Upagupta

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Introduction

Upagupta is a disciple of Buddha, and goes from one place to another. He is sleeping in a small town when a dancing girl wakes him up and requests him to sleep at her home. Upagupta refuses, and tells her “I will visit you when the time is ripe.”.

A year later, and again on travel to the same place, Upagupta finds the dancing girl lying on the ground outside the town, having sores all over the body and shunned by the townsfolk. He applies balm on her body and when asked who he was, he replies “The time has come to visit you and I am here.”

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Concept Map

Text of the poem

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Idea of the poem

Core Meaning

Two different scenes which were separated in time are described in the poem. Lines 1-12 are in the first scene. It is in the rainy season. Lines 13-22 are in the second scene. It is in the spring season and the branches of the trees were full of flowers.

First Scene (1-15 Lines) Upagupta lay asleep in the dust by the city wall of Mathura. He slept in the dust because he was a saint and he hated comfort, luxury and wealth. The night was described as murky because it was dark and unpleasant every where. It was the rainy season. So, people stayed indoors and they closed the doors and put out all lights. At that time of the night the dancing girl was returning home from the royal court. As it was dark at that time, she approached the city wall and couldn't see the path clearly. She touched Upagupta with her feet. He didn't mind her feet touching him since it wasn't deliberate attempt.

(6-10 Lines) The dancer was attracted by Upagupta's austerely handsome face. She thought that the dusty earth wasn't the proper place for the ascetic to sleep on. So, she requested Upagutpa to come to her house. But he was a saint. He hated comfort, wealth and worldly pleasure. So, he declined the dancer's invitation of going with her to her house as he understood what she meant. He promised her that he would visit her house at an appropriate time by saying that Woman, go on your way! His words your way have a special significance. He asks her to go on with her worldly pleasures. She is too young to renounce material and physical pleasures. Her way was to enjoy herself. But he was a saint and renounced all worldly pleasures. His way was to lead a simple and spiritual life.

(11-12 Lines) When the young ascetic had spoken his words, the black night showed its teeth in a flash of lighting and a storm growled from the corner of the sky. Due to this, the dancing girl trembled in fear.

Second Scene It is the spring season. The branches of the trees were full of flowers. The air was warm and the breeze made musical sounds. The citizens went to the trees to attend the festival or flowers.

(16-20 Lines) The town was silent and there was no passerby because most of the citizens left for the woods to attend the festival of flowers. The dancing girl was suffering from a deadly disease and she was driven away from the town. She had severe sores on her body. They were very painful and the disease was contagious. She lay in the shadow of the city wall suffering. She should be looked after by someone. She was in dire need of an attendant. The time for the ascetic, Upagupta, had come to serve her. He sat by the side of the suffering woman. He took her head on his knees, watered her lips, applied some balm to her sores and showed great care towards her.

(21-22 Lines) The dancing girl asked who the merciful one was. He was Upagupta. He said that it was the right time for him to visit her because the duty of an ascetic was to render service to humanity.

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Alternative interpretations

Context of the poem

The Poem “Upagupta” establishes the impermanence of sensual pleasures, the root cause of sorrow being attachment to material pleasures etc. and many such philosophical and spiritual truths. Tagore achieves this through the incidents in the life of a dancing girl and her meeting with an ascetic called Upagupta.

The poem presents two moments in the life of a dancing girl. The dancing girl comes to Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha on a dark night and invites him to her house. Upagupta rejects her invitation saying, “ when the time is ripe, I will come to you”. She is described as proud of her youth and beauty(“drunk with the wine of her youth”). She meets the ascetic again after a long time when she is stricken with black pestilence and is thrown out of the city. The ascetic comes to her and consoles her. He says that it is the right time to visit her.

The two moments shown in the life of the girl are the two cardinal moments in her life-two important phases of one’s life. The poem may appear to have no movement but it has in the case of the inner as well as the outer life of the dancing girl. A great transformation occurs in her life.

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About the Author

Rabindranath Tagore, also written Rabīndranātha Thākura (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941), sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; however, his "elegant prose and magical poetry" remain largely unknown outside Bengal. Tagore introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding creative artist of the modern Indian subcontinent, being highly commemorated in India and Bangladesh, as well as in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.


Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to topics political and personal. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced) and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are his best-known works, and his verse, short stories, and novels were acclaimed—or panned—for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation. His compositions were chosen by two nations as national anthems: India's Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh's Amar Shonar Bangla.

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Transacting the text

Language appreciation

Meaning making

Pictures/ video clips are an interesting way of assisting students to comprehend a poem. A picture helps in creating a visual memory and can also help in understanding new words.

Vocabulary

Figures of speech

A figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning. It can also be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, or personification. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetorical figure or a locution. To know more click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech

Additional resources

Assessment

Ask the learners to write a short paragraph using the hints given below.

Hints:

  • What is the poem about?
  • Which is the most striking image and why?

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