Updated: Jul 30
Begin the Beguine - Understanding and Approach to Free Translation across language and cultural barriers.
Why did Beloved Baba give so much importance to this song, and what is so special about it? When did He first hear it? Perhaps in late 1930s during His visit to the West. He then asked His women Mandali to keep the record of this song with them - this version was sung by Chuck Henderson. In 1940s and 50s this record must have been played to Him on countless occasions - so much so that the grooves on the record got worn out and the song was not audible any more!
Beloved Baba then asked His western lovers to procure the original record of this song. After an exhaustive search, a recorded version sung by Lesley Hutchinson was brought to Meherazad. Meher Baba sked Eruch Jessawala to keep the lyrics of the song always at hand and also to learn the tune so that Eruch could sing along the record. Beloved Baba also asked sister Mani to teach the tune to Eruch. He said that this song be sung, when He dropped His body, and at the time, if the record were not available, His Mandali should be able to sing the same. He added that the “song had Eternal meaning for Him and on hearing it He was reminded of the Original music of creation.”
The song was written and the music for the same was composed by by Cole Albert Porter in the year 1935 while on a sea voyage near Indonesia. The first successful recording of it was made as an instrumental by Arty Shaw’s band. In spite of the producers’ pessimism Arty Shaw was extremely upbeat about the success of the song. Gradually the song did become a grand hit and the fortunes of Shaw’s band experienced a turn-around because of its popularity. Later the song was sung by Chuck Henderson and the record was sold more than a million copies over the years. The lyrics and music were both unconventional and special. Porter was a gifted writer and also a gifted composer of music. Later the dance version of the song and stage shows based on it also became popular. Over the decades; many famous artists, singers and performers created their own versions - Fred Astaire , Eleanor Powell, John Mathis, Sheryl Crowe were among those who created their versions. Spanish version by Julius Iglesias became very popular in Spain and Frank Sinatra’s version also became quite popular. The Song is composed in six stanzas, each with a different meter. Musically also it is quite unconventionally composed and is very difficult to sing without notation at hand.
The song is based on a Carribean dance form named Beguine in French. The subject of song and its music was lodged in the Artists’s consciousness for almost a decade before he wrote and composed it in 1935. Beguine is also a word that refers to the women nuns - those who did not take a formal vows, but spent their lives in purity and dedication, love and devotion to Jesus Christ. These women lived in the Middle Ages in Europe and their cult must have spread to the Carribean through the French colonies. Thus the dance form and the nuns’ devotional lives are deeply connected. The Christian Church of the time however, did not recognise these nuns. If we go back in time, we find that at the time of the incarnation of Lord Krishna many women from the shepherd community - Gopikas (Chief among them was Radha) were similarly devoted to Krishna. There are legends written about their intense love, written in Shrimad Bhagwat which speak of their Ras Leela or Ras Kreeda (dance plays) with the Lord Himself participating with the Gopikas. It is also mentioned in the Bhagwat that the Gopikas were not recognised by the then orthodox communities and were made outcastes. We also have Sufis over the ages singing in the language of wine drinker (Lover), Saki (Wine giver or the beloved) and wine (Divine Love). Such outpouring of genuine love was always encouraged by the past Avatars, but misunderstood by the orthodox priests. Sufis were also persecuted by the Muslim priests over the ages. The song “Begin the Beguine” is based on this tradition of pure and innocent love carried out over the ages by lovers in spite of resistance by the priest class.
There is also another aspect to the theme of Love , Separation and Reunion - and this aspect is brought out in the theme of creation as told by Meher Baba in his books. The Avatar, the first soul, the Mischievous Chicken has the eternal responsibility to look after the other chicks who come out of mother hen’s protective wings (the beyond beyond stage of God) and the first chick feels eternal love for them and incarnates again and again to guide them towards the goal.
The words of Cole Porter’s song lend themselves to both the theme of creation and the theme of eternal love, separation and reunion. For the understanding of Marathi speakers, the song is translated with both the the theme of creation and the Ras Leela motif. Begin the beguine is surely a product of an inspired mind, but one does not know whether Cole Porter was himself aware of the significance of his song which spontaneously lends itself to these divine themes of Creation, Love, dance and Separation - both lyrically and musically.
As per Meher Baba’s instruction the song was played in the presence of Beloved Baba after He dropped His body during the period of 31st January to 7th February on seven different occasions. Meher Baba wanted to give one last message of assurance, His Eternal Love, and His continued presence in their hearts through this song to His despairing lovers assembled for the occasion and equally for the future generations of lovers. Hence the song assumes great importance for all of us.
Given below in parenthesis, the interpretation of the lyrics in the light of Meher Baba’s explanations on the Theme of Creation followed by the lyrics themselves. The effort is to make the English song accessible and meaningful to Indian sensibilities.
Begin the Beguine
( The earth is nostalgic about the past advents of the Ancient One. The New Avataric Age is approaching and the parched earth is ready to be drenched in the showers of His Love once again, and eager to get dressed in the green outfit. It is eager to witness again the memory of His Ras Leela of the past. The Earth sings … )
When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender,
It brings back a night of tropical splendor,
It brings back a memory ever green. ……. 1
(The Ancient One is equally eager to be on the earth, and once again be with His Lovers! The Avatar gives a call, come I am once again in your midst. Let there be song and dance! I am eager to play Raas Kreeda once again with my simple shepherds - My circle of gopees. He attracts them with His Leela’s creating the aura, the splendor and the loving atmosphere by His divine dance. He says to them …)
I'm with you once more under the stars,
And down by the shore an orchestra's playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine…………. 2
(The Ancient one tells them - I have to bear infinite suffering for you all, God only knows how I will bear it again - it is past all endeavor ! But I can not help myself when I listen to your song of separation. So here I am, to fulfill my promise to my chickens, who have come after me from the Ocean of Nothing and Everything. He says…)
To live it again is past all endeavor,
Except when that tune clutches my heart,
And there we are, swearing to love forever,
And promising never, never to part……….3
(The present Avataric Age remembers His past advents, and can’t forget the golden moments of His presence marveling at the ‘moments divine’ and ‘raptures serene’ . The Age also is acutely aware of the lovers who missed being with Him, they regret the chance they lost to be with Him. And the Ancient One knows too well the misery of those that missed the joy last time round. The Avataric Age sings .... )
What moments divine, what rapture serene,
Till clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted,
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted,
I know but too well what they mean ……….. 4
(The lovers are still not ready to take the plunge in His Ocean of Love, as this will need the lover to sacrifice his own lower self. The lover fondly cherishes His memory and the fire of His love. The lover’s dilemma is : he fears the unbearable pain of his flaming heart which will surely catch fire once His Ras Leela begins (Divine dance), but still wants to cherish and preserve the embers of those very pangs in his heart. The lover expresses his dilemma this way…. )
So don't let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember;
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine………..5
(The Ancient One, the Mischievous Chicken, resolves the Lovers' dilemma and strengthens the lovers' resolve of participating in the divine Raas Leela dance. He recreates the magic of the starry night and the music of the soul. In His new advent as Meher Baba, The Ancient One repeats His divine call “Darling, I love you!”. The lover is suddenly transported in the Seventh Heaven of Realization, burns His lower self and becomes one with the Beloved! The Ancient One sings … )
Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
Till the stars that were there before return above you,
Till you whisper to me once more,
"Darling, I love you!" And we suddenly know, what heaven we're in,
When they begin the beguine ……… 6