White Swan Mother

Dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore’s opera ‘Valmiki Pratibha’

Vaishali Paliwal
4 min readSep 24, 2019
Tagore performing the title role in Valmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi. Source

This piece is the output of my meditation on Tagore’s Valmiki Pratibha, a musical play Tagore asked to be read more like a musical piece than be seen as a play.

It was his musical experiment after his travels of the west and has some influences of European opera in it making it a milestone of an art piece combining language, instruments and stories of the east with notes of the west.

Valmiki Pratibha translates to ‘The Genius of Valmiki’ that really comes to manifest in its perfection thanks to the creative greatness of Tagore.

While writing this piece, I observed and experienced so many intersections that make me question the coincidence of this all tempting me to conclude that one White Swan Mother has already written all of this;

my typing hands, your reading eyes, the above image from more than a century back connecting us all here in surreal ways with a brilliant artist who wrote a song of a robber who went on to become the author of Ramayana — that a poet deciphers in her strings of words today and a reader absorbs in their fresh pages for our new future.

White Swan Mother referred here is Goddess Saraswati who blessed the forest bandit, and he transformed to the great sage Valmiki.

Mural from Valmiki-Pratibha in Kolkata. Source and license

Robber in past life, now a seeker of the unknown, wanders aimlessly in the forest. He hasn’t found his this world, nor the other one. But to find, he must know first, what is it that he is looking for. He does not know what he is looking for.

He is looking for the impossible. We think. We, the front row spectators being used to placing an easy finger on a tangible white lotus, that is only water, think, that anything unseen here must be impossible. We do not see that we are the water. We are White Swan Mother’s water.

He is looking for what is not a lie. He thinks. Lie that was the bird brought to him by his looting friends on the table of sacrifice to the dark Mother. He refuses the lie. The poet writing this song has refused a lie.

We think Valmiki found the truth here; his grand metamorphosis by a sudden burst of purest music of kindness in his heart being played by a distant Veena; letting go the caged bird.

But he didn’t find the truth here. He just refused the lie, after being assisted by distant mysterious hands playing unrecognizable and never heard before melodies. These are the same melodies in Tagore’s hands tonight. He travelled all of the east and all of the west to bring them not for the stage with the front row spectators, but for a poet writing his song a century after.

So Valmiki didn’t find the truth here. He just refused the lie. He is looking now for what is not a lie; the unknown. He has renounced the dark Mother. He has renounced the Goddess of wealth. He has shed all his homelands. The poet writing this song has shed all her homelands.

And we wish this story would end with Valmiki and the poet and Tagore and the front row spectators finding the mystical truth, the biggest secret, the grand hidden message. That this story would have a defined conclusion and a prophecy. But it does not.

Just because Valmiki wrote Ramayana and Tagore wrote Valmiki Pratibha doesn’t mean they found some magical answer and key to the divine.

Truth is already here, very obvious, blatantly seen, easily reachable, easily possible.

It is the bird Valmiki refused to kill.

It is the tangible white rose front row spectators see on the stage.

It is the music Tagore made with all the teachings of the world.

It is the melody Valmiki heard in the forest that transformed his heart. The distant mysterious hands playing Veena. They are the hands of the White Swan Mother. They are writing this song by the poet.

It is all Her water that we are.


Vaishali Paliwal

Veena- Goddess Saraswati’s musical instrument representing all creative arts and sciences.

Source. Sage Valimiki writing Ramayana after his transformation from a forest bandit to an enlightened being after being blessed by Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge.