The poem “the palanquin bearers,” composed by Sarojini Naidu, deals with an age-old Indian custom of carrying a newly wedded woman or any other lady of higher birth or a noble family inside a wooden chamber termed as ‘palanquin,’ to her husband’s residence or to whichever place the lady wished to be taken to. This was a time period before the advent of motor vehicles and highways when powerful and rich families favored the service of palanquins for long-distance traveling for the women of their house. The practice of delivering women to their destinations was prevalent in certain parts of India for ages. It is pertinent to say here that the poet must have been fascinated by the imagery of the palanquin being handled by a group of men deputed to the task to make sure that the traveling women made the transition from the place of origin to the place of termination without the slightest discomfort.
Palanquin Bearers: Analysis
As we go through the poem’s lines, we get a feeling of nostalgia and a hearkening to the times which are gone forever. To the men bearing the weight of the palanquin, the job has sacred undertones. These faithful and righteous men have the single mission to deliver the occupant of the palanquin safely to her destination. It is a matter of honor for them to be doing this task. The men manning the palanquin have a lot of respect for the women they serve. It is not just one particular woman they have to deliver safely, but it is a lifelong occupation, which carries a lot of responsibility and prestige. It would not be incorrect to assume that these men have taken a sacred oath to preserve the honor and protect the life of the numerous women they get to serve during their time as bearers of the palanquin.
In the manner in which the poet has delineated the role of the bearers, one could also conclude that these brave men are ready even to give up their lives to defend the purity of the innocent and young bride or whomsoever they are serving. One needs to keep cognizance that the job of a palanquin bearer was not an easy one if looked at through the lens of time and space. This was when traveling from one place to another was full of dangers and hindrances, both natural and man-made. Under such circumstances, the safety of a young woman was always in jeopardy, as a consequence of which, women who needed to be transported from one place to the other required protection and constant surveillance from possible threats. Generally, only people of the richer classes and those who had a considerable social standing could afford the services of the palanquin bearers.
Palanquin Bearers: Summary
The poem is about an experience, one which is explicitly described by the men manning the palanquin. Here, the men carrying the palanquin engage themselves in cheerful singing to amuse themselves while carrying out their difficult job, i.e., to transport something precious, in this case, the lady, from one place to the other. The journey is told from the perspective of the bearers.
The woman safely cushioned inside the palanquin happens to be the central character of the poem. Her attributes are being compared to several natural phenomena. The poet has used a series of similes to describe the characteristics of the silent protagonist. She has been compared to a flower, a bird, a laugh, etc., all of them helping to delineate the lady as someone who is very tender and delicate and who needs to be protected from all the elements lurking outside the safe boundaries of the palanquin.
Palanquin Bearers: Line by Line Summary
The poet has invested a greater part of the poem trying to focus on the movement of the whole action taking place as the palanquin is in motion. This movement of the progression of the palanquin creates magic in the eyes of the poet. She has used beautiful words to describe this movement.
As the palanquin makes its way through a difficult road, the bearers find relief in their songs. They sing in unison while maintaining a particular movement while in motion. They carry the palanquin as lightly as possible to make the lady sitting inside as comfortable as they can. They are aware that their guest for that day is not accustomed to the discomfort of the journeys made on uneven roads. There are words in the poem which give us an idea about the tenderness and delicate nature of the lady. One can have the feeling as if the palanquin is actually floating in the air.
The poet Sarojini Naidu deserves credit for making the drama come alive through the choice of her words. The lady has been likened to a pearl, giving her the pivotal role in the whole drama that is getting manifested. There is a sense of impermanence existing in the feel of the action. When the poet talks about the flower swaying in the wind, the bird skimming on the foam of the stream, the laugh floating on the lips of a dream, we notice an element of transience and impermanence. It is in the simple events of life where great beauty is hidden. The journey of the lady inside the palanquin hence becomes a priceless experience. Although the journey through a difficult path is not easy, the bearers go about their job positively and make it memorable through their songs and rhythmic energy.
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