What is a summary of the poem "Main Temple Street" by Jayanta Mahapatra? What is its theme?

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The poem starts with Mahapatra drawing our attention to the children laughing at 'cripples and mating mongrels.' He goes on to insist that nobody 'ever bothers about them.'  We are not sure whether 'them' refers to the children, the cripples, the mating dogs, or all three. Thus, imagery of life on the periphery of Indian society greets us: both children and undomesticated dogs subsist alongside cripples, all forsaken by a seemingly indifferent audience. 

The next line stands alone ominously: 'The temple points to unending rhythm.' This temple refers to the ancient temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri. It is the center of Orissa culture and is one of four important pilgrimage sites. In the poem, the temple stands alone, both semantically and culturally. From its spiritual vantage point, it observes the dusty streets 'the color of shorn scalp,' where everything is constantly moving, but 'nothing ever disappears from sight.' Again, Puri is a pilgrimage site, where devotees come to petition the Lord Jagannatha, quite literally the Lord of the Universe.

The next line also stands alone: 'Injuries drowsy from the heat.' The temple observes the suffering of the populace under the scorching Indian sun. The suffering is always present and never disappears from sight (as mentioned earlier in the poem).

The last three lines discuss the impotence of the sky. Although the sky is 'claimed by inviolable authority' (by the power of God), it is helpless to assuage the suffering of the forgotten masses. Indeed, the sky relies on its 'crutches of silence' to endure the sight it must look upon each day. Much of Mahapatra's poetry draws our attention to the suffering, the degradation, and the struggles of the lower classes in India.

For more on Mahapatra's poetry and analysis of his work, you may be interested in The Indian Imagination of Jayanta Mahapatra.

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