The Spacious Stomach

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

My daughter told me I was developing a paunch, despite my otherwise lean build. “What is a banker without a paunch?”, I retorted, seeking refuge in my sedentary profession. For good measure, I also told her that I was only developing a “vaideeka lakshanam”. Though Shastras lay down that Brahmins should be lean, our generous daily intake of ghee and oils ensures that we develop telltale signs of the same in early middle age. Still smarting over the impertinent remark, I started thinking of stomachs in general and mine in particular. And naturally, the thought processes led me to the Lord’s own midriff and stomach. Chewing the cud and trying to remember what Poorvacharys have said on the subject, I found a wealth of tributes to this particular organ, which I would like to share with you.

Even if we eat a little more than usual, we find our stomach bulging outward. We can find perceptible evidence of this when we participate in feasts. The swollen stomach is mostly a temporary feature and reverts to its original proportions after digestion. And in pregnant women, the stomach shows protuberance in tune with the growth of the foetus.

Such, then, is the bulging caused by intake of a few mere hand fulls of food or by an infant. The Lord’s intake, however, is prodigious, by all accounts-

“kaarezh kadalezh malai ezh ulagu undum Aaraa vayittraan”

says Sri Nammazhwar, describing how the Lord’s stomach accommodates the seven worlds, with their component mountains, oceans and others, all swallowed during the Cosmic Deluge and kept in safe custody till the beginning of the next creative process. All these worlds and their extremely voluminous components occupy only a part of the Lord’s spacious stomach, says Swami Desikan-“Brahmaanda mandalam abhoot udara ekadese”

“Aala maa maratthin ilai mel oru baalakanaai
gyaalam ezhum undaan Arangatthu aravin anayaan”

says Sri Tiruppanazwar, confirming that all the worlds found a place in Emperuman’s tiny tummy, when He lay on a banyan leaf as an incredibly enchanting infant, amidst the swirling waters of the Cosmic Deluge.

And all this weighty and voluminous content appears to make little difference to the Lord, occupying only a minute portion of His stomach. Not only does all the intake hardly affect His stomach, but it appears actually lean and normal, as if He hasn’t eaten for days. How is this possible, wonders Sri Koorattazhwan with maternal concern, in his Varadaraja Stavam-

“Andaanaam tvat udaram aamananti santa:
stthaanam tat Varada! Katham nu kaarsyam asya?”

Swami Desikan mirrors the same marvel at the lean and mean stomach of the Lord, in his Devanayaka Panchasat-

“Visvam nigeerya Vibudheswara! Jaata kaarsyam
Madhyam valitraya vibhaavya jagat vibhaagam”

The Acharya is so taken up with this phenomenon of Emperuman sporting a lean stomach despite its innumerable occupants, that he voices his wonder again in Sri Achyuta Satakam-

“Brahmaandairapi bharitam KinkaraSatya! Tava kasmaat nu krisam udaram”

It is noteworthy that Sri Nammazhwar too, while describing the Lord’s act of swallowing all the worlds, ascribes the act to a huge mouth, rather than an enormous and capacious stomach, as would be logical-“Ulagam unda peru vaaya! Ulappil keertthi Ammaane!”

This leads us to an interesting question–why is Emperuman’s stomach lean and non-protuberant, despite His substantial and voluminous intake? Mahavidvan Sri Srivantsankachar Swamy, in his brilliant commentary on Sri Varadaraja Stavam, quoting the Saamudrika Shastram (which lays down the ideal physical features of various types of persons), tells us that an Uttama Purusha has a lean and pliant stomach, which looks almost non-existent. Being a Purushottama, it is but natural that Emperuman too sports such a tiny tummy.

If you really consider the items of food that Emperuman has been fed, it is a real wonder that His stomach is such as it is. When He was but a babe in arms, a raakshasi fed Him milk from a potently poisonous breast. When He started crawling, He consumed the sand and dust of Gokulam by the handfuls. And as to butter and curds, which have a tendency to create indigestion, He consumed them by the tonne. When He visited Sri Vidura, the latter, engrossed in the Lord’s enchanting company, absent-mindedly fed Him banana peels, throwing away the fruits inside. During Sri Ramavataram, for fourteen long years, He lived on mere roots and fruits available in the jungle. Thus the Lord’s stomach is the recipient of the strangest of fares, including, as mentioned above, all the worlds and their contents, at the time of Pralayam.

Swami Desikan points out that not only the Lord, but His Consort Daya Devi (the personification of His boundless Mercy) also has an apparently insatiable stomach. The prime function of Daya Devi is to pardon the sins of Her progeny. She gobbles up these sins and extends forgiveness to erring devotees, so that they do not wallow interminably in Samsara. Her propensity for pardoning is so pronounced that irrespective of the quantum or magnitude of the devotees’ misdemeanours that is laid before Her, She is never satisfied with what She has done and always looks for greater and greater numbers of sinners to redeem and reform. She thus has an insatiable appetite for destroying sin and Her stomach is never full irrespective of the quantum of sin She has gobbled up, says Swami Desikan-

“Aparaadha ganai: apoorna kukshi:
Kamala Kaanta Daye! Katham bhavitree?”

Doesn’t it appear strange when we find the Lord, in whose stomach the entire universe resides, Himself residing in the womb of His own creations? Devahuti, to whom the Lord was born as a son (Kapila), voices the same wonder-“How could You, my Lord, come to be in my womb, despite being the Universal Protector in whose tiny belly the entire universe was contained at the time of Pralayam while lying as an infant all alone on a banyan leaf, chewing your toe as if in hunger!”.

Here is the beautiful sloka from Srimad Bhagavatam-

“Sa tvam bhrito me jatarena Naatha! Katham nu yasya udara etat aaseet
Visvam yugaante vata patra eka: setesma maaya sisu: anghripaana:”

Apart from the aforesaid, does the Paramapurusha’s stomach have any other distinguishing features? Yes, says Sri Koorattazhwan. His midriff is characterised by three folds of beautiful flesh. (This is borne out by Sri Valmiki’s description of Sri Rama as “trivaleemaan”).

Do these fleshy folds on Emperuman’s stomach signify something or are they merely ornamental? Prakrutam Srimad Azagia Singar answers this question in his own inimitable fashion, quoting Sri Azhagia Manavala Perumal Nayanar. The three folds adorning Emperuman’s midriff signify that it is in this stomach that a trinity of objects and beings are stored at the time of Pralayam and from which they are brought forth again at the beginning of each creative process.

And what are these pairs of three, represented by the three folds on the stomach of the Supreme Person? The first is the three types of souls-Baddha Jeevas or those bound by the shackles of Samsara, Mukta Jeevas or those who have attained emancipation and lastly the Nitya Suris who are permanent inhabitants of Srivaikunttam. The second pair of three consists of non-sentient objects-Trigunam (Sattvam, Rajas and Tamas), Kaalam or Time and Suddha Sattvam (the material of which SriVaikunntam, etc. are made).

These folds of flesh adorning the Lord’s stomach are extremely enchanting to look at and through these runs a deep scar. You may wonder, how come the Lord’s stomach sports a scar! When He was tied to the grindstone by an irate Yasodha, or, rather, when He made Himself amenable to being tied-up, the divine mother, in her anxiety to ensure that He didn’t escape, wound the rope several times around His slender waist and stomach and wound it so tightly that it left an indelible impression on His magnificent tirumeni. While in our case, scars render us ugly and unseemly, the Lord’s scar made Him all the more beautiful, glowing with a brilliance of its own. We thus see that even injuries inflicted unwittingly and out of love, do not harm, but serve as an adornment to the Lord. Here is Azhwan’s beautiful slokam-

“Yaa Damodara iti naamadaa tava aaseet
Saa daamaa kila kina kaaranee babhoova
Tat noonam Varada! valitraya cchalena
Tvat madhya prathama vibhooshanee babhoova”

This scintillating scar around His stomach is another evidence of His extreme susceptibility to sincere love and an eloquent evidence of His Elimai (Soulabhyam), says Sri Bhattar-“Pranata vasataam broote Damodaratva kara: kina:”

This trace of the taut rope around His stomach is another unmistakable sign of the Paramapurusha, avers Sri Nammazhwar-(“Damodaranai tani mudalvanai”)– just as the presence of Sri Mahalakshmi on His broad chest establishes His being the Parabrahmam-because He is Damodaran, He is “tani mudalvan” too.

It is to hide this scar that the Lord wears around His stomach a broad jewel known as Udara Bandhanam. Since Gopis, seeing the scar around Krishna’s midriff, make fun of Krishna (knowing it to have been caused by His being tied up like a cow) He wears a broad Oddyaanam around His stomach, which, while serving as a beautiful ornament, also effectively hides the scar and saves Him from embarrassment. Thus the Lord’s stomach and the jewel around it indicate respectively His unbridled Supremacy as the Sole Creator and His extreme accessibility to devotees, to the extent of being tied up by a mere cowherdess, says Srimad Azhagiasingar. It is this which makes Tiruppanazhwar’s mind fix itself on the Oddyaanam-“Tiru Udara Bandham en ullattul nindrulaagindrade”

It is interesting to note that Emperuman puts this Udara Bandhanam to good use in Krishnavataram, as a parking place for His flute, when not in use. This is said on good authority, that of the Bhaagavata Puranam, which tells us that the flute was struck jauntily in the Oddyaanam (or upper cloth) around Sri Krishna’s midriff-

“Bibhrat venum jatara patayo: shringa vetre cha kakshe
vaame paanou masruna kabalam tat phalaani anguleeshu
tishttan madhye sva pari suhrudo haasayan narmabhi: svai:
svarge loke mishati bubhuje yagya bhuk baalakeli:”

The scene portrayed by the aforesaid Bhaagavata Slokam presents an enchanting picture of the Paramatma sharing a morsel of Tayir saadam in the picturesque woods of Brindavanam, with “oorugaai” and other side dishes held between His fingers, surrounded by His Gopa friends and the ubiquitous cows and regaling them with many a funny tale, with the flute tucked away in His midriff.

Emperuman is an ocean of beauty, we are told by Sri Alavandar-‘laavanya maya amritodadhim”. He is handsomeness personified, with each and every part of His divine physique mesmerising the onlooker and preventing him from passing on to enjoy the splendour of His other organs. Once we set eyes on a particular part of the divine form, we are unable to pry our eyes away, despite looking for any amount of time, we are told by Kamban-“Tol kandaar tole kandaar”. Even if they were to look constantly at a single part of the Lord’s glorious form, all the time, for days, nights and years together, Nitya Suris, the permanent inhabitants of SriVaikunttam, can never claim visual satisfaction, says the Shruti-“sadaa pasyanti sooraya:”. Such is the boundless beauty of each part of the Lord’s divine physique that each competes with the other in monopolising our attention. This being so, His stomach and navel are no exceptions and have led Acharyas to devote exclusive paeans of praise. So much so that Sri Alavandar cites the Lord’s Udaram (stomach) as a sure sign of His Supremacy, rather than any other organ -for, who else, other than the Paramapurusha, would be capable of accommodating all the worlds and exalted Deities too in His stomach, protecting them from destruction during Pralayam and then bringing them forth at the time of Creation? “Kasya Udare Hara Virinchi mukha prapancha: ko rakshati imam ajanishta cha kasya naabhe:?” enquires Alavandar rhetorically.

Readers may think that having said so much about the stomach, I am guilty of a serious omission for not having commented on the Navel (Emperuman’s Naabhi). That, however, warrants a write-up on its own, which would follow, dio valenti.

Srimate Sri LaksmiNrisima divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana
Yatindra Maadesikaya nama:

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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