As the rain pelts down on Bangkok and on Bharat across the Bay, you can’t seem to help a sense of slowness despite work as usual. I've coined an acronym for it, 'Luam', the 'Long Uncounted Asian Minutes'. 'Luam' means 'loose' in Thai, which seems to take my 'Luam' to a subtler level.
'Luam' also goes deep: it is a gift, a seduction, to tune in to echoes that escape us otherwise. When monsoon-induced 'Luam' enfolds me, I tend to turn, God knows why, to the Periya Puranam, the Big Epic of Sekkilaar or Sekkizhaar (Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai edition). It eloquently recounts the lives of 63 Shaiva saints of the old Tamil country about a millennium ago, collectively called 'Naayanmaar' (a single such is 'Naayanaar'). Their bhakti abides as an energising power. The work of one such grand old saint, Manika Vaachagar ('he of jeweled speech') is called the Thiru Vaachagam (Holy Writing). In it is a section of devotional verse called the 'Thiruvempaavai' that he composed in the temple town of Thiruvannamalai in the month of Margazhi (December-January). This month became the modern Madras Music Season.
The Thiru Vaachagam was once a rite observed by unmarried girls. They woke up at dawn and went to ponds to bathe and worship Paavai (the Mother Goddesss) with the Thiruvempaavai verses, to ask her for good, kind and steady providers as husbands. These ancient Tamil poems transcend matrimonial motives into the realm of deep spirituality, such as 'Adiyum antamum illaam aru perum jyotiye': 'We sang of that glorious Light/Which has no beginning and no end/ Oh you, girl with the big, bright eyes/ Do you sleep still/ Did you not hear/ The songs that we sang/ Praising those holy feet/ wearing hero's anklets…' (I've slightly tweaked the lovely translation by PR Ramchander).
These luminous words came back again this week through the Luam, in the most incredible way. I was told that 'Adiyum antamum', these beloved and supremely auspicious ancient verses, are part of the ceremonial rites for the kings of Thailand even today. I heard this from the most reliable source of all, Sri Vamadeva Muni, the hereditary Rajguru of Thailand, who conducts the royal rites and whose ancestors apparently came from the temple town of Chidambaram hundreds of years ago. How wondrously does the magic flow across water in word cycles.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture.