o sarasvatī, shower your smile

by Jahnabi Barooah

तव करकमलस्थां स्फाटिकीमक्षमालां
नखकिरणविभिन्नां दाडिमीबीजबुद्ध्या ।
प्रतिकलमनुकर्षन् येन कीरो निषिद्ध:
स भवतु मम भूत्यै वाणि ते मण्डहास: ।।

with your gentle smile,
you prevent the bouncy parrot
from pecking at the
pomegranate-hued crystal rosary
that rests on your lotus-soft hand
with shining red nails.
o goddess sarasvatī,
may you always bless me
with your gentle smile.


In honor of Sarasvatī puja today, I thought of translating a poem to the goddess of learning, language, and literature. This is one of the many poems that I was introduced to and memorized at the AIIS Sanskrit program in Pune in 2014, and remarkably I still remember it.

So what’s going on in this poem and what makes it any good? The crystal rosary beads that Sarasvatī is carrying in her wrist catch the reflection from her nail polish and appear red. The parrot thinks that they are pomegranate seeds, and naturally is attracted to them. (I hope you knew that parrots really enjoy pomegranates.) It is only the goddess’ smile–indulgent and stern at the same time–that prevents him from doing so. The poet-devotee longs for the goddess to smile at her too. We are left to wonder why. Maybe it will keep her, like the parrot, on the right path. This poem evokes the relationship between a mother and her child. It is mother’s knowing smile that both delights her child and prevents her from doing mischief.