Guest poem submitted by Deepak Ramachandran:
(Poem #1777) Vacana #105
A snake-charmer and his noseless wife, snake in hand, walk carefully trying to read omens for a son's wedding, but they meet head-on a noseless woman and her snake-charming husband, and cry 'The omens are bad!' His own wife has no nose; there's a snake in his hand. What shall I call such fools who do not know themselves and see only the others, O lord of the meeting rivers!
(Translated from Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan) [Notes] 1. Vacana: A religous lyric in Kannada free verse; vacana literally means "saying, thing said". Kannada is a Dravidian language, spoken today in the south indian state of Karnataka by nearly 20 million people. 2. Snake-charmers are bad omens if met on the way. The noseless wife may either mean a dumb woman or a deformed one, another bad omen. 3. Lord of the meeting rivers: Kudalasangamadeva, an appellation for Shiva. [Commentary] This delightful poem is from "Speaking of Shiva", A. K. Ramanujan's book of Vacanas by the four major Virasaiva saints of the 11th and 12th century: Dasimayya, Basavanna, Allama, and Mahadeviyakka. They are a part of what the anthropologist Milton Singer calls the 'little tradition' in Indian civilization: the panoply of regional cultures and languages that stand opposed to the 'great' tradition that is inter-regional and has Sanskrit as its vehicle. The Virasaivas rejected many of the conventions of their time such as the caste system and the complex rituals and religous ceremonies governing daily life. Religion was a personal matter for them. The vacanas are verses of devotion to a god, often a particular form of the god. (like the 'lord of the meeting rivers' above). In Ramanujan's words "the incandescence of Virasaiva poetry is the white heat of truth-seeing and truth saying in a dark deluded world." [Biography] Basavanna was born in AD 1106 in the village of Manigavalli. By the age of 16 he decided to spend his life in the worship and service of Shiva. Finding the caste-system of his society and the ritualism of his home shackling and senseless he tore off the sacred thread that binds a Brahmin to his past life's deeds. Travelling to Kudalasangama, he studied the Vedas and other religious texts. He soon became a trusted friend of King Bijjala and rose in his court. As his devotion grew from strength to strength, he managed to convert many to Siva-worship by the fire of his zeal. He founded a new egalitarian Virasaiva community that began to raise the ire of traditionalists and sparked a political crisis in the kingdom. Unable to prevent the ensuing violent conflict, he left the court of King Bijjala, returning to his hometown where he died soon after in 1167. ~Deepak