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Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar is founding editor of Drunken Boat, and author / editor / publisher of eight books and chapbooks of poetry, including the National Poetry Review Prize winner Deepening Groove and W.W. Norton's Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond. He has won a Pushcart Prize, teaches in the M.F.A. program at City University of Hong Kong and at CCSU, and is translating Aandaal's poems with Indian writer Priya Sarukkai Chabria.

The Song To Kamadeva, God Of Love (English Translation)

In January hoarfrost, I sweep the ground  
to draw sacred mandalas with fine sand,  

intricate adornment of stars and matrixes
of dots in rice powder that will disperse

in the afternoon void. The art of engaging  
beauty for its own form and transient sake.

Enraptured, flushed pink, I turn to you
& your brother to ask, how do we still live?

Untie me with the hand that holds the discus
ringed in fire so I might adorn more streets

with sand dripped through my fingertips.
I bathed alone during the vast song of dawn,  

& tended the fire with tender, smooth twigs.
My vow to him courses through my body

like a ripened blossom strung on your bow
to release with keening motion the name

of the only one capable of ocean-breaths
dotted with song cleaved from between beaks.

Draw the bow at me, loosening braids of reason
until I am an untied string without a knot,

united as wave and postulate. Concluded.  
Three times a day I will worship at your feet

with fragrant blossoms of moonflowers,
my heart ablaze, from fiery tips of arrows

woven from efflorescence to spell his name,
Govinda, a musk essence of transcendence.

Aim the arrow at him & let it fly, to pierce
him until I might enter that succulent light.

Tamil Hindi

தையொரு திங்களும் தரைவிளக்கித்
தண்மண் டலமிட்டு மாசிமுன்னாள்
ஐயநுண் மணற்கொண்டு தெருவணிந்து
அழகினுக் கலங்கரித் தனங்கதேவா
உய்யவு மாங்கொலோ வென்றுசொல்லி
உன்னையு மும்பியையும் தொழுதேன்
வெய்யதோர் தழலுமிழ் சக்கரக்கை
வேங்கட வற்கென்னை விதிக்கிற்றியே.

வெள்ளைநுண் மணற்கொண்டு தெருவணிந்த
ு வெள்வரைப் பதன்முன்னம் துறைபடிந்து
முள்ளுமில் லாச்சுள்ளி யெரிமடுத்து
முயன்றுன்னை நோற்கின்றேன் காமதேவா
கள்ளவிழ் பூங்கணை தொடுத்துக்கொண்டு
கடல்வண்ண னென்பதோர் பேரெழுதி
புள்ளினை வாய்பிளந் தானென்பதோர் இலக்கினில்
புகவென்னை யெய்கிற்றியே


Aandaal is an 8th century Alvar saint of South India, who is credited with the great Tamil works or the Thirupavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi that are still recited to this very day. Eschewing earthly marriage, Aandaal "married" Vishnu, both spiritually and physically, and is considered an incarnation of the divine in many parts of South India, especially in Srivilliputhur, her birthplace where there is a large temple dedicated to her.


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