Daulatrām Plays Holī: Digambar Bhakti Songs of Springtime

Posted: 07.12.2016
Updated on: 08.03.2017

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London


Everyone observes Holī in north India, as it is a festival that emphasizes the forgiveness of past faults and the creation of bonds with friends and neighbors. Jains are among those who participate in Holī, but some of the customs of the holiday create problems for those who more closely observe orthodox Jain ethical norms. For example, the bonfires that symbolize the burning of the demoness Holikā are considered by some Jains as acts of violence that violate the ethic of ahiṃsā. Dhuleṇḍī, the well-known day when everyone plays with colored powders and liquids, contravenes both the Jain sense of decorum, and the religious emphasis on equanimity and restraint (saṃyam). Many people on the morning of throwing colors also indulge in a glass of bhāṅg, a beverage made of milk and marijuana. The resulting intoxication is clearly opposed to equanimity and mindfulness. Everything about Holī—the colors, the food, the music—celebrates the body and the senses, and so goes against an orthodox Jain emphasis on bodily and sensory restraint.

In response to these troubling aspects of Holī, Digambar poets in north India from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries composed a distinctively Jain genre of Holī songs that emphasized a spiritual (adhyātmik) understanding in contrast to the wider sensual and even erotic (śṛṅgārparak) experience of the festival. Vaiṣṇava poets in this period also composed hundreds of songs that played on the dramatic tension between love in separation and love in union in the Basant and Phaguā genres. The heroine Rādhā, longing for her lover Kṛṣṇa, stood for the individual soul longing for union with God. Jain poets also played on this theme of separation and union. In the Jain case, the spiritual aspirant starts separated from his true being—his soul (ātmā)—and must overcome obstacles of ignorance and bad actions to achieve union with his true self. Nearly every one of the many Jain poets of this period composed alternative Jain Holī songs. In this short research report, I present the two Holī songs by Daulatrām, a Digambar poet.[1]

Even though he lived only two centuries ago, and his compositions are still widely sung and read by north Indian Digambar Jains today, relatively little is known about Daulatrām. According to Vīrsāgar Jain, he was born in VS 1855 or 1856 (CE 1798 or 1799) in Sasni, a village between Aligarh and Hathras, north of Agra.[2] His father Ṭoḍarmal and paternal uncle Cunnīlāl ran a cloth business in Hathras. He was married into a family from Aligarh, and had two sons. One of them later moved to Lashkar, near Gwalior. Daulatrām went into the family cloth business, but also spent time studying texts on Digambar philosophy and spirituality. He shifted to Aligarh, and started a cloth-printing business. Still later he moved to Delhi, where he spent the remainder of his life. In one of his hymns he eulogized the pilgrimage shrine of Sammed Śikhar in eastern India, saying that he had participated in a pilgrimage there in CE 1844.[3] He died by the rite of samādhi-maraṇa in CE 1866.

Daulatrām composed two texts, both in the vernacular.  His language was a mix of the Braj-bhāṣā that was still the preferred medium for poetic composition in north India during this time, and the Khaṛī-bolī that was rising in popularity, and was more commonly spoken in the area where Daulatrām lived. His Chahaḍhālā (Six Shields), written in 1834, is an oft-reprinted summary of Jain doctrine. Daulatrām also composed 124 short independent hymns, in the genre known as pad. These were collected into a text known as Daulat Vilās (The Sport of Daulat). He composed hymns on all of the various themes to which the poets of the north Indian Digambar tradition addressed themselves in the period between the mid-seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Among these was Holī (or, as spelled and pronounced in Brajbhāṣā, Horī).

Jain poets from the time of Banārsīdās (1586-1643) had composed poems on Holī that were based on a shared allegory. The explicit eroticism of Holī songs was rejected by Jain poets. Instead, they created an allegorical drama. The male hero was consciousness, a defining characteristic of the soul, and therefore the soul itself.  It was personified as Cetan or Cetan Rāy, 'King Consciousness '. If a person's consciousness focuses on virtues, one can advance on the spiritual path to union with the soul. On the other hand, if one's consciousness is distracted by all the physical  and  emotional temptations of the  material world, one inevitably will remain separated from the soul and fall into increased suffering. These two alternatives were personified in the drama as Cetan's two co-wives, Sumati, 'Good Intention', and Kumati, 'Bad Intention '.

The Digambar poets allegorized the many features of Holī—the burning of Holikā and the resulting ashes, the play of color with liquids and dry powders, the sharing of dried fruits, the many songs of the festival—as depicting the need for Cetan to reject Kumati and follow Sumati.  The poets did not work from a single, shared allegory

Each poet used his inventiveness to shape the allegory in a distinctive way. Part of the enjoyment of the listeners would be to appreciate how a particular poet improvised on the broader, shared themes, just as a connoisseur of north Indian music appreciates how any given singer improvises on the well-known traditional rāga.

Cetan did not appear explicitly in either of Daulatrām's two Holī songs. But Sumati and Kumati did, as competing co-wives. Instead of discussing Cetan in the third person, Daulatrām in one song directly addressed the listener, and put him in the place of Cetan. In the other poem, he placed himself in the role of Cetan.

The allegorical competition between Sumati and Kumati was sufficiently evocative of the fundamentals of the Jain path to liberation that Daulatrām and other Digambar poets referred to  the  heroine  and anti-heroine in other songs as well. Cetan also appeared in many poems, either simply as the conscious soul, addressed directly by the poet, or as an allegorized character.  The first of the three songs I translate is an example of a more generalized evocation of Sumati and Kumati.  Daulatrām constructed a simple dualism between bad and good, contrasting the virtues of Sumati with the vices of Kumati.

In the other two songs translated below, Daulatrām allegorized Holī. In the first of them, he allegorized the music of Holī to the practice of Yoga, to indicate how one should gain control over the body. He used the generic technical language of yoga common to spiritual practitioners throughout north India. He urged the seeker to make the body itself the song. The rhythm (tāl) is kumbhak. The drum (mṛdaṅg) is pūrak. The lute or veena (bīn) is recak. These   three   technical terms are     three  stages in prāṇāyāma or yogic breath control. Pūrak ("filling") is the stage of inspiration, in which one fills the lungs with air. Kumbhak ("the pot") is the stage of retention, in which holds the breath in one's lungs and diaphragm.  Recak ("emptying") is the stage of expiration, in which one exhales all the air from one's lungs.[4]

Daulatrām's second Holī song allegorized the features of the festival in three ways. In the first verse, he equated the musical elements with his own mind, body and good intentions, and thus through his very body he sang the praises of the five supreme lords of Jainism: arhat, siddha, ācārya, upādhyāya, and sādhu. In the second verse, he equated the water and saffron that are mixed to squirt on other people with right faith (samakit) and compassion (karunā). The allegorized squirt-gun (pickārī), which squirts faith and compassion instead of colored liquids, is wisdom (jñān). By these means he dowses and thereby subdues his senses with spiritual virtues.  In the third verse, the dried powders that he throws on his companions are the four kinds of donation (dān): shelter, food, medicine and knowledge.[5] The dried fruits that he places in his shoulder-bag are different forms of asceticism (tap), and the bag is his very self (nij). By transforming the physical Holī on the streets of the city into a spiritual Holī in the land of the Jina, Daulatrām was confident that in Phaguā he would find his liberation.

kumati kunāri nahīṃ hai bhalī re (rāg Māṇḍh)[6]

Kumati is an evil woman
she's no good

Sumati is a beautiful woman
she's full of virtue (refrain)

Leave her alone

Stick with her always
you'll find the path
to the land of peace

That one's
a hunchback
she gives only pain

This one's Rādhā
she's the joy
who drives away troubles (1)

That one's Kālī
she's stuck on others
don't count on her
you'll understand nothing

This one's beautiful Gorī
she travels
with the virtues
of wisdom
she always plays
in the land
of her own meditation  (2)

Daul says
O brother

If you go with that one
you'll find yourself
in a bad place
you'll stay forever in an evil womb
where the creeper
of great sorrow blooms

If you go with this one
with those faithful connoisseurs
of the self
you'll never go again  (3)

jñānī aisī holī macāī (rāg Kāfī)[7]

This is how
the wise ones play Holī (refrain)

Do the opposite of what you desire
make the forest your home.
Kumati is attractive
but she's an evil co-wife.
Go naked to stop karma
pay attention
to the difference
of self & other.
Save yourself from dying
from the attractions out there. (1)

Abandon friends like Kumati
meditate on the difference
& become calm.
Raise the song in your body.
Kumbhak is the rhythm
& pūrak the drum
strum the lute of recak.
Experience union. (2)

Count karma as kindling
form and name your foes
& the senses as painful.
Throw them in the fre of penance
& burn them to ashes.
Spread the colors
of the harmful karmas.
This is how you'll meet
your bride of liberation. (3)

It's the Phāg of wisdom
the good time has come.
Show that you're clever.
Daulat says
the guru is kind
to those who suffer
he is merciful.
He explains this to you
don't let it slip your mind. (4)

mero mana aisī khelata horī (rāg Horī, or Kāfī Horī)[8]

This is how
my mind plays Horī (refrain)

I've tuned
the drum
of my mind
I've made
my body
into the tambura
Sumati the sarangi
plays the good colors
My two hands
clap the rhythm
I play the tune
of the fve lords. (1)

I fll it with water
of right faith
mix in the saffron
of compassion
I take the pickārī
made of wisdom
hold it carefully
in my two hands
I soak the fve senses
my companions. (2)

The four kinds of giving

are the red powder

I throw fstful

after fstful

I mix the dried fruits of penance

into the shoulder bag

of my self

I let fly

the red powder of fame.

I play the colors

in the feld of the Jina. (3)

Daul says
May I play Horī
like a child
take away the suffering
of birth after birth
My only shelter
is the blessed Jina
Your glory
pervades the world
In Phaguā
I meet the beautiful bride
of liberation. (4)

Footnotes:
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[3]
[4]
[5]
[6]
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CoJS Newsletter • March 2013 • Issue 8