“No one go to the woods today!
Instead, bring all your cows and calves
and gaily adorn them,
for in Nanda’s house a child has been born” –
they say it over and over,
dancing and singing and causing an uproar,
hearts simply bursting with joy.
Why do you linger there for no reason?
Hurry! Rise up and run!
Anything any of you imagined you might see –
now see it with your very own eyes!
Someone is marking heads with dūb grass and curd,
another keeps clasping his feet,
another gives clothes and cows to celebrate the day,
another hops up and laughs and sings.
Children and elders, women and men –
everyone’s wish has come four times true.
They’re so overcome with the love of Surdas’s Lord
that they give no thought to the king.


“O Gopal, my little tiny child,
why can’t you grow any faster?
When will your mouth smile and shape sweet words?
When will you call me Mother?
And my great wish – the one that comes each day,
the one I want the Lord to realise – is this:
that these eyes of mine will be watching, friend,
when Madhav plants his two feet firmly on firm ground.

Let me rejoice to hear the sound of footsteps
as he plays in this Braj courtyard with Balaram.
Let me see him moment by moment become famished,
and let me laugh and call to feed him milk.”
That Being whom the Vedas laud by always saying
“Not this!” and whom Shiva could never, ever fathom –
Surdas says, Yashoda’s loving thoughts of him
serve to magnify the longings of the mind.


My dear little one, your face is the altar
where I’ve poured myself out, a sacrifice.
Little boy Krishna, let disease or misfortune
leave you and rest upon my eyes,
which cannot advance beyond your loveliness
when a mother sees your features and form.
Their wonder grows to even greater wonder and joy
if you laugh and emit even a little cry.
Those little baby teeth and that babbling baby talk –
they challenge what a brain can conceive:
Sur says, My thoughts and my mind are now lost
as a tiny little drop in that sea.


I’ve sacrificed all to that face of yours.
Above your eyebrow I’ve made an eyeblack mark
to guard you against an evil eye – even mine!
Long ago I gave you everything I own
when I saw those first two tiny, tiny teeth.

Listen, Sur, what’s left now to surrender
to your lovely, triply supple form?

Yashoda, may your Gopal live long!
May he grow fast, grow quickly to a man,
this boy with the luxuriant curls,
this child you’ve borne because of past good deeds
as a seashell spawns a pearl.
For all of Gokul he’s life breath and wealth;
for his foes, a thorn at the heart.
Sur says, Oh what joy I find
in seeing that tamāl-dark Shyam!
I’d take upon these eyes the dust of his pains –
illness, defect, even death.

Excerpted with permission from Sur’s Ocean, Surdas, translated from the Hindi by John Stratton Hawley, Murty Classical Library of India and Harvard University Press.