Still applying tilak1 have turned fifty-three
and worn out are the holes of the rosary.
Exhausted are feet from pilgrimage
but not seen yet the Lord’s visage.
Hearing religious discourses ears burst
Akha, received no enlightenment yet.
Such was the habit of a dunce
worshipped as many gods as stones.
Would start bathing at water’s sight
pluck leaves on seeing tulsi plant2.
This talk of countless gods from whence?
That Akha, is the chief menace.
A fire has erupted in the city -
what danger to those that fly?
Rats poor things make such noise
since no power to fly have those.
What birth’s fear Akha have the wise
whose experience-wing spans the skies?
Trust not the talk of a big-wig
its like drum-beat in a desolate place.
Like sesame seed mingled with kodara grain
the blind congregate in darkness.
Can’t cook gruel nor cook dhani3
says Akha I now fully realize this.
Blind man and his veiled daughter-in-law
such set out for a religious discourse.
Hearing was disconnected from preaching
like eyeliner for eyes rubbed on cheek.
Like a deep well and leaking pail
learning-listening was all worthless.
Body’s vanity weighed a quarter seer4
on getting education it quadrupled to a seer.
During scholarly dispute turned heavier
on becoming a preceptor, weighed much greater.
Akha, if from chaff weight is thus got
then one loses all self-insight.
Wherever one looks one sees deceivers
like owls squatting opposite one another.
If one raises the sun’s topic
the others oppose raising their beak:
‘In darkness we spent a thousand years
how did you turn so wise O youngster?’
Akha, the big people are of such sort
they discard diamond and pick up rock.
As the hunter hides behind foliage
to seize beasts that are unwary
so sheltering behind the Lord are cheats
for gold and women they play their tricks.
Akha, how can a guru ferry you across
whose mentor is a potter and pupils are asses?
1 An auspicious mark made on the forehead by the religiously inclined.
3 Roasted grain
4 A seer is about a kilo
તિલક કરતાં ત્રેપન થયાં, જપમાલાનાં નાકાં ગયાં,
તીરથ ફરી ફરી થાક્યા ચરણ, તોય ન પોહતો હરીને શરણ.
કથા સુણી સુણી ફૂટ્યા કાન, અખા તોય ન આવ્યું બ્રહ્મજ્ઞાન.
એક મૂરખને એવી ટેવ, પથ્થર એટલા પૂજે દેવ,
પાણી દેખી કરે સ્નાન, તુલસી દેખી તોડે પાન.
એ અખા વડું ઉત્પાત, ઘણા પરમેશ્વર એ ક્યાંની વાત?
આવી નગરમાં લાગી લાય, પંખીને શો ધોખો થાય?
ઉંદર બિચારા કરે શોર, જેને નહિ ઊડવાનું જોર.
અખા જ્ઞાની ભવથી કયમ ડરે, જેની અનુભવ-પાંખ આકાશે ફરે?
જોજો રે મોટાના બોલ, ઊજડ ખેડે બાજ્યું ઢોલ,
અંધ અંધ અંધારે મળ્યા, જ્યમ તલમાં કોદરા ભળ્યા;
ન થાયે ઘેંસ કે ન થાય ઘાણી, કહે અખો એ વાત અમે જાણી.
આંધળો સસરો ને સરંગટ વહુ, એમ કથા સાંભળવા ચાલ્યું સહુ,
કહ્યું કાંઈ ને સમજ્યું કશું, આંખનું કાજળ ગાલે ઘસ્યું.
ઊંડો કૂવો ને ફાટી બોક, શીખ્યું સાંભળ્યું સર્વે ફોક.
દેહાભિમાન હૂતો પાશેર, તે વિદ્યા ભણતાં વાધ્યો શેર;
ચર્ચાવાદમાં તોલે થયો, ગુરુ થયો ત્યાં મણમાં ગયો.
અખા એમ હલકાથી ભારે હોય, આત્મજ્ઞાન મૂળગું ખોય.
જ્યાં જોઈએ ત્યાં કૂડેકૂડ, સામસામી બેઠા ઘૂડ,
કો આવી વાત સૂર્યની કરે, તે આગળ લેઈ ચાંચ જ ઘરે.
અમારે હજાર વર્ષ અંધારે ગયાં, તમે આવા ડાહ્યા બાળક ક્યાંથી થયા?
અખા મોટાની તો એવી જાણ, મૂકી હીરો ઉપાડે પહાણ.
લીલા વૃક્ષને ઓઠે રહે, જ્યમ પારધી પશુને ગ્રહે;
એમ હરિને ઓઠે ધૂતા ઘણા, ઉપાય કરે કનકકામિની તણા.
અખા એ ગુરુ શું મૂકે પાર, જેના શિષ્ય ગર્દભ ને ગુરુ કુંભાર.
Much of medieval Gujarati poetry is preoccupied with the human’s relationship with the divine. Social criticism by poets, despite the rot in medieval society, was much sparser. Akho was a notable exception. He, too, worked within the divinity – devotion tradition (he was called Akho Bhagat, or Akho, God’s Devotee), but he also satirized the stupidities and hypocrisies of his times. The eight rhyming ‘chhappas’ (six-liners) above are out of a much larger collection. His sharp wit and terse verse became part of Gujarati idiom, and may have set the stage for the wholesale questioning of established beliefs and mores that eventually fructified into Gujarat’s Renaissance after the 18th century. Not that Akho has become irrelevant today – far from it!
Akha Bhagat (Akho) (early part of the 17th century) was born in the goldsmith community. Earlier he lived in Jetalpur near Ahmedabad, and then settled down in Ahmedabad. His life was marked by the losses of loved ones: he lost his mother in childhood; his father in youth; then his only sister; and also one after another, two wives. He worked in the mint and rose to be its chief. But a false accusation caused him great pain, and he abandoned social life and ventured into spirituality. He seems to have become the disciple of Gokulnath, who was an adherent of the ‘Pushti’ branch of Vaishnavism imported into Gujarat from South India. Later he migrated to Benaras on the Ganga. Akho seems to have studied a host of fields, including the Hindu scriptures, astrology, astronomy, medicine, music, sculpture, and agriculture, and he was familiar with various minerals, plants, birds and beasts, ‘auspicious’ and ‘inauspicious’ times, etc. Akho wrote in Gujarati as well as in Hindi, and used Persian, Marwadi, and Kutchhi words in his compositions. His influence seems to have spread beyond the confines of Gujarat. As a spiritual poet, he was more into the path of learning and wisdom than devotion. But today Akho is best known as a poet with an acerbic pen. He hated cant and wrote many ‘chhappas’ to excoriate hypocrisy and ignorance. However, his objective was not just to vent spleen; it was to restore sense and values in a society that he saw had gone awry.