because in their zeal to reject established authority (or purely out of poetic inspiration perhaps), they go out into the world, to places where the other traditions seldom tread. (This might be a limitation of my own experience though)

The translation

I am not really translating the Vachanas from Kannada to Hindi. I would if I could but I can’t (Kannada Gottilla :-[ ). I am translating the English version of the Vachacnas, translated from Kannada by A.K. Ramanujan, a distinguished poet himself and a translator par excellence, whose work I repose full faith in. (just like that)

Even so, anybody who has attempted translations before would believe me when I say that every translation is a tragedy. The process invariably involves the loss of some bhāvārtha of the original text. Shouldn’t a double translation then ought to be a disaster? I am hoping that that is not the case here since the original and final languages are both Bharatiya and share linguistic and cultural space.

I am even confident that while translating these Vachanas from English to Hindi insomuch as a change of meaning is concerned, it can only be a change for the better and the meaning will only be improved upon. Both Hindi and Kannada have great ecosystems which are vastly different from each other, but still have much more in common than what they have with the English ecosystem.

As a simple example, native speakers of  Hindi will readily recognise the Kannada word Dīpa (ದೀಪ). The equivalent word in Hind is ‘दीपक’, and the word is translated into English as ‘earthen lamp’. The former transition is harmonious while the latter seems forced and doesn’t quite excite the imagination. This is mostly a problem of cultural spheres and I am sure that similarly, a translation from Spanish to Portugese would look more natural than if the same text is translated to Hindi.

In light of this ambition, I see an attempt at double translation as a partial homecoming for the Vachanas. (Still thankful to Ramanujan though :-] )

Of the verses that I had at my disposal, I have only translated a select few. I can’t translate all of them because I am sure that would be a violation of some copyright law. I chose the ones I chose because some verses I just could not translate, for lack of requisite range of vocabulary. Some were too radical. I could have dulled the meaning but that’s unfair to everyone so I just let them go. I chose from the rest those that I found most poetic and moving, a very subjective decision indeed.

It’s not a scholarly translation but I have tried to balance literal and bhāvārtha idea of translation as much as possible. In the spirit of the verses, with only my aesthetic sense as a guide, I have also tried my best to find a balance between chaste Hindi and the folk Hindi while translating them. Constructive criticism and comments are always welcome.

The Vachanas


धनवान तो बनाएंगे
मंदिर शिव के
मैं निर्धन जन 
करूँगा क्या

मेरे पैर स्तम्भ होंगे
मंदिर शरीर
और सिर
कलश सोने का

सुनो हे संगमदेव
जो चीज़ें हैं खड़ी
गिर जाएँगी कभी
जो चीजें चलाएमान
वो चलती रहेंगी


मेरे अज्ञान में 
हे नाथ
तुम लाये हो मुझे
माँओं की कोखों से 
अनंत आकाशों से

क्या जन्म लेना ही
गलत है प्रभु

दया करो 
एक बार और 
लो मेरा वचन कि
फिर नहीं उपजूंगा
कभी इस संसार में 
हे संगमदेव


क्या फ़र्क पड़ेगा
कितनी देर तक रखो 
ठंडे पानी में 
पत्थर कभी 
नर्म हो सकता है क्या

क्या फ़र्क पड़ेगा 
लंबी आराधना से
जब चंचल हो 
मन मेरा

गड़े सोने पर 
मँडराता हूँ 
एक पिशाच की भाँति
हे संगमदेव


मैं गयी संभोग को
तो जाना कि
धोखा हुआ है

फिर छिपी पीछे 
एक टूटी दीवार के 
तो बिच्छू आया
काट खाया

मेरी चीखें सुनकर 
आया एक पहरी 
वो ले गया
कपड़े उतारकर

अब जब घर पहुँची
तो कमर पर 
घाव कर दिये 
मेरे पति ने

जो बचा-खुचा था 
वो राजा ने ले लिया
जुर्माने के रूप में  
हे संगमदेव


साँप टेढ़ा चलता है 
पर क्या कभी रोकता है बिल
उसे घुसने से

नदियाँ टेढ़ी हैं 
पर समा तो लेता है 
सागर उन्हें फिर भी

हम सब टेढ़े हैं 
पर हमारे
प्रभु के लिए 
हम सीधे ही हैं 
हे संगमदेव


करो कुछ भी
पर मत पड़ना 
चक्कर में भक्ति के

एक आरी की तरह 
जब आती है 
तब काटती है 
जब जाती है 
तब काटती है

अगर डालोगे अपना हाथ 
ऐसे घड़े में 
जिसमें नाग बैठा है 
क्या वो छोड़ देगा तुम्हें
हे संगमदेव


पेड़ की जड़ ही तो है 
उसका मुँह
वहाँ पानी दो 
और देखो 
पेड़ का उभरना

प्रभु के लोग ही हैं 
प्रभु का मुँह भी 
उन्हें दो और देखो 
प्रभु का दान

उन्हें स्वामी जानकर भी 
अगर मानोगे तुच्छ मानव 
तो भुगतो 
नरक की आग
हे संगमदेव


पैर नाचेंगे 
आँखें देखेंगी 
जीभ जपेगी 
पर फिर भी संतोष नहीं 
अब और क्या करूँ

हाथों से पूजता हूँ 
पर हृदय में तृप्ति नहीं 
और क्या 
और क्या करूँ

सुनो मेरे प्रभु 
अगर यह पर्याप्त नहीं 
तो मैं आ सकता हूँ
और तुम्हारा पेट चीरकर 
तुम में ही 
समा भी सकता हूँ
हे संगमदेव


मुझे नहीं पता कि
सुर और ताल क्या हैं 
तार और मृदंग 
का गणित भी नहीं आता 
मुझे ये भी नहीं मालूम 
कि छंद क्या 
छंद का भाग क्या

हे संगमदेव 
क्योंकि तुम्हें 
कुछ भी सताता नहीं  
मैं वैसे गाऊँगा 
जैसी मेरी मर्जी


इधर देखो प्रभु 
और जान जाओ 
कि ये मर्दाना कपड़े 
पहने हैं तुम्हारे लिए ही

हे संगमदेव 
युद्ध लड़ लूँगा 
तुम्हारे लिए 
पर तुम्हारे भक्त की 
दुल्हन भी बन जाऊँगा
अगर तुम कहो तो


जो दूध बचा है 
वो बछड़ों का जूठा है
जितना भी पानी है 
मछलियों का जूठा है 
संसार के सारे फूल 
मधुमक्खियाँ चख चुकी हैं 
पहले ही

कैसे तुम्हें पूजूँ 
हे शिव 
ऐसे कचरे से 
पर बचे-खुचे से 
घृणा करना 
मेरा काम नहीं 
तो जो मिले 
वही स्वीकार करो 
हे संगमदेव


हे तात 
क्या मानस नहीं जान जाता 
जो कुछ भी जिह्वा चखती है 

क्या कलियाँ 
माली को बुलाती हैं 
फूल बनने के लिए

क्या यह अच्छा है 
कि शास्त्र निकाले जाएँ 
कुछ भी करने से पहले

क्या यह अच्छा है 
हे संगमदेव 
कि मैं सबको दिखाता फिरूँ 
मेरे जननांगों पर निशान 
प्रभु की 
काम-क्रीड़ा के


  1. All Vachana poets had a characteristic name for Shiva which they used in their composition as their signature. Basavanna’s signature is invocation of “Kudala-Sangama-Deva”, which Ramanujan translates as “Our Lord of the meeting rivers”.
  2. The original poems do not have any punctuation. Though Ramanujan introduces them in his translations, for readability purposes I suppose, I don’t think they are essential and I have not used any.
  3. The sourcebook for the English translations is “Speaking of Siva” (Amazon link). Most of my pre-translation commentary that does not come straight from Wikipedia comes from this book. It’s a really nice little book and has translations for Vachanas of three other major Lingayat poets.

-by Priyank Chauhan 

(This article was first published on the author’s blog and has been republished here with consent. Minor edits have been done to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)

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