The word, “nirvāṇarūpaṃ,” rests in the first line of Tulsidas’s devotional poem, “Rudrāṣṭakam.” It is a compound word that means, “the form of nirvana.” It is referring to Lord Shiva, and the particular book I am reading translates it as, “eternal bliss personified.”
That is a lovely translation, one that plays my body like a sarod, my bones ringing in sympathetic harmony to the glories of creation. It is like a spell cast on my knees, weakening their very muscles until they collapse to the ground. It has become my muse for the night, and it inspires the question, “What is the verbal root of nirvana?”
Studying Sanskrit is another way for me to practice my devotion. I have a restless mind, the kind that would enjoy scrabble or a crossword or filling silence with meaningless words. I study Sanskrit for the same reason I write poetry. I am not disciplined enough to sit and meditate on the word “nirvāṇarūpaṃ” for 5 hours straight, but I find my own strange way, following inspiration like bread crumbs as I traverse the depths of the heart. First I find the page I need from the tomes of Sanskrit grammar. Loosening it from its binding, I then meticulously fold it into an origami murti and place it on the altar of the wind.
Nirvana comes from the root √vā “to blow.” It is in the past passive participle form “vāna,” meaning “blown.” It has the prefix “nis”, which here means “out.” Nirvana is final liberation, a state reached when the last trace of desire has been “blown out” or “extinguished.” Rupa is form, the manifestation of nirvana.
I quite like the translation of “eternal bliss personified.” It’s a poetic one that inspires devotion, reminding us that worship of the Beloved’s form is the highest bliss. The gods in heaven rain down flowers on the poet who translates it this way, knowing as they do how it captures the devotional mood. Tulsidas sings with them in a unison of praise, for he also writes in this bhāv. His words are arrows of fire. They melt the thoughts of even the most restless mind.
This flame reaches its climax at the Rudrāṣṭakam’s end. My eyes wince at the brightness of the page, and the night sky mistakenly prepares for the Sun. Lifetimes of longing are awakened in an instant when I read those glorious words, “O Lord! I do not know yoga, japa, or ritual worship. O Shambhu! I simply bow to you at all times and at every moment.”