“Vacanas (pronounced vachana) are bhakti poems, poems of personal devotion to a god, often a particular form of the god. The vacana saints reject not only the “great” (used only as a ‘convenient lablel’) traditions of Vedic religion, but the “little” local traditions as well. They not only scorn the effectiveness of the Vedas as scripture; they also reject the little legends of the local gods and goddesses.”
“… the “great” and “little” traditions, as we have described them, together constitute “establishment”… They are the establishment, the stable, the seccure, the sthavar, in the social sense… such traditions symbolise man’s attempt to establish or stabilise the universe for himself. Such traditions wish to render the universe manipulable, predictable, safe… The “great” and “little” traditions organise and catalogue the universe, and make available the price-list."
But the vacanakars have a horror of such bargains, such manipulations, the arrogance of such predictions. The lord’s world is unpredictable…Thus classical belief systems, social customs and superstitions, image worship, the caste system….all of them are fiercely, questioned and ridiculed”
“The crusading militancy at the heart of bhakti makes it double-edged, bisexual….”
- From Ramanujan’s Introduction in Speaking of Siva
Devara Dasimayya or “God’s Dasimayya” was probably the earliest of the vacana poets. The poems I share with you have this fierce questioning intrinsic to the bhakti of the Virasaiva tradition that Dasimayya is said to have propagated. His vacana verses are dialogic, addressed to “Ramanatha” - ‘Siva as worshipped by Rama’.
In the first poem, as in many other vacana poems, the simplicity of the image opens up a closed definition. Progressive and free, Dasimayya questions the socially constructed notion of gender, and suggests fluidity. Read on a different plane, these worldly trappings are smokescreens before the truth of the lord - a vision of humanity that is far more nuanced, and possibly only conveyed through riddles or framed in nature.
This poetry is prophetic, radical, anarchic and vehemently contemporary. It is at one and the same time, an explosion of affect, and enlightening as social critique.
P.S. Poetly will never cease to sip from the river that is A. K. Ramanujan. Thankyou.
When I read these poems, I felt like it came to me at the righ time - as if I needed them. That is what beautiful poetry does. Share poetly with somebody who feels the value of poetry.