Vachana means, simply, “what is said”. They are intensely personal, even intimate conversations, between the poet and the beloved — some form of Siva the vachana composer is deeply enamoured of. I fell in love with the four major Virashaiva “saints”, Basava, Dasimayya, Allama, and Mahadevi.
I think I was attracted most by Mahadevi’s work at first. For a girl whose literary intimacies were confined to Jane Austen, at best George Eliot, how heady it was to read lines such as “Take these husbands who die, decay, and feed them to your kitchen fires!” and “How can I bear it when He is here in my hands, right here in my heart, and will not take me?”
But as I read on, the need to “identify” with the writer — so major a guiding force in adolescent literary judgement — loosened its hold. The intellectual puzzles in Allama Prabhu’s vachanas teased me with their complexities. His poems are called “bedagina vachanas”: “fancy” poems, apparently obscure and riddle-like, written in “twilight” or “topsy-turvy” language. The yield, I found, usually made up for the difficulty of cracking the hard little nut open with persistence. (“Light devoured darkness. I was alone inside. Shedding the visible dark, I was your target, O Lord of Caves.”)
But perhaps it was Basava’s poetry which summed up best everything I learnt from Ramanujan’s vachana translations: that it’s possible to find a contemporary voice in the past. That the tussle between tradition and modernity is a continuous one; that the gap between the powerful and the powerless is as wide (if not wider) within a temple as it is without. “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.”
Read full here.
Image courtesy: githahariharan.com