For nearly fourteen years now, I have been chanting Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s (509-477 BC, disputed) Soundaryalahari-the tantric shloka in (breathless and ecstatic ) praise of the union of Siva and Shakti; and which celebrates the (dazzling and voluptuous) beauty of the latter. It takes an hour of my time everyday and I, often, wonder if I should stop the practice since I haven’t had the luxury of uninterrupted time for some years now.
But the second I begin to quietly murmur, “sivah saktya yukto….” the shloka (set to ragamalika by the Bombay sisters, the version I chant) permeates my entire being and I fold into myself like a lotus at dusk and a radiant picture of the Divine Mother flowers in my Ajnachakra.
I often wonder what images blazed in Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s mind as he sat composing these prayerful and pulsating verses; his wiry, mendicant frame protected from the elements by only a thin kavi cloth, his feet callused from walking the length and breadth of the country as he preached his philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.
For look at the unabashed evocation of the Devi’s physical attributes and the predominance of the brazenly sensual over the ascetically spiritual in this shloka of a hundred lyrical stanzas ! A sample from Sri VK Subramanian’s translation (Motilal Banarsidass publishers) which has explanatory notes and Yantric diagrams :
From verse 58
Oh ! Daughter of the king of the mountains, the curved space between your eyes and ears creates in everyone the illusion of the bow of Cupid, the one with flowers as arrows; as a result, the backward glance from the corner of your eyes, crossing the path of the ears resembles the shot of an arrow”.
From verse 77
Oh ! Auspicious one. Oh ! Mother, this thin line of hair above your slender waist, looking like the minute wave of the dark Yamuna river in the eyes of the wise, also gives the impression that the minute space between your pot-like breasts seems to enter the deep navel escaping from the mutual pressure exerted by them”.
From verse 81
Oh ! daughter of the mountain ! the king of mountains took heaviness and expanse from his flanks and gave them as dowry to you.Hence this hip of yours is heavy and expansive;it hides the earth and makes it light.
And these are just..just a few examples.
As I change course from one raga to another during my evening mediatation , I can’t help but meditate upon this too : as he composed these vivid verses, was Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s celibate soul more ‘stirred’ or ‘stilled’ ?