A Good Beginning

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

Most of us, when we begin a letter, a list of things to buy, an article or other piece of writing, usually write a “Shree:” at the top. Others, of different persuasions, believe in commencing everything with a “Pillayaar Suzhi”. Those having affinity for the Sampradayam never begin anything without mentioning their Acharya’s hallowed name and that of their favourite Deity. Sentimentally, we feel that any literary endeavour, or for that matter, anything we begin, would be completed successfully, only when we begin it thus. It may be as simple as writing a mere letter of four lines or it may be a profound literary creation—without the aforesaid preludes, we feel it somehow incomplete.

Is this a practice born out of mere sentiment, or does it have the sanction of the Shastras?

When we look into various sacred works composed ages ago, we find the practice of paying obeisance to the Acharya widely prevalent—so much so that it would be difficult to find any work of significance without an accolade to the Guru adorning its initial pages. Acharya Vandanam is thus considered the foremost duty of an author. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Since all wisdom has been imbibed from the Acharya, it was considered only fair to pay him due tribute, while commencing composition. It is one’s sacred duty to illuminate the Guru’s glory, says Swami Desikan—“Gurum prakaasayet dheemaan” (the wise should always sing the praise of their preceptor). It follows from this that those who do not do so, are indeed unwise.

Any number of examples can be adduced for the Guru coming in for praise, before commencement of the work. Sri Alavandar, in his Stotra Ratnam, (which is the font of inspiration from which all subsequent Acharyas have drawn heavily) devotes not one, but three verses in praise of his Praachaarya Sri Nathamuni and a few more to other Preceptors (though not direct) like Sri Parasara Maharshi and Nammazhwar. We find Sri Bhattar too following this hoary practice and praising Sri Koorattazhwan, in his works. Swami Desikan begins Srimad Rahasyatrayasaaram (and the prelude of Guruparampara saaram) with a glowing tribute to all his Acharyas and theirs—“Gurubhyascha tat gurubhyascha namo vaakam adheemahi”.

Apart from eulogizing one’s preceptor, are there any other requirements while commencing a work? Should the work begin with any particular letter of the alphabet or a specific word?

Traditionally, the letter A—the “akaaram”— has been considered to be extremely auspicious. It is the letter which denotes Emperuman—“akaaro Vishnu vaachaka:”. Though it is only a single letter, it is pregnant with esoteric purport. Being the first of all letters in the alphabet, it is only natural that it should denote the Lord. However, it is not merely because of such primacy among alphabets that the akaaram is said to indicate Emperuman. Since the roots of the letter have protection as their purport (“ava rakshane”), the akaaram naturally points to the Saviour of All (Sarva Rakshaka:), viz., Sriman Narayana. “Akaara arttha: Vishnu:” says Sri Bhattar, categorically declaring that the letter denotes none other than Emperuman. This is confirmation of the Katha Shruti, which says, “akaarena uchyate Vishnu: sarva lokeswaro Hari:” It is perhaps for this reason that even the venerated Veda Purusha opts for the auspicious akaaram, while commencing the Rig Veda Samhita (“Agnim eede purohitam”) and the Sama Veda too, (“Agna aayaahi veetaye”) telling us that right from the first letter, the Shruti is an exclusive eulogy for Emperuman. The preference for the letter A is evident in the Brahma Sutras too, where Sage Baadaraayana begins with “ataatho Brahma jigyaasaa”.

Thus, can there be any better or more auspicious letter to begin your composition with, than the letter A? It is this hoary practice that Sri Ramanuja follows, when commencing his magnum opus, Sri Bhashyam, the beautiful commentary on the Brahma Sutras. “Akhila bhuvana janma sthema bhangaadi leele” begins the Sri Bhashyam (the invocatory verse). “Akhila” means universal. Though there are other words too conveying the same meaning, (like “nikhila”, for example), the fact that Sri Ramanuja prefers to begin his work with “a” is a pointer to us all. Emperumaanaar sticks to this tested mode of commencement in his “Vedanta Deepam” (an abbreviated version of Sri Bhashyam) too with the words, “Atra ayam eva hi veda vidaam prakriya”. (Even if one were to count the invocatory verse to this work as the real beginning, the first word is “Shriya: Kaanta: ananta:”, confirming Sri Bhasyakara’s penchant for the auspicious beginning).

Other examples, that spring to the mind while considering sacred works beginning with akaaram, are the Second Tiruvandaadi or Sri Bhootattazhwar—“Anbe tagaliyaa aarvame neyyaaga”. Sri Tirukkurugai Piraan Pillaan’s “Aaraayirappadi”, the pioneering commentary on Tiruvaimozhi, also begins with the letter A—“Apraakrita sva asaadhaarana divya roopa”. Four of the 28 Stotras of Swami Desikan begin with akaaram—the Garuda Panchaasat, Bhagavat Dhyaana Sopaanam, Nyaasa Dasakam and the Abhitistavam.

Other worthies have considered it auspicious to begin their works with a reference to Piratti, who is the repository of all things auspicious.

“Tiruk kanden, pon meni kanden” says Sri Peyazhwar, commencing his Third Tiruvandaadi with a mention of the Divine Consort Tiru or Shree.

Again, it is with the “Shree” sabdam that Sri Ramanuja commences his Gita Bhashyam—“Shriya: Pati: nikhila heya pratyaneeka kalyaanaikataana:” Swami Desikan too faithfully adheres to his master’s practice, by beginning his commentary– the Gita Bhashya Taatparya Chandrika– with “Sreemad Gitaam”.

Sri Nammazhwar too adheres faithfully to this practice, by commencing his Tiruvaimozhi with the letter “U”“Uyarvara uyar nalam udayavan yavan avan”. Just as the letter A denotes Emperuman, U indicates Piratti. This is as declared by the Katha Shruti—“Uddhrutaa Vishnunaa Lakshmi U kaarena uchayate tathaa”.

The glorious exposition on Tiruvaimozhi, Sri Nampillai’s “Eedu”, also begins with the auspicious “Shree” sabdam—“Shria: Patiyaai”. Sri Vedanta Ramanuja Mahadesikan (“Saakshaat Swami”) too commences with Irupattunaalaayira padi with “Sria: Patiyaai”. Swami Desikan too adheres to this practice by beginning his magnum opus Srimad Rahasyatrayasaaram, with ” Sria: Patiyaana Sarvesvaranukku” (first word of the Upodghaata Adhikaaram).

Other words considered appropriate for commencing compositions with, include the “Nama:” sabdam, standing for obeisance, reverence and surrender. We thus find Sri Alavandar beginning his incomparable Stotram with “Nama: achintya adbhuta aklishta gnaana vairaagya raasaye!”, paying reverential tribute to his Praacharya, Sri Nathamuni.

Similarly, “Sat” appears to be another opening gambit, popular with Swami Desikan and others. A quick analysis of his Rahasya Granthas reveals that no less than six of the 32 Chillarai Rahasyangal, begin with the word “Sadaachaarya”. The ones that begin thus are Sri Sampradaaya Parisuddhi, Sri Tattva Padavee, Sri Tattva Maatruka, Sri Taatparya Ratnavalee, Sri Rahasya Ratnaavalee Hridayam and the Rahasyatraya Chulakam.

Three other esoteric works of the Acharya, the Rahasya Padavee, the Rahasya Sandesam and the Paramapada Sopanam commence with the letter “A” or the akaaram, while the Tattvatraya Chulakam begins with the “Shree” sabdam.

The “Sam” shabdam, denoting auspiciousness, is in evidence as the first word, especially in the Taittiriya Upanishad, which commences with the Shanti Paatam, “Sam no Mitra: sam Varuna:”. The Atharva Veda too opens with “Sam no Devee: abhishtaye”.

Well-begun is half-done, says the adage. From the scintillating success all the aforesaid works have achieved in enlightening and emancipating mortals, it would appear as though the venerated authors’ strategy, of beginning with auspicious alphabets or propitious phrases, has indeed paid rich dividend. So, the next time we compose a letter, an article, a book or even a mere shopping list, let us commence it with our Acharya’s tirunaamam or, at least, with a “Shree:” Those in North India often make fun of us South Indians, calling us great ones at beginning everything with fanfare but lacking the will and resolve to see things through—“Daakshinaatyaa: khalu aarambha shooraa:”. However, if we take a leaf from the hoary books of Poorvacharyas and begin everything well, with auspiciousness, we would definitely be able to see them to their logical conclusion, with the minimum of hurdles that invariably crop up to hinder any lofty endeavour.

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

dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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