Introduction

The stories of Buddhist monk Upagupta, a devotee of Lord Buddha, and Mathura Vasavadatta, the dancing lady, is told in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Upagupta.” She was a well-known and exquisite dancer. She was immensely proud of her fortune, freshness, and elegance. As a hermit, Upagupta was the symbol of righteousness, knowledge, and selflessness.

About The Poet

Bengali multidisciplinary Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, dramatist, novelist, musician, philosopher, civil rights activist, and painter. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he used situational modernism to transform Indian art, Bengali literature, and music.

Theme Of The Poem

Two events in the life of a dancing girl are depicted in the poem. On a dark night, the dancing girl approaches Upagupta, the Buddha’s disciple, and extends an invitation to her home. She is said to be adamant about her youth and attractiveness. When she contracts black plague and is expelled from the city, she runs into the monk again after a long absence. She is comforted by the monk. The two key events in the girl’s life—two crucial periods of one’s life—are depicted in these two instances from her existence.

Poem

Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay sleep in
the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and
stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.

Upagupta, a student of Buddha, slept out on a sandy path beside Mathura City’s city wall on a pitch-black night. It  was peaceful and quiet around, and there was no light from any lamps. All doors were locked. Each person had slept. Everything was really gloomy. The stars were completely obscured by the sky’s heavy clouds.

Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets,
touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and a light from a woman’s
lamp fell on his forgiving eyes.

Vasavadatta, a dancing young woman, was moving while holding a lamp. She tripped across Upagupta’s body as it lay on the dusty pavement without realizing it was there. He awoke abruptly and gasped in surprise. He saw a lovely woman standing in front of him as the light from the woman’s lamp shone on his compassionate eyes.

It was dancing girl, starred with jewels,
Wearing a pale blue mantle, drunk with the wine
of her youth.
She lowered her lamp and saw young face
austerely beautiful.

The woman was wearing a loose-fitting blue dress without sleeves and dazzled with jewellery. She was pretty and youthful. She cherished the beauty and energy she possessed. She noticed a young man whose face reflected the appeal of a simple yet austere way of life as she lowered her lamp.

“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman,
“Graciously come to my house. The dusty earth
is not fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman,
go on your way;
When the time is ripe I will come to you.”
Suddenly the black night showed its teeth
in a flash of lightening.

She asked for forgiveness for tripping over his body and missing him in the darkness. She politely invited him inside her house, stating that the unclean ground was inappropriate for him. She was gently instructed by Upagupta to return to her house, and he promised to meet her there when the time was right. The dark night abruptly revealed its jaws in a lightning-like flash. From the corner of the sky, a violent storm appeared and produced a lengthy, deep sound. The woman shook with terror of an unknown threat and hurried home.

The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and
The woman trembled in fear of some unknown danger.
A year has not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April,
in spring season.
The branches of the way side trees were full of blossom.
Gay notes of a flute came floating in the
warm spring air from a far.

Vasavadatta and Upagupta, first met not even a year ago. It was the nightfall of an April day during the spring season. Flowers weighed heavily on the limbs of the trees beside the roadside. From a great distance, the cheerful melodic tones of a flute began to drift in the warm spring air.

Upagupta passed through the city gates, and
stood at the base of the rampart.
Was that a woman lying at his feet in the
shadow of the mango grove?
Struck with black pestilence, her body
spotted with sores of small-pox,
She had been hurriedly removed from the town
To avoid her poisonous contagion.

Upagupta entered the city through the gates and stopped at the base of the defending city walls. He unexpectedly encountered a lady laying at his feet in the grove’s shadows. She was none other than the dancing woman known as Vasavadatta. She was afflicted with the fatal black epidemic illness. Her body was covered in small-pox wounds. Because she may transmit the deadly sickness through contact, she was expelled from the city.

The ascetic sat by her side, took her head
on his knees,
And moistened her lips with water, and
smeared her body with sandal balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and
I am here,” replied the young ascetic.

As he sat by her side, Upagupta placed her forehead on his knee. Using sandal balm, he massaged her body. He applied water on her lips. He was questioned by the woman about the compassionate man. When the moment finally came to visit her, he told her that he was present.