This semester in college, as part of our Indian Literature course we’re reading many Bhakti poems among many other things. It has been extremely interesting as I do know a few songs by Kabir and Mira, and I’ve always sung or heard them without really knowing what they mean. Also, I had never really stopped and wondered about what kind of people Kabir or Mira might have been, and reading their poems in class, we discussed these questions and more.
Here is a poem by a famous Tamil Bhakti poet, Nammalvar, addressed to Lord Vishnu.
What I really love about this poem is the fact that possibly everything one can think of as existing or non-existing, living or dead in this world or in our heads, is enclosed within these lines. Each time I read it, I try to think of something that wouldn’t fit under these categories, but it seems impossible.
We here and that man, this man,
and that other in-between,
and that woman, this woman,
and that other, whoever,
those people, and these,
and these others in-between,
this things, that thing,
and this other in-between, whichever,
all things dying, these things,
those things, those others in-between,
good things, bad things,
things that were, that will be,
being all of them,
he stands there.
Translated by AK Ramanujan