A Comparative study of Madan G. Gandhi’s
ashes and embers and Kundalini

Madan G. Gandhi, an Indian writer in English, has authored 11 volumes of poetry on which study has begun in recent times. The volumes, ashes and embers and Kundalini were published in 1982. Although both the volumes were published in the same year, yet if attention is paid to the contents included in each, ashes and embers precedes Kundalini by almost a decade. This inference regarding the true chronological order is reinforced by the “Prefaces” to these two collections. About the poems in ashes and embers, Gandhi confides: “The poems included in this collection materialized themselves in flashes during the sixties”.1 And in the “Preface” to Kundalini, he mentions: “The poems belong to a phase when in the early 70’s, I was voyaging within the realms of consciousness”.2 Thus, the above remarks of Gandhi settle the time-sequence of these two early collections.
A close examination of the cover designs of these collections reveals that there is use of small letters, both for the name of the poet and for the title o the book in his first collection, ashes and embers. It sets forth the view regarding the poet being a mere receptacle of the knowledge granted to him as the muse was: “notoriously fitful in her favours”.3 But in Kundalini capital letters have been used for the name of the poet as well as for the title of the book. Also, there is deliberate placing of the title on top of the cover design. It affirms the poet’s view that Kundalini is a reservoir of energy. Recognition of “superhuman labours” to communicate the “final experience” is made by the use of capital letters in the name.
The designed cover of Kundalini objectifies the experience of kundalini-awakening. For the purpose, there is central positioning of the serpent-power, embellished with seven lotuses in it. Starting from below, these are names as Muladhara, Svadisdhan, Manipur, Anhata, Visudhi, Ajna and Sahasrara. When kundalini focuses in a lotus, it activates characteristic energy of that centre. Each lotus has its own set o attitudes, motives and mental states that dominate a person’s mind, when kundalini sparks it.
Further, the designed cover of ashes and embers depicts the small patches of ashes interspersed among smouldering red embers. The smouldering of embers indicates the existence of latent spiritual power. Further, the residue, ash, is the result of the encounter of coal with fire. In this process, there is a change of colour, first from black to red and then to white. In Indian Philosophy, black colour is associated with tamas attribute, red with rajas and white with sattva attribute. Thus, the change of colour can be identified with the progression of mind from tamas to sattva, which is essential for making the body a fit vehicle of spiritual expression.
If an analysis of the verse of both the texts is made, it can be easily perceived that poems included in ashes and embers reflect various moods and are mainly concerned with four elements, namely, water, air, fire and ether. These elements are further associated with feeling, mind, psyche and spirit respectively. But the verse of Kundalini, as is evident from the title of the book, is exclusively ether-based. Various domains which go with the elements of water, air and fire are further associated with mortal aspects like love, death, joy and sorrow, but the spirit, which is associated with the ether element, is the immortal aspect. As there is a preponderance of the ether element in Kundalini, the self has been rid of its mundane impurities. Hence, one can suggest that there is a progression from egoistic to transcendental self as the poet moves from ashes and embers to Kundalini.
As mentioned earlier, there are seven chakras in the body and each one of them has its own characteristics. First three chakras embody selfish traits. Most people for most of the time are motivated by mental states in which the first three chakras are active. Kundalini yoga, which has its complete manifestation in the second volume, aims to spark the energy stored in higher chakras. When it activates the three upper chakras, the meditator experiences different transcendental states and when it reaches the seventh chakras and stabilises there, he is in a state of ecstasy. If the subtle body is influenced by the impression of the sense, it can hardly be sensitive to the higher influences of the spirit. The two things, therefore, are necessary for spiritual awakening: “(1) the discrimination of the material from the spiritual and (2) the gradual spiritualization of the organs of the mind and sense.”4
Although passions like love, joy and sorrow find place in ashes and embers, yet they are not merely temporal ones. Rather, they are spiritualised. For instance, love in the poems titled “Nuptials”, “My Love”, “Echo” and “Endless” of the volume is not a mere sentiment: it is truth; it is the white light of pure consciousness that emanates from Brahma.
In “Nuptials”, the poet personifies his beloved and describes that, dressed in the clothes o a bride, she comes in a “palanquin” and unfolds before him all the secrets. In “My Love”, his beloved is prakrti: “the source of evolution of the whole of the animate and inanimate creation”.5 It is evident from the lines:
Myriad fragrant flowers
Envelop her redolent zones
Endless creators simmer
In her inscrutable womb.6

In “Endless”, just like Whitman, he feels His presence everywhere – in “vales”, “craggy rocks”, “mountain tops” and “flowers”. Here his love attains that highest level, at which alone can one say:
What if we are no more
All else remains
Endless is our love
Like the ocean on the move.7

Love-consciousness in the above poems is a form of mysticism as it has also been defined as: “Sympathetic understanding of the concrete tendencies of the soul in love-ecstasies, and in selfless service. These forms may be fitly called devotional and practical mysticism. Devotional mysticism enjoys the touch of love-consciousness, practical mysticism the delight of active-service…Love breathes purity under mystic inspiration. Sympathy becomes cosmic under mystic touch. Both transcend the limit of finite urge and pass into the limitless.”8
Thus, pure love and cosmic sympathy are the traits of mysticism and it was this cosmic sympathy which inspired the poet to write the revolutionary poem, “The Long March”, for the exploited masses of Africa. In this poem, he expresses a feeling of universal love by accepting that million hands are his own hands. It highlights his revolutionary zeal : “I shall write the chronicles/In the pink of my corpuscles.”9 This is practical mysticism. Devotional mysticism is expressed in the very first poem of the volume, “To Mother”. Here, the poet is prepared to behead himself to be the “worthy son” of his “loving mother”: “I will climb the guillotine/To be your worthy son.”10 The poem is dedicatory in tone. Similarly, in the dedication prefixed to Kundalini, the poet deifies his father:
To the One
Who was no God-man
But true man of God
Who made me God-like
In one circle of the moon.11

Capitalisation of “One” shows the devout reverence of the poet for his father. Thus, the two volumes complement each other.
Certain poems of ashes and embers reveal equipoise of the poet. In “Ravished Love”, objectifying himself, he writes: “Fixed in a frame/Statue like I see.”12 The poet is not afraid of pain of life, but regards it to be his companion:
O, Tired traveller!
I am pain, your nurse
I will wear all your curse
Sleep well under my nerves.13

This detached vision of the poet is also a step towards the union of soul and Oversoul.
Whereas the verse of the ashes and embers reflects protean moods, the verse of Kundalini is related primarily with mystical experience, which according to the author is: “admittedly inexpressible and all attempts emanate from and end in silence.”14 Going through the text, one can easily perceive a progression towards transcendence of senses.
The opening poem of the volume, “Wanderer”, sets the tone of the collection. Here, awakening of the kundalini and its upward movement are suggested by the lines: “The reptiles creep/Over the trunk.”15 “Consummation” also poetises this arousal: “In the cobra costume/Lime the bride you come”.16
According to Hindu mythology, one cannot merge into the Oversoul without complete surrender of the soul. The surrender has been presented diagrammatically in “Fusion” through a stretching of the poet’s arms before the Lord:
H H 17
C A C
T T
R
E E
M
R R
T S T

This stretching is “symbolic of self-effacement, humanity and devout faith, but the vertical placing of “ARMS” flanked virtually by “S T R E T C H” on both sides converts it into an image of Christ, His arms outstretched on the scaffold.”18 After complete surrender, there is a reference to God’s intervention and merging of the poet’s soul into the ineffable “Light”. The highest abiding joy is suggested through the chant :
I behold light
Light light light
Till all becomes
L I G H T 19

It is the silent light, first in the order of expression. The state of beholding the light is termed as vindu, a state prior to the nada. Vindu overpowers the meditator by its ocean of light.
In “Union”, the poet describes his capability of hearing the “SYMPHONY” of spheres and “NAD”. Nada originally means: “a sound, a tune, a vibration: It is something that cannot be heard by the ear. It is the sound that reigns in the heart of the cosmos. It is the voiceless voice, the soundless sound of the deep.”20 Nada rises when pranic urge vibrates the ethereal medium and harmony is set up. Thus, it is an experience of the suprasensuous consciousness.
The music of spheres is a reflection of nada. It expresses the rhythm that prevades the universe. This music sends the soul heavenwards. Now the poet transcends “The Ocean of Melody” and those spheres which are not visible ordinarily: the sphere of sun, moon, stars and astral pathways. The journey of the self to the transcendental plane reveals certain more facts, described in “Research”, which leads to “Hiranyagarbha” – the cosmic purusa. It is conscious of the concrete world. But the journey is not limited here. There are still more revelations, which are described in “Kundalini” and ultimately the poet’s soul melts into the Oversoul:
The seer and the seen
Dissolve into one

…….
U N I O N
B L O S S O M S
Root and fruit
Light and Bliss
O N E.21

This state is termed as turiya. Knowledge in it has no dimension, no magnitude. It has a field like a magnetic field, which may range from hell to heaven. It is a unique experience in which the music of nada is displaced by silence. The spirit feels perfect freedom and harmony.
The first volume, ashes and ambers, also deals with the experience of the awakening of kundalini, that is presented in a few poems of the collection. For instance, in “Fulfilment”, the poet writes: “The flaming serpent/Uncoils and leaps”22 and in the title poem, “Ashes and Embers”, it is presented as :
I curl into my crown
Stung by a scorpion
Coronated with pain.

The poet feels as if “Rebirth” has occurred and also feels an ecstatic joy of His Omnipresence.
Although these poems of the first volume are of a transcendental nature, yet nowhere in them are referred those stages of mysticism which find expression in the second volume. One more difference between the transcendental aspects of the two volumes is that of picturisation, present in the second volume only. Further, transcendental states of the second volume, Kundalini, are of a supramental level. Thus, it can be concluded that ashes and embers complements as well as leads onto Kundalini.

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