Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Ballad-y : Bloody but unBowed

is for Ballad

In simplest terms a ballad is a narrative poem with a straightforward rhyme scheme (four line stanzas with xaxa and abab are common) and often, a refrain.  The word ballad has evolved from the Latin ballare which means to dance, so a ballad was originally a form intended for dancing to (the word ball as in ball dancing comes from there too).   A ballad is therefore a song that tells a story but has been stripped of its tune. 

The ballad I am posting for my A-Z entry is based on Karna (also known as Radheya after his foster mother, read more here).  He is the most fascinating tragic character ever from the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata. He fought on the losing side in a great war, and the battle between him and his half-brother Arjun is the climax of the story.   

First among unequals

Of all the sons that Kunti bore
the first was by far the best;
a staunch friend in peace and in war,
stood steadfast through every test
and knew what he was standing for,
didn’t deviate the slightest.
Of all the sons that Kunti bore
her first was by far the best.

It took no courage to champion
the winning cause and side;
when justice was clearly being done
what was there to decide?
But when lines got blurred and uncertain,
easy rules no more applied,
he stood firm by his friend then,
tragic prince and dignified.

Of all the sons that Kunti bore
his fate was the cruellest;
cast off at birth, he floated ashore
to a foster mother’s breast
loved as her own, though low-born, poor
her circumstances distressed.
Of all the sons that Kunti bore
the first grew to be the best.

He was a son of the Great Sun
and a virgin’s thoughtless whim,
armoured with the Sun’s protection;
yet his trials many and grim.
And when his life was finished and done
he’d triumphed over all of them,
his word and spirit never broken,
no-one more kingly than him.

Of all the sons that Kunti bore
Radheya was the eldest.
His birth mother came to his door,
threw a lure in with a request
“Spare my sons, their blood is yours;
they’ll crown you king at my behest.”
Of all the sons that Kunti bore
the first born was the finest.

He paid homage where it was due,
and then he gave her his word,
“I’ll spare the sons of king Pandu,
except the middle-born third;
no battle field can contain us two,
either Arjun or I will be conquered.
Five sons you have, I promise you
that number will not be altered.”

Of all the sons that Kunti bore
the least loved turned out the best -
stood by his friend in a misjudged war;
cursed from birth, and dispossessed
yet he fought well, loyal to his core,
and went to a martyr’s rest.
Of all the sons that Kunti bore
the first born was the finest.

There it is, a narrative, a simple rhyme scheme, uncomplicated stanzas, and a sort of refrain.  Ballad.  

And completely off topic, the word balady can mean native, traditional, rustic, folk and/or local in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, which for some unfathomable reason, makes me feel absurdly pleased.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.


  1. Ballads are fun to read, write and easy to relate to :D

    Ps I'm clueless abt the Mahabharata /.\

    1. True, simple formats are easy on the ear, and hands. And you don't have to know the Mahabharata. It's an amazing read, though.

  2. I guess, not being a poet, that ballads are one of my favourite poetic forms. I love sung ballads, which I think was one of the original ideas of this form. I was interested in the word balady and its multiple meanings.

    Thanks for sharing the ballad today, Nila.


    1. Only some of the English ballads, the other languages still have sung ballads, Take Spanish.

      Thanks for being here.

  3. I like Shakespeare's ballads and sonnets.

    1. Me too, but sonnets more than the ballads in this case.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you that's quite the best compliment today :D

  5. Hi Nilanjana,
    I am hopeless when it comes to poetry. But I love the way you have explained what a ballad is and have recreated Karna's story. I am simply amazed! Thank you :)

  6. Karna is a favourite character of mine, pleased you liked the retelling. Thanks for coming by.


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