thirumAlai – avathArikai (Introduction) – Part 1

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periyavAchchAn piLLai, the vyAkhyAthA (commentator) for thirumAlai, has written a very detailed avathArikai for it. It is a fairly lengthy one and we shall see it in two parts.

emperumAn SrIman nArAyaNan is the purushArtham (ultimate goal) for all AthmAs, whether they are in nithya vibhUthi (SrIvaikuNtam or spiritual realm) or in leelA vibhUthi (samsAram or materialistic realm). The nithyasUris (those who are in nithya vibhUthi) know this fully well and enjoy emperumAn. samsAris (those who are in materialistic realm), on the other hand, mistake physical body for AthmA and spend their time in satisfying its needs by feeding on sensory perceptions. This goes on from time immemorial. thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr, before he became AzhwAr, was in such a frame of mind. emperumAn, desiring to bring  the AzhwAr into his fold, mercifully shows the greatness of his thirunAmam (exalted name). His thirunAmam, in turn, explains the features of his svarUpam (basic nature), rUpam (his thirumEni or exalted physical form), guNam (his auspicious qualities) and his vibhUthi (his wealth). AzhwAr immerses himself in the greatness of emperumAn’s thirunAmam in the first 3 pAsurams (hymns) of thirumAlai . In the next 11 pAsurams, he shows this greatness to all the samsAris (people like us) so that they could also move away from samsAram and move towards the path to liberation. Finally he makes emperumAn himself very pleased, in the 45th (final) pAsuram.

[periyavAchchAn piLLai next writes about samsAram and who a samsAri is. When we read it, we would start wondering whether we should stay in this samsAram any more. Even if it is not possible to leave it immediately, as we age (grow old), we should at least show some sense of detestation towards it; otherwise, all the works of AzhwArs, SAsthras, purANas, ithihAsas, upanishadhs etc will go waste. We should read this wonderful avathArikai of periyavAchchAn piLLai every few months, to affirm to ourselves that we will not indulge in worldly pursuits ad infinitum.]

SamsAris earn pApa and puNya in this materialistic realm by carrying out various deeds (one earns a puNya when he/she does what is prescribed in SAsthras and avoiding what is forbidden by it; he/she earns pApa by doing what is forbidden by SAsthras and not doing what is prescribed). They then reach naraka or swarga (hell or heaven) to get rid of the accumulated pApa or puNya and return to leelA vibhUthi (materialistic realm) in another form, repeatedly. SAsthra describes this journey of Athma in panchAgni vidhyA prakaraNa (chapter called panchAgni vidhyA) in chAndhOgya upanishath.

After getting rid of pApa in naraka (hell) and puNya in swarga (heaven), the AthmA is thrown into ethereal layers (vettaveLi, in thamizh) where it takes a subtle form. Sun, with his warm rays, melts the snow atop himavAn (himAlaya mountains) and converts it into moisture laden cloud and enables the AthmA to enter the cloud. At the appropriate time, the moisture laden cloud opens out as rain drops and falls on land, with the AthmA. Thus AthmA reaches land with rain water. The rain water flows into the fields to help paddy crops. AthmA enters paddy grain (paddy is taken as an example here; AthmA could enter wheat or pulses or vegetables or any other material equally). At the right time, when the paddy grains mature, the farmer harvests the field and the AthmA with the paddy (or any other grain or vegetable) enters a house where the grain is cooked as food. That food eaten by a male, carries the AthmA into the reproductory organ of the male. At the appropriate time the AthmA enters a female’s womb and takes a form there. Now the AthmA is called as “purusha” as he takes a human form. Not every AthmA which was thrown out from hell or heaven will enter a womb of a female and become “purusha”. There are a number of obstacles to it as it could fall into the sea instead of land. On land, it could fall in a forest, enter the fruit of a forest tree which could be eaten by insect or bird or animals. Even if it enters a grain [as we had seen earlier], the grain may fall on the floor at the time of cooking, by mistake, instead of into the cooking pot. Thus, based  on emperumAn’s will, the AthmA could turn out to be a “purusha”. Inside the mother’s womb, the AthmA suffers due to the eating habits of the mother. If she takes excessive salt or spicy food or sweet or sour materials, the AthmA suffers the effects of all these materials as they reach the “purusha” through the umbilical cord. He feels as if he is inside a pot containing molten lead when he is inside the womb. As the foetus grows inside the womb, it  is unable even to stretch its limbs freely and grows in a crouched form. Around the 7th month inside the womb, the AthmA prays to bhagavAn to spare him all these troubles and to grant him mOksham. But bhagavAn sends a type of vAyu (gas) called “Satam” which presses against the foetus’ bones and makes it ignorant completely (ignorance of SAsthra, hence of bhagavAn) and comes out of the womb, with lot of pain, upside down (head first and legs finally), the same way he was pushed out of hell or heaven in the first instance.

Once he is born, as an infant, he cannot even look after his needs and is dependent on others for cleaning him, feeding him, moving him etc. He cannot scratch himself if it itches. As time passes by, he starts looking after himself. Till the age of 15, he spends time playing and not thinking about bhagavAn. After that, as a youth, he starts engaging in worldly pleasures, still not thinking of bhagavAn. He gets married, gets children and struggles for their welfare. By the time he realises that he has spent the better part of his time in worldly pursuits only and has not bothered to do anything for his after-life, old age sets in. His mind is now turned towards bhagavAn, but physically he is unable to do any kainkaryam (service) for bhagavAn. At young age, the body was willing, but the mind wasn’t and at old age, it is the reverse. Death catches up with him at last and the cycle repeats itself with journey to hell or heaven and back to panchAgni vidhyA states that we have seen earlier. Thus he comes out of his mother’s womb in pain and leaves the world in pain, to suffer in hell.

Looking at this continuous suffering of the jIvAthmA, emperumAn taking pity on him, and being a suhruth (good at heart) gave the jIvAthmAs,  SAsthram which is like a bright lamp in the darkness of samsAram. In SAsthram (SvEthASvara upanishath), he explains the three thathvams (entities) namely chith (sentient entity), achith (insentient entity) and ISwara (bhagavAn himself) so that jIvAthmAs can learn the difference between the body and the inner residing soul and about paramAthmA. Further bhagavAn explained in antharyAmi brAhmaNam (subhAlOpanishath) that paramAthmA pervades all jIvAthmAs and that he is apahathapApmA (not touched by sins or virtues (pApa/puNya)) of the jIvAthmAs, the only Lord and that he is nArAyaNa. jIvAthmAs should forget about enjoying achith and take efforts to reach ISwara so that they can finally come out of the vicious cycles of birth and death.  This was similar to giving vision to a person blind from birth and lighting a lamp in a dark room. He showed that both chith and achith are his servitors; that he is the soul and the other two are like his body. In muNdakOpanishath he showed that it is due to karma only that chith is bound to achith and that if he gets rid of karma (getting rid of pApa and puNya) completely, he will reach SrIvaikuNtam and enjoy paramAthmA in ways similar to how nithyasUris (permanent dwellers of SrIvaikuNtam such as viSvaksEnar, ananthAzhwAn, garudan et al) are enjoying him there.

But the jIvAthmAs, instead of leading their lives as stated by SAsthram (vEdham) and reaching bhagavAn, either did not accept vEdham (vEdha bAhyar) or interpreted vEdham wrongly (vEdha kudhrushti). bhagavAn then decided to take incarnations as one among jIvAthmAs so that they will rectify their wrong doings at least after seeing him. However, this did not happen and he had to only fight people such as hiraNyAksha, rAvaNa et al. Before he could get one vibhIshNa, there were lakhs of rAkshasa who were bent on opposing him. Same was the case with one vidhura. However, just as the owner will not let go of his possession, bhagavAn could not give up his attempts at correcting the jIvAthmAs.

bhagavAn, through his goodwill, creates a change of heart in the jIvAthmA, as a result of which he blesses him. This in turn makes the jIvAthmA not to oppose bhagavAn, leading to further grace from bhagavAn. Now the jIvAthmA goes towards bhagavAn. He gets interested in SAsthras and with his AchArya’s (guru or teacher) upadhESam (instructions about bhagavAn), the jIvAthmA realises that bhagavAn is the supreme master and that he is a totally dependent servitor to bhagavAn. Once he realises that he is a servitor, he understands that bhagavAn is the purushArtham (ultimate goal) for him and that he should reach bhagavAn, as that becomes his svarUpam (basic nature). Then he gets the desire to find a way to reach bhagavAn. SAsthram tells us that one can reach bhagavAn through karma yOgam, gyAna yOgam and bhakthi yOgam (thorugh deeds, knowledge and devotion to bhagavAn, respectively). But he realises that these are difficult paths for reaching bhagavAn as any shortcoming while observing these could lead to further delay in attaining the goal. Due to these reasons, bhagavAn shows the way through upanishaths (the end part of vEdham) to reach him by surrendering to him.

The first one (through karma, gyAna, bhakthi yOgam) is called as sAdhyOpAyam (where we have to take effort to reach bhagavAn) and the second one, where we reach bhagavAn through bhagavAn himself, is called sidhdhOpAyam (readily available path). This path (surrendering or prapaththi as it is called) has one important requirement. The prapannan (one who carries out prapaththi) should have unshakeable faith that bhagavAn would free him from samsAram (materialistic world) and would take him to SrIvaikuNtam and that we need not take any effort. This is called as mahAviSvAsam (deep faith). It is not easy to get this mahAviSvAsam [because we feel that we do not have to take any efforts and bhagavAn himself would take us at the appropriate time].

Hence for such jIvAthmAs, bhagavAn shows another way. This is called as thirunAma sankIrthanam (singing the divine names of bhagavAn). This will not take us to mOksham directly, but will create the mahAviSvAsam when surrendering later to bhagavAn. Thus reciting bhagavAn’s divine names will enable us to get rid of our sins and induce us into either karma, gyAna, bhakthi yOgams or induce us into prapraththi (surrendering to bhagavAn) with the mahAviSvAsam required for it or it will by itself be a goal for us to recite it. i.e. instead of looking for a path by singing bhagavAn nAmams (the divine names of bhagavAn), singing his name itself will be the purushArtham (goal) for us.

We shall see the remainder of avathArikai in the next part.

adiyEn krishNa ramanuja dasan

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