The scholar John Strong has written a great deal about the saint, Upagupta. Many believe that this is the source of inspiration for Tagore's poem. Others believe that Upagupta is the Lord Buddha himself, while there is a very strong and distinct Krishna presence in the poem (Mathura, the flute, the description of him as being "beautiful," the hearing of lovers, as well as the fact that the manner in which Upagupta speaks in the poem is really reminiscent of how he spoke to Arjuna in demonstrating his status as Vishwaroopa in the Gita.) The imagery is what grabs me in the poem. Tagore's initial description of how the ascetic is asleep on the ground and hears the anklets of the young and beautiful dancer is powerful along with the closing ideas of the storms raging in the end of the first stanza. Such imagery is continued in the second stanza when the ascetic comes back into town and hears "love- sick koels" as well as the "mango branches." The nighttime settings in both stanzas are punctuated by the contrasting vision of the girl, who is beautiful in the first stanza, horrifically riddled with pain and sores in the second. Yet, the transcendent vision of the ascetic is constant, who applies healing paste to her body and tells her "I am here." If we examine the poem as representative of the spiritual dimension of Hinduism, there is much here which could put the poem in the same type of caliber as depicting the power of spirituality as seen in the Gita or Mahabaratha. The most basic elements jump out at the reader. The benevolence of the young dancer who is rebuffed, for all practical purposes. This is something that is unique, as we already know that the subject, Upagupta, is an ascetic. The idea that he would rebuff her generosity is quite powerful. Yet, he does so with the warning that "When the time is ripe, I will come to you." This helps to bring to light the Hindu or even Eastern belief that one does not choose their time, but rather their time chooses them. The figure that we see in the second stanza, as isolated and rejected, riddled with pain and scars is horrific enough. Yet, this is countered with the ascetic who approaches her with taking care of her. Yet, in my mind, the genius is not here. Tagore's genius comes in the last line which does not pretend to offer any other conclusion other than the statement of "The time has come, at last, to visit you, and I am here." This statement and its ideas are profound. We, as the reader, do not know what happens to the woman. Is she healed? Does she die? Perhaps, the larger question is whether this even matters. She has achieved a certain level of salvation, of moksha, or liberation. This is what we are left with, that the vision of the divine has come to the realm of the mortal. This is very reminiscent of any of the Hindu gods, such as Vishnu (Krishna and Buddha avatars), descending from their abodes to bless their mortals who have proven worthy, whose acts in this life have fed their own karma and ensured that the spiritual atman has been, to an extent, fulfilled. In a body of work that is highly political and literary, Tagore's poem is reminiscent and containing much of what makes the Indian lexicon of writing as something that encompasses a sense of the spiritual in almost any realm.
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Thte poem Upagupta shows the conflict between carnality and spirituality, sensuality versus sanctity and the ultimate victory of values over vanity.