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

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.

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Lakshmi

 A beautiful statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
Goddess Lakshmi is, in a sense, the eastern equivalent of Aphrodite/Venus, for she is said to have emerged from the ocean, riding on a lotus.

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.

ASANA PRANAYAMA MUDRA BANDHA by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Review)

Swami Satyananda Saraswati is the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga and so far as I am concerned this book is the yoga Bible. I first studied it back in the 90s, and I have been referring to it continuously ever since. It is, as it says in the Preface, “the refined essence of the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati to his sannyasin disciples at Bihar School of Yoga [and] is intended to serve as the complete textbook for persons learning and teaching all levels of the basic yogic practices.”

It begins – a section for beginners (but everyone should go on doing this!) – with the Pawanmuktasana series of exercises, and there on the first page is TOE BENDING. Sounds so simple, almost silly, certainly not “yoga”, but it is important and I practise that and ANKLE BENDING (also on page 1) every day, along with various other exercises in this basic series designed to rid the body of excess gas and acid and so ease or remove entirely any rheumatic discomfort. “Though they seem very simple they have subtle effects on the practitioner.”

This is followed by a series of asanas for stiff muscles and joints, another series for the eyes, relaxation postures, meditative poses, and various other relatively easy exercises and asanas.

Then come the Middle and Advanced groups of asanas – not to be attempted until you have mastered all the basic exercises and postures, and even then preferably under the supervision of an experienced yoga teacher. (Check on your teacher before enrolling as a student by asking him/her about this book!)

Then, as promised in the title, there are sections on Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) and on the Bandhas and Mudras. Bandhas and Mudras are physical holds and gestures, some easy to perform, others needing months or years to perfect, but all of which have a profound effect on the practitioner’s psyche.

The book closes with a section on psychic physiology and the chakras, and a brief survey of yoga therapy for specific disorders, though for this last we need something more specialised and detailed, and I will discuss a couple of the best yoga therapy books in future posts.

The paperback edition is available everywhere including Amazon but is quite expensive, so you may be interested to know that a fully illustrated PDF version is available FREE here:-