“Sleep Not, Sudarshan!”


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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Among all the Azhwars, Sri Periazhwar occupies a unique position. He is the only one who could claim a close familial relationship with the Lord, having given his daughter in marriage to Sri Rangaraja (“Svasuram….Ranganathasya sAkshAt”). He is the only one who could claim to be from the family which gave the world two Azhwars. He is the only one to devote almost his entire composition to a delightful description of Sri Krishna’s infancy and teenage. In fact, he created a new genre of Tamizh literature known as “PiLlai Tamizh”, dealing with the childhood exploits of the principal character.It was only he who was afforded an opportunity to establish the Lord’s supremacy before the whole world, in a gathering specially convened for the purpose by the PAndya rAjA. It was Sri Vishnuchitta who displayed an almost maternal concern for the Lord’s welfare, wishing Him billions of years of a happy, fun-filled lifespan, in the company of those near and dear to Him (“PallANdu, pallANdu pallAyiratthANdu, pala kOti noorAyiram”). It is thus no accident that his Prabandam TiruppallANdu occupies pride of place among the Divine Four Thousand, being recited ahead of the works of all other Azhwars and that Sri Vishnuchitta is reverentially known as “Peria” Azhwar.

Ahobilam Sri Sudarsanaazhvaar with utsavar

Though this Azhwar’s overwhelming concern for Emperuman’s eternal well-being shines through in almost all of his pasurams, there are some which are extremely moving and inspiring. It is beyond our conception that anyone could have so much affection for the Lord as to wish Him well at every step, be it while playing, sleeping, herding cows or at play. Azhwar not only recounts, but practically lives through the struggles Yasoda went through in bringing up an uncooperative brat, who wouldn’t bathe to wash off the overpowering odour of dairy products and bovine company, wouldn’t let His mother comb His black locks, had difficulty in recognising property rights relating to milk, butter, etc., was an unashamed liar when it suited Him and a forerunner of Casanova and Don Juan, as far as the hapless Gopis were concerned, leaving a trail of broken hearts wherever He went.

Sri Nammazhwar and Sri Tirumangai Mannan affected feminine roles in enjoying the Lord, hovering at the heights of ecstasy when in the company of the beloved and touching the trough of despair when separated from Him. Donning the role of an ardent lover appears much less painful, compared to that of a doting mother, who has to contend with the pangs of anxiety that she is cursed with. With all those minions of Kamsa out to get Him and the spirited Sri Krishna refusing to limit His activities to the secure confines of NandagOkulam, Yasoda must have died a thousand deaths everyday, till she sighted the triumphant return of cowherds with Krishna in the lead, in the late evening. It is the mother who goes through extremely anxious moments, during the birth, infancy and adoloscence of her offspring and this concern never leaves her even when the infant grows into a mature adult, well capable of fending for himself. Such too is the concern of Yasoda, and by proxy, that of Sri Periazhwar, putting him on an entirely different pedestal from that occupied by other Azhwars, who merely courted the bewitching Lord when He was in the full bloom of youth, without experiencing any of the anxieties associated with the process of His growth. One might say that Sri Periazhwar is in the position of a mother, who lavished all her love and affection on her son and brought him up with an overwhelming concern for his welfare, only to lose him to the wife (represented by the ParAnkusa and ParakAla nAyakIs), after his marriage. Thus if we agree that the “MAthru bhAvam” is more painful, difficult and demanding (though having its momemts of delight too) than that of the “nAyikA bhAvam”, we must accord pride of place to Sri VishnuchittA, among the elite community of Azhwars.

It is this anxiety of Sri Periazhwar that makes him burst into benediction (in the form of the ThiruppallANdu) at the enthralling sight of the magnificent Lord, resplendent on the Garuda vAhanam, with the Divine Consorts at His side, on that holy day in the month of Ani, adorning the streets of Madurai. He fears that the evil eye would befall the Paramapurusha and might cause Him harm. Laughable, isn’t it? As if any evil force, however potent, could ever approach Emperuman, leave alone affect Him!

To you and me, looking at the matter with the clinical detachment our stony hearts are capable of, Azhwar’s anxiety might appear unwarranted—however, if we look at the matter with the eyes of a doting mother that Sri Periazhwar was, we find ourselves racked by worry that all this brilliance and beauty that the Lord displays should not attract the jealous and ill-meaning glance of detractors. Going especially by the innumerable threats to His life the infant Krishna had to face, any mother would naturally fear for her child’s welfare, which is what Sri Vishnuchitta did. Pointing out the fallacy of judging the actions of great people through our own faulty perceptions, Sri Nammazhwar asks us to look at the same through the eyes of love, affection and devotion displayed by Azhwars—“en nenjinAl nOkki kANeer”. When we do so, the apparent rantings and ravings of Azhwars appear perfectly in order, given their emotionally surcharged hearts, athrob with boundless devotion.

The elderly mother of a mature adult still warns him to be careful while driving or merely walking on the road. Does she not realise that the son can very well take care of himself and doesn’t need her homily? She does, but is still unable to shake off the worry of his coming to some harm en route. Similar is the predicament of Periazhwar, who realises fullwell that no harm can befall the Paramapurusha from any source, however powerful, but still performs mangaLAsAsanam to ensure His continued welfare. To those who might find this conduct of Azhwars incongruous, given the unblemished wisdom they were blessed with, I can only repeat Sri Satakopa Muni’s entreaty, “en nenjinAl nOkki kANeer”.

In the first pasuram of ThiruppallAndu, Sri Periazhwar showers his benediction not only upon the Lord, but also on His inseparable Consort, the Divine Discus Sudarsana on His right hand and the Cosmic Conch PAnchajanya adorning His left. One might wonder—if it his maternal concern for the Lord that makes Azhwar voice the wish that the former thrive and prosper for billions of years, why rope in the Shankham, Chakram etc.? Does his anxiety cover these worthies too? Does he consider them too to be subject to potential threats from sources unknown?

I do not know the official explanation offered by illustrious commentators, but to an uninformed and lay person like me, it appears as though the benediction to Sudarsana and Panchajanya too to flourish for an eternity, is simply to ensure that they continue to offer the Lord protection and pampering for all time to come. It is not out of any special concern for the welfare of these worthies that Sri Periazhwar extends the benediction to them, but to guarantee the Lord the constant and continued attention of “tirumEni parivargaL”—those who can bear no harm befalling the Lord, however improbable such an event might be. This appears clear from the following pasuram, in which Azhwar exhorts SudarsanAzhwan, PAnchajanyAzhwan, anantAzhwAn and even Peria Tiruvadi, to eschew sleep, not to close their eyes even for a micro-second, for fear that their moment of inattention might bring the Lord some harm—

“uragal uragal uragal oN sudarAzhiyE! ShankhE!
araveri nAndaka vALE! azhagia SarngamE! TandE!
iravu padAmal irunda eNmaru ulOkapAleerkAL!
Paravai arayA! uragal paLLiyarai kurikkoNmin”

உறக லுறக லுறகல் ஒண்சுட ராழியே சங்கே
அறவெறி நாந்தக வாளே அழகிய சார்ங்கமே தண்டே
இறவு படாம லிருந்த எண்மர் உலோகபா லீர்காள்
பறவை யரையா உறகல் பள்ளி யறைக்குறிக் கொண்மின்.

In this beautiful pasuram, Azhwar tells all those around the Lord not to sleep a wink—His magnificent Mace, the Bow SArngam which spells instant and ignominious death to foes, the long, broad and deadly Sceptre nAndakam—all these worthies are urged not to close their eyes ever, but to be ever vigilant and patrol the bedroom of the Lord, who is forever in YOga nidrA. Azhwar appears to tell the PanchAyudhAs that their Master might sleep, but not they. And the repetition of the word “uragal” (short for “urangEl”—don’t sleep) not once, but four times in the same pasuram, indicates the emphasis placed by Azhwar and the degree of his anxiety.

Azhwar really has some nerve, it would appear to us, telling nitya SUris, who themselves are forever on their guard, not to fall asleep. Even the Shruti attests to the fact that the Celestials never even blink, for fear of missing out on a second of bhagavat anubhavam, leave alone sleep. Their very name, “imayOr” indicates that they never let their eyes close even for a second. Knowing their nature fulwell, if Azwar feels it necessary to warn them to be vigilant, one can guess the depth of love, affection and maternal concern that Sri Vishnuchitta has for the Lord and His welfare.

There appears to be some significance in asking the Celestials to guard the Lord’s sleeping place—“paLLiyarai”. Though this is appropriate even if taken literally, it would appear that something else is meant here. In the same decad of which this “uragal” pAsuram is the ninth, Azhwar tells us that the Lord reclines in the Azhwar’s mind itself, forsaking His favourite TiruppArkkadal—

“aravinda pAvayum tAnum agampadi vandu pugundu
paravai tirai pala mOda paLLi koLgindra PirAnai
paravugindrAn Vittuchitthan”

Pani kadalil paLLikOlai pazhaga vittu—Odi vandu en
Mana kadalil vAzha valla mAya MaNALa nambI!”

All the aforesaid pasurams indicate that the Lord’s bedroom is indeed the Azhwar’s heart and none other. Emperuman lies there in absolute comfort, having forsaken His other celestial abodes. And it is this unique bedroom that Azhwar wants the nitya sUrIs to guard (“paLLiyarai kurikkoNmin”). Being human, Azhwar is afraid of his senses allowing undesirable thoughts to enter the heart and pollute the sacred space occupied by Emperuman. It is to guard against this that he seeks the assistance of the PanchAyudhAs, so that they stand vigilant against any inappropriate thought or notion worming its way into Azhwar’s sacred heart. Obviously, Azhwar considers the waywardness of the mind and its penchant for thinking the unthinkable to be such powerful foes, that he calls upon for assistance, not one but all the Lord’s illustrious attendants.

If this is how Sri Periazhwar, with his heart filled solely with thoughts of the Lord, feels, we are speechless and baffled as to how we mortals, with our absolutely fickle minds, unable to concentrate for even a full second on Emperuman, His form and auspicious attributes, should feel. If Azhwar finds himself in need of the five divine weapons to stand guard against evil thoughts entering his mind, we wonder if the entire body of Celestials would be adequate to do sentry duty in our case, for such is the number and frequency of unholy thoughts buffeting our minds, turning it into a raging sea with choppy waves, refusing to be calmed.

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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