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“Pious Fear”

  • I fear not serpents lurking smooth;
  • I fear no liars’ feignèd truth;
  • But when I see fools venturing
  • E’en to the foot of Him our king,
  • Our three-eyed Lord with matted hair,
  • Of His great godhead unaware,
  • Fools thinking other gods can be,
  • Terror such sight inspires in me.
  • “Naught but Thy Love”
  • I ask not kin, nor name, nor place,
  • Nor learnèd men’s society.
  • Men’s lore for me no value has;
  • Kuttalam’s lord, I come to Thee.
  • Wilt thou one boon on me bestow,
  • A heart to melt in longing sweet,
  • As yearns o’er new-born calf the cow,
  • In yearning for Thy sacred feet?
  • — two hymns by Manikkavacakar (trans. F. Kingsbury and G.E. Phillips).

Manikkavacakar was a ninth-century Tamil poet best known for his collection of Shaiva hymns “Tiruvasakam.” He was also one of the main contributors to the “Tirumurai,” the main religious text of Shaivite liturgy in Tamil. Serving as a king’s minister, Manikkavacakar worked in Madurai and focused on the joy of religious experience and the anguish of feeling bereft of God’s presence in his life. Considered the chief classic model for mysticism in the southern region of India, this poet was an ardent monotheist and remains a prominent saint for the people of the south.

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