Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Two Poems & A Translation

Invoking Kali


sole source who survives
the universe’s cycles of cessation & creation &
is present in the pauses too
who sees suns as firefly blinks

cosmic darkness
who makes every shape every form
however small however strange
quiver with life 
love unstoppable
forgiving fearless frightening
in whose sapphire veins blood boils 

limitless intelligence
preserving & devouring   
fragrant with holiness 
as a milky way of jasmine
accept our pranamsII

your tongue unfurls across
galaxies sucking in poisons
like nectar of blue lotuses

your hair unravels
creating rivers trees capillaries
clouds of connected stars

you are unclothed bliss
unlike us webbed in illusions
who confuse abominations for amrut
our ignorance  replace
our hatred with staggering loveII

IIdivine wisdom

protector of poets
behead me

make mine the head necklaced
in blood that you pluck 

like a fruit     make me crimson
gore that gleams on your sword 

extinguish my ego &
free me resplendenceII

your skull garland swings
from soft breasts to navel 

each cranium potent
with languages’ power 

dance on my tongue 
make my every breath a song

that you stamp with ruby soles 
accept me goddessII

IIcompassionate killer

absolve me of karma
let my hacked arms hang 

as rakta-beaded girdle over your pubis
unleash me motherII

IIrampaging kali 

with heart in my mouth  
eyes blinded by your kindness 

i ask for shelter  
consume me deviII
First published in Mai Feminisim & Visual Culture 

Invoking Kali draws on the Sanskrit genre of sacred stotra (स्तोत्र) literature, which is comprised of odes, eulogies or hymns of praise within codified poetic structures. This poem refers to the namavalli and sahasranamam, which translate as ‘garland of names and praises’ and ‘1000 names’ respectively wherein each name, attribute or epithet lauds an aspect of the god or goddess to whom the hymn is dedicated.   The poem was written during the low-key 2020 Durga Puja. In the face of suffering on a global scale, this poem is a lava-tongued supplication to the untameable, non-hierarchical auspiciousness of Kali Devi for courage and grace, so that we create a wise vision for all life on our pale blue dot.

Beginning with the individual ‘I’, the poem ripples outward. In this, it is also overlaid by the impassioned personal mode of medieval bhakti /devotional poetry which was written in the mother tongue, and called for breaking social boundaries in the path of spiritual inclusiveness.

A note on my formal choices: The lack of capital letters, full stops and verse breaks indicated by double bars II all refer to and point away from earlier male access to the ‘pure’ language of Sanskrit. For instance, Sanskrit dramatist Mahakavi Kalidasa ( 4th-5th CE) had his women characters and servants speak in the ‘common’ language of Prakrit while male characters dialogued in the ‘perfected, put together and adorned’ language of power, Sanskrit.


As if in an trance, each 
 	alone in a shoal, blue  	 	
whales migrate, their hides

woven and unwoven by  	
wave and wake. Balaenoptera  
musculus or  Melville’s  ‘Sulphur-

bottom’  mottled with diatom 
 	--millions of microorganisms --
 	 	that each one supports as

tawny undergrowth, each  
 	tongue weighty as an elephant,  	 	
each heart large as a car, 

up to a hundred feet long,
 	aging till ninety and more  	 	
head towards extinction’s 

red line ploughing through 
 	currents blue, cold, lightning-
 	 	nerved or warm, through the

oceans’ featureless caress, 
 	navigating paths that part  	 	
and seal with each dive. 

Slender submarines these
 	cetaceans that pulse and 
 	 	moan, breathing in rhythms

of spume, sink, swim, spume
 	on their annual natation  	 	
from Alaska to Acapulco 

and back, feeding and
 	breeding, calves heaving  	
 	alongside. Their enemies are

few. Some esurient whalers  	
after wild meat, ships with  	 	
savage steel hulls that tunnel 

misguiding sonar fathoms deep,  	
and whirlpools of orcas, minatory  	 	
white flowers lunging to bite.

What’s it to swim as long arrow
 	skimming beneath brine’s vast  	 	
reflection, to swim steadfast, not 

rough, driven by more than
 	craving, rather urged by life’s   	
 	secret palpitation, to swim by the

Pole star lodged within  	
each heart that gives faint   	 	
direction till destiny’s end?

Not so with the migrating 
 	elephant herd, Loxodonta  	 
		africana, who under summer’s

blare first cross the
 	desert, then the forest  
	 	of dead trees with trunks 

blackened whose amputated  	
arms point to the wasteland,
 	 	an arena crisscrossed

by so many paths trodden
  	by so many who have  	 	
passed that direction

distorts, becomes a gaping 
 	maze disembowelled by sky  	 	
but flanked at one end

by a gauntlet of lions 
 	desperate in this season  	 	
of starvation to take on 

elephant. Then the siren 
 	scent of water some twelve 
 	 	miles away that summons

the scramble of grey, 
 	each cloud of four tons
 	 	running on cushion  pads

feet plumped by soft 
 	tissue to carry weight,  	 	
hush sound, though the earth

rumbles their coming as
 	 seismics spread like rays
 	 	underground. What’s it to

trumpet, squeal, bellow also
 	in infrasonic range as water 
 	 	hits eye as a razorblade

of light that could 
 	both save and destroy  	 	
for among the glitter 

a mesh of crocs reside?
 	With sinews strained the  	 	
stampede begins that they 

must complete to seek
 	grass and rest, water and  	 	
hope that this generation 

of downy calves – if lucky --  
 	will finish. Last, the dash
 	 	to the sacred pasture, 

flickering alter held in
 	memory from generation  	 	
to generation, passed by 

matriarch to daughter  
 	when each life matters  	 	
so little and so much. 


We make our stabs 
 	at journey from location
 	 	to location and person

to person, dropping calls
 	on the way as the great
 	 	travel unravels in

iris and gland, pubis and 
 	thalamus as migrations  	 	
unchartered, while the

invisible glistens -- source and 
 	sustenance -- as patina on 
 	 	stone and cement, film on 

flower and bridge, dew,
 	dewlap, dung and neon  	 	
but its throb is unheard 

till all wakes disappear,
 	all routes are washed out, 
 	 	the stampede’s concluded

for each entity and we, 
 	Homo sapiens or humanity  	 	
lie hidden in earth, in fire,

while gleaming breezes loosen
 	another nectarine dawn  	 	
routine in its splendour.  

First published in Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts


Creation Hymn by Mannikavaccikar

This translation from Classical Tamil is from the compilation Thiruvaccikam - Sacred utterances by 9th Century bhakti poet Mannikavaccikar. 


 wobbling spheres round       into the elemental cosmos  

wonder beyond wonders

here our planet

impossible to sing these worlds’ profuse beauties

try this for scale: 

      in its disk of stars	

           a dust mote 


        among millions more

 in a shaft of light 

 that falls through a window of your home            the sunbeam Siva
First published in RELIQUIAE 

Priya Sarukkai Chabria is an award-winning poet, translator and writer of nine books of poetry, speculative fiction, literary non-fiction, translation and, as editor, two poetry anthologies. Her books include Andal The Autobiography of a Goddess (translation), Sing of Life Revisioning Tagore’s Gitanjali (poetry), Clone (speculative fiction) and Bombay/Mumbai: Immersions (non-fiction). Chabria has studied the Sanskrit rasa theory of aesthetic and Tamil Sangam (2-4BCE) poetics. She is Founding Editor of Poetry at Sangam: and India Editor for the international poetry anthology Divining Dante. Awards include Muse Translation Award, Kitab Experimental Fiction Award, Best Reads by Feminist Press and recognition for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature by the Government of India. Committed to hybridity, Chabria curated Rasa, Rapture and its Re-enactment for Sahapedia, participated in Fireflies a production of miniature paintings, Bharatanatyam and poetry, co-founded film society Friends of the Archive , curated seminars for the Sahitya Akademi, was invited to Lucy Writers, University of Cambridge, while residencies include Writers’ Centre, Norwich and Sun Yat-sen University International, China. Anthology publications include Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World, Adelphiana, Asymptote, Drunken Boat, PEN International, Post Road, Reliquiae, The Literary Review, The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, The British Journal of Literary Translation, Language for a New Century, Voyages of Body and Soul etc. Her poems are translated into Indian and European languages.