~ The fragrance of a young girl’s love endures a thousand years ~
My debut novel Andal’s Garland intertwines the stories of two women – Andal, in eighth century India, and Saisha, a contemporary Australian. Saisha discovers Andal’s songs and is convinced they hold the key to her fractured sexuality and understanding of love. Andal’s adoration of the Divine is her touchstone for exploring love’s transformative power.
There is a call throughout the world to restore women to their natural place within religious ceremony. It is my hope Andal’s Garland can play a small part in the growing appreciation of the feminine in cosmology.
Enchanting – if I had to use just one word for Andal’s Garland that would be it. This is a superb accomplishment. The story with its dual timelines is beautifully realized. – Inez Baranay, author of Turn Left at Venus
A transporting story with an intriguing mystical edge. Those who’ve succumbed to India’s magical pull will find Burns the perfect guide on a path to the feet of Andal, an extraordinary girl ‘with a green parrot perched on her shoulder’. – Susan Kurosawa, Author and Associate Editor (Travel) at The Australian
I have no doubt that Helen Burns writes under the immense and long-reaching aegis of Andal herself. Saisha’s longings resonate with echoes from a distant time, in which a young poet learns to transcend the world through verses that reveal the secrets of the aching heart and the eager body. – Sharanya Manivannan, author of The Queen of Jasmine Country
A thoroughly researched dive into Indian and Tamil life; a sensory story brimming with culture, daily rituals, and the longing of the heart for something more. Thank you so much for the journey. – Benjamin J Ryan author of Beckoning at the Gate
An immersive experience of the rich and sensual magic of India. This is a real search for enlightenment story that includes tantra, yoga, chakras, gurus and the path from base desires to spiritual awareness… a search for meaning in a changing world, a story about the importance of beauty, art and poetry, and a love song to India. – Cass Moriarty, author of The Promise Seed
In the years at my desk drafting Andal’s Garland most days I wrote in silence … birds, wind, ocean waves, the exception. But when I was lost for words I’d set off on a long walk, work in the garden, or turn to music. Here is a compilation of those times, a weaving of western and Indian, classical and contemporary in no particular order. Enjoy!
A Garland of Love
~ Illuminating Andal’s Tiruppavai ~
Unique among India’s pantheon of gods, Andal remains relatively unknown in the West. The only female among Tamil Nadu’s twelve poet-saints, Andal transcended her earthly roots and is now revered as a goddess. Andal’s two poems – the thirty verses of her Tiruppavai and one hundred and forty three verses of the Nacciyar Tirumoli – describe her journey from humble devotee to mystical bride. They also provide rich insight into a golden age of South Indian temple culture. Lyrical, and at times deceptively simple, her songs are, above all, profound.
As my intrigue of Andal deepened I sourced as many translations of her work as I could find. All of them were by Tamil devotees, academics or historians. Immersing myself, verse by verse, seemed the most direct way to understand this mythic girl of a thousand years ago. Creating interpretive translations felt like a natural progression – seeking the commonality in each of the translations I’d found and always mindful of staying close to the essence of her work.
Andal’s eighth century poetry is interpreted for a new audience in this book of beauty, surrender and love. Read as a narrative each of the Tiruppavai’s thirty verses unfold as flower buds in a garland might, revealing Andal’s ultimate desire – merging into grace. Sumptuously illustrated, this companion to the novel Andal’s Garland transports us to the world Andal imagined – a timeless world still alive today in the hearts and minds of those who encounter her songs. Steeped in luscious images of nature and alive with myth, her songs at their core are a deep yearning for the divine.
Lines from these translations begin each chapter in Andal’s Garland and are woven into the story. But to publish her Tiruppavai verses as a whole was a dream I quietly held – as a tribute to Andal, and a way of returning all the kindnesses shown to me during my many visits to her temple. So it was fortuitous, quite possibly by the grace of a goddess, that I reconnected with Alison, a close friend from decades ago. We both just happened to be in India at the same time. Alison in the North with her camera and me in the South with pen and paper. We met in Australia and hatched a plan. Our collaboration was a joy and in just over a year A Garland of Love was born.
A rare and sensory experience of devotional verse with kaleidoscopic images, including contemporary Indian photographs. Each page is compiled with loving intelligence and insights that can only be gained by keen observation and firsthand experience. As such, this book enables an intimacy with esoteric ideas about divinity and spirituality. – Marina MX Noar ~ Master of Education and Yoga, Author: “Book of Sighs”
The Way Is a River of Stars
~ A Buddhist’s Journey on the Camino Santiago ~
Beautifully written. The most picturesque of the twelve Camino books I have read. This is a wonderful study of the melding of the Spanish church and Buddhist thought. – John P. Mcclain
Helen Burns has a wonderful command of the English language and at times her lyrical prose resonates like that of Laurie Lee or Fitzgerald, invoking pictures and emotions in the reader through her gentle, almost poetic writing. I have read many books on the Camino Frances and this now rates as one of my favourites. – Sylvia Nilsen
Helen Burns deepened my admiration for the Buddhist tradition. She helped me see the commonality between our faith traditions and at the same time enriched my own spiritual practice which is Catholic …a wonderful memoir of her lively and deep encounters with other pilgrims, her honesty about the physical hardships she faced and which each pilgrim must face, and her knowledge of the long and varied history of the Camino. I would be remiss not to admire as well the author’s wonderful writing, which is at once humorous, informative, poetic in the best sense, and always deeply engaging. It was no surprise to learn that Helen Burns is also a poet. I would look forward to a book of her poetry. – Kathy Hohn Dahm
The Way is a River of Stars is a gentle paced book, as it should be. Each chapter begins with a new day. The terrain crossed, unfolded for me as if I was there, such is this writer’s command of lyricism and language. This is a journey that takes the well worn path beneath the stars of The Milky Way but it is also offers much more. For a Caminophile, an aspiring pilgrim or a reader simply curious to know how one woman arrives at the heart of what really matters in life; this is a book that delivers. Highly recommended. – Ujang Tinggi