The narrator dreams of a visit to the ancient city of Ujjayani, on the banks of the Kshipra river. Ujjayani was the capital of the Avanti kingdom that flourished roughly 700 BCE–300 BCE. The Mahakal Shiva temple referred to in the poem still stands in modern Ujjain, though the current building dates back only to the 18th century.
As with any temple, services are conducted at specific times of the day. The poem's setting is sunset:
In the temple of Mahakal
The evening prayer bell rang
The crowded roads were now empty
The dusk was falling
And the rooftops were glowing
With the rays of setting sun.
A sunset আরতি / aarati, worship rite, would be part of the temple's schedule. The bell for beginning that rite has rung just before the narrator arrives at his former lover's house, and the rite ends as he is seated beside her. The end of the prayers is consistent with the poem's timeline.
In the original, the poem ends as follows:
উজ্জয়িনী করি দিল লুপ্ত একাকার।
কখন নিবিয়া গেল দুরন্ত বাতাসে।
আরতি থামিয়া গেল শিবের মন্দিরে।
ujjayinii kari dila lupta ekaakaar.
kakhana nibiyaa gela duranta baataashe
aarati thaamiya gela shiver mandire
Literal translation (mine):
The darkness of the night
rendered Ujjayani hidden, indistinguishable.
The lamp by the door
was long extinguished by a gust of wind.
On the banks of the river Shipra
The worship rite ended in Shiva's temple.
As always, Tagore's specific descriptions are wonderfully evocative. The blotting out of Ujjayani by the darkness, and the extinguished lamp by the beloved's door, could signify just the end of the dream. It could also be an acknowledgment that this is only a dream. If the narrator is paying homage to a lost love by dreaming of her, then the end of the dream is also the end of the homage, rather like the end of a worship rite.
I'm not sure I agree with the other answer given here, which states that the lovers have reached a state of perfection. One reason to question that interpretation is found in Tagore's own translation of this poem.
"A Dream" is Kumud Biswas's translation of Tagore's Bengali poem স্বপ্ন / swapna, "Dream". The poem was published in the 1900 collection কল্পনা / kalpanaa, "Imagination". The date of composition given at the end of the printed poem in that collection is ৯ জ্যৈষ্ঠ ১৩০৪, 9 jyaiShTha 1304, which corresponds to 23 May 1897 in the Gregorian calendar. Tagore's own rather truncated translation of this poem was published as Poem 62 in the 1913 collection The Gardener.
The Gardener 62 ends on a rather despondent note:
I thought and thought; our names would not come to my mind.
Tears shone in her eyes. She held up her right hand to me. I took it and stood silent.
Our lamp had flickered in the evening breeze and died.
This undercuts any optimistic reading of the end of the original or the translation. In all versions, the entire poem underlies the lack of connection between the lovers, who don't even speak the same language any more. I believe the connection between the prayer's ending and the darkness that falls around the lovers suggests the acknowledgment of loss rather than the attainment of perfection. It's true, of course, that the darkness and silence gives the lovers the opportunity to be intimate; but even in that case it seems more a last farewell than a new beginning.
- The usual disclaimer: my Bengali is dreadful, so rely on the translations above AYOR
- The Romanized Bengali is transliterated using the iTrans scheme.