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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

Baji Prabhou

A noon of Deccan with its tyrant glare

Oppressed the earth; the hills stood deep in haze,

And sweltering athirst the fields glared up

Longing for water in the courses parched

Of streams long dead. Nature and man alike,

Imprisoned by a bronze and brilliant sky,

Sought an escape from that wide trance of heat.

Nor1 on rare herdsman only or patient2 hind

Tilling the earth or tending sleeplessly

The well-eared grain that burden fell. It hung

Upon the Mogul horsemen as they rode

With lances at the charge, the surf of steel

About them and behind, as they recoiled

Or circled, where the footmen ran and fired,

And fired again and ran; “For now at last,”

They deemed, “the war is over, now at last

The panther of the hills is beaten back

Right to his lair, the rebel crew to death

Is hunted, and an end is made at last.”

Therefore they stayed not for the choking dust,

The slaying heat, the thirst of wounds and fight,

The stumbling stark fatigue, but onward pressed

With glowing eyes. Far otherwise the foe,

Panting and sore oppressed and racked with thirst

And blinded with the blazing earth who reeled

Backward to Raigurh, moistening with their blood

Their mother, and felt their own beloved hills

A nightmare hell of death and heat, the sky

A mute and smiling witness of their dire

Anguish,– abandoned now of God and man,

Who for their country and their race had striven,–

In vain, it seemed. At morning when the sun

Was yet below the verge, the Bhonsle sprang

At a high mountain fortress, hoping so

To clutch the whole wide land into his grasp;

But from the North and East the Moguls poured,

Swords numberless and hooves that shook the hills

And barking of a hundred guns. These bore

The hero backward. Silently with set

And quiet faces grim drew fighting back

The strong Mahrattas to their hills; only

Their rear sometimes with shouted slogan leaped

At the pursuer’s throat, or on some rise

Or covered vantage stayed the Mogul flood

A moment. Ever foremost where men fought,

Was Baji Prabhou seen, like a wild wave

Of onset or a cliff against the surge.

At last they reached a tiger-throated gorge

Upon the way to Raigurh. Narrowing there

The hills draw close, and their forbidding cliffs

Threaten the prone incline. The Bhonsle paused,

His fiery glance travelled in one swift gyre

Hill, gorge and valley and with speed returned

Mightily like an eagle on the wing

To a dark youth beside him, Malsure

The younger, with his bright and burning eyes,

Who wordless rode quivering, as on the leash;

His fierce heart hungered for the rear, where Death

Was singing mid the laughter of the swords.

“Ride, Suryaji,” the Chieftain cried, his look

Inward, intent, “and swiftly from the rear

Summon the Prabhou.” Turning at the word

Suryaji’s hooves sped down the rock-strewn slope

Into the trenchant valley’s death3. Swiftly,

Though burdened with a nation’s fate, the ridge

They reached, where in stern silence fought and fell,

Their iron hearts broken with desperate toil,

The Southron rear, and to the Prabhou gave

The summons of the Chief: “Ride, Baji, ride,

The Bhonsle names thee, Baji.” And Baji spoke

No word, but stormed with loose and streaming rein

To the high frowning gorge and silent paused

Before the leader. “Baji, more than once

In battle thou hast stood, a living shield,

Between me and the foe. But more today,

O Baji, save than any single life,–

Thy nation’s destiny. Thou seest this gorge

Narrow and fell and gleaming like the throat

Of some huge tiger, with its rocky fangs

Agrin for food: and though the lower slope

Descends too gently, yet with roots and stones

It is hampered, and the higher prone descent

Impregnably forbids assault; too steep

The sides for any to ascend and shoot

From vantage. Here might lion-hearted men,

Though few, delay a host. Baji, I speed

To Raigurh and in two brief hours return.

Say with what force thy iron heart can hold

The passage till I come. Thou seest our strength,

How it has melted like the Afghan’s ice

Into a pool of blood.” And while he paused

Who had been chosen, spoke an iron man

With iron brows who rode behind the Chief,

Tanaji Malsure, that living sword:

“Not for this little purpose was there need

To call the Prabhou from his toil. Enough,

Give me five hundred men; I hold the pass

Till thy return.” But Shivaji kept still

His great and tranquil look upon the face

Of Baji Prabhou. Then, all black with wrath,

Wrinkling his fierce hard eyes, the Malsure:

“What ponders then the hero? Such a man

Of men, he needs not like us petty swords

A force behind him, but alone will hold

All Rajasthan and Agra and Cabool

From rise to set.” And Baji answered him:

“Tanaji Malsure, not in this living net

Of flesh and nerve, nor in the flickering mind

Is a man’s manhood seated. God within

Rules us, who in the Brahmin and the dog

Can, if He will, show equal godhead. Not

By men is mightiness achieved; Baji

Or Malsure is but a name, a robe,

And covers One alone. We but employ

Bhavani’s strength, who in an arm of flesh

Is mighty as in the thunder and the storm.

I ask for fifty swords.” And Malsure:

“Well, Baji, I will build thee such a pyre

As man had never yet, when we return;

For all the Deccan brightening shall cry out,

Baji the Prabhou burns!” And with a smile

The Prabhou answered: “Me thou shalt not burn.

For this five feet or more of bone and flesh,

Whether pure flame or jackals of the hills

Be fattened with its rags, may well concern

Others, not Baji Prabhou.” And the Chief

With a high calmness in his shining look,

“We part, O friend, but meet again we must,

When from our tasks released we both shall run

Like children to our Mother’s clasp.” He took

From his wide brow the princely turban sown

With aigrette diamond-crowned and on the head

Of Baji set the gleaming sign, then clasped

His friend and, followed by the streaming host

That gathered from the rear, to farther hills

Rode clattering. By the Mogul van approached

Baji and his Mahrattas sole remained

Watched by the mountains in the silent gorge.

Small respite had the slender band who held

Fate constant with that brittle hoop of steel;

For like the crest of an arriving wave

The Moslem van appeared, though slow and tired,

Yet resolute to break such barrier faint,

And forced themselves to run: – nor long availed;

For with a single cry the muskets spoke,

Once and again and always, as they neared,

And, like a wave arrested, for a while

The assailants paused and like a wave collapsed

Spent backward in a cloud of broken spray,

Retreating. Yielding up, the dangerous gorge

Saw only on the gnarled and stumbling rise

The dead and wounded heaped. But from the rear

The main tremendous onset of the North

Came in a dark and undulating surge

Regardless of the check,– a mingled mass,

Pathan and Mogul and the Rajput clans,

All clamorous with the brazen throats of war

And spitting smoke and fire. The bullets rang

Upon the rocks, but in their place unhurt,

Sheltered by tree and rock, the silent grim

Defenders waited, till on root and stone

The confident high-voiced triumphant surge

Began to break, to stumble, then to pause,

Confusion in its narrowed front. At once

The muskets clamoured out, the bullets sped,

Deadly though few; again and yet again,

And some of the impetuous faltered back

And some in wrath pressed on; and while they swayed

Poised between flight and onset, blast on blast

The volleyed death invisible hailed in

Upon uncertain ranks. The leaders fell,

The forward by the bullets chosen out,

Prone or supine or leaning like sick men

O’er trees and rocks, distressed the whole advance

With prohibition by the silent slain.

So the great onset failed. And now withdrawn

The generals consulted, and at last

In slow and ordered ranks the foot came on,

An iron resolution in their tread,

Hushed and deliberate. Far in the van,

Tall and large-limbed, a formidable array,

The Pathan infantry; a chosen force,

Lower in crest, strong-framed, the Rajputs marched;

The chivalry of Agra led the rear.

Then Baji first broke silence, “Lo, the surge!

That was but spray of death we first repelled.

Chosen of Shivaji, Bhavani’s swords,

For you the gods prepare. We die indeed,

But let us die with the high-voiced assent

Of Heaven to our country’s claim enforced

To freedom.” As he spoke, the Mogul lines

Entered the menacing wide-throated gorge,

Carefully walking, but not long that care

Endured, for where they entered, there they fell.

Others behind in silence stern advanced.

They came, they died; still on the previous dead

New dead fell thickening. Yet by paces slow

The lines advanced with labour infinite

And merciless expense of valiant men.

For even as the slopes were filled and held,

Still the velocity and lethal range

Increased of the Mahratta bullets; dead

Rather than living held the conquered slope,–

The living who, half-broken, paused. Abridged,

Yet wide, the interval opposed advance,

Daunting those resolute natures; eyes once bold

With gloomy hesitation reckoned up

The dread equivalent in human lives

Of cubits and of yards, and hardly hoped

One could survive the endless unacquired

Country between. But from the Southron wall

The muskets did not hesitate, but urged

Refusal stern; the bullets did not pause,

Nor calculate expense. Active they thronged

Humming like bees and stung strong lives to death

Making a holiday of carnage. Then

The heads that planned pushed swiftly to the front

The centre yet unhurt, where Rajasthan,

Playmate of death, had sent her hero sons.

They with a rapid royal reckless pace

Came striding over the perilous fire-swept ground,

Nor answered uselessly the bullets thick

Nor paused to judge, but o’er the increasing dead

Leaping and striding, shouting, sword in hand,

Rushed onward with immortal courage high

In mortal forms, and held the lower slope.

But now the higher incline, short but steep,

Baffled their speed, and as they clambered up,

Compact and fiery, like the rapid breath

Of Agra’s hot simoom, the sheeted flame

Belched bullets. Down they fell with huge collapse,

And, rolling, with their shock drove back the few

Who still attempted. Banned advance, retreat

Threatening disgrace and slaughter, for a while

Like a bound sacrifice the Rajputs stood

Diminishing each moment. Then a lord

High-crested of the Rathore clan stood out

From the perplexed assailants, with his sword

Beckoning the thousands on against the few.

And him the bullets could not touch; he stood

Defended for a moment by his lease

Not yet exhausted. And a mighty shout

Rose from behind, and in a violent flood

The Rajputs flung themselves on the incline

Like clambering lions. Many hands received

The dead as they descended, flinging back

Those mournful obstacles, and with a rush

The lead surmounted and on level ground

Stood sword in hand; yet only for a while,–

For grim and straight the slogan of the South

Leaped with the fifty swords to thrust them back,

Baji the Prabhou leading. Thrice they came,

Three times prevailed, three times the Southron charge

Repelled them; till at last the Rathore lord,

As one appointed, led the advancing death,

Nor waited to assure his desperate hold,

But hurled himself on Baji; those behind

Bore forward those in front. From right and left

Mahratta muskets rang their music out

And withered the attack that, still dissolved,

Still formed again from the insistent rear

And would not end. So was the fatal gorge

Filled with the clamour of the close-locked fight.

Sword rang on sword, the slogan shout, the cry

Of guns, the hiss of bullets filled the air,

And murderous strife heaped up the scanty space,

Rajput and strong Mahratta breathing hard

In desperate battle. But far off the hosts

Of Agra stood arrested, confident,

Waiting the end. Far otherwise it came

Than they expected. For, as in the front

The Rathore stood on the disputed verge

And ever threw fresh strength into the scale

With that inspiring gesture, Baji came

Towards him singling out the lofty crest,

The princely form: and, as the waves divide

Before a driving keel, the battle so

Before him parted, till he neared, he slew.

Avoiding sword, avoiding lifted arm

The blade surprised the Rajput’s throat, and down

As falls an upright poplar, with his hands

Outspread, dying, he clutched Mahratta ground.

Loud rose the slogan as he fell. Amazed,

The eager hosts of Agra saw reel back

The Rajput battle, desperate victory

Turned suddenly into entire defeat,

Not headlong, but with strong discouragement,

Sullen, convinced, rejecting the emprise.

As they retired, the brilliant Pathan van

Assumed the attempt. “Exhaust,” the generals cried,

“Exhaust the stubborn mountaineers; for now

Fatigued with difficult effort and success

They hardly stand, weary, unstrung, inert.

Scatter this fringe, and we march on and seize

Raigurh and Shivaji.” Meanwhile, they too

Not idle, covered by the rocks and trees,

Straining for vantage, pausing on each ledge,

Seizing each bush, each jutting promontory,

Some iron muscles, climbing, of the south

Lurked on the gorge’s gloomy walls unseen.

On came the Pathans running rapidly,

But as the nearmost left the rocky curve

Where lurked the ambush, loud from stone and tree

The silence spoke; sideways, in front, behind

Death clamoured, and tall figures strewed the ground

Like trees in a cyclone. Appalled the rest

Broke this way and broke that, and some cried, “On!”

Some shouted, “Back!” for those who led, fell fast.

So the advance dissolved, divided,– the more

In haste towards the plains, greeted with death

Even while they ran; but others forward, full

Of panic courage, drove towards the foe

They could not reach,– so hot a blast and fell

Stayed their unsteady valour, their retreat

So swift and obstinate a question galled,

Few through the hail survived. With gloom their chiefs

Beheld the rout and drawing back their hosts

In dubious council met, whether to leave

That gorge of slaughter unredeemed or yet

Demand the price of so immense a loss.

But to the Prabhou came with anxious eyes

The Captain of the band. “Baji,” he cried,

“The bullets fail; all the great store we had

Of shot and powder by unsparing use

Is spent, is ended.” And Baji Prabhou turned.

One look he cast upon the fallen men

Discernible by their attire, and saw

His ranks not greatly thinned, one look below

Upon the hundreds strewing thick the gorge,

And grimly smiled; then where the sun in fire

Descending stooped, towards the vesper verge

He gazed and cried: “Make iron of your souls.

Yet if Bhavani wills, strength and the sword

Can stay our nation’s future from o’erthrow

Till victory with Shivaji return.”

And so they waited without word or sound,

And over them the silent afternoon

Waited; the hush terrestrial was profound.

Except the mountains and the fallen men

No sight, no voice, no movement was abroad,

Only a few black-winged slow-circling birds

That wandered in the sky, only the wind

That now arose and almost noiselessly

Questioned the silence of the wooded sides,

Only the occasional groan that marked the pang

By some departing spirit on its frame

Inflicted. And from time to time the gaze

Of Baji sought the ever-sinking sun.

Men fixed their eyes on him and in his firm

Expression lived. So the slow minutes passed.

But when the sun dipped very low, a stir

Was felt far off, and all men grasped the hilt

Tighter and put a strain upon their hearts.

Resolved at last the stream of Mogul war

Came once more pouring, not the broken rout

Of Pathans, not discouraged Rajput swords,

But Agra’s chivalry glancing with gold

And scimitars inlaid and coloured robes.

Swiftly they came expecting the assault

Fire-winged of bullets and the lethal rain,

But silence met them and to their intent

So ominous it seemed, awhile they paused,

Fearing some ruse, though for much death prepared,

Yet careful of prevention. Reassured,

Onward with a high shout they charged the slope.

No bullet sped, no musket spoke; unhurt

They crossed the open space, unhurt they climbed

The rise; but even as their hands surprised

The shrubs that fringed the vantage, swords unseen

Hacked at their fingers, through the bushes thrust

Lances from warriors unexposed bore through

Their bosoms. From behind the nearest lines

Pressed on to share their fate, and still the sea

Of men bore onward till with violent strain

They reached the perilous crest; there for a while

A slaughter grim went on and all the verge

Was heaped and walled and thickly fortified

With splendid bodies. But as they were piled,

The raging hosts behind tore down their dead

And mounted, till at last the force prevailed

Of obstinate numbers and upon a crest

Swarming with foemen fought ’gainst desperate odds

The Southron few. Small was the space for fight,

And meeting strength with skill and force with soul

The strong and agile keepers of the hills

Prevailed against the city-dwelling hosts,

With covert and the swiftly stabbing blades

O’erpowering all the feints of Agra’s schools.

So fought they for a while; then suddenly

Upon the Prabhou all the Goddess came.

Loud like a lion hungry on the hills

He shouted, and his stature seemed to increase

Striding upon the foe. Rapid his sword

Like lightning playing with a cloud made void

The crest before him, on his either side

The swordsmen of the South with swift assault

Preventing the reply, till like a bank

Of some wild river the assault collapsed

Over the stumbling edge and down the rise,

And once again the desperate moment passed.

The relics of the murderous strife remained,

Corpses and jewels, broidery and gold.

But not for this would they accept defeat.

Once more they came and almost held. Then wrath

Rose in the Prabhou and he raised himself

In soul to make an end; but even then

A stillness fell upon his mood and all

That godlike impulse faded from his heart,

And passing out of him a mighty form

Stood visible, Titanic, scarlet-clad,

Dark as a thunder-cloud, with streaming hair

Obscuring heaven, and in her sovran grasp

The sword, the flower, the boon, the bleeding head,–

Bhavani. Then she vanished; the daylight

Was ordinary in a common world.

And Baji knew the goddess formidable

Who watches over India till the end.

Even then a sword found out his shoulder, sharp

A Mogul lance ran griding4 through his arm.

Fiercely around him gathered in a knot

The mountaineers; but Baji, with a groan,

“Moro Deshpande, to the other side

Hasten of the black gorge and bring me word.

Rides any from the West, or canst thou hear

The Raigurh trumpets blow? I know my hour

Is ended; let me know my work is done.”

He spoke and shouted high the slogan loud.

Desperate, he laboured in his human strength

To push the Mogul from the gorge’s end

With slow compulsion. By his side fell fast

Mahratta and Mogul and on his limbs

The swords drank blood, a single redness grew

His body, yet he fought. Then at his side

Ghastly with wounds and in his fiery eyes

Death and rejoicing a dire figure stood,

Moro Deshpande. “Baji, I have seen

The Raigurh lances; Baji, I have heard

The trumpets.” Conquering with his cry the din

He spoke, then dead upon a Mogul corpse

Fell prone. And Baji with a gruesome hand

Wiping the blood from his fierce staring eyes

Saw round him only fifteen men erect

Of all his fifty. But in front, behind,

On either side the Mogul held the gorge.

Groaning, once more the grim Mahratta turned

And like a bull with lowered horns that runs,

Charged the exultant foe behind. With him

The desperate survivors hacking ran,

And as a knife cuts instantly its way

Through water, so the yielding Mogul wall

Was cleft and closed behind. Eight men alone

Stood in the gorge’s narrow end, not one

Unwounded. There where hardly three abreast

Have room to stand, they faced again the foe;

And from this latest hold Baji beheld

Mounting the farther incline, rank on rank,

A mass of horsemen; galloped far in front

Some forty horse, and on a turbaned head

Bright in the glory of the sinking sun

A jewelled aigrette blazed. And Baji looked

Over the wide and yawning field of space

And seemed to see a fort upon a ridge,

Raigurh; then turned and sought again the war.

So for few minutes desperately they strove.

Man after man of the Mahrattas fell

Till only three were left. Then suddenly

Baji stood still and sank upon the ground.

Quenched was the fiery gaze, nerveless the arm:

Baji lay dead in the unconquered gorge.

But ere he fell, upon the rocks behind

The horse-hooves rang and, as the latest left

Of the half hundred died, the bullets thronged

Through the too narrow mouth and hurled those down

Who entered. Clamorous, exultant blared

The Southron trumpets, but with stricken hearts

The swords of Agra back recoiled; fatal

Upon their serried unprotected mass

In hundreds from the verge the bullets rained,

And in a quick disordered stream, appalled,

The Mogul rout began. Sure-footed, swift

The hostile strength pursued, Suryaji first

Shouting aloud and singing to the hills

A song of Ramdas as he smote and slew.

But Shivaji by Baji’s empty frame

Stood silent and his gaze was motionless

Upon the dead. Tanaji Malsure

Stood by him and observed the breathless corpse,

Then slowly said, “Thirty and three the gates

By which thou enterest heaven, thou fortunate soul,

Thou valiant heart. So when my hour arrives,

May I too clasp my death, saving the land

Or winning some great fortress for my lord.”

But Shivaji beside the dead beheld

A dim and mighty cloud that held a sword

And in its other hand, where once the head

Depended bleeding, raised the turban bright

From Baji’s brows, still glittering with its gems,

And placed it on the chief’s. But as it rose

Blood-stained with the heroic sacrifice,

Round the aigrette he saw a golden crown.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volume 2.- Collected Poems.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2009.- 751 p.

1 Before this line in 2009 ed. there is the line:

Nor only on inanimate hills and trees,


2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: herdsman or the patient


3 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: depth


4 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: grinding