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There is No God in the Temple, Only ‘Royal Pride, Said Tagore’s Poem 120 Years Ago

Rabindranath Tagore

In the 120-year-old poem, a sage reminds a king of the inopportune time to have spent riches in building a temple in a year people were hit by a calamity

Debraj Mitra

THE clairvoyance of a 120-year-old Bengali poem by Rabindranath Tagore stunned many on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

In the poem, Deeno Daan, a sage tells the king that the temple he has built with “two million gold coins” does not have god inside because it is full of “royal pride”.

The sage reminds the king it was inopportune to have spent the riches in building a temple in a year people hit by a calamity came begging at his door for help, “only to be turned away”.

With remarkable prescience that prophesied this year’s plight of the migrants and others in the aftermath of the lockdown, Tagore had written: “In the very year in which, twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought… pauperised masses without any food or shelter, came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away…. in that very year when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple….”

Tagore lovers from different corners of the world shared the poem on social media.

The poem crossed the language barrier, too, thanks to a Calcuttan who now lives in Delhi. The Facebook user translated “some excerpts” of the poem in English.

Banojyotsna Lahiri, a Presidency and JNU alumna, had been watching the “frenzy surrounding the Ram temple” since Wednesday morning.

“Give it a read. The sheer prophecy will send a shiver down your spine,” said one WhatsApp forward that shared the Facebook link of the English translation.

Lahiri had initially shared the original poem in Bengali on Wednesday.

“I found it extremely meaningful and topical. I saw the poem being shared by more and more people on social media. There are many non-Bengalis on my friend list. I thought they should also know the essence of the poem. I translated it in English and shared a second post in the afternoon,” Lahiri told The Telegraph over phone from her Garia home.

Deeno Daan is part of Kahini, an anthology of poems by Tagore written in 1900 (Bengali year 1307), said Biswajit Ray, associate professor of Bengali at Visva-Bharati.

Lahiri said the similarity with the present was “eerie”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown has had a similarly devastating effect with millions robbed of livelihood and crying for help. And here we have hundreds of crores being spent on a temple,” she said.

A section of social media users, Lahiri included, said the poem was written “exactly 120 years ago, on this very day”. They mentioned 20th of Shravan (Wednesday also turned out to be 20th of Shravan.)

Ray said in Tagore’s case, it was often difficult to put an exact date to a piece.

“The poem was written in 1307. But on many occasions, Tagore did not write the full date below a poem. Sometimes, he wrote the Bengali year after the English date,” he said.

But Ray offered a context for the work. “Tagore was against institutionalised religion. He was not an atheist but he denounced institutionalised religion because it spoke of power and reeked of arrogance and monetary wealth.”

The full translation of the poem has been reproduced below from the Facebook post.

“There is no god in that temple”, said the Saint.

The King was enraged;

“No God? Oh Saint, aren’t you speaking like an atheist?

On the throne studded with priceless gems, beams the golden idol,

And yet, you proclaim that’s empty?”

“It’s not empty; It’s rather full of the Royal pride.

You have bestowed yourself, oh King, not the God of this world”,

Remarked the saint.

The King frowned, “2 million golden coins

Were showered on that grand structure that kisses the sky,

I offered it to the Gods after performing all the necessary rituals,

And you dare claim that in such a grand temple,

There is no presence of God”?

The Saint calmly replied, “in the very year in which, twenty million of your subjects were struck by a terrible drought;

The pauperized masses without any food or shelter,

came begging at your door crying for help, only to be turned away,

they were forced to take refuge in forests, caves, camping under roadside foliages, derelict old temples;

and in that very year

when you spent 2 million gold to build that grand temple of your’s,

that was the day when God pronounced:

“My eternal home is lit by everlasting lamps,

In the midst of an azure sky,

In my home the foundations are built with the values:

Of Truth, Peace, Compassion and Love.

The poverty stricken puny miser,

Who could not provide shelter to his own homeless subjects,

Does he really fancy of giving me a home?”

That is the day God left that Temple of yours.

And joined the poor beside the roads, under the trees.

Like emptiness of the froth in the vast seas,

Your mundane temple is as hollow.

It’s just a bubble of wealth and pride.’

The enraged King howled,

“oh you sham cretin of a person,

Leave my kingdom this instant’.

The Saint replied calmly,

“The very place where you have exiled the Divine,

Kindly banish the devout too”.

— Rabindranath Tagore,

20th of Shravan (that is today), 1307 (as per Bengali Calendar)

Courtesy: The Telegraph online

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