Glorious Gateways

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Have you ever thought about Gates or Doors? This may appear to be a silly question-for, what is so significant about these? They are, after all, mere entrances and exits through which you pass, to get in to or out of homes or offices. What could possibly be remarkable about such openings? Such thoughts do run through your mind, when the subject is broached. However, deeper reflections, especially with the aid of the Scripture, reveal to you such a wealth of information about these innocuous gates and doors, that you are indeed surprised that so much should have been said about such humble objects.

This being the month of Margazhi and the season for entering the Paramapada Vaasal at temples, let us start with Tiruppavai and its several mentions about doors. ‘Manik kadavam taal tiravaai’, plead the Gopis standing outside the house of a lazy girl, who cherishes her beauty sleep and prefers it to Bhagavat anubhavam. The residents of Gokulam are so rich (‘seer malgum Aayppaadi – சீர் மல்கும் ஆய்பாடி’) that the houses of even ordinary cowherds are adorned with doors studded with gems and precious stones-‘Manik kadavam’. The brilliance of these gems is so blinding that those standing outside, who would normally have let themselves in through the doors, are unable to find the entrance and have to ask the sleepy occupant to come and open the entrance-‘Maanikkangalin oliyaale taal terigiradillai, neeye tiravaai engiraargal’ Further, the entire palatial home is so gem-studded and effulgent, that the visitors are unable to identify exactly where the wall ends and where the door is inset. The house is a ‘Thoo mani maadam’ and the door too a ‘Manik kadavam’, making it difficult to identify the location of the latter.

The words ‘Manik kadavam’ can also be construed to mean doors adorned with bells. Even today, we find temple doors hung with bells, which emit sweet chimes whenever they are opened or closed. Additionally, devotees too ring these bells whenever they pass in or out of temple doors, perhaps marking their attendance and drawing the Lord’s attention to their presence. One wonders whether the present day Calling Bells at house entrances have evolved from these belled doors!

If the houses of even ordinary Gopis are so brilliant and beautiful, need we say anything about the doors at the palace of Nandagopa, their Chieftain? His palatial residence too is adorned with beautiful doors, studded with the most precious of dazzling diamonds. The doors are further decorated with flags and festoons fluttering gaily in the wind-‘Kodi tondrum torana vaayil’. Visitors to Nandagopa’s residence pause for long at these doors, mesmerized by their magnificence and unable to proceed further. We are told that the doors at Nandagopa’s palace monopolize visitors’ attention, preventing them from going inside. And once they get over their obsession with these dazzling doors and manage to get in, then the infinitely greater attraction of Sri Krishna seated inside makes it impossible for them to tear themselves away even after any length of time. Thus, those who are outside find it difficult to get in due to the mesmerizing doors, while those who are inside are unable to get out, as kutty Kanna’s beauty doesn’t release them from its grip.

It is interesting to note that Sri Tirumangai Mannan too comments about the compelling beauty of doors, which prevents people from proceeding beyond them, despite the knowledge of an infinitely greater treat awaiting them inside. The doors of Tirunarayur Emperuman’s abode are so splendorous that it is with very great difficulty that Parakaala Naayaki tears herself away from them, to be greeted by the glorious sight of the Lord inside-‘Ponniyalum maada kavaatam kadandu pukku’. ‘Puguvaarai tan azhagaale kaal kattum kadavu’ says Sri Periyavaacchaan Pillai, commenting on these doors. These are no ordinary doors, insentient and lifeless-they are full of intense love for Krishna-‘Nesa nilai kadavam’. Due to their passionate protectiveness, the doors stand steadfast, denying admittance to those whom they suspect even slightly of dubious intentions towards Sri Krishna. And for those who are inclined to scoff at the idea of insentient objects like doors having Nesam or love for Krishna, I would only recount to them the behaviour of the sturdy doors at Kamsa’s prison, on the stormy night of Krishna’s birth. These tall and strong doors, reinforced with steel chains, just flew apart on their own accord, when Sri Vasudeva appeared, bearing in his hands the magnificent baby.

If the doors of the Lord’s earthly abodes are themselves so magnificent, our imagination baulks at the thought of how beautiful they must be in His eternal residence, Sri Vaikunttam. The gates of Paradise are so exalted that getting past them is impossible for even accomplished souls like Brahma, Rudra and Indra, says Sri Kulasekhara Perumal-

‘Pinnitta sadayaanum Piramanum Indiranum
Tunnittu pugal ariya Vaikuntta neel vaasal’

Admittance to these gates is restricted to those who perform Saranagati and surrender themselves heart and soul to Emperuman -none else, however illustrious he is, is let in the glorious gates. Another meaning too can be attached to these beautiful lines of Perumal Tirumozhi, from the context. Speaking of the glory of Tirumalai, Azhwar articulates his ardent wish to perform some intimate kainkaryam or other to Srinivasa. Azhwar finds the crowd of devotees at Tirumala awaiting the Lord’s audience so huge (even in those days) that even exalted entities like Siva and Brahma are caught up in the crowd, are pushed and pummelled and find it difficult to get past the imposing gates to the Lord’s sanctorum.

And the reason for such illustrious personages failing to gain admittance to the doors of Paradise? This is outlined by Sri Bhootatazhwar in his second Tiruvandadi. To reach and get into the glorious gates of Sri Vaikunttam, one must first surmount the dense undergrowth of Samsaaram. This, Azhwar avers, is possible only for those with the firm conviction that the Lord Himself is both the goal be attained and the strategy therefor-He is the Upaayam as well as the Upeyam-

‘Tirambittru ini arinden ten Arangattu endai
Tirambaa vazhi selvaarkku allaal-tirambaar
Chedi narakai neekki taam selvadan mun vaanor
Kadi nagar vaasal kadavu

திறம்பிற் றினியறிந்தேன் தென்னரங்கத் தெந்தை,
திறம்பா வழிசென்றார்க் கல்லால், – திறம்பாச்
செடிநரகை நீக்கித்தான் செல்வதன்முன், வானோர்
கடிநகர வாசற் கதவு.’

Sri Peyazhwar speaks about an entirely different type of door-one that is aimed at keeping in check our five faculties, which are always rearing to escape our control and indulge themselves in puerile pleasures. Azhwar tells us that we should erect such a strong door in our minds, that keeps the senses imprisoned, preventing them from escaping and running riot. Only such a door, which acts as an effective check on the faculties, would enable us to realize the Lord, says Azhwar. And such a door would predictably have as its bolts nothing other than Wisdom or Gnaanam.

Here is Azhwar’s thought-provoking pasuram-

‘Arivu ennum taal koluvi, iympulanum tammil
Serivu ennum tin kadavam semmi-marai endrum
Nangu odi nangu unarvaar kaanbare naal torum
Painkota vannar padi’

The Shruti speaks about a wonderful building-one with no less than nine doors. ‘Ashtaa chakraa nava dvaaraa, Devaanaam poo: Ayodhya’ says the Taitthireeya Aaranyakam, describing this edifice. This concept finds mention in the Svetaasvataropanishad too-‘Nava dvaare pure dehi hamso lolaayate bahi:’. Sri Kalian too speaks about this beautiful but perishable structure with nine doors-‘onbadu vaasal taanudai kurambai’. The Bhagavat Gita contains a verbatim version of the Upanishadic phrase-‘nava dvaare pure dehee naiva kurvan na kaarayan’. All these texts speak of none other than our physical body, with two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, a mouth and two excretory organs, accounting in all for nine gates.

Going back to divine gates, would you be surprised to know that the Sun and the Moon represent giant gateways? Yes, the king of the day and the queen of the night do form gateways to the worlds above, says the Mahabharata. It is through Sun that we have to travel, if we are destined for higher worlds like Sri Vaikunttam. This is known as the Deva Yaanam or the Divine Route, to which the Sun forms the glorious gateway. This is borne out by the Mundakopanishad text, ‘Soorya dvaarena te Viraja prayaanti’. Sri Tirumangai Mannan too avers, ‘Teraar nirai kadiron manadalattai keendu pukku’. And there is the Mahabharata sloka which confirms, ‘Ayam sa deva yaanaanaam Adityo dvaaram uchyate’. And complementarily, the Moon too is said to be a gateway, to the Pitru Yaanam or the ancestral path. However, those who traverse this gateway are destined to come back to the Earth, to be reborn into this Samsaaram-‘Ayam sa Pitru Yaanaanaam Chandrama dvaaram uchyate’.

Thus, the Moon forms the entrance to the lower worlds, which afford us fruits commensurate with our baggage of Karma and once these are worked off, push us back into the mundane morass.

The gates to SriVaikunttam, as indicated above, are magnificent beyond measure, are adorned with the most precious of divine diamonds and are long and broad-‘Vaikuntta neel vaasal’. And these divine gates are guarded zealously by exalted gatekeepers by name Indra and Prajapati-‘Indra Prajapatee dvaara gopou’ says the Kousheetaki Upanishad. The inner doors of Paramapadam are guarded by Dvaarapaalakaas, eight pairs of them stationed at each of the eight glorious gates-

Chanda and Prachanda, Bhadra and Subhadra, Jaya and Vijaya, Dhaata and Vidhaata, Kumuda and Kumudaaksha, Pundareeka and Vamana, Shankukarna and Sarpanetra, Sumukha and Supratishtita. According to the Cchandogyopanishad, there are five gates to the Lords abode and each of these gates is guarded by a Brahmapurusha of considerable accomplishment-‘Te vaa ete pancha Bramapurusha: svargasya dvaarapaa:’ The Kaataka Prasnam too confirms that Svarga lokam has five entry points-‘Taa vaa etaa: pancha svargasya lokasya dvaara:’. However, the guards at these doors differ from those stated in the Upanishad-Kaatakam tells us symbolically that the first door is guarded by Penance (Tapas), the second by Shraddha, the third by Satyam, the fourth by the Mind and the last by Charanam. A different version, again allegorical, is available in the Mahopanishad as to the Dvaarapaalakas of Moksham-

‘Moksha dvaare Dvaara paala: chatvaara: parikeertita:
Samo Vichaara: Santosha: chaturtha: Saadhu sangama:’

(In the aforesaid texts, the words Svargam and Moksham have been used interchangeably, according to commentators)

Normally, all of us enter others’ houses through the front gate and doors. However, Shastras have a rather strange prescription in this regard. We are told that we should enter into the homes of friends and well-wishers only, through the doors. The houses of enemies and those who are unfavourably inclined towards us should not be entered through the gates. The Mahabharata is quite categorical about this-

‘Advaarena ripo: geham dvaarena suhrido griham
Pravisanti sadaa santa: dvaaram no varjitam tata:’

We find Sri Hanuman following this Shastraic dictum, while entering Lanka. Though he had scored a victory over the awesome Lankini standing guard at the entrance and could very well have entered through the main doors of the Lankan fort, he preferred to jump over the ramparts-‘Advaarena mahaa baahu: praakaaram abhi pupluve’ .

We find temple doors these days becoming the favourite abode of beggars and others of similar persuasion. However, the Bhaagavatas of Srirangam are so enamoured of Rangaraja, that they are loathe to going home even after the gates of the Sanctorum are shut for the day, and keep haunting the doorsteps of the Sannidhi. These Mahatmas spurn all mundane associations and avocations and make the doors of Srirangam temple their permanent abode, considering the Lord their all, having surrendered themselves heart and soul to Him and ridden themselves of all pride and possessiveness. And it is these apparently lazy people, (who hardly stir from His door steps), whom Sri Ranganatha likes most, says Sri Tondaradippodi Azhwar – ‘nin kadai talai irundu vaazum sombarai ugatti polum soozh punal Arangattane! – கடைத்தலை யிருந்துவாழும் சோம்பரை உகத்தி போலும் சூழ்புனல் அரங்கத் தானே!’

And now to conclude, all the aforesaid would have convinced us that doors and gates are not mere trivial objects intended to cover an entrance, but are indeed sentinels of significance, whom we can afford to ignore only at the peril that Hiranyakasipu exposed himself to, by doubting the capacity of a pillar to be the Lord’s abode.

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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