Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay sleep in
the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and
stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets,
touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and a light from a woman’s
lamp fell on his forgiving eyes.
It was dancing girl, starred with jewels,
Wearing a pale blue mantle, drunk with the wine
of her youth.
She lowered her lamp and saw young face
austerely beautiful.
“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman,
“Graciously come to my house. The dusty earth
is not fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman,
go on your way;
When the time is ripe I will come to you.”
Suddenly the black night showed its teeth
in a flash of lightening.
The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and
The woman trembled in fear of some unknown danger.
* * *
A year has not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April,
in spring season.
The branches of the way side trees were full of blossom.
Gay notes of a flute came floating in the
warm spring air from a far.
The citizens had gone to the woods for the
festival of flowers.
From the mid sky gazed the full moon on the
shadows of the silent town.
The young ascetic was walking along the lonely street,
While overhead the love-sick koels uttered from the
mango branches their sleepless plaint.
Upagupta passed through the city gates, and
stood at the base of the rampart.
Was that a woman lying at his feet in the
shadow of the mango grove?
Stuck with black prestilence, her body
spotted with sores of small-pox,
She had been hurriedly removed from the town
To avoid her poisonous contagion.
The ascetic sat by her side, took her head
on his knees,
And moistened her lips with water, and
smeared her body with sandal balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and
I am here,” replied the young ascetic.
Rabindranath Tagore
We had this poem in our English Literature syllabus. The well thumbed Wings of Poesy ,the  poetry book which contains the above poem still exists. I can’t help but go back to that time,to the naive thirteen year old with a million crazy ideas and romantic dreams of becoming a writer someday and living in the country. Whenever I read the poem I am transported back into school,sitting in my assigned seat in class, listening to the lilting voice of our teacher and taking notes when required. It’s as if nothing has changed but everything has changed,on the outside at least.

3 thoughts on “Upagupta

  1. Happy New Year to you! Hope you have made (and broken) a lot many resolutions as well.

    This is such a lovely poem! Tagore has always been on the poets that I wish I could have a better understanding of, but he always alludes me. May be I am looking at the wrong translation and need to read the original texts.

    PS: The pink fruit is a dragon fruit. It tastes like a bland strawberry but looks so exotic.


  2. The new year came and went in the haze of exams but I still managed to add lots of do and don'ts for 2012.

    This is perhaps the only poem I have read by Tagore and he has written volumes. I have read more of prose, a collection of his short stories,his experiences as a boy and recently a novel.Apt translation is also a thing but I can't read Bengali though it would have been lovely if I could.

    PS-Thanks. As usual looks can be deceiving 🙂


  3. the buddha has been so well captured even many treatises of buddhism have failed at it…the whole poem is actually a conversation of metaphors…the characters being mystical metaphors themselves…the astute yet benevolent monk and the dancing girl, the epitome of materialism…so much so one may find similar intricacies in Herman Hesse's siddhartha…was he inspired by Upagupta? may be …may be not. yet the spiritual finality of the last stanzas are really heart-wrenching…”The time, at last, has come to visit you, andI am here,”- they say in Chan School of thought when the disciple is ready the master appears.


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