May 15 2013
Looking for your light
by Allama Prabhu
English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Looking for your light,
I went out:
it was like the sudden dawn
of a million million suns,
a ganglion of lightnings
for my wonder.
O Lord of Caves,
if you are light,
there can be no metaphor.
— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan
/ Photo by Aah-Yeah /
We’re back. (Okay, I know– You were here waiting patiently for the next poem email. I guess I should say, I’m back.) Now, on with the poetry…
I was surprised to realize that I haven’t featured this poem in several years. It is one of my favorite poems to emerge from the Virasaiva poet-saints in India. It is so short, sharp, like a lightning strike, yet the phrasing suggests recollection, giving it also a dreamy, musing quality, as if recalling that first blinding kiss from the beloved.
Light is a central image in sacred poetry, suggesting the Divine not framed within a mental concept. But for genuine mystics, this light is no mere concept; it is directly experienced…
This sense of light is more than a brightness one might experience on a sunny afternoon. This light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always. It is a radiance that outshines everything–
like the sudden dawn
of a million million suns.
This light is immediately understood to be the true source of all things, the foundation on which the physicality of the material world is built.
The sense of boundaries and separation, long taken for granted by the mind as the fundamental nature of existence, suddenly seems illusory, for this light shines through all people and things. It has no edges, and the light of one is the light of another.
Looking for your light,
I went out.
Seeing yourself and the entire world radiant with this light, the old notion of a separate self is lost. Only the light truly exists. Everything else is a shifting game of light.
Seeing this light, “there can be no metaphor.” Nothing can be compared to anything else, for everything is recognized as being that light. In this divine light, it is all one already.
Allama Prabhu was a contemporary of Basavanna and Mahadevi in the Shiva bhakti movement of the Kannada-speaking regions in southern India. While Basavanna was considered the primary organizer of the community, Allama was in many ways thought of as the spiritual leader, the most realized of these realized poet-saints.
Many of his poems are addressed to Shiva as Guhesvara or “the Lord of Caves.” A popular story is told about the life of Allama Prabhu to explain this name: Allama was said to have been a temple drummer when he fell in love with a beautiful young woman. But the woman caught fever and died. In his grief, Allama abandoned everything and began to wander. One day, he was sitting desolate in a field and noticed something strange — the golden cupola of a buried temple. He began to dig about it until he found the doorway and managed to enter the excavated temple-cave. There he found a yogi absorbed in deep meditation. The yogi handed Allama a linga, the symbol of Shiva, and then the yogi expired. In that very instant, Allama was enlightened.