Flexible Faculties


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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

During a recent visit to Tirumala, I accidentally fell into one of the deep trenches that are being dug all over the hills for some strange purpose known only to the TTD authorities. They did not deem it fit to provide warning signs and in the pitch dark of 3 a.m., not being endowed with sensors, I could not help stepping involuntarily into the trench. The result was an immediate and searing pain in the calf muscle and walking became extremely difficult. Accepting this as a prasaadam the Tirumalayappan had bestowed on me even before granting an audience, I managed to crawl, limp and drag myself through the next few hours and, as soon as the glorious Saattrumurai was over at the Sannidhi (during which Srinivasa seemed to smile rather mischievously at me) returned home post-haste, in considerable pain. For a couple of days thereafter, I couldn’t set my foot down and was confined to the bed due to doctor’s orders, having torn a ligament.

There is nothing like an enforced rest to set you thinking and I too indulged in this idle pastime. Having temporarily lost the use of a leg, I wondered wistfully how nice it would be if one organ of the body were able to perform the function of another, when the latter is out of order. For instance, if you had conjunctivitis and had difficulty seeing with your eyes, how convenient would it be if the ears could also see! If you had a hearing problem, how handy would it be if the eyes could take over as conveyors of sound too, in addition to sight! If only the tongue could smell and the nose act as a taste bud! In short, if one crucial part of the body were able to substitute the functions of another, we would have absolutely no problems even in the case of a temporary or even permanent loss of one faculty. And it appeared rather remiss of the Lord, for not having provided the requisite interchangeability among our faculties, which would make them substitute for one another in case of need.

The sad fact, however, remains that all our knowledge is faculty-based-we are unable to see, hear, smell or taste, without the respective organs doing their duty.

Chiding myself for such fanciful thoughts, I pondered as to whether there were indeed instances of such substitutive faculties and, to my surprise, I did come up with a few. (Incidentally, I was mortified to find that even a snake was able to hear with its eyes, as could be gathered from its Sanskrit sobriquet-“Chakshushrava:”)

Describing the Raasa Leela, Sri Nammazhwar paints us an enchanting picture of Sri Krishna playing the flute, surrounded by an adoring bevy of Gopis. While doing so, Azhwar comes up with an interesting formulation, (in the ten paasurams beginning with “Malligai kamazh tendral”)-

“toodu sei kangal kondu ondru pesi, too mozhi isaigal kondu ondru nokki”

Azhwar tells us that Sri Krishna spoke volumes to the Gopis with His beautiful eyes, conveying all possible intimate endearments-“toodu sei kangal kondu ondru pesi”. And simultaneously, He saw the Gopis with love-filled glances, through His music-“too mozhi isaigal kondu ondru nokki”.

Normally, the eye can only see-it can’t speak. Even granting that expressions can be exhibited in the eye, they can only be extremely inadequate and can convey meaning fully, only when supplemented by the spoken word. By itself, eye-contact, as a means of communication, would be ineffective.

Not so, however, in the case of Sri Krishna-He managed to convey to Gopis with His dark, passionate and red-lined eyes, all that He could have actually said through speech. All the love and affection He had for them, all the endearments that lovers utter at great emotional heights-all these were conveyed to the Gopis with utmost effectiveness, as if Sri Krishna was actually speaking volumes, says Sri Nampillai-“pecchaal pirakkum spashttathai nokkaale pirakkai”. The message went through to the Gopis through the Lord’s eyes with all the clarity that only the spoken word can convey.

And what was the need for speaking through the eyes, when He did have a pearly mouth (“tirupppavala chevvaai”) with which to speak and dulcet tones which were music to the ears?

Sri Krishna was playing the flute, regaling man, woman and beast alike and could not be bothered to take it off from His mouth, interrupting the flow, every time He wanted to speak to a Gopi. However, He could not also refrain from speaking to His female fans frequently. As much as they wanted to speak to Him, Krishna too was enamoured of whispering sweet nothings in their ears constantly. And as a way out, He continued with His concert, simultaneously conversing with Gopis through His eloquent eyes, managing to communicate as effectively as if He were speaking to them lovingly and at length. We wonder whether it is this act of Emperuman which inspired Tiruvalluvar’s words ”

Kannodu kan nokkin vaaicchorkkal enna payanum ila”

And the mesmerising music that emanated from the flute had no less an impact on the audience than a captivating look from the Lord’s beautiful eyes. A mere glance from Sri Krishna’s eyes has the effect of comprehensively winning over the onlooker and making the latter a slave for eternity. Azhwar avers that the Venu gaanam was so enchanting as to enslave all those present and Sri Nampillai, commenting on the line “too mozhi isaigal kondu ondru nokki”, says-

“Azhagia pecchodu koodiya isaigalaale kannaale nokki eedu padutthumaa pole eedupadutthi”.

This episode tells us that it is indeed possible for one faculty to perform the function of another and that too quite effectively-“vaak vyavahaaramum netra vrittiyum maaraadina padi”. However, this is possible only for the Lord, who does not depend upon His faculties for generating data.

If this is what Sri Krishna did, He must have continued where He left off in His previous avatara, for, we find Sri Rama too employing one faculty to perform the function of another. If Krishna spoke with His eyes, we are told by Sri Valmiki that Sri Rama drank with His! When Sri Vibhishana falls at Raghava’s feet in a gesture of Saranagati, what does Rama do? The Prince of Ayodhya extends refuge to the distressed rakshasa with sweet words of reassurance, all the time looking at Vibhishana with compassionate eyes which appear to drink him in. Here are Sri Valmiki’s beautiful words-

“Tasya tat vachanam shrutva Ramo vachanam abraveet
vachasa saantayitvainam lochanaabhyaam piban iva”

Sri Rama’s eyes appeared to drink in Vibhishana, says Sri Valmiki, highlighting the Lord’s abundant love and affection for one who has realised the folly of his ways and surrenders totally to the Lord, forsaking all that he has held dear so far. Swami Desikan compares the passion in the Lord’s eyes to that of a traveller in the desert, tormented by thirst, when he sights water at last-“peru vidaai pattavan tanneerai kandaal oru kaalum vida maattadaar pole”. Emperuman’s eyes thirst for the sight of a Saranagata and once He sights a surrendered soul, He is so eager that His eyes appear to drink in the Prapanna.

We see thus that quite unlike human faculties, which are designed to perform a single function, the Lord can speak with His eyes, see with His speech, drink with His eyes and so on. And how is He able to substitute the function of His faculties at will? Because He is not dependant on His Indriyas or senses, for cognition. Though He sports a magnificent tirumeni for the edification of His devotees, replete with eyes, ears, nose and limbs, apparently meant for respective cognitive functions, His faculties are not mundane and moribund like those of mortals. In fact, He does not need faculties or senses at all, for seeing, hearing or for any of the other functions. The Upanishad tells us that He sees without eyes, hears without ears, travels without legs and so on-

“Apaani paadou javano griheetva pasyati achakshu: shrunoti akarna:”

While sitting at the same place, He can commute to quite a distant place– “Aaseeno dooram vrajati”. Seated at Sri Vaikunttam, He is aware of all that happens at every nook and cranny of all the universes, instantaneously, as if in a live telecast, says Sri Nathamuni-

“Yo vetti yugapat sarvam, pratyakshena sadaa svata:”

This article started with my wishful thinking about faculties which could be used interchangeably. However, when I went through the Varadaraja Stavam of Sri Koorattazhwan, I found that my thoughts were not as fanciful as they appeared initially. Azhwan too expresses a yearning for such a state, where each of his organs wishes to perform the duty of another, apart from its own assigned task. And what is the provocation for the Acharya’s wish for faculties overreaching their respective roles and trying to usurp those of their companions?

It is the magnificent and mesmerising vision of Sri Varadaraja, which makes Azhwan long for his sense of touch being able to drink in the Lord’s boundless beauty. The Acharya wishes that his tongue would hear the sweet words of the Lord’s praise. So also is Azhwan’s wish for his nose, which is loathe to confining itself to smelling and craves a much greater role in Bhagavat anubhavam. It is an indication of the depth of Azhwan’s devotion that all his faculties compete with one another in not only securing their rightful share of enjoyment of the Lord, but also encroach into that of the other faculties– the ear trying to see the incredible beauty of Varada, the eye wishing to hear His praises, the skin longing for a blissful sight of Emperuman and so on. Here is Sri Azhwan’s beautiful verse, describing the plight of his faculties, driven to madness by the sight of Sri Varadaraja-

“Tvak cha drik cha nipipaasati,
Jihvaa vihvalaa shravanavat para vrittou
Naasikaa tvayi Kareesa! Tatheti
Praapnuyaam katham imaamsvit avastthaam”

The Lord is generous and endows us with such flexible faculties, capable of performing not only their allotted functions, but also those of their brethren. However, He gifts us with such interchangeable indriyas, only after our emancipation through an appropriate strategy like Prapatti. After release from Samsara and reaching Sri Vaikunttam, it would appear that the liberated soul is able to assume at will any sort of body, with faculties which are capable of performing any function-eyes that hear, ears that see, etc. All this, however, is done only to enhance the Mukta’s enjoyment of the Lord and His boundless beauty and not for any self-gratification.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana
Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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  1. 🙂 beautiful anubhavam! Hope tiruvenkatamudaiyaan heals your ligament just as he did of gajendra 🙂

    Really enjoyed your collage of anecdotes, particularly of koorathhalvan 🙂

    While on the topic of senses, till we get that stage of mukti, can we follow enough of what kulasekharalwar recommends in Mukundamala 🙂

    jihvE kIrtaya kESavam mura-ripum cEtO bhaja SrI-dharam
    pANi-dvandva samarcayAcyuta-kathA: SrOtra-dvaya tvam SRNu |
    kRshNam lOkaya lOcana-dvaya harEr gacchAnghri-yugmAlayam
    jighra ghrANa mukunda-pAda-tulasIm mUrdhan namAdhOkshajam || (MM 16)


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