I have found it easy to be a Hindu.

You can believe in God without engaging in any form of worship, or you can be indifferent to the existence of a supernatural being as such.

You can worship a personal God in the form of an idol, pray to a picture, or simply perceive the presence of the divine as an abstract entity anywhere and everywhere.

You can go out and seek a place of worship, or find God within your own heart. Continue reading

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Prameyasaram: A translation

In the Sri Vaishnava school of thought a teacher, or guru, is given an exalted place. Says Kuratazhwan of his teacher, Ramanujacharya, ‘He removes the ignorance of persons like myself (asmadh gurOho). Disregarding my mistakes, he showers his goodness on me (Bhagavathaha) and presents himself before me of his own accord (asya). He cannot tolerate another’s suffering and to those who are in distress he is an ocean of compassion (dhayaikasinDHOho).’

Arulaala Perumal Emperumanar another direct disciple of that great ascetic, Ramanujacharya, has also composed several verses eulogising the guru. His compositions, Jnanasaaram and Prameyasaaram, expound on the nature of the seeker (jivatma), the nature of that which is to be sought (Paramatma) , and the nature of the one who leads the seeker towards the goal (guru).

I have translated the ten Tamil verses of Prameyasaram into English as a humble tribute to Ramanujacharya, whose 1000th birth anniversary was just celebrated. The booklet is uploaded here as a PDF file: Udaiyavar1000


Essence of the true knowledge of things: Prameya-saram

Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar was a direct disciple of Ramanujacharya, whose thousandth birth anniversary will be celebrated on May 1, 2017. Arulaala has composed two prabandha-s (a literary composition, particularly a poetical one), namely Jnanasaram[1] and Prameyasaram[2].  The former composition is said to be an exposition of the Dvaya Mantram[3] and the latter, of the Tirumantram[4], [5]. Together with the Charama Slokam, they constitute what is called the Rahasyatrayam[6], a foundational concept in the Sri Vaishnava school of thought.

Taken together Jnanasaram, which has thirty verses and Prameyasaram, which has ten verses expound on the nature of the seeker (jivatma[7]), the nature of that which is to be sought (Paramatma[8]) , and the nature of the one who leads the seeker towards the goal (guru).

‘…The inborn desire for a state of peace and happiness inevitably moves towards a serious consideration of the nature of the self… The search for a solution takes us to experts in the field to get at this foundation source of knowledge which furnishes the supreme equipment that we need..’, writes Prof. V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar in a scholarly exposition titled ‘What am I?’

Keeping the above quoted observation of my preceptor in mind, I have tried to translate the verses of Prameyasaram as a humble tribute to that great ascetic, Ramanuja, a milestone in whose honour we are fortunate to celebrate this year.  A free translation of the verses together with their meanings in brief are posted here. A longer version with the original verses in Tamil, transliteration in English, and detailed commentary will be made available in the next few months.

Thaniyan (Invocatory hymn)

At all times, without end, think of and honour, O mortals,

The feet of the unpretentious ascetic Arulaala.

He lives in lush Pudipuliman with its wealth of gardens

And gave us the noble Prameyasaram* which gently reveals.

*(The true knowledge of things = pramEyam; Essence = sAram).

 thAthparyam (Meaning)

This is an invocatory verse (thaniyan) in praise of both the composition, Prameyasaram, and its composer, Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar.

Manavaala Maamuni begins his commentary on Prameyasaram with this verse. The saint calls upon the people of the world to meditate on the great ascetic, Arulaala, who is humility personified and who has presented the world with a composition that encapsulates the essence of that which is worth knowing.

pAsuram (verse) 1

Supplicants are all sentient beings to the Universal Spirit

proclaimed the preceptor –

Those who have heard and heed this precept,

Liberation is theirs, I assert.

 

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 The sentient being (jivatma) is both knowledgeable and ignorant, self-confident and angst-ridden. The Supreme Real (Paramatma), in contrast, is omnipotent and the embodiment of eternal bliss. He is a repository of incomparable auspicious qualities, completely lacking in vices. The wise seers who have understood the true identities of these two entities reveal that the way to happiness for the jivatma is to recognise that he is subservient to and dependent on the Paramatma.

pAsuram (verse) 2

Society is one, life forms, many;

The same elements of Nature constitute all life forms

but individual vocations differ.

Forsaking the advice of selfless seers produces such inequities.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 We are unable to come to terms with the inequities we perceive in this world because we neglect the advice of selfless seers (refer to verse 1 to recall this advice whose only motive is to uplift humanity that is disenchanted.

Even though individual actors are countless in number, all of us belong to one human family. Life forms and vocations differ, but the same elements of Nature constitute all beings. Equally for all God is the Original Cause (kAraNam) and God is the Ultimate Salvation (rakshaNam), and equally are we all supplicants of that Supreme Real. This is the underlying message.

pAsuram (verse) 3

Desiring possessions, interred in a cesspool of sin –

If this be your lot, to what avail being in the family of the faithful?

By spanning the world with His two feet aeons ago

Has He not taken custody of each and every one?

thAthparyam (Meaning)

By straddling the universe God[9] has shown the inclusive nature of His prowess. Nothing and no one falls outside the ambit of His protection and His authority. ‘I am yours. You will take care of me.’ This is the attitude that a jivatma should try to cultivate. Knowing this, what can one say if those who belong to the community of the faithful still perceive themselves as independent agents and exert themselves for personal profit?[10]

pAsuram (verse) 4

Self-effort, physical or mental, will it help to see

That holy pair of feet which are the sole refuge?

These are the feet of He who churned the waters once long ago,

Bridged it, caused it to be and then lay down on it.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The Lord’s pair of feet at once represent His inconceivable prowess and His incredible simplicity. This contradiction cannot be questioned; it has to be understood. And, this knowledge cannot be acquired through self-effort – physical or mental. It is a realization that can come only through His grace.

However, He has repeatedly demonstrated this twin quality of mEnmai (immeasurable worth) and nIrmai (incomparable softness) that coexist in Him in order to make it easy for us to comprehend.[11]

pAsuram (verse) 5

There is but one path. Once this is seen,

all other paths are given up. One feels no qualms

about remaining passive as it is in submission to the Lord.

Such an attitude is but a blessing conferred by him.

 

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 Once you have grasped the essence of true knowledge which is conveyed by the selfless spiritual master (See Verse 1 of this composition and also footnote on Pillai Lokacharya’s statements, Verse 3), the path to emancipation becomes clear. You perform every action and accept every experience in a spirit of submission to His will. Everything else becomes inconsequential.

Liberation from the encumbrance of exertion and expectation is the end result of His grace. 

pAsuram (verse) 6

If perceived as it is, is there any one thing

we can lay claim to as ours?  

To Him who is not deficient in any way,

What can we say, we who have nothing to call our own?

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 When the identity of your self and the Supreme Real are understood in the right manner (see verse 1 and earlier verses of this composition), is there anything you can break away and claim as your own, over which the Paramatma can have no claim whatsoever?

When everything is His, including you and yours, and He is flawless by nature, what is there left to pray for?   Won’t He take care of His own?

pAsuram (verse) 7

There’s nothing you lack, and there’s nothing I have:

So we both are on equal footing. Does it occur

To anyone to claim this equivalence with God?

Know this to be the path shown by the Veda.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 No one has succeeded in establishing equivalence with God: Has this occurred to anyone? That there is nothing He can ask for since everything that exists is already His, and there is nothing we can give Him since there is nothing that is ours, including our selves: He doesn’t lack anything and so don’t we because everything is His, and so are we. This is the path shown by the Veda, which is now being made explicit for the benefit of all.

pAsuram (verse) 8

Wealth and want, delight, distress, disease, downsides

They come and go – fret not over them.

Free from care, pray with devotion

Such piety will put you on par with denizens of Paradise.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

 Wealth and loss of wealth, pleasure and pain, disease and death are different stages in life that will come and go. Drop wishes and worries concerning these from your prayers. Instead, sing His praises without any self-interest. Such selfless devotees will find an everlasting place alongside the denizens in the abode of the Lord.

pAsuram (verse) 9

To fail to treat as God incarnate the one who has shown the path

And to madly vilify such a guru instead

Will ensnare one in endless life cycles. 

Firm faith will secure eternal paradise

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The guru who has steered you towards the feet[12] of Iswara is to be worshipped as God incarnate. To insult him instead by treating him as a mere mortal like any other will keep you entrapped in an endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth. In contrast, those who venerate their preceptor unequivocally will find eternal bliss.

pAsuram (verse) 10

The deity and the devotee, and the bond between them

And the words of the Veda that affirm this link –

It was all obscure till the (spiritual) master came.

When he did, everything became clear.

thAthparyam (Meaning)

The svarupa (characteristics) of Paramatma and jivatma and the nature of the relationship between these two entities are explained in the Veda, which are eternal, and hence always extant. But with none to explain their content, the people at large remained lost due to their ignorance[13]. But when such a preceptor emerged, the true knowledge of things (pramEya) also came to light[14].

[1] Pronunciation: jnyAnasAram

[2] Pronunciation: pramEyasAram

[3] See earlier post on Dvaya Mantra.

[4] The eight-syllabled and eight-lettered mantra, Om namO nArAyaNAYa is known as the Tirumantram or the Tiruvashtaaksharam. In brief it means, ‘I submit my all to Narayana’.

[5] This observation is made by Manavaala Maamuni(maNavALa mAmuni) , who is deferentially referred to as the great seer (mAmuni), in his commentary for the two compositions.

[6] Our pUrvachAryA-s were seers blessed with knowledge that did not suffer from the blemishes of ignorance, delusion, illusion, and forgetfulness. They proclaimed that the essence of the Veda-s (scriptures, believed to be the source of ancient Indian philosophy, and various schools of Hindu thought) are contained in these Rahasya Mantras (deep secrets held in an aphoristic form).

The extract below is a brief note on the Veda from V.T.Tirunarayana Iyengar’s initiation lesson in English titled The Acarya:

‘Indian dhArshaNikA-s are not original thinkers in the sense Western philosophers are. Their thought structure is based on experience. The book reflecting the thought structure is known as the Veda. It covers experience extending to eternity. The Veda is therefore treated as beyond the province of any producing agent. They are valid for all. On this assumption, Indian thinking is developed and schools of dharshana have emerged. The great thinkers are regarded as participants in a cosmic symposium on experience on the platform of time.’

[7] Pronunciation:  jIvAthmA

[8] Pronunciation: paramAthmA

[9] The allusion here is to the Vamana avatara episode, in which Vishnu assumes the guise of a diminutive mendicant and later transforms himself into the gigantic Trivikrama, stretching from earth to sky and beyond, in order to deflate the ego of the mighty king Bali, who, proud of his invincibility, had become a menace to the divinities.

Vamana is not only diminutive, he is also a mendicant. Should the Lord of the universe have to beg for alms? But he did. This shows the extent to which he would humble himself for the sake of his devotees.

Vamana’s purpose was not only to protect the divinities but also to redeem Bali himself.  Arrogance, ostentation and conceit are demoniac qualities which consign a jivatma to bondage, says Sri Krishna in the Gita. And the Lord wanted to save Bali who had succumbed to these qualities, as he was blameless otherwise.

Vamana asked for three measures of land from the king, Bali, and when it was granted, the diminutive Vamana grew into the gigantic Trivikrama who straddled the worlds in just two steps. ‘Where shall I place the third step?’ he asks Bali, who bends down, contrite, and shows his head. The Lord places his foot on Bali’s head and in so doing, liberates him or grants him moksha.

[10] The following statements (71 and 72) from Pillai Lokacharya’s Sri VachanaBhushanam may be recalled here:

  1. ஸ்வய்த்ந நிவ்ருத்தி பாரதந்த்ரய பலம்; ஸ்வப்ரயோஜந நிவ்ருத்தி ஶேஷத்வ பலம்.

Demands on the self cease when one recognizes one’s dependence (on the Paramatma). Desire for personal profits cease when one submits oneself completely (to the Paramatma). 

  1. பரப்ரயோஜந ப்ரவ்ருத்தி ப்ரயத்ந பலம்; த்த்விஷய ப்ரீதி சைதந்ய பலம்.

To advance God’s work is the purpose of all effort. To enjoy doing this is the purpose of life.

[11] The Lord manifested Himself in different forms at various points in time such as in the dashAvatArA-s. The Lord  also presents Himself for perpetual veneration and worship in accessible, iconic forms that the devout give Him as in various shrines.

[12] The bodily organ that helps you walk on a path are your legs. It is the feet, therefore, that are worshipped as they metaphorically help you progress on the right path towards God (From an initiation lesson in Tamil by V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar. Translation mine.)

[13] ‘The royal road to emancipation, mukti, trodden by the ancient seers and sages was strewn with thorns and thistles gathered by the views and words of philosophers whose views were narrow and dogmatic. As a result of this people lost sight of the right view and way of life and were groping in the dark in despair.’ (From V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar’s Sruta Prakasika – The Sacred System of the Vedanta According to Sri Ramanuja – Revealed as Received by Sudarsana (Part I))

[14] ‘With a view to helping them [see previous footnote] to see clearly the truth, being convinced that the ancient seers, who had the undisputed gift of insight and discrimination pursued the path which was safe and smooth, Ramanuja refuted all the untenable theories and re-established the irrefutable view which was recognized and followed by one long tradition.’ (ibid).


The Dvaya Mantra: Divinity is a team of two

Following is an attempt to provide a barebones meaning of the Dvaya Mantra which, along with the Tirumantra and the Charama Sloka  have been the subject of erudite theses that have stood the test of time[1].

 Dvaya Mantra:

srIman nArAyaNa charaNau sharaNam prapadyE .

srImathE nArAyaNAya namaha.

 Meaning:

sriman: He who is one with Sri (sriyata iti srI: = She who is worshipped by all; and also srayata iti srI: = She who worships the Lord)

nArAyaNa: He who is the home for all beings (nArANAm ayanam yaha saha) and also He who has His home in every being (nArAha ayanam yasya saha)

charanau: (His) pair of feet

sharaNam: as refuge

prapadyE: I seek, knowing, trusting.

srImatE: United with Sri is He

nArAyaNAya: Narayana, to whom I submit totally

namaha: seeking (to do so) without any trace of I and mine (ego and attachment).

Commentary:

The divine couple Sri and Narayana are regarded as one.  Sri is associated with the lotus, the metaphor of the flower serving to emphasise her softness or gentleness. She is said to be the personification of compassion, even more so than the benevolent Lord whose ire may be provoked on occasion.

The Lord’s feet are a byword for asylum – none who seeks His refuge is ever disappointed, be they sentient or non-sentient beings. By straddling the universe as Trivikrama the Lord demonstrated his sovereignty over all of creation, and also the inclusive nature of His protection.

That these feet are specified as being two in number is not a redundant oversight or a simple statement of fact. It indicates the twin attributes of immeasurable value (mEnmai) and infinite softness (menmai or nIrmai), the one due to his inherent pre-eminence and the other due to His inviolable association with Sri. Knowledge of the Lord’s dependability is, therefore, there for the asking and acknowledging this to be so gives us the confidence to entrust ourselves to His care with complete belief.

[1] See Pillai Lokacharya’s Mumukshuppadi.


Who is God?

God is conceived in a unique and wonderful way in some of the most beautiful verses of a brief Tamil composition called Jnaana-saaram (The Essence of Knowledge). Just forty verses long, this composition was authored by Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar, one of the foremost disciples of that great ascetic, Ramanuja.

God, Arulaala makes it clear, is not just kind, but compassionate beyond conception:

 

Regardless of what a devotee does,

the cloud-hued Lord finds merit in it….

A home in the pious devotee’s heart delights Him

far more than to reside in His heavenly abode…

In contrast, though He lives in their hearts too,

the wicked ones present Him with a bed of thorns.

 

When a true devotee offers Him even a particle,

The Lord considers it a mountain of gold…

However, even the incomparable wealth offered by the impious

Is turned down nonchalantly by the Lord of Sri, the gentlest of beings.

 

Deep though a devotee’s desire

that which won’t do him good the Lord will not grant.

The toddler may throw a tantrum and want to touch the fire.

Will a mother fail to prevent it from doing so? …

The distress may be great,

yet it’s the devotee’s welfare the Lord cares about –

Just as a father will consent to remove a tumour

despite the pain the surgery may cause his son.

 

Don’t get dejected thinking of the ways in which you have failed the Lord

who dons the basil garland abuzz with bees.

Though aware of the devotees’ thousands of lapses

the Lord pretends not to have seen them.

Do you think the Lord of the lotus-born One

is prone to probing the faults of his devotees and punishing them?

What folly! He’s like a cow that lovingly licks off the muck

from the body of its new-born calf.

 

Below are the original Tamil verses from Jnaanasaaram on which the free translation above is based.

முற்ற புவனமெல்லாம் உண்ட முகில்வண்ணன்

கற்றைதுழாய் சேர்க் கழலன்றி – மற்றொன்றை

இச்சியாவன்பர் தனக்கு எங்ஙனே செய்திடினும்

உச்சியால் ஏற்கும் உகந்து. (8)

ஆசிலருளால் அனைத்துலகும் காத்தளிக்கும்

வாசமலராள் மணவாளன் – தேசுபொலி

விண்ணாட்டில் சால விரும்புமே வேறொன்றை

எண்ணாதார் நெஞ்சத்திருப்பு.  (9)

நாளும் உலகை நலிகின்ற வாளரக்கன்

தோளும் முடியும் துணித்தவன்றன் – தாளில்

பொரு‘ந்தாதார் உள்ளத்தில் பூமடந்தை கேள்வன்

இருந்தாலும் முள்மேல் இருப்பு. (10)

 

தன் பொன்னடியன்றி ம்ற்றொன்றில் தாழ்வு செய்யா

அன்பர் உகந்திட்டது அணுவெனிலும் – பொன்பிறழும்

மேருவாய்க் கொள்ளும் விரையார் துழாய் அலங்கல்

மாரிமாக்கொண்டல் நிகர் மால். (11)

மாறயிணந்த மருதமிறத் தவழ்ந்த

சேறாரவிந்தச் சேவடியை – பேறாக

உள்ளாதார் ஒண்ணிதியை ஈந்திடினும் தான் உகந்து

கொள்ளான் மலர்மடந்தைகோன். (12)

 

விருப்புரினும் தொண்டர்க்கு வேண்டும் ஹிதம் அல்லால்

திருப்பொலிந்த மார்பன் அருள் செய்யான் – நெருப்பை

விடாதே குழவிவிழ வருந்தினாலும்

தடாதே ஒழியுமோ தாய். (20)

ஆரப் பெருந்துயரே செய்திடினும் அன்பர்கள்பால்

வேரிச்சரோருகைகோன் மெய்நலமாம் – தேரில்

பொறுத்தற்கு அரிதெனிலும் மைந்தன் உடற்புண்ணை

அறுத்தற்கு இசைதாதையற்று. (21)

 

வண்டுபடி துளபமார்பனிடைச் செய்த பிழை

உண்டு பலவென்று உளந்தளரேல் – தொண்டர்செய்யும்

பல்லாயிரம் பிழைகள் பார்த்திருந்தும் காணுங்கண்

இல்லாதவன் காண் இறை. (24)

அற்றம் உரைக்கில் அடைந்தவர்பால் அம்புயைகோன்

குற்றம் உணர்ந்து இகழும் கொள்கையனோ – எற்றே தன்

கன்றின் உடம்பின் வழுவன்றோ காதலிப்பது

அன்றதனை ஈன்றுகன்த அவா. (25)


Tiruppavai: Verse 30

வங்க கடல் கடைந்த மாதவனைக் கேசவனை

திங்கள் திருமுகத்துச் சேயிழையார் சென்றிறைஞ்சி

அங்கப் பறைகொண்ட ஆற்றை அணி புதுவைப்

பைங்கமலத் தண்டெரியற் பட்டர்பிரான் கோதைசொன்ன

சங்கத் தமிழ்மாலை முப்பதும் தப்பாமே

இங்கிப் பரிசுரைப்பார் ஈரிரண்டு மால்வரைத்தோள்

செஙண் திருமுகத்துச் செல்வத் திருமாலால்

எங்கும் திருவருள் பெற்று இன்புருவர் எம்பாவாய்.

 

Summary:

It is the holy month of Maargazhi. Pattarpiran’s Kodhai (Periyazhwar’s foster-daughter, Andal) and all the young women of her village have approached Krishna and got a boon from him.

Krishna is Madhava – he in whom resides the mother – for, out of the ocean he helped churn aeons ago emerged Sri, the mother of us all, whom he ensconced in his chest. That very Madhava is the charming Kesava, who won the hearts of one and all with his crop of dense curly hair (kesa = hair).

Through her verses, Andal has revealed all about the boon thy got from the Lord with the sparkling eyes and radiant face, who, being the abode of Sri (Tirumal) is also the repository of wealth.

Those who grasp the message inherent in these verses, will, through the grace of the Lord of Sri, find happiness everywhere.

…………

According to the Sri Vaishnava school of thought, the controlling nature of the deity is absolute and the two controlled elements of mind (the sentient being) and matter (the non-sentient Nature) are attributes of the controlling entity.  Andal brings together the three entities of matter, mind and deity and shows them as cooperating with one another. This is the foundation of life, and its purpose (See Tiruppavai: Verse 4).

Andal refers to the Lord as the consort of Sri, who, by emerging from the ocean, seated on a lotus, indicated her endless compassion and her extreme gentleness. When each person is charitable, when we refrain from hurting each other using harsh language (See Verse 2), and when our actions are informed by a concern for the well-being of another, there is comfort and joy all around.  The ambience of prosperity that is promised is an outcome of this foundational feeling of harmony and oneness.

Andal also refers to the Lord as ‘Ongi ulagaLanda uttama ’ – who, by straddling all the worlds as Ongi ulagaLanda Perumaal, had already taken everyone and everything under his care, and who, because he is uttama, cannot bear even the mere thought of another’s pain (See Verse 3). Andal emphasises that the inability to tolerate the pain of another is a true measure of piety, and this should be the basis of our endeavour to live as human beings.

By straddling all the worlds the Lord has also indicated that he has taken everyone and everything under his care. Andal makes this point by taking care to ask one and all to join her in approaching the Lord (See Verses 6 to 14), and by telling the guards, who regarded themselves as custodians of the Lord, that Krishna had already promised them the prize (of prapatti or being in eternal service to him). Further, Andal assures the guards that they have come with a pure heart. They have not come to complain as they have nothing to complain about. The Lord takes care of everything – aren’t we his ‘porul’ (belongings) and will not an owner take care of his belongings? (See verse 16).

But submitting to the Lord is not merely an external observance. As Nammazhwar urges, one has to imbibe the spirit of service so completely that an individual’s every thought, word and deed becomes an offering for the Lord (Tiruvaimozhi: 1.2.8. See Tiruppavai: Verse 8).  It is in this spirit that Andal makes a commitment to not do that which ought not to be done, including refraining from uttering harsh words. And she pledges to give generously and without expectation, both in duty and in charity (See Verse 2).

The Lord enjoys nothing more than the company of the devout. And he will stop at nothing to please them and make them happy. The greatest devotees, aghast at the simple-mindedness with which the Lord mingles among them, worry that he may forget to take care of himself and may come to harm. In an amazing reversal of roles, these individuals at the pinnacle of devotion take on the roles of provider and protector for the Lord himself and the Lord lets himself be nourished, cherished and taken care of. The dependent becomes the sovereign, and the Supreme Being meekly assumes a subservient role and subjects himself to the whims of mere mortals.

The Azhwars and our Purvacharyas acclaim the Lord’s qualities of vatsalyam (tenderness), saulabhyam (accessibility or approachability) and saushilyam (amiability), valuing his tendency to humble himself (neermai) for the sake of his devotees far more than his meinmai  – omnipotence and qualities that give him the exalted position as the God of gods (Devadeva), Lord of the world (Sarvesvara) and so on.

And, what does it take to please this Lord who is incomparable and yet accessible and amiable, and who dotes on his devotees? With a pure heart, offer him flowers, sing for him and meditate on him. All your past misdemeanours and even those you may commit in the future will be burnt to cinders in the fervour of your devotion, asserts Andal (See Verse 5).

To be the body of such a One is the greatest honour. ‘Mere knowledge will not confer this honour. Therefore it is that the goal of knowledge should be the realisation that this physical body, infused with life, is for God’s use.  Knowledge that does not include this realisation will not bear fruit (See Verse 9).’  This complete submission to the Lord is the state of mind which Andal means by ‘pure heart’ (See earlier reference in this post, and verse 16).  The core Sri Vaishnava philosophy asserts that the highest state of being is to be in service to the Lord as his supplicant, and the only way to attain or even aspire for this state of being is by being a receptacle for his grace, that is to be in a condition of readiness to receive the blessing whenever it is given (See Verse 29).

 

 

 

 


Tiruppavai: Verse 29

சிற்றஞ் சிறுகாலே வந்துன்னைச் சேவித்து உன்

பொற்றாமரை அடியே போற்றும் பொருள் கேளாய்

பெற்றம் மேய்த்துண்ணும் குலத்தில் பிறந்து நீ

குற்றேவல் எங்களை கொள்ளாமற் போகாது

இற்றைப் பறைகொள்வான் அன்றுகாண் கோவிந்தா

எற்றைக்கும் ஏழேழ் பிறவிக்கும் உன்றன்னோடு

உற்றோமே ஆவோம் உனக்கே நாம் ஆட்செய்வோம்

மற்றைநங் காமங்கள் மாற்றேலோர் எம்பாவாய்.

 

Summary:

All the young women of aaypaadi[1], led by Andal, had gathered at Krishna’s mansion. Though the day was young, they had managed to persuade the gatekeepers to let them in, and had also successfully woken up Krishna. They had come in the wee hours hoping to get a boon from him, the highest distinction a human could aim for, which is to be used by the Lord as an instrument in his work.

Some young women who had initially joined the group to seek material benefits from the Lord had already conveyed their desire to beautify themselves only for his sake (Tiruppavai: verse 27).   Others, who had been under the illusion that transcending perishable material desire and comprehending the true nature of the immortal soul was the height of emancipation, had also realized that there was a higher goal to aim for – to be eternally in service to the Lord, as his body (Verse 28).

In this verse, a third category of supplicants – young women who had already become true prapannas – pray for a still greater distinction. What could be greater than to surrender oneself totally to the Lord, and render every thought, word and deed as an offering to him? Say these young women, ‘O lad of the cowherd clan! We have come in the wee hours to pray at your lotus feet, and sing its praises[2]. What we seek is not the mere boon of prapatti in this birth. For the next seven births, and for ever more, we want to be yours alone and serve you alone. Even if we ourselves should indulge self serving desires, weed them out and transform us to exist for your sake alone.’

The verse is a summary of the core Sri Vaishnava philosophy, which  asserts that the highest state of being is to be in service to the Lord as his supplicant, and the only way to attain or even aspire for this state of being is by being a receptacle for his grace, that is to be in a condition of readiness to receive the blessing whenever it is given[3].

[1] Aaypaadi is a generic term used to refer to a pastoral village: aa = cow and paadi = non-agricultural farmland. Andal has located her songs in the place where Krishna grew, among a cowherd clan whose head was Nandagopala.

[2] In the Sri Vaishnava siddanta, the Lord’s feet are considered the most dependable aid for a devotee. Even if the Lord should consider someone unpardonable, even if Sri should give up on someone as being beyond the pale, the Lord’s feet are an unfailing source of succour (See Pillai Lokacharyar’s Mumukshuppadi – Dvaya Prakaranam: churnai 146).

 

Perhaps, Sri is seen pressing the Lord’s tender feet with her gentle hands to provide relief from the leaden burden of sins they carry, placed there by devotees whom even she, the epitome of compassion, has not found it possible to condone.

[3] Several hymns of the Azhwars and Acharyas reaffirm and emphasise this fundamental tenet of the Sri Vaishnava way of life.

  • பயன் அன்றாகிலும் பாங்கு அல்லராகிலும்

செயல் நன்றாகத் திருத்திப் பணிகொள்வான்… (Madhurakavi Azhwar’s Kanninun Chiruththaambu: verse 10)

  • அன்பன் தன்னை அடைந்தவர்கட்கெல்லாம் அன்பன்… (Kanninun Chiruththaambu: verse 11)
  • கருமத்தால் ஞானத்தால் காணும் வகையுண்டே

தருமத்தால் அன்றி இறை தாள்கள்… (Arulaala Perumaal Emperumaanaar’s Jnaanasaaram: verse 4)

  • தனக்கடிமை பட்டது தானறியானேலும்

மனத்தடைய வைப்பதாம் மாலை – வனத்திடரை

ஏரியாம் வண்ணம் இயற்றும் இதுவல்லால்

மாரியார் பெய்கிப்பார் மற்று  (Bhutattaazhwar’s Irandaam Tiruvandaadi: verse 16).

 

 


Tiruppavai: Verse 28

கறவைகள் பின் சென்று கானஞ் சேர்ந்துண்போம்

அறிவொன்றும் இல்லாத ஆய்குலத்து உன்றன்னை

பிறவி பெறுந்தனை புண்ணியம் யாம் உடையோம்

குறைவொன்றும் இல்லாத கோவிந்தா உன்தன்னோடு

உறவேல் நமக்கிங்கு ஒழிக்க ஒழியாது

அறியாத பிள்ளைகளோம் அன்பினால் உன்றன்னை

சிறுபேர் அழைத்தனவும் சீறி அருளாதே

இறைவாநீ தாராய் பறையேலோர் எம்பாவாய்.

 

Summary:

Andal had called upon all the young women of the village to join in her prayer to the Lord to grant them the highest purushartha (accomplishment) of prapatti (total surrender) at his feet. In particular, she had to make a special attempt to convince three kinds of persons to join. The first of these groups, consisting of individuals who were interested in the material benefits that would accrue to them as a consequence of their prayer, have already become true prapannas. In the previous verse (Tiruppavai 27) we saw them offering to don various ornaments and cook rich delicacies, all as an offering to the Lord.

A second group of individuals whom Andal addresses specifically (Tiruppavai verses 9 to 12), having transcended material desire, were under the delusion that all that stood between them and everlasting bliss was their physical bodies. Once shorn of their mortal coils, they believed that their state of realisation of their selves would ensure their permanent happiness in heaven. However, true realisation rests in knowing oneself (body and soul) as an instrument of the Lord. Mere knowledge of the true nature of the self, and the distinction between the perishable body and the imperishable soul will not suffice[1].

In this verse, the group of young women whom Andal had addressed in Tiruppavai verses 9 to 12, appeal to the Lord to accept them as prapannas. ‘We are, after all, simple folks who graze cattle and picnic in the forests. We are so fortunate to have you, the primeval Lord himself, in our midst. Yet, in our ignorance, we have thought of you as one of us and said and done things in playfulness and not in devotion.  But your true self and our true relationship with you is eternal and irrefutable. Forgive our lapses and grant us the gift we seek,’ they plead, praying that he accept their every action as a kainkarya, an offering in his service.

 

[1] கடவுளுக்கு உடலாய் இருக்கும்படியான பெருமையே சிறந்தது. வெறும் ஞானம் அந்தச் சிறப்பைத் தராது. ஆகையால் ஞானத்துக்கு நோக்கானது கடவுள் – ஜீவன் – உடல் என்னும் அறிவேதான். இந்த அறிவைக் கொள்ளாத ஞானம் பயன் பெறாது. (From a class on Visishtadvaita siddanta by Prof. V. T. Tirunarayana Iyengar)