‘Dawn at Puri’ by Jayanta Mahapatra is a poem of Modern Indian Writing in English. Along with A.K. Ramanujan, Mahapatra is remembered as one of the pioneers of modernist writing in India. In the poem, the poet presents the picture of the Puri sea beach at dawn and its resemblance to the people living there. Puri is a famous tourist spot in India, located in Odisha. It is also famous for its Jagannath Temple. Jagannath is an avatar of Lord Vishnu and the state observes a huge religious gathering for Lord Jagannath during the season of Monsoon.
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Summary of Dawn at Puri
‘Dawn at Puri’ by Jayanta Mahapatra presents a picturesque description of the seashore and the pilgrims visiting each day to visit the famous temple of Jagannath. At the beach, there are numerous crows gathering here and there. In this noisy ambiance, the poet observes a skull resembling poor and hungry millions of our country. Thereafter the poet shifts his vision and looks at the temple where “white-clad widowed Women” are waiting to enter the “Great Temple”. The poet sees a deep religious yearning in their eyes.
In the next section of ‘Dawn at Puri’, Mahapatra shifts again to the seashore and now he rather sees empty shells lying there instead of crows. It is actually an instance of symbolism that will be discussed later in the analysis section. In the landscape suddenly a heap of smoke seeks the attention of the poet. It is actually coming out of a cremation pyre. The poem ends with the wish of the poet’s aging mother. She wants to be cremated at her native place like the mentioned pyre on the seashore.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Dawn at Puri
The structure of ‘Dawn at Puri’ by Jayanta Mahapatra closely connects to the theme of the poem. It is suggestive at the same time illustrative. The six stanza poem has an evenness in its structure. It has three visually descriptive lines imitating the waves of seawater on the sandy shore. The falling waves in the structure of the poem come into attention from stanza four. The metrical structure of the poem imitates the rhythm of the sea. A mixture of trochaic, iambic, and anapaestic meter helps the poet to achieve this sound effect.
There is not any specific rhyme scheme in the poem. Instead of that, the poem is metrical and rhythmic for the equal distribution of foot in each stanza. The majority of the foot contains anapaestic meter. An anapaest is a metrical foot consisting of two short or unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable.
Literary Devices in ‘Dawn at Puri’
Let us look at the literary devices used in each stanza of ‘Dawn at Puri’ by Jayanta Mahapatra.
- Stanza 1 – In the first line of the poem, “Endless crow noises” is a hyperbole. In the second line “skull” is a metaphor of poverty and hunger. These problems still haunt the lower section of Indian society. In the third line, “empty country” is a metonym for the people living in India. Here the poor people of India are hungry or their belly is empty for the need for food.
- Stanza 2 – In the first line of this stanza, “White-clad” is a metaphor of the white saree worn by Hindu widowed women. In this stanza “past the centers of their lives” is another metaphor. It means that the widows have passed the age of 50. In the last line, “Great Temple” is a symbol of the famous Jagannath Temple of Odisha.
- Stanza 3 – In this stanza the “austere eyes” is an example of synecdoche. Here the poet associates the widows with only their eyes. Readers can treat the word “austere” as a transferred epithet or hypallage. This quality actually belongs to the “widowed Women” in the poem. In the next section, readers can find a simile. Here the poet compares the widows’ eyes to the eyes of the fish caught in a net. In the last line “dawn’s shining strands of faith” is a metaphor. Here the sunlight at dawn is like a ray of faith to the poet.
- Stanza 4 – In the fourth stanza of ‘Dawn at Puri’, Mahapatra personifies the early light of the dawn and compares it to a woman. The “leprous shells” in the poem is an example of a personal metaphor. By this phrase, the poet tries to compare the old widows to the shells lying on the shore.
- Stanza 5 – In this stanza, the “sullen solitary pyre” is the use of personification or readers can say it is an example of a personal metaphor.
- Stanza 6 – In the last stanza of the poem Mahapatra compares the twisting of her to the “light on the shifting sands”. Here the poet uses the literary device called a simile.
Analysis of ‘Dawn at Puri’
Stanzas 1 and 2
Endless crow noises
are waiting to enter the Great Temple
In the first two stanzas of ‘Dawn at Puri’, Jayanta Mahapatra presents two images to the readers. The former tells the readers about the ambience of Puri sea beach at dawn. The latter reminds us of the pilgrims gathering around the Jagannath Temple before sunrise. Apart from the broad images depicted in the poem, there are some minor images which are of no less importance. One such image is of the human skull. The poet mentions this in the poem to make the readers aware of the problem of hunger and poverty prevalent in rural India.
In the second stanza of the poem, Mahapatra presents the imagery of the widow women waiting to enter the “Great Temple” of Lord Jagannath. At this stage of their lives, only faith and devotion to the almighty can only keep their spirit of living alive.
Stanzas 3 and 4
Their austere eyes
a mass of crouched faces without names,
This section of ‘Dawn at Puri’ contains another set of images like the previous section. In this section, Jayanta Mahapatra brings the image of the fishes caught by a net into the light. It is one of the familiar images of the people who have already visited Puri. The poet compares the eyes of those fishes showing the last hope of life and liberty, to the eyes of the widows. Their condition is similar to those fishes; both caught by the net of life and struggling.
In the next section, the poet uses the image of the “shells” to compare the lonely and hopeless state of the widows. Like the shells leaning against each other on the shore, the widows also gather at the temple and sit there in the manner of the shells. According to the poet they have “crouched faces without names”. There is no need to differentiate them by their names. Their condition makes them an entity of loneliness and hopelessness. In this way, the poet tries to depict their short but simple annals of life.
Stanzas 5 and 6
and suddenly breaks out of my hide
on the shifting sands.
Jayanta Mahapatra in the last section of ‘Dawn at Puri’ depicts the last stage of life by producing the image of the “sullen solitary pyre”. The smell of pyre makes the poet’s mother aware of her mortality. Her attitude towards death is significant in the poem. Instead of fearing her approaching death, she welcomes it. She wishes to die in her native land with which her bond is deep and unbroken.