Poetry As Sanctuary – A monthly column where poets from the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley pen their South Asian experiences

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If poetry does not interest you or makes no sense, but you have a curious mind, I recommend trying something poetic this month.

“Why?” you ask.

You might surprise yourself with what you discover about yourself and about poets. What better time to try something that might expand your world? After all, April is being celebrated as National Poetry Month.

With a war dominating the news, poetry can bring some relief. Consider the old saying: history is written by the victors. What do you think happens to the perspective of those who lose the battles or wars? Glimpses of their narratives are found in art, with poems and ballads. Real history can be decoded from poems.

Poetry is also an expression of culture. No culture is without songs and music at the critical life transitions, be it birthdays or weddings, or even funerals. What are some songs from your culture? Maybe there is a favorite poem in the form of a prayer or a chant, from a holy book or catechism?

One of my all-time favorites is a chant by Late Pandit Ravi Shankar, titled Mangalam, released on a CD produced by George Harrison of The Beatles fame.

YouTube video

Literary inclinations might have led you to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, if it was not already required reading in school. Even as the epics of the Iliad and Odyssey are revered, the longer epics like the Ramayan and Mahabharata are living traditions.

The recent festival of Ram Naumi was marked by Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran with a release of this music video of prayers for Ram while spreading awareness about the Ramayan. Ramayan has the story of the epic battle between Ram and Ravan, with many versions in different parts of India.

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The Gita, literally the great song, is where Krishna gives wisdom to the warrior Arjuna on the battlefield (Mahabharata). Very few read these epics yet everyone knows them and has their own version. Many have heard it from their grandmother, from an Amar Chitra Katha comic, or from their neighborhood Ramlila, in which the local community participates in producing poetic dramatized dance dramas as part of the annual festivals or Dusherra and Diwali.

The springtime renewals are celebrated in all cultures, with festivals from different faith traditions, such as Easter, Passover, Ramadan, Navratras, Ugadi, Gudi Pawda, Vishu, Cheti Chand, almost always have some poems associated with the celebrations, if only as a devotional aarti. These rituals bring together families to celebrate and pray together. Discover something by asking your grandparents or looking it up online, to reclaim something from your own cultural heritage. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the patron saint of Sindhis, Jhulelal, who is worshiped in temples, was a tenth-century poet. 

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For the audiophiles, there are Desi spoken word poetry slams and festivals documented on YouTube. Check out Rekhta above!

Featured Image under CC 1.0 License.

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Jyoti Bachani

Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School,...