Jandhyala Papayya Sastri : He Who Listened to Flowers Talk
Jandhyala Papayya Sastri : He Who Listened to Flowers Talk

You pluck us while we play in our mother’s lap that is soft with bed of tender leaves; What good is your worship while you prove to have no heart?-
Translation commenting on the practice of offering flowers as part of prayer

I was about ten years old when my father forced me go to a local literary festival in Proddutur situated in Cuddapah district in Andhra Pradesh. I had two choices—I could either go to the lecture being held at the town center or listen to a lecture at home. In an attempt to choose the lesser of the two evils, I followed my father to the town center. To my surprise, the lecture was very inspiring and I was spellbound along with the rest of the audience. The speaker was none other than Jandhyala Papayya Sastri. His speech planted a seed in my heart that fostered a deep love and appreciation for Telugu literature. It took a while for the plant to grow from that seed, as it needed tender love and care. However, twenty years later, on the day I wrote my first poem, I made him my “Manasika Guru” or “virtual mentor.”

Jandhyala Papayya Sastry was born on August 4, 1912 in Kommuru village in Guntur district. He started writing at the age of 16; he wrote poems appreciating nature, recognizing the plight of untouchables and songs with nationalist themes during the Independence movement. He was inspired to write his poetry collection titled Karunasri when he visited Buddhist sculptures at Amaravati. After that he was popularly and affectionately known as “Karunasri” for his style of including heartwarming expressions in his poems. He worked as a Telugu lecturer, and was conferred with an honorary doctorate from Sri Venkateswara University. He has about 30 works to his credit, and Pushpa Vilapam and Kunti Kumari are the most famous and soul moving kavyas. His distinct poetic style is characterized by simple, lyrical language and thought-provoking messages; this ability endeared him to readers at all levels of society. He died on June 21, 1992.
I hope that my maiden attempt to translate this poetry will help make his thoughts accessible to readers.

In the following poem called “Anjali”, the poet is engaged in a conversation with the Lord, and the poet literally makes it sound like the Lord is sitting in front of him.
Verses from Telugu work, Anjali
puTTAboyedi bulli bujjayi kosamai podugu ginneku pAlu pOsi pOsi
kaliki vennelalUru chaluva dosiLLatO latalaku mArAku latiki yatiki
pUlakanchaalalO rOlambamulaku rEpaTi bhOjanamu siddhaparachi parachi
telavaarakunDa moggalalOna jorabaDi vintavintala rangu vEsi vEsi
tIrikE lEni visva samsAramandu
alasi poyitivEmo dEvAdi dEva
oka nimEshammu kannu mUyuduvu gAni
rammu terachiti mA kuTIrammu talupu.
You fill the mother’s udder with milk for the calf to be born
You tend the creepers with your cool hands to grow new shoots and leaves
You provide the nectar in the flower plates as the meals to be served for the bees in the morning
You enter into the buds before dawn to paint amazing colors
You must be tired from caring for all these universal chores
Oh Lord, the doors to my home are open and please take a minute of rest!
This is a magical expression of the Lord’s chores. It makes the reader re-imagine so many natural events as expressions of God’s manifestations. The reader feels compelled to see if the Lord is actually roaming in these places. In this poem, he invites the Lord into his house, and then suddenly he finds himself in a quandary. Then he goes on to explain his predicament.
kUrchunDa mA inTa kurcchIlu LEvu praNayAnkamE siddhaparachanunTi
pAdyammu niDa mAku pannIru lEdu nA kannILLato kALLu kaDaganunTi
pUjakai mAviTa pushpAlu lEvu nA prEmAnjalulE samarpimpanunTi
naivEdyammiDa mAku nArikELamu lEdu hrudayamE chEti kandIyanunTi
lOtu rAnIya nunnantalOna nIku rammu dayasEyu mAtma PIThammu paiki
amruta jhari chindu nI padAmkamula yandu kOTi svargAlu molipinchu konuchu tanDri
I have no fancy furniture to offer you to sit but for my affectionate lap

I don’t have flavored water but shall wash your feet with my joyous tears
Don’t have flowers with me but offer the flowers of my love and affection
No coconut to offer but myself whole heartedly
I shall not neglect you due to my limitations, come my Lord
Ascend the throne of my soul, let me reap heavenly joy at your nectar streaming feet
The poet invokes the Lord into his heart. From ancient poetic verses, he draws a moving analogy of invoking the Lord into one’s heart. His humility and unparalleled elegance in his choice of words makes the reader’s eyes swell with tears.

In another noted work Pushpa Vilapam: A flower’s lament, the author personifies the flower by expressing its feelings and describes the pain it must feel because of human cruelty. He goes on to describe the beautiful and selfless virtues of all flowers that have only contributed good things to nature around them. This poem was set to music and rendered by late Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao.

Verses from Telugu work, Pushpa Vilapam
talliyoDilOna talirAku talpamandu
ADukonu mammulanu buTTalandu Chidimi
ammukonduve MOkshavittammu koraku
hrudayamE lEni nI pUjalendukOyi
You pluck us while we play in our mother’s lap
that is soft with bed of tender leaves
What good is your worship
while you prove to have no heart
jaDamatula mEmu jnAnavantuDavu nIvu
buddhiyunnadi bhAva samruddhi galadu
banDabArenatOyi nI gunDekAya
sivunakai pUyadE nAlgu chinni pUlu
We are ignorant and you are intelligent
You have wisdom and wealth of mind
Is your heart petrified as a rock
Do you not know that we bloom for lord Siva
gAlini gAravintumu sugandhammu pUsi, samAsrayinchu
bhrungAlaku vindu chEsedamu kammani tEnelu, mimmu bOntla
nEtrAlaku hAyi gUrtumu, swatantrula mammu swArthabudhitO
tALumu tumpabOvakumu talliki biDDaku vEru sEtuvE
We pay our respects by applying fragrance to the breezes
We offer sweet honey to the hovering bumble bees
We present a pleasant view to your eyes
While we are doing our jobs independently
Oh selfish one, is it fair for you to sever us from our mother
Atmasukhammu kOsamai anyula gontula kOsi tecchu
puNyAtmuDa nIku mOksha meTu labbunu netturu chEti pUja
viswAtmuDu swIkarinchune charAchara varti prabhunDu
mA pavitrAtmala nandukODe, naDamantrapu nI tagulATamETikin
Oh honorable one! Is it really fair to attain salvation by cutting our throats
You think the Lord shall accept offerings from such bloody hands
Why do we need you as a middleman to reach the Lord
Don’t you think the Lord would accept us for our pious souls?

These are just a few verses drawn from two poems. What makes Pushpa Vilapam so unique is that it describes the plight that flowers must feel while subtly criticizing society for the widespread belief of trying to attain salvation by physical acts such as offering flowers to the Lord. He clearly projects a picture of open-heartedness to flowers by attributing their seasonal blooms for Lord Siva as being of their own accord while humans, heartlessly depend on others’ help. He beautifully brings out plea vs. power and ignorance vs. intelligence. It is quite challenging for a reader to use a flower as an offering after reading this poem.

As a young girl, his speech left an indelible impression on me. I still remember something that he shared then when he talked about an intelligent turn of phrase. It was a description of Lord Shanmukha as “muddugAru nI momu” which simply means “your charming face.” He later split the word—(mu+duga+aru) and this way of splitting brought forth a different expression—mu means three, duga means two, a product of three and two is Aru which means six. I was so fascinated with this novel way to describe all six faces of Shanmukha in one word. Though it is difficult to express such delicate expressions in English, many of his poems have been translated into English. I strongly recommend that you read and enjoy his beautiful poetry. This phrase is part of a poem in his collection called Udayasri.  Udayasri was translated into English by Sri S. Purnachandra Rao and is called A Posy of Compassion. His other works are Karunasri, Vijayasri, Aruna Kiranalu, Omar Khayyam and Telugubala (simple poems for children). The pleasure that we will get from reading his poems will be immeasurable and lasting.

Lyricist and short story writer,  Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi works as a Revenue controller and lives in Palo Alto.