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.

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

The Tiruvaymoli is done!

I began translating the Tiruvaymoli in 2007. It was supposed to be a joint project with Frank Clooney (Harvard), who has spent a lifetime on the text. We worked on some 60 verses together, but in the end, time, distance and my own slowness as a translator doomed our collaboration. Frank has been so patient, encouraging and incredibly generous to me throughout this process, and I know that I would never have conceived of such a monumental undertaking without him by my side to do it. Frank has his own complete translation, and I hope very much that someday he’ll publish it, full of his rich insights and his deep, deep reading of the commentaries.

I have been changed on a molecular level doing this work. A great poem will do that to you, and the more you live with it, the more it changes you. It was difficult and frightening to accept this truth. Eventually, I did accept this reality, the realness of the poem, its work, its affect, and I learned to understand and feel it through ritual and spectacle, as something that throbbed and thrummed in the blood-veins of people.

Many, many moons ago, at the very beginning of this project, I applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and was shocked to receive it (2012). They even did a little piece about me and this translation. At that time, I had ambitiously thought I would be done with this work in a year or so. Little did I know how distant the finish line really was.  Anyway, here is that little blurb, a reminder to myself of that far away self.

The book will be out in January 2020 from Penguin Classics. It’s appropriate that it comes out then, during the month of Markali, which is given over to a sustained, profound meditation of this work.

Adhyayanotsavam Day 19: Tirukkurungudi

Adhyayanotsavam Day 19
Ira Pattu Day 9
Tiruvaymoliu 9th Hundred

The Adhyayanotsavam inches to its close. We are on the 9th night of the Ira Pattu Utsavam (Dec 6), and on the 19th day of the festival. Everyone is a bit worse for wear–exhausted, ill, moving slightly more slowly than when we began. The days are endless–beginning at 3 AM and going virtually non-stop until 1030 at night. The work in a temple is never done, especially, when it’s a temple as large as this one. Even during the down-times, when the devotees disperse home for a snack, various temple attendants, ritual specialists and functionaries are busy doing things–getting the god ready, the ritual implements polished and cleaned, the wicks oiled, the lamps lit. Over these almost twenty days, I’ve learned these rhythms–the choreography of moving through the temple. It’s incredible how quickly the body learns, not only how to move, to bend, to stay still, but the when of it as well. The women move between the walls and the pillars of the mandapa as though a unit–I always think of them undulating through space, like waves in the sea–crashing the shores of visibility and invisibility over and over again. I’ve joined their group, although I am always just a little bit behind schedule, trying to get a photograph in, or jotting down some notes. My entire vantage of the Ira Pattu festival has been from the left side of the mandapam, which is where the women are situated. I wondered yesterday, what it would look like across the aisle, from the perspective of the men. What would I see and not see? I cannot even know the answer to these questions, because there are limits to what I can see, what I am allowed to see.

Keeping with this theme, I found it difficult to see the image yesterday. Everything seemed to obscure Nambi–people, flames, walls, corners. Eventually, I was able to get a beautiful, clean straight shot, but the evening was a struggle. All of this unseeing, which seems to apropos of a dominant theme in alvar poetry–seeing god and loving god through sight.

On a lighter note, I wondered if the goddesses and the women of Tirukkurungudi color coordinated their outfits yesterday. It was a sea of blue–the goddesses in teal, the women draped in blue of every possible shade, although Nambi was in white and showered in flowers of red, gold, orange, flame. I am so glad that I somehow unconsciously got the memo and showed up in blue salwar bottoms 🙂. The colors–blue and gold– yesterday made me smile. They are California colors, and it was lovely to have a reminder of my other home, here in far away Tirunelveli.

You’re my eyes. My heart thinks of all the ways
to see you, to seek you.
Gods and ascetics may struggle to see you,
I won’t stop till I reach you.

Nammalvar. Tiruvaymoli. IX.4.2

Adhyayanotsavam Day 11: Tirukkurungudi

Adhyayanotsavam Day 11
Dec 30, 2017
Ira Pattu 2
Tiruvaymoli 2nd 100

I was told that the crowd would dissipate after Vaikuntha Ekadasi. This happened not to be the case. While it wasn’t anywhere as crowded as on the 29th, there were still a lot of people in a very small place.

It’s a very different experience listening to the Divya Prabandham recitation in the Ira Pattu Mandapam. For one, it’s a longer space, and it’s enclosed. As Nambi processes, the gosti recites the Iyarpa as they walk with him. This is impossible to hear as the drums are beating and the nagasvaram blares. You hear snatches here and there–an evocation, an invocation, a lament, a sigh. The Tiruvaymoli itself is recited seated after the Tiruvaradhanai, a reversal from the procedure in the first half of the festival. The sound of the crowd drowns out the recitation, so one needs to be close to hear it. The gosti recites the text with exquisite, liquid fluency. The inherent metrical, rhythmic quality comes through beautifully, and I was particularly struck at how clearly you hear the antati–each word pushing into the next, one wave cresting into another. The recitation brings alive the infinity loop that is the Tiruvaymoli–its endlessness, its beginningless-ness. I thought about this yesterday as I sat listening to it, and how the whole Ira Pattu festival recreates this fundamental, elemental structure of the text itself. It’s a loop, and as we pass through the doorway day after day, it’s like we are living in the Tiruvaymoli itself.

There are no spectacular alankaras for the next ten days. “Just” the usual imperial presentation (Rajangam). The emphasis has clearly shifted to listening and hearing in a very different manner. Over the next ten days, Vishnu and his four goddesses wear little caps to keep them warm in the chill of Margali. A different one every night. Vishnu gets a warm shawl as well. I asked if they use the same caps and shawls every year. In response, I was informed that a lady in Delhi had made them all this year–gorgeously embroidered fabrics, sparkly textiles and the sweetest little velvet hats.