In India the awakening of Spring is observed by ‘Basant Panchami,’ and one of the Basant activities in the Punjab is the flying of kites – the core image of this mystical poem by Ramprasad Sen. ‘Shyama’ is a name for the Divine Mother in the Hindu tradition. ‘Manja-paste’, in the second verse, contains powdered glass and is used to coat the kite string. In competitions, the aim would be to manoeuvre one’s kite so as to cut the kite string of the opponent. The poem really turns this competition upside down, suggesting that the kite whose maya string (i.e. the tie of illusion) is cut is not defeated but liberated.
In the world’s busy market-place, O Shyama,
Thou art flying kites;
High up they soar on the wind of hope,
held fast by maya’s string.
Their frames are human skeletons,
their sails of the the three gunas made;
But all their curious workmanship
is merely for ornament.
Upon the kite-strings Thou hast rubbed
the manja-paste of worldliness,
So as to make each straining strand
all the more sharp and strong.
Out of a hundred thousand kites,
at best but one or two break free;
And thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands,
O Mother, watching them!
On favoring winds, says Ramprasad,
the kites set loose will speedily
Be borne away to the Infinite,
across the sea of the world.