Student Question

What is the theme of "Dawn at Puri" by Jayanta Mahapatra?

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The theme of "Dawn at Puri" by Jayanta Mahapatra is traditions, particularly those related to death. The poem questions the purpose of these deeply rooted traditions, using ironic language to highlight the contrast between the somber reality of death and the supposed holiness of the rituals. The setting and imagery, such as the beach where the dead are burned and crows scavenging, reinforce this theme.

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“Dawn at Puri” is a poem by Jayanta Mahapatra. As the title suggests, it is set in the town of Puri in India. It consists of six short stanzas, which only contain three lines each and which don’t rhyme.

The main theme of the poem is traditions. Through the poem, the poet questions the point of traditions, which are deeply rooted in Indian life. In particular, this poem is dealing with the rituals and traditions to do with death, which gives the poem quite a sad and somber tone.

The reader experiences this straight away in the first stanza, as the narrator is describing walking along a beach, where the dead are burned. This is hinted by the fact that there is a “skull.” Also, the narrator points out that there are “endless crow noises,” which underlines the theme of death, given that crows are attracted by the remains of dead animals and people. However, there is one word that stands out as odd: “holy.” Nothing the poet has described so far would suggest there is anything “holy” or special about the place, as the place is merely described as dead and sad. This ironic use of the word “holy” therefore shows us that the poet is questioning the traditions surrounding funerals and religion. It is further backed up by referring to the temple in the third stanza as the “the Great Temple,” which further questions traditions through the ironic use of the word “Great.”

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