Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
What image does the word “Hunter” bring to your mind? A strong, muscular figure, clad in tree bark or deerskin, with a bow and arrow in its hands and a feather in the cap, with cruel eyes constantly scouring the environs for prey? this is the common portrait your mind conjures up, at the mention of the word. Our impression is that of a person who is bestiality personified, devoid of all redeeming qualities like Mercy, Compassion and Kindness, which set human beings apart from their four-legged cohabiters on earth.
Thus, we fail to find any redeeming features in this clan of people, who appear at best to be a burden for earth to bear.
However, when we scan our Scripture for information on Hunters, we find that several worthies from this much-maligned profession have made it to the loftiest heights of spirituality and won acclaim on several counts. Surprised? Please do read on for details.
The first and foremost name that comes to our mind at the mention of hunters is that of Sri Valmiki. Though born the son of the distinguished Bhrigu Maharshi, the boisterous boy Haareeta (as he was originally known) incurred the wrath of some sages, who cursed that he would lose the sterling qualities of his distinguished lineage and become a bestial hunter. Haareeta duly became a hunter, with all attendant cruelty, brutality and lack of consideration for life and limb of men and beasts alike. He killed whatever he could lay his hands on, robbed and plundered wayfarers and, in general, led an inhuman and brutish life. He married a girl of another huntsmen tribe, begot children and forgot all about his destined life of penance and purity. After a long spell of such loutish existence, due to the grace of the Lord, who had planned quite a distinguished career for Haareeta as His (the Lord’s) own chronicler, Haareeta came across the Seven Holy Men (Sapta Rishis), who, through a clever strategy, made him realise the folly of his ways. They instructed him to recite the exalted Rama naama.
Due to the boundless compassion of his Acharyas, Haareeta discovered the extremely delectable avocation of naama smaranam and bhajanam and lost himself in the contemplation and chanting of the Lord’s name. He forgot himself, the surrounding world and everything else and gave himself up, heart and soul, to his newfound delight. Years passed without Haareeta stirring from the spot he sat at, in contemplation, resulting in termites building their residence all around and over him.
Aeons passed. Deciding that it was time Haareeta assumed his assigned role, Brahma came to the seeker. The four-headed Brahma sprinkled holy water on Haareeta, who immediately emerged from the mass of muddy spires the termites had built, giving him the name “Vaalmeeki” (“Valmikam” in Sanskrit refers to such abodes of termites, etc.). With the blessings of Brahma, Haareeta became Vaalmeeki and resumed his ascetic existence as if without any break, with such distinguished disciples as Bharadvaaja.
It is perhaps paradoxical that the hunter-turned-holy-man should have been inspired to compose his magnum opus, due to an incident with another hunter as the hero (or villain, perhaps). While returning to his Ashramam one day after finishing his ablutions, Sri Valmiki was witness to the heart-breaking scene of a hunter shattering the conjugal bliss of a couple of lovebirds, with a single, well-aimed arrow, felling and killing the male bird. The Maharshi’s heart bled for the female bird, which fluttered about helplessly, watching its mate in the throws of death. Angered at the hunter’s brutal act, which had dealt a devastating blow to the blissful life of the birds, the Maharshi cursed him. To his surprise, however, the curse emerged from his lips not in the form of a prosaic sentence, it took the form of a beautiful couplet, the first ever known to mankind,
“Maa nishaada! pratishttaam tvam agama: saasvatee: samaa:
yat krouncha mithunaat ekam avadhee: kaama mohitam”
And so commenced the composition of the great epic Ramayanam, chronicling the life and times of the greatest of men, kings and Gods, which has remained a guidebook for all mankind for thousands of years.
It is again Srimad Ramayanam which narrates the tale of another hunter, who is extremely close to Sri Rama’so much so that the Prince embraces him at sight. This, however, is a hunter with a difference, with a keen and innate sense of right and wrong. And he is no ordinary hunter, but a chief of hunters “Nishaadha adhipati:”, characterised by immeasurable love and affection for the Prince of Ayodhya and prepared to lay down even his life in the Prince’s defence. He is so enamoured of Rama that he spends an entire night awake and alert, fully armed, along with his entire clan, fearful that some danger might befall Raghava, despite knowing full well that not even an ant could enter the environs without his knowledge and consent. Rightfully, Sri Valmiki describes this gentleman as Rama’s soul mate, mind you, not merely a friend, but a soul mate “Ramasya aatma sama: sakhaa” one whom Rama Himself regarded as His equal. Their closeness is such that Sri Raghava is absolutely unmindful of the differences in their respective social status and bestows on the lowly hunter the best compliment possible? a bear hug reflecting fully the depth and strength of love and affection that each has for the other. His devotion to Sri Rama makes Guha suspect the motives of even Lakshmana and Bharata and apprehend danger from them to his beloved Prince.
Another of the hunting clan, about whom Sri Valimiki has much to say, is Sri Sabari. Though a huntress by birth, she had given up all the outward and inward characteristics of the profession and had devoted herself to the service of sages. In time, she herself was ripe not only in age, but also in wisdom and penance. She is a standing example of the lofty status that service to one’s Acharyas can confer. Having spent her life in selfless service to her Gurus, she lives on only to have her eyeful of Sri Rama. And once that object is achieved, she departs to the immortal worlds above, to join her Gurus in their blissful existence. Justifiably, Sabari is described as wise in the nuances of correct conduct “Dharma nipunaam”.
It is clear from the aforesaid that the Lord is extremely enamoured of hunters’ so much so that He is not averse to assuming the role one Himself, from time to time. Not only does He don the dress and demeanour of a hunter, He persuades His Consort too to do the same. However, like all His assumed roles or avataras, the one as a hunter too is for the protection of the innocent.
Sri Ramanuja accompanied his guru Yaadavaprakaasa to Kasi. Angered and jealous at Ramanuja’s growing glory and fame, Yaadavaprakaasa planned to ensure a premature and watery grave for the illustrious disciple, once they reached the shores of the Ganga. Getting scent of this nefarious plan, Sri Ramanuja trailed behind the guru’s party and managed to escape. However, left alone in the dense and inhospitable jungles of the Vindhyas, Sri Ramanuja despaired of ever returning alive to civilisation, when a hunter and his wife appeared before him suddenly. Glad at the sight of human beings, Sri Ramanuja asked them about their origin and destination. Providentially, the hunter couple appeared to be travelling to Kanchi and offered to lead Ramanuja too there. As soon as they approached Kanchi, the hunter and huntress disappeared as suddenly as they had materialised. When the bemused Ramanuja thought back, he realised with a start that it had indeed been the Lord and His Consort who had saved him from certain and gory death and led him back to safety, almost to his doorstep. Tears ran down his cheeks and his entire body tingled, at Emperuman’s boundless mercy that made Him assume the garb of a lowly hunter, solely for saadhu paritraanam (protection of the innocent).
Swami Desikan paints another picture of the Divine Hunter. The Lord, with a lot of punishing arrows in His quiver, directs them at us, dealing out just punishment for our various acts of commission and omission. As the impartial arbiter, it is indeed His duty to ensure that we undergo appropriate retribution for our sins. However, we too have a single but extremely potent arrow in our possession, with which we can not only stave off the Lord’s punitive arrows, but also floor Him completely, so that He is never again able to shoot any more arrows at us.
And what is this magnificent missile, which can render even the omnipotent Emperuman absolutely helpless? Swami Desikan says that it is nothing but a folding of our hands in a gesture of absolute surrender an “Anjali”. This single and simple signal of surrender, the embodiment of Prapatti, makes the Lord so beneficially inclined towards us that He forgets all about punishing us and, instead, hastens to confer on us all that is good. Even hard-to-attain salvation can be easily achieved through this potent gesture of Sharanagati, says Swami Desikan. Here is the beautiful couplet from Sri Varadaraja Panchaasat–
“Hasteesa! Du:kha visha digdha phala anubandhini
AaBrahma keetam aparaahata samprayoge
Dushkarma sanchaya vasaat duratikrame na:
Pratyastram Anjali: asou tava nigraha astre”
The Skanda Upapuraanam has another interesting tale to tell about the Lord as a hunter. We saw how Sri Valmiki flung a curse at the hunter who killed one of the lovebirds engaged in conjugal bliss. The Purana tells us that the accursed hunter was none other than the Lord Himself. Shankhukarna was an asura who had somehow survived Sri Rama’s annihilation of the fourteen thousand raakshasas at Janastthaanam, having run away prior to commencement of hostilities. This raakshasa was plaguing the sages at Dandakaaranyam. Having made up His mind to eliminate this nuisance, the Lord took the form of a hunter and felled the raakshasa, who had taken the form of the male bird. It was this act, which Sri Valmiki witnessed and which moved him so much as to sow the seeds of the Epic in his mind. And the moment the curse, in the form of a beautiful slokam, emerged from his lips, the hunter, the crying female bird, the slain male bird and the tree on which they had perched all these disappeared, much to Valmiki’s bewilderment. Apparently, it was another drama enacted by Emperuman, firstly to ensure that His life and times were chronicled by an eminent Maharshi and secondly, to do away with a raakshasa.
If you think that only the Lord takes birth as a hunter, you would be mistaken for, even Sri Mahalakshmi is reported to have been born into a hunting tribe. If you don’t believe me, you just have to refer to the Ahobila Maahaatmyam, which chronicles the glory of the Ahobila Kshetram and the manifestation the Lord in the magnificent and awesome man-lion form. We are told that the Divine Consort too was born as “Chenchulakshmi”, in the huntsmen tribe called Chenchus. The Lord wooed Chenchulakshmi and married Her in due course. This tale of romance between Emperuman and a huntress is depicted on many a pillar in the Ahobilam temples housing the nine Narasimhas.
To bring the tale of the hunter to an end, who would you say is the greatest of hunters, who never despairs even if the prey tends to escape, but perseveres till he is ultimately able to secure the same?
It is Emperuman’s ardent wish that all of us escape from this mundane world of distress and despair and reach Him, to enjoy eternal bliss in His exalted company. With this object, He spreads His net far and wide for catching souls ripe for redemption. His incredible beauty and His magnificent and endearing attributes represent this net, with which He tries to ensnare us. It is this net which Sri Nammazhwar describes as “Manivannan Vasudevan valaiyule”.(When the Arayar was enacting this pasuram, he spread his hands wide to indicate a net. Sri Ramanuja, who was looking on, corrected the Arayar by indicating that it was Emperuman’s captivating eyes that represented the net. Sri Nampillai confirms this with the words, “ennai tappaadapadi smita veekshanaadigalile agappadutthi”).
However, with our long-standing wile and an incurable infatuation with matters mundane, we either evade His net or, if we indeed fall into it, try to wriggle out to ‘freedom’. The ever-optimistic Lord, with His boundless love, compassion and mercy, never gives up, but continues His uphill task of saving souls, never despairing and considering it a great reward if He is able to reclaim even a single soul for Himself. As one Acharya says, the Lord goes to extraordinary extents, sometimes spreading His net over an entire locality, to catch a single soul. The only thing that is required of us is to abandon all resistance and to throw up our arms in surrender. Once we do this, we come to realise how pleasurable it is to be this Divine Hunter’s ‘victim’.
Srimate Sri Lakshminrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore