The Great Divide


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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

Human beings are a divided race. There are reported to be 8.4 million types of beings in God’s Creation: but none is as riven with divisions, as the Homo sapiens. Politicians say that Caste is a great barrier between human beings. Religion too has been responsible for dividing and at times polarising human beings. Even within the same religion, sects and sub-sects hold themselves apart, accounting for more divisions. Race is another factor, which causes irremovable partitions among people. The colour of one’s skin too is an extremely pertinent aspect creating barriers among human beings. And more than anything else, the Great Divide is the one occasioned by wealth-the division of people into the Haves and the Have-nots. When we look at Nature, we find that other species too have internal differences. If we take Dogs, for instance, we find any number of breeds and varieties—we have the Terrier, Daschund, Pomeranian, Mastiff, Labrador, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Poodle and t he common mongrel. Similar varieties abound in Birds, Fishes and all other species too.

However, irrespective of other divisions, there is one more factor, which divides all species, human and otherwise. This is not an artificial division created by man, on social or economic grounds, but something with which everyone is born. Changes can be wrought in one’s social, academic or economic status, but nothing can be done to change this basic difference with which one is born. It is this difference that makes the world go round, perpetuates the species and ensures that death does not decimate the species altogether.

Gender is thus the major division among all species, high and low. Human beings are born as boys or girls and the male-female distinction is observed in other species too. Shastras tell us that even in stone, there is a male and female type, the latter more amenable for sculptures. This distinction is so inherent and basic to the race, that even the Gods are not immune to it. We have a male Supreme Being, Sriman Narayana and His female counterpart, equal to Him in every way, in Sri Mahalakshmi. If we have a Shiva, we have a Parvati too.

Rightly or wrongly, we have a craze for a male offspring. Man is reborn as his son, says the Shruti—“Atma vai putra naamaasi”. It is thus self-perpetuation that prompts the desire for a male issue, apart from certain privileges like eligibility for imbibing the Vedas, performing Vaidika karmas, (daily and occasional) etc. The ultimate privilege of consigning the body of a deceased parent to flames is vested in the son or other eligible male members of the family. The etymology of the word “Putra:” (son) indicates that he is one who saves his parents from a hell called “Put”, into which all those without male issues are said to fall. It is for this reason that, when a boy is born in a Vaishnava family, all the forefathers, long dead and gone, are said to burst into song and dance in delight, in the hope that this precious male progeny would lead to their liberation —“Aaspotayanti Pitara: nrityanti Pitaamahaa:
Vaishnavo na: kule jaata: sa na: santaarayishyati iti”

Lest female readers rise up in arms at this apparently chauvinistic account, let me hasten to add that despite all the aforesaid, the Scripture does accord an extremely high pedestal to the girl child too, holding her a hundred times more precious than a boy—“Putraat shata gunam Putri”. When a girl child is born, there is indeed rejoicing over the arrival of the “Seemanta Putri” and she is looked at verily as Sri Mahalakshmi arrived to make the home happy and prosperous. And anyway, all the hype about sons saving their parents from hell has somewhat lost its sheen, what with effective strategies like Prapatti ensuring emancipation for all, irrespective of whether they are blessed with male progeny or not. I have heard some members of the fair sex remark that rather than save their parents from hell, many of the sons actually push them into it, even while they are alive.

Taking the case of the Lord, all of us recognise Him as a male, the best of the species—“”Purushottama:”. He is the one acclaimed by the Shruti as “Purusha:”—“Sahasra seersha Purusha:”. The Vishnu Puranam tells us that the word “man” refers only to Emperuman and that all other males, though they may sport outward signs of masculinity, are only females, vis-à-vis the Lord. He is the lone Lord and Master and all of us are His Consorts, bound to Him eternally and having His service as the raison d’etre of our existence. “Pum naamaa Bhagavan Hari: Stree praayam itarat jagat” says the Purana, making us all females in spirit, in comparison with Emperuman. It is for this reason that elders tell us that worship of other deities is akin to the sin of a wife harbouring in her heart someone other than her lawfully wedded husband. Just as marriage vows enjoin upon the wife to remain ever faithful to her mate, so too are we prohibited from seeking solace and protection from deities other than Emperuman.

If the Vishnu Puranam tells us that the Lord is the only male, we find Sri Nammazhwar declaring that He is neither man, nor woman, nor even eunuch. “Aan allan, pen allan, allaa aliyum allan” says Azhwar. This appears to be a verbatim translation of the Rg Veda quote,

“na enam vaachaa striyam bruvan, na enam astree pumaan bruvan
Pumaamsam na bruvan enam vadan vadati kaschana. A iti Brahma”

This Shruti vaakya tells us that none can categorise the Paramatma as a female; nor can He be declared to be a male or an intermediate being, which is neither male nor female.

We are confused. Why should both the Sanskrit and Tamizh Vedas tell us that the Lord is not male, when He indeed is? And if He is not male, He must definitely be female, which is also denied by Azhwar. And if He is neither male nor female, could He belong to the clan of eunuchs? No way, negate the Shruti and Azhwar in unison.

When we look into the relative commentary, we find that what is negated is not the Lord’s masculinity per se, but His comparability with other mundane males. He is so unique and distinct, that you can never equate Him with any ordinary member of the species, whether male, female or otherwise. Had it been Azhwar’s intention to deny the Lord’s maleness, he would not have used the word “allan”, which distinctly denotes the masculine gender, says Sri Bhattar. Otherwise, Azhwar would have used the appropriate gender-specific word, like “Pen allal”, “aliyum alladu” etc.

Looking to the gender difference between the Divine Duo, we find that Sriman Narayana is endowed with all masculine qualities of excellence like inimitable Strength, incomparable Valour, unlimited Power, etc., all of which show Him up to be the best of the sex—“Purushottama:”. However, what about His Consort? When we say that She is equal to Him in all respects, are we saying it just euphemistically, or does She too really possess these qualities? And if She does have these masculine traits, would it not make Her much less kind, much less merciful and much less compassionate? Just as fire cannot coexist with water, masculine qualities too would predominate over feminine ones, wouldn’t they?

Acharyas tell us that though both the Lord and His Consort are equally endowed with all auspicious qualities, they have an inter se arrangement, whereby Emperuman displays eminently masculine ones, while Piratti exhibits only those like Mercy, Compassion and pure Love, which are normally considered the preserve of females. This, however, is not to say that the Lord doesn’t display compassion or Piratti, strength. This is evident from Her contemptuous words to Ravana, telling him it would be child’s play for Her to reduce him to a heap of ashes in no time. We are told too in the Paadma Puranam that Sita devi single-handedly pulled the mammoth box in which Shiva’s bow was kept, which later took five thousand men to drag to Janaka’s court. We thus come to the conclusion that the Divine Couple have a rough division of labour between them in the Creation, Protection and Destruction of the Universe, with each opting for the role more suited to His or Her sex. One thing we must be clear about is that though there might be a gender difference between the Divine Duo, it is absolutely unlike the mundane distinction that we are used to and is “apraakritam”, unoccasioned by natural causes.

We find that the gender distinction pervades Paradise too. In Svargam and other places where people are sent to work off their sins and merits, we are told that there are indeed females, and beautiful ones at that. We hear of divine dancers of incomparable beauty, like Ramba, Urvasi and Tilottama, adorning the court of Indra. It is this life that Sri Kulasekhara Perumal spurns, that of being surrounded and entertained by these gorgeous women—

“Aanaada selvattu arambayargal tarchoozha
vaan aalum selvamum man arasum yaan venden”

From Puranic accounts, it would appear that the chief occupation of these damsels is to distract Maharshis engaged in penance, as happened in the case of Visvaamitra. If females are to be found in Heaven, they should be there in Hell too. (One harassed husband remarks that one need not go to hell to find females—in fact they make it available to you on earth itself, at no extra cost). Hell has not only actual females, but images of them too. We hear Sri Tirumangai Mannan telling us that those coveting others’ wives on earth, are made to embrace red-hot copper statues of such women in Hell, as punishment—

“Vambulaam koondal manaviyai turandu pirar porul taaram endru ivattrai
nambinaar irandaal naman tamar pattri ettri vaitthu eri ezhugindra
sembinaal iyandra paavaiyai paavee!tazhuvena mozhivarkku anji
Nambane! Vandu un tiruvadi adainden Naimisaaranyattul Endaai!”

In Sri Vaikunttam too, the gender division appears to persist, if we are to go by the accounts in Upanishads and Tamizh marai.

We are told that upon reaching the portals of Sri Vaikunttam, the liberated soul is welcomed by no less than five hundred divine damsels, a hundred armed with garlands, a hundred with fragrant powder, a hundred bearing beautiful clothes in their hands and so on. Equipped thus, these ladies adorn and decorate the apraakrita shareeram of the liberated soul, assumed for the purpose of the Lord’s kainkaryam, readying it for meeting its Maker.

Here is the relative quote from the Kousheetaki Upanishad-

“Tam pancha shataani apsarasaam pratidhaavanti, shatam maalaa hastaa:, shatam
anjana hastaa:, shatam choorna hastaa:, shatam vaaso hastaa:, shatam phana
hastaa:, tam Brahma alankaarena alankurvanti”.

We find a reflection of this reception party of divine damsels in Tiruvaimozhi too—

“Nidhiyum nar chunnamum nirai kuda vilakkamum
madi mukha madandayar endinar vande”

While the Upanishad talks blandly of beautiful women, Sri Pillaan, in his commentary to the aforesaid paasuram, tells us that it is none other than Sridevi, Bhoodevi and Nappinnai Piraati, along with their divine maids, who form the reception party for the Muktaatma (liberated soul). The faces of these Consorts bloom with happiness at the arrival of the Muktaatma, as does a doting mother’s, at the sight of a long-lost prodigal son.

From Stotras devoted to Nitya Suris, (the permanent inhabitants of Sri Vaikunttam), we understand that they reside there with their wives—Garuda with Sukeerti, Vishvaksena with Sootravati and so on—further confirming the persistence of the gender distinction in the worlds above.

If there is no male-female distinction in the Atma, which merely assumes an appropriate body while on earth to work off its Karma, could such differences persist even after emancipation? The answer appears to be that in the Lord’s abode, such gender differences arise out of one’s choice. The Liberated Soul is free to assume any divine body it opts for, to perform kainkaryam to the Lord and His devotees. If, for certain purposes, a female shareeram is more appropriate, then it is taken on. And since it is assumed of one’s own volition, the gender difference is not a permanent one either—after a particular service with a female body is performed, the Atma could assume a male one, for the purpose of another kainkaryam.

In saying all this, however, we should remember that the gender distinction at Sri Vaikunttam is absolutely unlike mundane differences, in cause, effect and function. Since anything there happens solely for the pleasure of the Lord and His acolytes, the assumption of appropriate bodies for kainkaryam too should be viewed in that light, without imparting it the connotations and overtones common to men and women of the lower worlds.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrsimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

dasan, sadagopan.

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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