Shav-vahini Ganga | Ganga, the Carrier of Corpses | શબવાહિની ગંગા | शव-वाहिनी गंगा

by Parul Khakhar

India is going through a devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this second wave was long predicted by medical and scientific experts, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government under Prime Minister Modi boasted of how India had conquered the virus. The stories from the first wave—of thousands of migrant wage workers who had to flee India’s megacities when the BJP announced a nation-wide lockdown with only four hours of notice, of thousands among them who lost their lives walking hundreds of kilometers back to their villages in the scorching heat, of hundreds of followers of a Muslim sect who were falsely accused of launching a “Corona Jihad” and persecuted—were all erased within this triumphalist narrative. The ongoing second wave of the COVID pandemic, with a more virulent strain, has added a million more stories of loss, desperation, and hopelessness to this saga of blatant state violence and apathy. Having exported millions of vaccine doses after it had supposedly conquered the virus, India’s people are now dying due to the lack of basic care—oxygen, medication, and hospital beds. As of May 2021, some 25 million cases have been recorded, with over 200,000 reported deaths. But those of us living through this nightmare—losing countless family, friends and community members due to the state’s refusal to prepare for this inevitable resurgence of the virus; watching heartbreaking images of hundreds waiting outside hospitals for a bed or a whiff of oxygen—know the numbers to be much, much larger. The poor, Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis, who continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of this catastrophe, are hardly being counted in the statistics.

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of corpses have been seen floating in the Ganga— the holy river of the Hindus, but also a life source for many who do not identify as such. Many more were “discovered” buried in shallow graves on the sandy banks of the river.  Just last month, ignoring all common sense and the pleas of medical experts, the ruling BJP allowed millions to gather on its banks for the Kumbh Mela—a religious festival, claiming that Mother Ganga would protect her devotees. Needless to say, Ganga is powerless against the virus. The National Mission for Clean Ganga was a pet project of the BJP government since it first came to power in 2014. That same Ganga is swollen with corpses whose identities and origins remain unclear. Even those Modi-bhakts (ardent devotees of Modi) who have denied state negligence and the true extent of the pandemic cannot unsee this. 

The poem, ‘Shab-vahini Ganga’ (‘Ganga, the Carrier of Corpses’) written in Gujarati by the Amreli-based poet Parul Khakhar, responds to this horrific scenario, while challenging her fellow country-people to strip its rulers of their lies. Upon publication, this poem went viral and Khakhar—once regarded as “the next big icon of Gujarati poetry” by right-leaning litterateurs in the state—has been facing immense backlash, trolling, and abuse from BJP supporters. Some in the Gujarati literary community have remarked on how the poem echoes the sentiments of not one poet but of all Gujaratis, and the cruel transformation of democracy into repression that these attacks represent. AGITATE! stands in solidarity with Parul Khakhar and with people of India who are facing ongoing deaths and devastation. 

Below we share with our readers the poem in the original Gujarati and its translations in English, Hindi, and Marathi. These translations are republished from: લયસ્તરો : ગુજરાતી કવિતા આસ્વાદ ( and The Wire ( Readings of the poem in Gujarati by Mubina Qureshi, the Hindi translation by Richa Nagar, and the Marathi translation by Siddhant Pusdekar are also included. The Telugu translation and reading by Singaraju Ramadevi are republished from Saranga books. The Malayalam translation by Sandhya appears here for the first time. The poem was translated to Bangla by Sharadwat Manna and Manash Sarkar, and read by Ritika Ganguly. A Punjabi translation by Jaswant Singh Zafar set to music by Sukhpal Darshan can be viewed on the Black Bee Music channel.

શબવાહિની ગંગા
પારુલ ખખ્ખર

એક અવાજે મડદા બોલ્યાં ‘સબ કુછ ચંગા-ચંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા મસાણ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા લક્કડભારા,
રાજ, અમારા ડાઘૂ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા રોવણહારા,
ઘરેઘરે જઈ જમડાંટોળી કરતી નાચ કઢંગા
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારી ધગધગ ધૂણતી ચીમની પોરો માંગે,
રાજ, અમારી ચૂડલી ફૂટે, ધડધડ છાતી ભાંગે
બળતું જોઈ ફીડલ વગાડે ‘વાહ રે બિલ્લા-રંગા’!
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા દિવ્ય વસ્ત્ર ને દિવ્ય તમારી જ્યોતિ
રાજ, તમોને અસલી રૂપે આખી નગરી જોતી
હોય મરદ તે આવી બોલો ‘રાજા મેરા નંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.

Read by Mubina Qureshi

Ganges, the Carrier of Corpses
Translated by Salil Tripathi

Don’t worry, be happy, in one voice speak the corpses
O King, in your Ram-Rajya, we see bodies flow in the Ganges
O King, the woods are ashes,
No spots remain at crematoria,
O King, there are no carers,
Nor any pall-bearers,
No mourners left
And we are bereft
With our wordless dirges of dysphoria
Libitina enters every home where she dances and then prances,
O King, in your Ram-Rajya, our bodies flow in the Ganges
O King, the melting chimney quivers, the virus has us shaken
O King, our bangles shatter, our heaving chest lies broken
The city burns as he fiddles, Billa-Ranga thrust their lances,
O King, in your Ram-Rajya, I see bodies flow in the Ganges
O King, your attire sparkles as you shine and glow and blaze
O King, this entire city has at last seen your real face
Show your guts, no ifs and buts,
Come out and shout and say it loud,
“The naked King is lame and weak”
Show me you are no longer meek,
Flames rise high and reach the sky, the furious city rages;
O King, in your Ram-Rajya, do you see bodies flow in the Ganges?

English Translation by Rita and Abhijit Kothari

The corpses spoke in one voice : “All is well, sab kuchh changa-changa”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your crematoriums are too few; fewer the wood for pyres
Lord, our pall-bearers are too few, fewer yet the mourners
Lord, in every home Yama performs the dance macabre
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your smoke belching chimneys now seek respite
Lord, our bangles are shattered, shattered are our hearts
The fiddle plays while the towns are ablaze, “Wah, Billa-Ranga”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your clothes are divine, divine is your radiance
Lord, the town entire sees you in your true form
If there be a real man here, come forward and say
“The emperor has no clothes”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga.

Hindi Translation by Ilyas Sheikh
हिंदी अनुवाद: इलियास शेख़

एक साथ सब मुर्दे बोले ‘सब कुछ चंगा–चंगा’
साहेब तुम्हारे रामराज में शव-वाहिनी गंगा

ख़त्म हुए शमशान तुम्हारे, ख़त्म काष्ठ की बोरी
थके हमारे कंधे सारे, आँखें रह गईं कोरी
दर-दर जाकर यमदूत खेले
मौत का नाच बेढंगा
साहेब तुम्हारे रामराज में शव-वाहिनी गंगा

नित लगातार जलती चिताएँ
राहत माँगे पल-भर
नित लगातार टूटे चूड़ियाँ
कुटती छाती घर-घर
देख लपटों को फ़िडल बजाते, वाह रे ‘बिल्ला-रंगा’
साहेब तुम्हारे रामराज में शव-वाहिनी गंगा

साहेब तुम्हारे दिव्य वस्त्र, दैदीप्य तुम्हारी ज्योति
काश असलियत लोग समझते, हो तुम पत्थर, ना मोती
हो हिम्मत तो आके बोलो
‘मेरा साहेब नंगा’
साहेब तुम्हारे रामराज में शव-वाहिनी गंगा

Read by Richa Nagar

Marathi Translation by Sarnath Aagle
मराठी अनुवाद: सारनाथ आगले

एक मुखाने शव बोलले ‘सब कुछ चंगा-चंगा,’
राजा, तुझ्या रामराज्यात, शव वाहिनी गंगा.

राजा, राज्यात स्मशान खुंटले, संपले लाकडी-भारी,
राजा, आमची आसवं आटली, खुंटले सोबत रडणारे. 
घरोघरी जाऊन राजकारणाचा, नाच करती कढंगा.
राजा, तुझ्या रामराज्यात शव वाहिनी गंगा.

राजा, तुझी धगधग ज्योती, थोडी उसंत मागे.
राजा, आमची कांकण फुटली, धडधड छाती भांगे.
जळतं बघुन फिडल वाजती, येथे बिल्ला-रंगा.
राजा तुझ्या रामराज्यात शव वाहिनी गंगा.

राजा तुझे दिव्य वस्र नी दिव्य तुझी ज्योती.
राजा तुला असली रुपात पुरी नगरी बघते.
मर्द कूणी असेल खरा म्हण, ‘राजा मेरा नंगा.’
राजा, तुझ्या रामराज्यात शव वाहिनी गंगा.

Read by Siddhant Pusdekar

Bangla Translation by Sharadwat Manna and Manash Sarkar

দাও সকলে জয়ধ্বনি, ওড়াও রে তেরঙ্গা!
মহারাজের রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
উপচে উঠে শ্মশান-মশান, ফুরিয়ে দিয়ে কাঠ,
শূন্য ক’রে উঠোন, মড়ায় ভরেছে সব মাঠ,
নাচছে উদোম মৃত্যুদূতী, বাজছে মরণডঙ্কা!
রাজা, তোমার রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
চিতার আগুন গিলছে হাজার, ভাঙছে হাজার ঘর,
হাজার ভেলায় যায় ভেসে যায় হাজার লখিন্দর –
পাড় থেকে তাও রাজা হাঁকে “নেই কোনো আশঙ্কা!”
রাজা রে, তোর রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
রাজার সাজের ভড়ং, কথার বাহার দেখে লোকের
ভাবিস আজও তাক্ লেগেছে, ঘোর লেগেছে চোখে?
আজকে দেশে উঠছে আওয়াজ, ‘রাজা রে, তুই নাঙ্গা!’
ল্যাংটো রাজার রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।

Read by Ritika Ganguly

Telugu Translation by Singaraju Ramadevi

మృతులంతా ఏకకంఠంతో అన్నారు..జయము!జయము!.. రాజావారు!
నేటి మీ రామరాజ్యంలో.. మా శవాలు కూడా గంగపాలు!

నిత్యం జరిగే దహనాలతో , చోటే లేని శ్మశానాలు..
పెరుగుతున్న దేహాల గుట్టలను కాల్చేందుకు కరువైన కట్టెల మోపులు!

పాడెలు మోసీ మోసి అలిసిన మా భుజస్కంధాలు..
అయిన వాళ్ళకై ఏడ్చీ ఏడ్చి కన్నీరు ఇంకిన మా కళ్ళు!

ఇంటింట యమదూతల కరాళ నృత్యాలు..
ప్రభూ! నీ రాజ్యంలో శవాలు కూడా గంగపాలు!

ఎటు చూసినా కాలుతున్న ఈ చితులు… ఎప్పటికైనా ఆగేనా
ప్రతి ఇంట పగిలే గాజుల, రగిలే గుండెల మంటలు..ఎన్నటికైనా ఆరేనా!

తగలబడుతున్న నగరం నడిబొడ్డున,
ఫిడేలు వాయిస్తున్న బిల్లా రంగాలు!
ప్రభూ! నీ రాజ్యంలో శవాలు కూడా గంగపాలు!

నలు దిశలా వ్యాపించిన నీ కీర్తిప్రభలు!
నీ దేహంపై మెరుస్తున్న ఆ దేవతా వస్త్రాలు!

ఎవరైనా గుర్తిస్తే బాగుండును.. ఆ చేదు నిజం!
నువ్వు రత్నానివి కాదు , వట్టి రాయివన్న కఠిన వాస్తవం!

దమ్ము ఉంటే వచ్చి ధైర్యంగా చూపండి..
రాజు గారి దుస్తుల  అసలు రహస్యం!
పవిత్ర గంగా జలాలు మోసుకొస్తున్న ఆ శవ ప్రవాహం!

Malayalam Translation by Sandhya

ഏക സ്വരത്തിൽ പാടി മൃതദേഹങ്ങൾ, 
എല്ലാം നന്ന്, നന്ന്!
പ്രഭോ, അങ്ങയുടെ രാമരാജ്യത്ത്
ഗംഗ ഇന്ന് ശവ വാഹിനി!

ഒഴിവില്ല ശ്മശാനങ്ങൾ, ചിതയാളാൻ വിറകില്ല 
വിലാപകരില്ല, പരിചാരകരില്ല, 
ശവം ചുമക്കാൻ തോളുകളുമില്ല 
യമൻ വികൃത താണ്ഡവമാടുന്ന വീടുകളിൽ 
ശൂന്യമായ കണ്ണുകൾ 
പ്രഭോ, അങ്ങയുടെ രാമരാജ്യത്ത്
ഗംഗ ഇന്ന് ശവ വാഹിനി!

പുക തുപ്പുന്ന പട്ടടകൾ
കേഴുന്നു അല്പം വിരാമത്തിനായ്
പൊട്ടിച്ചിതറുന്ന കൈവളകൾ
ഘനീഭവിച്ച ഹൃദയങ്ങൾ
നഗരങ്ങൾ ആളിക്കത്തുമ്പോൾ
ഫിഡിൽ മുഴങ്ങുന്നു
“ഭേഷ്! ബില്ല രംഗ!”
പ്രഭോ, അങ്ങയുടെ രാമരാജ്യത്ത്
ഗംഗ ഇന്ന് ശവ വാഹിനി!

പ്രഭോ, അങ്ങയുടെ ദിവ്യ വസ്ത്രം, ജ്യോതി വലയം
എല്ലാം മിഥ്യ,
കല്ലാന്ന് നീ, മുത്തല്ലെന്ന തിരിച്ചറിവിൽ
സധൈരൃം മുന്നോട്ട് വരൂ
പറയൂ, “രാജാവ് നഗ്നനാണ്”
പ്രഭോ, അങ്ങയുടെ  രാമരാജ്യത്ത്
ഗംഗ ഇന്ന് ശവ വാഹിനി!

Read by Nithya Rajan


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