thirumAlai – 1 – kAvalil pulanai vaiththu – Part 1

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avathArikai (Introduction)

We (the jIvAthmAs) have been under yamadharmarAja’s control because of the sins that we have committed and are committing. Reciting emperumAn’s  divine names will deliver us from these sins and thus from yamadharmarAja. Hence these divine names purify us. Also, reciting his divine names gives the person who recites it, a special status, such as belonging to a regal heritage (in other words, the person who recites it will be held in high esteem).


காவலில் புலனை வைத்துக் கழிதன்னைக் கடக்கப் பாய்ந்து
நாவலிட்டு உழி தருகின்றோம் நமன்தமர் தலைகள் மீதே
மூவுலகு உண்டு உமிழ்ந்த முதல்வ நின் நாமம் கற்ற
ஆவலிப்பு உடைமை கண்டாய் அரங்கமா நகருளானே

kAvalil pulanai vaiththuk kalithannaik kadakkap pAyndhu
nAvalittu uzhi tharuginROm namanthamar thalaigaL mIdhE
mUvulagu uNdu umizhndha mudhalva nin nAmam kaRRa
Avalippu udaimai kaNdAy arngamA nagaruLAnE


Word-by-word meanings

mU ulagu – all the worlds
uNdu – (during  the time of deluge or annihilation) keeping in the stomach (and protecting)
umizhndha – (later) brought them out
mudhalva – the entity responsible for the creation of universe
nin nAmam kaRRa – by learning (through AchAryan) your divine names
Avalippu udaimai – due to the sense of pride (of learning the divine names)
pulanai – the five sensory perceptions (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and eating)
kAval il vaiththu – letting the senses wander about without securing them firmly

despite that
kali thannai – all the masses of sins
kadakkap pAyndhu –  get rid off, with all traces
nAvalittu – with a victorious war-cry
naman thamar thalaigaL mIdhE – both atop yama (dhEvathA or demi-god for justice and righteousness) and his  followers
uzhi tharuginROm kaNdAy – we keep walking, see for yourself

vyAkhyAnam (Commentary)

kAvalil pulanai vaiththu – keeping the sensory perceptions free from any control (allowing them to roam around freely without any inhibitions). There are certain disadvantages to this. It will not help in any way in reaping the advantage stated later in the pAsuram (of walking atop yamadharmararAjA’s and his followers’ heads). It will also make the person (who has no control over his senses) to behave like an animal (nrupaSu – an animal in the form of human being). Animals do not have any control over their senses; human beings are expected to have control. But if a person lets his senses loose, he will not be different from an animal. Such a person will not follow what the SAsthras have ordained us to do – do what is permitted and refrain from doing, what is prohibited. How then did such a chEthanan (a jIvAthmA) get the power to walk atop yamadharmarAja? It is the prowess of emperumAn’s thirunAmam (divine names) alone which can elevate the jIvAthmA by removing his dhOshas (faults) and providing him the required resource to walk atop yamadharmarAja.

When a person is stung (or bitten) by a poisonous janthu (creature like a scorpion or snake), there are several restrictions imposed on him to negate the effect of poison. He cannot have oil bath or he cannot eat certain types of foodstuff or he cannot sleep. But if an expert in providing antidote to such poisons tells the person bitten that he need not observe any of these restrictions and that he can lead a normal life, but that his medicine will still be effective, will it not be wondrous? In the same way, reciting the divine names of emperumAn will provide succour to a samsAri bitten by the poison of samsAram.

vaiththu” (kAvalil pulanai vaiththu) – it is not that the jIvAthmA had allowed the senses to wander  without his knowledge; here it means that knowingly he had allowed his senses to do so and indulge in wrongful acts.

kAvalil – “kAval illAdhapadi” – without any control: will this meaning be appropriate when it should really be taken as “keeping the senses under control”? Experts in language will confirm that the meaning – without any control – is superior to the meaning – with control. This is so, because it is like the expert in antidote to poison saying that the person bitten need not follow any restrictions. If restrictions are imposed, it is a normal case. Only when restrictions are withdrawn, will it translate into a superior treatment. It is the same way here.

Now we can consider the meaning of the same phrase (kAvalil pulanai vaiththu) with the second meaning for “kAvalil” – i.e. keeping the senses under control. In this case, this act (of keeping the senses under control) becomes the fruit (end result) of reciting emperumAn’s divine names. This is like the situation in a kingdom when there is no king and everyone breaks the law. When a new king takes over, all the wrong doers are brought under control. Here (in the case of the pAsuram), the divine names are like the new king, the senses are the wrong doers and keeping under control is taking the wrong doers inside the prison cell and correcting their behaviour. A third meaning to this term is that the senses which were wandering in all the improper entities were made to focus on the proper (ordained) entity – emperumAn’s thirumEni (physical form of bhagavAn). This was made possible by reciting his divine names. The vyAkhyAthA (commentator) raises a doubt here – is this possible? And, he himself gives the explanation that this had indeed happened in SrI rAmAyaNam, wherein it is stated that SrI rAma had the ability to conquer the sight and mind of those who laid their eyes on him (dhrushta chiththAya apahAriNam).

kali thannaik kadakkap pAyndhu – Getting rid of all the sins (kali) which are the basis for inability to keep senses under control, with all traces. The term “thannai” would appear to give a special emphasis to kali. The reason for this is – it (kali) is the cause for jIvAthmA getting engaged with worldly matters of enjoyment. After death, it is the cause for suffering in hell. It is also the cause for jIvAthmA for not only not getting engaged with emperumAn, but also showing hatred towards him and it is also the cause for believing that (physical) body is AthmA (dhEhAbhimAnam). It is also the cause for various other wrongful acts of a jIvAthmA. Another explanation given is that the term “thannai” denotes an enemy who was controlling me and ordaining me all along and now I have won over him and to emphasise that, this word has been used.

kadakka – to cross over. To what extent was it crossed over? vyAkhyAthA says that it was to such an extent that all contact with samsAram (materialistic realm) was cut off (making the person like a nithyasUri, as only nithyasUris are the AthmAs who do not have any contact with samsAram). Earlier two meanings were given for kali – one as a collection of sins and another, as an enemy. Now kali is considered as time (period). For this, the meaning of crossing over is that the person is now in krutha yugam (the first yugam) and does not have any connection with kali yugam [he is far removed from kali and hence will not be affected by it].

pAyndhu – How was it (kali) crossed over? Just like thiruvadi (hanuman) crossed the ocean to reach lankA by flying over it, without touching it any way, AzhwAr crossed the ocean of sins without touching any part of it.

“nin nAmam kaRRa” – the fact remains that he had got the power to oppose yama and his followers only because he had learned the divine names of emperumAn. Why then does he state here that he had crossed over the ocean of sins on his own effort? This is because of the nature of the divine names. Despite doing so much, the divine names will stand aside and not take any credit for carrying out the tasks. This is similar to what is usually referred to by our pUrvAchAryars as “irAmadam UttuvAraippOlE” [a son fought with his mother and told her that he will not stay with her anymore and went to a free shelter in the area. At nightfall, the mother knows that her son will be hungry and that he will not get any food in the shelter. She takes food for him, but instead of giving it to him directly, for fear of rejection, she hands the food to the owner of the shelter to feed her son. Hiding herself from the sight of her son, she sees her son eating the food and feels satisfied]. Another explanation is that since the benefit of learning the divine names is his, it is not inappropriate to say that he had crossed over the ocean of sins. Moreover, we should remember that he is still in this realm (samsAram) only, with his body. But he feels as if he has already left this realm and gone to SrIvaikuNtam. That is so because of the special affection that emperumAn has for him.

nAvalittu uzhi tharuginROm – “nAvalO nAval” and “aRaiyO aRai” are slogans raised by the victorious warriors in a war. Here AzhwAr, who was earlier scared of the name yama, with the backing of having learned the divine names, now has the courage to call yama and his consort, and tell them that he is going to walk on top of their heads. yama is the dhEvathA (demigod) who gives punishment for those who have indulged in sins in samsAram. But he is powerless in front of emperumAn’s divine names. This is similar to the situation in kishkinthA where sugrIva, earlier afraid of his elder brother vAli, now goes to his palace and calls him for a fight after befriending SrI rAma. There it was the strength of the bearer of the name (emperumAn). Here it is the strength of the name itself.

uzhitharuginROm – he walks regally in front of yama and his dear ones, without any fear. He tells yama to bring the account book which he maintains (written by yama’s assistant, chithraguptha) for jotting the sins of samsAris so that he can tear them off, with the strength bestowed on him by emperumAn’s divine names. Instead of saying in the singular number (tharuginREn), why is AzhwAr saying it in plural? (tharuginROm). One explanation is that he grows in size as he learns the divine names and since he has become huge now, he feels that he is equivalent to many persons. Another explanation is that he teaches the importance of learning the divine names of emperumAn to others and these people now leave behind their hatred for emperumAn and join him. It was only one hanuman who crossed the ocean in search of sIthAp pirAtti and waged a mini-war in lankA. But all the monkeys in his group felt that they had themselves engaged in the mini-war and hence destroyed the wonderful garden (madhuvanam) of sugrIva out of great joy when they returned to kishkinthA. It is similar to that, here, with only thoNdaradippodi AzhwAr walking atop yama and each of his followers feeling that he himself accomplished this task. It is similar to one person getting to know the king of the land and that person’s relatives enjoying that benefit.

naman thamar thalaigaL mIdhE – Since AzhwAr has got many others to come with him, he feels that one head alone will not be enough for so many people to walk on and hence calls yama’s supporters too. When people in this world commit sins, they will name their children after yama and his assistant chithraguptha and offer salutations to them so that the real yama will be pleased. But now, having learned the divine names, AzhwAr feels that he can very well keep his foot on their heads. However, yama would feel that the purpose of being given a head is to keep it at the feet of one who has learned the divine names of emperumAn. This may sound strange. Is there any pramANam (proof) for this?

We shall see the remaining portion of this pAsuram in the next part.

adiyEn krishNa ramanuja dasan

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