weavers, weaving at break of day,
Why do you weave a garment so gay?
Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
We weave the robes of a new- born child.
Weavers, weaving at fall of night,
Why do you weave a garment so bright ?
Like the plumes of a peacock purple and green,
We weave the marriage veils of a queen.
Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
What do you weave in the moonlight chill?
White as a feather and white as a cloud,
We weave a dead man’s funeral shroud.
The ‘Indian Weavers’ is a small lyric in three stanzas of four lines each included in the “Folk Songs” section of The Golden Threshold. In each stanza, a question is asked in the first two lines, and it is answered in the remaining two lines. Weaving is one of the most important of the folk vocations in India, and the weavers are important folk characters. Sarojini Naidu has skillfully retained the simplicity and lilting music of a folk song, even though the lyric has a symbolic significance and a rich texture having layers within layers within of meaning.
In twelve lines, the poetess had provided a symbolic representation of man’s journey from birth to death. The weavers are the Fates of Greek mythology weaving the web of life, or the Indian Trinity-Braham, Vishnu and Mahesh the Lord of man’s destiny, those who create and regenerate through Death itself. Their process of creation is an endless one like the weaving of the weavers from morning till night. The poetess observes some weavers weaving a bright beautiful cloth at the break of day, and asks them why they are weaving such a gay cloth. The weavers reply that they are weaving it for the dress of a newly born child. That is why the cloth they weave of a blue colour, as blue as the wing of a Kingfisher. The dawn of daybreak symbolises the beginning of life, the birth of new life, and blue symbolizes the depth and colour of the ocean out of which emerge the white swan and the white Lotus in the Hindu creation myths. It also into this world. the newborn into this world. The newborn child is an expression of the creatives powers and the creative joy of Brahma, the supreme. Hence it is in the fitness of things the garment woven for him should be blue in colour, gay and bright.
At nightfall the poetess Sarojini Naidu finds the weavers, weaving a cloth, bright and multi-coloured, and asks them for whom they are weaving a cloth of such variegated colours. The weavers tell her that they are weaving a cloth of purple and green colour, magnificent and colourful like the feathers of a peacock, for the bridal dress of a Queen. Purple and green are the colours of blood and sap (the green fluid in the veins of trees and plants) and so symbolic of fertility and growth.
The plumes of the peacock (a symbol of the Dionysian God, Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu ) represent the many-coloured splendour of life, and its perennial rhythm, the dance of being. The colourful garments, designed to be the marriage-veils of a Queen, are for Radha, the eternal bride. “They symbolize the marriage of heaven and earth, the sacred union of Being and Becoming. The glory, the mystery, and the joy of life are all stressed as the expression of the joy of Vishny in his creative mood. ‘Night’ symbolizes Vishnu’s Yoga-Nidra, rising out which he forces chaos into order.
In the cold moonlight, the poetess finds the weavers still at work. They are now silent and their mood is serious. They are now weaving a white cloth, as white as a bird’s feather or a cloud, and to the question of the poetess, they reply briefly that they are weaving it for the funeral shroud of a dead man. The chill of the moonlight night is symbolic of death and is it befitting that the shroud should be of white colour, for white is the symbol of purity, of unity and possibility. Death means a re-union with the eternal and the possibility of regeneration. Thus in this admirable lyric, the poetess has traced human life through the three most important stages that it passes birth, marriage and death. The texture is symbolic and yet the poetess has succeeded in retaining the simplicity of the folk song. As Srinivasa Iyengar points out, “The sentiment and imagery are perfectly suited to each other, and the management of rhythm and the internal and terminal rhymes is perfect.” P.E. Dustoor rightly points out, “We are made to realize (in the poem) that the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, grave and gay together.”
Even C.D. Narsimhaiah, no great admirer of the poet acknowledges: “Here, in twelve lines, is an elliptical allusive, and symbolic representation of life’s journey from birth to death… It is not merely a competent poem, but a very distinguished one, for the poet here is in full possession of rare gifts a profound awareness of her own tradition, admirable poise, economy and an ear and eye for striking rhythm, image and symbol, all used to find an advantage to make poem most evocative”.