Here’s another abhanga of Tukaram.

You can hear it here, here with English interpretation, and here with yet another English interpretation and extended exposition.


Literal Translation

Too small to measure a speck [alt: atomic particles]
Tuka is as vast as the sky

Swallowing dropped on its side
The shape of the misconception of worldly existence

Dropped the trichotomy [of grammar]
The lamp brightened in the vessel

Tuka says now
I remain for fulfilling favors [alt: obligations]


It is the stirring spiritual experience of Oneness. Tuka is smaller than the smallest and vaster than the vastest. He has cast off the mask of illusion that covers reality. He has dropped all separation that is inherent in the normal workings of the mind. After this realization, he remains in the world, not for himself but for others.

As I was reading this poem, I noticed that it has both my father’s name and my name in it – so it’s special.


Poetic Translation

Smaller than atomic flecks,
As vast as the vast welkin:
All things are in Tuka
And Tuka is in everything.

I have swallowed and cast aside
The shape that hides this existence;
Me and you and all things done
Are gone in the Self’s luminence.

Tuka says I press no claims
But only give to the Name in names.


Please read the comments below for an organic discussion of this translation, or read the “finished” version of these translations here: (pdf).


28 thoughts on “Anurenu

  1. Alt. for “atomic flecks” could be “the smallest speck”

    Alt. for “shape” could be “form”. The original says shape, but form probably goes better in sense and sound.

    Alt. for “are gone” could be “dissolve” or “drop”

    Alt. for “press” could be “have”, making it softer, but also not as emphatic.

    Alt. for the last line could be

    But only serve the Name in names.

    If the experience leads to action, the last line could be rendered:

    But glorify the Name in names.

  2. Smaller than the smallest speck,
    As vast as the vast welkin:
    All things are in Tuka
    And Tuka is in everything.

    I have swallowed and cast aside
    The form that hides this existence;
    Me and you and all things done
    Are gone in the Self’s luminence.

    Tuka says I press no claims
    But only serve the Name in names.

  3. last line would modulate depending on Tukaram’s path of yoga – ‘serve’ suits the bhakta. Form sounds better as it has a dimension higher than the material shape.
    Me and you and all things done
    you mean, Me and you and all things made/created? not as in finished/completed?

  4. The trichotomy of grammar is the subject-object-verb, which I have rendered as me, you, and done. The subject-object separation, based on ego-sense, is fundamental to language development. The structure of language/grammar and ego-sense is ingrained in the mind. Tukaram says he has dropped this trichotomy, meaning dropped the ego-sense, the separation between himself, not-himself and any connective action.

  5. Here’s another take on this one:

    Though smaller than small,
    Tukaram says, I
    Am as big as the sky:
    A oneness is all.

    Reality unmasked,
    You and I are dimmed —
    The true self is limned.
    Now I serve unasked.

  6. One or two immediate comments; I’ll get back to it again. Each couplet in Tukaram makes complete sense, and that form has an organic character which must also happen in any rendering. Tukaram’s composition is Upanishadic, in experience and also in expression; yet it has the bhakti’s lyrical psychic. Translation appears more metaphysical conveying spiritual realisation rather than opening spiritual-psychic doors.

  7. Well, that’s one tall order :-). If I got one of them, the spiritual part, I’m happy. Bhakti also is there in “serving the Name in names”. Lyricism is for a future Bhimsen Joshi to discover.

  8. No, no, no. Don’t give up. You cannot. It’s only a question of inspiration being allowed to get settled down. There is the possibility, a positive one, and therefore my insistence — if I may say so.

  9. The last one (Though … unasked) gives the bare essential idea. The previous one is more lyrical but of the same nature (idea). If something else like intuition has to be pulled down into the translation, I will have to start over from the original and the literal translation … let’s see. Btw, I’ve not seen something like “sandili triputi” in the Upanishads to describe the main experience.

  10. “I will have to start over from the original” — I’ll recommend you that. The first couplet in Tukaram’s is absolutely Upanishadic; the idiom is vernacular in the others, but the spirit the same.

  11. So here is the reference. It has the whole thing – smaller than atoms yet larger than the world, grammar, brightening lamp, piercing the mask, etc. (except the service part).

    Mundaka 2/2/2:

    yadarcimad yadaNubhyo-Nu ca
    yasmillokA nihitA lokinaSca
    tadetadakSaram brahma sa prANastadu vangmanah
    tadetat satyam tadamrutam tad veddhavyam somya viddhi

    That which is the Luminous, that which is smaller than the atoms, that in which are set the worlds and their peoples, That is This, — it is Brahman immutable: life is That, it is speech and mind. That is This, the True and Real, it is That which is immortal: it is into That that thou must pierce, O fair son, into That penetrate.


  12. Oh! That section ends with the most amazing poetry, and it continues into the beginning of the next:

    In a supreme golden sheath the Brahman lies, stainless, without parts. A Splendour is That, It is the Light of Lights, It is That which the self-knowers know.

    There the sun shines not and the moon has no splendour and the stars are blind; there these lightnings flash not, how then shall burn this earthly fire? All that shines is but the shadow of His shining; all this universe is effulgent with His light.

    All this is Brahman immortal, naught else; Brahman is in front of us, Brahman behind us, and to the south of us and to the north of us and below us and above us; it stretches everywhere. All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent universe.

    Two birds, beautiful of wing, close companions, cling to one common tree: of the two one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other eats not but watches his fellow.

    The soul is the bird that sits immersed on the one common tree; but because he is not lord he is bewildered and has sorrow. But when he sees that other who is the Lord and beloved, he knows that all is His greatness and his sorrow passes away from him.

    When, a seer, he sees the Golden-hued, the maker, the Lord, the Spirit who is the source of Brahman, then he becomes the knower and shakes from his wings sin and virtue; pure of all stain he reaches the supreme identity.


    hiraNmaye pare koSe virajam brahma niSkalam
    taccHubhram jyotiSam jyotistad yadAtmavido viduh

    na tatra sUryo bhati na candratArakam
    nema vidyuto bhanti kuto-yamagnih
    nameva bhantamanubhati sarvam
    tasya bhasa sarvamidam vibhati

    brahmaivedamamrutam purastAd brahma paScAd brahma dakSiNataScottareNa
    adhaScordhva ca prasrutam brahmaivedam viSvamidam variSTham

    dvA suparNA sakhAyA samAnam vrukSam pariSasvajAte
    tayoranyah pippalam svAdvattyanaSnannanyo abhicAkSIti

    samAne vrukSe puruSo nimagno-nISayA Socati muhyamAnah
    juSTam yadA paSyatyanyamISamasya mahimAnamiti vItaSokah

    yadA paSyah paSyate rukmavarNa kartAramISam puruSam brahmayonim
    tadA idvAn puSyapApe vidhUya niranjanah paramam sAmyamupaiti



  13. The “vangmanah” (speech and mind) of the Upanishad has been carried forward into the “triputi” of the abhanga across 2000 or 3500 or more years (depending on whose account of history you go by). What were the social traditions for this transmission – not just from one poet to another, but also in the people who could understand what was said?

  14. Good you got it. I’ll revisit them when I get some time. The spiritual experience is an ever-living tradition in India, across millennia, and the tradition is to create tradition in new manners of expression. This reference to finer than the fine is there in Savitri also, of course.

  15. Life was not there, but an impassioned force,
    Finer than fineness, deeper than the deeps
    Felt as a subtle and spiritual power,
    A quivering out from soul to answering soul,
    A mystic movement, a close influence,
    A free and happy and intense approach
    Of being to being with no screen or check,
    Without which life and love could never have been. ||Savitri, 76.3||

  16. A similar experience (of being simultaneously the point and the world, the spray and the ocean, etc.) is there in “Utterly I Gave” elsewhere on this blog:

    I am a point of concentration of the boundless world

    I am in distant space far-flung, in time serialed,
    Each atom in the cosmos yields to me its causeless charms.
    I am the ocean wide, the tidal wave, the fountain of spray,

  17. Taking another look at the original … The first feature is the compactness and density of expression – four rhyming couplets of 8+8, 10+8, 6+8, and 6+10 syllables. The second feature is the poetic device of paradox or “shock” or awakening suggestion – e.g., smaller > bigger, speaking grammatically about not speaking grammatically, dropping by laying waste to (which is the secondary meaning of the word sand*), the vessel which could be the personal body or the entire universe. Then there is the voice or person: Tuka speaking in the third person about himself gives a sense of impersonality and universality; someone else speaking of Tuka in the third person sounds like a mundane report. Finally, the content itself …

  18. Here’s your order, with cherry on top – it has the same rhyming couplet structure with the same number of syllables in each line as the original.


    Measuring less than measurement
    I’m as vast as the firmament

    The mask the Universe uses to hide
    I’ve swallowed whole and cast aside

    Dropping words tripartite
    Body and world are filled with light

    I’m free, I have no claims
    I only serve the Name in all the names

  19. Measuring less than measurement
    Tuka enormity of the firmament

    Illusion of the world uses to hide –
    Swallowed its shape, is cast aside

    Dropping words with sense and sound and sight
    Body and all around filled with light

    Tuka is free, he has no claim
    In names serves only the Name

    Thanks for serving a fine dish, I relish it! This is infinitely more acceptable…

    Hence… took the liberty of redrafting at places

  20. Well, for sure you have given up the triputi of grammar :-). But I see what you are doing — making it informal and vernacular like the original. Also the third person is quite natural.

    I wanted to constrain the syllable count to the original and still catch its sense. With that, I could change the last couplet taking your inversion to make it more natural:

    I’m free, I have no claim
    In all the names I serve only the Name

    Or else, bring Tuka back in thus:

    I’m free, Tuka exclaims
    I only serve the Name in all the names

  21. If I may touch up your version:

    Measuring less than measurement
    Tuka’s enormity is the firmament

    Illusion the world uses to hide,
    Swallowing its shape, is cast aside

    Dropping words and sense and sound and sight
    The body and surroundings are filled with light

    Tuka is free, he has no claim
    In names he serves only the Name

  22. Measuring less than measurement
    Tuka’s enormity is the firmament

    Illusion the world uses to hide,
    Swallowing its shape, is cast aside

    Dropping words, and sense and sound and sight,
    The body and surroundings filled with light

    Tuka is free, and he exclaims —
    O to serve the Name in all the names

    I think the piece has arrived at its happy point.

  23. In line 6, “are” is needed before “filled” to agree in tense with the rest, and also scans better imo. Triputi has given the slip, but otherwise good.

  24. I’m not sure if “are” is needed; often in such compositions the verb is understood, is to be supplied by the reader if he feels so. The rhythm also looks better without it, “are” tends to drag it a bit. But I leave it to you.

  25. “triputi” is such a rich word! It could mean the Vedic tridhatu in a certain sense, the three steps of the Dwarf, the three divisions of time, trikala drishti, the three grammatical aspects, observer-tools of observation-observation, the potter-his wheel-the pot, bhakta-bhagavan-bhagavat, teacher-disciple-shkisha, the three gunas, and so on. Any of these could be picked up to indicate that relationship, sense-sound-sight is representative of this triple character.

  26. As it stands, “filled” fills in as the verb instead of forming the intended adjectival phrase.

  27. Re triputi, yes it has those associations, but the first meaning is the technical, grammatical, one – as seen in the Upanishad’s “vang-manah”. In any case, now the whole matter stands before readers …

  28. Beautiful abhang, and thanks for providing a ringside seat to observe the process of its interpretation.

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