The Ultimate Identification

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

The other day I went to a bank for opening an account. Decades back, this used to be a simple affair. Now, however, the Bank officials demanded some positive identification, confirming me to be myself. They were generous enough to give me a wide choice—I could produce a Passport, a Driving Licence, a Voters’ Identification Card or similar document, certifying that I was indeed a bona fide citizen of the country and that I looked like the photograph affixed on these documents. Additionally, an existing customer of the Bank had to vouch for me and my credentials.

When I went to book a new telephone line, the same was the case and I was told to produce proof positive that I was indeed whom I claimed to be. The irony is that for securing any of these documents (especially a Passport or a Driving Licence), you have to furnish positive identification, only upon which the identifying document would be issued. Thus, wherever you go in this wide world, you are asked to identify yourself to the satisfaction of the powers that be, before gaining admittance. The formalities in this regard become more rigorous when you cross international borders and enter another country. The current terrorist and other threats being what they are, the presumption on the part of security agencies appears to be that you are a criminal and impersonator, unless you can prove yourselves to be otherwise. There is thus paranoia, about identifications and credentials, pervading the whole world today. Security-conscious householders have started demanding ID cards from plumbers and electricians, knowing little that these could be forged with laughable ease.

When such documents considered sacrosanct like the Passport and the Driving Licence are being forged routinely, what to say about minor ID cards? While manning the Bank’s Foreign Remittance desk a few years back, I remember having confiscated no less than 16 forged passports, during a particular month.

Thus, establishing one’s identity is no joke these days and the need therefor has also multiplied manifold, with all types of economic and other offences being rampant.

If such is the case in the age of the Chip and of instant communication, imagine how difficult it must have been to establish the identity of a person, in days of yore! Take the period of the Ramayana for instance. How would people have identified strangers, who claimed to bear messages from those near and dear? For instance, if one were imprisoned by force and leading a miserable existence ruing one’s stars, if some one were to drop down from the tree top and claim to be the messenger of one’s beloved spouse, would one be naïve enough to believe the stranger, especially given the hostile environs? Though the heart would readily welcome the stranger bearing news of impending rescue, the head would definitely want to confirm the stranger’s identity, before proceeding further in the matter.

Which is what Sri Mythily did, when Sri Hanuman presented himself to Her in the AsOka vanikA. Surrounded by merciless rAkshasIs constantly terrorising Her, with periodical visits from the cruel Ravana exhorting Her to marry him and with the demoniac Emperor’s acolytes doing all within their powers to persuade Her in this regard, Sri Janaki could hardly be faulted for not accepting Maruti at his face value, initially. In fact, She was inclined to consider Hanuman as Ravana come in yet another form to prevail upon Her. The closer Hanuman came to Her, the stronger became Her suspicions about the strange monkey being Ravana come in disguise-

“yathA yathA sameepam sa HanumAn upasarpati
tathA tathA Ravanam sA tam SeetA parisankatE”

She is convinced about this being yet another machination of the cruel Ravana—“RoopAntaram upAgamya sa EvAyam hi Ravana:”

Despite Sri Maruti’s protestations that he was indeed a messenger of Sri Rama (“aham RAmasya sandEsAt DEvi! doota: tavAgata:”), Sri Vaidehi was hard put to believe him, circumstances being what they were.

How could Sri Mythily satisfy Herself about the credentials of the self-proclaimed messenger and benefactor? She couldn’t very well demand that he produce his ID card issued by SugrIva, confirming him to be a principal member of the VAnara sEnA, nor had he a Passport or other papers establishing his identity. For Sri Janaki, if it was a question of establishing the stranger to be friend or foe, for Sri Hanuman it was a matter of proving his credentials as a genuine messenger from Sri Raghava, bearing good tidings of impending rescue. His entire mission would become infructuous if he was unable to convince the Princess of Mithila of his bonafides and elicit Her cooperation.

It is here that one has to hand it to Sri Hauman. It is not for nothing that he is hailed as the wisest of all—“buddhimatAm varishtham”. Sri Maruti hits upon the idea of recounting to Sri Sita the entire story of Sri Rama, from birth to that moment, in a bid to prove himself to be the genuine article. This proves effective, as Sri Sita’s heart is gladdened to hear the RAma KathA and seeds of hope germinate in Her sorrowful heart.

However, having witnessed Ravana’s cruelty and ingenuity at close quarters, having been taken in once by his disguise as a sanyAsi, Sri Sita finds it hard to believe that Hanuman could be genuine and fears reoccupy Her heart that it is indeed Ravana come to torment Her in another form. She begins to berate Hanuman, convinced that he is indeed the rAkshasa, cursing him for deceiving Her once more with disguises—

“utpAdayasi mE bhooya: santApam tat na shObhanam
svam parityajya roopam ya: parivrAjaka roopa dhrik”

She demands of Hanuman—“If you are really who you claim to be, tell me in detail about Sri Rama’s auspicious qualities—“guNAn Ramasya kathaya priyasya mama VAnara!”. She challenges him further to recount in considerable detail the incomparable physical features of the Prince of Ayodhya. “How do Rama and Lakshmana look, how big are their shoulders and biceps and what are their distinguishing features? If you really know Rama well, tell me what His thighs look like! And tell me too how Sri Rama sent you, a monkey, as His messenger, instead of a human being! How is it that you met Him and became intimate enough for Him to trust you with this delicate mission?”

We discern in Sri Mythili’s searching questions Her sharp intellect and thorough-going nature, endeavouring to establish beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the stranger and to rule out the possibility of his being a foe in a friend’s garb.

Being genuine, Sri Maruti has absolutely no trouble in launching into a mouth-wateringly detailed description of Sri Rama’s enchanting physical features and enthralling auspicious attributes. It gives him another excuse for recounting the glories of Sri Rama, which are never far from his tongue.

It is only after listening to Sri Maruti’s pleasing narration that conviction dawns in Sri Janaki’s heart about the messenger being genuine. Now, having prepared the ground, Sri Hanuman hands over to Sri Mythily the ultimate identification—Sri Rama’s signet ring, with His name embossed thereon. It is this “anguleeyakam” or ring, which puts the final seal on Sri Sita’s conviction and encourages Her to repose full trust in Maruti.

One might ask why Sri Hanuman did not show Her Rama’s ring in the first instance, without engaging in the lengthy harangue. The fact is that Sri Sita wouldn’t have believed him, had he done so without laying the ground with Rama KathaA, which so gladdened Sri Mythili’s heart as to make it receptive.

Having seen Sri Valmiki’s depiction of Sri Maruti establishing his identity to Sri Sita’s satisfaction, let us see how Sri Periazhwar describes the scene.

Unlike the Mythily of Valmiki, Azhwar’s Sita needs much more convincing. She demands and obtains from Maruti several other items of proof as to his identity, by making him recount occasions of Her intimacy with Sri Raghava, which would naturally be unknown to a third-party, unless Sri Rama considered him close enough for such confidences.

Listen, for instance, to Sri Hanuman trying to prove his identity, by narrating an episode of romantic intimacy. Once during their happy days at Ayodhya, the divine couple were engaged in playing Chaturangam (Chess). Having won the game, Sri Sita tied up Her dear Prince with strands of fragrant jasmine, as a token of Her victory. As none else could have known this unless confided in by Chakkravartthi Tirumagan, this romantic titbit generates confidence in Sri Janaki’s heart. Here is Azhwar’s beautiful pasuram—

“alliam poo malar kOdAi! adi paNindEn viNNappam
sollugEn kEttaruLAi tuNai malar kaN mada mAnE!
elliam pOdu inidu iruttal irundadOr ida vagayil
Malligai mAlai koNdu angu Arttadum Or adayALam

அல்லியம் பூ மலர் கோதாய் அடி பணிந்தேன் விண்ணப்பம்
சொல்லுகேன் கேட்டு அருளாய் துணை மலர்க் கண் மடமானே
எல்லியம் போது இனிது இருத்தல் இருந்ததோர் இட வகையில்
மல்லிகை மா மாலை கொண்டு அங்கு ஆர்த்ததோர் அடையாளம்”

Apart from the avowed purpose of establishing Sri Hanuman’s identity, this pasuram also provides us with an intimate insight into Sri Rama’s nature, proving to us that He was not the serious, sober and straight-laced prude He is often made out to be, and did enjoy His moment of fun, frolic and romance. It tells us further that even the omnipotent Parabrahmam could indeed be tied up securely—all that it takes is a rope of love and devotion, as Sri Yasoda too could prove in a later avatara.

Continuing with Hanuman’s efforts to generate confidence in Sita Devi’s heart, we find Sri Periazhwar recounting yet another episode of intimacy from the life of the divine couple.

When Sri Rama is asleep with His head on the lap of His Princess in the shade of a tree at Chitrakootam, the dirty-minded KAkAsurA nips at Her breast. Though Sri Sita keeps quiet out of mercy for the misguided bird, the flow of blood from Her chest falling upon the sleeping Sri Rama enrages Him beyond measure. He plucks a near-by blade of grass and throws it after the flying crow with an appropriate incantation. The makeshift arrow pursues the hapless crow with a vengeance and does not rest till the bird, having knocked at all doors and failed to find refuge, falls at the feet of the Lord in exhaustion and surrender. Though the delinquent bird deserves the maximum punishment, the Lord just takes out one of its eyes, to remind it of the unsavoury episode, but lets it live.

This episode is another recounted by Sri Hanuman to convince Sri Sita of his bonafides, says Sri Periazhwar—

“Chittira kootatthu iruppa siru kAkkai mulai teeNda
attiramE koNdu eriya anaitthu ulagum tirindOdi
VittakanE! IrAmAvO! nin abhayam” endru azhaippa
attiramE adan kaNNai aruttadum Or adayALam

சித்திர கூடத்து இருப்பச் சிறு காக்கை முலை தீண்ட
அத்திரமே கொண்டு எறிய அனைத்து உலகும் திரிந்தோடி
வித்தகனே ராமா வோ நின் அபயம் என்று அழைப்ப
அத்திரமே அதின் கண்ணை அறுத்ததும் ஓர் அடையாளம்”

Sri Maruti adduces several other items of proof of his bona fides, to establish that he is indeed a RAmadootA, before Sri Mythily develops confidence in him.

We now come to an intriguing question—how could Azhwar be aware of an incidence, which occurred during the intimate moments enjoyed by the Lord and His Consort, of which Sri Valmiki was unaware?

The question assumes greater importance, when we consider that Sri Valmiki was blessed with the boon of knowing everything that happened between Sri Rama and His Princess, whether in public or in private. BrahmA’s words to Valmiki are very clear that the Maharshi would see in his mind’s eye everything exactly as it happened, with nothing remaining secret or hidden—

“Rahasyam cha prakAsam cha yat vrittam tasya dheemata:
RAmasya saha SoumitrE: rAkshasAnAm cha saravasa:
VaidEhyAscha yat vrittam prakAsam yadi vA raha:
Yat chApi aviditam sarvam viditam tE bhavishyati”.

Despite being blessed with such facility of knowledge, how did the episode (of Sri Janaki tying up the Lord with ropes of fragrant jasmine) escape Valmiki’s attention? And by the same token, how did Sri Periazhwar alone become privy to it?

Two reasons could be attributed to Valmiki’s apparent omission.

First and foremost, while Sri Valmiki had only the blessings of BrahmA, Azhwar was favoured with boons from a much higher deity, the highest of all, the Supreme Lord. Sri Vishnuchitta was afforded unblemished wisdom (“mayarvara madi nalam”) by sAkshAt Sriman Narayana, making the range and reach of Azhwar’s wisdom much more comprehensive and intensive than that of the Maharshi. It is axiomatic that a person can give to another only what he has. Accordingly, BrahmA bestowed on Valmiki the maximum wisdom that he (BrahmA) could. On the other hand, the Lord, with His boundless wisdom (“ellayil gnAnatthan”) could confer on Azhwar knowledge of a much higher order than that obtained by Valmiki.

It is thus that Sri Periazhwar was able to discern and recount episodes, which were beyond Valmiki’s ken.

Secondly, we must remember as an influential member of the Lord’s family, Sri Vishnuchitta was much more privy to such episodes than an outsider like Valmiki could ever be. Being the Lord’s own Father-in-Law (“Svasuram… RanganAthasya sAkshAt”), having given his daughter GodA in marriage to sAkshAt Sriman Narayana, Azhwar could definitely boast of “inside information” about happenings in the Lord’s house-hold, than could the Maharshi, who had no such connection.

This is not to detract in any way from the greatness of Sri Valmiki, who is verily a “Munisimham” and whose immortal words would continue to enchant and enthral this world for millennia to come, but just to demonstrate how the Divya Prabandam supplements and complements the Shruti, Smritis and the ItihAsAs, in showcasing the innumerable facets of the Lord’s glory.

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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