Indian Poetry:”A low temple” -by Arun Kolatkar

A low temple keeps its gods in the dark.
You lend a matchbox to the priest.
One by one the gods come to light.
Amused bronze. Smiling stone. Unsurprised.
For a moment the length of a matchstick
gesture after gesture revives and dies.
Stance after lost stance is found
and lost again.
Who was that, you ask.
The eight arm goddess, the priest replies.
A sceptic match coughs.
You can count.
But she has eighteen, you protest.
All the same she is still an eight arm goddess to the priest.
You come out in the sun and light a charminar.
Children play on the back of the twenty foot tortoise.

A forgotten poet ? It looks like he has not received the recognition due to him. The poem is a personal experience .Two images stand out.The temple is situated in a low level ,probably in a cave which is unlit and and devotees are shown the deity by the priest with the light of a matchstick.One by one the Gods come to light is a beautiful visual exploration of the inner space of the temple as the matchstick’s flame expands and widens the visibilty area. As the matchstick gets smaller and smaller the visibility will go on getting less and less until another stick is lighted up and takes over the darkness.

The second image is the twenty feet high tortoise on which children play .The significance of the image can be understood only if the religious importance of the tortoise is understood as a symbol of Lord Vishnu’s Kurma (tortoise) avatar and children are playing on the stone image as though it is another plaything .The poet’s attitude towards the religious experience is already evident from the flippancy of his disputing the number of arms of the Mother Goddess and the way the “sceptic match coughs” .Now when he lights the Charminar cigarette with the same matchstick which had dispelled the darkness of the temple earlier it is only natural that he will see children playing on the stone tortoise which is worshipped by people as Vishnu.A beautiful poem.

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