Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thiruppavai and Sharanaagati

Thiruppavai and Sharanaagati

( Courtesy Shri. Nelvoy Madabhushi Sowmyanarayanachariar, Mumbai, India )

What is the yardstick for branding a hymn as great?

There are three measures - either its author should be famous (Vaktru vailakshanyam); or the composition should be par-excellent (Grantha vailakshanyam); or the subject matter should be The Supreme (Vishaya vailakshanyam).

Thiruppavai fits into all the categories. Let us elaborate how on each count it stands out. Sri Andal is the incarnation of Sri Bhu Devi (Saakshaat kshamam), who in turn is the chip (Amsa) of Sri Devi Herself (Karunaya kamalamivanyaam). She is also known as Goda and Neela Devi.

What do these names signify?
While Neela is the name prevalent in Vedas, Goda has many connotations such as one who is presented by the earth; one who bestows knowledge (even to Devi Saraswathi); one who set the grammer of composing poems; one who has total control of the senses and so on. This name when taken as a Tamil word Kothai denotes a garland (Poomaalai), which not only pleases the senses but also brings joy to the heart. If you ask Manmatha, the God of Love, garland is the symbol of bondage between two love-stricken souls. Acharya Parasara Bhattar, in His Tanian to Thiruppavai, says thus – Goda enjoyed Lord Krishna by tying Him forcibly with Her musical poems, as She did with garland (Sraji nigalitham ya balaathkrthya bhungte).

In Tamil, the word Andal signifies, one who prevailed over Paramapurusha. It can be taken as the changed form of the word Aazhntaal which means, one who got Herself immersed (Aazhntaal) into the love (Bhakthi) with Lord or as one who makes us take a dip into the Divine (Aazhthupaval). Sri Alavandar in his Chathusloki, after His lavish praise of Sri Devi, concludes saying thus “your name ‘Sri’ itself is selfexplanatory of your greatness (Sririthyeva cha nama te bhagavati broomaha katham tvaam vayam)”. I dare to extend this to Andal thus, “Godetyeva cha nama te bhagavathi.”

Let Her be great, How does it help us?

Here comes Her role of an Acharya. Sriman Narayana Himself tried in many ways, to advise us the souls, the methods and means to get out of the miseries of the world and attain salvation.

Alas! No one listened to Him or followed it. He then realized that He can carry the message only when He preaches as or through a preceptor/Acharya. His first disciple is Sri Devi Herself. She preached us in all Her incarnations. Sri Devi, in the form of Sita, advised Demon Ravana to surrender himself to Lord Rama, in case he wanted to be alive. As Bhu Devi, when Sriman Narayana saved Her during Varaaha Avatara by destroying the demons and relieved Her of ‘the burden’ (Bhoo Bhara), She requested Him to reveal the secret of Prapatti the total surrender and thus Varaaha Charama Slokam was born. But for such preaching, we would remain immersed in perennial darkness (Agjnaana). More so, as Neela Devi, She propagated the significance of chanting the names of The Almighty with devotion and love (Naama Sankirtanam) and the means through which it could bring salvation.

Apart from this, when we, the sinners, approach The Lord, She mesmerizes Him by Her charm, so that He remains unmindful of our sins (Nisaamayatu Maam Neela yadbhoga patalyrdhruvam, Bhaavitam Srinivaasasya Bhakta (Dosheshvadarsanam). Could there be a better support to us!

Enough of Her praise for the present; let us turn to see the greatness of Her composition, Tiruppavai. It is laid down that a great composition should possess the following traits:

1. Beginning through the end, it should speak on the same subject.
2. It should emphasize the subject, by repeatedly saying so.
3. It should tell something new and for the first time.
4. The resultant benefit to the reader should be clearly laid down.
5. The ‘subject matter’ should be lavishly praised.
6. Logics should be freely used. (It is prescribed thus -Upakrama Upasamharo bhyaasah Apoorvataa Phalam; Arthavaada Upapatti cha Lingam Taatparya Nirnaye)
7. In addition, it should be quoted often by the subsequent authors and have many commentaries and similar compositions, to its credit.

How best these traits fit into Tiruppavai? (In seriatum)

1. In the first verse ‘Margazhi Tingal,’ Andal summons all, to join Her in taking a dip (which symbolizes the starting of the holy ritual ‘Paavai Nonbu’) so that The Lord is pleased and in return bestows all that we aspire (Naarayanane Namakke Parai Taruvaan). This is repeated in ‘Vangakkadal’, the concluding verse as well – ‘By the grace of God, we all would be enjoying the eternal Bliss,’ (Tirumaalaal Engum Tiruvaul Petru Inburuvar).
2. In order to secure His grace, it is said; we should perform oral service (Vaachika Kainkaryam) in praise of the Almighty. This has been emphasized more than adequately in as many as 14 verses (Paraman Adi Paadi . . .Un tannai
Paadi.) Remaining verses also indirectly advocate the same. Is it not said that ‘in the age of Kali, the only way to attain salvation is by singing the praise of The Lord’! (Kalow Sankirtya Kesavam).
3. The style adopted in the composition – each stanza containing 8 lines, by which Sri Andal considers Herself as one of the shepherds – Gopikaas, emulates their ritual- Nonbu, and invites everyone to join Her in singing the glory of God – is unique and one of the firsts in Tamil Prabandham literature.
4. The fruit of the ‘Nonbu’ is clear as crystal and assured– Securing the benign blessing of Sri Devi and beget pure and endless joy by the sheer grace of God. (Tirumaalaal Engum Tiruvarul Petru Inburuvar).
5. Paramapurusha, who is the Hero of the composition, is in for an absolute adoration throughout.
6. The triple-logics listed in every stanza from 6 to 14 to convince Her colleagues that it is dawn time (Pullum silambina. Sengazhunir vaay negizhndu Aambal vai koombina) and the apt simile in the 2nd stanza, ‘Vaiyam’ –‘Our sins would turn into ashes without identity as a dust does when put on fire, when we perform the
Nonbu’ (teeyinil tusaakum), - to quote a few picks of logics which are strewn all over the composition craft fully.

Moreover, the impulse of every author to quote with ease from Tiruppavai (so that he is considered as learned!) and the innumerous commentaries to this work in many Indian languages, are testimonies of universal popularity and adoption of this lyrics. The title of Tiruppavai Jeer to Sri Bhagavad Ramanuja is a proof in question, as to how he engrossed himself in these hymns over others.

Let us now turn to the third, most interesting and important aspect – the subject matter. In
Tiruppavai, the subject chosen is, The Supreme Lord Himself. What is unique in Him? He is all-pervading and allencompassing. His name Narayana itself signifies that He is the soul (Aatma) of all other things. As a corollary, these things remain as His body, thus solely dependent on Him for their existence. It is this relationship – as soul and body (Sareera Atma Bhava Sambandham) – which stands out as the quintessence of and fundamental to Sri Bhagavat Ramanuja’s philosophy. Now, do we agree that there cannot be a better Hero than Him for any poet/poetess?

‘How useful is this Hero to us?’- Is it not the common query in everybody’s mind? A chain of questions and answers would unfold and lead to the ethical and logical conclusion, thus:

How do we describe our state or status in life?

We lead a life, full of sorrow or misery. For some or sometimes, life may taste joyful but still mixed with sorrow. Nothing in this world is an unmixed blessing.

What is the reason or who is responsible for this? This joy-sorrow mixture in life is the result of our previous ‘Karma’ or deeds. And we ourselves are the masters or culprits of our deeds

Can we hope to be different and better in our next or future births or avoid birth once for all? No; an emphatic never. We are born because of our Karma and during our lifetime we continue to do such actions, which beget successive births, thereby worse sufferings. It is a never-ending cycle.

Is there not a way out? Can there be a situation or location, which provides limitless joy and nothing, but joy?

Yes, There is. Before explaining the way out, let us hear a short story.

There was an assembly of sculptors. One elderly man showed a piece of stone and asked them, ‘how to make an elephant out of the stone?’ One by one everybody explained at length, where they would start; what is the process; which are the implements they would use; how they would finish and so on. No one’s explanation satisfied the old man. There was a long silence and anguish among the crowd. By then, a small boy was passing through. He butt in and asked, ‘what is the issue?’ The old man repeated the problem. Instantly the boy said, ‘Sir, it is very simple. Remove what is not elephant, from that piece of stone. You would have now made an elephant’. The old man grinned with satisfaction and said, “ Yah! This is the solution.”

Nice break-story. But what is its relevance here and where is the answer to our question - Is there not a way out? Recall the Old man’s question – How to make an elephant out of the stone; Our query is ‘how to enjoy unmixed and endless joy’. The boy’s answer is – remove that portion of the stone which is not elephant. Answer to our anxiety is, ‘Shed what is not becoming of us; You become what you are and get what you deserve –a total and ever lasting joy.” Fantastic. What is not becoming of us that we should shed?

Our status is like this. We are as immortal as God Himself, but subservient to Him. Our Knowledge, by nature, knows no limits, we are entitled and duty-bound to serve God, at par with Nithyasuris. But alas! We had hither- to acted in ways, which were against His dictum. The Lord imposes penalty on us, in the form of birth and sufferings. Birth in this world darkens us with ignorance; Influenced by this ignorance, we again derelict our duty and commit more acts which make us even more ignorant and so goes the chain. Hence, it is clear that, this abandonment of our birth-right to serve God is unbecoming of us.

What shall we do now?
First, we should realize our mistake; then we must apologize and surrender to God. Next we should pray to Him, to award us no more birth; instead give us berth in His place – Sri Vaikuntam, where we stay put forever after, in joy and peace.

How do we get to know all these facts and doctrines? Who could guide us?
Here comes the role of our God-sent Acharyas. They empathize with us, advise suo-motto what is beneficial to us; and once we submit ourselves to them, take the brief for us to The Lord and recommend salvation. Hence in gratitude, we should have devout respect for our Acharyas, who are our only guides.

Will The Almighty go by their recommendation?
Undoubtedly. God’s words may even go a waste but Acharyas’ words never. Sri Alavandaar presents himself to the Lord as the disciple of his grandfather Sriman Nathamunigal and pleads not to mind his own deeds while awarding His grace. (Pitaamaham Nathamunim Vilokya Praseeda Mad vrttam achintayitva)

Why should we surrender? Is it not enough that we realize our mistakes, so that He is pleased to place us in his aboard?
Not enough. Sriman Narayana himself has declared that ‘no one can reach His place without following either Bhakti or Prapatti (Surrender). Acharyas have shown that as compared to Bhakti, the path of Prapatti is easier, faster and could be followed by anyone

Could we know more details about Prapatti?
Sure. As explained earlier, we are not only the body to the soul- Sriman Narayana; we are also his beloved children. Even though we have angered Him by disobeying His directions, there is a way out to cool him down – that is, FALLING AT HIS FEET. This is in short, Prapatti as enunciated in Dwaya Mantra. Specifically this method is advocated by Lord Krishna Himself, for the benefit of people like us, who are incompetent to do Bhakti or who could not brook the delay in securing Moksha. In other words, Prapatti is a
perfect substitute, more than a substitute, to Bhakti.

It needs no other qualifications except repentance; no preliminaries; no time or place specification; no gender discrimination, no long drawn process; and no repetition. Our Acharyas would guide us to perform this Prapatti (Ukti Nishthai) or do it themselves on our behalf (Acharya Nishthai)

Now, are we not very clear that, Sharanaagati indeed, is the only path describing the transition, by the Almighty, of the CURSED as BLESSED?

To summarize what was discussed as questionand- answer, “Reaching Almighty is the only way to get rid of all our sufferings; He is the path and also shows us the path, which once followed, is sure to secure us a seat in Sri Vaikuntam – the place for eternal joy”. This is the essence of all Vedas, Upanishads, Puraanaas, Stotras and Divya Prabandhams. Amongst this list, Tiruppavai stands tall, the entirety of which advocates Prapatti only. Let us now substantiate this. For fear of elaboration, I confine to wading through only the initial stanza of Tiruppavai – ‘Margazhi Tingal’ and leave the rest to the fertile imagination of the readers:

Through this stanza, Sri Andal taking the role of an Acharya, advises us “to follow Prapatti path and beget endless joy”. (First I give the simple and apparent meaning of the Stanza. For the purpose of prose order, the sequence of words in the verse have been interchanged).

Selva chirumirkaal
Oh! Service-rich youngsters
Seer malgum Ayppadi
who are possessed of all good traits
It is only Sriman Narayana, who is
Koorvel kodum Thozhilan Nandagopan Kumaran
The son of Nandagopa, who wears sharp spear and ruthless attitude towards His enemies,
Eraardakanni Yasodai Ilamsingam
beautiful-eyed Yasoda, to whom He behaves a lion cub, and
Kaarmeni Chengann kadir madium Pol mukattaan
who has a body like the color of a cloud and eyes like lotus and burning sun & pleasing moon
Namakke parai taruvaan
who would fulfill our wishes
Paaror pukazha
as may be hailed by mortals and even Nithyasuris.
Hence, Jewel-attired colleagues,
Madi nirainda nun naalaal
on this auspicious day
Margazhi Tingal
during the month of holy Margazhi Niraada poduvir let us take a dip (to perform Nonbu)
Padintu Podumino
with absolute sincerity
Now we turn to the latent meaning ( Swapadesham or Hidden Meaning )

Seer malgum Ayppadi
Oh! You wealthy souls of this world!
Selva chirumeerkaal
Even though immature, you are fortunate to beget the rich guidance of Great Acharyas.
Kaar pol Meni Sengkan Naaraayanane
Almighty, who is all pervasive & dictative and has the body resembling clouds, eyes fully blossomed
Kadir Koorvel kodum Thozhilan Nandagopan mugattaan
either thro’ the scorching and insurmountable passage of Bhakti, that is hidden in Vedas or
Kumaran Madiam (mugattaan)
thro’ the easy-do route –Saranaagati – which is enunciated in Upanishads; and
Eraardakanni Yasodai mugattaan
by leading us to solicit the support and recommendation of His concert SriDevi, who brings us fame
Namakke taruvaan
rewards us, (who by nature, are otherwise incompetent and incapable to perform these)
Paaror pukazha Parai
eternal and sans recourse joy, as hailed by Nithyasuris (Ref. the 10 stanzas ‘soozh visumbu’, the penaultimate Tiruvaimozhi)
Nerizhaiyir nannaalaal
Hence, those of us who have taken this direct route of Prapatti this day, which bestowed this pious (Saatvik) thinking,
Madi nirainda Margazhi tingal Ilam singam
fully appreciative that, Prapatti method, is only a thought process coupled with a petty action as ordered by Lord Krishna (the latest Avataara) in the Charama Sloka,
Neeraada Poduvir
shall choose and immerse ourselves in it; thereby
Podumino padintu
become accomplished (Krtakrtyan); and remain after-wards at the Service of The Lord forever, by which we stay blessed (Krtarthan) Swami Nigamanta Maha Desika is emphatic in saying that ‘should we desire liberation we should understand clearly the tri-doctrines of Sri Ramanuja Sampradaaya, (Muttikku Arul Sooda Moondrai teli) namely, REALITY - ROUTE – RESULT (Tatva-Hita-Purushartha)’. He got the cue and inspiration as narrated by Sri Andal in this Stanza.

Let us refer to elucidations given above.
1-3 talk about Tatva; 4 -6 advocate the route and 7 -8 conclude with the end-result. In 9 – 12, as the preceptor, Sri Andal preaches Prapatti.

Millions of salutations to Sri Andal, for the advice of Prapatti Rahasya!
Long live the name and fame of Goda!
Long live Sri Ramanuja Siddhanta!
Sarva SriKrishnarpaNamastu

No comments: