(from) NEW YEAR’S MORNING (by Helen Hunt Jackson)

Each sunrise sees a new year born

A man praying in the River Ganges at sunrise

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

SARI CASTE by Catherine Kirby (Review)

Never judge a book by its cover. Sari Caste seems to have been published by a no-longer-existent ebook website (E-booksonline (UK) Ltd – http://www.e-booksonline.net) back in 2001 and then forgotten. I picked it up on a stall in Darjeeling, carried it back to England with me, still unread, not very optimistic about it, but intrigued by the title. It was a phrase I had come across before. It can mean women in general. Or it can mean hookers, prostitutes: their own name for themselves, because of course, to everyone else they have lost caste, are outcastes. And anyway, the phrase “sari caste” would be considered a great joke, chortle, chortle.

Then I started reading it one boring English Sunday, and was hooked. (Sorry.) Manasa, our heroine, has a drunken father, a broken, abused mother, three sisters and no brother. Daughters mean dowries (legal or not) and the father, who hates the four of them, especially Manasa, and blames the mother for giving him no son, drinks away what little money he earns. Finally, the two eldest are married off but there is no more money for further dowries. Manasa, the third daughter, is sent to work as a weaver in a cotton-mill, and there she gets to know the son of the owner. They fall in love. We’ll get married! cries Patap, the boy. We can’t! No money for a dowry! cries the girl, Manasa. He doesn’t care. His father is rich and dowries are illegal. After that, of course, she allows him to seduce her – only to hear, later, that he is engaged not to her but to her younger sister, Kajal. The fathers had arranged it. And now Manasa has to work even longer hours at the mill earning to get together a dowry for her sister!

But it turns out she is pregnant.

When the baby is born, her mother gives her some of Kajal’s dowry money and she flees the house before her father comes home and learns of her defilement and throws her out.

She goes to Calcutta where, after a period living on the pavements among all the other street people, she becomes a prostitute. And that is what the book is about. Her life as a prostitute in Calcutta. And it is good, very good, and very realistic, believe me.

I am happy to be able to tell you that this enthralling story is now available on Kindle – UKUS

HOW TO UNCOVER YOUR PAST LIVES by Ted Andrews (Review)

I believe absolutely in reincarnation, that I have lived on earth before  in other bodies, and will again. I have known since I was a child in London that I used to live in India, used to be Indian. Everything about India seemed familiar to me, drew me towards it. (And not just because my mother is half-Indian, my beloved grandmother having had an affair with an Indian during the War. But more of that another time.)

As it says, this is a “how to” book. Each chapter contains not one but a whole series of exercises all aimed at awakening awareness of, memories of, past lives. In the introduction, Understanding Reincarnation, under the famous Yin-yang symbol, he says:

In this ancient eastern symbol, we can see the mysteries of reincarnation. The black side is that half of the developmental cycle we spend in the physical, and the white side is the half we spend in the spiritual. Together they make one cycle of growth. Because it is a circle, though, it never ends. One cycle always becomes another. Our growing and unfolding never ends.

I like that. I never thought about the yin-yang symbol that way before. And I found especially interesting the use of the unfettered imagination (letting yourself write a story set in another time and place without any interference from the conscious mind – almost like automatic writing!), and, in meditation, along with Qabala and the Tree of Life, and the Tarot Wheel of Fortune, a kind of self-hypnosis (also fascinating) and (something I had been aware of but never practised before) the use of a dowsing pendulum to get answers, establish places and dates, and so on. Also what he says about the  use of particular fragrances to stimulate past life meditation, for instance sage, which has always been a favourite of mine, and of which he says here that it awakens a sense of immortality and the realization that the life of the soul extends far beyond one physical incarnation …

If you have any interest at all in your own past lives, work through the exercises in this book. For me it was nothing less than a revelation.

 

IN MY LAST LIFE I WAS A WOMAN (by James Munro)

“that little yard where I squatted in the dust”

In my last life I was a woman.
I lived in India. Uttar Pradesh.

Sometimes I still feel like
a woman who lives in Uttar Pradesh

speaks Hindi, worships Siva
and the local goddess, Lalita as Candika.

Her man went to the city, never came back.
My man. He died. No one told her but she knew.

Her two sons followed him. My sons. Me,
I never left the village. Hardly ever left

that little yard where I squatted in the dust
and ground the meal, thrusting away the hen –

The lurki – the name comes back –
that I would never kill. I never saw traffic, not like now, here,

crowded streets, traffic lights, people thrusting and swirling,
clucking like a thousand greedy hens

pouring down into the underground and onto the train
locked in and rocketing beneath the city like in a submarine.

I want to get out. I want to get back to
my Indian roots. Or my submarine roots.

I never saw the sea then, either,
except in my dreams. In my dreams

I was a fish.

SPEAKING OF SIVA by A. K. Ramanujan (Review)

SPEAKING OF SIVA is a book of vacanas, religious lyrics written in Kanada free verse by medieval Virasaivas. As the translator, A.K.Ramanujan, says, “They all speak of Siva and speak to Siva: hence the title.”

Kanada is a Dravidian language spoken today by about twenty million people in the South Indian state of Mysore. The vacana poetry, written between the 10th and 12th, centuries represented a breaking away from the rigidity of classical Sanscrit tradition. It is spontaneous free verse written by ordinary men or women – yes, women – of various castes, some even outcaste, some illiterate.

Their leader was Basavanna, whose poems exemplify both the protesting (“protestant”) stance of the movement and its bhakti devotion to one god, in this case Siva. A perfect example, perfectly translated, is:

The rich
will make temples for Siva.
What shall I,
a poor man,
do?

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving ever shall stay.

The second poet represented in this collection is Dasimayya. Whereas Basavanna always addresses Siva “O lord of the meeting rivers”, Dasimayya calls him “Ramanatha”. When he says that to the true Virasaiva

his front yard
is the true Benares,
O Ramanatha

we hear again the voice of the best of the Old Testament prophets, the truly spiritual man.

But for me the star of the movement, and of this collection, is Mahadeviyakka.

Mahadeviyakka, or Akka Mahadevi, was initiated into the worship of Siva at the age of ten and from then on considered herself his bride; however, she was a very beautiful girl and men clamoured for her hand in marriage. When the king spotted her, her fate was sealed, and she became one of his wives. Eventually, though, she ran away from the palace (probably to the King’s great relief!) throwing off, according to legend, not just marriage but all the conventions (including her clothes) and spent the rest of her life as an itinerant poet and ascetic.

You can confiscate
money in hand;
can you confiscate
the body’s glory?

Or peel away every strip
you wear,
but can you peel
the Nothing, the Nakedness
that covers and veils?

To the shameless girl
wearing the White Jasmine Lord’s
light of morning,
you fool, where’s the need for cover and jewel?

Or here is another favourite of mine by Mahadeviyakka:

Who cares
who strips a tree of leaf
once the fruit is plucked?

Who cares
who lies with the woman
you have left?

Who cares
who ploughs the land
you have abandoned?

After this body has known my lord
who cares if it feeds
a dog
or soaks up water?

Akka Mahadevi in samadhi, nude but draped in her flowing hair.

Do, please, read more of these perfect translations of her poems and those of other great Virasaiva poets by the late Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan, a great poet and scholar.