English Translations of Manikkavacakar by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Priya Sarukkai Chabria (Translator)


Manikkavacakar’s Creation Hymns 

From  Tiruvacakam / Sacred Utterances translated from Classical Tamil



wobbling spheres round       into the elemental cosmos


                                                       wonder beyond wonders
here our planet


impossible to sing these worlds’ profuse beauties

try this for scale:

          in its disk of stars

                                   a dust mote


                                                         among millions more

                                                                               in a shaft of light

that falls through a window of your home            the sunbeam Siva


solitary one


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


sperm-seed breaks
egg into life

the invisible throbs
vaguely visible

to survive uterine heat

eyes form
to remove darkness

organs pulse
their shapes

the mother’s heartbeat

filtered sounds
from the world beyond

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 --


                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



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.