Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The Scripture exhorts us to get out of Samsara by adopting a suitable strategy therefor. This is because this world of ours is both impermanent and sorrow-filled-“anityam asukham lOkam”. Things regarded by us as pleasures prove to be both short-lived and puerile-“alpam, astthiram”. The Lord Himself tells us the way out too-“anityam asukham lOkam imam prApya bhajasva mAm”. Having suffered enough from the unrelenting shackles of Karma, the only way we can obtain relief is to surrender to Him, either directly through Prapatti or indirectly through Bhakti. Since the latter strategy is beyond the contemplation of frail mortals like us due to its long-drawn-out and continuous nature, involving strict adherence to numerous tenets requiring super-human discipline, we have to plump for Prapatthi through our Acharya. This done, we live the rest of our lives on this earth in sweet relief-“nirbharO nirbhayOsmi”, looking forward to the day when this life would end, the day the Lord would take us away to His abode. Why does Death scare us? Because of the inherent fear of the Unknown.
Once we are assured that what awaits us at the end of this mundane life is nothing but Bliss, we cease to be concerned about the end, and in fact look forward to it, as we do to the arrival of a beloved guest-“priya athitim iva”. When we go to a new place, we are always apprehensive of the sort of welcome we would receive. Azhwars seek to allay such apprehensions by providing graphic descriptions of what awaits us at the doors of Paramapadam and en route, once we rid ourselves of our mortal coils and soar into the skies in our quest for the liberated life, in the gentle embrace of the Lord, who serves as MArgabandhu or VazhitthuNai, not only during our sojourn on this earth, but also when we leave for our permanent abode.
Sri Nammazhwar devotes an entire decad to the description of the Reception Party for the Liberated Soul, in the ten pAsurams beginning with “Soozh visumbu aNi mugil”. The Kousheetaki Upanishad, Sri Bhashyakara’s Vaikuntta Gadyam and Swami Desikan’s “Gati VishEsha adhikAram” provide us graphic accounts of what happens when a PrapannA leaves his mortal coils.
Once the time comes for the spirit to leave the body, the Lord arranges for some plausible cause like a heart attack. All the ten external senses like speech, sight, smell etc. are merged with the mind, the mind in turn with the life spirit (“PrANa vAyu”). This composite of twelve items is then merged with the JeevAtmA, accompanied by the subtle aspects of the five elements comprising the mortal remains. The Lord, as the antaryAmi or Inner-dweller, keeps the JeevAtmA beside Himself, affording it much-needed rest and recuperation from the immeasurably long travails of Samsara. After this, the Soul leaves the body, destined for its final journey, soaring up into the skies towards liberation and endless bliss.
During the commencement of the journey, the Lord ensures that the Jeeva leaves the body through the right exit (“Brahma nAdi”), as it would otherwise be led astray again to places of impermanence like heaven or hell.
There are two routes leading from earth, the Divine Road (“DEva YAnam”) and that of Ancestors (“Pitru YAnam”). The Lord takes the Jeeva through the DEva YAnam, which passes through the Solar orb (“tErAr nirai kadirOn mandalattai keeNdu pukku”) and through the “archirAdi mArgam”, the path to Paradise, with the deities controlling the Day, Shukla Paksham, UttarAyaNam, Year, the Wind, Moon and Lightning. The Soul is helped on its way by Varuna, Indra and PrajApati.
The liberation of a soul is a matter for such great rejoicing for the Lord andHis acolytes at SriVaikuntam, that they arrange for a scintillating welcome, using both natural and manual phenomena. The thunderous rain clouds provide a tumultuous band,(“aNi mugil tooriyam muzhakkina”), while the waves of the deep ocean raise their foamy hands in hearty welcome-“Azh kadal alai tirai kai edutthu Adina”. We are told in Srimad BhAgavatam that the birth of Sri Krishna was greeted by deep rumbling in the skies, indicative of the glee at the Divine arrival-“mandam mandam jaladharA: jagarju: anu sAgaram”. It is a measure of greatness of the liberated soul that it is afforded an equally joyous reception.
We have seen VIPs being accorded a traditional welcome with an ornamental pot of water-a “poorNa kumbham”. Unsatisfied with a mere vociferous welcome, the beautiful clouds shape themselves into enchanting pots, to be offered to the guest of honour–the liberated soul. The Sun, shining through these clouds, bestows them with a golden hue, making it appear as though the Atma is being offered a golden pot of water in welcome, adhering to the Shruti vAkya-“HiraNya pAtram madhO: poorNam dadhAti”. Unwilling to be left behind in the reception party, the water-filled ocean adds its stentorian voice to the chorus of welcome-“neer aNi kadalgaL nindru Artthana”. The entire path of the soul’s progress to Paramapadam is adorned with giant festoons, adding to the general atmosphere of festivity and celebration.
As the liberated Atma passes, those above rain soft petals of fragrant flowers and burn perfumed incense (“dhoopa nal malar mazhai pozhivanar”), while Devarishis assemble on either side in good numbers, welcoming the soul to their respective places, happy to see another devotee of the Lord being accorded his due.
All along the route to Sri Vaikuntam, dEvatAs put up specially decorated stalls for the blessed soul to relax for a second, while the clamorous beat of a rolling drum heralds its arrival to all those en route. The Sun and his associates hold out their innumerable ray-like arms in welcome and also point out the way to Paramapadam (“Kadiravar avar avar kai nirai kAttinar”). When there is a drumbeat, can song and dance be far behind? KinnarAs and GarudAs, specializing in the performing arts, provide a touch of melody and music to the proceedings (“GeetangaL pAdinar Kinnarar GarudargaL”), while the divine music of VEda ghOsham reverberates in the background (“VEda nal vAyavar vELviyuL maduttE”).
Throughout the path of the Pilgrim’s Progress, divine damsels burn incense, to make it fragrant. They watch the fortunate soul’s ascension with sword-like eyes widened in wonder. Stentorian conches are blown to announce the arrival of the liberated Atma. The Maruth dEvatAs and the Eight “Vasu”s, who hold such sway over a human being belonging to the mundane world, respectfully follow the liberated soul, singing his praise (“Marutarum VasukkaLum todarndu engum tOttiram sollinar”).
When the Jeeva nears journey’s end, the Lord rids the Soul of the subtle body and enables it to cross the river VirajA. Now, the Soul is endowed with a celestial and non-material body, quite different from its erstwhile mundane coils.
After crossing the pond Irammadeeyam and passing the great Peepal tree known as Somasavanam, the soul is almost at the gates of Paramapadam. Just as a VIP is received a little distance ahead and brought with honour to the intended destination, Nitya Suris, the permanent residents of Sri Vaikuntam, accord a warm welcome to the Atma just outside Paramapadam. Clad in all their finery, their heads adorned with long and beautiful headgear (“Mudi udai vAnavar”), these Nitya Suris lead the liberated soul to the much-decorated ramparts of Sri Vaikuntam (“Kodi aNi nedu madiL gOpuram kuruginar”).
Immediately upon entry into Paramapadam, Nitya Suris in charge of the gates welcome the soul and are so happy at the addition to their number that they are prepared to surrender their particular kainkaryam in favour of the new entrant. Since the liberated soul is close to Sriman Narayana, Nitya Suris consider the newcomer to be their master and treat the former with all due deference. They are struck by wonder at the good fortune of the Atma, to have risen from the lowly mundane worlds of distress, disease and debilitation, to the eternal and glorious worlds above, beyond death and darkness (“Vaikundam puguvadu maNNavar vidhiyE!”).
The Liberated Soul is still apprehensive– he is after all a new entrant into the elite club of Sri Vaikunttam, consisting of exalted members like Adisesha, Garuda, VishvaksEna, et al. Even if Emperuman were to be happy at the soul reaching His abode, how would His intimate acolytes, entrenched for eternity in His service, treat the newcomer? Would they look down upon him, treat him patronisingly as a junior and a late entrant and allot for him only the left-overs in kainkaryam?
Dispelling such doubts, Azhwar assures us that the Liberated Soul, as soon as he enters Paramapadam, is received with honour by no less than the principal officers of the Lord, viz., SEsha, VainatEya and VishvaksEna, each vying with others to welcome the soul to their respective palaces. The soul is seated on an exalted throne, with even Nitya Suris performing the tasks of washing his feet to relieve the strain of the journey from Samsara to Sri Vaikunttam.
After the initial reception at the innumerable palaces of nitya suris, the Lord sends His female acolytes to bring the liberated soul to His abode. These divine damsels bear, as a measure of welcome, lighted lamps casting bright light, ornamental pots filled with water (“PoorNa Kumbham”) and TirumaN and SreechoorNam for the newcomer. Above all, they bear in their hands the holy Sri SathAri, the coveted holy foot-rest of the Lord, a treasure every Sri Vaishnava craves for, and adorn the liberated soul’s head with the same. This is similar to the current practice of receiving Acharyas a little distance ahead of the sannidhi, by an advance party of arcchakAs bearing the Sri SathAri. Azhwar tells us that the faces of these damsels glow like the full moon, exulting at the prospect of another kindred soul joining the Lord’s kainkaryam (“nidhiyum narchuNNamum nirai kuda viLakkamum madi mukha madandayar Endinar vandE”).
To cap it all, as soon as the liberated soul nears the Lord’s Court, Emperuman Himself, along with His Consorts, meets the Jeeva and escorts Him to the gem-studded DurbAr (“vandu avar edir koLLa”), embracing the newcomer warmly to remove any vestiges of distress resulting from aeons of SamsAric suffering. Immediately, SridEvi allots to the new entrant the particular kainkaryam which is dear to his heart, so that he doesn’t lose even a moment of the coveted service, for which everyone longs. Though Azhwar doesn’t mention this, Sri Ramanuja makes it clear in his Vaikunnta Gadyam that it is the Divine Consort who is in charge of allotting to the muktAtmA the particular service desired by the latter, as also by Emperuman—“tat tat paricharyAyAm AgyApayantI”.
Accorded his due place of honour in Paramapadam, the Liberated Soul starts performing blissful service, affording himself and Sria: Pati eternal and immeasurable delight, in the company of kindred souls similarly immersed in Bhagavat Kainkaryam.
Does a contemplation of the aforesaid contribute in any way to us while we are in this world? Can we not enjoy our lives here peacefully, without a thought of what awaits us later? Anyway, we are destined to reach the Lord after our earthly sojourn, having performed Prapatti. Should we at all think of it now itself?
Swami Desikan says that, just as the mere contemplation of an impending marriage is extremely pleasurable to the young bachelor, so too, it is decidedly delightful for the Prapanna to think of the great bliss that lies ahead. It makes the rest of the mundane sojourn pass in a jiffy, with the sorrows and shortcomings of this life mattering not at all, in view of the incomparable treasure that awaits him at Journey’s End. More than anything, it cures him entirely of the fear of death (which afflicts all ordinary mortals), making his life here peaceful and free of tension.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore