This scintillating book by David Shulman is a godsend and a must-read. Godsend because at last folks outside of south India, scratch that, outside of Tamilnadu, now have a reliable source to parse that glorious tradition. I don’t understand the T of Tamil (not from that part of the country), but just read this, from page 117:
“She is perfectly aware who this god is, who they say he is, what stories they tell about him, but actually none of this matters much:
They say he’s the one in the sky.
They say he’s king of the gods.
They say he’s this place.
The wise one. The one whose neck
grew dark with poison.
But I say: he’s the one
in my heart.
What happens in the heart, in the inner, akam domain, is what counts–far more than anything a person might happen to know or think. Karuttu, “thought,” is not, in itself, highly valued, though the poetess says she can tell us how to fix it or upgrade it quickly. She has, in fact, used her own thinking apparatus to good effect:
I thought one thought.
I decided one thing.
There is one thing I’ve locked
in my heart.
Only one. The lord with Ganga
and the bright moon in his hair
and flames flashing
in his hand: I just want
to be his.
She’s in love. She’s unsatisfied. She’s counting the seconds. She knows her heart. No one can tell her what to do. No external source, no sacred text, no ritual, no pious platitudes, can have any effect. She is breathing this god in, minute by minute, and she sings.”