Breath for fragrance

by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude,

O lord white as jasmine.

-- from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I keep returning to the poetry of the great Akka Mahadeviy. Her poetry plays with the tension between the discipline of an accomplished yogini and the sheer delight of one whose heart has blossomed. Her words tease and dance and overturn the grim efforts of our spiritual strivings.

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?


On a spring walk you come upon an ornamental plum tree in early bloom. How can you not stop, stand on your toes and bring your nose close to a pink blossom to inhale the sweet perfume? It speaks to us of beauty, joy, life. The flower's fragrance has led us to our breath and to the present moment.

When we have already learned to live in the fulness of our breath, our teacher the flower has done her job. (Though I myself am not bold enough to cast all flowers aside.)

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?


Each religion and spiritual tradition has its own particular obsessions. In yoga, especially in hatha yoga, there is a strong conceptual link between asana ("seat" or "posture") and the spiritual energetics of body and awareness. The "Ultimate Posture" or "Supreme Seat" can be understood in the literal sense as attaining and maintaining the perfect physical posture, or it can be understood as being seated in awakened awareness.

Mahadevi cuts through the accumulated centuries of psycho-spiritual technicalities and postural perfectionism, reminding us that when we have attained peace, patience, forgiveness, and mastery, that is itself the Ultimate Posture.

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude


And in deepest communion, when the little self has melted into the Self of all selves, then there is only Self. Why then isolate yourself to be by yourself? In a closet or in a crowd, we are seated majestically in the Self, every rising thought and new encounter carries the blessing of self-recognition.



Recommended Books: Akka Mahadevi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Speaking of Siva The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Voices Through the Ages





Breath for fragrance