A Single Flame's Light:
Reflections
on the Poetry
of
Ramalingar

An Introduction to the poet-saint's works.
by Layne Little

anjaneya@ix.netcom.com
Back to Indian alchemy.


It was his brother who found him......
the little boy, eight years of age, standing alone in the darkness of his room. A single flame's light danced across his face. His eyes, glossed over with ecstasy, held the image of his face (gone slack with wonder) reflected in the mirror in front of him.
Before recorded history, an era so ancient that their poet's voices have long since faded into silence, the Tamil people of Southern India worshipped their god Murugan in blackened caves or atop windswept hills with ecstatic dance and the beating of drums; but in 1831, in the silence of that lamp lit room, the boy Ramalingar worshipped the ancient god standing before him; hewn from the play of light and shadow in the mirror that reflected his own face.
Somehow that moment changed the boy forever. He became a mystic. His eyes, that had held for a moment the flame's light, looked upon all things with a newfound wonder; saw the teeming multiplicity of life as writhing in the ecstasy of a single essence, a single presence, the Light of Grace (Arut Perum Jyoti). He was to become "unquestionably the greatest Tamil poet of the 19th century." (-Kamil Zvelbil, Tamil Literature, p113) He began composing poetry when he was nine and never stopped until one day in 1874 when he mysteriously disappeared. This essay strives to address the common source of both the mystic and the poet. It strives to ferret out the fount of inspiration in every man, (but its not "what you think").

"The words of our language are not clearly defined. They have several meanings which pass only vaguely through our mind and remain largely in our subconsciousness when we hear a word.
"The inaccuracy and ambiguity of our language is essential for poets who work largely with its subconscious layers and associations." (-Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, p39)

While the ambiguities of language confine the conscious mind to a vague interpretation of reality, those same ambiguities of language are employed by poets and mystics to speak to the subconscious of the listener. Likewise, Ramalingar used even the space between words and images to cleave the rational mind and reach into the deeper recesses of his readers consciousness. His language of mythical and symbolic imagery expands language from word units, with their small arena of conflicting associations, to symbolic units comprising a vaster area of conceptual and emotional meaning.

"Mythical language is much less restricted by logic and common sense. It is full of magic and paradoxical situations rich in suggestive images and never precise, and can convey the way in which mystics experience reality much better than factual language.” (-ibid)

Ramalingar's brilliant flashes of mythic imagery leave little room for the rational mind to drive in it's wedge of differentiation. His work abides as an anthem to his own journey beyond the rational; his leap beyond the confines of language to an experience of a profound mindfulness that his images seeks to induce in his readers.
One of Ramalingar's images in particular recurs throughout his works. He repeats it as a kind of invocation at the beginning and end of each poem, moreover he refers to it continuously within the body of his compositions. Strange that a single word was enough to awaken the visionary within. His enigmatic reference to what he might simply define as an "inner place", functioned for him as a device to center his awareness at a point within his psyche where the tumultuous mind was quieted. From that silence he found he could express his experience of that place.
The content of his invocation does nothing more than define that place, giving a symbolic reference to a level of perception...

"Tiruchittrambalam"
1) Sacred Hall of the Mind
2) Holy Heart Hall
3) The Common Place within the Sacred Heart/Mind

This invocation is the point of departure for the reader who embarks upon an uphill path through the tangled forests of the subconscious, discovering many wonders along the ascent. The recurrent image of the sacred hall seems hidden at every step, as if the hall was both the beginning and the end of the journey, and every point in between. It is like that silence between words, where understanding reigns and nothing need be said.

"This is a world painted as if it were composed of objects like apples and tables, qualities like red and green, and actions like walking, sitting, and slurping. This is a world, in other words, of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, with a few minor parts of speech stuck in to glue these basic building blocks together.
"Nature is a continuity, which we might represent as a line:____________________________ But our language tells us that the world is made up of "things" that we have named. Those aspects of the world that we do not name have little of no existence for us. Our named world, in contrast to the continuity of nature, looks like a broken line:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ This line represents the named "things" and the spaces are those aspects of reality that remain without names and that do not exist for us." (-James Powell, Tao of Symbols, p36-37)

Images like the Sacred Hall of the Mind represent the quietude of thought beyond names, where all of nature is reflected in its unfathomable totality. The Sacred Hall is the line, the continuous, the hall of the awareness seated in the profound solitude of meditation, it is the spacious silence that frames the letters on the page.
Ramalingar guides the adventurous into far off, unexplored realms of consciousness, pulling up in hoards the deeply rooted imagery of the psyche; but he keeps reminding us about the uncluttered spaciousness of the Common Hall of the Heart. He asks us to relinquish our disjointed perception of reality, our "named" reality that is broken up into the few bits of phenomena that can be defined, stamped with a label, and thereby be "known".

"What we are looking for is who's looking."
-Saint Francis

Ramalingar's
Aani Pon Ambalattae
or
"At the Hall of Solid Gold"

English rendering by Layne Little

Pallavi (refrain):

In the Hall of Solid Gold
What visions I saw.
What wondrous visions!---Oh Mother
What wondrous visions!

Kannihal (stanzas):

1) A mountain of light appeared.
There was a street in it.---Oh Mother
There was a street.

2) I went along that street
and in the middle of it
there was a platform.---Oh Mother
There was a platform.

3) I mounted the platform
There I discovered a hall---Oh Mother
There was a hall.

4) I searched the hall
and found a mansion
rising above it.---Oh Mother
There was a mansion.

5) All of its seven levels
were filled with wonders.
How can I describe it?---Oh Mother
How can I describe it?

6) In one story
there was a glittering pearl-white stone.
It turned into a blue sapphire.---Oh Mother
It turned into a blue sapphire.

7) On another world plane
that blue-black stone
transformed itself into red coral.---Oh Mother
All became fruitful.

8) On another plane
the green emerald
became a red ruby.---Oh Mother
It became a red ruby.

9) After that level
I saw a giant pearl
Become a diamond jewel---Oh Mother
It became the great jewel.

10) In a different plane
I was confronted with
a vast mass of coral
changing into moonstone.---Oh Mother
Changing into moonstone.

11) The next level I speak of
is decorated
with a multifarious array of jewels.
These turned to gold.---Oh Mother
These turned to gold.

12) In another place
All the gems I've spoken of
Became crystal.---Oh Mother
Became crystal.

13) Above the seven levels! 1
There was a pillar
A most agreeable golden pillar.---Oh Mother
A creative golden pillar.

14) The time when I saw
the golden pillar and climbed,
I saw a freshness...;
How can I describe it?---Oh Mother
A freshness...; How can I describe it?

15) While climbing there
I viewed a sort
that can't be spoken of.
Of boundless measure!---Oh Mother
Of boundless measure!

16) There and there...;
were Shaktis
in the thousands and thousands
They were coming!---Oh Mother.
They were coming!

17) I was not deceived
by the delusions that assailed me
But attained a special state of grace.---Oh Mother
I attained the special grace.

18) By the ways of the adept
I climbed that great pillar
And saw its jeweled peak.---Oh Mother
And saw its jeweled peak.

19) Above the jeweled peak
There stood the mountain's summit.
It was then that I saw it.---Oh Mother
It was then that I saw it.

20) Above the mountain&'s peak
In 1008 carat gold
Was the temple!---Oh Mother
Was the temple.

21) I saw the temple,
and there was its towering gate.
Without hesitating, I went inside.---Oh Mother
Without hesitating, I went inside.

22) Inside the towering gate
were Shaktis and Shaktas
in the tens of thousands, many tens of thousands.---Oh Mother
Tens of thousands, many tens of thousands.

23) There they were colored...;
colored white and colored red
of the colors five they were.---Oh Mother
of the colors five.

24) There they all asked
"Who is this here?";
I went beyond.---Oh Mother
I went beyond.

25) Having gone beyond
I came to the sacred doorway.
Where there were five Shaktis.---Oh Mother
Where there were five Shaktis.

26) These other Shaktis stood
to show the path above.
I reached the jeweled doorway.---Oh Mother
I reached the jeweled doorway.

27) Contemplating in that doorway,
there was a woman and a man...;
Two of them were there.---Oh Mother
There were two of them.

28) I drew near that holy entrance
and there they revealed...?
I looked out with love.---Oh Mother
I looked out with love.

29) The Mother of Bliss
was at Heaven's Gate!
My Mother!---Oh Mother
My Mother!

30) I looked upon her,
received her grace,
and dined on nectar.---Oh Mother
I dined on nectar.

31) With her support and grace,
I saw the sanctum
of the Dancing King!---Oh Mother
I saw the sanctum!

32) I entered the sanctum
and attained all that can be attained!
Only God knows!---Oh Mother
Only God knows!

1 Note nilai usually refers to a state or condition, implying permanenece, while the verb may mean to fix the eyes on one point or object