The death anniversary of the high priestess of love, Amrita Pritam (1919-2005), falls on October 31. My deliberations draw on her dream sequences which, neatly poised to launch ‘the soul’s worship’, hold out the possibility of the renewed evolution of human consciousness. Here, I have in mind her significant works of mystical and esoteric expressions like ‘Lal Dhage Da Rishta’ (1989), ‘Hujre Di Mitti’ (1991), ‘Aksharon Ki Antardhvani’ (1990), ‘Sitaron Ke Akshar aur Kirnon ki Bhasha’ (1987), and ‘Akshar Kundali’ (1997).
Discerning readers will recall the visionary poet’s radical worldview where religion is not a ritualistic grammar dictated by an unquestioned allegiance to sacred texts but a redemptive, introspective journey nudged by the unalloyed desire to transform one’s inner soulscape. It is the religion of the soul in Amrita’s thought process that exudes an abiding impact to contest one’s conditioning for a paradigm shift in one’s attitude to life and living. Her manifesto of humanism, where love is therapeutic and transformative, appealed to me immensely when I discovered her soulful writings alongside Tagore and Whitman during my university days at Santiniketan.
What added to my immersive reading of Amrita was the eclectic scholarship of my teacher’s steady diet of works from a galaxy of thinkers — Sri Aurobindo, Blake, and Yeats. I began to echo Amrita’s quest: can we conceive of a world where the truth of religion elicits values of different faith communities? The forward-looking vision of Amrita is a devotee’s compelling call for a sense of self against a world where imperviousness to religious pluralism is a pervasive reality, where human consciousness muddles through in futility, and where the eternal quest for the sublime is blighted by the empty rhetoric of bloated egoism. Against this spiritual slumber, exacerbated by the hubris of all-encompassing ‘I’, what accords significance to Amirta’s dream sequences is the prophetic nature of her illuminating and metaphysical epigrams induced by her inner search with its haloed specificity that bursts forth with what Evelyn Underhill calls ‘Illumination’.
The world of literature will be impoverished without the enduring beauty of Amrita’s dream sequences. One feels the primordial pain of longing for love, peace, and harmony in her mystical musings. One detects the spiritual expansiveness, at times waxing euphoric of the fullness of personal quest. Love becomes a healing reversal of hatred, animosity, and death. In her dream sequences, one encounters an aspirant’s paradisiacal flight in the wake of the collapse of a world imprisoned in pathological narcissism and the psyche’s capriciousness. Amrita’s words are cathartic to counter what is anti-life and anti-humanity and reaffirm the omnipotence of love. Her love is her ‘first religion’ as she uniquely underpins: “When I draped myself with your being/ Our bodies were turned within in meditation. / Then our limbs entwined like flowers in a garland/ As an offering at the altar of the soul.”
Amrita’s dream sequences, painfully salvaged from the wreckage of a love-less world, echo and ratify what she offers as a universal anodyne — ‘Rajnessh Chetna’(Rajneesh Consciousness) to herald the children of a new dawn and kindle “deh ke mandir mein aatma ka diya” (the lamp of the soul in the temple of the body). Here in Amrita’s world, love is truth, truth love! It is the benediction of love that sees everything in the light of grace. Amrita recalls Mirra Alfassa (The Mother) who writes to a boy with freckles: “You are beautiful, yes indeed, your freckles are so pretty; one would say that an angel had sown grains of wheat all over your face so as to attract the birds of the sky there.” Does it not call to mind Amrita’s passion for love where love is the clarity of a living consciousness?
Amrita, in her search for the “infinite Ideal of Man”, to quote Tagore, is a true mystic who is soaked in the grace of sublime knowledge where “there is no mystery beyond the present, no striving for the impossible, no shadow behind the charm, no grasping, in the depth of the dark.” (S Radhakrishnan)
I ask myself: Who is Amrita? I am reminded of the exchange of dialogue, to borrow the lines from Eknath Easwaran :
“Are you a God now?”
Quietly, he made an answer. “No.”
“Well, are you an angel?”
“Then what are you?”
To invoke the spirit of ‘Awake’ is to consider the value of Amrita’s dream sequences, both enchanting and enlightening, in greater depth to unravel deeper insights into humanity’s relationship with love and its vanishing landscape. To cite an analogy, the timelessness of Amrita’s eidetic vision is like the ‘Aging Maria’ and I am tempted to quote the soul-stirring words of Judith Ortiz Cofer: “Still, year after year, she stands firm in my mother’s garden. In crepuscular light, her still regal form acquires a certain luster, the yellow patina of age briefly turning to a luminous gold, as though she were lit, as she is, from within.”
(Sudeep Ghosh is an independent writer based in Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal.)