Isanya Desikar's Garland of Hymns to Arunachala is a collection of verses on various spiritual themes. After the traditional invocation to Ganesh, he begins by praising Arunachala as the Guru who freed him from spiritual bondage. Soon, though, he moves into a long section in which, following Tamil poetic tradition, he outlines all his faults and pleads for grace to transcend them. Midway through the poem he switches to a shorter metre and again begins to thank Arunachala for his liberation. Next, he moves into a teaching mode and reels off many verses that praise Siva, propound
advaita philosophy, and offer hints on spiritual practice. The last section, from which I have selected only four verses, is a long serious of couplets that either praise Arunachala-Siva or, more frequently, seek
The translation is based on an unpublished rendering by Dr T. N. Pranatharthi Haran, to whom I give acknowledgements and thanks. The translation of verses from this poem which appear in the biography of Isanya Desikar were done by Sri K. V. Subramanian.
Afraid of the foe called 'death', I approached Arunachaleswara.(1) Since now is the time to get rid of all troubles by his grace, I will start to praise the Lord with Tamil songs. Let us worship the feet of the elephant-faced God for the accomplishment of this task.
Unapproachable to Brahma and Vishnu, you are the one who encompasses the whole universe. Your devotees, ascertaining that you were grace incarnate in the form of fire, praise your greatness. Taking you as my Guru, I call you 'Lord Arunagiri'.
Like a piece of straw being blown about in a cyclone, I was caught up and tricked by
maya. Out of ignorance I mistook maya to be real and was held in bondage by it until you released me and bound me to your feet. O blissful supreme Guru! Father! The Eternal! Consort of Unnamulai residing in Annamalai! How you play with your devotees! In silence you gave my
upadesa, (2) rendering me speechless at your feet.
O Father! The Eternal! Unnamulai's husband living in Annamalai! If you keep quiet, to whom will this slave report? Caught by the devil called 'mind' and frightened by the five elements, to me this false world appears to be real and fights with me. The cloud of lust kills without killing. Emaciated by karma, I have fallen into the well of the sharp, spear-like eyes of the ladies. Everyone abuses me. Should I go down like this? Since you have created me, protect this poor man.
O Father! The Eternal! Consort of Unnamulai who resides in Arunai!(3) When the mind, the five elements and the five senses combine, a false knowledge within the intellect makes the world appear to be real. This is nothing but a magic trick. The mind is wounded when it combines with lust, but still it wallows in the mud of desire. Is there no way to fight and be victorious over these wicked thieves? I believe that you are the Supreme God. So, grace me and remove my difficulties. O Lord, I have surrendered to you. Please protect me.
O Father, Eternity itself! Husband of Unnamulai residing in Arunai! The great maya is like a mango tree, and the five elements are the seeds that scatter from its fruits. Growing aimlessly, they develop into a forest of lust, anger, and so on. All souls live in this forest, wandering aimlessly, thinking that they are the senses. The evil spirits known as
sankalpas [intentions] get together and shout aloud that there is no God, and they cry 'It's real!', 'It's not real!' Since this is the situation, bestow on me the proper grace to reach you.
I do not know when you will bless me with the state of mauna, or when I will become the eternal pure knowledge, full of the light that is unborn. I do not properly learn the path to freedom from the liberated ones, nor do I do service to them. Instead, I go round the world as if in bondage, dumb, like a blind man, caught in the birth-cycle created by
maya. How I have suffered! Protect me with your radiant jnana.
O Father! The Eternal! Husband of Mother Unnamulai residing in Arunai! Like a lame man who cannot reach out for wild honey, I am unable to realise your greatness. You are the plenitude, the knowledge and bliss attained by yoga. Bondage, actions, illusion and desires expand from one to a hundred, and then to a thousand. If one of them leaves, the others pull me down. I believe in you alone. Kindly tell me on which day I will receive the direct experience that is flawless, supportless, and the unbroken whole. Raise me up from the eight-limbed yogic states to the sovereign state of true
O Father! The Eternal! Consort of Mother Unnamulai residing in Arunai! What can I say? Though it is known that all things will pass away, the mind still regards them as real. Ignorance fights with me. This mind, joining hands with the intellect and the ego, goes astray and ends up wandering in the forest, weeping and wailing. How can I overcome the mind? Blissful plenitude! Eternal grace! Clearly show me the truth or entrust me to the hands of your devotees.
O Supreme Bliss! Eternal Plenitude! Teacher of Nama Sivaya! You who cannot be approached by the
Agamas, the Puranas, the Itihasas (4) and the
Vedas! Father! Eternal One! The husband of Mother Unnamulai who resides in Arunai! Please instruct me about the supreme state: the single, infinite state that is full of silence, in which the flood of the unified taste of peace prevails, where the body and all enjoyments are blissfully forgotten, where true knowledge shines like the sun. This is the yogic state that is called 'Being still'.
Eternal One! Consort of Unnamulai residing in Arunai! Without knowing the Self, I played with the body through the senses, the breath and the mind. I thought that I was born and that I will die. I considered my parents, women, the world and all its enjoyments to be real. But then you possessed me and made me join the select band of your devotees. You made me realise the complete knowledge that has neither birth nor death and let me enjoy the simple essence of remaining as the Self. O Father, thank you so much!
The five sheaths, the three bodies, the five elements, the ten organs, the four karanas,(5) the soul, etc., together constitute birth and death. But all this is only a trick. Before you they fade away like darkness before the sun. Am I different from your own real nature? What then is happiness and sorrow, what are the
karmas I have done? O my possessor, the Golden Hill! Embodiment of grace, plenitude itself! The Self in all souls! Sonachala [Red Hill], you have entered me.
Self of all souls on earth! Lord of the Red Hill! Not knowing how I came, without having knowledge of even the sun and the moon, of day and night, I became a plaything of fate. By not thinking of you till now I became egotistical in many ways. Tell me, what is the body? What is the soul? What is 'in' and 'out'? Other than you I have nowhere else to go. As complete bliss you have entered into me. Will you now possess me like the scent in a flower and merge me with your devotees?
You have entered into me but somehow the world still appears to me to be real. On this earth you are complete bliss, the Self of all souls. Bondage in the form of birth and death has crept in without my knowledge. If I analyse, I discover that it is nothing but the mind. The
Vedas proclaim that all this is a function of the mind, but still I remain ignorant.
Bhakti is flooding. Lord of the Red Hill! Make me understand this by your grace.
Like the scent in a flower, like the taste in honey, blissfully you have entered into me. Self of all souls! Lord of the Red Hill! Immanently you pervade the whole world, manifesting as the sky, the wind, fire, water, earth, the moon, the sun and the individual soul. You are the soul, the 'you' and the 'I'. Up till now I have considered the world, which is only a mirage-like appearance, to be real. Who am I? What is this body? What is it that speaks 'I'? What are all these relationships that appear as 'father', 'mother', 'women'? Tell me!
Lord of the Red Hill! Self of the souls! You have entered me! I do not know how to worship devotedly with flowers, as prescribed by the
Agamas.(6) Nor do I now how to dance, how to worship with folded
hands,(7) how to go round the temple, or recite hymns. I do not know how to serve those among your devotees who are liberated. I have failed to get instructions from them on how to get release from bondage. Up until now I have wasted my days by mixing with ignorant people. Please reveal to me the eternal truth of your own Self.
Self of all souls on earth, existing beyond the mind, you are the plenitude of bliss! Lord of the Red Hill. You have entered me! Standing as the light through which the eye sees, you show me your form. From you arise, in the ear, songs, melodies, poetry and other sounds. The taste of earth on the tongue, the scent of a flower in the nose, the wind in the ear, the bite of a mosquito on the skin - all proclaim and announce you. Since you make me feel everything, from where, then, arises the sense or feeling of 'I'?
Plenitude of bliss! Self of all souls on this earth! Lord of the Red Hill! You have entered me! After controlling the senses, I should worship you eternally with the flower of grace. Only then will I cross the shore. God unknown even to the gods! How can I praise you who are Truth itself? I myself know nothing, so all I can do is beg from you. Supreme Deity! Bliss incarnate! You should not despise me just because I am false and know nothing of you.
Lord of the Red Hill! As complete bliss you have become the Self of all souls and entered me. Will you please tell me how the following pairs came into existence: the beginning and the end, men and gods, the arts and the
Vedas, mother and father? What is this strong, binding karma? What pleasures and pains does the body undergo in heaven and hell? And what is it that remains beyond all this as 'I'? Is it fair for you, the omnipresent one, to fail me? You are the first, the head of all others, so please show me your grace.
Lord of the Red Hill! Silent Guru! Flawless gem! All the universe is like an atom or a mustard seed before
you. All the worlds derive light from you, as light is obtained from the sun. Knowledge and ignorance,
pujas and japas, and all the supporting rituals - who are they for? Who made the clouds wander about in the sky? O Nataraja! Culmination of the rare
Vedas! Everything is your greatness. You play on the earth, in the ether, and transcend them both. You are beyond speech and mind.
O flawless gem worshipped by Brahma and Vishnu! Lord of the Red Hill! Guru who gives silent
upadesa! Not knowing intuitively what the body and soul are, I think instead about how the world came into existence. Is it because of my old karma that my mind gets bogged down in these worldly matters? The fire of ego pulls me strongly, but what can I do about it? I will seek refuge in you, my true God. I have faith in your feet.
O flawless gem! Lord of the Red Hill! Guru who teaches in silence! Like waves in the ocean, one world expands into a hundred, a thousand, a crore [ten million] and then ten crores, all within a minute. Thoughts enter the ghost-like mind and flow outwards to become the universe. All relationships - mother, father, relatives - are merely a delusion. If facts could be ascertained I would find that my previous births were as dogs, jackals, and so on. The mind believes all these things to be real, even my previous births. Because I didn't believe in your grace, I had to die and be reborn.
Culminating dancer of the Vedas! Flawless gem! Lord of the Red Hill! Guru who instructs in silence! Deluded as I was, I did not believe your grace to be real. You are the one without a second, as clearly revealed as the fruit in the hand that appears in vedic and agamic stories.(8) It appears to be real, but if this is reality, I am blindly wandering in the forest of dualistic differences. People talk about the different types of liberation. Will it ever be possible to speak of your greatness, the perfection of your bliss?
Flawless gem! Lord of the Red Hill! Guru giving silent upadesa! Like a lethal spear in the hands of a king, the eyes of women destroy men and throw them into the muddy well of
karma. How to get out of the well and become happy? After your glance of grace, it is easy to triumph over the dull intellect and be alone.
You who are unattainable even by Vishnu, Brahma and the devas!(9) Tell me that one word that will enable me to receive your grace and attain the egoless state. Your southward-facing body of grace spoke of truth and knowledge to the
four.(10) Dweller in Arunai, You are an ocean of grace! O supreme Lord who dwells in
Kailash,(11) how superior you are to the devas!
Supreme Lord, unknown even by the devas! Dweller in Kailash! Like a cloud enveloping the sky, mind and
maya cover up the reality. Through this maya births appear and good and bad prevail. Will you despise me and forget me? Flawless Guru-Lord! Body of grace! You are the beginning, the middle and the end. Show me that grace which has the taste of honey.
Dweller in Kailash and Arunai! Truth Supreme, unknown even to the gods! You are time, space, name and form. How can I control the mind which, caught in bondage, wanders out through the five senses? Why have I always so far thought that I am the body? How to know the truth? Where is the direct experience? By what process is it known? O True Light! Kindly grant me the grace to unite my mind to you.
(1) Arunachaleswara, or 'Lord Arunachala' is the name of the presiding deity in the Tiruvannamalai Temple. It is also a synonym for the mountain itself. Unnamulai (meaning 'She whose breasts have never been suckled', is the Tamil name of Siva's consort in the temple.
(2) Upadesa means 'teaching'. Usually it implies the teaching given by a guru to a disciple.
(4) The Puranas are the books that primarily contain the stories and myths surrounding the major Hindu deities. The
itihasas are the large epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
(5) The five sheaths, called kosas, cover and hide the Self. According to Yoga philosophy the ego functions in the world through these five sheaths. They are: (1)
annamaya kosa, 'the sheath of food', meaning the physical body. (2) pranamaya
kosa, 'the sheath of prana'. Prana is the life-force (sometimes called the 'vital breath') that animates and sustains the body. It is intimately connected with breathing. (3)
manomaya kosa, 'the sheath of the mind'. (4) vijnanamayakosa, 'the sheath of the intellect'. This is the so-called 'higher mind' that calculates and judges the information stored in and collected by the lower mind and comes to appropriate conclusions. (5)
anandamaya kosa, 'the sheath of bliss'. This is the experience of the ego when it is not associated with the mind or the body.
The three bodies are the physical (sthula sarira), the subtle
(sukshma sarira) and the causal (karana sarira). The physical body is the first
kosa, the subtle body is made up of kosas two, three and four; the causal body, the state of the ego during sleep, is the fifth
The ten organs refer to the five karmendriyas and the five
jnanendriyas, the faculties through which one moves, feels and senses. The four 'inner organs
(antahkaranas) are mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), memory
(chitta) and ego (ahankara).
(6) There are twenty-eight Saiva Agamas. Saivas give them ultimate authority on all matters relating to ritual worship.
(7) Palms together, either in front of the chest or over the head.
(8) In Tamil, 'As clear as the fruit on the palm of the hand' denotes something that is self-evident, needing no further proof. Usually the fruit cited is a nelli, a gooseberry-like fruit that grows on a tree.
(9) When Isanya Desikar talks about devas he mostly seems to be referring to the minor deities who inhabit the heavenly world ruled by Indra. On some occasions, though, he uses the term to include all deities except Siva
(10) Siva in the form of Dakshinamurti [meaning 'southward facing'] gave silent
darshan and upadesa to four rishis and enlightened them all. The verse actually says, 'body of grace in a northern direction'. This may mean that, relative to the
rishis, Siva was to the north.
(11) Kailash, a mountain in southern Tibet, is the traditional home of Siva. Isanya Desikar seems to regard Siva as a being who resides simultaneously in both Kailash and