‘Deeno Daan’ (’Destitute Donation’)
by Rabindranath Tagore

A poem written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1900.  Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (The Scroll).


Said the royal attendant, “Despite entreaties, king,

The finest hermit, best among men, refuses shelter

In your temple of gold, he is singing to god

Beneath a tree by the road. The devout surround him

In numbers large, their overflowing tears of joy

Rinse the dust off the earth. The temple, though,

Is all but deserted; just as bees abandon

The gilded honeypot when maddened by the fragrance

Of the flower to swiftly spread their wings

And fly to the petals unfurling in the bush

To quench their eager thirst, so too are people,

Sparing not a glance for the palace of gold,

Thronging to where a flower in a devout heart

Spreads heaven’s incense. On the bejewelled platform

The god sits alone in the empty temple.”


At this,

The fretful king dismounted from his throne to go

Where the hermit sat beneath the tree. Bowing, he said,

“My lord, why have you forsaken god’s mighty abode,

The royal construction of gold that pierces the sky,

To sing paeans to the divine here on the streets?’

“There is no god in that temple,” said the hermit.


The king said, “No god! You speak like a godless man,

Hermit. A bejewelled idol on a bejewelled throne,

You say it’s empty?”

“Not empty, it holds royal arrogance,

You have consecrated yourself, not the god of the world.”


Frowning, said the king, “You say the temple I made

With twenty lakh gold coins, reaching to the sky,

That I dedicated to the deity after due rituals,

This impeccable edifice – it has no room for god!”

Said the tranquil hermit, “The year when the fires

Raged and rendered twenty thousand subjects

Homeless, destitute; when they came to your door

With futile pleas for help, and sheltered in the woods,

In caves, in the shade of trees, in dilapidated temples,

When you constructed your gold-encrusted building

With twenty lakh gold coins for a deity, god said,

‘My eternal home is lit with countless lamps

In the blue, infinite sky; its everlasting foundations

Are truth, peace, compassion, love. This feeble miser

Who could not give homes to his homeless subjects

Expects to give me one!’ At that moment god left

To join the poor in their shelter beneath the trees.

As hollow as the froth and foam in the deep wide ocean

Is your temple, just as bereft beneath the universe,

A bubble of gold and pride.”


Flaring up in rage

The king said, “You false deceiver, leave my kingdom

This instant.”


Serenely the hermit said to him,

“You have exiled the one who loves the devout.

Now send the devout into the same exile, king.”

Deeno Daan