The author of the Tamil original of this poem was Tirunāvukkaracar, who lived in the Tamil-speaking country of South-East India, probably between 580 and 650 AD. His name literally means “prince of the tongue”, i.e. of speech, or song.
He was one of the three principal poet-saints who at that period traversed the land with bands of followers, and led a religious revival, which resulted in the conversion of the Tamil people from the prevailing religions of Buddhism and Jainism to the worship of Siva. Their devotional hymns, contained in the Tēvāram collection, are sung regularly to this day in Saivite temples and the homes of the faithful.
Adorning the deity with garlands of flowers is an integral part of Saivite worship. Instead of flowers, in this hymn the author presents a garland of the limbs of his own body.
Personally, I came across the rich corpus of Saivite devotional poetry when I was working in India some years ago. Recently I have been engaged in translating and writing about these works, in order to make them better known in the West, which in my view is no less than they deserve.
“The Garland of Limbs” (APPAR TĒVĀRAM 4.9)
by Tirunāvukkaracar, translated by Alastair McGlashan
1 My head, bow down to him, the Head
around his head he wears
a garland of skulls
a skull he carries
as his begging bowl
My head, bow down to him
2 My eyes, gaze upon him, the Lord
his throat shows where he drank
the poison from the sea
wildly he throws his eight arms
in the dance
My eyes, gaze upon him
3 Listen to him, my ears, Sivaṉ our king
his form burns red like coral
All the time, my ears
keep listening to his praise
4 Nose of mine, hum the sacred mantra
in praise of the three-eyed one
who lives on the burning ground
the bridegroom of the girl
who waits upon his word
Nose of mine, hum the sacred mantra
5 My lips, speak the praises of the Lord
he flayed the elephant
and wears its hide
he dances on the burning ground
the haunt of devils
My lips, speak his praise
6 My heart, meditate on him, the spotless one
the bridegroom of the mountain girl
who wears his hair
My heart, meditate on him
7 My hands, join in worship of him, the most high
who is girded with a hooded cobra
round his waist
shower him with fragrant flowers
Hands, join and worship him
8 What use is the body
that has not walked in reverence
round Haran’s temple
poured flowers upon him
cried out in praise of him?
What use is a body like that?
9 What use are feet
that have not walked around the temple
where the one with the blue throat dwells
the temple with the lovely tower
What use are feet like that?
10 What kinsman will there be to stay beside us then
at the point when life departs
except for him, Lord of the dance
whose home is at Kuṟṟālam?
What kinsman will there be
to stay beside us then?
11 How proud then shall I be
to be numbered in that throng
to fall beneath his feet
who holds the deer in his hand!
How proud then shall I be
just to be there!
12 I searched for him and found him;
Tirum l and four-faced Ayaṉ
however much they searched
looked all in vain
I searched for God and found in him
in my heart