Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Which animal has the most vulnerable look and comes to your mind, immediately when you hear the word, “hunted” Which animal has threatening and sharp horns, yet is the most docile and meek among the four-legged clan, Which creature has such beautiful eyes that it is the constant object of comparison with those of a striking woman. And which is the animal that has played such a vital role in the history of Gods as to be the pivotal point of their entire story.
There is something especially captivating about a Deer, and a young one at that. You may say that the young of all species are attractive, but there is simply no comparison to the deer in looks, demeanour and grace. The way the deer looks at you, with liquid brown eyes full of innocent appeal, practically knocks you over, making you feel extremely protective towards the creature. And its gait is full of grace and elegance, whether in casual walk or in flight from a pursuer. Its antlers too are very beautiful, if we are to go by the great numbers that adorn the drawing rooms of connoisseurs. And it is an animal that is valuable, dead or alive, with its skin, known as “Krishnaajinam”, forming an ideal seat (“Aasanam”) for spiritual contemplation and meditation.
And above all, the Deer has played such a pivotal role in various scriptural contexts that it is an indeed invaluable animal. Here are some of the mentions the animal has merited in our Epics and Puranas.
If we start our exploratory journey with the Shruti, we find that the Sri Suktam, singing the praises of Sri Mahalakshmi, calls Her a female deer, reverentially “Hiranyavarnaam, Harineem”. The Divine Consort resembles a golden female deer, says the Sri Suktam. This is reiterated by the Lakshmi Ashtottara Satanaama Stotram too “Harineem Hemamaalineem”.
And why should the Shruti hit upon a deer, of all animals, to personify Tirumagal? There are several reasons.
1. First and foremost, Sri Mahalakshmi has the incredibly beautiful eyes of a deer. Sri Sita is referred to often in Srimad Ramayanam as “Mriga saabaakshee”, with eyes as innocent-looking and striking as those of a deer.
2. Secondly, the word is interpreted to mean “the hunted”. You may wonder, The Divine Consort, and being hunted! Yes, the Sri Suktam does say that She is hunted – hunted by Yogis and Sages, who manage to tie Her down with their unalloyed devotion.
“Dooraat doorataram yaami Harinee yogi maanasaat
Bhaktyaa badhnanti nijaya yogina: maam yatavrata:”
“Like a deer, I move far from those who seek me. However, with their sincere and severe penance and devotion untainted by expectations, Yogis capture me in their net of Bhakti” says Sri, in Lakshmi Tantram.
3. Another reason for her being called “Harinee” (deer) is that She is bedecked in deerskin and is seated on one “Harinaajina samveetaam, Harinaajina samstaraam”. During Vamana Avataram, the Lord assumed the form of a diminutive Brahmachaari. And a Brahmachari is not entitled to have a wife. However, since Emperuman and His Consort are inseparable, the Lord had to find a way to accommodate Her on His chest, without compromising His chosen avocation. And He solved the problem by hiding Her on His chest, with an upper cloth made of deerskin, say the Puranas “Krishnaajinena samvrinvan vadhoom vaksha: sthalaalayaam”. There are other purports too to this epithet “Harinee”, but the aforesaid are those relating to Her association with the Deer.
According to Sri Periazhwar, Deer, as a species, immerses itself in Bhagavat anubhavam, losing itself in the Lord and His auspicious attributes. They are so mesmerised by the divine music emanating from Sri Krishna’s flute that they stand transfixed, their grazing all forgotten, with the half-chewed cud of grass slowly sliding from their mouths. The Lord’s tunes cast such a spell on them that they stand rooted to the spot, very much like lifeless sculptures, says Azhwar
“Marunda maan kanangal meygai marandu
Meynda pullum kadai vaai vazhi sora
Ezhuthu chitthirangal pola nindranave”.
The master exponent of the flute so moves even animals, that they forget their grazing and listen in rapt attention, motionless as a painting. This pasuram appears to be an almost verbatim translation of a Bhagavata slokam”
“Vrindasho vraja vrishaa mriga gaavo venu vaadya hrita chetasa aaraat
danta dashta kabalaa dhrita karnaa nidritaa likhita chitram iva aasan”
We saw how Harinee, the Divine Deer, can confer upon us all that we seek, including emancipation. However, Srimad Bhagavatam tells us about a deer which was the root cause for a sage, on the verge of liberation, getting immersed in the mundane morass again.
Bharata was the son of Rishabha Deva (an avatara of the Lord), who succeeded his illustrious father as the sole monarch of Bhaarata Varsha. After a long reign marked by rare austerity, devotion and penance, Bharata opted for an early retirement from princely life and adoption of Vaanaprasta Ashrama, retiring to Saalagrama kshetram for penance. The idyllic beauty of the locale and its absolute tranquillity made it an ideal place for contemplation of the Lord and Bharata immersed himself in this pleasurable pursuit, freeing himself from all worldly activity and occupations, leading a life of total renunciation, truly rid of all desire.
“Shreyaamsi bahu vighnaani” goes the adage, pointing out the propensity of hurdles to crop up, especially when the venture undertaken is noble. Fate took a hand in Bharata’s life of peace and devotion, in the form of a Deer. While performing his Sandhyavandanam in the river one day, Bharata heard a terrifying roar, emanating from an angry lion in pursuit of its prey. A pregnant deer too heard the roar and, in abject terror, suffered a premature delivery, with the full-grown foetus slipping into the river and by a quirk of benevolent fate, coming to rest gently against a sandbank, while the mother fell down lifeless. Bharata, who was a witness to all this, was moved beyond measure by compassion for the little one, which had lost its mother at birth and would surely not live long, left to itself.
Prompted by his natural mercy and sympathy for the underdog, Bharata picked up the just-born deer calf gently, took it to his Ashramam and cared for it, nursing it through sickness and health, lavishing all his love and kindness on the helpless creature. The calf grew up into a bewitching young one, staring at Bharata through its liquid brown eyes full of gratitude for the surrogate mother. It would butt Bharata on his chest with its nascent horns and play with him in myriad other ways common to young ones. Bharata too was wrapped up in his new ward and spent as much time as possible with the loving and beloved deer calf. Even while visiting the river for his anushttaanam, he would hurry back at the earliest, unable to bear the thought of some wild animal causing harm to his newfound love. He felt extremely responsible for the calf as would a parent towards his only child, and this preoccupation made him concentrate less and less on his avowed mission of Divine Contemplation. Having left his kingdom and all his human relations for the purpose of focussing his thoughts on the Eternal Relative, Bharata was now bound again by the strong bonds of passion for the deer, which, he thought, would perish without his attention. Bharata’s end drew near. It is not difficult to guess what was his last thought-it was solely about the deer and what it would do without his protective care.
Shastras tell us that what occupies one’s last thought (antima smriti) has a lot to do with what one is born as in the next birth–
“Yam yam vaapi smaran bhaavam tyajati ante kalebaram
tam tam evaiti Kounteya sadaa tad bhaava bhaavita:”
says the Gita.
True to this, Bharata too was reborn as a deer. Though ultimately Bharata did attain liberation, the process was delayed by the deer, as aforesaid.
It was another exceptional Deer again, that provided a crucial turning point to a great Epic.
Sri Rama, Sri Sita and Sri Lakshmana lead a life of peace and pleasure, among the picturesque woods of Dandakaaranyam “Ramamaanaa vane traya:”. Had they continued their jungle sojourn uneventfully for 14 years, they would have returned to Ayodhya, without the purpose of Ramavataaram, (viz., the destruction of Ravana) being fulfilled. Hence Providence intervenes in the form of an exceptionally beautiful deer. Sri Valmiki waxes eloquent while describing this exquisite animal. The Deer’s horn tips were studded with scintillating gems, its face was an attractive mixture of white and black, resembling a lotus in full bloom, with soft and flower-like ears, a neck like a dancer’s, lifted gracefully, pearly lips adorning its face, its hooves resembling precious diamonds, its tail arched high like a rainbow, its beautiful body spotted with silvery dots. The deer’s movements were extremely elegant and graceful and it ran back and forth in front of Sri Rama’s Parnashaala (cottage). Who wouldn’t lose their hearts to such an exquisite animal and who wouldn’t have liked to possess it and cuddle it? Is it any wonder therefore that Sita Piratti’s heart was filled with a longing for the young deer?
What happened subsequently is history, resulting in the abduction of Sri Janaki by Ravana and the killing of Maareecha, the rakshasa who had assumed the deer’s form for the specific purpose of enticing away the brothers Rama, so that Sri Mythily was left alone.
What we saw above was really a dishonourable exception to the general qualities of innocence and docility that dominate the deer species. Otherwise, the deer is considered to be such a Saatvic animal that Shastras prescribe its skin, “Krishnaajinam”, to be used as a seat, while we engage ourselves in meditation and other spiritual endeavours. Here is the relative prescription from Sri Gita
“Suchou dese pratishttaapya sthiram aasanam aatmana:
Naatyucchritam na ati neecham, chyla ajina kusottaram”
However, the skin of a deer is to be procured only after its natural death, no killing for the purpose is permitted.
The sanctity and purity of deerskin is further established by the prescription for its presence in the Yagyopaveetam worn by Brahmacharis, with the following Veda mantra recited therefor
“Mitrasya chakshu: dharunam baleeya: tejo yasasvi sthaviram samiddham
Anaahanasyam vasanam jarishnu pareedam vaaji ajinam dadheham”
The deer’s eyes are so perfectly formed, so liquid and expressive, so innocent-looking, that they find favour with poets when they seek similes for eyes of beautiful women. “Maaney nokki madavaalai maarbil vaitthaai Madhava!” says Sri Nammazhwar, confirming the Sri Suktam’s sobriquet “Harineem” for the Divine Consort. When the Paraankusa Nayaki, suffering from pangs of separation from the Tiruvallavaazh Emperuman, seeks reunion with Him through the aid of her girl friends, she flatters the latter by calling them “Maaney nokku nalleer!”.
Apart from being innocent, docile and beautiful, the Deer is also an extremely noble animal, which would rather sacrifice its life than let itself be captured and exploited. Even if a single hair on its body is plucked, the Kavari Maan would instantly die, we are told by Tiruvalluvar, who confers a rare honour on the deer, when he compares it to noble people who would rather die than lose their dignity
“Mayir neeppin vaazhaa kavari maan annaar
uyir neeppar maanam varin”.
From all the aforesaid, it is clear that the Deer is such a dear indeed that it would easily replace the cat and the dog as pets, if only it allowed itself to be domesticated. It has the added advantage of reminding us of the Divine Consort, every time we set eyes on it.
Srimate Sri Lakshmi Nrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore