I am translating the Sundara Kāṇḍam, the fifth book of the Tamil Rāmāyaṇa (Kampaṉ’s Irāmāvatāram) for the Murty Classical Library of India. I am also the series editor for this project. You can learn more about the collaborative effort to translate all of Kampaṉ’s Irāmāvatāram here.

I’ve just begun the translation of one of the most beautiful, exciting and emotionally satisfying chapters in the epic.  As is always the case with Kampaṉ, the poetry is mesmerizing and luscious, and it is a challenge to capture this quality in English without making it seem overwrought. This is the first time I’ve tackled narrative poetry, which requires a slightly different sensibility, one I am slowly calibrating within myself.

These translations are drafts.

These translations have not been published. They are copyrighted to me.  They may NOT be circulated or reproduced in any media (print, web, performed etc.) without explicit, prior, written permission from me (Archana Venkatesan).

Kaṭavuḷ Vāḻttu: Benediction


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


The deathless one pressed down on the dark mountain
and like bowels spilling from its torn belly,
striped serpents spitting poison sharp as fire
spilt out, purged from their pits.


When the mountain burst, women gentle as peacocks
shivered and clutched their men:
each a Śiva holding his frightened goddess
like on the day the sharp fanged demon raised Kailāśa.


The one with the swift horse and sharp-tipped thunderbolt
couldn’t even glimpse him, so quickly
he went subduing sea and earth, tearing towards Laṅka
like a driverless chariot in the sky.


Gods sang praises, sages watched in awe, kings bowed low
as Māruti flew, like beautiful Kailāśa speeding towards Śiva
eager to crush the demon with the sharp sword again,
who thought to separate him from his lord.


Viṣṇu measured the seven worlds with his feet
frightening the celestials. The monkey
spanned all the same space with his tail
long as time, astonishing the gods.