Village Sonnets are a tripartite set of the four sonnets written by Usha Kishore as a sequence based on the Warli paintings of the Indian artist, Sandhya Arvind. These poems are part of Usha’s ekphrastic project, Prerna (translated from Hindi as “Inspiration”) with Sandhya, who excels in the indigenous Warli and Madhubani art forms. Warli art is a repertoire that can be traced to the Paleolithic Age and early forms of this art can be found on the walls of the Paleolithic rock shelters of Bimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. The paintings are very rudimentary, using basic geometrical patterns. The human and animal figures in this art form are repetitive and are symbols/motifs of animistic beliefs. Tarpa and Palaghata are repeated motifs in the paintings. Tarpa is a musical (wind) instrument made of gourd and bamboo, and Palaghata is a fertility goddess. The tarpa dance is a ritualistic dance of the Warli people; this is a dance repertoire, where the tarpa player takes central position and plays his tunes, while the dancers dance in a concentric circle around the musician. Surya, mentioned in the last sonnet, is the Indian sun-god.
It is as if the whole settlement has been translated
into the chroma of your canvas – a precision
sans perspective in a code of triangles, circles
and zigzag lines. Your composition is poised at the edge
of a dream, where the meandering manuscript of water
writes the landscape in many armed trees, rising from
the ground in slow-motion, sprouting leaves, flowers
and birds. Here, horse, ox and tiger figures blend
into the background, animistic beliefs spread across centuries.
A five-headed deity on horseback presides over a river
of humanity murmuring in worship; a row of palm trees
silhouette the horizon, from which the hillside flows.
The peacocks, alighting on your stained earth, steal colour
from snatches of sky, that bear away my cloud-thoughts.
Red aura beams down from the altar of the sun;
élan vital, bleeding in shades of green and spots
of ochre on your fertile canvas. A sky-blue
thought river drifts past in a stream of crabs,
tortoise, fish, serpents and men on rafts. Your canvas
is an evolution in sound: the row of birds arching
the forest sky; the omnipresent peacock singing
his penchant for life; the tarpa playing, a broken bamboo
vibrating with the pulse of centuries. Trees of life
pervade your frame, spilling out birds and beasts.
A banyan tree throws out its aerial roots in a prayer
to hidden spirits, while repeated motifs of men and women
carry on the pottery of the world. In the foreground,
Palaghata rises as a tree with combed branches.
A flock of birds sail the cloudless sky, before it turns
into a river behind the distant mountains and flows down
your pictorial frame. The skyline chronicles ringing bird-
song that unfolds in the warp and weft of your colours.
Your art is a palimpsest of history, embracing a tribal
repertoire, its signature scripts and stylistic rhythms.
I pitch my verse on the centre-piece, the tarpa dance,
snaking its celestial serenade on the village common.
My verse-trek around your world is restive, full of hope,
seeking spiritual dimensions in your elemental hues.
The crimson sun pours its ochre rays, turning the landscape
into amber liquid, the avenue of palm trees drinking every drop.
Like every man, woman, horse, ox, deer, peacock and tendril tree
in your frame, I raise my hands in prayer to Surya, bestower of all life.
Poetry: Usha Kishore
Paintings: Sandhya Arvind