Three Vacanas in Praise of Shiva

I don’t know anything like time-beats and metre
nor the arithmetic of strings and drums;
I don’t know the count of iamb and dactyl.

My lord of the meeting rivers,
as nothing will hurt you
I’ll sing as I love.

* * *

Make of my body the beam of a lute
of my head the sounding gourd
of my nerves the strings
of my fingers the plucking rods.

Clutch me close
and play your thirty two songs,
O lord of the meeting rivers.

* * *

The rich
will make temples for Shiva.
What shall I,
a poor man,

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving* ever shall stay.

*Among possible interpretations, ‘moving’ is here a reference to the religious person who has renounced world and home, and wanders from village to village, and who to the devotee represents divinity incarnate.

Speaking of Shiva

Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

**Basavanna (1106-1167?) was a South Indian devotee of Shiva who rejected the traditional, Brahminical forms of temple-worship, and as such formed part of the Virashaiva protest movement.  Hundreds of lyric ‘vacanas’ (‘thing said, saying’), originally written in the Dravidian language of Kannada, are attributed to him. He is considered one of the four great saints of this tradition.

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