Excerpts from Tiruppavai
Gateman of Paradise, unlock the jewelled doors.
Festoons and flags fly, but higher soars our desire.
The ritual drum beats within our hearts.
His sapphire irradiation calls.
Nandagopa, lord known for largess,
Fragrant Yasoda, blossomed lotus to us whorled buds,
Gold-hearted Baladeva adorned with aurous anklets,
Lord who ripped universes, awaken all.
Nappinnai, your perfumed tresses scent the air.
Black kuyil birds call from twirling white creepers.
With bangles clinking on slender hands we pry open
your husband’s bedroom door. We’re here to praise Him.
Speak, Lord, asleep in a glimmering room, head resting
on Nappinnai’s breasts, her flower braids curtain you.
Lady of luminous kohl-lined eyes, cast a glance in our direction.
Be generous: share Him with us for just one second.
Awaken, Warrior of the Celestials. Impartial
One, shed your slumber. Nappinnai of coral
lips, full breasts, tendril-waist, awaken. Lend
us your soft fan and bright mirror so we attend on Him.
Fulfil our desires for we laud Your virtues. Watch:
Watch the world dazzled by the gifts we’ve received: Rare
gems strung like songs that call from tresses to toes; silken
garments swirling rainbows around our forms, glimmering
ghee and honeyed milk that runs to our elbows as we slurp.
Govinda, You will lull quarrelling hearts to peace.
We herd cows into the forest, as they graze, we eat.
We’re simple folk but fortunate beyond words: You
are our kinsman, our bond is eternal. Don’t anger
at our familiarity as we babble endearments.
Forgive us – and grant our boons please.
As dawn sings the horizon open we sing radiant
words to You. We make our home in Yours, Clansman,
accept our devotion. Know we come not for jewels, only
this: through unfolding eternities we seek to serve You.
If our intent be different remould us in your light, Heart-tease!
Kanchan Chander; charcoal, acrylic and paper cutouts on paper
Nacciyar Tirumoli, Song Three
The Song for the Clothes
(Koli alaippatan munnam)
Awake to your call, lit by love into the dark
lily pond we plunge as small flames spluttering.
The cockerel crows, dawn dulls, the molten sun dazzles.
Our beauty is solely yours to see, our passion yours
to quench but you sleep deep in the star-strewn sky.
Arms raised we implore – Lord strip us of our shame,
succour us – else return to us our drape
of worldly life and we shan’t return to your pool of light.
come to Me
Why are you here? We stand amid the nectarine
lotuses of our world. Why lure us, radiant darkness?
Your curls wreathed in tulasi, drip nectar; you are
our nectar, lord of illusion, but don’t ask that
of us though we’re wild with passion. Wait!
You leapt from the wild lime tree to subdue
the serpent – now subdue yourself. Return
our robes or have you bewitched yourself, beloved?
All-knowing you are but play the urchin. If our
mothers catch us we’ll be banished from home.
You’re cruel but act the innocent perched
on the wild lime’s flowering fragrance. Your bow
destroyed Lanka; know we aren’t your enemy:
we surrender. Stop torturing us. Unclothed
by devotion we’re unfit for the world. Return
our veils and we’ll slink away unnoticed.
come as you are
Our glances darted all around before we slipped
into this common pond. You shut your eyes to our
tears that pearl our breasts and rain on lotuses’ thick
emerald leaves. Grace you rained on destroyed Lanka,
you reclaimed Sita, you restored a simian queen
to her lord, you reign – king of monkeys – but
us you forsake. Behold us looted girls who yearn
for you. We beseech, cast down our covering.
Carp and cutlass fish nibble our young yielding thighs
as if with homely anxieties’ thousand mouths. We are
in pain as you will be when our brothers, shining
spears held high, chase you away. Never again will
we play, all joy will cease. You’re black to see, black
hearted too yet our sole beloved. Unbearable beauty
climb no higher on the wild lime with our fine
inner clothes, our tender feelings. Return all.
come from pain
Thick the lotuses in this pond. Yet like entwining
chores with each step we take spiky lotus stems
wind tighter around our toes and calves –
each prick a scorpion sting poisoned by
your disinterest. We’re trapped. Remember
you danced on water pots to save yourself from
venomous vermin; now be our antidote. Release
us, return our clothes, stop this sham.
Me in dance
In this cramped pond we stand and suffer. Though
you’re famed for kindness you’re unjust. Alone,
splendid, you drifted on the vast bliss-lit ocean.
Lord, we are bound to you alone. Our village is far
behind, a dim memory of our past. Yet if our mothers
saw us display our shimmering bodies and craving
hearts they’d be cross and mistake our love. Climb
no higher on that bountiful tree, watch over us.
the world to Me
Suspecting trouble our mothers and aunts
will gather here and see us in this bemused
state. On their approach you’ll vanish to trance
in your ancient star-charged home, your eyes
fresh as lotuses trembling open shut to our plight.
This isn’t right. Radiance, prince of the cowherd
clan perched high, don’t confuse us with your mystery.
Enlighten us in your embrace instead.
come crossing this
worldly dream to Me
When Kamsa cast his net to trawl you towards
death you escaped across the dark river but harass
us girls trembling in nakedness. Our hearts flood
with disbelief. Yasoda spoils you, there’s nothing
you fear. Worse – you were suckled by a demoness
and drank draughts of deceit. Wild shameless
beloved, see we’re clear as leaping spring water.
Child, lord, tease: protect us, return our clothes please.
come enjoy My play
I ache for you
Kotai, daughter of priest Vishnucittan of Putuvai
City of gleaming golden cupolas and high balconies
Has strung this garland of ten verses to the dark glory
Of Nampi and the games He played with the girls.
Those who master this song will shed
Suffering to ascend
To Vaikuntha and dwell there forever
At the feet of Madhava.