Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
It is amazing to think how we become slaves to creature comforts. Can we imagine a life today, without a fan, a grinder, a television set or a VCR and the now-ubiquitous cell phone? We have become so accustomed to all these and other electrical and electronic devices, that we wonder what people really did, when these were not available at all! Though our children may not remember the times without a television or an air conditioner, many of us still do. I do remember, for instance, that we bought an electric fan for the first time in our family, when I was in the 7th Standard at school. And the air conditioner, which adorns almost all middle-class homes today, was definitely a luxury a few years back, with only some offices and upper-crust individuals boasting of one. Times change and so do people’s perceptions, with luxuries becoming necessities and new necessities emerging.
Leaving aside philosophical ruminations, let me come to the subject of this piece—The Fan. What could there be to say about this simple electrical appliance, you may wonder. Simple as it may seem and sound, the Fan has a hoary and holy past.
What is the weather like in Paradise? Naturally, it has to be pleasant. With Emperuman, the Supreme Controller of all elements, being the chief inhabitant, Sri Vaikuntam has to have the best of climes, with a gentle, fragrant, breeze blowing, the Sun shining, but not with virulence, appropriate amounts of rain falling gently and in time. It must definitely be like an air-cooled world, with neither excessive heat nor biting chill, the temperature being just right. One would hence presume that there would be no need for any fans at Sri Vaikuntam. However, we find from the following sloka that even in Paramapadam, the Lord is being constantly fanned by His acolytes, with fans made of the finest of deer-hair—
“KoormAdIn divya lOkam tadanu maNimayam mantapam tatra SEsham
tasmin dharmAdi peetham tad upari kamalam chAmara grAhiNeescha”
Why should the Lord need fanning? As we have already seen, the temperature at Sri Vaikuntam could not be more pleasant: even if it were to be humid or hot, Emeperuman Himself, with His divine shareeram, would definitely not sweat or feel the heat. Then why this seemingly empty gesture on the part of His devotees, of wielding fans?
We often find that when we love someone beyond measure, we tend to worry about his or her well being, even though there might be no actual cause for worry. We thus find a doting mother worrying about her son, even when the latter is pushing 50. She knows full well that her son can definitely look after himself, but cannot help fretting for his welfare. We are told that the moment he hears any commotion in Sri Vaikuntam, Adisesha starts spewing fire, adopting a protective posture lest someone should harm the Lord—this, despite knowing that no harm can possibly befall the Supreme Being, from whatever source. The devotees’ act of fanning Him is somewhat akin to Adisesha’s misplaced but well-meaning fear (“asthAnE bhaya shankA”), born out of immeasurable love and affection. They know full well that the Lord’s divine body is affected by neither heat nor cold, but yet fan Him with ChAmarams, out of their concern that He should not feel humidity or heat.
Such an attitude on the part of the nitya SUrIs (residents of Sri Vaikunttam) is perhaps understandable, since they are dealing with a walking, talking and speaking Lord. It is very much possible to feel such concern for such a live person. However, this does not explain why such services as fanning should be extended to Emperuman in His arcchA state, as He is found in various temples on earth. After all, one might feel, He inhabits images made of stone, mortar and wood, which are not known to be as sensitive to humidity or heat as human beings. Why at all then should someone serve the Lord with hand-held fans?
And it is not as if the practice is recent. We are told that it was prevalent even a thousand years ago, with the venerated Acharya, Sri Tirukkacchi Nambi, performing this kainkaryam to Sri Varadaraja of Kanchi. In fact, at many a temple, images of this Acharya are to be found with a broad fan in hand. We are told too that Sri Devadiraja liked this fanning service so much that He used to converse freely with Nambi, with such gems like the famous “Six Words” flowing out of such exchanges.
Coming back to the question as to whether the Lord’s images in stone and mortar need fanning, the answer lies in the devotee finding the images not merely to be of stone or other material, but representing the Lord Himself in person, in all His glory. The devotee thus sees in the image not merely a beautiful sculpture, but verily Emperuman Himself, obligingly contracting His infinite form to suit our convenience. The devotee sees a smiling Lord, resplendent in all His finery, His eyes full of mercy and compassion, His palm held down in the “Varada mudrA”, a gesture of munificence, with another palm held upright in the “Abhaya mudrA”, extending assurance of protection from all evil. But for the fact that He doesn’t open His coral lips and converse with us, the Lord is as live to the devotee as a fellow human being. And this generates in the devotee uncontainable love and affection, which prompt all sorts of gestures. Thus are born the various shades of love for the Lord–the maternal, filial, paternal, juvenile, marital, etc. It is out of such love and affection is born the need to serve the Lord, in any and all manner, including fanning Him, as was done by Sri Tirukkacchi Nambi.
In His various avatArAs too, the Lord appears to have been fanned with adoration. To Kousalya, awaiting the triumphant return of Sri Rama from Kaikeyi’s palace, all ready for Coronation, what gives an inkling that things had gone wrong, is the absence of courtiers fanning the Prince on both sides. She learns later that Sri Rama had been banished to the forests for 14 long years. Here are the soulful words of Kamban, describing the Lord’s lonely return—“Kuzhaikkindra kavari indri, kottra veN kudayum indri, azhaikkindra vidhi mun chella, dharumam pin irangi Ega”
To compensate for this, Chakravarthi Tirumagan presents His mother with the beautiful sight of His being fanned on both sides, at the time of His triumphant return to Ayodhya, after completing His jungle sojourn. The honour of wielding the beautiful ChAmaram goes to Sri Lakshmana, who gently swings it over the Prince’s noble head. Not to be outdone, Sri Vibhishana too holds and waves a fan (a pure white one) in front of Sri Raghava—
“LakshmanO vyajanam tasya moordhnim samparyaveejayat
shvEtam cha bAla vyajanam jagrAha purata: stthita:
aparam chandra sankAsam rAkshasEndrO Vibhishana:”
Sri SugrIva appropriates part of this kainkaryam to himself during the Coronation ceremony, while Sri Vibhishana refuses to yield this to anyone else—
“ShvEtam cha bAla vyajanam SugrIvO vAnarEsvara:
aparam Chandra sankAsam rAkshasEndrO Vibhishana:”
To conclude, let us go back to Sri Vaikunttam again, to find out who exactly is allotted the honour of fanning the Lord and the exact nature of the fans. It is to Sri Alavandar’s Stotra Ratnam that we must turn for this purpose and we find that it is that versatile servitor GarutmAn, who has claimed this kainkaryam for himself—
“dAsa: sakhA vAhanam Asanam dhwaja: yastE vitAnam vyajanam trayImaya:
upastthitam tEna purO GarutmatA tvat anghri sammardha kiNAnka sObhinA”
Sri Garuda fans the Lord ever so gently, sitting in front of Him. Though others might need separate fans to render this service, the Magnificent Bird doesn’t, being endowed with feathery wings, which can generate the coolest of breezes. And the breeze is not only cool, but fragrant too, with the aroma of the Shruti. The YajusSamhitA describes Sri Garudas’s wings to be made of the holiest and sweetest of SAma VEda mantras (Brihat Rathantaram and VAmadEvyam) and hence the breeze from these wings is naturally endowed with Shruti ParimaLam—
“SuparNOsi GarutmAn Trivrit tE shira: Gayatram chakshu: StOma AtmA SAma tE tanU: VamadEvyam Brihat RatantarE pakshou yagyAyagyaim puccham cchandAmsi angAni dhishNiyA: saphA: Yajoomshi nAma.”(TaittirIya SamhitA-4-1-41)
Sri Garuda does the fanning sitting right in front of the Lord, letting the latter catch the full breeze and fragrance of the magnificent wings.
For those who might wonder why Sri Vaikunttam doesn’t have electric fans or air conditioners, the answer is that the inhabitants much prefer to render this service to the Lord in person, rather than relinquish it in favour of some unemotional mechanical device.
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore