The Celebrated Chauffeur

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Srimate SirivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

Many of us have cars, especially those living abroad, for whom the four-wheeler is not a luxury, but a dire necessity. And some of the car-owners have chauffeurs, to whom they entrust the safety of not only their vehicles, but also of themselves and their precious families. It is the considered opinion of some car-owners that it is as providential to land a good driver, as it is to wed a good woman. Not only marriages, but also the owner-chauffeur relationship too would appear to be made in heaven, for, as many would attest, drivers are a lackadaisical lot. They have a penchant for reporting sick or just not turning up, especially when you require them the most. They have a short memory for favours received and the niggling notion that they are grossly underpaid, however handsome be their wages. MahAkavi BhArati refers perhaps to drivers, when he says in “KaNnan en SEvakan”—

“Kooli miga kEpAr, koduttadellAm tAm marappAr
Velai miga irundAl veettilE tangiduvAr
PAattiyAr setthu vitta pannirandAm nAL enbAr
PAnayilE tEL irundu pallAl kadittadu enbAr”

And woe betide the master who dares to discuss family matters while travelling in the car with his wife or others—in no time they would be dutifully communicated to jealous and gossip-mongering neighbours.

This piece is not a diatribe against the worthy profession of drivers—the object is entirely different, viz., to extol the praises of a member of the same profession, who, despite His exalted stature, comported Himself so excellently as an obliging chauffeur to a demanding master, that the whole world sings His praises till date.

There might be any number of instances of the Lord’s extreme accessibility (Soulabhyam) and His readiness to mingle as one with lowly mortals (Souseelyam)—but there is no other single act of His which demonstrates the aforesaid traits explicitly, than His role as a charioteer to Arjuna. When DuryOdana and Arjuna both seek the support of Sri Krishna in their battle royal, the former is content with material assistance in the form of the vast YAdava force, all of them fierce warriors of exceptional calibre. Arjuna, on the other hand, asks Krishna for the rather strange favour of having Him (Krishna) as a simple charioteer, one who would wield no weapons, but would merely pilot the chariot wherever required at His master’s command. One knows not what made the PANdava ask this of Sri Krishna, but the former, in hindsight, appears to have displayed admirable perspicacity in doing so.

Thus begins a relationship, which would last the duration of the battle between the PANdavAs and the KouravAs at KurukshEtra. From day one of the battle, Lord Krishna transformed Himself from the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent ParamAtmA, into a humble charioteer implicitly obeying the dictates of his royal master. Gone were the Divine Discus and the Cosmic Conch from His handsome hands, to be replaced by the reins of the horses and a stick with which to goad them on. Gone were the urbane appearance and debonair demeanour, with attire and ornaments better than the best royalty could afford, to be replaced by the humble clothes of a driver, His face and torso coated with the grime and dust of the battlefield, His benign countenance (normally resembling a blooming lotus) covered with pockmarks from arrows which were aimed at the master, but which the chauffeur thought fit to intercept bodily, saving the master from certain death on many occasions. The normally broad, beautiful and lotus-like eyes were now red-lined and half-closed with fatigue and battle-wearines. The curly, jet-black hair, the envy of even women, was not coated with dust and grime. While the overhead canopy provided shade and comfort to the master Arjuna, the SArathy had no such advantage, with His already dark visage made the more so due to constant exposure to the blazing Sun. His entire body was covered by a fine film of sweat, as He manoeuvred the horses and the chariot in appropriate directions, weaving between the vehicles of opponents with expertise and expedition, confounding enemy warriors with the speed and dexterity of movement.

Sri Ramanuja is so enchanted with this endearing portrayal by the Lord that he devotes quite a few majestic phrases to its depiction—

“GnAna shakti bala ishvarya veerya shakti tEjasAm nidhim, sva sankalpa krita jagat udaya vibhava laya leelam, HrishIkEsam, parAvara nikhila jana antara bAhya karaNAnAm sarva prakAra niyamanE avastthitham”

Marvels Sri Bhashyakara—“It is this exalted Parabrahmam, the repository of innumerable auspicious attributes, having for its sport the creation, sustenance and destruction of this entire universe of sentient beings and non-sentient objects, the Supreme Controller of all the faculties (external and internal) of all beings in this vast world—it is this ParamAtma who stood as a humble charioteer, in front of Arjuna’s chariot.” Adducing reasons for this apparently impossible role-change, Sri Ramanuja says, “Asrita vAtsalya vivasa tayA”, chronicling the glory of the Lord who permits Himself to be ordered about like the lowliest of underlings, all due to His overwhelming love and affection for His devotees. Unable to shake off his wonderment, Sri Ramanuja exclaims, “Ratham stthApaya iti achOdayat” (Arjuna ordered the chariot to be parked between the two armies ready for battle), moved beyond measure by the ParamAtmA, the Supreme Lord of all Universes, being ordered about by a mere mortal and, on top of it, carrying out the orders meekly. Supplements Swami Desikan, “Sarva prashAsitA niyOjya: abhavat iti Ashcharyam iti bhAva:”

When ordered by Arjuna to place the chariot amidst the two armies, the Lord obeys instantly and with alacrity, with all the world watching His menial demeanour, says Sri Ramanuja, still unable to shake off his wonderment at the Almighty’s greatness in putting Himself at the beck and call of a human master—“Sa cha tEna chOdita: tat kshaNAt Eva BhIshma DrONAdInAm sarvEshAmEva mahIkshitAm pasyatAm yathA chOditam akarOt”.

Sri Tirumangai Mannan too is extremely moved by the SArathI’s role assumed by the Lord—“Indiran siruvan tEr mun nindrAnai TiruvallikkENi kaNdEnE”. Indra, the chief of all celestials, is himself a non-entity vis-à-vis the ParamAtmA: his son Arjuna, being a mortal, is more so. Despite all this, the Lord consented to be SArathy of this PANdava prince, who did not have a bit of land to call his own, solely out of love and affection. And while Arjuna was ensconced comfortably on the chariot’s cushioned seat, with a canopy to protect him from rain and shine, the Lord stood on the ground (“tEr mun nindrAnai”), the personification of servility and submissiveness, holding the horses’ reins and the goad (“KOl kaiyil koNdu PArtthan tan tEr mun nindrAnai”) in His beautiful hand.
Sri Kalian’s emotion is all the more understandable, when we consider that the Azhwar enshrined the Lord in a glorious chariot, made up of the glorious verses of Tiruvezhukoottrirukkai.

Arjuna might have been attired in princely robes and presented a picture of virility and might, but the real adornment to the chariot was the Lord, who, despite His humble habit and meek demeanour, shone like a thousand Suns despite the coating of grime and grist of the battlefield, says Swami Desikan, in VairAgya Panchakam—“Dhananjaya syandana bhooshaNam dhanam”. And because of its Distinguished Driver, the Chariot itself acquired glory, which is evident from the descriptions of Sri Kalian (“PArtthan selva tEr Eru SArathiyAi”) and of Sri Ramanuja (“Mahati syandanE”).

We know only too well that the Lord adapts Himself admirably to the role He chooses from time to time. He delivers a stellar performance, whether as a Magnificent Monarch, an angry young Rishi bent upon annihilating the ruling classes, a diminutive bachelor come to beg for an insignificant three feet of land from an Emperor or a ferocious Man-Lion materialising out of a palace pillar to put paid to one of the vilest of asurAs. He puts His life and soul into the performance, so to say, to emerge as a player worthy of a million Oscars.

In His role as a chauffeur too, the Lord excels, as is His wont. We are struck with wonder as to how Emperuman is able to play diametrically opposite roles, as the Prince of Ayodhya, used only to riding in chariots driven by the best of charioteers, to that of a lowly chauffeur, piloting the carriage to the directions of a perishable human master. Listen to Sumantra, the exalted minister of Dasaratha and a charioteer par excellence, praying to Sri Rama to ascend the chariot for a quick drive to wherever He might wish—

“Ratham ArOha bhadram tE Rajaputra! MahAyasha:
Kshipram prApayishyAmi yatra mAm Rama! vakshyasi”

We are told too that Sri Rama’s chariot was magnificent, glittering with a golden body studded with precious stones, verily like the Sun—“tam ratham Soorya sankAsam”

“athO jvalana sankAsam chAmIkara vibhooshitam
tam Aruruhatu: toorNam bhrAtarou RAma LakshmaNou”.

It is not only the Lord who is accustomed only to riding in a chariot, when but His constant Consort too is accustomed to ride with splendour in a glorious chariot (“ashva poorvAm, Ratha madhyAm”—Sri Suktam), which appears irreconcilable with the Lord’s occupation during the Kurukshetra war. Despite all these, if Emperuman could turn in a commendable performance as a charioteer to Arjuna, executed with admirable aplomb and effortless ease, it is no mean tribute to His histrionic talents.

When He takes up something, the Lord does it perfectly. As a charioteer, He tended to the horses with the high degree of love, affection and commitment, which prompted them to turn out their best on the battlefield. He never ate before ensuring that the animals had their belly-full and ensured that they were always well-fed and cared for, with their strong, white bodies gleaming in the Sun, their heads held high with the pride of performance. At the end of each day of battle, the Lord washed down the horses, cleansing them of the dust and grime of the day and applied soothing salve to their wounds, before having a wash Himself.

Once, in the midst of raging war, sensing the horses slowing down due to dehydration, the Lord even arranged for an impromptu spring on the battlefield, from which the horses drank their fill and were fit and rearing to go once more. This is not mere canard, but well-chronicled history, to which the following pasuram of Sri PeriyAzhwar bears testimony—

“Mannar maruga maitthunanmArkku oru tErin mEl
mun angu nindru mOzhai ezhuvittavan”

Swami Desikan’s Acharya, Sri KidAmbi AppuLLAr, sees Arjuna’s chariot and the Lord’s own position therein, as representative of Emperuman’s role as the Universal Saviour. The picture of Sri Krishna seated ahead of Arjuna at the front of the chariot, protecting Arjuna from all possible dangers, is reminiscent of the “akAra” (the letter “a”) in the PraNava mantra depicting the Lord’s role as the Saviour, and ArjunA’s own position at the rear of the chariot, of the last letter, the “makAra” (the letter “im” in the Pranava) representing the JeevAtma—

“abhirakshitum agrata: stitham tvAm PraNavE PArttha rathE cha bhAvayanta:”

When we stand before Sri Parthasarathy Swami at TiruvallikkEni and throw our thoughts back to that battlefield of Kurukshetra, we find our eyes brimming with tears at the sight of the Lord, whose handsome visage sports innumerable pock-marks, bearing testimony to His boundless love for his bhaktAs and His readiness to do anything, but anything, to please His devotee. The word “infra dig” appears not to figure in His lexicon, as far as doing the bidding of His bhaktAs is concerned. If we perform Prapatti and entrust to Him the job of piloting the vehicle of our lives, He would surely guide us unerringly to the Promised Land, steering us with care amidst the minefield of SamsAra. All that we have to do is to hand over the reins of our lives to Him and relax, with absolutely no care in the world, saying with Swami Desikan—“nirbharO nirbhayOsmi”.

Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Dasan, sadagopan

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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