The Peerless Preceptor – 7

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

We have seen so far the indispensable role the Acharya plays in dispelling one’s ignorance and paving the way for emancipation. We have seen too how the Lord, in his anxiety to ensure the upliftment of individual souls, tries various ploys, taking birth in this world as Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, etc, as various Azhwars, and finally as numerous Acharyas, whose lineage starts with the Lord Himself, and is followed by Sri PirAtti, Sri VishvaksEnA, Sri Nammazhwar, Sri Nathamuni, Sri UyyakkondAr, Sri ManakkAl Nambi, Sri Alavandar, Sri Peria Nambi, Sri Ramanuja and the 74 Mutt heads established by him, and their illustrious descendants up to the present-day Acharyas showering their mercy on us.

The beauty of Srimad Rahastrayasaram lies in its sound logical base. Another distinguishing feature is Swami Desikan’s capacity to foresee possible doubts in the minds of readers and to clarify them simultaneously, while making a point.

In tune with the Shruti dictum that one ought to know and pay obeisance individually to each Acharya in his Guruparampara, we recite daily the tanians relating to various Acharyas. The Acharya is normally one’s contemporary, as instruction or upadEsa could be obtained only in person from the Acharya. Here, a reasonable doubt would rise in our minds, how Sri Nammazhwar, separated by hundreds of years from Sri Nathamuni, could be the Acharya for the latter.

It is common knowledge how Sri Nathamunigal, hearing the ten pasurams beginning with “ArAvamudhE”, was inspired to search for the rest of the thousand and odd Tiruvaimozhi pasurams, by obtaining upadEsa of “Kanninun SirutthAmbu” from the descendants of Sri Madurakavi Azhwar. And by reciting this prabandam 12000 times with devotion, he was rewarded by Sri Nammazhwar , who appeared in person and taught the entire Divya Prabandas, to enable their re-propagation. Thus, by obtaining upadesa from Sri Madurakavi’s descendant, Sri Nathamuni joined the sishya parampara of Sri Nammazhwar. Further, Sri Nammazhwar’s personal instruction in his Yoga dasA made him Sri Nathamuni’s Acharya.

The contribution of Sri Nathamuni to the protection and propagation of the Sampradaya is invaluable, and he is counted as the first Acharya for all practical purposes. Acknowledging Sri Nathamuni to be the first Pontiff of SriVaishnavism, Swami Desikan says “NathOpagyam pravrittam”. Our Acharyas have not only instructed those eligible sishyas who came into contact with them, but also authored Manuals on various aspects of the Sampradaya, for the enlightenment of subsequent generations. In this fashion, Sri Nathamuni’s works were “Sri NyAya Tattvam”(the source of inspiration for Sri Alavandar’s Siddhitrayam) and “Sri Yoga Rahasyam”. Sri Nathamuni was a great Yogi and had 8 sishyas of repute, primary among whom were Sri Uyyakkondar and Sri KurugaikAval appan.( It was to the latter that Sri Nathamuni entrusted the propagation of Yoga Shastra, but due to the Lord’s will, Sri Alavandar reached Sri Appan too late to be instructed in the secrets of Yoga, which was then lost to us forever.).

We have to remember Sri Nathamunigal with gratitude not only for having rediscovered the lost treasure/heirloom of the Divya Prabandas, but also for having set them to divine music (“TALam vazhangi Tamizh marai innisai tanda vaLLal – தாளம் வழங்கி தமிழ் மறை இன்னிசை தந்த வள்ளல்”). Perhaps in recognition of this fact, his vigraha is seen in many temples with cymbals in his hands. The present manner of recitation of Prabandas in temples is no doubt good, (“PAtyE gEyE cha madhuram”) but imagine how absolutely uplifting it would be to hear these poignant pasurams sung in soul-stirring rAgAs appropriate to the Azhwars’ moods! Even a cursory look at the pasurams would reveal that they are meant to be sung with devotion, and not merely recited, however resonantly. Sri Nammazhwar says, “PaNnAr pAdal inkavigaL yAnAi tannai tAn pAdi – பாணர் பாடல் இன்கவிகள் யானை தானை தான் பாடி”, attesting to the fact that even the Lord intended this divine poetry to be sung. A further proof is that one of the Azhwars, Sri PAN PerumAl, was an expert musician, a wandering minstrel, whose occupation itself was singing the Lord’s praise. Such is Swami Desikan.s regard for Sri Nathamunigal that he exhorts us to pay obeisance to the Acharya daily, and proudly proclaims that Sri Nathamuni’s devotees are indeed peerless in all world (“Nathamuni kazhalE nALum tozhudu ezhuvOm, namakku Ar nigar nAnilatthE – நாதமுநி காலே நாளும் தொழுதெழுவோம் நமக்கு யார் நிகர் நானிலத்தே”).

The greatness of this Acharya can be gauged by the fact that Sri Alavandar, in his “Stotraratnam”, devotes no less than three slokas to the praise of Sri Nathamuni, and concludes by saying that Sri Ranganatha Muni (as he was christened)’s tiruvadis are the sole refuge, not only in this world but also in Sri Vaikuntam (“atra paratra chApi nityam yadeeya charaNou sharaNam madeeyam”).

A cardinal principle enunciated here is that the Acharya is not only a facilitator (“PrApakam”), but also the goal to be attained (“PrApyam”). The SAtvata Tantra of Pancharatra says,

“GururEva param Brahma, GururEva parA gati:
upAya upEya bhAvEna tamEva sharanam vrajEt”

It is relevant to note here that obituary notices of Sri Vaishnavas always refer to the individual having attained the lotus feet of his Acharya (“AchAryan tiruvadi adaindAr – ஆசார்யன் திருவடி அடைந்தார்”) and not that of the Lord. In fact, the Scriptures denounce those whose devotion is addressed to the inaccessible Lord, in preference to the easily accessed Acharya- Says the SAtvata Tantra,

“Chakshu: gamyam Gurum tyaktvA ShAstra gamyam tu ya: smarEt
karasttham udakam tyaktvA ghanasttham abhi vAncchati”

(One who forsakes the Guru, visible to the eyes in flesh and blood, and sets his heart upon the Lord, who is to be known only through the Shastras, is indeed a fool, as much a fool as one who forsakes the potable water on hand and hankers after water from clouds or some such unobtainable source.)

It is noteworthy that both Sri Alavandar (“nityam sharanam madeeyam”) and Swami Desikan (“nALum tozhudu ezhuvOm”) agree that devotion to Sri Nathamuni should constantly occupy our thoughts, day in and day out. This is akin to the dictum of the Vedas, “TasmAt BrAhmaNEbhyO VEda vidbhyO divE divE namaskuryAt”. Just as the Vedas exhort us to be devout towards Vedic scholars and pay obeisance to them daily, Sri Nathamuni, who is well versed not only in the Vedas, but also in the Vedanta, should be the object of our constant veneration.

to be continued…

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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