Mysticism in Poetry 1



(The Osmania University)


It has been said that ‘compared to the East, the West is young’. 2 While admitting that spirituality or any aspect of human culture or experience is not the monopoly of a particular race or community, one might say that, for several centuries, India and the eastern countries have been the abode of mysticism. Examples are many of sages and saints who spent years in contemplation and in the pursuit of the Divine. On the other hand, ‘mysticism in English poetry is a comparatively modern growth.’ 3 Despite the fact that much is being written about mysticism and mystics nowadays, in popular estimation, it is still a term of reproach. By some, mysticism is identified with occultism, magic and jugglery and is looked upon with horror or contempt, as in the case of the author 4 of The Myth of the Mystic East whose aim in writing this book seems to have been ‘to drive another nail into the coffin of mysticism’. Many equate it with vagueness and unintelligibility. There are not wanting in the present generation poets–some of them think they are imitating Rabindranath Tagore!–who, when the reader unable, after reading and re-reading the verses, to grasp their meaning or appreciate the propriety of the imagery adopted, asks for more light, give the answer. “It is mysticism; you cannot understand it”. About a Turkish poet Niyazi of the seventeenth century who was supposed to be a mystic, a student of Turkish literature points out that when trying to puzzle out their sense one finds oneself in constant agreement with the Mufti 5 who, when appealed to on the question of their orthodoxy, replied that only God and Niyazi knew what they (the poems) meant! 6 That this is true not of one country but many countries can be gathered from Francis Young-husband’s remark, ‘in spite of the works of Miss Evelyn Underhill and Dr. Inge, mystics are still suspect and mysticism is confused with mistiness’7. To show that this world is loosely used, sometimes in the sense of ‘strange’ and sometimes in the sense of ‘vague’, a few sentences from modern writers may be cited:


The wonderful mysticism, which seems to surround these two great rivers (the Ganges and the Jumna) has also some other reason which is supported by modern investigation.

(Prabuddha Bharata, 1935)


They (the Parsis) are an intensely religious people expressing their life not in mystical forms but through actions of service.

(From Jinarajadasa’s Address on Zoroastrianism at Adyar, January 3, 1936).


Let us now take up the question, ‘What is mysticism?’ It is interesting to note what Ranjee G. Sahani has to say on the subject:


The word ‘mysticism,’ like ‘love,’ has acquired an infinity of meanings and applications, and so has come to signify nothing, because it may signify so much…..He (the mystic) is the one spirit who has escaped from the ‘whatness of the that’.


However, a mystic is generally described as ‘one who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain union with or absorption into the Deity, or who believe in the spiritual apprehension of truths inaccessible to the understanding’. 9 Thus the mystic tries to see God face to face and prays that he may be one with the Divine Spirit. Meditation, ecstasy, illumination and intuition are associated with him. He passes through an experience peculiar to himself and one which may not be easily conveyed or expressed to others. That is probably one of the reasons why the mystics generally resort to symbols and allegory. That the man in the street may not be able to appreciate the full import of their utterances has to be allowed, as in the case of the following:


Purnamadaha purnamidam purnat purnamudachyate

Purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavasishyate. 10


(That is full; this is full; the full comes out of the full; take the full from the full and the full remains.)




Here’s a curious problem that has baffled the brains of mathematics!

I add and I subtract,

And the answer is the same.

I multiply and I divide,

And the answer is the same.

I gain and I lose,

Name it what you choose,

But the answer is ever the same. 11




On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the

trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the

seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.


The above passage from Gitanjali is very sweet, but can we explain what exactly it means, or, is it only ‘some meaningless cadence’, some sweet nonsense? To know what is mysticism, we will do well to gather the sayings of a few of the great poets and philosophers of the world. Feelings would be more appropriate than sayings, for, the mystic’s message is nothing more than an expressing, in his Own way, his Rasanubhuti, (personal experience). Poets like Tagore, Shelley, and Sarojini Naidu, Bhaktas like Kabir and Mirabai, religious preachers like Buddha and Chaitanya and moralists like Carlyle and Gandhi are all called mystics. At first sight, it will appear a heterogeneous group, but they have all something in common. Tagore and Gandhi represent two different ideals. The former is a poet, a lover of beauty in nature and in human form and an artist to the tips of his fingers. Gandhi is an ascetic preaching medieval simplicity and attempting to reconstruct the world on the basis of Ahimsa (non-violence). One is a Bhogi and the other is Tyagi. Carlyle was a great spiritual force during his time, while Shelley was driven out of his college for his Necessity of Atheism. Still, these are called mystics. A mystic is an idealist or dreamer. He is often a very peculiar person. It is no exaggeration to say that Gandhiji is a most curious phenomenon. When there is any domestic or national trouble, he fasts, till, as he says, light dawns on him or till he purifies himself and appeases God’s anger. He must be either a mad man or a great seer, and nobody who knows anything of him will incline to the first view. But it must be conceded that the mystics are mad in their own ways, which is often the reason for their being ridiculed by their contemporaries, Chaitanya, it is said ‘walked like a mad man through untrodden paths; children threw dust at him and clapped their hands saying, “Lo! there goes the ascetic mad after God.” 12 In modern times people are not, of course, quite ready to accept the mystics or their message. They refuse to believe in inspiration and intuition. They would explain away all these rather extraordinary phenomena as ‘moments–they do not last long–when we are only functioning at our top-level’. 13 To some of the Yoga and yogic exercises are no more than ‘charlatanry’. Philosophers who plead for an idealistic view of life are only ‘digging up dead gods and worshipping them. They are persecuting reason and are among the forces destroying civilisation. Their philosophy is an extreme form of intellectual quackery’.14 The prejudice has grown so strong that an English writer has published the following attack in one of the journals of his country:


Flirtation with the Absolute, an agreeably vague notion of that which is ungoverned by space, time or any other relation, appears to be a fashionable habit of our epoch….Mysticism seems to be no more than a kind of sloppy self-cosseting which is concealing its absurdity with pretensions to, the sublime. 15


If however we turn to the other side of the medal, we note that there are more things in heaven and earth than science dreams of. Even in this century there are people with whom ‘Yoga is an art of self-opening and self-discipline’.16 Radhakrishnan, a most distinguished product of modern education, thinks that ‘the deepest things of life are known only through intuitive apprehension,’17 and the rishis (the sages of ancient India) are not so much the authors of the truths recorded in the Vedas and the seers who were able to discern the eternal truths by raising their life-spirit to the plane of the universal spirit.’18 That means they (the Vedas) are the products of their spiritual intuition, drishti or vision. J. C. Bose, the great scientist, while emphasising ‘rigid demonstration’ as an essential part of the scientist’s work, points out:


Even in this path of self-restraint and verification, he (the scientist) is making for a region of surpassing wonder. When the visible light ends he still follows the invisible. 19


The sober minded C, Y. Chintamani says, ‘Religion is a matter of faith and not of proof,’ and adds:


There are persons who possess some small direct knowledge of spiritual invocations. Are they all the victims of illusion? This would be a rash conclusion. It would be a travesty of science and the scientific method to dismiss summarily everything that cannot be tested in a tube with the aid of an acid. 20


Thus in the realm of thought the pendulum seems to be swinging towards the mystics or seers. If they are occasionally ‘mad’ it is a kind of poetical madness, a divyonmada (divine frenzy). There is a Telugu saying that a touch of madness is required for the making of verses. Macaulay, the illustrious Victorian who is by no means known for his other      worldliness and who is anything but mystical, has to admit that ‘perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind, if anything which gives so much pleasure ought to be called unsoundness’.21 He concedes truth is essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. But while the lunatic’s behaviour is repulsive or        pity-exciting, the mystic’s ‘madness’ is a purifying and elevating force. The enthusiasm shown for Rabindranath Tagore by one of his Bengali admirers speaks volumes for the influence a mystic poet can exercise on his reader:


I read Rabindranath every day; to read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world. 22




The mystics are Bhaktas (devotees of God). They derive pleasure from meditating on Him or repeating His sacred name. About Prahlada 23 it was said:


Eating or drinking, seeing or talking, moving or resting, laughing or playing, he would think of only one thing. Fixing his mind on Narayan and reveling in that joy, he would forget the whole world. 24


The story of Valmiki is well-known. One who had originally been a highway robber was, thanks to the Seven Sages who happened to meet him, initiated into Dhyana (concentration), repeated the word ‘Rama’ for years oblivious of his surroundings, had illumination and became the author of the Ramayana. Mysticism and Yoga are alike, the former word being derived from a Greek root meaning “to close lips or eyes” and the latter from a Samskrit root meaning “union (with God)”. According to the Gita, Yoga is discipline of mind or concentration. A yogi is one who believes in renunciation (sanyasa), is alone (Ekaki), has a one-pointed mind (Ekagrammanaha), is unaffected by joy or sorrow (Sukham va yadiva dukham), has perfect control over his self (Jitatma) and has attained peace (Prasantaha). Thus the Gnani (wise man) will, fully absorbed in meditation, pray:


Asato ma sadgamaya

Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya

Mrtyormamrtam gamaya 25


(From the Unreal lead me into the Real; from Darkness lead me into Light; from Death lead me into Immortality).


Another Bhakta26 who is more poetically minded loses himself in his enthusiasm for a personal God when he sings:


Adharam madhuram vadanam madhuram

Nayanam madhuram hasitam madhuram

Hrdayam madhuram gamanam madhuram

Madhuradhipaterakhilam madhuram


(Sweet is his lip and sweet his face; sweet is his eye and sweet his smile: sweet is his heart and sweet his gait; O sweet, how sweet, is everything about the Lord of Madhura!)


Some of the Bhaktas derive an indescribable pleasure in simply repeating the name of their favourite deity. One of them, Ramadas of Bhadrachalam, sings:


Sreerama neenamamemi ruchira...(Ram, O Ram, how sweet is thy name! How sweet, how sweet, how sweet is thy name! Sweeter than curds or butter, sweeter than honey or sugar-cane, O Protector of the fallen, how sweet is thy name and delicious!)


According to Tulasidas, the famous Hindi poet:


Great sages sing the purifying power

Of God’s most holy Name:

In this lies beauty, purity and bliss:

Armed with this overcoming sword

Peace mayst thou win in turmoil,

Peace eternal, here and now:

To those who trust that Name,

No doubt is left, no fear. 27


Chaitanya, the Vaishnava devotee, who delights in the name of Krishna, tells us ‘the name is a poem to me and gives me joys untold.’ The mystic’s aim being to see God, silent contemplation is, in some cases, adopted as the means to that end. Noguchi, the Japanese poet, speaks of ‘the poet’s castle of solitude’ and praises the blessing of silence. He says ‘we Orientals are happy to find the climax of poetry in solitude. To us it is a holy sanctum; a place where the Infinite dwells.’ Evelyn Underhill shows a similar longing when she puts the question,


What do you seek within, O Soul, my Brother?

What do you seek within? 28


and supplies the answer,


I seek a Life that shall never die,

Some haven to win

From mortality.


In that mood she is happy, and if we ask her what she finds within, her reply is: ‘I find great quiet where no noises come.’


As she finds there a friend that in secret came, she prays:


Bar door and window that none may see:

That alone we may be

(Alone! face to face,

In that flame-lit place!)

When first we begin

To speak one with another.


The devotee is ardently wishing for communion with God, and where he (or she) feels sure of this, he joyfully exclaims: ‘Lord, I am Thine and Thou art mine.’ 29


The enthusiasm of the disciple for the Master is so great that he wishes the whole universe to be filled with His name. He should listen only to one sound and see only one form wheresoever he may turn.


About Hanuman the Ramabkakta (lit. worshipper of Rama) an interesting story is given. Rama, after having destroyed Ravana and the demon-host returned to Ayodhya and held a Durbar at which Sita made a present of a very valuable pearl-necklace to Hanuman as a token of her gratitude for his services and appreciation of his very staunch devotion to herself and her husband. The whole assembly was surprised and everyone was asking himself, why should Hanuman be singled out for this honour, and that at the hands of the noble queen? The recipient, however the monkey 30 that he was, began, the moment the gift came into his hands, to break every pearl to pieces. No one had the audacity to call in question the queen’s judgment but at last Sita herself, shocked at what was being done, asked: ‘Maruti 31, what on earth are you doing with that necklace?’ The reply that ensued and silenced one and all was, ‘Esteemed Mother, I am breaking these pearls to see if Rama’s name is inscribed in them.’ So far as Hanuman was concerned, an object had value and a word had meaning when it related to Rama, and a sound had significance when it contained that sacred name. The same warmth for God is displayed by an Irish poet when he prays:


Christ be under me! Christ be over me!

Christ be beside me

On left hand and right!

Christ be before me, behind me, about me!

Christ this day be within and without me! 32


Tyagaraja, 33 the illustrious saint and poet-musician of South India, expresses similar sentiments towards Sri Rama, the god of his worship, and his enthusiasm is boundless when he addresses his master thus:


Nothing except Thee has a place in my heart; my eyes are filled with the beauty of Thy image; my ears are filled with the music of Thy tale; my mouth is filled with the sweetness of Thy name; whichever side I turn, I see only Thee. 34


Potana, the author of the Andhra Bhagavatam, declares emphatically that human life is absolutely worthless when it is devoid of faith in God. The limbs of the body and the faculties of the mind justify their existence only when they are used in knowing and seeing Him. He writes:


The hands are useful that worship the Lotus-eyed:

The eyes are eyes that see the Lord of the Angels:

The ears are not lost that listen to the tales of Vishnu:

The feet move that lead one to the temple of God:

The tongue functions that praises the Husband of Lakshmi:

The head is blessed that bows down to the Sleeper on the Serpent:

The day is not wasted that is spent on the God of gods:

The book is good that reveals the greatness of the Lord of the Wheel:

The teacher is the right one that tells the pupil of the Ruler of the Earth:

The father is the true father that exhorts his son to believe Hari and worship Him. 35


Thus the mystic feels there is one thing in the universe which deserves his attention–God, and there is only one road which leads to that goal–prayer. An English poet said once, ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of’ and the wisest man of our generation firmly believes that prayer, genuine and sincere, is man’s only hope:


Prayer has saved my life. Without it, I should have been a lunatic long ago.


Three of the greatest teachers of the world, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohamed, have left unimpeachable testimony that they found illumination through prayer and would not possibly live without it.


In spite of despair staring me in the face on the political horizon, I have never lost my peace. In fact, I have found people who envy my peace. That peace comes from prayer. 36


But, worldlings as we are, we cannot fully appreciate the full significance of the above words, for, most of us never pray. Even with regard to the others who believe in prayer and pass through the ceremony, the saying is true that it is very easy to say prayers and very hard to pray, Was not Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, correct when he confessed,


My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.




The mystic is a visionary who sees sights which are not seen by the ordinary man. Sir Galahad 37 tells us,


When down the stormy crescent goes,

A light before me swims,

Between dark stems the forest glows,

I hear a noise of hymns.


His heart being pure and his faith great, he hears a voice, though none are there. Wordsworth shows how Childhood and the thought of his past years confer a blessing on him:


Hence in a season of calm weather

Though inland far we be,

Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither.


Thanks to the “first affections” and “shadowy recollections,” he can enjoy those visions,


And see the Children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling ever more. 38


Shelley always felt that


The awful shadow of unseen Power

Floats though unseen among us. 39


One day, while he was musing on man’s lot, he had a vision of that ‘awful Loveliness’ whom he addresses thus:


Sudden, thy shadow fell on me,

I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!


Prahlada had peculiar visions of God. For Instance,


When the Husband of Lakshmi approached him he ceased to move with his friends;

When the Destroyer of Evil came to play with him, he forgot all about his playmates;

When the Friend of Devotees spoke to him, he paid no heed to other speeches;

When he saw the Lord of the Heavenly Orders, elated with joy, he did not look at anything else;

When his heart was filled with the pleasure of meditation, he attained fullness of being; he was motionless and, though with life, behaved like one without it. 40


The mystic is subject to moods and they are not always logical or consistent. Here is another description:


Engaged in heavenly thoughts, he sometimes cries for sorrow, sometimes he feels proud and sings for joy. Once he says ‘Vishnu is after all this’ and smiles and smiles. Another time he jumps and dances shouting, ‘I have discovered a treasure, It is mine’. Now he repeats the Holy Name. Now he shuts his eyes and stands and stands without end. 41


About Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna there are many interesting stories. When he was god-possessed he would remain motionless for hours and be entirely ‘unconscious of birds perching on his head or snakes crawling over his motionless body.’ 42 Chaitanya was also subject to trances, terrible emotional experiences, especially at the time of the Sankirtan 43 parties. A blue cloud in the sky, or the colour of the sea, or the water of the Jumna would remind him of his blue-coloured God (Sri Krishna) and his behaviour on such occasions would border on madness ‘In the sea he saw his Krishna smiling and beckoning him, and he jumped into it with arms outstretched to embrace his God; a fisherman saved his life.’ 44 The love of Radha and Krishna and their mystical union has inspired many poets of our country. Lilasuka describes how each of the lovers was so absorbed in love that they were once utterly unconscious of the realities of life. Radha the milkmaid wanted to churn curds. The churn-staff was turning and turning, but the vessel was empty. Krishna the cowherd wanted milk. But the God that he was, he brought a bull for milking! 45 There was another girl of whom the poet has something equally interesting to say:


Vikretukama kila gopakanya murari

padarpita chittavrttihi

Dadhyadhikam mohavasadavochadgovinda

narayana madhaveti.


The milkmaid wanted to sell curds, etc., and was going round the sereets but, completely immersed in love, she went about crying, “Govind, Narayan, Madhav.” They were her milk, curds and butter! Mrs. Sarojini Najdu’s Song of Radha the Milkmaid is a most beautiful lyric describing a similar experience. The girl carried her curds to the Mathura fair and wanted to cry:


“Who will buy, who will buy

These curds that are white as the clouds in the sky

When the breezes of Shrawan are blowing?”


She was however so lost in love as to confess:


But my heart was so full of your beauty, Beloved,

They laughed as I cried without knowing:

Govinda! Govinda!

Govinda ! Govinda!

How softly the river was flowing!


Mirabai, the Rajput-princess, had a similar passion for Sri Krishna. For his sake, she cut off family ties and defied social conventions. The ecstatic love of Radha for Krishna inspired her and she surrendered herself to the great Lover. She is proud enough to say: ‘Kana have I bought; the price he asked I paid’. 46 Some thought the price was too much and others considered it too cheap a bargain, but, so far as she was concerned, she was happy:


I paid in full, weighed to the utmost grain,

My love, my life, my self, my soul, my all.


The doctrine of the mystic is the doctrine of the heart, and, according to the Sufis, the heart is the palace of the Beloved. In Browning’s opinion, love is the essence of life. He boldly says: ‘I let the world go, and take love!’ 47


He knows the limitations of earthly love but says:


I mind how love repaired all ill,

Cured wrong, soothed grief...


He wishes us to remember


He who in all His works below

Adapted to the needs of man,

Made love the basis of the plan,

Did love, as was demonstrated.


Thus faith and love are two things which stand out prominently in the lives of the mystics. They are generally indifferent to the orthodox forms of religion and some of them go to the extent of aggressively opposing it. Sadi, the Persian poet, treats with contempt the man who is vain of having visited holy places. He says the Haji (one who goes on a pilgrimage) went a small snake and returned a huge Python! Shankaracharya is sorry that we are all so simple as to think flowers and incense constitute worship:


Gabheere - kasare visati vijane ghora vipine
Visale sailecha bhramati kusumarttham jada matihi
Samarpyaikam chetassarasijamumanattha bhavate
Sukhenavastthatum Jana iha na janati kimaho.


(Man, the fool that he is, plunges into a deep lake or wanders up and down in a forest, dreadful and uninhabited by men, or on a long range of mountains m search of flowers for his worship. Would he but dedicate one flower–the lotus of his heart–to thy service, O Lord of Uma, how happy should he be! But he knows not. How strange! How strange!)


Kabir is sorry that the Yogi chooses to dye his garments, rather than dye his mind in the colours of love, and his message to humanity is this:


Listen to me, friend, he understands who loves.




One interesting feature which characterises the mystics is their belief that all things are full of God. Every object in the universe or every natural phenomenon is a symbol of His presence, and the differences in size, shape or colour are only the various changes adopted by the changeless One. He is the source of all things and there is nothing grand or majestic in the world that does not reveal His glory. The Bhagavad-Gita says:


Prahladaschasmi daityanam kalaha kalayatamaham

mrganam cha mrgendroham vainateyascha pakshinam.


(And I am Prahlada of Daityas; of calculators Time am I: and of wild animals the imperial beast (lion); and Vainateya of birds). 48


Pavanaha pavatamasmi Ramaha sastrabhrtamaham

Jhashanam makaraschasmi srotasamasmi Jahnavi.


(Of purifiers I am the wind; Rama of warriors I; and I am Makara of fishes; of streams the Ganga am I). 49


‘All vital virtue,’ says an English poet, 50 ‘flows from life’s first fountain, God’ and he sees the Creator everywhere:


Brahma’s Eyes look forth divining

From the welkin’s brow,

Full bright eyes–the same are shining

In the sacred cow. 51


Poet Aurobindo asks,


In the blue of the sky, in the green of the forest, 52

Whose is the hand that has painted the glow?


and feels the presence of the Supreme


In the strength of a man, in the beauty of woman,

In the laugh of a boy, in the flush of a girl.


He is convinced that


All music is only the sound of His laughter,

All beauty the smile of His passionate bliss;

Our lives are His heart-beats, our rapture the bridal

Of Radha and Krishna, our love is their kiss.


Also, the mystic is wise enough to recognise the existence of the Spirit in the small as well as the great:


In the tiny atom and in the heart of the mighty Himalaya, in the delicate human breath and the vast and limitless ocean, in the little ant and the huge elephant, dwells the Spirit Divine, the Cause of all causes, the Brahman to whom we all pray for guidance and inspiration. 53


According to Robert Browning, God is there


In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.


Mrs. Browning is emphatic when she says,

And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!


In her opinion,


Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries: 54


A Punjabi Sufi thinks that even the dust we tread upon is not to be despised. He says:


Farid, revile not dust, there is nothing like it. When we are alive it is beneath our feet, when we are dead it is above us.


The people of ancient Greece believed that their mountains and rivers were haunted by gods and goddesses, and the Hindus of India still look upon them as sacred and worship them as places where the Creator lives. Pantheism, the theory that God is identical with the Universe and that God is everything and everything is God, has had its champions in every epoch. The nature-poets of England seem to share the same belief. Cowper thinks that


Nature is but a name for an effect,

Whose cause is God.


He is convinced that one ‘spirit rules universal nature’.


Not a flow’r

But shows some touch, in peckle, streak, or strain,

Of his unrivall’d pencil. He inspires

Their balmy odours, and imparts their hues. 55


The mystical quality of Wordsworth’s poetry is well-known. Whenever he looks at objects of nature, ‘he feels a presence that disturbs him with the Joy of elevated thoughts,’ and he becomes conscious of


A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. 56


Shelley, the great poet of English Romanticism, explains how he is very happy in the company of nature. He exhorts mankind to run


Away, away, from men and towns,

To the wild wood and the downs–


for, in cities in the midst of society, as it is constituted, the soul has to ‘repress its music’,


While the touch of Nature’s art

Harmonizes heart to heart.


It is there, in the wild woods and the plains, that the lawns and the pastures, the sand-hills of the sea, the wild flowers and the violets, make him shed his worries. It is an ideal place,


When the blue noon is over us

And the multitudinous

Billows murmur at our feet,

Where the earth and ocean meet

And all things seem only one

In the universal sun. 57


In Shelley’s case as in that of Wordsworth, nature worship is the poet’s religion, and the contact with natural objects raises him to a place where he is at one not only with himself but also with the whole of humanity. It is there that he realises the oneness of life. This outlook on the universe, a consciousness of its fundamental unity, it may be safely said, has been the most outstanding feature of mysticism throughout its history. Carlyle, the great prophet of nineteenth century England, never loses sight of this fact and never misses an opportunity of impressing this truth on the minds of his countrymen:


“Wondrous truly are the bonds that unite us one and all…….I say, there is not a red Indian, hunting by Lake Winnipic, can quarrel with his squaw, but the whole world must smart for it....It is a mathematical fact that the casting of this pebble from my hand alters the centre of gravity of the Universe.” 58


J. C. Bose, the great scientist, sees ‘an underlying unity amidst bewildering diversity’. The layman thinks that science and religion are opposed to one another, the former representing analysis and the latter synthesis. But the distinguished Indian scientist advises us never to ignore the fundamental truth that there are not sciences but a single science that includes all’. He astonishes us by declaring that there is no basis for the time-old distinction between the animate and the inanimate:


In my investigations on the action of forces on matter, I was amazed to find boundary lines vanishing and to discover points of contact emerging between the Living and Non-Living. 59


Thus the scientist becomes a mystic, and his faith and imagination are so strong that his daring adventures into the great seas of the unknown have enabled him to feel that ‘the problem of the great mystery of Life and Death is brought a little nearer solution, when in the realm of the living we pass from the Voiced to the Unvoiced’. Thus that life has an essential unity is the chief point in the mystic’s creed and he is always eager to see the One in the many. This is the message which the Gita conveys to its readers:


Yo mam pasyati sarwatra sarwam cha mayi pasyati

Tasyaham na pranasyami sa cha me na pranasyati.


(He who seeth Me everywhere, and seeth everything in Me, of him will I never lose hold, and he shall never lose hold of Me) 60


In the Bhagavata-Purana there is an interesting episode relating to Krishna’s childhood. As a boy he was full of ‘mischief and tricks’ and would play pranks with his neighbours, but when he came to his mother the Eternal Child would be as innocent as a lamb. Tired of these complaints and desirous to see how far these tales were true, Yasoda on being told that he was eating ‘matti’ (dust) one day asked her son to open his mouth. He did accordingly but what did she see within? Lakes and rivers, hills and forests, the sun and the moon, the planets and the stars, in fact the whole of creation! The scene was so awe-inspiring that the good lady was wondering as to what it was, a dream or a reality. The mystic, says an English poet, sees a whole world in a grain of sand. He discovers not only the One in the Many but also the Many in the One.


To the true worshipper of God the universe is one indivisible whole and there is only one community living in it. The differences which we ordinary men notice, and make much of, between one sect and another do not concern him. Set the Kaaba in one eye and Kailas in the other and he will look on both indifferently. There is the story of a Muslim Saint who, when once questioned about his religion gave a curious answer. 61 ‘Are you a Shiah or a Sunni?’ ‘Between the two.’ ‘Between the two is nothing.’ ‘Yes, yes, that nothing I am.’ There is only, one God ruling over the world and all are the same in his eyes, irrespective of their conventional modes of worship. Blake, the English mystic, considers all human beings his brothers, since in each of them is reflected the Divine Image:


And all must love the human form,

In heathen, Turk or Jew;

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.


Differences there are, but they are apparent rather than real, for,


By many names is he called,

But he himself is One only:

The vessels are diverse

But the clay whereof they are made

Is one. 62


Also, even in one community, there are the high and the low, wise men and the simple folk and, as Kabir puts it, ‘Brahma suits His language to the understanding of His hearer.’ Evelyn Underhill points out how His ‘starry wings’ He sometimes forsakes and how He ‘meekly fits His stature to our need. 63 The, true saint will despise no one, for he realises that  ‘He walks in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.’ 64 He will place his entire reliance on Him and trace His hand in everything that happens. He will always remember:


Ahamatma Gudakesa sarvabhutasayastthitaha
Ahamadischa madhyam cha bhutanamanta eva cha.


(I am the Self, seated in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle; and also the end of all beings).  65


He will be so devotedly attached to Him that he will seek all pleasures in Him and sing:


Mother thou art,

And Father:

Brother thou art,

And Friend:

Knowledge thou art,

And wealth.  66


As God is both Creator and Destroyer he will make no difference between life and death, but will say


Life is a prism of My light,

And Death the shadow of My face. 67


He will constantly pray for light and, as the result of his meditation, will rise higher than the outer forms and understand:


He has no father, no mother, no wife, no son: He has neither friends nor enemies: He is the soul of all creatures: He is the light of the world: to save the righteous from distress, the Shapeless has taken shape: Protection and Destruction are but plays of the Divine. 68


In the fullness of his wisdom he will at last come to the conclusion that Truth is within ourselves and will proudly declare:


A living Temple of all ages, I

Within me see

A Temple of Eternity!

All Kingdoms I descry

In me. 69


To be able to realise that the Supreme is not far away from us but is near us and within ourselves is the height of spiritual illumination, a privilege enjoyed only by a few, the real philosophers of the world. It is an experience associated with some of the Rishis of ancient India who, after years of intense devotion to God and severe discipline of mind, were able to reach that lofty summit. As the Gita says:


Sarwabhutastthamatmanam sarwabhutani chatmani

Ikshate yogayuktatma sarwatra samadarsanaha.


(The self, harmonised by Yoga, seeth the Self abiding i all beings, all beings in the Self; everywhere he seeth the same). 70


Guru Nanak laughs at people who go about in search of God. He asks:


Why dost thou go in search for him.

In lonely forest-glades?

Forever God abideth in thee,

And yet above, beyond thee. 71


and gives this advice:


“Search for him, friend, within thyself:


Jalaluddin Rumi, the great Persian mystic, describes his own experience which is similar to this in his Finding of the Beloved:


Cross and Christians, from end to end,

I surveyed; He was not on the Cross.


Then he tried one place after another:


I went to the idol-temple, to the ancient pagoda;

No trace was visible there.

I went to the mountains of Herat and Candahar;

I looked; He was not in that hill-and-dale,


At the end,


I gazed into my own heart;

There I saw Him ; He was nowhere else. 72


There is another Persian tale 73 in which the same experience is described:


“Love came to crave sweet love, if love might be; to the Beloved’s door he came, and knocked: - She asked ‘And who art thou? We know not thee!’ ‘It is I’ ‘Nay, thee and me this house will never hold.’ The lover went home depressed but came again after three seasons. The old question was repeated, ‘Pray, who is there? What is thy name?’ But by now Love had learnt the magic of replies,


‘It is Thyself!’ he whispered, and behold,

The door was opened, and Love’s mystery told,”


Me and Thee are for us but not for the mystic who does not recognise-duality. In his opinion, He is both ‘knower and known’, He will say,


Master thou art, and servant too.


It was this truth that was taught by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to Arjuna, and through him to humanity, centuries ago:


Aham Kraturaham yajnaha swadhahamahamaushadham

Mantrohamahamevajyamahamagniraham hutam.


(I the oblation; I the sacrifice; I the ancestral offering; I the fire-giving herb; the mantram I; I also the butter; I the fire; the burnt-offering I.) 74


It is interesting to note that this Hindu view of man’s relation to God has influenced directly or indirectly human thought, and kindled the imagination of poets, in other parts of the world. Omar Khayyam, the Persian philosopher and poet, discusses the comparison of the Creator to the potter in all its aspects and cuts the Gordian Knot by asking, “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?” Emerson, the American writer and thinker, believes that the slayer and the slain are not two distinct creatures but are only two phases of the Eternal Spirit:


They reckon ill who leave me out;

When me they fly, I am the wings;

I am the doubter and the doubt,

And I the hymn the Brahmin sings. 75


According to Swinburne, ‘He is both the doer and the deed, the sower and the seed; he is stricken and he is the blow.’ Another English poet calls him ‘maker and breaker, the ebb and the flood, Here and Hereafter’.76 The same mystical conception of God in relation to man and the universe is found in a nice little piece by a poet of the Irish Renaissance who is in many ways Indian in sentiment and thought. Here he tells us how he wanted to know Immortal Truth and to find ‘the secret of the skies and healing for life’s smart’. He made various attempts and travelled a good deal. He scaled high Heaven; he stormed the gates of Hell but her he never found:


Till thro’ the tumults of my Quest I caught

A whisper: ‘Here, within thy heart,

I dwell; for I am thou: behold, thou art

The Seeker-and the Sought.’ 77




An account of mysticism would be incomplete without a reference to the mystic’s love of symbols. The mystic who has a passion for God, curiously enough, often expresses his ideas or emotions by indirect suggestion rather than in a plain and direct manner. A desire to attach peculiar meaning to natural objects or facts and particular words or sounds is common. For instance, the word Om is particularly Sacred to the Hindus and has to them a mystic power. Symbolist poetry is often obscure and ‘hard-headed realists think symbolism a terrible evil’. 78 The mystic79 on


A poem is a mystery whose key the reader must seek. Three-quarters of the enjoyment of a poem lies in the pleasure of guessing little by little.


According to ‘A. E.,’ the Irish poet, symbolism is ‘clothing the vast with a familiar face’. It is, in a way, knowing the abstract with the help of the concrete. He says:


We rise, but by the symbol charioted,

Through loved things rising up to Love’s own ways:

By these the soul unto the vast has wings

And sets the seal celestial on all mortal things. 80


In the Bhagavata-Purana, the Gajendramokshanam (The Episode of the Elephant and how he was saved) is highly instructive. An elephant, who was the uncrowned king of the forest, and was a little too conscious of his strength, entered a lake to quench his thirst and a crocodile caught hold of his legs, and they struggled and struggled for a thousand years, till at last the former in a completely exhausted condition made this appeal to Vishnu, the Ruler of the Universe:


There is not an atom of strength in me. Courage and endurance have been completely shattered. The breath of life is about to expire. The limbs are exhausted and I begin to faint. Great Master, forgive this poor mortal. All my life I have believed in none other than Thee. Thou art my only help. Come, Generous Lord, and save me from destruction. 81


He prayed and prayed and concentrating his attention on God and forgetting everything else, like a Yogi lost in meditation, called Upon Him to rescue the helpless creature from utter annihilation. The Episode, which is full of devotional poetry of the loftiest type, seems to symbolise the human soul struggling with Evil and making an effort to be free and the Veyisamvatsaramulu (a thousand years) during which the conflict was on is an indefinite period and simply means ‘since the beginning of time’. If to the author of the Gajendramokshanam God is the saviour of the human being and his only hope to Browning he is the Potter who handles the clay of the human soul and gives it shape. It may be argued that ‘since life fleets, all is change’. But the poet-philosopher points out:


Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:

Time’s wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure. 82


To some poets the simple arts of weaving and spinning have a lot of significance. Alfred Noyes sees in the Creator the image of the weaver:


In the light of the silent stars that shine on the struggling sea,

In the weary cry of the wind and whisper of flower and tree,

Under the breath of laughter, deep in the tide of tears,

I hear the Loom of the Weaver that weaves the Web of Years.


In the opinion of Dowden, to spin is to know the secret of the universe. The poet gives us an account of his experience:


I spin, I spin, around, around,

And close my eyes;

Then gaze upon the world; how strange! how new!

The earth and heaven are one,

The horizon-line is gone.


This, the spinner thinks,


This is the sole true mode

Of reaching God,

And gaining the universal synthesis

Which makes All-One.




As all things spin

Without, within,

As Time spins off into Eternity,

And Space into the inane Immensity,

And the Finite into God’s Infinity,


his advice to mankind is:


Spin, spin, spin, spin. 83


No wonder that our great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, believes in spinning and exhorts the high and the low to do a minimum amount of spinning every day. Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven is another illustration of symbolic poetry. The poet describes how he tried his very best to run away from God but could not escape:


From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.


He made every effort to shield himself from ‘this tremendous Lover’, for he was afraid.


Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.


But his attempts were of no avail and he was overtaken at the end of a long pursuit. Man, lost in worldly pleasures, wants to flee away from God; but he is eventually won over and his eyes are opened to Reality, as when the Voice says:


Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He Whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.


Whitman’s Passage to India is another stimulating poem in which we find a description of the advantages of the soul in search of ‘primal thought’, a voyage upon ‘the seas of God’.


To reason’s early paradise,

Back, back to wisdom’s birth, to innocent intuitions.


The poet will undertake the journey singing the song of God and chanting the chant of exploration. Like Vasco de Gama who doubled the Cape of Good Hope in the XV century, he will sail but on ‘waves of ecstasy’ to find the Elder Brother and to bring about the marriage of continents. And his enthusiasm for the voyage is so great that he exhorts his soul thus:


Passage to more than India!

Are thy wings plumed indeed for such far flights?

O soul, voyagest thou on voyages like those?

Disportest thou on waters such as those?

Soundest below the Sanskrit and the Vedas?

Then have they bent unleash’d.




Several poets of the East and West have looked upon God as the Divine Spouse and, according to Coventry Patmore, ‘the relation of the soul to Christ as his betrothed wife is a mine of undiscovered joy and power.’ God is the Heavenly Bridegroom and the human soul is the bride.84 Poet Jayadev 85 sees in the supreme Ruler of the Universe the Eternal Lover and in his Gita-Govinda he gives us a most poetical rendering of the love of Radha (the Milkmaid) and Krishna (the Cowherd). In their passionate attachment to each other and their rapturous union, we may read the longing of the earth to meet the sky, of the Prakriti to be joined to the Purusha, of the Finite to be absorbed into the Infinite, or of the soul to be united with the ‘Oversoul’. And the reciprocation of that love by Krishna, his eagerness to meet Radha, his disappointment in not finding her, and the indescribable bliss he enjoys in her company, all go to point to God taking sometimes the shape of the Lover and sometimes that of the Woman who loves and is loved. Thus,


This little germ of nuptial Love,

Which springs so simply from the sod,

The root is, as my song shall prove,

Of all our love to man and God. 86


The worship of Siva as Ardhanarisa by many people in our country is significant. ‘Ardhanari’ means’ Half-woman’ and it is one of the forms of Maheswar who is represented as half-male and half-female. It symbolises the Supreme Creator as a combination of the masculine and feminine forces of the world, and their union is such that they can never be separated. So Poet Kalidas, in the opening Sloka of one of his Kavyas, offers his salutations to Parvati and Parameswar, the Parents of the universe, who are for ever united (in one body) like the word and its meaning. 87 The conception of God as the Divine Mother has made a special appeal to mystics like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. To them, the mother is the dearest thing in the world and the most sacred. She is all love and as such represents God who assumes that sweet shape. True, there are some who think woman is inferior to man, but here is a poet who voices the feelings of those that challenge that view:


I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,

And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,

And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men. 88


Numerous saints and Bhaktas of the South have expressed, through the medium of song 89 their enthusiasm for God as Mother. Their songs, composed in Sanskrit or Telugu, are exquisite not only as musical pieces but also as devotional poetry. Whether it be Rajarajeswari (Supreme Queen) of Sivaganga, Dharmasamvardhani (Promoter of Dharma) of Tiruvoiyar, Meenakshi (Fish-eyed Goddess) of Madura, Kamakshi (Wanton-eyed Goddess) of Kanchi, Sugandhikuntala (The lady with fragrant hair) of Trichinopoly, Phaladambika 90 (the Mother who gives what we want) of Varshapuri, she is the joy of man, the Saviour of the fallen, the origin of things, the sacred word, Om Impersonate. To Mrs. Naidu she is Kali the Mother, ‘the Terrible and tender and divine’. She is the mystic mother of all sacrifice, and it is to her that we take not only basil leaves and saffron rice but also all gifts of life and death, all gladness and all grief. One of the Bhaktas is so deeply attached to the Universal Mother that he prays:

Yadisyam tava putroham mata tvam yadi mamakee

Daya payodharastanyasudhabhirabhirabhishincha mam.


(If I be Thy son and Thou my Mother, drench me with the milk of thy love);


and Sankara’s one desire in life is this:


Yatraiva yatraiva manomadiyam tatraiva tatraiva tava svarupam

Yatraiva yatraiva siromadiyam tatraiva tatraiva padadvayam te.


(Wherever, wherever be my mind, there, may there be Thy form; wherever, wherever be my head, there, may there be Thy feet.)


Sri Aurobindo, the mystic of mystics, is also a devout worshipper of God as Mother. He thinks The Spirit that rules the world is Shakti, and, if we want to invoke her help, there must be a total and sincere and unreserved surrender on our part. This Force or Mahashakti has four aspects or four outstanding Personalities. She is firstly Maheswari representing wisdom and benignity. Secondly, she is Mahakali who stands for titanic energy, strong will and determination. Thirdly, she is Mahalakshmi full of charm and beauty, conferring upon mankind all that constitutes happiness in life. She is lastly Mahasaraswati taking interest in work, patient toil and thoroughness in whatever one does: Thus the Mahashakti is a combination of wisdom, strength, harmony and perfection, and. it is only our selfless devotion to her that can bring down into this world of sin and suffering, Truth, Light and Ananda. 91 In Dante’s love for Beatrice we find a relationship which is unique. This beautiful angel, this ‘glorious lady of my soul’ as the poet describes her in his Vita Nuova, was first seen by him in Florence when he was nine years old and she of about the same age. When he saw her for a second time, ten years later, she was passing along the street, and he was ‘thrilled through and through with awe’ when she turned her eyes towards the spot where he was standing. It was a curious love affair, for they never talked to each other and she married someone else. When Beatrice appears again in the Divine Comedy, she is the ‘Sacred Lamp,’ the ‘Splendour’ and the ‘Sacred Light Eternal’. She is the poet’s heavenly conductress’, ‘his sweet and precious guide’ clearing his doubts and helping him to ascend higher and higher, and the nature of the guidance can be gathered from the poet’s own words:


Astounded, to the guardian of my steps

I turned me, like the child, who always runs

Thither for succour, where he trusteth most:

And she was like the mother, who her Son

Beholding pale and breathless, with her voice

Soothes him, and he is cheered. 92.


Whether Beatrice was a real woman, or ‘a mystically exalted ideal of womanhood,’ or heavenly wisdom, the lines,


            With Beatrice, I thus gloriously

Was raised aloft, and made the guest of heaven,


are symbolical of the relations between man and woman and the nature of the debt the former owes to the latter. Lastly, there is one more of our human relationships which has fired the imagination of poets and mystics, and that is the love of the mother for the child. The child is the solace of the parents, the delight of one and all and the image of God, and a good deal of the poetry of childhood for which Indian literature is famous centres round Sri Krishna. That there can be nothing more touching than a mother’s affection for the child can be illustrated from one episode in Krishna’s life. To be saved from the wickedness of his uncle, the little child had, as soon as born, to be sent away from the place of his birth to Vrepalle to be brought up by Nanda and Yasoda. When however he returned, some years later, to his original paternal home, knowing how his foster-parents would miss him, he asked one of his friends, Uddhav, to convey to his father and mother his affectionate greetings and give his old play fellows, the cowherds and the milkmaids, his love. The moment the messenger arrived, they all gathered round him, and Nanda not only extended a most hearty welcome but also put a hundred questions to the guest. “Sweet Friend, does Krishna keep fit? Does he ever remember us, his father and mother? Do the cows, the forest lands, the river banks, the playground and his old friends, the boys and girls of this village, ever come back to his mind? Is he likely to visit us at any time, and is there any chance of our having a look at his lovely face before we die?” As the husband was making these enquiries and describing, in a voice almost choked, how his beloved son had talked and how he had played, how he had cried and how he had smiled, Yasoda was overpowered by love and overwhelmed with grief; and,


Chanumonala balu guriyaga ganugonalanu

jalamulolukaga beggaliyen. 93


‘as’ from out of the nipples of her breasts flowed the motherly milk and from out of the corners of her eyes flowed the parental tears, sat there like one who was beside oneself.’ The strength of the bond between the mother and the child, the sweetness of that affection and the poignancy of the separation cannot be easily measured. In Tagore’s Crescent Moon there is a conversation between the child and its mother. “Where have I come from, where did you pick me up?” the baby asked its mother and the latter answered:


You were hidden in my heart, as its desire, my darling.

You were enshrined with our household deity; in his worship

I worshipped you.

In all my hopes and my loves, in my life, in the life of my mother you have lived.

In the lap of the deathless Spirit who rules our home you have been nursed for ages.


The child being an embodiment of heavenly qualities, poets and sages have seen in him something more than ‘a six years’ darling of a pigmy size’. He is,


Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,–

Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!

On whom those truths do rest

Which we are toiling all Our lives to find. 94


To ‘A. E.’, Sri Krishna, ‘the little heavenly runaway’ 95 is the King of Kings, the Light of Lights. For the parents as well as for most of the others, Krishna was a sweet and mischievous little boy, but the poet adds:


The mother laughed upon the child made gay by its ecstatic morn,

And yet the sages spake of It as of the Ancient and Unborn.

Narayanatirtha, author of Sri Krisknaleelatarangini, a series of songs omposed in Sanskrit, gives us a picture of Balakrishna (boy-Krishna) dancing and singing before him in his song,


Krisknam Kalaya saki sundaram

Bala Krisknam Kalaya salcki sundaram.


Friend, mark, mark that lovely Krishna! Note how charming that Balakrishna looks!

Control over worldly desires, Cause of all that is, Conquest of demon-hosts, see, see there in the form of a little boy!


Wisdom personified, the shore for this ocean of human miseries, the essence of all the Vedas, the hope of all Yogis, see, see there in the shape of that attractive little boy!


The wealth of the world, the destruction of all evil, the hope, bliss and salvation of Narayanatirtha, see, see there transformed into that angelic little boy!


Thus God as the Eternal Lover, the Eternal Spouse, the Eternal Mother, or the Eternal Child has inspired the poets of the world who, thanks to their deep love and intense devotion and the sweetness of this relationship, have reached mystic heights and realised God. But which of these is the Sweetest and most delicious of human relationships, who can tell?




Thus the mystic is a devotee of God aspiring for communion with Him. He is a dreamer of dreams. He sees unity in diversity and recognises the Imperishable Presence in every object in the universe. He loves all creatures and shares the sentiments of the great bhakta 96 who had said:


Mata cha Parvati devi pita devo Maheswaraha

Bandhavaha Sivabhaktascha swadeso bhuvanatrayam.


(My mother is Parvati, the Universal Mother; my father is Maheswar, the Supreme Lord; worshippers of the Lord are my kinsmen; the Universe is my native land.)


And many of the great poets of the world have been mystics calling our attention to God from time to time, and advising us to have ‘less speed and more soul’… It may be, remembered here that a mystic need not necessarily cut himself off from human life. He may be a family man like any one else. As Sri Ramakrishna says, the boat may be in the water but the water must not get into the boat. A devotee of God may be in the world but worldliness must not get the upper hand of him. But people often ask, ‘Is not mysticism a thing of the past? Can you interpret mystical experience in terms of science? How is it that the average man is utterly innocent of this intuition or illumination, these visions and strange forms of experiance and insight?’ The answer to it would be that experience is something personal and, as someone put it, to the common man mysticism is as much a puzzle as the rope-trick! The fact that Gandhi belongs to our century is proof positive that the age of mystics is not gone. But what Tennyson said a hundred years ago about the mystics is applicable today to our relations with him:


Angels have talked with him, and showed him thrones:

Ye knew him not: he was not one of ye,

Ye scorned him with an undiscerning scorn;

Ye could not read the marvel in his eye,

The still serene abstraction.


This is as it should be, for,


How could ye know him? Ye were yet within

The narrower circle; he had well nigh reached

The last. 97


A story is given of a simple woman who, some years back, was a worshipper at the temple of Girigopal (The Cowherd of the Hill) at Ummidi in the Godavari District of the Andhra country. She had come from somewhere and the Darshan (seeing and offering her worship to the Deity) was the only thing in which she was interested. She was a peculiar person who was ‘in the habit of crying out in the night, laughing and chattering in her sleep’. She was left unnoticed till on a particularly sacred day, when the temple worship was going on in all its elaborateness and solemnity, the woman was so affected by the atmosphere that she began to sing:


Sarasamuladetanduku Samayamidi Kadura na sami. 97


(Is this the time for romance and love-making, My Lord, is this the time for pleasantries and love-overtures, my master?)


A song, the favourite of nautch-girls, to be sung on the temple premises on the holiest of days! Needless to say how shocking it was to the priest and authorities of the temple, and how big the stick was with which the poor woman was beaten. The next day something strange happened. ‘It is the latest miracle, and, as miracles go, the most authentic.’ It was Janmashtami and at midnight, the hour of the birth of the Lord, there came from the outer side of the temple wall, sung in a most beautiful voice, the words of the song,


Nanupalimpa nadachivacchitivo na prananattha ...


(Hast thou come walking all the way to bless me, Lord of my heart, hast thou come walking all the way to save me?)


The music was so enchanting that the inmates of the temple could not help coming out to see what it was. And what did they see? The woman in a sitting posture with flowers in her hands, and a boy of fourteen, blue in colour, of wonderful grace and with a flute to his lips, standing beside her. The first man that noted it cried ‘Gopal!’ and before the others could get a reply to their question’ ‘Where?’, the boy disappeared and the woman was dead.98 Coming to the problem of explaining such experience with the help of logic, reason or science, one might say with Venkataramani, “You can never know the truths of life with the help of the mind, as the ancients say, but only with the eye of faith. Peace comes not from probings, nor from protests, not from preaching, but from surrender and detached work that is dedicated to the will of God.” 99 That the reasoning faculty is not always a sure guide in enabling us to grasp the ultimate things of life or in interpreting the mystic’s experience with regard to God is supported by Sir A. S. Eddington, one of the greatest scientists of the present century, He says in the course of a discussion on mystical religion:


The materialist who is convinced that all phenomena arise from electrons and quanta and the like controlled by mathematical formulae, must presumably hold the belief that his wife is a rather elaborate differential equation; but he is probably tactful enough not to obtrude this opinion in domestic life. If this kind of scientific dissection is felt to be inadequate and irrelevant in ordinary personal relationships, it is surely out of place in the most personal relationship of all, that of the human soul to the divine spirit. 100


While the supremacy of science is still acknowledged, the people of the West–at least some of them–seem to realise that the rational study of things has not given man the happiness he had looked for, and ‘it is as though the world were undergoing a spiritual revitalisation, spurring it on to experience–even through destruction and death–a further measure of Reality and Truth.’ 101


That this change in outlook is to be seen in poetry and the other creative activities of the mind as well, can be gathered from the statement that follows. ‘Another way is discovered which opens up virgin territories, in which abundant wealth lies hidden...The rights of intuition are proclaimed; mysticism revives in all its forms...and all these readily contribute to the making of a new Romanticism.’ 102 Now coming to the third question, why this mystical experience is not shared by everybody, the answer is fairly simple. All people are not on the same level with regard to anything in life. Leaving political rights and democracy apart, that all people should or could think alike or feel alike is asking for too much. In the field of imagination and in the matter of capacity for emotion, there is difference between the ordinary man and the exceptional being. There are of course those who go to the other extreme and say, ‘It (mysticism) has a corner in every heart and an appeal to every mind, for there is none among us who at one time in his life or the other, has not, in the course of his mental or spiritual adventures, experienced its charms.’ 103 Coming as this does from one who was a statesman and who spent most of his life in handling facts and figures in the Finance Department, it has a special interest to us. But even here it is clearly pointed out that it is only those who pass through ‘mental or spiritual adventures’ that are likely to taste the sweets of mystical experience. The others who lead prosaic and dull lives remain untouched. The average man is not expected to have those emotional thrills that are enjoyed by the mystic, but he undoubtedly feels all the better for having come into contact with one of such lofty souls. Also, however rich or poor, cultured or ignorant, happy or unhappy we may be, there will come to some of us some rare moments in which we exclaim, like the conventionist in Victor Hugo’s novel,


O thou! O ideal! thou alone dost exist!” .



1 A lecture delivered before the Poetry Society (Hyderabad Centre) on Novomber 18, 1943, at the residence of Prince Basalatjah Bahadur.

2 Middleton Murry (The Aryan Path, February 1930).

3 A. Hamilton Thompson: The Mystical Element in English Poetry (Essays and Studies VIII).

4 Lt. Col. Elliot.

5 Official head of religion and expounder of Muslim Law in Turkey.

6 Gibbs: Ottoman Poetry, Vol. III.

7 Modern Mystics.

8 The Coming of Karuna (P. 87 and P. 88).

9 The Oxford English Dictionary.

10 From the Upanishads.

11 Shri Purohit Swami: The Song of Silence (8).

12 Dinesh Chandra Sen: Chaitanya and His Comapnions (P. 14).

13 The Rt. Hon’ble V. S. Sastri’s Address at Annamalai University, (March 1, 1936).

14 Leonard Woolf: Quack, Quack.

15 Ivor Brown in The Manchester Guardian, (March, 1937).

16 Mahendranath Sarkar.

17 The Idealist View of Life, P. 142.

18 The Idealist View of Life, P. 89

19 Address delivered at the Benares University, (1916).

20 The Sri Krishna Rajendra Silver Jubilee Lecture delivered at the Mysore University on

October 10, 1935.

21 Essay on Milton.

22 Gitanjali (Macmillan & Co.,) P. vii-viii

23 A boy-devotee mentioned in the Bhagavata-Purana.

24 Tr. of the Telugu verse, Paniyambulu dravuchun in Andhra Bhagavatam, Section VII.

25 From the Upanishads.

26 Vallabhacharya (1479-1531).

27 M. K. Gandhi: Songs from Prison. P. 64.

28 Introversion: Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, Page 526.

29 G. Herbert: Clasping of Hands. Page 28.

30 Hanuman is supposed to have had the shape of a monkey.

31 Son of the god of the wind.

32 J. C. Mangan: S. Patrick’s Hymn before Tara. (Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Page 136.)

33 1764–1847.

34 Tr. of the song Ninuvina na madiyendu.

35 Tr. of the Telugu verse Kamalakshu narchichu.

36 Gandhi’s message to the American nation.

37 Tennyson’s Sir Galahad.

38 Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

39 Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.

40 The verse Sreevallabhudu dannu jerina . . . in Andhra Bhagavatamu, Section VII.

41 The verse Vaikuntthachintavarjitacheshtudai . . . in Andhra Bhagavatamu, Section VII.

42 Young husband: Modern Mystics.

43 Congregational singing and worship.

44 D. C. Sen: Chaitanya and His Companionship, P. 159.

45 Radhapunatu . . . in Sree Krishna Karnamrutam.

46 M. Macnicol: Poems by Indian Women, P. 59.

47 Easter-Day.  

48 Annie Beasent: The Bhagavad Gita X-30.

49 Annie Beasent: The Bhagavad Gita X-31.

50 Blackie.

51 Blackie: Trimurti.

52 Who.

53 Tr. of a Telugu verse Anuvunayandu . . . by C. Lakshminarasimham of Rajamundry.

54 Aurora Leigh.

55 The Task.

56 Tintern Abbey.

57 The Invitation.

58 Sartor Resartus, Chapter VII.

59 Address delivered at the Benares University in 1916.

60 Annie Besant: The Bhagavad-Gita Gita (VI-30).

61 Gulraj: Sind and its Sufis.

62 Anandaghan (Songs from Prison, P.121).

63 Immanence.

64 Gitanjali.

65 Annie Besant: The Bhagavad-Gita X (20).

66 Gandhi: Songs from Prison (P. 42).

67 Sarojini Naidu: The Soul’s Prayer.

68 Andhra Bhagavatamu (X-1447).

69 Thomas Traherne. A Hymn upon St. Bartholomew’s Day.

70 Annie Besant: The Bhagavad-Gita (VI-29).

71 Songs from Prison, (P. 95),

72 The Persian Mystics I.

73 Samuel Waddington: A Persian Apologue.

74 Annie Besant: The Bhagavad-Gita IX-16.

75 Brahma.

76 W. E. Henley: I am the Reaper.

77 James H. Cousins: The Quest.

78 From The Poetry Review (Sept.-Oct., 1940).

79 Mellarme (From The Hindu, June 20,1937).

80 Symbolism.

81 The Telugu verse Lavokkintayuledu.

82 Rabbi Ben Ezra.

83 The Secret of the Universe.

84 Henry Vaughan’s The World, Tennyson’s St. Agnes’ Eve, and Patmore’s The Cry at Midnight.

85 A Sanskrit poet of the 11th century A.D.

86 Coventry Patmoro: Love Justified.

87 Vagardhavivasamprktau.

88 Walt Whitman: Song of Myself.

89 Cp. songs like Sivaganganagaranivasini, Dharmasamvardhani Mayamma, Needucharanapankaja, Kanjadalayatakshi, Neemadichallaga, Nityakalyani.

90 Cp. Sreephaladambika, a tribute paid by Kotcherlakota Ramaraju Pantulu to this goddess popularly known as Pallalamma of Vanapalle in the Godavari District.

91 The Mother.

92 Dante: The Vision (Paradise, Canto XXII)

93 Andhra Bhagavatamu, Section X.

94 Wordsworth: Intimations of Immortality.

95 Krishna.

95 Shankaracharya.

96 The Mystic.

97 A Telugu song,

98 B. R. Kabad ‘Miracle at Ummidi’, The Hindu, 28th August, 1938.

99 Illumination.

100 Gifford Lectures, 1927.

101 The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, Page vi.

102 Legouis and Cazamian. A History of English Literature. (Page 1,220).

103 The late Rt. Hon’ble Sir Akbar Hydari’s speech at the All-India Philosophical Congress in 1939.