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Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints, by F. Kingsbury and G.P. Phillips, [1921], at

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(Sanskrit form MĀṆIKYA VĀCHAKA)

In the days when the powerful Pāndyan Kings flourished in Madura, there was once a prime minister who early became convinced of the transitoriness of this world's life and its riches. When on a visit to Perundurai, now Āvudaiyārkoil in the Tanjore District, he suddenly and completely came under the influence of a Brahman religious teacher, who for him was the manifestation of the very God Himself. Then and there he began to sing the "Sacred Utterance" (Tiruvāsaham), and was named by his preceptor "Utterer of Jewels" (Māṇikka Vāsahar). Returning to Madura, he forsook his high office with all its rewards, to become a religious poet wandering without earthly attachments from shrine to shrine. The stories clustering around his religious experience can be read by English readers in Dr. Pope's great edition of his work. We find him practising austerities at Chidambaram, or miraculously giving the gift of speech to the dumb daughter of the Chōl̤a king, or defeating in disputation a band of Buddhists from Ceylon, but of certain historical information about him we have practically none. Even the question of the century in which he lived is a battleground of the antiquarians. Tradition places him in the fifth century, earlier than the writers of the Dēvāram;

p. 87

but the opinion of scholars seems to be converging on the view that he lived in the latter half of the ninth, or the first half of the tenth century of our era. Another of his works is the Tirukkōvaiyār, an erotic poem of four hundred stanzas. Among Tamil Śaivite writers none makes a stronger devotional appeal than Māṇikka Vāsahar. There is a common Tamil saying that nothing can melt the heart of the man who is not melted by the Tiruvāsaham.

p. 88 p. 89

Stanzas 80-92 are samples from an opening poem of one hundred stanzas, each ten of which has its own metre and is fairly complete in itself. They fairly reflect the saint's varying moods. Notice the importance he attaches to emotion; his worst self-reproach is for feeling no frenzy. As to his conception of God, see how the word 'grace' recurs in nearly every stanza. And yet that God of grace is called (in No. 84) both being and non-existence.

The Hundred Verses

80. Thrills and trembles my frame;
Hands are lifted on high;
Here at Thy fragrant feet,
Sobbing and weeping I cry;
Falsehood forsaking, I shout,
"Victory, victory, praise!
Lord of my life, these clasped hands
Worship shall bring Thee always.

81. Indra or Vishṇu or Brahm,
Their divine bliss crave not I;
I seek the love of Thy saints,
Though my house perish thereby.
To the worst hell I will go,
So but Thy grace be with me.
Best of all, how could my heart
Think of a god beside Thee?

82. Though like Thy saints I seem, ’tis but the acting of a part.
Yet wondrous swift I run to reach the heaven where Thou art.
O hill of gold and precious gems, grant in Thy grace to me
A heart to melt, lord of my life, in ceaseless love to Thee.

p. 90 p. 91

83. I have no fear of births, but quake at thought that I must die.
E’en heav’n to me were naught; for earth's whole empire what care I?
O Śiva wreathed with honeyed blossoms, "When shall come the morn
When Thou wilt grant Thy grace to me?" I cry with anguish torn.

84. The sky, earth, wind, the light, our very flesh and life art Thou,
Being art Thou, non-being too, Thou king, who see’st how
Men dance like puppets with their foolish thoughts of 'I' and 'Mine,'
While Thou the cords dost pull. What words can tell Thy praise divine?

85. At sound of cries like this, "O Bull-rider whose spreading hair
The falling stream receives! "Heaven's Lord," true devotees there were,
Whose love-thrilled heart broke forth, like stopped-up rivers rushing down.
Yet Thou didst choose no one of them, but me to be Thine own.
And yet my body will not turn from heel to head one heart
To melt in love for Thee, one eye to shed the tears that smart
In swelling floods. Ah! wretched that I am, who only moan!
My two eyes are unfeeling wood, my heart a great dead stone!

p. 92 p. 93

86. Amid the fruits of deeds I lay. Thou didst thyself reveal
With words of comfort saying "Come, I will destruction deal
To evil fruit of deeds," and thus thou mad’st me all Thy slave.
And yet I stand as if a statue made of steel, nor rave,
Nor sing, nor cry, nor wail—woe's me—nor in my spirit faint
With deep desire, so dull am I. O being ancient,
Thou art beginning, Thou art end: tell me, how can I be
So dead at heart? The end if this I do not dare to see.

87. Him though men seek, none fully know; in Him no evil is.
None are His kindred; knowledge perfect, effortless is His.
A cur am I, yet He hath giv’n to me in sight of men
A place on earth, and shewed me things far beyond mortal ken.
He told me what no ears can hear; from future births He sav’d.
Such magic wrought my Lord who me hath lovingly enslaved.

88. Our God of gods, whom e’en the devas’ king knows but in part,
Ruleth the three who in the fair world-gardens life impart,
And life maintain, and life destroy; our First, Reality,
Father of old, whose consort Umā is, our sovereign, He p. 94 p. 95
Came down in grace and made e’en me to be His very own.
Henceforth before no man I bow; I fear but Him alone.
Now of His servants’ servants I have joined the sacred throng,
And ever more and more I'll bathe in bliss. with dance and song.

89. The meanest cur am I; I know not how to do the right;
’Twere but what I deserve, should’st Thou my wickedness requite
With the dread fate of those who never saw Thy flowery feet;
For though mine eyes have seen, my ears have heard saints guileless, meet,
Who reached Thy fragrant presence, yet I stay, for false am I,
Fit for naught save to eat and dress, Lion of victory.

90. None but myself has sunk myself. Thy name be ever praised!
No blame lay I on Thee, lauds to my Master be upraised!
Yet to forgive is aye a mark of greatness. Praise to Thee!
Lord of the land celestial, Praise! O end this life for me.

p. 96 p. 97

91. The fawn-eyed maid is part of Thee! From holy writ Thou’rt hid!
Thou’rt honey, yea ambrosia, by man's mind not compassèd.
O king who bearest with my faults, some harsh words did I say.
Thy saints have entered heaven. Without, falsehood and I still stay.

92. Since I am false, and false my heart, and false my very love,
Howe’er I weep, still held by deed can I reach Thee above?
O honey, nectar, O essential sweetness, great as sweet,
Grant grace to me to find the path that leads unto Thy feet.

93. Heav’n, earth, and all that therein is, thou makest without seed.
Thou dost preserve and Thou destroy. ’Tis Thou who hast decreed
That I though treacherous, mean, should be a man who frenzied faints
Before Thy temple gates, one with the band of Thy true saints.
What men themselves have planted, e’en a poisonous mango tree,
They root not up. O Lord of mine, as such a tree keep me.

Our next five stanzas, taken from a hymn of fifty, are full of the pathos expressed in the title, which is a refrain recurring in every verse. Only flashes of the light of the presence of God pierce the prevailing gloom. The saint cannot free himself from sensuality,

p. 98 p. 99

even while he hates it. He wonders whether even the God who drank poison for others’ sake will leave him alone.

Wilt Thou Leave Me?

94. Mingling in grace with me, O rider of the bull, Thou mad’st me Thine.
  But wilt Thou leave me? Thou whose form in the fierce tiger's skin is clad,
Uttarakōsamaṅgai old has Thee for king. O lord of mine
  With matted hair, hold Thou me up; for I am weary grown and sad.

95. Set in the marge of flowing stream that eats its banks away, the tree
  Shakes to its fall; and thus am I, my sense bewitch’d by maids’ dark eyes.
Uttarakōsamaṅgai's king, spouse of gem-vested Pārvati,
  Who dwell'st in Ārūr holy, O protector, for my help arise.

96. In ignorance I spurned thy grace. Dost Thou, my gem, now me despise,
  And wilt thou leave me? O destroy my sum of deeds and make me thine.
Uttarakōsamaṅgai's king, ’tis surely true, the great and wise,
  When only little curs play false, to mercy ever will incline.

p. 100 p. 101

97. With none to cheer me from my fear, far have I wandered wearily,
  O Lightning-like, and wilt Thou leave me? If I truly thee compare,
Uttarakōsamaṅgai's king, I find naught else resembling Thee;
  But a true father, mother dear art Thou to me, my treasure rare.

98. Whether I praise or curse Thee, still I'm stained with sin and sorrowing.
  Yet, wilt Thou leave me? Splendour shining like the red-hued coral mount,
Master, thou drankest poison black, the humbler beings pitying,
  That I, Thy meanest one, might find no poison, but a nectar fount.

Our poet made songs which maidens might sing in their rhythmical games, or as they sat at the grinding-stone. In India the boatman sings as he rows, the ryot sings as he draws from the well, the sepoy sings on his march. A feature of such songs is the refrain, which is usually a mere collection of euphonic syllables, though it may have a meaning. Here are specimens of a few songs intended for women. The refrain of the first, "Ēlōrembāvāy" probably means "Receive and ponder what I say, O lady." The Grinding song, strangely enough, is used at funerals, as also is the 'Antiphony.' The song of 'The Three Castles’ Destruction' is supposed to accompany play with a ball or a kind of shuttle called 'undī.' For the legend of the Three Castles, see page 7. 'The Shoulder-Play' is for some ancient game in which women grasped each other's shoulders.

p. 102 p. 103

Song of the Maidens

99. Older are Thou than the oldest of all,
Newest of all that is new.
At Thy saints’ feet we in service will fall,
We are Thy handmaidens true.
None but Thy bondsmen shall call us their own;
Lord, we would none others wed;
We would be slaves at their bidding alone:
So be our bliss perfected.

100. "Sure for Thy child there is refuge with Thee,"
Trembling we take up the cry.
Hear, O our Lord, while we bring Thee one plea,
Grant but one boon for our joy.
May only Thy lovers rest on our breast,
Let our hands’ labour be theirs.
Only on such our eyes night and day rest,
Then sun rise west, east, who cares?

The Grinding Song

101. Grind we the powder gold, that He may bathe;
For He is Scripture, He is sacrifice;
He's being's truth, and being's falsehood too;
Light is He, yea, and He is darkness deep;
He is deep sorrow, and true bliss is He;
He is the half, and He again the whole;
Bondage is He, but He is true release;
He is the alpha, He the omega.

p. 104 p. 105

Śiva's Mysteries (An Antiphony)

102. "His form is smeared with ashes white; the snake His strange adornment is;
The secret scriptures utters He: what kind of god, my friend, is this?
"Why talk of ash-smear, holy speech, adornment strange? This only know,
This god, of every living thing is the true nature. Chāḷalō."

103. "My father and my master, He of all men Lord supreme, is clad
With but a hanging loin-cloth stitched; pray tell me, friend, is He not mad?
"The Vedas four with meaning fraught, the everlasting Śāstras, know
That these are but the threads whereof is wove His loin-cloth. Chāḷalō."

104. The burning-ground's His temple fine; the tiger's skin His raiment is;
Father or mother hath He none; He's all alone; my friend, see this.''
"Though He no parents hath, no kin, yet should His anger kindle, lo,
The whole wide world would straightway turn to dust and ashes. Chāḷalō."

105. "Though I am but a cur, yet when I turned to Him who hath no end,
Into a sea of bliss He made me sink o’erwhelmed; see this, my friend."
"Those holy feet that sank thee in the sea of bliss o’erwhelmèd, know,
E’en to the very gods in heav’n they're richest treasure. Chāḷalō."

p. 106 p. 107

The Three Castles’ Destruction

106. Bent was the bow, begun the fight,
The castles three were ’whelmèd quite, (Fly, undī)
Three castles blazing with one light. (Fly, undī)

107. One bolt in Śiva's hand saw we,
One single bolt for castles three, (Fly, undī)
And e’en that one scarce needed He. (Fly, undī)

108. Cleft lay the car at His foot's tread,
The axle was all shatterèd, (Fly, undī)
Three castles ruined lay and dead. (Fly, undī)

The Shoulder-Play

109. Poor slave was I, how long I poured out all my days for naught,
  To Him the all-supreme no homage rendering! Yet see,
How He, the jewel from eternal ages incorrupt,
  Has come and drawn the prison-bolt of births, and set me free.
                         Play we Tōṇōkkam

In the poetry of all lands lovers have appealed to birds to be their messengers to the distant loved one. This is so common in Indian poetry as to have become a recognised convention. Here the saint sends his message of love and devotion, in one case by a humming bee, in the other by the Indian cuckoo, to Śiva who dwells in Tillai, i.e. Chidambaram.

p. 108 p. 109

The Bee's Message

110. Hard-hearted thief, stiff-necked was I, but no such name He called me;
My stony heart He melted, and by mercy He enthralled me.
The swans abound in Tillai's lovely hall of gold, His dwelling.
Fly, king of bees, at His gold anklets hum, my message telling.

111. Cur though I am, my lord has set me His great glory singing;
To me, the mad, His patient grace is aye forgiveness bringing;
Scorning me not, He deigns to take the service I can do Him.
Mother and God. Go, king of bees, hum thou my message to Him.

112. Far would my heart and mind have gone from Him, but He compelled me,
The lord with tangled locks, and His fair spouse, they saved and held me.
He is the sky, the mighty sea, east, west, north, south, indwelling.
His feet with honey drop. There, king of bees, my praise be telling.

113. In this world's treasure false immersed lay I, and self-deceivèd,
Held it for treasure true, but for His own He me receivèd.
My precious life itself is He, in Tillai's hall abiding.
Go, king of bees, at His red lotus feet my words confiding.

p. 110 p. 111

The Cuckoo's Errand

114. Hear, little cuckoo in the honey’d orchard groves.
Heav’n did He spurn; to save us men, to earth He calve,
Boundless in giving, reeking naught of flesh of mine,
Entered my mind, and there my very thought became.
He, the alone, the spouse of her whose pure eye's ray
Shames the gazelle in softness, call Him hither, pray.

One of the little childishnesses involved in idolatry is that every morning with solemn ceremony the idol must be wakened from his sleep, bathed, and dressed. Here is a song with which he is roused from slumber. But notice how successfully our author has filled his poem with the fresh morning feeling, and the sights and sounds of the sudden break of the Indian dawn.

The Idol's Awakening

115. Hail to Thee, treasure rare,
  Source of all prosperity,
Dawn has come, at Thy feet,
  Flowers themselves, fair flowers lay we.
Praising Thee, we await
  Smiles that blossom fair and sweet
In Thy face, as we fall
  Prone adoring at Thy feet.

Śiva, Lord, dweller in
  Perunduṛai, where expand
Lotus flowers, petalled white,
  In the cool moist pasture land,
Thou whose flag is the bull,
  Thou the Lord of all my ways,
Now O Lord of us all,
  From Thy couch rise in Thy grace.

p. 112 p. 113

116. Now anigh Indra's East
  Draws the sun; dark flies apace
At the dawn; and the sun
  Of the kindness in Thy face
Riseth high’r, ever high’r,
  As like fair flowers opening,
Eyes unclose from their sleep,
  Eyes of Thee our beauteous king.

Hear how now clouds of bees
  Humming bright fill all the air.
Śiva, Lord, dweller in
  Holy Perunduṛai fair,
Thou wilt come to bestow
  Favours rich, Oh shew Thy face!
Mountain-joy, ocean-bliss,
  From Thy couch rise in Thy grace.

117. Cocks now crow to the morn,
  While the cuckoos loudly call;
Little birds sweetly sing,
  And the conch-shell sounds o’er all;
Light of stars fades away
  Into common light of day;
Dawn and sun come as one,
  Now to us, O God, display

In Thy love Thy twin feet,
  Gracious, decked with anklets rare.
Śiva, Lord, dweller in Holy Perunduṛai fair,
  Hard for all men to find,
Yet to me Thou shewedst Thy face.
  Now O Lord of us all,
From Thy couch rise in Thy grace.

p. 114 p. 115

118. On this side some men play
  Lutes and vīṇas sweet of sound;
On that side some men chant
  Ancient Ṛik, their songs resound;
In their hands some have brought
  Wreaths of many blossoms wove;
Some bow down, some men weep,
  Some men sway, o’ercome by love;

Clasping hands o’er their heads,
  Others stand with reverent air;
Śiva, Lord, dweller in
  Holy Perunduṛai fair,
Even me didst thou save;
  Sweet to me have been Thy ways.
Now, O Lord of us all,
  From Thy couch rise in Thy grace.

The rest of our specimens of the 'Holy Utterances' may be left to explain themselves without comment, save for a single line of title. Where two or more stanzas are given from a poem, the title here given is a translation from the Tamil.

Only with Thee and Thy Saints!

119. Our lady aye is in Thy heart,
  As Thou in hers; and if ye both
In mine do dwell, grant me a part
  Among your slaves, O ever First.
    Unending lord, in Tillai's hall who dost abide,
    Let this deep yearning of my soul be satisfied.

p. 116 p. 117

What Can I Give Thee?

120. Thou gav’st Thyself, Thou gained’st me;
  Which did the better bargain drive?
Bliss found I in infinity;
  But what didst Thou from me derive?
O Śiva,. Perunduṛai's God,
  My mind Thou tookest for Thy shrine:
My very body's Thine abode:
  What can I give Thee, Lord, of mine?

Passion's Pain

121. Caught am I in passion's snare from women's liquid eyes;
  Stabbed at heart, a cur. O wisdom's light, no aid I see.
Only lord, whose lady's feet are softer than the down,
  How I long to hear Thy coral lips speak cheer to me.

Longings For Death

122. Our lord supreme, both earth and heav’n indwelling,
  See how I have no other help but Thee.
Thou king of Śiva's world, bright beyond telling,
  Dweller in Perunduṛai, look on me.
Who'll hear my cry, who list to my complaining,
  If Thou Thy grace deny, who saved’st me?
I find in sea-girt earth no joy remaining.
  Now let Thy grace speak, bid me come to Thee.

p. 118 p. 119

123. In Thee she dwells whose feet than down are softer;
  See how I have no other help but Thee.
Thou king of Śiva's world, my gracious master,
  Dweller in Perunduṛai, look on me.
Fear holds me; for, in dark confusion godless,
  I did forget the grace that savèd me.
Dog and deceitful am I. Life is joyless.
  Now let Thy grace speak, bid me come to Thee.

124. In Thee she dwells whose ancient praise is faultless;
  See how I have no other help but Thee.
Thou king of S`iva's world, the bright moon wearing,
  Dweller in Perunduṛai, look on me.
Whom save Thee could I worship with my praises?
  Can any other refuge give for me?
O Rider of the bull, my life is joyless.
  Now let Thy grace speak, bid me come to Thee.

The Balancing of Deeds

125. O lord of Perunduṛai, place of peace,
  To them who call Thy name, beyond compare
True joy art Thou. Thou mad'st my woe to cease
  When good and ill deeds done were balanced fair.
    Then lest unwith’ring seeds of birth should grow,
    In Kal̤ukunḍu Thy fair self didst shew.

p. 120 p. 121

Life's Consuming

126. Myself I cannot understand, nor what is day nor night;
He who both word and thought transcends has reft my senses quite,
He who for bull has Vishṇu, and in Perunduṛai dwells,
O Light supreme, in Brāhman guise has cast on me strange spells.

127. I ask not fame, wealth, earth or heav’n. No birth, no death for me.
None will I touch who love not Śiva. Now ’tis mine to see
Abiding Perunduṛai, wear the King's foot as my crown;
Never will I leave this His shrine, nor let Him leave His own.

128. Art Thou like honey on the branch too high for me to climb?
Or art Thou nectar ocean-churned? O Hara, King sublime,
In Perunduṛai, circled with moist fields, I can set Thee
With form ash-smeared, the spotless. Can I bear my ecstasy?

129. Many in this great earth who live do penance; I alone
Bearing this frame of flesh, a barren jungle-tree have grown.
Dweller in Perunduṛai old where blooms the kondai tree,
May I the sinner cry "Wilt Thou not grant Thyself to me"?

p. 122 p. 123

Pious Fear

130. I fear not serpents lurking smooth;
I fear no liars’ feignèd truth;
But when I see fools venturing
E’en to the foot of Him our king,
Our three-eyed Lord with matted hair,
Of His great godhead unaware,
Fools thinking other gods can be,
Terror such sight inspires in me.

131. I fear no javelin's gory blade;
Nor sidelong glance of bangled maid;
But when I see men void of grace
Drinking no sweetness from the praise
Of my unchiselled Gem, whose dance
In Tillai's hail is seen, whose glance
Melts men's whole frame in ecstasy
Terror such sight inspires in me.

I Cling to Thee

132. King of the heavenly ones! All-filling Excellence!
E’en to vile me Thou Thy wonders hast shown;
Balm of true bliss, ending false earthly bliss of sense,
Thou my whole household did’st take for Thine own.
Meaning of holy writ! Wondrous Thy glory!
True wealth, our Śiva, to Thee, Lord, I cling.
Never to loose my hold, firmly I cling to Thee;
Where canst Thou go, leaving me sorrowing?

p. 124 p. 125

133. King of celestial ones, ever with bull for steed,
Evil am I, yet my riches art Thou;
Lest I should rot in my foul flesh, and die indeed,
Thou hast preserved me, and Thine am I now.
Thou art our God; Thou of grace art a boundless sea,
Saved from my flesh, now to Thee, Lord, I cling.
Never to let Thee loose, firmly I cling to Thee;
Where can’st Thou go, leaving me sorrowing?

134. Thou dids’t come into my vile fleshly body,
E’en as ’twere into some great golden shrine;
Soft’ning and melting it all, Thou hast savèd me,
Lord condescending, Thou gem all divine!
Sorrow and birth, death, all ties that deceivèd me,
Thou did’st remove, all my bonds severing;
True bliss, our kindly Light, firmly I cling to Thee;
Where canst Thou go leaving me sorrowing?


135. I ask not kin, nor name, nor place,
  Nor learnèd men's society.
Men's lore for me no value has;
  Kuttālam's lord, I come to Thee.
Wilt thou one boon on me bestow,
  A heart to melt in longing sweet,
As yearns o’er new-horn calf the cow,
  In yearning for Thy sacred feet?

p. 126 p. 127

Longing for Union

136. I had no virtue, penance, knowledge, self-control. A doll to turn
  At others’ will I danced, whirled, fell. But me He filled in every limb
With love's mad longing, and that I might climb there whence is no return,
  He shewed His beauty, made me His. Ah me, when shall I go to Him?

The Wonder of Grace

137. Fool's friend was I, none such may know
  The way of freedom; yet to me
He shew’d the path of love, that so
  Fruit of past deeds might ended be.
    Cleansing my mind so foul, He made me like a god.
    Ah who could win that which the Father hath bestowed?

138. Thinking it right, sin's path I trod;
  But, so that I such paths might leave,
And find His grace, the dancing God,
  Who far beyond our thought doth live,
    O wonder passing great!—to me His dancing shewed.
    Ah who could win that which the Father hath bestowed?

Next: Appendix I. Shrines Mentioned in These Poems