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“The Garland of Limbs” (APPAR TĒVĀRAM 4.9)

Alastair McGlashen

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

in dreadlocks

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

at Tirukōkaraṇam?

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

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