In Sanskrit there is a verb, aranyarodhan, which means “weeping in the wilderness”. I discovered the word two and a half years into working with the archetypes of Sita and Lucifer, admired its succinct eloquence, the affirmation that there is a long and even poetic tradition of this act. I had been weeping in the wilderness when they – one lionized, one maligned – began to appear in my poems, echoing what they have done for all eternity.
Wilderness. All that is feral, subterranean, primal. The opposition (not merely the opposite) of civilisation. Geographical locations in which the earth, the trees, the stars and the waters conspire. Psychic locations in which one retreats, escapes, hides, heals.
The forest has petrified into
a necropolis of statues.
There is rumour of a shortage of stars.
The nights darken and lengthen,
madden with grief.
This heart will sink this body
if it turns any more to stone.
Sita as Lucifer.
Discovered in a furrow, raised as a princess, married to the scion of the solar dynasty. She chooses the exile that allows her to be with Rama, then chooses to remain in captivity in Lanka (in a garden like paradise) to preserve his honour. Finally, as a mother, she is cast out again. Most of her life, spent in wilderness.
She wanted to be a tree like the men she loved. She held herself against them, the men she loved, and hoped that some of their strength would steep in her own body after they left it. She knocked on their chests to listen to their hearts, and marveled at how they seemed to have only one.
Lucifer as Sita.
In the Persian myth, as retold by Joseph Campbell, Lucifer was an archangel who loved God so deeply that he refused to bow before Man because he would revere none other.
For this, he was cast out of heaven. The original fall from grace. Grace – divine mercy. Or, the equanimity with which one endures that which one must undergo.
Tonight, the chhau dancer has a moon on his back,
and he clasps each of its crescent wingtips
above his head like an angel holding its horns.
Etymologies. From the Latin “lucem ferre” meaning “light-bearer”. Associated with Venus, planet of love, as morning star.
In the Rig-Veda, which predates the earliest written Ramayana by over a thousand years, there is a hymn to an agricultural goddess named Sita. In other Vedic sutras, she is the wife of the rain god Parjanya.
Sita not as daughter of the earth but the earth itself.
I had stood still so my coordinates
would not change, believing the
universe an incalculable
territory, and you, a pilgrim guided
by the votives of a thousand
loved and surrendered suns.
The manuscript is called Bulletproof Offering. Among my favourite images: Hanuman with his chest ripped open, revealing the contents of his heart. The heart without armour is, paradoxically, the most bulletproof one. It can take it all. It can endure eternity.
Crack me open, I said.
Take from me all I can give.
The god in me saw the god
in you. Our demons
saw each other too.
Eternity. Sita exists in palpable corporealities: in mud and in storm-drenched trees, in religious rituals, in songs. Lucifer, misperceived for the Semitic overlord of interminable hell, does not enjoy the same veneration. He exists outside of time and space. And also within it: in light years, supernovas, imploding pulsars, cosmic sagas.
You slid a pin into my body and
brooched me at a distance, a dwarf
star snared against a night on the
other side of the universe, imagining
yourself a lapidary, setting diamond
upon obsidian, holding your tongue
so that the hooks in your mouth
would not fall.
Who is the Beloved?
The myths tells us that both Sita’s and Lucifer’s Beloveds were God – the divine Rama and the monotheistic God. The myths tell us that they suffered because of their impossible love for and loyalty toward them.
These myths also confirm a passionate nature. “Passion” – from the Ancient Greek word for “to suffer”.
If you weep long enough in the wilderness, you begin to love everything – every leaf, every stone, every nuance of the moon. You will take love in any disguise it arrives in – a trick of light, a mirage-like deer. And as you wait you become the giver of that which you yearn to receive. “Compassion” – meaning, “to suffer with”.
Never love a man with more faces
than a hall of mirrors. He will
never be able to tear his eyes away
long enough to look at you,
a luminous thing, blinded by
the dark gravity of your love.
The burning ghat of the heart as a theatre of transformation. Fire – the fire of the agni-pariksh, the fire of Biblical damnation. The cleansing fire that obliterates so we emerge anew, phoenix-fierce.
Beloved pyromaniac, you cannot know
how I hungered for you then – the nights
I nearly burnt down the forest myself.
The myths tell us, above all us, above self-possession.
There was already darkness in me.
And if not light itself, then
afterglow, and though scorched
forever with the analemma
of your passage,
in the cosmos of my body,
always room for
1. “Carceral” – Mandala Journal
2. “The Pepper Vine” – The Medulla Review
3. “Secret Theatres” – The Nervous Breakdown
4. “Light Years” – The Nervous Breakdown
5. “Hanuman” – Barely South Review
6.. “Distant Star” – Superstition Review
7. “Mirrors” – Drunken Boat
8. “This Suffering” – Sarasvati
9. “Sun-Swallower” – Superstition Review
Sharanya Manivannan is the author of a book of poems, Witchcraft. A recent Pushcart Prize nominee and a past recipient of the Lavanya Sankaran Fellowship, her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in Drunken Boat, Killing The Buddha, Pratilipi, The Nervous Breakdown, Superstition Review and elsewhere. Her current projects include Bulletproof Offering, a collection of poems on Sita and Lucifer, and The High Priestess Never Marries, a collection of short stories. She can be found online at www.sharanyamanivannan.com.
This article first appeared in the Kindle Journal.