The Tiruvaymoli is finally available

My translation of the Tiruvaymoli is finally out. It has a physical form, and I suppose that means it is real and it exists.
It can be purchased in the US via Amazon
It can be purchased in India via Penguin’s page
I do not know if it is physically in any bookstore in India or across the pond. It would be lovely if it is.
It’s only taken 12 years to get this done. In the midst of it, the project seemed interminable. Now that it is done, it is rather unbelievable that it took only 12 years.

Hum Dekhenge: We’ll See

This marvelous poem is making the rounds in the wake of the protests sweeping across India. Its powerful, evocative words speak across time and cultures as a clarion call to resist oppression, and that the power to rise up to fight, to persist, and to resist oppressive systems lies within all of us.

There are lots of translations of Hum Dekhenge, but I like this one best:

And here is the inimitable Iqbal Bano performing it. The thunderous applause that greets the songs and serves as almost a percussive accompaniment, adds to the alchemy of music and verse:


Thinking back

I was looking through old photographs today and found this pic from 2007. In 2005, the Araiyars at Alvar Tirunagari entrusted me with the manuscript that recorded the Araiyar Sevai. They requested my help in cleaning, restoring, digitizing and printing the text for them. With the help of the French Institute of Pondicherry, I finally accomplished this in 2008 and returned the manuscript to them. This photo captures the terror that I felt at the responsibility.

So much has happened in the intervening 15 years…but 2005 marked my first full immersion in the Adhyayanotsavam. 

Tiruvaymoli in Music

On Vaikuntha Ekadasi, the eleventh day of the Adhyayanotsavam and the first day of the Tiruvaymoli Festival, it is an honor and privilege to share my collaborative project with Sikkil Gurucharan. We have worked together to set verses from the Tiruvaymoli to music. This set is from the First Hundred, and over the next ten months, we will release verses from each Hundred of the Tiruvaymoli.

While there is the Koyil Tiruvaymoli, a set of 143 verses, curated by the acaryas of the Srivaishnava tradition, in this project, we have chosen verses that spoke to us, that were unusual, or those that would be best suited for a musical interpretation. There is obviously some overlap with the Koyil Tiruvaymoli, our project is distinct from those verses.


The Tiruvaymoli Cover!

Olivia Fraser. Breathe II

The cover of the Tiruvaymoli translation arrived this morning in my Inbox. My breath seized in delight and joy. I am honored that one of Olivia Dalrymple‘s haunting, evocative paintings once again graces the cover of one of my books. What fortune this is, that the yellow-gold lotuses that bloomed on the cover of the Tiruviruttam, glow this time, against an ink-dark body, blossoming and closing, on the cover of the Tiruvaymoli. If ever there was a painting to capture the mood, spirit and feel of the Tiruvaymoli, a garland of lotuses, an ornament to a jewel, this is surely it. Thank you, Richa, for making this happen, and thank you Olivia, for granting Penguin the necessary permissions.

A body of lotuses
from your navel, a lotus, emerged three vast worlds
your feet, lotuses, measured the three worlds
your eyes are lotuses, your hands too
Padmanābha, my ruler, I am alone
when will I reach you?

Tiruvaymoli VII.6.1

Trial and Error: Version 30

version 30 of the same damn verse. I just can’t get past it. There are 1500 verses in this book, and I am still on verse 1. Aiy.

A garland a serpent a creature
of illusion, of the five fickle elements
gluttonous and swollen.
Who dissolves it?
The archer, vanquisher of Laṅkā
The sole goal of the Veda

Translating a single verse

So, that opening verse in Kampan, none of them worked for various reasons. Back to the drawing board, when I though almost incessantly about it. I came up with several more versions (now we are well into the 20-s), and have come up with the most recent version, which emerges from all the earlier experiments.
I am not thrilled with it, as I feel it gives away too much, makes it too easy for the reader. But it is very close to the original Tamil, and I think I’ve almost got an equivalent for every Tamil word in the original.

Thoughts/suggestions/ideas are welcome

A garland a serpent a creature
of illusion, of the five elements
shimmering swaying altering swelling
Who dissolves it?
The archer, vanquisher of Lankā
The sole goal of the Veda

How many versions does it take to make a translation?

As I prep are for our day long Kampan translation workshop at Madison, I remember why I love translating so much. An intoxication of sound and sense, of all the ways to inhabit two bodies at once, to live in a skin that is not your own, but that you will make your own. I’ve spent most of today on a single perfect verse. I’ve tried out multiple versions–sometimes the changes are so slight that I barely notice–a comma removed or added, a syllable added, a syllable deleted. Sometimes, I engage in a whole-scale re-thinking. Anyway, here are three versions of this one verse–the opening verse of Sundara Kandam.

The five elements
a serpent of illusion in the evening
a fickle bond. Who can cut it?
He wields a bow, vanquisher of Laṅkā
the sole end of the Veda. Him.

A rope a serpent a trick of the evening,
of the five elements, a fickle bond
Who severs it?
The archer, vanquisher of Laṅkā
the Veda’s sole end.
See Him.

A serpent of illusion in the evening
creature of the five elements, a bond
Who cuts it? See
the archer, vanquisher of Laṅkā
the Veda’s sole end

A fourth version that just came to me h/t Rhony Bhopla

A rope a serpent a trick of the evening,
of the five elements, a fickle bond
Who severs it? The archer
vanquisher of Laṅkā, the Veda’s sole end.