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A hand reaching out towards the rising sun.
Photo from Unsplash

Waves of līlā2
Lap the sands of my skin —
I feel its circulation
In my blood,
Oozing out as ink —
In spite of laying “forgotten in broken jars”3
I too wield the seven aisvaryas,
Like the Great Sentinel4
A century ago.

One day,
I wield anima5:
I become a monarch caterpillar,
Fattening on milkweed leaves,
Awaiting my metamorphosis;
I become a ladybug,
Sheltering against the monsoon rain,
Under a mango tree leaf;
I become a black ant,
Leading my comrades atop a black granite kitchen slab,
Towards bunches of ripe, native, finger-length bananas
That sit uneaten in an open-topped jute basket …

The next day,
I wield mahima6:
I become a cordillera of the ever-snowcapped Himālaya,
Reminding beings of their minuteness;
I become Mother Earth,
Bearing land and water and throbbing hearts;
I become the ever-expanding universe,
Illuminating an omnipresent constellation of starlight
Indiscriminately in all directions …

A few days later,
I wield laghima7:
I become a gentle sea breeze,
Beckoning lovers, young and old,
Sinners and righteous alike, to amble the shoreline,
Barefooted, as equals;
I become a petal-sized white butterfly,
A plaything for the does and cubs and chicks and wild kittens;
I become fall's first snowflake,
Clinging to a schoolgoer's overcoat,
Smiling my short-lived, crystalline white teeth,
Hoping to be noticed …

Another day,
I wield garima8:
I become an elephant basking on a temple-ground's stone walkway,
Servants jovially wetting and soaping and scrubbing my hide;
I become a young humpback whale playing at the sea's surface,
Flapping my tail fin and spraying mists of kisses
Into the Massachusetts Bay winds;
I become an artist's self-conceited dreams
Infected by a delusive, unquenchable appetite,
Luring her in the dark of the night to the escape of an escarpment.

I wield arap9, vashitva10, prakamya11,
And channel ishatva12:
I picture the two golden-feathered birds,
“Inseparable companions,
The individual self and the immortal Self
Are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree,
The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree,
The latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.”13
One day I taste,
Another day I observe.

  1. “Superhuman Power” comes from the Sanskrit term, “aisvarya,” which in Indian philosophy distinguishes itself into eight varieties of powers.
  2. līlā: \Even though its basic meaning is “play” or “sport,” here the word takes on an elevated meaning, wherein it expresses an alternating activity and passivity, an interplay of law and freedom.
  3. “forgotten in broken jars”: quoted from Tagore's “The Wakening of Siva” (1925) — “...Did you let them lie forgotten in broken jars in your courtyard? / Did your dance of destruction pound them to dust?” — in which “them” refers to our youthful days.
  4. Great Sentinel: Mahatma Gandhi called Tagore the “Great Sentinel” of modern India.
  5. anima: The power to make one's body as small as desired.
  6. mahima: The power to make one's body as large as desired.
  7. laghima: The power to make one's body as light as desired.
  8. garima: The power to make one's body as heavy as desired.
  9. arapti: The power to obtain anything desired.
  10. vashitva: The power to bring anything under one’s control.
  11. prakamya: The power to satisfy all desires by force of will.
  12. ishatva: The power to become Isha, Lord, over everything.
  13. “Inseparable companions …”: Quoted from “The Mundaka Upanishad.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Rāmdev is a poet incarcerated in Pennsylvania.