Puri is an eminent town in the state of Orissa. It is distinguished for its religious associations, particularly the annual festival held to honour the deity, Jagannatha.
The poet ruminates on the beach premises at Puri. The endless cawing of crows catches the speaker’s attention at the outset. He then notices a skull on the beach where bodies are normally cremated. The skull is a part of a cremation that has not been completely burnt by the funeral pyre. This skull is emblematic of the abject poverty and spiritual handicap of Puri, in spite of all the religious connections and connotations. The skull represents the hollowness of life and the inevitability of death. It symbolizes the spiritual stagnation and pseudo-existence of Orissa. Puri here, functions as a miniature metaphor of India in. The term ‘empty country’ emphasizes the same, the nihilism in a non-productive life. The hollow skull points to the irrational superstitions prevalent taking man back to primitivism.
The speaker then notices a number of widows adorning white saris all ready to perform the customary rites and rituals. These women are depicted as “past the centre of their lives” They have whiled away a significant portion of their lives, implying they are past their prime. The word ‘centre’ may also signify that they have crossed the peak of their lives. Again, the word centre may point to their spouses who are no more, and were the centre of their lives. They appear serene and solemn. There appears an expression of austerity in their eyes, as they are divorced from all worldly concerns. The white color that they adorn is as symbol of their purity and tranquility. They are like creatures caught in a net. The creatures caught in a net having nothing more to lose as they remain captured. The widows too have nothing more to forgo, as they stand in spiritual submission. The force that anchors these women to be steady in their approach to life is their undeterred faith in God. They dreamt with the hope that religion equipped them with. As they stand in a group, their uniting factor seems to be their timidity .They are a “mass of crouched faces” possessing no individuality. They are presented as a common noun. Women are relegated in a patriarchal society; and this marginalization is more pronounced, if it is a widow.
At the break of dawn as the poet looks at the single funereal pyre burning, a sudden thought occurs to him: that of his mother’s last wish. The phrase “And suddenly breaks out from my hide” echoes the thought springing out; just as the poet sprung out from his mother’s womb(hide). His aged mother wished that she be cremated at this particular place. It comes across very strongly to the poet. Rites and rituals are mandatory. However, perhaps, performing one’s mother’s last wish is far more important than these obligatory dictates of religion and doctrines of custom. It ‘dawns’ on him all of a sudden. The symbol of Dawn is thus also one of realization.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
The content is the copyright of Rukhaya MK. Any line reproduced from the article has to be appropriately documented by the reader. ©Rukhaya MK. All rights reserved.