Priya Sarukkai Chabria (Translator)
Manikkavacakar’s Creation Hymns
From Tiruvacakam / Sacred Utterances translated from Classical Tamil
3.1-5 wobbling spheres round into the elemental cosmos immeasurable wonder beyond wonders here our planet floats impossible to sing these worlds’ profuse beauties try this for scale: earth in its disk of stars a dust mote dancing among millions more in a shaft of light that falls through a window of your home the sunbeam Siva 3.124 solitary one you imbue immense earth with five qualities: smell taste tactility shape rotations’ sound Omkara permeate water’s four: smell taste touch sound fire’s three: touch sound smell air’s elated two: touch sound you are the expanding charge of space rhapsodies cinder before reaching you life’s oceans proliferate because of you even gods in deepest dream can’t reach you yet this aimless cur – me -- you consecrate lauds lord lauds atomize 4.15-25 sperm-seed breaks egg into life the invisible throbs vaguely visible struggle to survive uterine heat eyes form to remove darkness organs pulse their shapes hear the mother’s heartbeat filtered sounds from the world beyond struggle to survive the womb’s squeeze struggle push break free from home baby rests in mother’s bed (each one’s a seed almost invisible) our bed’s a roaring ocean of tears -- struggle for grace break free 2.37 -42 ancient changelessness who creates change invisible towering one seed of everything outstripping wonder’s stretch yet encoding every atom limitless before language arose beyond the silence of it uttermost ends beyond knowledge’s reach beyond imagination beyond timelessness but this too yet snares himself in the bhakta’s net
Translator’s Note: Written by revered 9th century mystic, Manikkavacakar ‘whose words are rubies’, these poems are still sung, and considered equal to the Vedas by Tamil Shaivas. A bhakti poet, Manikkavacakar mainly sang in the Chidambaram temple, where Siva is said to be manifest as akasha, etheric space, the fifth element in Hindu cosmology. The Chidambaram rahasyais an empty cave-like room that devotees peer into before viewing the idol in the main sanctum. Perhaps this accounts for the spaces between phrases in my translations and its floatingness, where each word is a spinning world, spinning in wonder, spinning into smoke. Mystics thought words evaporate before they reach Siva.
First published in Reliquiae Journal, May 2020. Republished with permission from the translator.