I was born in the year 1972, my most significant life event. More importantly, the same year, a wonderful translation of 12 Rig Veda hymns was taking place. Jean Le Mée, extraordinary Engineer and poet, powered by his interest in Sanskrit, completed his Sanskrit studies from Columbia University and published “Hymns from the Rig-Veda”, first edition in 1975. Jean says in the book’s introduction, “Precious or durable materials – gold, silver, bronze, marble, onyx, or granite – have been used by most ancient peoples in an attempt to immortalise their achievements. Not so, however, with the ancient Aryans. They turned to what may seem the most volatile and insubstantial material of all – the spoken word – and out of this bubble of air fashioned a monument which more than thirty, perhaps forty, centuries later stands untouched by time or the elements. For the Pyramids have been eroded by the desert wind, the marble broken by earthquakes, and the gold stolen by robbers, while the Veda remains recited daily by an unbroken chain of generations, traveling like a great wave through the living substance of the mind”
Jean Le Mée’s interests range from Engineering Research, Education and Design, to Sacred Architecture and Geometry, to Sanskrit and the study of Grammar. He is Emeritus Professor of Engineering at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City and is retired from his work as Cooper Union’s Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Director of Curriculum Development and Innovation. He now spends time in continued research and occasional lecturing. More about Jean here!
But, what does all this have to do with me? As many of you might know, I’m an Engineer by qualification and recently made the 180 degree change in career after a 20 year tenure in various organisations in the Technology sector. I revived my deep interest in yoga, mantra & especially the Vedas after deciding to follow my own truth, inspired by family tradition. In the process of study, I came across the works of Dr.R.L.Kashyap and started studying with his organisation SAKSHI. Meanwhile I’m also studying chanting with Sri M.S. Sreenivasan of the Challakere Brothers. I know this story seems to be going all over the place, but it really isn’t. This is really exactly how it has happened, all of this, a part of the whole story!
The chanting classes with Guruji Sreenivasan drives all my study. I chant, the mantra then draws me into its meaning. But I’m no seer, so I accept help to see. I study translations, I talk to my teachers, I read and I think. In the summer of 2018, I fall completely in love with Devī Sūktam from the Rig Veda. The kampa or the thrilling, tremulous notes of this mantra – a certain technicality in this mantra, was something I had not encountered in any other mantra thus far! This led me to study the meaning of the mantra. Surely, there had to be something equally thrilling, if not more in this mantra! Here you can listen to my recitation of the Devī Sūktam:
In Dr.R.L.Kashyap’s book, the 10th Rig Veda Mandala translation, he quotes Jean Le Mée’s translation of Devī Sūktam that simply took my breath away. I had to know who this person was, who had this gift, to write such a deeply empowering poem to honour the Devī Sūktam. Jean says in his introduction to this hymn: “Here, with extraordinary poetic power and in words reminiscent of the Proverbs of Solomon and of Dante, Vak, the Word, is exalted “beyond the Heavens and beyond this broad Earth.” This word of knowledge, of wisdom – the sound of Truth itself – is the source and nourisher of Creation”. Here is Jean’s translation of the first three verses of the hymn, where he maintains the number of syllables per line as in the mantra (chandas or meter), and where possible matches the English sounds to the Sanskrit syllables of the mantra. He says, ” Perhaps the deeper and ultimate hope of the translator is to persuade the reader, by showing him a pale reflection of the beauty and depth of the original, to take up himself the study of the Language of the Gods that he in turn may experience the wonder, the joy, and the knowledge which are within him but need the mantric impulse to be liberated“.
I move with roaring, howling, and radiant might,
I move with the infinite and nature’s powers,
I hold the love of the Lord of Lords, I hold
The fire of the soul, I hold life and healing.
I possess the sacred potion and I wield
The power to create, to nourish and give.
Indeed, I strengthen him who sacrifices,
The mindful one, the generous, him who serves.
I am the Queen, gatherer of abundance,
Knowing and wise, always supreme in worship.
Divine powers appointed me in all places;
I have many homes, I enter many forms.
A series of internet events later, Jean and I are email friends! He responds not only with warmth and careful attention, but by sending me the different editions of his books, signed with blessings for the work I do.
The story doesn’t end. Fast forward 6 months or so to 2019, my friend Ash who lives in Dublin, sends me a little message asking if I could be added to a What’sapp group for a bunch of college friends planning a reunion in NYC! I joined this group, with no real intent to go to NYC, but more to say hello to this amazing group of friends who shared 4 years of Engineering bootcamp together. Besides, I’m famous for pulling off quick trips to India, it was possible to do this in the other direction. I would never have on my own accord made the decision to go, but my husband booking the flight for me made everything happen for real! I find myself in NYC, having an amazing time with my cousin and these college friends, most of whom I had not seen in 25 years!
It was the perfect time to meet. Since my career change, I had dived deep into my study of Vedas, full immersion. This reunion was such a great experience of yoga in action, the love, attention and unconditional friendship of the most amazing group of smart, bright, loving people! My dear friends follow me through life changes.
The excitement didn’t end here, Jean Le Mée and his wife Katherine came to see me for brunch and I still can’t believe my good fortune of meeting them! Jean came loaded with precious presents for me, most significant of all, I received a wonderful job title from him – Shantala, the Vedic Engineer! There it was, my past and present uniting, in the the most succinct poetic way!
Jean & Katherine, both of whom I consider incredible poets, of course, follow up with poems, here’s what was waiting for me in my inbox as soon as I arrive back in Brussels:
You left and the rain started.
Tears of sadness from heaven.
But sap of hope for the earth.
And in our hearts a rekindled
Light from the embers.
of an old Fire—
But Fire has no age.
And you are that Fire.
A Fire to be our friend.
Thank you for the time you gave us.
Thank YOU dear Jean & Katherine!
Jean’s books are no longer in print, but you see, the cosmic forces are all in the book, collaborating on how to get to us. Especially for those of us in Europe, Jean’s book is genius in that it contains French, German & Spanish translations! Perhaps this is a call to the Universe to allow these translations to reach aspirants, so indeed, as Jean says, may we experience the wonder, the joy, and the knowledge which are within us but need the mantric impulse to be liberated.
Side note: Katherine is the author of bestselling book ‘Chant’ – a different blog on that later!