Posts Tagged ‘Uma Gowrishankar’

Where Father And Daughter Are Seekers

January 12, 2012 7 comments

by Uma Gowrishankar

Can you read meaning to my poetry
that father standing beside me cannot?

Father ghost writes, he runs his finger
on the scroll — write of the bees and flowers

in the temple garden he says,
of the cowherd girls who dip their fingers in butter,

write of the cloud hued Krishna… his sentence breaks off…
of the Lotus Eyed One with conch and shell;

pantomiming he blows the conch, looking ludicrous
at that early hour as ruby morning spills the sky.

He is your dark lover he says
eyes burning with passion, words I have heard

since childhood, made me fantasize even as a girl of six.
Father writes poetry too, simple straightforward stuff

meter pruned like the oleander bush in the garden,
no sparse and stark lines like other hymnists

who tease with their obscurity, he disapproves their style.
Write like me he implores: listen to the koel on the kadamba tree,

write of the sapphire throated peacock, moisture laden clouds —
write earthy poetry, he is happy with the terminology.

I struggle, I need to hallucinate to write of kisses stolen
on the banks of the dark Yamuna.

Seek him. I am mixed-up — (I am also sleepy,
writing exercises are always kept to morning and how cold it is!)

how should I worship: take vow, fast,
abstain from milk and ghee, no silk robes, no finery?

Immerse in him. How does his tongue taste?
How sweet is his breath?
In doubt, frustration, as I wrestle
with God, with father,

in aborted efforts, scored off lines,
in unwritten poetry lay my prayer to the Lord.

(For the ninth century Tamil saint poets Periyalvar and Aandaal)

Download the podcast

Uma Gowrishankar is a writer and artist. She blogs at

Categories: Worship Tags:

Translating a Sangam poem

May 6, 2011 10 comments

by Uma Gowrishankar

What Her Friend Said As Golden Flowers Covered The Hill

by Kapilar (Ahananuru 2)

Banana and jack fruits
ripened, weigh down from trees
in your mountain slope;
they fall in the cool pool of water
gathered in the rocks.
The thirsty male monkey
drinks the fermented sap
mistaking for water,
intoxicated he sleeps on flowered bower
unable to climb the sandalwood tree
its trunk twisted with pepper creepers:
when pleasures are easily attained in your land
you can never be insatiate.
My beautiful friend
shoulders slender like bamboo
has love for you that is unstoppable,
come to her as the moonlight
drenches the hills
scented by the Vengai flowers.


The Sangam Age in Tamil Nadu (2nd century B.C. to 3rd century A.D.) was the greatest period of literary outpourings. Tolkapiyam (literally meaning”‘Old Composition”), a detailed treatise on grammar and poetics written at this time, defined the Sangam poetic tradition.
According to Tolkapiyam, a poem either lay in the inner space of love, relationships and feelings (aham) or in the public realm of kings, war and community (puram). The aham poems or poems of the interior grew from the four landscapes of the Tamil country: the mountain region (Kurinji), forest lands (Mullai), the agriculture lands about river basins (Marudam), the coastal region (Neidal) and the parched hill slopes or forests (Palai).

Each of these landscapes with their gods, plants, animals, tribes of people and their occupations, watering holes, drums, and music became a rich repertoire of images, symbols and metaphors. This exterior landscape that mapped an interior terrain of emotion and feeling got associated with a phase of love. Thus a whole world of signifiers in the outer landscape with various living forms and cultural codes signified specific human feelings.

Kurinji landscape, the lush and beautiful land with waterfall and high hills was associated with the burst of passion in the first union of lovers. Mullai, the verdant forest land with the fragrance of wild jasmine, was associated with the patient waiting of lovers before their union in marriage. Neidal, the coastal plain, was inhabited by hardy fishing folk who lived at the edge of life. This landscape was associated with the feeling of anxiety experienced by the lover waiting for her man who has braved the stormy ocean. Marudam, the fertile river plains and centre of urban life, was associated with infidelity and misunderstanding between lovers. Palai referred to the forest land and hillside parched by the scorching heat of sun in the summer months. The bleak and relentless dry lands of Palai were associated with the feeling of desolation experienced by lovers in life’s harsh terrain.

Ahananuru is a collection of 400 poems written by over 145 poets. “What Her Friend Said As Golden Flowers Covered The Hill” is the second poem from this collection and is written by Kapilar. The poem is set in the mountain region (Kurinji landscape). Kurinji is also the name of a flower (Strobilanthes kunthiana) that blossoms in hundreds on the slopes of the hills once in twelve years. Bamboo trees, sandalwood, jackfruit and Vengai trees (Pterocarpus bilobus or the Indian Kino tree) grow luscious on the cool hills where waterfalls and pools of water are cradled between rocks. This region is a veritable haven for monkeys, elephants, wild bulls, peacocks and parrots. The hill tribe people who worshipped Cheyon or Murugan the god of war and beauty, collected honey, fruits and grew wild millets.

The honeyed fruits of banana and jack that fall in pools of water, the intoxicated male monkey are metaphoric signifiers of the pleasure that the man seeks in the first union with his woman during their clandestine meeting in the dead of a moon drenched night.


Uma Gowrishankar blogs at

Categories: Translation Tags:

The Business of Creation

July 22, 2010 7 comments

by Uma Gowrishankar

Two leaves placed one over the other are pierced by a needle. The time required for the needle to pass from the first leaf to the second is called alpakala. Nine hundred alpakala make one kala. Thirty kala make one nimisha, nodi or matra. Four nimisha make one ganita. Sixty ganita one vinadi. Sixty vinadi one ghatika, sixty ghatika one day. Fifteen days make one paksha. Two paksha make one chandra masa (lunar month). Twelve chandra masa make one year of the human beings. One year of human beings is one day of the gods. Three hundred sixty days of gods make one Deva Varsha (one year of the Devas/Gods). 12,000 such God years make one chaturyuga. Manu is the Supreme King of the earth. A Manu’s life span is completed at the end of 71 chaturyuga. After his lifetime another Manu rules the earth for 71 chaturyuga. Life spans of fourteen such Manus make a kalpa. Two kalpa make a day of Brahma. 360 such Brahma days make a Brahma year. Brahma lives for 100 such years which is 309,173,760,000,000 human years. (Source: Puranic Encyclopaedia)

Father of all beings
the architect of the universe

the four faced Brahma
born of the radiant lotus,
the god with a big libido,
pulsating with passion
for the swan-gaited Saraswati,
lusting for wives of gods and rishis,

fathering the universe
for a lifetime of hundred years —
one Brahma day 8.6 billion human years.

limbs weakened with toil,
loins sore,
etherized in the luminescence of Meru

Brahma wants to rest.

His hands on his lap,
tapering fingers
curl in a mudra
cradling whorls of Boundless Energy.

Eyes turned inwards,
spills the seeds of Life’s Essence,
he fathers four sons —
the pure and luminous souls

sons to inherit the business of procreation;
the boys embarrassed flee,
seek the Silent One
to learn the truth of the Endless.

Brahma the aging father,
tumescence of creation
vibrating in
scarlet flowers, piercing call of birds

counts the years left
crossing out the shunyas in human years.

Download the podcast

Uma Gowrishankar lives in Chennai, South India with her husband, son and parents-in-law. She works as an education consultant for a cluster of schools that offer a meaningful learning program to rural and small urban communities. She paints and practices yoga. She maintains a terrace garden in the middle of the noisy and populated city: she clears space in her garden and poetry for the many demands her crowded day make.

Categories: New Classics Tags:
%d bloggers like this: