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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Speaking Of Siva: Touching The Feet Of God

By Jean-Pierre Dalbera. Source: Flickr

Speaking Of Siva is not a book that I intended to read. I was looking for Thich Nhat Hanh's Cry of Vietnam in the library, and while scanning the shelves, I came across this little-known book of Hindu poetry. I must confess that I don't know a whole lot about Hinduism. The closest things to Hindu literature I've read in my lifetime were Mohandas Gandhi's autobiography and Yann Martel's Life of Pi. This text was not the Bhavghad Gita, the Ramayana, or the Mahabharata. This was poetry. Yet through these poems, I hoped to understand something or another about the Hindu religion. After all, India is the most populated democracy in the world, to not know about their beliefs would be a mistake. Particularly in today's interconnected day and age.

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Speaking Of Siva is a collection translated by A.K. Ramanujan. The poems in question are called vacanas which means, "what is said." Ramanujan described them thusly,

"Vacana, as an active mode, stands in opposition to both the sruti and the smrti: not what is heard, but what is said; not remembered or received, but uttered here and now. To the saints, religion is not a spectator sport, a reception, a consumption; it is an experience of Now, a way of being. This distinction is expressed in the language of the vacanas, the forms that vacanas take. Though medieval Kannada was rich in native Dravidian metres, and in borrowed Sanskritic forms, no metrical line or stanza is used in the vacanas. The saints did not follow any of these models," (37).

These "saints" that Ramanujan speaks of are Basavanna, Devara Dasimayya, Mahadeviyakka, and Allama Prabu. Though names on the tongues of English speakers, no doubt. These saints protested against the Hindu mainstream, as well the apparent rigid dichotomy between Hinduism's 'great' and 'little' traditions. Ramanujan writes that the heart of vacana is a devotion to a god, or a particular form of that god, in this case, Siva. They reject the effectiveness of the 'great' Vedic texts, as well as the 'little' traditions of local gods and goddesses (25). This poetry must have been as radical for India as Saint Paul's preaching of Christianity was for the Greeks. These saints were off to evangelize, and redirect the flow of Hinduism onto a singly deity,

"If, as these saints believed, he also believes that his god is the true god, the only god, it becomes imperative to convert the misguided and bring light to the benighted. Missions are born. Bhakti religions proselytize, unlike classical Hinduism. Some of the incandescence of Virasavia poetry is the white heat of truth-seeing and truth-saying in a dark deluded world; their monotheism lashes out in an atmosphere of animism and polytheism," (27).

Bold and radical indeed, well perhaps from an Abrahamic perspective, where there exists only one God whose throne cannot be supplanted. I could hardly imagine the opposite occuring (a movement from monotheism to polytheism) in Christianity or Islam. I say this because while Hinduism is often construed as a polytheistic religion, the parameters of belief are so wide, that it allows for its adherents to believe in any number of gods, including none.

In introducing the book, Ramanujan opens with a vacana that he feels is best representative of the ideas celebrated by this protest movement within Hinduism. The poem is by Basavanna.

"The rich
will make temples for Siva.
What shall I,
a poor man,

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving ever shall stay," (19).

Having been raised a Catholic, the gods and goddesses of Hinduism are especially jarring. They are not ephemeral supreme rulers of omniscience like Yahweh or Allah nor do they take on the fragile human form of a poor carpenter. They are something out of the myths of ancient civilizations, or if you want to compare to an active religion, the kami of Shinto. These are very human, earthly gods, that fight in glorious battles and enjoy glorious sex. The above poem by Basavanna conveys just that, a desire to connect the divine (abstract) with the material (concrete). In fact, the linga, a physical symbol used to represent Shiva, is very phallic in appearance, and is often accompanied by the yoni, which represents the womb.

To be fair, even the Abrahamic religions have traits of this yearning to root the transcendent to the perceptible. The Song of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible took a very Hindu approach, using carnal sex as a metaphor for God's love. In the Gospels, there's the confounding figure of Christ, a contradiction, he was fully God and fully man. Even Hercules was only a demigod. In Islam, the Qur'an describes the afterlife as a paradise with running waters, fruitful gardens, and maidens who look after you called the Houri.

The above poem features a poor man, who cannot contribute to gifts to a temple, like a rich man, becomes himself a temple for Shiva. It is also suggested that being a temple means far more than simply going to a constructed one. Ramanujan explains, "The poem draws a distinction between making and being. The rich can only make temples. They may not be or become temples by what they do. Further what is made is a mortal artifact, but what one is is immortal," (20). Blessed are the poor, indeed. "Things standing shall fall, but the moving shall ever stay." The first shall be last and the last shall be first. I was often told in Sunday school that "my body is a temple". I don't know if any of my other Catholic friends thought about our bodies in such a visceral fashion.

I'll comment where I can, but I believe that with poetry, one should read and contemplate upon the letters for themselves. Meditate on when these bhakti poets felt, and feel it for yourself.

Basavanna (1106 AD---1167 AD)

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Ramanujan says that Basavanna had been dedicated to Shiva, the Lord of the Meeting Rivers, since the age of sixteen. He found the caste system of society and the rituals of his home to be shackling to his faith, so he left home in search of better spirituality. Basavanna soon found a guru, with whom he studied religious texts, like the Vedas. It is said that Shiva himself came to him in a dream and ordered Basavanna to find King Bijjala. Basavanna refused, not wanting to leave his spiritual bliss. So Shiva came to him again and said that he would appear in the mouth of a Sacred Bull. Sure enough, when Basavanna waited by the Stone Bull, Shiva came in the form of a linga on its tongue. This was all the sign that he needed to go onward. Basavanna got close to King Bijjala by marrying his uncle's daughter, Gangambike. His uncle, Baladeva, being the king's minister. Basavanna eventually rose to occupy the position once Baladeva died. Basavana's egalitarian teachings of disregarding social norms like caste and sex, and challenging orthodoxy and religious ritual, attracted many a devotee to him. This defiance, of course, angered many traditionalists. When a marriage between a former outcast and a former brahmin occurred, they were infuriated. Bijjala tried to sate them by sentencing the fathers of the bride and bridegroom to death, but this only further angered them to commit violence against 'state and society.' Basavanna was committed to non-violence, and tried to convert the extremists, but could not. This prompted him to leave in failure, before death. Bijjala was later assassinated (61-64).

In spite of his apparent "failure", Basavanna's ability to build an egalitarian society, especially in the 12th century, is very admirable. Prophets of Virashaiva describes him as, "...a mystic by temperament, an idealist by choice, a statesman by profession, a man of letters by taste, a humanist by sympathy and a social reformer by conviction," (Veerashaiva). Again, fighting as the caste system, sexism, and religious orthodoxy, are issues that Hindus must deal with in India to this day. Gandhi knew that fight, and spoke highly of Basavanna's commitments in 1924, "Eradication of untouchability and dignity of labour were among his core precepts. One does not find even shades of casteism in him. Had he lived during our times, he would have been a saint worthy of worship," (Singh). Though if we wish to truly understand the heart of this man, then we must read his vacanas.

Basavanna deals eloquently with the struggle of faith, in a way reminiscent of Job. Why should the pious suffer? He pleads to Shiva, but gets to direct answer. We are left to contemplate, as he questions his existence, why does one exist in a world of such darkness?


"Siva, you no mercy,
 Siva, you no heart.

"Why, why did you bring me to birth,
    wretch in this world,
    exile from the other?

"Tell me, lord,
 don't you have one more
 little tree or plant
 made just for me?" (74)


 "Father in my ignorance you brought me
  through mother's wombs,
  through unlikely worlds.

 "Was it wrong just to born,
    O lord?

 "Have mercy on me for being born
    once before,
      I give you my word,
      lord of the meeting rivers,
      never to be born again, (68).


"Don't make me hear all day,
    'Whose man, whose man, whose man is this?'

"Let me hear, 'This man is mine, mine,
    this man is mine,

"O lord of the meeting rivers,
   make me feel I'm a son,
   of the house," (70).

There is an explicit focus on the vanity of the material world in comparison to spiritual gifts. Poverty is a moral value, much like what the Gospels preach, for the body is a transient object, "sic transit gloria mundi."


"I went to fornicate
 but all I got was counterfeit,

"I went behind a ruined wall
 but scorpions stung me,

"The watchman who heard my screams
 just peeled off my clothes,

"I went home in shame,
 my husband raised weals on my back,

"All the rest, O lord of the meeting rivers,
 the king took for his fines," (75).


"When a whore with a child
 takes on a customer for money,

"neither child nor lecher
 will get enough of her.

"She'll go pat the child once,
 then go lie with the man once,

"neither here nor there.
 Love of money is relentless,

"my lord of the meeting rivers," (73).


    the grey reaches the cheek
    the wrinkle the rounded chin
    and the body becomes a cage of bones:

     with fallen teeth
     and bent back
     you are someone else's ward:

     you drop your hand to the knee
     and clutch a staff:

     age corrodes
     your form:

     death touches you:

          our lord
          of the meeting rivers!" (78).


"You can make them talk
 if the serpent 
 has stung

"You can make them talk
 if they're struck 
 by an evil planet.

"But you can't make them talk
 if they're struck dumb 
 by riches.

     "Yet when Poverty the magician
      enters, they'll speak
      at once,

         "O lord of the meeting rivers," (77).

The uniqueness of the human being, and a possible touch of bisexuality,


"See-saw watermills bow their heads.
 So what?
 Do they get to be devotees
 to the Master?

"The tongs join hands.
 So what?
 Can they be humble in service
 to the Lord?

"Parrots recite.
 So what?
 Can they read the Lord?

"How can the slaves of the Bodiless God,
            know the way
            our Lord's men move
            or the stance of their standing?" (76).


"Look here, dear fellow:
 I wear these men's clothes
 only for you.

"Sometimes I am man,
 sometimes I am woman,

"O lord of the meeting rivers
 I'll make wars for you
 but I'll be your devotee's bride," (87).

The ecstasy of the bosom of Shiva,


"Look, the world, in a swell
 of waves, is beating upon my face,

"Why should it rise to my heart,
 tell me,
 O tell me, why is it
 rising now to my throat?
 how can I tell you anything
 when it is risen high
 over my head
 lord lord
 listen to my cries
 O lord of the meeting rivers
 listen," (67).


 like a hailstone crystal,
 like a waxwork image
 the flesh melts in pleasure
    how can I tell you?

"The waters of joy
broke the banks
and ran out of my eyes

"I touched and joined
my lord of the meeting rivers
How can I talk to anyone
of that?" (89).

Basavanna lives on, but not only through his poetry, it seems. Though his attempts at social reform failed during his lifetime, his philosophy would have an enduring impact on Indian culture and history,

"The movement initiated by Basava through ‘Anubhava Mantapa’ became the basis of religion of love and faith. It gave rise to a system of ethics and education at once simple and exalted. It inspired ideals of social and religious freedom, such as no previous faith of India had done. In the medieval age which was characterized by inter communal jealousy, it helped to shed a ray of light and faith on the homes and hearts of people. It rendered the Hindu religion all embracing in its sympathy, catholic in its outlook, a perennial fountain of delight and inspiration. The movement gave a literature of considerable value in the vernacular language of the country, the literature which attained the dignity of a classical tongue. It eliminated the barriers of caste and removed untouchability. It raised the untouchable equal to that of the high born. It gave sanctity to the family relations and raised the status of womanhood. It undermined the importance of rites and rituals, of fasts and pilgrimages. It encouraged learning and contemplation on God by means of love and faith. It deplored the excesses of polytheism and developed the plan of monotheism. It tended in many ways to raise the nation generally to a higher level of capacity both in thought and action," (Kumarswamiji).

Devara Dasimayya (10th Century AD)

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Ramanujan says that Devara Dasimayya's writings would later be an influence on Basavanna's poetry. Dasimayya connected to Shiva through the hero of the Ramayana, Rama, so the end of all his poems are addressed, Ramanatha. Dasimayya did ascetic penance in the forests, when Shiva himself came and told him not to punish himself as a recluse, but to work in the world is the greater worship. Dasimayya became a weaver. Dasimayya became very successful in converting people to Shiva, so much so that legends were bulit about him, that he turned sand into rice, gave a dead boy life, and brought lingas from nothing. At the end of his life, he spoke to Ramanatha and said, "I've lived my life and done everything by your grace. Now you must return me to yourself." (91-94).

Dasimayya's sentiments on gender fludity would later be echoed by Basavanna in his 704th vacana. Ramanujan said of Dasimayya, that, "In his protest against traditional dichotomies, he rejects also the differences between man and woman as superficial," (26). The question of gender is not a new one, but one that people have been asking for years.


"If they see 
 breasts and long hair coming
 they call it woman,

"if beard and whiskers
 they call it man

"but, look, the self that hovers 
 in between
 is neither man 
 nor woman

"O Ramanatha," (110).


"Suppose you cut a tall bamboo
 in two;
 make the bottom piece a woman
 the headpiece a man;
 rub them together
 till they kindle:
                       tell me now
 the fire that's born,
 is it male or female,

                       "O Ramanatha?" (110).

These radical saints, and their opposition to specific times and rituals is also exemplified by Dasimayya, who integrates Shiva into every part of his existence. Ramanujan wrote, "Religions set apart certain times and places as specially sacred: rituals and worship are performed at appointed times, pilgrimages are undertaken to well-known holy places. There is a holy map as well as a holy calendar. If you die in Benares, sinner though you are, you will go straight to heaven," (26).


"For what 
 shall I handle a dagger
 O lord?

"What can I pull it out of,
 or stab it in,

"when You are all the world,

"O Ramanatha?" (100).


"God of my clan,
 I'll not place my feet
 but where your feet 
 have stood before:
 I've no feet
 of my own.

"How can the immoralists
 of this world know
 the miracle, the oneness
 of your feet
 and mine,

"Ramanatha?" (106).


"To the utterly at-one with Siva

"there's no dawn,
 no new moon,
 no noonday,
 nor equinoxes,
 nor sunsets,
 nor full moons;

"his front yard
 is the true Benares,

"O Ramanatha," (105).

For Dasimayya the "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," but it is also in the flesh that he finds Shiva.


"In the mother's womb
 the child does not know
 his mother's face

"nor can she ever know
 his face.

"the man in the world's illusion
 does not know the Lord

"nor the Lord him,

"Ramanatha," (97).


 one will hunger.

 one will lie.

"O you, don't you rib
 and taunt me
 for having a body:

"body Thyself for once
 like me and see
 what happens,

"O Ramanatha," (107).


"I'm the one who has the body,
 you're the one who holds the breath.

"You know the secret of my body,
 I know the secret of your breath.

"That's why your body
 is in mine,

"You know
 and I know, Ramanatha,

"the miracle

"of your breath
 in my body," (106).


"Fire can burn
 but cannot move.

"Wind can move
 but cannot burn.

"Till fire joins wind
 it cannot take a step.

"Do men know
 it's like that
 with knowing and doing?" (108).

The reality of Shiva is self-evident in the natural world, and how Dasimayya perceives it.


"You balanced the globe
    on the waters
    and kept it from melting away,

"you made the sky stand
     without pillar or prop,

"O Ramanatha,
    which gods could have
    done this?" (97).


"The five elements
 have become one.

"The sun and the moon,
 O Rider of the Bull,
 aren't they really
 your body?

"I stand,
 look on,
 you're filled
 with the worlds.

"What can I hurt now
 after this, Ramanatha?" (101).


"Whatever It was

"that made this earth
 the base,
 the world its life,
 the wind its pillar,
 arranged the lotus and the moon,
 and covered it all with folds
 of sky,

"with Itself inside,

"to that Mystery
 indifferent to differences,

"to It I pray,
 Ramanatha," (103).


 who can know the beauty
 of the Hovering One

"who's made Himself from
 and of space
 and colors?" (109).

Mahadeviyakka (1130 AD---1160 AD)

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Mahadeviyakka, also called Akka Mahadevi, is unique amongst the poets listed so far, because she is the only woman. Ramanujan writes that she considered her moment of birth to be her initiation into Shiva worship at age ten. She referred to Shiva as "Lord, white as jasmine," and even betrothed herself to him, though this didn't stop suitors from approaching. A king, and further an unbeliever, Kausika, sought her hand. It is not certain if they married, but Ramanujan thinks it to be likely. It does seem clear from her writings, however, that she renounced carnal love, in favor of a spiritual love with her Lord. As proof of this, she cast off all of her clothes, and covered herself in the tresses of her hair. In an effort to get closer to Shiva she went to a school where Basavanna and Allama Prabhu. Allama asked her why she replaced her clothes with her hair, and she answered in poem,

"Till the fruit is ripe inside
 the skin will not fall off.
 I'd a feeling it would hurt you
 if I displayed the body's seals of love.
 O brother, don't tease me
 needlessly. I'm given entire
 into the hands of my lord
 white as jasmine."

She was accepted. Yet being a woman in a patriarchal society, she always sought to break free from her bodily limits. According to legend, she died "in oneness with Shiva" in her twenties, (111-114). Mahadeviyakka internalized her "Lord, white as jasmine" to the utmost, The Hindu has described her outlook thus, "As she continued to meditate, Akka’s concept of Chenna Mallikarjuna changed from that of the Puranic Shiva to the formless Divine — the one who pervaded her soul. She saw the Absolute in everything. Every tree was the kalpavriksha, every bush was the Sanjeevani, every place was a teertha, every water body contained Amritha and every pebble was the chintamani gem. Her very breath became His fragrance. His form became hers. Having known Him, there was nothing else to know. She became the bee that drank the nectar of Chenna Mallikarjuna, and dissolved into it. What remained was – “ Nothing, none whatsoever”!" (Ramadevi).

Some days, Shiva is lost and Mahadeviyakka must chase after him.


"When I didn't know myself
  where were you?

"Like the colour in the gold,
 you were in me.

"I saw in you,
 lord white as jasmine,
 the paradox of your being
 in me
 without showing a limb," (119).


"Not seeing you
 in the hill, in the forest,
 froom tree to tree
 I roamed,
               searching, gasping:
               Lord, my Lord, come
               show me your kindness!

   "till I met your men
    and found you.
                          You hide
    lest I seek and find.
    Give me a clue,
    O lord
    white as jasmine,
                             to your hiding places," (119).


"O twittering birds,
 don't you know? don't you know?

"O swans on the lakeshore,
 don't you know? don't you know?

"O high-singing koils,
 don't you know? don't you know?

"O circling swooping bees,
 don't you know? don't you know?

"O peacocks in the caverns,
 don't you know?
 don't you know?

    "Tell me if you know:
                                    where is He,
      my lord
      white as jasmine?" (121).


"You are the forest

"you are all the great trees
    in the forest

"you are bird and beast
     playing in and out
     of all the trees

    "O lord white as jasmine
     filling and filled by all

    "why don't you
     show me your face?" (122).


"My body is dirt,
 my spirit is space: 
 shall I grab, O lord? How,
 and what,
              shall I think of you?
                  Cut through
                  my illusions,
                  lord white as jasmine," (116).


"Like a silkworm weaving
 her house with love
 from her marrow,
                           and dying
 in her body's threads
 winding tight, round
 and round,
                 I burn
 desiring what the heart desires.

"Cut through, O lord,
 my heart's greed,
 and show me
 your way out,

"O lord white as jasmine," (116).

Being the self-proclaimed wife of Shiva, she writes yearning cries for his love. In these writings we see, in part, the challenge of renouncing "carnal knowledge" for "spiritual knowledge."


"Four parts of the day
 I grieve for you.
 Four parts of the night
 I'm mad for you.

"I lie lost
 sick for you, night and day,
    O lord white as jasmine.

"Since your love 
 was planted,
 I've forgotten hunger,
 thirst, and sleep," (124).


"Husband inside,
 lover outside.
 I can't manage them both.

"This world,
 and that other,
 cannot manage them both.

"O lord white as jasmine

"I cannot hold in one hand
 both the round nut
 and the long bow," (127).


"I love the Handsome One:
     he has no death
     decay nor form
     no place or side
     no end nor birthmarks.
     I love him O mother. Listen.

"I love the Beautiful One
    with no bond nor fear
    no clan no land
    no landmarks
    for his beauty.

"So my lord, white as jasmine, is my husband.

"Take these husbands who die,
     decay, and feed them
     to your kitchen fires!" (134).


"Riding the blue sapphire mountains
 wearing moonstone for slippers
 blowing long horns
 O Siva
 when shall I
 crush you on my pitcher breasts

"O lord white as jasmine
 when do I join you
 stripped of body's shame
 and heart's modesty?" (136).


"What do
 the barren know
 of birthpangs?

 what do they know
 of loving care?

"How can the unwounded
 know the pain
 of the wounded?

"O lord white as jasmine
 your love's blade stabbed
 and broken in my flesh,

"I writhe.
 O mothers
 how can you know me?" (138).


"I look at the road
 for his coming.
 If he isn't coming,
 I pine and waste away.
 If he is late,
 I grow lean

"O mother, if he is away
 for a night,
 I'm like the lovebird
 with nothing
 in her embrace," (140).


"Better than meeting
 and mating all the time
 is the pleasure of mating once
 after being far apart.

"When he's away
  I cannot wait
  to get s glimpse of him.

"Friend, when will I have it
 both ways,
 be with Him
 yet not with Him,
 my lord white as jasmine?" (140)

Though "spiritual knowledge" of Shiva has its sensations.


"If sparks fly
 I shall think my thirst and hunger quelled.

"If the skies tear down
 I shall think them pouring for my bath.

"If a hillside slide on me
 I shall think it flower for my hair.

"O lord white as jasmine, if my head falls from my shoulders
 I shall think it your offering," (120).


"He bartered my heart,
    looted my flesh,
    claimed as tribute
    my pleasure,
    took over
    all of me.

"I'm the woman of love
 for my lord, white as jasmine," (125).


"Breath for fragrance,
 who needs flowers?

"with peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
 who needs the Ultimate Posture?

"The whole world become oneself
 who needs solitude,

"O lord white as jasmine," (128).


"For hunger,
    there is the town's rice in the begging bowl.

"For thirst,
    there are tanks, streams, wells.

"For sleep,
    there are the ruins of temples.

"For soul's company
     I have you, O lord
 white as jasmine," (132).


"O mother I burned
 in a flameless fire

"O mother I suffered
 a bloodless wound

"mother I tossed
 without a pleasure:

"loving my lord white as jasmine
 I wandered through unlikely worlds," (121).

Allama Prabhu (12th Century AD)

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Ramanujan writes that there are various traditions surrounding Allama Prabhu, including one that sees him as Shiva in flesh. Harihara, a fifteenth century poet, wrote one of these many biographies about Allama. In his version, the poet is a temple-drummer who falls in love with the women Kamalate. She soon dies in sickness, and he wanders in grief, calling out for his dead wife. In his travels, Allama saw the golden cupola (or kalasa) of a temple. He excavated the whole area. In the temple, he found a yogi in a trance with a linga of Shiva. The yogi's name was Animisayya, and handed Allama the linga. The moment he did so, he died, but transfered his enlightenment onto Allama, who ends all of his vacanas, by addressing Shiva as "Lord of Caves". His contemporaries, including Basavanna and Mahadeviyakka, considered him to be a master of the vacanas. This title lives on in his very name, for Basava was given the title Anna, meaning  "elder brother", while Mahadevi was given the title Akka, meaning "elder sister", but Allama was given the title Prabhu, meaning, "Master." Allama, like the other four saints, rejected ritual worship, but often questioned their integrity. He brought up Basavanna's giving in the world's temptations, even while performing good works. He mocked Mahadeviyakka for flaunting her nudity publicly, yet covering her flesh in the tresses of her own hair. It is said that Allama achieved enlightenment through complete self-emptying. His body became the spirit (143-146).

Well, they call Allama Prabhu "The Master" for a reason. His poetry is the best written, the best refined. He has a good handle of the vacana style, and uses it to maximum effect. Once you finish reading one of his works, you are left thinking about the unique and strange metaphor it presents. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading through Buddhist koans, which at times, expressed the limits of language to describe certain aspects of reality. I'm not sure if that was Allama's intention, but I can sense him trying to push the vacana style as far as he could.


"Where was the mango tree,
 where the koilbird?

"when were they kin?

"Mountain gooseberry
 and sea salt:
 were they kin?

    "and when was I
     kin to the Lord
     of Caves?" (149).


"If mountains shiver in the cold
 with what
 will they wrap them?

"If space goes naked
 with what 
 shall they clothe it?

"If the lord's men become worldlings
 where will I find the metaphor,

    "O Lord of Caves," (151).


"With a whole temple
 in this body
 where's the need
 for another?

"No one asked
 for two.

"O Lord of Caves,
 if you are stone,
 what am I?" (153)


"When the honey-bee came
  I saw the smell of flowers

"O what miracles!

"Where the heart went
  I saw the brain

"When the god came,
  I saw the temple run," (157).


"If it rains fire
     you have to be as the water;

"if it is a deluge of water
    you have to be as the wind;

"if it is the Great Flood,
    you have to be as the sky;

"and if it is the Very Last Flood of all the worlds,
     you have to give up self

"and become the Lord," (162).


"Who can know green grass flames
        seeds of stone

       "reflectios of water
        smell of the wind

       "the sap of fire
        the taste of sunshine on the tongue

       "and the lights in oneself

"except your men?"


"The wind sleeps
  to lullabies of sky.

"Space drowses,
  infinity gives it suck
  from her breast.

"The sky is silent.
 The lullaby is over.

"The Lord is
  as if He were not," (164).


 devoured darkness.

"I was alone

 the visible dark

 was Your target

"O Lord of Caves," (164).


"A running river
     is all legs.

"A burning fire
     is mouths all over.

"A blowing breeze
     is all hands.

"So, lord of the caves,
 for your men,
 every limb is Symbol," (165).


"Whoever knew
 that It is body of body,

"breath of breath
 and feeling of feeling?

"Thinking that it's far,
 it's near,
 it's out here
 and in there,

"they tire themselves out," (166).

Now Having Spoken With Shiva

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that the Christian religion wasn't simply about being a nice person, but about becoming a new man,

"For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature," (216).

A similar vibe can be felt through the these vacanas, Satsthala Siddhanta writes,

"The vacanas and later Virasavia texts in Kannada and Sanskrit speak of the mystical process as a successsion of stages, a ladder of ascent, a metamorphosis from egg to larva to pupa to the final freedom of winged being," (169).

What have I learned from these four saints who worshiped Shiva? Perhaps it was upon reading their verses, as vivacious as they were at their first composition, that these words affirmed for me the reality of "spirituality", if I may use the term. Not so much the spirituality of the transcendent, that higher beings like Shiva exist, but more so the internal spirituality of the human soul. What these four felt, I think, was real. We all feel it, "the numinous" as William Golding would say. For most people our sense of spirituality is provoked by an image of the cosmos from the Hubble Telescope. For them, it came from poverty, the cave, the honey-bee. We need not adopt all of their practices, or even their god. Akka Mahadevi, for instance, was a great poet, but her obsessive love for Shiva was utter madness. What I'm trying to get across is that these four found a certain peace of mind in their meditations, from which they were able to redefine how they saw reality. Such is the nature of poetry itself, to provoke thought or feeling in each written observation. To change the way we see the world's ordinary processes. To view life as a new man.

Perhaps I've learned something about the Hindu religion.


"Looking for your light,
 I went out:

   "it was like the sudden dawn
    of a million million suns,

   "a ganglion of lightnings
    for my wonder.

   "O Lord of Caves,
    if you are light,
    there can be no metaphor," (168).

- Allama Prabhu


Basavanna, Devara Desimayya, Mahadeviyakka, Allama Prabhu; ed. A.K. Ramanujan. Speaking Of Siva. Penguin Books: Baltimore, Maryland, 1973. 19-20, 25-27, 37, 61-64, 67-94, 97-114, 116-140, 143-145, 149-169. Print.

Kumarswamiji, H.H. Mahatapasvi Shiri. "Basava - The Great Socio-Religious Reformer." Prophets of Virashaivism. Veerashaiva, 2015. Web.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1952. 216. Print.

Ramadevi, B. "Akka Mahadevi: Shiva in her soul." The Hindu, February 24, 2014. Web.

Sing, Yadu. "800 years later, Basava philosophy still relevant." The Indian Sun. Web.

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