He is unique among those rich in understanding, but by His Grace
I placed Him in my understanding to hold Him there,
But even that is by His sweet Grace, and so He made me realise
that all understanding and life and body and the infinite too are mere nothing,
And for understanding beyond all that, He ended up as me, Himself myself.
~ Tiruvaymoli VIII.8.3
Krishna is that which attracts or gathers. The process and play of His attraction is what is called ‘bhakti’.’
Over the centuries and indeed millennia, India has seen countless devotees who shone brightly and spread love and light among the people. They became immortalised by their songs of ‘prema’, Divine Love.
While the poet-saints of medieval north India like Mirabai, Surdas, Ravidas, Parmananda, Namdev, Tukaram and others are still well alive even in popular culture, their wave of bhakti was in fact preceeded by an earlier surge that overtook the south a few centuries earlier. This surge was led by the Alvars (Tamil word meaning ‘immersed’ (in love for God)), the 12 Tamil poet-saints, devotees of Vishnu. Their poems and songs are collected in a text called the Divya Prabandham which contains around 4,000 verses and was compiled in the 9th-10th century by Nathamuni.
The lovers of the Lord, bhaktas, are eternal, just as bhakti is eternal, endless. Whether a bhakta lived 1,500 years ago or 15, makes no difference when it comes to connecting with their outpourings of love which are timeless. And so we have outpourings such as the aptly named ‘Endless Song’, Tiruvaymoli, by Nammalvar, one of the 12 Alvars.
Nammalvar, as the other Alvars, was aligned to the qualified non-duality (Vishishtadvaita) of Ramanujacharya where advaita was accepted and bhakti emphasised. (See article on the schools of Advaita).
The Tiruvaymoli‘s 1102 verses are divided into 10 books of 100 verses called Pattu (10); each Pattu consisting of 10 decads called Tiruvaymoli and each of these composed of 10 individual verses called pasuram along with an 11th concluding verse called phala-shruti.
The Tiruvaymoli is held together by the antAti (end to beginning) a form which uses syllabic play, homonyms and repetition and where the end of a verse is the beginning of the next with the effect of producing a poem akin to an endless garland of words.
Below are some verses from the Endless Song, Tiruvaymoli, VIII.7 (839-849)* by Nammalvar.
I begged Him for days on end
to place me at His radiant feet.
Now VAmanan sees me, has entered
my mind to dwell there with love.
He watches over me, destroying
the rowdy five, ruling my impoverished heart.
I know only the Grace He gives,
the great Lord who saved the elephant.
I know nothing but His Grace,
Him inside me banishing darkness.
He cares for me more than the three worlds
Is this an illusion or one of His tricks?
The enthralling Lord of mysterious power
tricked me. The lion among celestials, simple cowherd
my Master, placed His radiance within me
His Grace shines everywhere.
His Grace touches me, Him
praised by the world stands within me
like a mountain of gems.
What does fame mean to me now?
If He gifts me a treasure
a lotus blooming on a mountain of dark gems:
chest feet eyes hands coral lips navel,
to whom can He now gift all of Himself?
He stands before me all radiance
red lips navel white teeth earrings.
When he enters me a smile on his red lips
I know no greater Grace.
I only know His Grace. He rules me
grants His favour as He wishes
the one who holds the three worlds in His belly
dwells in my little mind.
Mal holds kings, their subjects
everyone else, the three worlds in His belly
I took Him into my belly with my mind
and have held Him there.
The Supreme one sleeps atop a fierce serpent
on the ocean of milk with its roaring waves.
My mind open I placed Him deep inside me
I can never tire of Him. I’ll never let Him leave.
These ten verses from a thousand
by Sathakopan of Kurukur on Tirumal’s feet,
on Him asleep on the ocean, coax our Lord’s fiery glance
that ends the bonds of birth.
*translation by Archana Venkatesan (capitalisation added)
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