Dawn at Puri by Jayanta Mahapatra
Table of Contents
Dawn at Puri Summary
The Endless Sound of the Cawing of Crows; a Skull on the Beach
This poem depicts the morning scene on the sandy sea-beach at Puri (in Orissa). The first item in the picture is the endless cawing of the crows. The next item is a skull which the speaker in the poem notices on the holy sea-beach where dead bodies are cremated. To the speaker, the sight of this skull brings the idea of the extreme poverty and penury of the people of Orissa; (and Orissa may here be taken as representing the entire country of India).
A Crowd of Elderly Widows, Waiting to Enter a Temple
The speaker then observes a large number of widows, wearing white garments, waiting to enter the Great Temple in order to offer their daily worship and to perform the holy rites. All these widows have passed their middle age and are therefore elderly women. There is an expression of solemnity in the eyes of these women. In fact, their eyes are full of despair like the eyes of creatures which have been caught in a net. The only thing that sustains these women is their religious faith and the hope which is born of it. They all stand in a group, looking timid and having no confidence in themselves.
The Last Wish of the Speaker’s Ageing Mother
At this moment a sudden thought occurs to the speaker in this poem. His mother, who is getting old, had said that her last desire in life is that after her death she should be cremated here (that is, on the sandy sea-beach where all pious people wish to be cremated).
Dawn at Puri Line by Line Explanations
Puri- the name of a famous town of Orissa. There is a certain sanctity about this town, and it is particularly famous for its annual religious festival which is held there to honour a deity by the name of Jagannatha (anglicized as “Juggernaut ). The temple of Jagannatha is also a famous place of worship
A skull on the holy sands- As Puri is regarded as a sacred town, it is the wish of most people belonging to Orissa to be cremated on the sandy beach there after their deaths. In fact, the beach at Puri is a long stretch of a cremation ground. Funeral pyres are to be seen all along the beach. In the present case, the poet refers to the skull of a human body which has been cremated but not fully consumed by the fire. Or perhaps, only the skull has remained unburnt while the rest of the body has been reduced to ashes by the fire.
Tilts- bends; inclines (to one side).
Its empty country towards hunger- This is a reference to the extreme poverty of the people of India or perhaps, the people of Orissa only. The sight of the skull lying on the sandy beach is here regarded as symbolizing the utter penury and destitution of the people (of Orissa).
Past the centres of their lives- having spent the middle years of their lives; having passed the prime of their lives, nearing old age.
Their austere eyes- their eyes which have a solemn expression; their eyes in which no worldly desire of any kind is perceptible.
Shining strands of faith- feelings of hope born of religious faith. If one has faith in God, one can also experience feelings of hope. A person having a firm belief in religion never loses hope.
The frail early light- the dim light of the dawn. The title of the poem is “Dawn at Puri”. We should therefore keep it in mind that this poem depicts the early morning scene on the sea-beach of Puri).
Leprous- suffering from leprosy; decayed; afflicted with wounds on the skin.
A mass of crouched faces- a large number of shrunken faces; a large group of timid persons.
And suddenly breaks out of my hide- and suddenly emerges from beneath my skin. The word “hide” here means skin.
Blaze- a large fire.
A sullen solitary pyre- a single funeral pyre which seems to be frowning or scowling. The word “pyre” means a burning heap of wood in which a dead body had been placed for cremation before the fire was lit. At this hour of the dawn, a single pyre is burning; and the sight of this pyre brings to the surface of the speaker’s mind his mother’s last wish.
Dawn at Puri Analysis
This too is an Imagist poem. It depicts the scene on the sandy sea-beach at Puri (in Orissa). We have a series of vivid pictures in this poem, and it is by means of these pictures that the atmosphere of a dawn on the sea-beach of the famous town of Puri has been built up. There are endless noises being made by the crows. This is by no means a pleasant picture.
Then there is a skull lying on the holy sands. This too is by no means a palatable picture. The sands are holy; and they are holy because the town itself is a holy one. The town has a famous temple, the temple of Jagannath. Another unpleasant picture is presented to our minds, when a reference is made to the hunger symbolic of the penury and destitution of the country.
The next picture is that of “white-clad widowed women”, past their middle age, waiting to enter the great temple (to which a reference has been made above). There is an expression of solemnity and desirelessness in their eyes. This too is a depressing picture.
It has become evident to us by now that we are reading a melancholy, despondent poem; and the climax comes when the speaker in the poem refers to his ageing mother’s last wish which is to be cremated here on the long and sandy sea-beach. (This sea-beach is known as “Swargadwara” (meaning the gateway to heaven). Thus it is with the thought of death that the poet closes the poem.
Instead of there being anything to cheer us or to uplift us in this poem, we only have images which sadden us and fill us with gloomy thoughts and feelings. If we read this poem early one morning we would lose all our desire for work or for pleasure, at least for that day. We would remain lying in bed, lost in thoughts which depress and sadden.