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. 💙

you elude me: bhakti poem by Téa Nicolae

you elude me,

my Beloved.
your nectarous call
trickles in my ears
and i run to you,
maddened.

i run to you,
enamoured,
clothed by longing
and with tears as jewels.

i run to you,
bare,
silk dress in shreds,
ripped slippers.

i’ve been running to you
since before i was born.
i am tired, Hari.
my dignity and pride
are long forgotten.
my toenails are cracked,
the skin peels off my feet.
my hair is rumpled,
my breasts are bruised;
your wayward bride.

whenever i get close
to throwing myself at your feet
my mind entangles me.
my wrongs push against my bones
and i fall on my face.
my blood smears the ground
and i grovel. i cry. i howl.

when your nectarous call
trickles in my ears,
i jolt forwards.
and i run to you,
maddened.

~ poem to Madhav, published in Śabda Magazine, volume II. my offering of longing as we approach the auspicious day of Vijayadaśamī! may we be victorious in our quest to merge with the Divine Beloved. 🙏

aegina, greece, 2018.

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!

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.

“defeat me” – poem, prayer for Naraka Caturdaśī

defeat me,
monsoon one.
pierce through the weaponry of the self
until my armour plate breaks in two,
and i crumble at your feet
the way Naraka fell before you and Satyā.

show me mercy,
monsoon one.
before your sudarśana delivers my final blow,
hold me as one’s beloved would.
cradle me
the way you embraced your gopis
when swaying with the woods of Vṛndā.

dance me,
monsoon one,
to your flute’s tune
show me the hills
where the milkmaids bathed your feet with their tears.

let our waltz come to end
when my hand slips from yours…
then claim your victory over me,
Hari.
unchain me from my bonds of delusion
burn the bitterness weighing my heart
so we meld as one.
free me into union with you,
lover of Rādhā,
the way you wedded Naraka’s imprisoned women.

purifier of the fallen,
defeat me
and
allow me
rest
within you.

“defeat me”, poem / prayer for Naraka Caturdaśī… 💛 wishing a blessed Dīpāvali to all! may our ignorance dissolve into the light of consciousness as the asuras were absorbed into the devatās.

credit for the second, beautiful image: Madhav, unsplash.

tiny personal note: this is the first Dīpāvali i am spending in a place of my own, and it has been so precious to decorate my apartment (and even my rabbit’s hutch!) for the festival of lights. 💫 

grateful!

the tapestry behind me: the feet of Hari & Rādhārāṇī, by Harsh Malik. 💛

thirst, bhakti poetry

happy Vijayadaśamī! 💙 from this month’s newsletter of Śabda Institute. honoured that my poem accompanies the announcement of such an exquisite offering 💙 in this highly auspicious time, may our longing fuel our sādhanā, and may our devotion sweeten its unfolding. 💙

Dear One, 

The Śabda Saṅgha is continuing its study of the Bhagavad Gītā with a new theme – that of Bhakti Yoga. In honour of this new cycle of study, we are pleased to share a beautiful poem of longing and devotion by one of Kavithaji’s students, Téa Nicolae.

thirst
infused with devotion
my days unfurl tenderly
chinks fissure the armour plate of the self
and life dances through the cracks
madly enamoured
i long for the Beloved’s caress
my throat, so swollen
my mouth, so parched
my Beloved quenches the thirst:
grace pours down in ripples
i drink hastily

luster

a poem for Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī…  💙

luster

burnt with longing,

i am a river scorched

by the summer sun

shimmering haze of light,

my swithered heart

i find you in the pause

i have not seen heaven

but i have seen moon’s luster

dripping onto your hips

he who dwells in my heart

is the white lord of pandharpur,

the one who plays

monsoon one,

your waist is my altar

there is no need

for pearls

when you are there

wishing beautiful celebrations to everyone! Jai Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the enchanter of the heart! 💙

molten gold by Téa Nicolae

the whisper of your name, Beloved,

coats my heart in molten gold

and enfolds my core in aureate luster.

in the whisper of your name, Beloved,

my eyes shine like rhinestones

and my teeth gleam like pearls.

i adorn myself with your name, Beloved.

i wear you, the most precious gem,

as empresses wear their lavish jewels.

what is the need for riches,

when Keśava rests on my tongue?

🦚 “molten gold”, poem inspired by a delicious full moon meditation on Hanumān Jayanti at @sabda_institute & originally shared in our Śabda Sangha. below, the beautiful painting: “Madhava” by Dhrti Das & Ramdas Abhiram Das. 

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