A Blade of Grass

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This Article is written by Sadagopan Swami of Coimbatore


What would you say is the least valuable and most insignificant item in the Lord's Creation? There are supposed to be 8.4 million types of
beings in the world, belonging to various species, classes and races. Lower in ranking than the humblest of these are the inanimate objects, due to their not having been blessed with faculties of cognizance or speech and lacking life in general. Even among such non-living things, some items like veins of gold, silver and other minerals and metals command good value and are deemed precious, as are diamonds extracted from their rocky settings. Even if they do not rate such high value, other things too are of great utility to mankind, such as plants and trees, which provide us with precious food, fruits and shelter. Among other types of plants, there are those shrubs which provide us with beautiful, fragrant flowers and those with enchanting leaves and shoots, while yet others have a medicinal value as herbs, used in various potions for curing the sick.
However, if you think of it, a single blade of grass appears to be most insignificant and least glamorous item in the entire gamut of God's creation, looked at from any angle. Grass may be used for landscaping and as fodder for cattle, but notwithstanding these minor applications, it is the oft-used simile, while a worthless being or object is compared. We often hear people complaining that they were treated as little better than blades of grass ("pullukku samAnam"), thus demonstrating the contempt or indifference this item raises in the minds of people. The term "Pulliyar" used to denote people of despicable conduct and character, appears to have had its origins in the lowly status of the "Pull" or grass. However, when we look into the Scripture, it provides us with abundant contexts where the ubiquitous but unassuming blade of grass has figured with distinction.

All of us are aware of the Tamizh saying, "Vallavanukku pullum Ayudham", describing how even the humblest and most harmless of things like a blade of  grass could be turned into a weapon of destruction, in the hands of an accomplished warrior. Adages such as these, we find, originate from an actual happening, from which the saying gains popular currency. It doesn't need much research to discover from which particular event this particular saying emanated, for it immediately draws our attention to the KAkAsura episode in Srimad Ramayana, where Sri Rama, enraged at the insufferable insult and physical injury inflicted upon the Divine Mother by the misguided son of Indra, just plucked a nearby blade of grass (dharbham) and flung it at the cursed crow, uttering the BrahmAstra mantra.-

"Sa darbham samstarAt grihya BrAhmENAstrENa yOjayat
Sa tam pradeeptam chikshEpa darbham vAyasam prati"

This simple blade of grass turned into an extremely potent weapon and hounded the KAkAsura wherever he flew, all over the three worlds. The renowned Creator BrahmA, the dreaded Destroyer Rudra and the Chief of Celestials Indra, the father of the crow-none of these worthies could save the fugitive from the pursuing BrahmAstra. After flying in vain several times around the three worlds, the crow fell at the feet of Sri Rama, displaying utter helplessness and remorse-"threen lOkAn samparikramya tamEvam sharanam gata:" and was saved by the KaruNA KAkuttsttha, even though he (the crow) deserved the most stringent of sentences, viz., death-"vadhArham api KAkuttsttha: kripayA paryapAlayat".

This, then, is what a blade of grass of capable of, when handled by a person of attainment. And we are told that when the Lord returned to Sri Vaikuntam on completion of His mission as Sri Rama, He afforded emancipation to even the last blade of grass in Ayodhya-"purpA mudalA narpAlukku uyttanan".

In the TrivikramAvatAra too, the Lord used a Darbham to evict ShukrAchArya, who, assuming the form of an insect, obstructed the passage of water from the vessel of MahAbali, who was about to grant the boon of three feet of land sought by the wily VAmana BrahmachAri.

We might talk lightly of a blade of grass, but can you think of a single vaidika karma, a single solitary ritual or deed, which can be performed without adorning oneself with a "Pavitram" made of kusa grass (Darbham)? Darbham imparts purity to the wearer and makes him eligible for the performance of the Karma. The Shruti tells us that this type of grass is the embodiment of purity and sanctity-

"SAkshAt pavitram darbhA:". Whether the entities to be propitiated are DevatAs or one's forefathers, it is Darbham which is used as a medium for conveying the offerings to them and in which their presence is ensured, with appropriate AvAhana mantrAs. The specific mantra which has to be uttered at the time of plucking Darbha grass for use, glorifies this apparently insignificant object thus-
"VirinchEna sahOtpanna! ParamEshtti nisargaja!
nuda sarvANi pApAni Darbha! SvastikarO bhava"

This grass is so ancient that it was born along with the Creator BrahmA himself and is capable of relieving us of all sins through appropriate prAyaschitta karmAs, says the aforesaid sloka. This grass is so potent, we are told, that VaidikAs used it for sprinkling holy water, accompanied by the chanting of Veda mantrAs, to protect the toddler Sri Krishna from evil influences-

"ViprA: hutvA archayAns chakru: dadhi akshata kusAmbubhi:"
says Srimad Bhagavata Purana.

Shastras enjoin BrahmachAris to wear around their waist a belt made of "Mounji" grass, to act as a protecting and purifying agent.

Srimad Ramayana is a veritable grassy knoll, dotted with accounts of this holy grass Darbham. When Sri Rama decides to propitiate Samudra RAja, He lies down on a bed of Darbham-

"tata: sAgara vElAyAm darbhAn Asteerya RAghava:
anjalim prAngmukha: kritvA pratisisyE mahOdadhim"

Thus these blades of grass were as fortunate as AdisEsha himself, as the Lord used them as His bed. To this day, the place this event was enacted stands as glorious testimony to perhaps the one and only Saranagati that the Lord Himself performed, lying down on a bed of grass. TiruppullANai (or TiruppuLLANi as it is known today) or Darbhasayanam boasts of a beautiful temple, where Sri Rama can be seen in a rare reclining posture, sung with verve by Sri Tirumangai Mannan in all of 20 pAsurams, depicting the beauty of "azhagAna PullANi".

If grass is thus dear to Emperuman, could it be otherwise to PirAtti? We find
Sri Janaki too using a blade of grass as a medium through which to communicate with RAvaNa, when he threatens Her with dire consequences if She doesn't cooperate with his nefarious designs-

"TriNam antarata: kritvA pratyuvAcha suchismitA".

Rather than communicate directly with the vile asurA, Piraatti plucks a blade of grass, throws it between Herself and Her abductor and addresses only the grass, without looking up at the asurA's face. By doing this, She signifies several things:

  • 1) It is not the "done thing" for chaste women to even look at other males.
  • 2) RAvaNa was little better than the blade of grass, in view of his
  • absolute lack of righteous thoughts.
  • 3) Being the distinguished daughter of the venerated Rajarshi Janaka, the
  • daughter-in-law of Dasaratha of great renown and the beloved wife of Sri Rama of undoubted prowess, it doesn't behove the lOkamAta to speak directly to such a "neecha" as Ravana: hence She communicates with him indirectly, addressing only the blade of grass.
  • 4) She was conveying indirectly to Ravana that when Rama reached Lanka and by the time He was done with Ravana, the latter would be trampled beneath the former's foot like an impotent blade of grass.

This sloka is considered so significant by Sri PeriavAcchAn PiLlai that he finds in it and furnishes to us a wealth of purport.

We are told that Sri Ramanuja was so attached to the Lord that he regarded
everything else in this mundane world as mere worthless blades of grass-

"YO nityam achyuta padAmbuja yugma rugma
vyAmOhata: tat itarANi triNAya mEnE".

Of what use is grass to anyone, except as fodder for cattle? Similar was Sri
Ramanuja's disenchantment with worldly relationships and possessions.

If such is the Bhashyakara's VairAgyam, can Swami Desikan's be far behind?

The Acharya expresses his resolve not to waste words of praise on mortal kings for material considerations, when he has been blessed with the ultimate wealth represented by the all -powerful Lord, who adorned the chariot of Arjuna. Swami Desikan says he would neither seek nor accept even a worthless blade of grass from such sovereigns-

"TriNam api vayam sAyam samphulla malli matallikA
parimaLa muchA vAchA na yAchAmahE maheesvarAn"

A meadow of fine, green grass is what constitutes the dream of every herbivorous four-legged creature. Cows, calves, deer and other cattle relish a meal of succulent grass and deem it a delicacy. However, if they were to pause in the midst of grazing, abandon their favourite gourmet dish and stand transfixed with even the imbibed, half-chewn grass sliding out of their mouths, the diverting attraction must indeed be of considerable magnetism. This is the effect the sweet and mesmerising strains from Sri Krishna's flute had on these dumb animals, says Sri Periazhwar-

"Surundu irundu kuzhal tAzhnda mukhattAn
Oodugindra kuzhal Osai vazhiyE
MaruNdu mAn kaNangaL mEygai marandu
mEynda pullum kadai vAi vazhi sOra
irandu pAduntulungA pudai peyarA
ezhudu chittirangaL pOla nindaranavE"

The BhAgavata Purana too describes the same scene thus-

"VrindashO vraja vrishA mriga gAvO vENu vAdya hrita chEtasa ArAt
danta dashta kabalA dhrita karNA nidritA likhita chitram iva Asan"

A blade of grass might be insignificant in several respects: however, when we see the potency and sanctity some of its varieties command, we are forced to revise our unfllattering opinion about grass. So much so that a modern poet seeks a birth as one of the humble blades of grass growing in the meadows of BrindAvanam, so that Sri Krishna's tiruvadi would sanctify it sometime or the other and, even if this doesn't happen, it would be trodden on at least by the hooves of cows and calves made holy by their association with the Lord-"oru PullAi piravi tara vENum- punithamAna pala kOti piravi tandAlum, BrindAvanam adil oru pullAi piravi tara vENum" beseeches this poet, placing a birth as a blade of grass much ahead of that as an exalted, erudite and devout paragon of human virtues.

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