Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The greatest efforts of Emperuman at emancipating mankind is through the Azhwars, who, through their divya prabandas, made the ordinary mortals realize what a great treasure awaited them during and after this life of trials and tribulations, if only they cared to learn about and develop devotion for the Lord. Perhaps the Lord realized that His incarnations as Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, etc. had but a limited effect on samsArIs , and while they listened to Him in awe while He was with them, they quickly forgot Him and returned to their errant ways, once the avatara was concluded. Realizing the inefficacy of being born as a Supreme Being for the purpose of uplifting people, the Lord devised the ploy of taking birth as one of the proletariat, so to say, in the hope that people would listen to their peers. And thus were born the Azhwars, some of them in superior castes, some in inferior ones, and belonging to diverse occupations, having but two things in common-intense love for Sriman Narayana, and the immensely generous intellects that made them share their experiences in divinity with anybody who would listen. Occasionally, when we are subject to an uplifting experience, we feel like sharing it with our near and dear, to make them too experience our thrills, at least secondhand. This was the state of Azhwars too- they were not content to keep their enlightening experiences to themselves, but invited everybody from the rooftop, to partake of the nectar they had discovered. “ToNdeer elleerum vAreer, tozhudu tozhudu nindru Artthum” invites Sri Nammazhwar.
கண்டோம் கண்டோம் கண்டோம் கண்ணுக் கினியன கண்டோம்,
தொண்டீர் எல்லீரும் வாரீர் தொழுது தொழுதுநின் றார்த்தும்,
வண்டார் தண்ணந்து ழாயான் மாதவன் பூதங்கள் மண்மேல்,
பண்டான் பாடிநின் றாடிப் பரந்து திரிகின் றனவே
“engaL kuzhAm pugundu koodu manam udai tondar uLLEEr vandu ollai kooduminO” adds Sri PeriAzhwar.
ஏடுநிலத்தில் இடுவதன்முன்னம் வந்து எங்கள் குழாம்புகுந்து
கூடுமனமுடையீர்கள் வரம்பொழி வந்தொல்லைக் கூடுமினோ
நாடுநகரமும் நன்கறி யநமோ நாராய ணாயவென்று
பாடுமனமுடைப் பத்தருள் ளீர்வந்து பல்லாண்டு கூறுமினே
“SonnAl virOdham idu, Agilum solluvan kELminO”– Sri Nammazhwar
சொன்னால் விரோதமிது ஆகிலும் சொல்லுவேன் கேண்மினோ,
என்னாவில் இன்கவி யானொருவ ர்க்கும் கொடுக்கிலேன்,
தென்னா தெனாவென்று வண்டு முரல்திரு வேங்கடத்து,
என்னானை என்னப்பன் எம்பெருமானுள னாகவே
exhorts all to listen to words of wisdom, though unpalatable.
The more one goes through the Divya Prabandas, the more one is convinced about their being UpadEsa GranthAs (manuals of instruction) rather than Anubhava GranthAs (Records of Experience). And as the Azhwars themselves attest, they spoke and sang but as a voice of the Lord, and it was He who entered them and made them sing His praise. Sri Nammazhwar says so at several places in TiruvAimozhi- “paNNAr pAdal inkavigaL YanAi tannai tAn pAdi -பண்ணார் பாடல் இன்கவிகள் யானாய்த் தன்னைத் தான்பாடி”, “en nAvinuLAnE-என் நாவினுலானே” etc.
It is thus clear that Emperuman.s greatest instructional effort was to be born again as Azhwars. The immeasurable contribution of the Azhwars is graphically described by Swami Desikan thus-
“MeghangaL samudra jalatthai vAngi sarva upajeevyamAna taNNeerAga umizhumA pOlE – மேகங்கள் சமுத்ர ஜலத்தை வாங்கி ஸர்வ உபஜீவ்யமான தண்ணீராக உமிழுமா போலே”.
Seawater is salty and unfit for consumption. However, clouds absorb the essence from the sea and bring it to the thirsty mankind and crops in the form of rain, which represents the purest form of water. Similarly, Vedas and other scriptures are in Sanskrit, which is difficult of comprehension t the average man. Azhwars, in their infinite mercy, translated the essence of Vedas into Tamil, the common man.s language, making it easy for him to benefit there from. This is why Sri Nammazhwar is hailed as “Vedam Tamizh seida Maran Satakopan – வேதம் செய்த மாறன் சடகோபன்”.
Further, only people fortunate enough to be born in the upper castes were eligible to learn the scriptures, putting them beyond the reach of others. But “Maran marai” or the Dravida Vedam” enabled even the lowliest to partake of the treasure in its accessible form.
A thorough study of the Vedas would involve several lifetimes, and even then would perhaps would never be complete, for the Vedas are indeed endless-“anantA vai veda:” confirms the Shruti itself. The Kataka Prasnam recounts the story of Sri BharadvAja Maharshi, who devoted three lifetimes to Vedic studies. At the end of his third lifespan, Indra, appearing before the Rishi, inquired what the latter would do if he were to be given another life. Sri Bharadvaja replied that he would devote the fourth lifetime too to Veda adhyayanam. Indra then showed the Maharshi the quantum of scriptures the latter had imbibed- a mere three handfuls- and the quantum yet to be learnt-three towering mountains. Indra tells Bharadvaja that however many lifespans he might be provided with, he would never be able to master the Scripture fully, for knowledge is simply endless. The moral of the story is to learn, within the short lifetime available to us, the quintessence of knowledge, by knowing which everything else is known.
Exhorts a seer- As the time available is short and hurdles to learning are so many, do learn only that which is of the essence, taking a leaf out of the book of the Swan, which, when faced with a container of watery milk, separates the milk from the water and imbibes only the milk.
“alpascha kAlO bahavascha vignA; yat sArabhootam tat upAdhadheeta, HamsO yatA ksheeram iva ambu mishram”.
The quintessence of the Vedas and other scriptures has been summarized by Azhwars in the form of Divya Prabandas, for ready absorption by our frail faculties, in a capsule form, so to say. Just as a sugarcane tastes sweet all over, these prabandas too can enlighten and emancipate us.
to be continued…
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore