‘Temple Lamp’ : English translation of Ghalib’s masnavi ‘Chiragh-i-Dair’ reflects his felicity for holy city of Banaras
A new translation of Ghalib’s ode to the Hindu holy city, written by Maaz Bin Bilal again commands the attention of the English-speaking world to his legacy.
The masnavi is a fine account of the peculiarities of Ghalib’s thought and language, which the translation highlights while remaining true to the original.
The recent English translation of Chiragh-i-Dair, published as ‘Temple Lamp’ with illustrated hardcover is not the first but the best one translation among his 11 masnavis penned in Persian.
It is perhaps the only example of a long poem in Persian by an Indian about an Indian city.Ghalib chose to describe Banaras, believed to be the holiest centre of Hindu culture, as the ‘Kaaba of Hindostan’ reveals the extent of his love for the city.
Ghalib admires not only the spiritual beauty but also the physical beauty of Holy city – like a balm on his wounded spirit:
Each fleck of dirt here
in its ecstasy is a temple,
every thorn with its verdure
He calls it the ultimate pilgrimage for Hindus, through which the Ganga pulsates like its life-blood.
Or one could behold Banaras,
perhaps, as the beauty
who preens from dawn to dusk
with the Ganga as a mirror in their hand.
The impact that the city had on Ghalib can be gauged from a letter he wrote to his friend Miyandad Khan Saiyyid much later in life. As quoted by Bilal, it reads: “Banaras is beyond words. Such cities are seldom created.