Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Oct 20, 2009

Premal Jyoti and Lead, kindly light!


Today, 19th October is the Gujarati New Year day and the hands are folded in worship to the Lord to kindly lead with His light. The mood is of contemplation today and rightly so and a popular prayer from childhood days flashes across the heart and sits on the lips: Premal Jyoti or what the English speaking world knows as   Lead, kindly Light!

The Pillar of the Cloud

The Pillar of the Cloud

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

( written while  At Sea. June 16, 1833 by John Henry Newman (1801–1890)

As we note above, it was written – not in the comfort of a desk in a cozy home but at sea The background incident  is as inspiring as these twelve lines , reproduced below : ( Courtesy Virginia U. Jensen

"As a young priest traveling in Italy in 1833, Englishman John Henry Newman encountered emotional and physical darkness when illness detained him there for several weeks. He became deeply discouraged, and a nurse who saw his tears asked what troubled him. All he could reply was that he was sure God had work for him to do in England. "

As we read from Newman's diary of June 1833, aching to return home, he finally found passage on a small boat. Not long after the ship set sail, thick fog descended and obscured the hazardous cliffs surrounding them. Trapped for a week in the damp, gray darkness, the ship unable to travel forward or back, Newman pled for his Savior's help as he penned the words  we now know as the hymn "Lead, Kindly Light." He was only 32 years old then!

This hymn has given comfort and guidance to millions all over the world. The eloquence of Newman came out shining in his hour of need while suffering on a ship, with his Bible open at the page reading “ Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path” 

We learn from  Gandhi and Lead, kindly light by written by Emilsen W., that  it “exerted a powerful influence upon Mahatma Gandhi's spirituality and India's struggle for independence. The hymn was transmitted to Gandhi in   England and South Africa. Lead, kindly Light came to represent the spirit of his satyagraha campaigns against the British and Indian Governments. “ 

We in Gujarat are fortunate to have an unforgettable translation in melodious yet comforting words titled Premal Jyoti by Narsinharao Divetia.

Narsinharao Bholanath Divetia (1859-1937) was a  Gujarati poet, linguist, prose stylist and critic. He received Bhau Daji prize when he stood first in the University at the BA exam in Sanskrit. He passed Indian Statutory Civil Services exam and was appointed Asst. Collector at the age of 25. He retired early at the age of 53 due to  ill health and joined Elphinstone College in Mumbai as a professor of Gujarati, as we learn from The Encyclopedia of Indian Literature.

In his later life, he bravely suffered the pangs caused by death of his near ones , when he penned the beautiful and touching poem Mangal Mandir Kholo, relating to the untimely death of his son. His Gujarati translation of Lead Kindly Light by Cardinal Newman has been the most popular and recited in households &  schools .

One  can - unintentionally  compare it with the translation by another renowned Gujarat poet Manishankar Ratnaji Bhatt “Kant”, who gave us the unforgettable poem Sagar Ane Shashi ( Aaj Maharaj ! Jal Par Uday Joine”.

But Divetia’s version has definitely scored over Kant’s  in terms of  unsurpassable mass  popularity. 

Let the path before us be shining with His light !