She dances me to her call | bhakti poem by Téa Nicolae

in the depths of my being, She dances me to her call:

“come to me. I want all of you, my child. no part of you is too dark, too gritty, too cruel for me. I claim all of you.”

Māiyā! your waves carry your call and roll it against my chest. i seek you with my breath, eyes, hands, and knees. my lungs seek you like they seek air.

Ya Devī! soothing her tears,

Kṛṣṇa told Pāñcālī

that just as you, Śrī Gaṅgā, hold and wash all pollutions yet are ever-pristine,

so does the fallen empress remain untainted by her shame.

aches bathed in your luster,

i plead:

take all of me, Devī.

leave nothing of me behind.

establish me in knowing

that despite my wrongs, fears and corruptions, i, too,

your fragment in the microcosm,

remain unmarred.

may the holy flow of your untamed waters

sweeten the harshness i bear towards myself and the world

soften the rigid corners straining my being

loosen the knots hindering you from coursing within me.

Śrī Mātre Namaḥ. 🙏

photos: before & after bathing in the waters of Śrī Gaṅgā in the auspicious Gangotri. Śabda Yātra. 🙏 the blessing of blessings. 💙

The Call of the Himalayas

by Mahārājñī’s grace, my dream of India came true! 🥲 for five years, it has been an ardent wish of mine to see these lands. led by my beloved Guru Kavitha Amma, and together with the Śabda Yoginīs, i was blessed to answer to the call of the Himalayas by embarking on the most special, magnificent and expansive yātra. starting from Rishikesh, we traversed Uttarkashi, Gangotri, Bhojbasa, Gomukh, Barkot, Yamunotri, and returned to Rishikesh for our closing ceremony. we trailed and trekked the mountains in worship of Devī in her forms as Śrī Gaṅgā & Śrī Yamunā. it was a journey of cellular transformation: explosive insights, breath-taking beauty, moving softness, immersion in the love and flow of Gaṅgā Devī and the Guru.

most miraculously, we completed the arduous and most fulfilling trek of 36 km from Gangotri to Gomukh, the source of the Holy Gaṅgā, in two intense & magical days! 💙 i have never felt more alive than on this trail, immersed in the hum of Devī Gaṅgā and held in the lap of the mountains. every step taken was a challenge to my self-imposed limitations and ideas of myself – of who i am, of what i can do and achieve. every step taken taught me resilience and determination, as well as showed me that my strength springs from my longing. it has been most sacred to complete this trail and to come to be at the Source with my Guru & saṅgha. imbibing in Her exquisite vibrations, we worshipped Her through pūjā. we breathed, we smiled, we cried. i will remember this experience for the rest of my life with all the gratitude & awe my being can muster.

Śrī Mātre Namaḥ! Har Har Mahādeva! Hare Hare Gaṅge!!!

what is more, in Gangotri, we hiked to a cave where it is said that Draupadī and the Pāṇḍavas spent time while on exile, and had the fortune to meet the sādhu who has been living there, entrenched in tapasya. ♥️ i have felt the Mahābhārata vibrantly coming alive for me on our yātra; from being at Gaṅgā Devī’s feet, arguably the precursor of the Mbh’s unfolding, to reaching Yamunā Devī, whose shores welcomed Ambā, who burned herself on a pyre at Yamunā’s banks to gain Lord Śiva’s boon… these mystical lands are unparalleled in beauty, significance, power and history.

Draupadī’s Speech, Vastrāharaṇa: A Collaborative and Experimental Audio-translation

Fragment of a collaborative and experimental audio-translation of Draupadī’s speech following Vastrāharaṇa (The Attempted Disrobing of the Empress), as presented in the 2013 rendition of the Mahābhārat. Created in the module ‘The Practice of Literary Translation’ of the Warwick Writing Programme with Sumithreyi Sivapalan. 🙂

Draupadī:

Touch me not, Queen Mother Kuntī.

I will get besmirched.

I am no longer your daughter-in-law.

I am no longer your sons’ wife.

I am no longer the bride of the Kuru dynasty.

Now I am without husband, without name, without dynasty.

I am the fire that burns in the furnace. I am purity itself,

yet I feed on what is impure.

Today, in this sabhā, I have cried the tears of the women who walked this Earth.

Queen Mother Kuntī, Great Queen Gandharī, if you wish to save yourselves, renounce this sabhā and leave. Because this palace hall will break today.

I am no longer a human being. I am death itself, only death. I am the death of all the vile men present in this unjust sabhā today.

My curse is that, at this very moment…

Gandharī:

No, Draupadī. Do not curse. Do not curse! Forgive them. Forgive us. I beg you, forgive us!

Draupadī:

My curse is forgiveness in itself, Great Queen. If I have to punish, let it be in this lifetime. Every moment, they will suffer the agony of hell. Their pain will know no end.

Gandharī:

No, my daughter. The woman who gives life cannot give death.

In taking one’s own life, one annihilates their body. In taking another’s life, one destroys the soul.

When a person destroys their soul, that is called self-annihilation.

In your anger, do not act like these men!

Draupadī:

It is a woman’s duty to keep the house clean and it is a woman who purifies the house. It is a woman’s duty, as well, to keep this world clean, and only a woman can purify the Earth. I curse (that)…

still and edit i created of Pooja Sharma as Draupadī. the most fantastic performance of the fireborn heroine!

Yajñasenī by Téa Nicolae

she who was born of fire

she whose beauty enticed even the sun

i garland thee

she whose blood spilled on royal floors of marble

she whose woe scorched the Kurus

i weep with thee

she who was touched yet remained stainless

she whose dishevelled hair holds the griefs of woman

i pray with thee

Draupadī,

she who cried the tears of the women who walked this earth

i am thee.

*poem published in Śabda Magazine, vol. II.

collage i made of pooja sharma as the beloved empress. her performance is etched to my heart!

The Internal Freedom of the Mahābhārata’s Fire-born Heroine

Perhaps one of the most jarring episodes of the Mahābhārata, the disrobing of Draupadī has been etched to my mind since my first introduction to the epic. The story of the Mahābhārata’s fire-born heroine goes as follows: the empress Draupadī, an incarnation of the celestial Śrī, is violently dragged to the royal court after her husbands, the Pāṇḍavas, are enslaved through deceit. Draupadī is tearful, menstruating, and the Pāṇḍavas’ offenders, the Kauravas, attempt to enslave her. However, she fiercely debates them and proclaims her freedom. Enraged by her rebuttal, the Kauravas decide to disrobe her. When they mercilessly begin to pull her clothing, Draupadī’s garment endlessly unfolds, and she remains clothed — by what is presumed to be the grace of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
My fascination with Draupadī first began as awe of the female endurance she embodies. As a woman myself, I deeply identified with her pains, and found our sufferings to mirror each other. In my reflections, my being melded with her character, whom I felt connected to through the thread of shared female experience. I found comfort in her triumph. As I continued mulling over her story, I became inexplicably moved by the imposing testament of devotion that is showcased in her tale; in most renditions of the Mahābhārata, Draupadī, while being abused, earnestly prays to her dearest friend, confidant, and God, Kṛṣṇa, who, out of boundless compassion, answers to her calls and envelops her in his grace. It is a touching picture: as the men of the court hang their heads in shame, bound in silence and inaction by their royal vows, Draupadī, deserted by all, is shielded by her devotion to Kṛṣṇa — and her devotion is enough.
However, my greatest personal and transformational shift has occurred when, with my beloved guru’s guidance, I was able to deconstruct the tale of Draupadī’s anguish in order to delve deeper into the teaching encased in it. Before doing so, there was slight anxiousness in my heart: there was self-doubt, and there were questions; Draupadī had been ‘saved’ through her devotion, but would I be? Would I be saveable or worthy?
Indeed, my mistake had been not delving deeper into the teaching encased in Draupadī’s anguish by remaining stuck at the level of storytelling. The liberating conclusion I have reached is that, in truth, whether the empress’s garment endlessly expanded or not is irrelevant. The teaching veiled in Draupadī’s disrobing is that she was untouchable because she was internally free. The horror she was subjected to did not shake her internal freedom, nor did it dismantle her devotion. Throughout it all, she was rooted in her love for Kṛṣṇa, and immersed in her independent power. As she says in a recent rendition: “You cannot make me your slave because I do not allow it. Independence lies within me; it is not a piece of clothing you can snatch.” All along, the question was not whether I would have been saved; it was whether I could unearth Draupadī’s fearlessness in myself.
The Mahābhārata’s fire-born heroine has taught me that freedom lies within me. It is not given to me by others, and it cannot be taken from me. My freedom is married to my devotion, and my heart holds the keys to both.


This article has been published in the second volume of Śabda Magazine.

Collage I made of Pooja Sharma as Draupadī in the 2013 Mahābhārat. Although the TV series presents many distortions, her brilliant, fiery performance makes viewing it a joy for me.

my papers + Mahābhārata as seen by Giampaolo Tomassetti

so thrilled to share that i finished the two papers i’ve been working on these past months: “Feminine Dimensions of ‘God’: The Deification of Mahābhārata’s Tragic Heroine” & “The Western Revival of Goddess Worship”. 🤍

my first essay explored the richness of the non-dual concept of ‘God’ by addressing the intricate worship of Draupadī, Mahābhārata’s enigmatic female character – whose tragic and distinct storyline establishes her as a multifaceted heroine: a devoted wife; a caring mother; an abused and vindicative woman; a polyandrous empress; an avatar of the Goddess; the Supreme Parāśakti, the all-pervading absolute reality herself; the celestial Śrī. i argued that, through the worship of an abused & vengeful woman, her devotees are deifying the entirety of the human experience. 🤍my second essay employed a discourse rooted in psychoanalysis, and was centred on the therapeutic values Goddess archetypes hold for the traumatised female psyche + commented on the ramifications of the phenomenon of religious revival in a secular age.

🕊i have adored writing both, no matter how frustrating the writing inevitably got at times. i had so much fun with the two topics, which i’m very passionate about, but i especially enjoyed delving into Mahābhārata – three months in, and i still am absolutely fascinated by it and in awe of the beautiful Draupadī, who i’m sure will be the subject of much of my future research. 🌹

on this occasion, attaching here the marvellous paintings of Giampaolo Tomassetti, who dedicated 17 years of his life to studying & painting the Mahābhārata 🤍pictured:

Kṛṣṇa & Balarāma in Dvārakā (my favourite 🕊)

Kṛṣṇa advising the Pāṇḍavas

Draupadī meets Kuntī

Kuntī & Karṇa

Kṛṣṇa comforting Draupadī after ~ dice match & disrobing ~

Kṛṣṇa reveals his universal form (Govindarūpiṇī)

Kuntī & Sūrya

Kṛṣṇa, the Pāṇḍavas, Draupadī & Kuntī in Indraprastha

Bhīma & Hiḍimbī

Dvārakā