I am Professor of Religious Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. I served as the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies from 2015-2018. I returned from a year-long sabbatical (2018-2019) to serve as the Chair of Religious Studies for an additional two years (2019-2021).
I received my BA, MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and AA from De Anza Community College. I came to California at the age of 18, moving here from the bustling, hot, humid, salty coastal city of Madras. I fell in love with California almost immediately, and my love for Berkeley began soon after. I decided to attend Berkeley the first moment I stepped on the campus, not two days after arriving in the US. I entered via Oxford Street, walked past the Life Sciences Building and looked up at Wheeler Hall, home of the English Department, and knew I wanted to be nowhere else. I spent two years at De Anza Community College, learning from incredible teachers, reading incredible books, and in general, having my mind blown every.single.day. My years in Berkeley were as heady, and I nurtured my abiding love for Keats, even as I discovered Tamil and Tamil poetry, and found myself treading an unexpected path.
My graduate work took me back to India, a place I knew, but yet had to relearn. Poetry remained my anchor through it all. I learned to translate, and realized that it was the instrument to understand, perhaps even reconcile, my twin souls–one nurtured in India and another nourished in the US.
Today, my research interests are in the intersection of text and performance in South India, as well as in the translation of early and medieval Tamil ecstatic poetry into English.
Despite being a very slow writer and an even slower translator, I’ve managed to write two books and co-author another. I owe all of this to my parents.
I have two main research projects. The first is a comparative project on the Adhyayanotsavam (Festival of Recitation). I’ve been working on this for almost ten years, and it’s taken me this long to get some sense of the complexities of this marvelous twenty day marathon.
The second project is a collaborative one on the Nava Tirupati, a network of nine Vishnu temples in the Tirunelveli area. I am working on this project with Crispin Branfoot (SOAS, London), Leslie Orr (Concordia University, Montreal) and Anna Seastrand (University of Minnesota).
Apart from these projects, I am also a translator, and I translate almost every day. I’ve just completed a ten-year project to translate Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi. It will be published by Penguin Classics in February 2020. I am also translating the Sundara Kāṇḍam of Kampaṉ’s Rāmāyaṇa for the Murty Classical Library series. Eventually, my goal is to translate Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār’s magnificent Periya Tirumoḻi, and then to turn my attention to the works of the early āḻvār-poets and Kulaśekhara Āḻvār too. You can read some sample translations here.