Bhakti Theology Song C

This is the bhajan that I wrote for my mother for her bhajan mandali. I still remember that incident. I went to Tiruvanikka (or Tiruvanikkovil) beyond river Kaveri, before Sri Rangam to visit that temple. The main goddess there is Akilandeswari, the consort of Jambukeshwarar (Siva). After I returned from the temple, as my mother was singing one of her mandali bhajans, I got some inspiration and recalling the darshan of Akilandeswari, I immediately wrote this song.

This is traditionally known as ‘padadi-kesa varnanai’ (describing the beauty from toe to head). This kind of poem is not limited to religion and several secular romantic songs were written in the same style. My mother kept a copy of the song with the ragas composed by her teacher after all these years, and I am typing it from her note:

அண்டமெல்லாம் பூத்து அகிலமெல்லாம் காக்கும்
அகிலாண்ட நாயகியே ஆதிபராசக்தியே
தண்டயணி பாதமதில் தண்டனிட்டு நான் பணிந்தேன்
திருக்கண்டன் இடப்பாகம் கலந்தவளே காத்தருள்வாய்!  1
(காப்பி அல்லது பூபாளம்)

அழகிய நின் பாதமதில் அணிசெய்யும் பொற்கொலுசும்
அகிலமெல்லாம் முழங்கும் மாணிக்கப் பரல் அழகும்
மகிடன் தலைமிதித்த திருக்காலின் காப்பழகும்
கண்ட என்னுள்ளம் களிக்கொண்டு கூத்தாடும் (குந்தள வராளி) 2

சின்னஞ் சிறு மருங்கில் சாற்றிய மென்பட்டும்
சிற்றிடையின் மேல் ஓடும் முத்தான மேகலையும்
கொடி இடை அசைந்தாட குழைந்து வரும் நடையழகும்
கண்ட என்னுள்ளம் களிகொண்டு கூத்தாடும் (சிந்து பைரவி) 3

ஆசையுடன் நான் சார்த்தும் அழகிய பொன்மாலைகளும்
அடியவர்கள் தான் அளிக்கும் அழகிய பூமாலைகளும்
வாசமுடன் உன் மார்பில் வலம்வரும் போதினிலே
ஓசையுடன் என்னுள்ளம் ஓங்கி நின் புகழ்பாடும் (ஆனந்த பைரவி) 4

சங்கென்ன வெண்கழுத்தில் தான் ஒளிரும் சிறு தாலி
அகன்ற உன் தோளினிலே அணிசெய்யும் முத்தாரம்
நாற்றிசைக்கும் ஒளிசேர்க்கும் நவமணிமாலைகளும்
நான்கண்ட போதினிலே நயந்து என்னுள்ளம் பாடும் (அடானா) 5

எற்பூ ஏசிய நாசியிலே எழில் கொஞ்சும் மூக்குத்தியும்
சின்னஞ்சிறு காதில் திகழ்கின்ற தாடகமும்
நெற்றியில் மிளிர்கின்ற வாசமிகு குங்குமமும்
கண்ட என்னிருவிழியும் களிகொண்டு கூத்தாடும் (காபி) 6

நிலவெண்ண மிளிர்கின்ற நின்முகத் தாமரையும்
காதளவோடு தான்னோடும் கரிய புருவங்களும்
அடியார்க்கு அருள்கின்ற அழகிய திருக்கண்ணும்
கண்டு என்னுள்ளம் கனிந்து உனை நாடும் (பாகேஸ்வரி) 7

கத்தியினும் கூர்மையான ஏற்றமிகு நாசியின் கீழ்
பவளத்தை இழைத்தாற்போல் இளங்குகின்ற பனிஉதடு
பளிங்குபோல் ஒளிரும் பல்வரிசை தான் கண்டு
பண்ணமைத்து என்நா உன்புகழ்தான் பாடும் (ஸஹானா) 8

ஏற்ற மிகு சிரசினிலே ஒளிர்ந்திடும் மணிமகுடம்
இருதோளும் வழிந்தோடும் முகிலண்ண கருங்கூந்தல்
தேவி உன்திருமேனி முழுவடிவம் தான் கண்டு
உருகி உருகி என்னுள்ளம் உன்திருவடி நாடும் (சுருட்டி) 9

பார்வதியே ஈஸ்வரியே பாற்கடலோன் சோதரியே
பக்தர்க்கு அருள் வழங்கும் பர்வத வர்த்தனியே
பக்தியுடன் உன் அழகை பாதாதி கேசம் வரை
பதம் அமைத்துப் பாடுவதும் தேவிநின் அருளன்றோ (மத்யமாவதி) 10

1972, திருச்சி

English Translation

The eternal primordial Sakthi, Akilandeswari
Who pervades and protects the entire cosmos
I bow at your feet adorned with anklets
Protect me, you who dwells on the left side of Tirukkandan (Siva) 1

My heart will dance joyfully when I see–
The golden bracelet (payal in Hindi) which adorns your beautiful feet
The diamond – Paral (anklet) which thunders in the entire world
The beautiful leg ring which dwells on the leg which crushed Mahidan (Mahishasuran) 2

My heart will dance joyfully when I see–
The fine silk which surrounds your little waist
The Megala (waist ornament) which runs over your tiny waist
Your beautiful walk by swinging your hip like a creeper 3

My heart will sing loudly your glory when I see–
The golden ornaments which I happily offered you
The beautiful flower garlands which your devotees offered
Adorn your chest giving fragrance and beauty 4

My heart will melt and sing when I see–
The little Thalli (wedding pendent) which glitters on your shall-like neck
The pearls ornaments which adorn your broad shoulders
The nine gem ornaments which add light to the four directions 5

Both my eyes will dance joyfully when I see–
The nose ring which adorns your nose which is beautiful than the gingili flower
The earrings (Thadagam) which swing on your little ears
The fragrant kumkum which glitters on your forehead 6

My heart will melt and seek you when I see–
Your beautiful face which shines like the moon
The eye brows which run up to your ears
The merciful eyes which bestow grace to your devotees 7

My tongue will praise you by composing music when I see–
The lips which look as if made out of red coral
As they dwell below your nose sharper than a knife
The teeth which shine like crystal 8

My heart will melt and seek your feet when I see–
The jewelled crown which shines on your head
The hair which flows like dark clouds on both your shoulders
your whole adorable Holy body O my Devi 9

O Parvati, Isvari, the sister of one who dwells in the sea of milk (Vishnu)
Parvadha Vardani who offers grace to the devotees
Devi it is through your grace that I could write and sing your glory
By describing your beauty from toe to head  with devotion 10

1972, Tirchy


In general, this kind of song in which a goddess is praised from toe to hair begins from the feet and reaches the head. As most of the deities are adorned with beautiful ornaments and garlands, it is easy to describe each part of the body with illustrations. Tamil, as a rich language with beautiful words, provides a natural medium for one to write such a song. Even some songs by Saiva saints will have words describing the goddess’s body parts with graphic words that will embarrass several modest people. In a culture where romance and sex were never taboo, they hardly treat such songs as erotic. The puritanism of the post-Victorian era created a mental block in the minds of modern readers about such songs. While few accept their presence in secular songs, we find it difficult to digest them in religious literature.  It is worth noting what Matilal says on this subject:

“…The rather morbid idea that the desire of flesh is always to be frowned upon as something sinful and must be associated with the feeling of guilt is conspicuous by its absence in many epic tales.  I do not wish to suggest that the cultural-religious history of Hinduism eventually did not catch up with the idea of guilt and sin when Hindus talked about sensual pleasure and its irreligious nature. Puritanical attitudes towards sex occasionally became dominant in the tradition, and (p.146) under this pressure there was a great drive to find allegorical and symbolic meanings for unabashed statements of sensuality in the religious context.1 There was a complete volte face in the latter Bhakti tradition of devotionalism. However, as far as the epic material is concerned, we do not note this attempt.

— The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Ethics and Epics, ed. Jonardon Ganeri, New Delhi, Oxford, 2002,  pp. 146-47.

In that time (back in 1972) since I didn’t have much opportunity to read many religious scriptures in Tamil, I was not aware of such songs in Tamil. Influenced by post Victorian-puritanism, I was careful not to use any words which would cause embarrassment to my mother or to her bhajan mandali. However the ‘bhakti tradition of devotionalism’ tries to find allegorical and symbolic meanings in such songs, the visible sculptures in the temples and the way body parts are described can be hardly denied.

There is not much to say theologically in this song about my bhakti. Such a song of praise says more about the grace and mercy of god. But Hinduism being influenced much by Puranas, even such songs will have reference to certain events from Purana. For example, in the second stanza the reference about Mahidan (Mahishasuran) is from Devi Mahamityam in which Durga crushes the demon Mahishasura under her feet. As we are familiar with such stories from Purana, we naturally include them to add richness to the songs. Similarly though the golden ornaments have their own natural beauty, they find new glory as they got the opportunity to adorn the deity.

But what is more interesting to observe is that each part of a female is described using lots of illustrations (tender waist, long eyes, shell-neck, etc.). Tamil literature is famous for that. When describing the (broad) shoulders or sometimes the (strong) arms, a man’s body was not at all described in such a way. One reason could be that most of such scriptures were written mostly by men. Apart from this when it comes to the physical need, gods were no way different from human beings. So, naturally bhakti never viewed the deities away from us but part of us sharing all that we have as human beings. In this way bhakti transcends philosophy and becomes an earthly reality rather than an abstract principle. Even today, deities both in temple and at home are treated as part of society and home and receive special seva. Gods in temple are treated like kings and at home as guests. I still remember the way my aunt (father’s sister) placed the first hot coffee before her family deity in the early morning.  At 11.00 am she would keep one glass of water for them to drink.

Here ends my early three songs which I still remember. In one way, they express my early religious life in a nutshell, reflecting both contemplative and common perspectives about my bhakti. But coming from such a background, the early years in my pilgrimage in the Lord was not very easy one, as I felt a lot of suffocation. Leaving the other areas, which I briefly shared in Living Water and Indian Bowl, these present postings will focus more on my bhakti and its expression in the Lord, to which now I turn.

6-5-14, Mathigiri.


1.. This fact is satirically point by Dongier regarding Kamasutra:

“One reason why the Kamasutra plays almost no role at all in the sexual consciousness of contemporary Indians is that it is known, in both India and Europe, almost entirely though the flawed English translation by Sir Richard Francis Burton. This translation was published in 1883, a time when the Hindus, cowering under the scorn of the Protestant proselytizers, wanted to sweep the Kamasutra under the Upanishadic rug…..”— Wendy Doniger,  ‘FROM KAMA TO KARMA: THE RESURGENCE OF PURITANISM IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA’, in On Hinduism, New Delhi, Aleph Book Company, 2013, p. 400.