The Lost Treasures

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

A wealthy philanthropist built a palatial Dharmasaala (rest house) at Srirangam, with the lofty purpose of accommodating all wayfarers who came to worship Sri Rangaraja. The choultry provided all facilities for pilgrims, with comfortable rooms to stay in, facilities for performing daily ablutions and sumptuous food at appropriate intervals. All those who stayed at the Dharmasaala were extremely grateful to the generous donor, who, in turn, was pleased beyond measure at the opportunity for service to the Lord’s devotees. Word of this munificence and convenience spread and the Dharmasaala became the favourite destination of all pilgrims to Srirangam. Countless were those who benefited from its conveniences.

The philanthropist grew old and entrusted the management of the choultry to his progeny, who too carried on their father’s work sincerely. In time and in tune with the general decline in standards of ethics and Dharma, the management of the rest house became progressively indifferent, with the successors of the philanthropist showing less and less inclination for altruistic activities, resulting in the vast Dharmasala falling gradually into disrepair and becoming dysfunctional. And one sad day, the last pillar supporting the once-magnificent columns fell, marking the closure of an institution that had served thousands in its hay day. As if waiting for the event, a building promoter moved in and constructed an impressively ugly block of match-box-like tenements, where there once stood the magnificent Dharmasala. Thus was lost to posterity a veritable treasure house.

This narration is neither fable nor fairy-tale, but a true-life story which has happened with deplorable regularity, not only at Srirangam, but at many other holy places. Buildings in ruins, with washed-out sign boards hanging askew and bearing the barely-visible name of some charity or the other, are a common sight at almost all Divyadesams.

While this is one aspect of our losing bequeathed treasures due to indifference and inattention, there is another and more precious genre of heirlooms which we may well have lost forever. And what is more, most of us haven’t even realised the magnitude of the loss and continue to wallow in blissful ignorance about its enormity.

The immaculate Vedas and their explanatory manuals like the Itihaasas, Puranas, Dharma Shastras, etc. are glorious guidebooks designed to pilot us safely through the mine-field of Samsara and to reach us safely at the portals of Paradise. These works of worship, propagated by the Lord Himself or His chosen messengers’ Maharshis, Sages and Acharyas– have been handed down from generation to generation, serving as a bright beacon to all those floundering in the interminable gloom of Samsara. They function too as guideposts amidst the thorny and confusing mundane maze, steering us in the right direction whenever we are confronted by bewildering crossroads of choice. It is these which form the most precious treasure bequeathed to us by our elders, the most valuable of heirlooms which generations of our forebears have protected, preserved, propagated and passed on, for the benefit of posterity.

வேதோ வேத விதவ்யங்கோ வேதாங்கோ வேதவித் கவி:
Vedho Vedha Vidha Vyango Vedhaango Vedha Vidh Kavi:

Due to inadvertence and indifference, already we have suffered quite a heavy and irreparable loss, by way of disappearance of portions of Shastras, particularly Vedas, from currency. For instance, the Atharva Veda was all but lost a few decades ago and it is only due to the enthusiastic and energetic efforts of a few Mahatmas that there is now a healthy rejuvenation in its study. Even now, students and exponents of this fourth among Vedas are to be found in a small number in Gujarat, though it is slowly spreading to other places.

Though Vedas are reputed to be beyond numbers (“Anantaa vai Vedaa:”),we understand from Scriptures that there were no less than 1180 Shaakhas of the Shruti extant in the not too distant past, each with its own Samhita, Aaranyaka and Upanishad components. And all these Shakhas had their own votaries, engaged in study, propagation and preservation of the Vedas. However, what we have now is pitifully small in comparison.

We know of the Taittireeya Shakha, with the Taittireeya Samhita, Taittireeya Braahmanam and the Taittireeya Upanisad, all of which have been remarkably well preserved. However, granting that the Upanishad generally forms the concluding part of a particular Veda Shakha, many of the Upanishads we have now, must have been part of independent Shakhas, though not a trace remains of the rest. The Kousheetaki Upanishad, for instance, is the sole remnant of the Saankaayana Shakha, which must have been a wide-ranging and voluminous body of Vedic wisdom. Though the Katopanishad is still extant, its Aaranyakam is nowhere to be found. The loss we have thus suffered is incalculable and irreparable. What we have lost are not mere books, but treasure houses of wisdom.

Coming to more recent times, within the last thousand years, we have managed to lose many more precious heirlooms. Sri Nathamuni was the first protagonist of our Visishtaadvaita Sampradaya (“Naathopagyam pravrittam”) in this Kali Yuga. By all accounts, he is reputed to have been a repository of pure devotion, selflessness, vairaagyam and other sterling virtues, endowed with divine vision. Though he is remembered for all these accomplishments, the moment we hear his holy name, what springs to our mind is his wonderful and painstaking compilation of the Naalayira Divya Prabandam, which had, by his time, almost vanished from currency. He also set them to music and arranged for their recital at various temples. Had it not been for this great Acharya and his Herculean efforts, we would have lost the priceless treasure of Aruliccheyal, the ecstatical outpourings of enlightened Azhwars.

It is therefore extremely ironical that Sri Nathamuni’s own great works,
Yoga Rahasyam and Nyaaya Tattvam, are no longer available to us. The former was a treatise on Yoga, while the latter was a voluminous work involving interpretation of the Nyaaya Shastra according to Visishtaadvaitic tenets, criticising the Gautama Nyaaya Sutras in the process. We learn of these great works, only from copious references thereto by Swami Desikan in his various works like Nyaaya Siddhaanjanam and Nyaaya Parisuddhi. According to Sri Sudarsana Bhattar, Sri Ramanuja too, in his Sri Bhashya, has quoted briefly from Nyaaya Tattvam.

Another great loss Srivaishnavas have suffered is the disappearance of Sri Alavandar’s path-breaking works Maha Purusha Nirnayam (establishing the supremacy of Sriman Narayana) and Kashmira Agama Praamaanyam, which is said to validate the Pancharatra Agama and its Vedic source, the Ekaayana Shakha. That these works definitely existed, is again to be derived only from Swami Desikan’s references and quotes. Our sense of loss is further compounded when we learn that Sri Yamunacharya’s Siddhi Trayam (consisting of the Atma Siddhi, Isvara Siddhi and Samvit Siddhi) too is available only in portions. To quote Dr.M.Narasimhachary, “It is a matter of regret that all these three Siddhis suffer from gaps and the extant text is only a fragment of an originally larger work”.

We come next to the works of Swami Desikan, the most prolific author among Srivaishnava Acharyas. While it is indeed our good fortune that the major portion of Sri Venkatanatha’s works is remarkably well preserved, it is simultaneously a matter of deep regret that several of his works too have been lost. Sri Vedanta Desikan is reputed to have composed a magnificent and voluminous commentary on Tiruvaimozhi, named “Nigama Parimalam”, and another Tamizh work by name “Tirumudi Adaivu”, which are no longer extant. A similar commentary on Kanninunsirutthaambu, aptly named “Madhurakavi Hridayam”, is also no longer available, which fate is shared by a host of Tamizh Prabandams of Swami, titled “Pandu, Kazhal, Ammaanai, Oosal and Esal”, apparently addressed to Sri Deivanayakan of Tiruvaheendrapuram. “Steyaa Avirodham”, a work justifying Sri Tirumangai Mannan’s unorthodox ways of fund-raising for good causes, is also lost, as also “Adhikarana Darpanam”. Only portions of Tattva Teeka (an elaborate commentary on Sri Bhashyam) are available, as also of the “Sata Dooshani”.

We hear too that Vyaakhyaana Chakkravartthi Sri Periyavaacchaan Pillai’s commentary on Periyaazhwar Tirumozhi is partially lost.

This, then, is a brief Status Paper on the priceless treasures of ancient and unmatched wisdom that we have lost over the centuries.

In this context, we have to remember with gratitude Mahtamas who toiled hard and spent whole lifetimes in searching for, restoring, editing and publishing rare works of Acharyas. They were not endowed with unlimited supply of funds nor had an army of supporters. Yet, with a missionary zeal for the protection and preservation of Poorvacharya Sreesooktis, they sacrificed their all to ensure that whatever works were available did not meet the same fate as the ones lost. Two haloed names that spring to our mind in this regard are Tarkaarnava Abhinavadesika Uttamur Sri Veeraraghavacharya Swamy and Prativaadi Bhayankaram Sri Annangaracharya Swamy of Kanchi. Though both were prolific writers, they displayed greater enthusiasm in publishing works of Poorvacharyas than their own. The constant and continuing efforts of Sri Puttur Krishnamacharya Swamy too merit special mention in this regard. The good work of institutions like the Sanskrit Academy of Melkote (who have brought out critical editions of Sri Bhashyam with various commentaries) also deserves great appreciation and encouragement.

Though these Mahatmas’ contribution is matchless, we can still endeavour to emulate them to the extent possible, in identifying works of both Poorvacharyas and later ones, for preservation. Many of these works are still unpublished, especially numerous ones of various Srimad Azhagiasingars who adorned the ascetic throne of Sri Ahobila Mutt and are currently available in the form of manuscripts, many on palm leaves and similar perishable material. I am sure similar works by distinguished Acharyas of Srimad Andavan Ashramam and Sri Parakala Matam also exist, in similar need of preservation and publication. Since use of paper for composition in our religious institutions is less than a century old, earlier works must be on Taala Patram or Panai Olai, likely to disintegrate anytime due to their age and disappear forever from our midst.

Even in respect of published works, though we come across quotes from several old and hoary works like the commentary of Sri Govindaraja on Srimad Ramayanam, that of Sri Veeraraghavacharya on Srimad Bhagavatam, the commentaries on Srimad Rahasyatrayasaram like Sri Saaraasvaadini of Sri Tirukkudandai Desikan and Sri Saarabodhini (of Injimedu Srimad Azhagiasingar) and that of Sri Mahamahopaadhyaaya Chetlur Swami, we rarely get to set eyes on them. These works need to be reprinted.

Against this rather bleak background of partial and total loss of the accumulated fonts of wisdom, the recent efforts by inspired individuals to identify, catalogue, preserve and publish hitherto unpublished manuscripts of Acharyas, deserve all appreciation, encouragement and support. With the advanced digital technology now available, scanning or even typing out these works from their originals on palm leaf or ancient paper should be possible, which would be the first step in preservation. Once the works are available in electronic form, the possibilities are endless.

Most of these works may be in Sanskrit, many of them may be on esoteric or subtle points of Shastra not of immediate interest to the common man despite all this, what we have to remember is that they emanated from erudite and enlightened Acharyas who composed these works not as personal memorabilia, but out of a fervent desire to inform and educate us. They are works of devotion which would guide us on the right path by their mere presence in our home. (My late, revered father, apart from his other sterling qualities and deep attachment to Srimad Ramayanam, was an acknowledged authority both on shorthand and Shakespeare. Though I have regrettably not inherited his enthusiasm for either, I still preserve his books as their very sight reminds me of him and his devotion. Similarly, works of our Acharyas too inspire us by their very presence and sight, even if we are unable to profit from their wisdom immediately.) Once these original works are preserved, translations to benefit the scholar and layman alike, could be attempted.

As Srivaishnavas, it is hence our sacred duty to ensure that these bequests are properly appreciated, treated with the veneration they deserve, protected against the ravages of distortion and loss and preserved in all their pristine purity, so that the generations that follow would also benefit from the ageless wisdom.

What are the ways in which we can help?

We can search sincerely for such old and published/unpublished works of the aforesaid kind, existing in our own library/those of institutions and individuals likely to have such books or palm leaf manuscripts and make them available to those who have undertaken the onerous task of converting them into e-format.

Those among us who have the technical expertise can help in the above process by offering consultancy/active participation.

Once the stage for publication comes, we can financially support the printing of one or more works of Acharyas.

We can spread the word among our relatives/acquaintances about the need for the entire endeavour and make them aware of the crying need for preserving our heirlooms.

There can be no better tribute to Sri Hayagriva, who holds a book in His hand, than to help in protecting works on religion and spirituality. And the venerated authors of the unpublished manuscripts would definitely be gladdened at their works getting published at long last, benefiting the entire Vaishnavite community.

Come, let us help in this holy mission!

Sriamte Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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