Rama the Fourth
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
It has been fashionable among Kings and Emperors of yore to name themselves after their illustrious predecessors, perhaps to perpetuate their memory or for other reasons. We thus find several KulOtthungAs in the ChOzha lineage, several Sundara PAndyAs in the dynasty of the PAndyas who ruled with Madurai as their capital, two or more Chenguttavans in the ChEra kulam and at least two Chandra GuptAs. The practice doesn’t seem unique to India, as we find English sovereigns too preferring to bear the names of their ancestors, finding the same to be tried and tested than some strange name, which might bring misfortune. The name of Henry appears to have been extremely popular among English Kings, closely followed by Edward, with Henry VIII being perhaps the last of the Henries, having mired himself in controversies. Though America is supposed to be a democracy, we find the strange phenomenon of some of its illustrious sons calling themselves Rockfeller III and so on, in an attempt to imitate kings of yore. With the widely prevalent South Indian practice of naming the male offspring after their grandfathers, I could probably call myself Satakopan the 23rd or some such thing.
Going back to times past, let me ask you a question, in a general sense—Who was Rama the first?
This might sound strange, for there do not appear to have been two or more Kings of the name in the Ikshvaku dynasty. And if this question were to be asked in the buzzer round of a quiz programme, participants’ fingers would race to the buzzer and pat would come the answer, identifying Sri Rama, son of Dasarata, as Rama the First. And the quiz master would promptly declare it to be wrong answer.
From time immemorial, the name Rama has always signified to us the Magnificent Monarch of Ayodhya, the distinguished son of Dasarata, the apple of Kousalya’s eye, the heartthrob of Sri Janaki and the revered ruler who was a model for all to follow, in all aspects of human life. The name appears as though fashioned specifically for the Prince of Ayodhya, so much so, that Visvamitra, dissatisfied with the name bestowed on the Prince by arch rival Vasishtta, thinks long and hard for an alternative sobriquet, but fails miserably to come up with a credible alternative and ends up calling Him by the very same name.
However, Vasishtta himself doesn’t appear to have been very original in naming the Prince of Ayodhya as “Rama”, for there was already a famous entity with the sobriquet, who was known in all the three worlds. In fact, His very name evoked awe and terror in everyone, especially in ruling clans. Long before Dasaratha begot Sri Rama, this other Rama was quite well known. Born to Jamadagni and RENukA, this child was also named Rama by His parents. This is clear from the Ramayana sloka, where the Rishis call him by the name “Rama”—“RishayO Rama Rama iti madhuram vAkyam abruvan”And because He wielded the axe with telling effect, He was known as “Parasu Rama”.
There must be something in the name “Rama” which prompts instant and implicit obedience to parents. Just as Dasaratha Rama was famed for His “pitru vAkya paripAlanam” and treating His father’s words as holier than the scripture, BhArgava Rama (Parasurama was so called because of his descent from Sage Bhrigu) too carried out His father’s wishes instantly and without question, even though they involved the beheading of His mother and brothers. Enraged by his wife’s delay in bringing water for his Vaidika kriyAs, Jamadagni asked his five sons to behead their beloved mother. Baulking at this cruel command, four of the sons would not carry out the heinous act. His rage fuelled by this refusal, Jamadagni ordered Parasurama to kill not only His mother but also the disobedient brothers. Without batting an eyelid and without a moment’s hesitation, Parasurama carried out His father’s orders. And when a pleased Jamadagni sought to bestow boons on his obedient son, Parasurama sought as the one and only boon the restoration of His mother and brothers to life. Parasurama knew His father’s psychology very well and acted instantly and with alacrity in carrying out the distasteful orders, knowing full well that the executions could be reversed.
And the name “Rama” also appears to signify exemplary bravery and exceptional prowess. While Dasaratha Rama single-handedly destroyed fourteen thousand rAkshasAs at JanasthAnam, Parasurama too appears to have disposed of seventeen battalions of KartaveeryArjunA’s army and later the thousand-armed King himself, when the latter tried to abduct the KAmadhEnu in Jamadagni’s possession. And when the dead King’s son killed Jamadagni and his wife in a fit of rage, Parasurama took a vow to destroy the ruling class for twenty-one generations and wreaked sweet revenge by filling a tank at KurukshEtra with the blood of all the beheaded kings and performing “Pitru tarpaNam” with the same.
Struck by the contrast between Rama the First and Rama the Second, Swami Desikan conveys his wonderment through the sobriquets he bestows on them—while Parasurama is described as “ROsha Rama:” or anger personified, Dasaratha Rama is termed “KaruNA KAkuttstha:” or the embodiment of Mercy. While Sri Rama had to bring on anger with difficulty (“kOpam AhArayat teevram”), Parasurama is said to be consumed by the blazing fire of anger (“KrOdhAgnim Jamadagni peedana bhavam”). While Sri Rama is the support and sustenance of hundreds of princely dynasties (“RAja vamsAn shata guNAn stthApayishyati Raghava:”), Parasurama’s sworn mission is the annihilation of all rulers, for twenty-one generations.
A legitimate doubt plagues us as to how the Lord assumed such a dreaded and awesome avatAra, whose sole purpose appears to have been to rid the worlds of a degenerated ruling class. How could Emperuman, who is normally a cool and inviting ocean of Mercy (“KaruNA varuNAlayam”), indulge in such mass destruction, even granting that it was to remove the painful, princely thorns in the flesh of BhoomAdEvi?
The answer is easy to find. In Sri Ramavatara, the constant presence of Piratti ensured that divine justice was liberally tempered with Mercy, as in the case of KAkAsurA and the RAkshasIs of AshOka vanikA. In Parasuramavatara, without the benefit of intercession by the Divine Consort, the KshatriyAs were exposed to the full force of the Lord’s anger at wrongdoing by those who were expected to set an example to their subjects. It is thus the mitigating presence and mercy-filled words of Sri Mahalakshmi that make all the difference between our receiving punishment commensurate with our innumerable transgressions and getting off lightly with just a word of caution.
Passing on to Rama the Third, we find Him to be the constant companion of Sri Krishna, whose life-mission is to afford protection to Sri Krishna. Balarama destroyed the dreaded PralambAsura, who had arrived at Gokulam to eliminate Krishna. Compared to Krishna’s traits of thieving, faithlessness to girl friends, incurable fibbing, etc., Balarama appears to have been a paragon of virtue. Krishna had a healthy respect for His elder brother and appeared to obey the latter implicitly, always—this is evident from Sri Andal’s lines “BaladEvarkku Or keezh kandru”. And if Sri Krishna’s entire life, words, deeds and looks were incredibly sweet (“MathurAdhipatE: akhilam madhuram”), it is because of the inseparable company of Sri Balarama, says Swami Desikan, likening Sri Krishnavatara to milk and the Balaramavatara to Sugar, which makes milk more of a pleasure to consume. If Sri Rama wielded the bow and arrow with telling effect and if Parasurama was a terror with his axe, Rama the third carried a Plough, with which He destroyed many an enemy of Krishna. Balarama was so powerful that once He dragged the entire city of HastinApuram with His plough and dumped it into the Yamuna.
One wonders whether it is to these three Ramas that the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram refers, when it quotes Rudra as saying
“SrI Rama Rama Rama iti ramE rAmE ManOramE
SahasranAma tat tulyam Rama nAma varAnanE”
Going beyond the Divine Trio of Ramas, we are told that there is a Rama the Fourth, who has all the positive traits of the first three, but none of their apparent blemishes. This fourth Rama is virtue personified and greater than his three namesakes. If you find this difficult to believe or digest and consider it to be a product of my imagination, here is confirmation from an impeccable source—
“anujjita kshamA yOgam apuNya jana bAdhakam
asprishta mada rAgam tam Ramam turyam upAsmahE”
Says Swami Desikan in Sri YatirAja Saptati—
“I pay obeisance to Rama the Fourth, who is much greater than the three Ramas put together. Sri Parasurama lacked tolerance and mercilessly eliminated the ruling class for twenty-one generations. Our fourth Rama, however, is patience and tolerance personified. Sri Dasaratha Rama vowed to rid the world of bestial rAkshasAs and carried out His vow effectively, resulting in a massacre of the race. The Fourth Rama, however, would not harm even an ant, leave alone cause distress to people, good or bad. Sri Balarama was known for His partiality to “madhu”, with eyes reddish and demeanour affected by imbibing such beverages. Rama the Fourth, however, is purity personified, unaffected by baser instincts”.
And who is this fourth Rama, who is so great as to overshadow even His divine predecessors? It is none other than Sri MaNakkAl nambi, otherwise known as Sri Rama Misra. This Acharya was such a paragon of virtues and so untouched by any inauspicious traits, that Swami Desikan considers him to be superior to the Divine Trio, in tune with the dictum, “AchAryAt iha dEvatAm samadhikAm anyAm na manyAmahE” (we do not recognize or worship any deity as being superior to our magnificent Acharya). The words “Ramam turyam upAsmahE” (we worship Rama the fourth) indicate, by implication, that adulation should be only for Sri Rama Misra and not the other three, distinguished though they are.
A legitimate doubt that may arise in readers’ minds is whether the Deities mentioned ahead should be portrayed in such poor light, merely for the sake of highlighting the greatness of the Acharya. Swami Desikan adopts here what is known as the “nahi nindA nyAyam”, which means that absolutely no disrespect or insult is meant towards the Divine Trio, the emphasis here being on stressing the glory of Sri Rama Misra, who was indeed an Acharya beyond compare. But for his diverting Sri Alavandar from mundane pursuits and exposing him to Bhagavat anubhavam, our Sampradaya would have been much poorer. The immense contribution of Sri Alavandar would have been totally unavailable to us, but for the stellar role played by Sri Rama Misra and this is the reason for Swami Desikan’s glowing tribute to the Acharya, putting him on a pedestal higher than that occupied by even the Lord.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore