from The Sacred Songs of the Lady


Song SevenWhite Conch from the Fathomless Sea

Camphor aflame? Or budding lotuses? What is
the scent of his sacred breath? White Conch whirled
from the ocean of time, like you I long to sip
from Madhavan's coral lip. In combat he snapped
the elephant demon's tusks; in love's war I long to gore him
with my ivory breasts. I jangle the sign of separation—
conch bangles—which he, the All-Knowing, doesn't see!
Fortunate One, admit our bond and share him with me.

His being drenches the fathomless ocean. Yet there
you lay clogged, home to the demon whose name
you still bear. Scooped by his boon you rose
to his palm as nacreous spiral of echoing sound.
On hearing your call, Panchajanya, demons fall.
Are you so full of roar you can't hear my waul?
Are demons to be more fortunate than I? Is silence
my shell? Great Conch, is this your sweet wish? Tell.

Pure Orb fished from cosmic waters,
your beauty rivals the round autumn moon
—its radiance awash over midnight sky—
beneath which mountain forests glimmer
for you ride on Vasudeva's sapphire
shoulder. I sing your praises. Yet don't moon: unlike
the Indweller you merely reflect Mathura's luminous
lord, you hand mirror!

Parted not from him are you, Exalted Conch. Parted
are his wives, envious of your perch on
Dhamodaran's shoulder. You have his ear
that you fill with your hiss like a secret mantra. Even
Indra, God of Thunder, is slighted
that the Lord of Restraint hears you rain
drivel. Listen, Hollow Shell: only
through his grace do you reign in your place.

Countless the creatures churned from the cosmic ocean.
Countless their forgotten lives, countless their forgotten
names. Forever they lie in a chasm memory doesn't
reach. Your name alone, Resplendent Conch, resounds
through epochs for you alone taste
Madhusudhanan's timeless bliss. I too yearn
for the nectar you suck as he blows through you,
as he blows through my every moment.

You're drunk, Coalesced Moonlight. You've gained
haven without pilgrimage or holy dip, for you shower
in the spout of his sacred mouth. Valampuri, Victorious
One, you float on the boat of the hand that broke
twin maruta trees, releasing trapped celestials to head home
to heaven. May the lotus-eyed Intoxicator's eyes turn red
with passion as I drink from his mouth! May Mal's ecstasy
flood me, break me open, release me.

As on an indigo lake a shimmering swan sucks
nectar from the fluttering purple petals of night lotuses,
you drink from midnight-hued Vasudeva's wine
lips. All joy is yours, King of Conches! Once full,
you loll in his lotus hand—blank as an eye in inebriated
slumber—while his eyes twitching open are blood rubies
of passion. All splendor is yours as you possess
his lips that should possess mine. Great is your glory!

Pearled Fist, you live through him who pervades
the Three Worlds, all Time, and beyond.
Your couch, Conch, is the bowl of his hand, primal
ocean of bliss-filled space. But for his kindness you are
naught, a knot in time, dissolving. Women rage as you
along gorge on bliss. Sacredness is each one's birthplace,
home and resting ground. Don't be unfair,
Panchajayna. Unclench yourself, share!

Conch Magnificent yet selfish, debased! Sixteen
thousand devis—each an ardent beauty—watch
you incessantly drink the liquid bliss
of Madhusudhanan's spit. Their wrath
flowers from envy. White Bud, think: would
we be incensed by him for whom we clamor
enamored—or his attribute, you, Lip-Leech?
You wallow in kindness but don't yield to its flow!

Of Panchajanya and Padmanabha,
of the intimacy of the conch with divinity
does she sing—who is the daughter of the chief
of Srivilliputur, of palaces and emerald groves.
Those who learn to chant
these ten verses in pure Tamil
will ever
be beloved of the Lord. 

Song TenDark Flowers

O dark flowers, benediction of sun & elevation
of waves cresting then churning to drown me.
Who hears voices in water? My sole wish
is to clasp beneath what the tula-petals garland,
to pour torrents of flowers in a reluctant heap
that rises from aromatic breath to throaty skies,
pure as the blue flame held aloft in the palm
of the right hand of the one whose inner light
is the distilled and living essence of the Vedas.

O kottai, your sinewy vine gasps red fruit,
a reminder to the lips of itself, a song of spirit
and senses. Don't drag my days barbed through
me when I tremble now, truly. I am brazen,
fallen but not repentant nor ashamed, dreaming
his luminous sleep on a forked serpent tongue bed.

Bright jasmine, spare me your smile. I surrender.
If the words that slashed at demonisms
prove false, is my birth also just as false?

O black cuckoo, what ravaged garden girds
your song? Whirr plaintively instead a blue-
note for the one with a fluttering banner
on an immaculate fields who alone holds
the purpose of my life as mere song in his paws
that we will both listen to vanish with us.

O muster of peacocks, at such audacious
balletic forms, I fall prostate, inner-mirroring
your fan of eyes like the many metallic hoods
whose paralyzing sway has had me swooning.
Incomparable peacocks, limitless imitation
could not compare to your unfurling feathers!
Deprived, shorn of self, a hollowed out gourd,
I have nothing left to give. I've expended all
at Govinda's feet, who while dancing with pots,
plucked the stem of me in such heightened state.
Frozen in ecstasy, is it fair to be further tormented?

Rain, pouring rain, drip on the arbor where my lord
lives like hot wax poured into a clay mold, my heart
the ready vessel for his light melting into shared
radiance. Make him stroke me, bury so deeply
into my being that his tip touches my heart to flame.
Can you rain down that furiously? Pound down please?

O oceans! Just as he set you howling to steal vigor
from your depths, he entered me to smash
the substance of what I had been into the shoals .
Can you convey to this cunning force curled chaotically
upon a serpent my extreme suffering in the matter?
What defense do I have against such bold glory?

If the blazing lord of Arangam finds kindling of virtue,
then he will reveal what's outside himself inside me. 

translated from the Tamil by Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar

These translations of Aandaal are part of a collaborative book project by Priya Surakkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar forthcoming from Zubaan in 2015. "White Conch from the Fathomless Sea" is translated by Chabria and "Dark Flowers" by Shankar.