unequal rhythms

by Jahnabi Barooah

अगजाननपद्मार्कं गजाननमहर्निशम् ।
अनेकदन्तं भक्तानामेकदन्तमुपसामहे ।।

night and day we worship
the elephant-headed god with a single tusk
who gives plenitude to his devotees.
his mother, too, blooms with joy when he is near.


This is a very clever poem, which plays with sound and sense (like poems do!). And in order to appreciate it, one has to dig into the Sanskrit. As a reader of the Devanāgari script would recognize, sounds are repeated in this verse to rather jarring effect.

In line 1 (of the Sanskrit), agajānana is echoed by the second gajānana. In the first usage, the compound is broken down into aga-jā-ānana, which in the context of this verse, literally means the mountain’s daughter’s face. The mountain’s daughter is Pārvati. The second compound is broken down into gaja-ānana. The word means the elephant-faced, and refers to Gaṇeśa. In this line, he is described as the sun to his lotus-faced mother. To appreciate this description, the reader has to know that the poet is talking about lotuses that bloom only during the day.

In line 2 as well, the reader first encounters anekadanta and then ekadanta. The first compound is broken down into aneka-danta, which means giver of multitude, and the second compound into eka-danta, meaning one-tusked. Both are used to describe Gaṇeśa. Notice also, how the repetition here is the mirror image of the repetition in the first line.