thirumAlai – avathArikai (Introduction) – Part 2

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In the previous part of avathArikai, we saw how the jIvAthmA keeps taking births repeatedly through the process of panchAgni vidhyA and how emperumAn helps the jIvAthmA in getting out of this cycle. We saw towards the end that emperumAn shows another way to jIvAthmA to get rid of his sins – by learning his divine names.

What is the pramANam for this? [pramANam is proof taken from SAsthras or similar widely accepted works, accepted by our pUrvAchAryas or preceptors] In SrIvishNu sahasranAmam, yudhishtra asks of bhIshmAchArya, “kim japan muchyathE janthur janma samsAra bhandhanAth?” (by reciting what, does a chEthana (or jIvAthmA) get out of the strong bonds of repeated births and samsAram?) This query is made at the beginning of the chapter of SrIvishNu sahasranAma. The answer is given at the end, in the SlOka “vAsudhEvASrayO marthyA vAsudhEva parAyaNa: sarva pApa viSudhdhAthma yAthi brahma sanAthanam” (by taking refuge under vAsudhEva and by accepting vAsudhEva as the path and the fruit of servitude, a jIvAthmA gets rid of all sins and attains bhagavAn, who is there from time immemorial). The question has been raised in the beginning and the answer is given at the end. In between the two, are the thousand names of vishNu, confirming the benefit of reciting bhagavAn’s divine names. Since thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr is fully immersed in reciting the divine names of bhagavAn, he extols the virtues of bhagavAn’s divine names in this thirumAlai.

vishNu dharmam is the basis for his deep attachment to bhagavAn’s divine names. How did this vishNu dharmam come about? Who spoke about it? Who heard it? For finding answers to these queries we should go to a few generations after pANdavas. There was a king in that dynasty called “SathAnIka”. Since he came in the lineage which was blessed by emperumAn, he was full of sathva (pure good) qualities. While he ensured that the mighty did not trouble the less-abled, he was worried that he had not done anything for his citizenry for their journey after life. He approached “SrI Saunaka bhagavAn” (a famous rishi or sage) and asked him, “my people are looking after their physical needs very well. Could your highness show a way for their welfare after this life?”. SrI Saunaka bhagavAn replied that “this is kali kAlam (the era of kali, the 4th yugam among the chathur yugam (chathur (four) yugams are krutha, thrEthA, dhvApara and kali). In this yugam, the life expectancy is the least among the 4 yugams; thus the time for learning SAsthras comes down. Efforts put in are also lowest. Intelligence levels are also low. The people are surrounded by sins all through. Their only salvation is reciting bhagavAn’s divine names”. Now we know that vishNu dharmam came about a few centuries after start of kali yugam. Sri Saunaka bhagavAn recited it and “SathAnIkan” heard it.

In a similar vein, here the one who recited is thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr. The one who heard it is periya perumAL (SrI rangaNathan at SrIrangam). Just as it was vishNu dharmam there, it is thirumAlai here. There it was agyAna praSnam (the one who heard it was ignorant, i.e. SathAnIkan). Here it is gyAna praSnam (periya perumAL who heard thirumAlai is omniscient, the all-knowing emperumAn). One may ask, why should the omniscient emperumAn listen to something which he knows already? The answer is “kim mrushtam sutha vachnam” (when asked of a mother, “which is the sweetest?” her response would be “my child speaking”). In the same way, bhagavAn listens to his child (AzhwAr) reciting his names with overflowing joy.

Apart from the distinction of periya perumAL himself listening to his pAsurams, there are other distinctions too to this AzhwAr. There are quite a few areas in which his work is superior – a) compared to the vEdhas which highlight bhagavadh vishayam (important aspects of bhagavAn), b) compared to the upabruhmaNam of rishis (works which were composed to explain vEdhas such as ithihAsas and purANas) and c) compared to the works of other AzhwArs. For the first, the example quoted is from thaithriya upanishath, brughuvalli (yathO vA imAni bhUthAni jAyanthE…) where the name of the bhagavAn has not been given at all. Why this example was taken was due to this (from atharva Sikhai) “kAraNanthu dhEya:” – meditate on the one who is the reason. Reason for what? was asked, and the first verse was given. Finally in mahOpanishath, it is said, EkO ha vai nArAyaNa ASIth (only nArAyAna was there during deluge; neither brahmA nor Siva). Thus vEdham showed who is the bhagavAn in a circuitous way. rishis, explaining bhagavAn, said “ajAyamanO bahudhA vijAyathE” (purusha sUktham) – he does not have any birth, has several births. Among the rishis, SrI vAlmmIki bhagavAn was fully engrossed in SrI rAmAvathAram; SrI paraSara bhagavAn was engrossed in krishNavathAram. SrI Saunaka bhagavAn was engrossed in archAvathAram. If one considers the AzhwArs, the first three AzhwArs were attracted to parathvam (paravAsudhEvan – SrIvaikuNtanAthan), the supreme state among the five states of bhagavAn. At the same time, they also glorified his simplicity as thiruvEnkatamudaiyAn in thirumalai. nammAzhwAr and periyAzhwAr were deeply immersed in krishNAvathAram. thirumangai AzhwAr went to many dhivyadhEsams to sing glories of emperumAn in those dhivya dhEsams. But this AzhwAr (thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr) did not know of any emperumAn other than SriranganAthan, among archAvathAra emperumAns. This is what distinguished this AzhwAr from other AzhwArs.

In what way is SrIrangam different from and superior to all the other dhivya dhEsams? Even though river kAvEri flows in many places, it has a special significance at ammAmaNdapa padiththuRai (a ghat near the temple where devotees get down for a holy dip in the river) at SrIrangam from time immemorial. In the same way, compared to the aruLichcheyal (dhivya prabhandham) works of other AzhwArs, this pranbhandham of thoNdardippodi AzhwAr is much different. In what way? In thiruvAimozhi 6.9.1, nammAzhwAr says (of bhagavAn), “nIrAy nilanAy thIyAy kAlAy neduvAnAy, sIrAr sudargaL iraNdAy sivanAy ayanAnAy”, in which he equates achith (insentient) entities such as water, earth, fire, wind and ether as well as chith entities such as Sivan and ayan (brahmA) with emperumAn. That emperumAn is superior to all these achith and chith entities has to be established through SarIrAthma nibhandhana sAmAnAdhikaraNam [his anthyAmithvam (residing inside the achith and chith entities through his all-pervading nature)]. Similarly in thiruvAimozhi 10.10.1, “muniyE nAnmuganE mukkaNNappA”  nammAzhwAr would appear to equate the other two dhEvathAs (demi-gods) – Siva and brahmA with SrIman nArAyaNan, but here again, it has been established that emperumAn is antharyAmi to the other two and is thus superior to them. In such cases, other AzhwArs have not categorically stated in  all their works at all places the superiority of emperumAn and have given room for different interpretations. There is no such shortcoming in the works of this AzhwAr. While vEdham as well as the works of all AzhwArs are like the ocean (in terms of the depth of knowledge that they impart), since the water is very clear one can see the sea-bed  in the work of this AzhwAr [one can get clear meanings in the work of this AzhwAr]. The simile here is to the choice of words used by this AzhwAr and other AzhwArs. thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr has used such apt words in his thirumAlai pAsurams that there is no way in which anyone can interpret it in a different way whereas this is not the case with the other AzhwArs’ pAsurams. The words are simple enough yet they carry lot of meanings in thirumAlai. praNavam (in ashtAkshara mahAmanthram) which has only three letters but meanings of that are heavily laden or mahAbhAratham which has 1,25,000 verses but inner meanings of that are difficult to decipher. thirumAlai does not suffer from such shortcomings. It is not too short like the three letter praNava manthram nor is it too long like mahAbhAratham. It has only 45 pAsurams.  Also, unlike those two, meanings of which are difficult to learn, its meanings are very clear and easily comprehensible. Thus compared to other works (vEdhams, works of other AzhwArs etc), this work of thoNdadippodi AzhwAr is very distinguished.

There is a particular order in the way the pAsurams have been composed by AzhwAr. In the first three pAsurams, he enjoys reciting the names of emperumAn (sva-anubhavam). In the next 11 pAsurams (from 4th to 14th) he shares with others what he had learnt (this is called as parOpadhESam – telling others). But the samsAris were immersed in their own deeds and did not pay heed to him. He then thought of the all the good deeds that bhagavAn had done for him, and composed these in the next 10 pAsurams (15 to 24). This is called as acknowledging upakAra paramparai (the favours done by bhagavAn). From the 25th to the 34th, he confessed that he does not have any good qualities in him and also all the vices in him (this is a must when surrendering to bhagavAn –called as Akinchanyam,  we must admit our dhOshams (vices) and absence of guNams (good qualities)). From 35th to 37th pAsurams, he lamented about his lowly nature (naichyAnusandhAnam). bhagavAn thought that even the only AthmA who would come to him is now trying to leave him. Worried about this, he told AzhwAr about the incidents that happened during his avathArams (incarnations) and told AzhwAr not to leave him. AzhwAr gained confidence after this and surrendered to bhagavAn in the 38th pAsuram, by bringing in the meanings of dhvaya mahAmanthram (the two lines that are recited at the time of surrendering to emperumAn). From 39th to 44th pAsuram, he extols the virtues of those who had surrendered to bhagavAn. In the 45th pAsuram he gives out the benefit for those who sing these pAsurams and completes thirumAlai.

This brings us to the end of avathArikai. Let us proceed to the first pAsuram, “kAvalil pulanai vaiththu….” in the next article.

periya pirAttiyAr periya perumAL thiruvadigaLE SaraNam
thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr thiruvadigaLE SaraNam
periyavAchchAn piLLai thiruvadigaLE Saranam

adiyEn krishNa ramanuja dasan

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