sthOthra rathnam – avathArikai (Introduction)

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nathamuni-alavandharnAthamunigaL and ALavandhArkAttu mannAr kOyil

sarvESvaran out of his causeless grace, reveals his true nature, forms, qualities and wealth as said in thiruvAimozhi 1.1.1mayarvaRa madhi nalam aruLinan” (blessed nammAzhwAr with faultless knowledge and devotion). Since that gyAnam (knowledge) is bhakthirUpApanna gyAnam (knowledge which culminated into devotion), AzhwAr with parabhakthi (first stage of pure devotion – full knowledge about bhagavAn) enjoyed bhagavAn’s qualities. He then acquired paragyAnam (next stage of pure devotion – clear visualization of bhagavAn as if seeing him physically) and as a result acquired paramabhakthi (final stage of pure devotion – the stage before ascending to paramapadham). As a result, as said in chAndhOgya upanishath 8.12.2 “param jyOthir upasampadhya” (reaches the supreme light, nArAyaNa), muNdaka upanishath 3.1.3 “paramam sAmyam upaithi” (jIvAthmA attains equality (in eight qualities) with supreme lord) and in periya thirumozhi 11.8.5 “thammaiyE okka aruL seyvar” (emperumAn will bless the AthmA to become like him), AzhwAr realised his true self and attained kainkaryam (service to lord) as said in thiruvAimozhi 3.3.1 “vazhuvilA adimai seyya vENdum” (desire to engage in service without any break) and thiruvAimozhi 10.10.11 “avAvaRRu vIdu peRRa” (nammAzhwAr, who attained liberation to be fulfilled of all his desires).

periya mudhaliyAr (nAthamunigaL) obtained this confidential knowledge of dhrAvida upanishath (thiruvAimozhi) by nammAzhwAr’s grace. ALavandhAr obtains this confidential knowledge through the teachings of AchAryas, meditates upon them and being unable to control the love, due to the overflowing emotions and unable to bear the despicable state of samsAris (worldly people), thinking that they cannot be ignorant about this confidential knowledge, reveals this most confidential knowledge of all upanishaths and most difficult to learn principles, as sthOthram (praises) to be known by everyone.

In matters/persons other than bhagavAn, sthOthram means flattery (praising non-existing qualities) and praising the limited available qualities as explained in SrI sthavam 3 “sthOthram nAma kimAmananthi” (How does poets praise?) and in SrI rangarAja sthavam pUrva Sathakam 19 “anyathrAthadhguNOkthi:” (In matters other than bhagavAn, praising means speaking about non-existing qualities). But bhagavath vishayam is explained to be beyond comprehension as said in thaiththirIya upanishath Anandhavalli 9.1 “yathO vAchO nivarthanthE” (the words returned being unable to glorify bhagavAn‘s quality of bliss fully and even the mind cannot comprehend that), kEna upanishath 2.3 “avigyAtham vijAnathAm” (for the knowers, brahmam is unknown) and so on. How is such bhagavAn praised here? Though he cannot be praised comprehensively, he can be glorified since

  • bhagavAn himself likes to be praised as said in SrIvishNu sahasranAmam “sthavya: sthavapriya:” (he is praiseworthy and he likes to be praised) and
  • there is enough glories in him to be spoken about as said in thiruvAimozhi 2.2.11Eththa Ezhulagum koNda” (measured and accepted the worlds to be glorified by all) and in thiruvAimozhi 4.3.10 “Eththa Eththa engeydhum” (there is no end to his glories even if everyone praised him) and
  • our words/speech have no other duty than praising emperumAn.

 Another explanation [Introduction focussing on prApyam (goal) and prApakam (means)].

[First, goal is explained.] purushArtham is explained as four in SrIvishNu purANam 1.18.22 “dharmArtha kAma mOkshAkyA: purushArthA udhAhruthA: | idham chathushtayam ” (These four – dharma (righteous actions), artha (wealth), kAma (sensual pleasures) and mOksha (liberation) are explained as goals) and in periya thirumadal 11 “mannum aRam poruL inbam vIdu” (the four aspects which remain firmly – dharma, artha, kAma and mOksha).  Among these, though dharma is a goal as well as means [i.e., performing the righteous actions are means as well as goal], it involves difficulty. artha is an independent goal, yet, it is temporary, difficult to retain and is means to accomplish other goals. kAma too is an independent goal, yet fraught with being insignificant, temporary, disastrous [contrary to the nature of enlightened self], disgusting etc., and also highlighted as a hurdle for mOksha in mOksha SAsthram. Placing these aside, ALavandhAr looked at mOksham. In mOksham too, he first discarded kaivalya mOksham (eternally enjoying oneself) since that too is attained through difficult process which is to be performed for a very long period of time, and the result is insignificant when compared to enjoyment of bhagavAn and finally focussed on bhagavath prApthi (attaining bhagavAn after liberation) which does not have any of the aforementioned defects. Not only that, bhagavAn is explained to be perfectly blissful as said in SrIvishNu purANam 6.5.58 and 6.5.59 “nirasthAthiSayAhlAdha sukhabhAvaikalakshaNA” (having the greatest bliss as his identity) and would also bestow the same bliss on his devotees as said in thaiththirIya upanishath Anandhavalli 7 “Esha hyEvAnandhayAthi” (He only gives pleasure to jIvAthmA), muNdaka upanishath “paramam sAmyamupaithi” (attain the supreme similarity) and periya thirumozhi 11.3.5 “thammaiyE okka aruL seyvar” (emperumAn  will bless those who worship him to become similar to him). Since he is easily attained and is the apt goal as said in SrI bhagavath gIthA 8.14 “thasyAham sulabha:” (I am easy to attain), bhagavath prApthi (attaining of bhagavAn) is considered as the best goal.

The different stages/aspects of attaining bhagavAn are explained with pramANams (references from the sacred texts) to conclude the best among those.

ALavandhAr explains how jIvAthmA and paramAthmA have a servitor/lord relationship:

  • SvEthASvathara upanishath 6.16 “pradhAna kshEthragyapathir guNESa:” (bhagavAn is the lord of matter and souls; he has auspicious qualities)
  • SvEthASvathara upanishath 1.9 “gyAggyau dhvAvajAvISanISau” – paramAthmA and jIvAthmA are omniscient and ignorant respectively; they are lord and non-lord (servant) respectively.
  • SvEthASvathara upanishath 6.7 “thamISvarANAm paramam mahESvaram” (the supreme lord of those who are considered as lords)
  • nAradha telling puNdarIka [rishi] “dhAsOham vAsudhEvasya” (I am a servant of vAsudhEva)
  • hArItha smruthi, ISvara samhitha – Siva’s words “dhAsabhUthAs svathas sarvE” (Aren’t all AthmAs naturally servants of paramAthmA?)
  • SrI rAmAyaNam sundhara kANdam 42.35 hanumAn’s words “dhAsOham kOsalEndhrasya” (I am the servitor of SrI rAma, the lord of kOsala kingdom)
  • subAla upanishath 7 “yasyAthmA SarIram” (for whom (paramAthmA), this AthmA (soul) is a body)
  • yajur AraNyakam 3.11.21 “antha: pravishtaS SAsthA janAnAm sarvAthmA” (bhagavAn who is entered in all creatures, controls them)
  • Apasthamba sUthram 22.1 “pU: prANinas sarva Eva guhASayasya” (All creatures are abodes for paramAthmA who is reclining in every heart, who is imperishable and faultless)
  • SrIvishNu purANam 1.22.86 “thAni sarvANi thathvapu:” (everything is a SarIram (body) for that paramAthmA)

He then explains the natural joyful interaction between jIvAthmA and paramAthmA:

  • parama samhithA “yEna yEna dhAthA gachchathi” (wherever the lord goes, the servitor follows)
  • thaiththirIya upanishath “sOSnuthE sarvAn kAmAn saha brahmaNA vipaSchithA” (jIvAthmA enjoys all the auspicious qualities of bhagavAn, along with him) and in periya thiruvanthAdhi 78 “OvAdha UNAga uN” (enjoy as eternal bliss).
  • jithanthE sthOthram 1.13 “kAmayE vaishNavathvam thu sarva janmasu kEvalam” (I desire to be born as a vaishNava only)
  • SrI rAmAyaNam ayOdhyA kANdam 31.25 lakshmaNa says “aham sarvam karishyAmi” (I will carry out all kainkaryams).
  • thiruvAimozhi 3.3.1ozhiviil kAlamellAm” (At all times)

Based on these, he concludes that as a chaste wife would lovingly serve her husband (husband’s bodily needs), a jIvAthmA would lovingly perform kainkaryam to bhagavAn.

Further, different aspects of kainkaryam are explained:

  • bhagavAn is said to be the attainable goal in SrIvishNu purANam 6.5.58 and 6.5.59 “bhEshajam bhagavath prApthi:” (attaining bhagavAn is the best medicine), it is due to the fact that he is the recipient of our kainkaryam;
  • it is said in chAndhOgya upanishath 8.12.2 “svEna rUpENAbhinishpadhyathE” (attains natural realisation/blossoming of self) that self-realisation is the prApyam (goal) due to the fact that realised soul is the abode of pure devotion;
  • it is said in katOpanishath 1.3.9 “sOdhvana: pAramApnOthi thadhvishNO: paramam padham” (One who has true knowledge as driver and mind as the restraint, he reaches vishNu’s divine abode which is on the other shore of material realm) that spiritual realm is goal due to the fact that one’s kainkaryam develops there.
  • it is said in jithanthE sthOthram 1.4 “nistharanthi manIshiNa:” (they cross over the ocean of material realm) that the removal of hurdles (samsAram) is the goal, since it is a hurdle for one’s kainkaryam.

If any/all of these are not leading to kainkaryam, they are not to be treated as goals as said in SrI rAmAyaNam sundhara kANdam 26.5 sIthA says “na hi mE jIvithEnArtha:” (There is no use of my life, body, ornaments etc., when I am in separation from SrI rAma) and as said in thiruvAimozhi 4.8.1 “maNi mAmai kuRaivilam” (there is no use of my beautiful complexion), thiruvAimozhi 4.8.9 “udambinAl kuRaivilam” (there is no use of my body), thiruvAimozhi 4.8.10 “uyirinAl kuRaivilam” (there is no use of my self).

A chaste wife would be focussed on serving the beautiful body of her husband more than his true self, his qualities and as such there is no deficiency in her chastity due to that [Since she is serving her husband with the right attitude, one cannot say wife is attached only to husband’s body]. Similarly, a devotee of bhagavAn would be focussed on thadhIya SEshathvam (being servitor of the devotees of bhagavAn) which is explained as a goal in itself [since bhagavAn’s devotees are considered as bhagavAn’s different bodies/forms and bhagavAn pervades them with great affection].

Thus, ALavandhAr determines the top-most goal which is the essence of all SAsthram.

[He then moves on to discuss the means for attaining the goal.]

For this goal, there are two [main] means – bhakthi [yOga] (path of devotion) and prapaththi (surrender).

Among these, bhakthi is explained using the terms vEdhana, dhyAna, upAsana etc.; it is knowledge culminated into devotion; it is gyAnam (knowledge) which facilitates direct visualization of emperumAn. Following pramANams highlight bhakthi’s nature:

  • thaiththirIya upanishath Anandhavalli 1 “bhramavidhApnOthi param” (one who meditates upon brahmam, attains that supreme brahmam)
  • bruhadhAraNyaka upanishath 6.6.6 “SrOthavayO manthavyO nidhidhyAsithavya:” (AthmA which should be heard about, thought upon meditated upon, can be seen)
  • katOpanishath 1.2.23 “nAyamAthmA pravachanEna labhya:” (This paramAthmA cannot be attained by mere hearing, meditation etc without devotion)
  • muNdaka upanishath 2.2.9 “thasmin dhrushtE parAvarE” (once that paramAthmA is seen, the jIvAthmA‘s lust, anger etc are destroyed, doubts are cleared and karmas are eliminated)
  • Sri bhagavath gIthA 11.54 “bhakthyA thavanyayA Sakya” (I cannot be attained without devotion)
  • SrI bhagavath gIthA 18.54 “madhbhakthim labhathE param” (One who is equally detached towards everyone, attains supreme devotion towards me)

bhatkthi yOga should be supported with fire sacrifices; it should be supported with karma yOga and gyAna yOga – so it can only be performed by qualified persons [thraivarNikas – men belonging to brAhmaNa, kshathriya and vaiSya varNams only]; the result is attained after a very long period of time only; there is scope for slipping from the process.

Discarding bhakthi yOga due to these defects, ALavandhAr determines prapaththi, which does not have any of these defects, to be the best means due to its being established in Sruthi (vEdham) and smruthi (manu smruthi etc), easy to perform, and which is adhyavasAyAthmaka gyAna viSEsham (a special type of knowledge which is in the form of complete faith) based on the following pramANams.

  • SvEthASvathara upanishath6.18 “mumukshurvai SaraNamaham prapadhyE” (I, who desire to be liberated, surrender unto parama purusha (bhagavAn) who first created brahmA, who instructed vEdham to the created brahmA …).
  • thaiththirIya upanishath nArAyaNavalli 50 “nyAsamAhur manIshiNO brahmANam” (Wise explain paramAthmA as nyAsa (surrender))
  • thaiththirIya upanishath nArAyaNavalli 49 “nyAsa ithi brahmA” (nyAsa is brahmam)
  • thaiththirIya upanishath nArAyaNavalli 50 “thasmAn nyAsamEshAm thapasAm athirikthamAhu:” (Thus, this nyAsa (SaraNAgathi) is said as the top-most penance).
  • yajur kANdam 6.5 “thasmAdhapi vadhyam prapannam na prathiprayachchanthi” (If one has surrendered, even if he is qualified to be killed, he should not be identified to others).
  • SrI rAmAyaNam ayOdhyA kANdam 31.2 “sa bhrAthuS SaraNau gAdam nipIdya ragunanadhana:” (lakshmaNa held his brother SrI rAma’s divine feet tightly and spoke)
  • SrI rAmAyaNam yudhdha kANdam 18.33 “sakrudhEva prapannAya” (even if one surrenders once, I will never abandon him).
  • SrivishNu purANam 5.23.47 “sO’ham thvAm SaramapAram apramEyam” (I surrendered unto the one who has no one higher than him, who is endless and cannot be comprehended)
  • SrI bhAgavatham 11.5.41 “sarvAthmanA yaS SaraNam SaraNyam nArAyaNam lOka gurum prapanna:” (One who is fully surrendered to SrIman nArAyaNan, he is neither indebted to nor servitor of dhEvas, rishis, creatures, relatives and pithrus (ancestors)).
  • SrI bhagavath gIthA 7.14 “mAmEvayE prapadhyanthE mAyAm EthAm tharanthi thE” (one who is surrendered to me, will cross over the ocean of nescience).
  • SrI bhagavath gIthA18.62 “thamEva SaraNam gachcha sarvabhAvEna bhAratha” (Oh descendant of bharatha! surrender unto that bhagavAn only)
  • SrI bhagavath gIthA18.66 “sarvadharmAn parithyajya” (give up all dharmas and surrender unto me only)
  • SrIvishNu purANam 1.9.73 “thAvathArthis thathA vAnchA” (Only until one surrenders unto you, he will have the desire to acquire wealth and the worry of not acquiring wealth and so on)

Why did ALavandhAr who set out to praise bhagavAn, start praising AchArya [He praises nAthamunigaL in the first three SlOkams]? Isn’t this unrelated as in the proverb “karNE sprushtE kadim chAlayathi” (when his ears are touched, he is shaking his hip)? It is, of course, related due to the following reasons:

  • the gratitude of making him (ALavandhAr) praise bhagavAn
  • to have the expanded knowledge to praise bhagavAn
  • to pray for obstacle-free completion of the prabandham

Can this praise be not done in the mind [should it have to be expressed through words]? Since it will be a great favour to those who are desiring to learn this prabandham, to have it expressed through words is apt.

Worshipping AchArya out of gratitude is well established from various pramANams.

  • thaiththirIya upanishath SIkshAvalli 11 “AchArya dhEvO bhava” (Consider AchArya to be God)
  • yajur AraNyakam 4 “nama  rushibhyO manthrakrudhbhya:” (I worship the rishis who realised the manthram)
  • Apasthamba sUthram 1.1.6 “sa hi vidhyAthas tham janayathi | thachchrEshtam janma ||” (AchArya gives re-birth to Sishya through knowledge; that is the higher birth)
  • vishNu thathvam “manthrE thadhdhEvathAyAncha thathA manthra pradhE gurau” (One should be devoted to the manthram, the dhEvathA who is explained in that manthram and the AchArya who instructed the manthram).

Further, when some one gives a precious gem, it is obvious to be grateful towards such person who gave the precious gem. Do we need any special proof from scriptures for that?

It is also seen in practice of elders to praise the AchArya to have one’s knowledge flourish.

  • mImAsaka – mImAmsA kArikA “abhivandhya gurunAdhau Sishya dhIpadhminIravIn” (First worshipping AchAryas who are like sun for the lotus which is the knowledge of Sishyas)
  • manu – manu smruthi 2.218 “yathA kanan kanithrENa” (Like a man will dig a pit in the earth to fetch water, a Sishya attains knowledge by serving the guru)
  • vaiSampAyana rishi – mahAbhAratham Adhi parvam 1.27 “yasya prasAdhAth vakshyAmi nArAyaNa kathAm imAm” (I worship the unlimited, radiant vyAsa bhagavAn by whose grace I am reciting this history of nArAyaNa).
  • manu – manu smruthi 2.117 “laukikam vaidhikam vA’pi” (One should first worship the guru from whom one learned worldly knowledge, scriptural knowledge and knowledge about brahmam)

This being the case, why did ALavandhAr worship his AchArya’s gurus instead of worshipping his own AchArya (maNakkAl nambi)? Praising what is desired by one’s AchArya is better than praising one’s own AchArya; since his AchArya would greatly desire ALavandhAr praising periya mudhaliyAr (nAthamunigaL), ALavandhAr follows suit. Two reasons are cited for ALavandhAr taking shelter of nAthamunigaL:

  • nAthamunigaL, by the grace of nammAzhwAr, acquired the great knowledge that was acquired by AzhwAr due to AzhwAr’s great devotion towards bhagavAn, instead of curtailing that knowledge with him, desire to bestow the favour of sharing it with the future generation, and thus became dharSana sthApaka (presiding AchArya) of our sampradhAyam.
  • maNakkAL nambi tells ALavandhAr “all these principles are explained by nAthamunigaL; your connection with his divine feet is the means for your ultimate goal”.

Only due to this consideration, bhattar too said in SrIvishNu sahasranAma bhAshyam “prathamamapi gurum nAthamIdE” (I worship nAthamunigaL as well who is the first AchArya).

As praNavam which is the origin of vEdham is recited at the beginning and the end of vEdham, here, AchArya is praised in the beginning and end and bhagavAn is praised in between. First, ALavandhAr worships nAthamunigaL in three SlOkams.

In the next article, we shall see the first SlOkam.

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

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