Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
We saw how Sri Nammazhwar puts the blame for something Sri Rama did, squarely at the doorstep of Krishna-“KoonE chidaya undai vill niratthil teritthAiGovinda!”. It was Rama who wielded the catapult, hitting the deformed Mantara on her hump, but Azhwar addresses the culprit as “Govinda!”, giving the impression that the perpetrator is Sri Krishna, on the grounds that all misdeeds should be attributed to the habitual offender, just as policemen conveniently pick up the crime-sheeter immediately upon an offence being reported, rather than search for a new delinquent.
It is interesting to note that having escaped the blame for his unintended misdemeanour, Sri Raghava in turn is held responsible for something not of His doing. Everyone with even a nodding acquaintance of Srimad Ramayana is well aware of the fact that it was Sri Lakshmana who cut off the nose and ears of Soorpanakha, when she tried to harm Sri Mythily, considering Her an obstacle in the way of winning the affections of Sri Rama, to whom the ogress had developed a justifiable infatuation. Not wanting to harm a woman, Sri Rama sends the insistent Rakshasi to Lakshmana, in the hope that he would be able to din some sense into the dense head. When she refuses to listen to words of wisdom and intends to harm Sita devi, Lakshmana inflicts appropriate punishment by severing her nose and ears. This is the tale we have all heard, whatever be the version of Ramayana one peruses.
However, Sri Periazhwar, while recounting this episode, lays the blame for this deed on Sri Rama-
“SoorpanakhAvai seviyOdu mookku avaL Arkka arindAnai pAdi para”
Though the words“pAdi para” are an injunction to sing the praises, they refer unmistakably to Sri Rama alone, as the following line confirms-“ayOddhikku arasanai pAdi para”. Is it poetic justice that Sri Periazhwar makes Sri Rama the scapegoat for Lakshmana’s misdeed (if indeed misdeed it is), to make up for Sri Nammazhwar failing to blame the Prince of Ayodhya for the catapult episode?
If it were just one Azhwar who says this, we might perhaps overlook the same, treating it as a case of identity between the brothers Rama. However, Sri Tirumangai Mannan too spares Lakshmana and attributes the deed to Rama-
“anjuvan venjol nangAi! arakkar kula pAvai tannai
venjina mooku arinda viralOn tiram kEtkil”
Here too, from the context, it is clear that the reference is to Rama alone, as one who inflicted the disfigurement on the rakshasi. With two Azhwarsspeaking in unison on the subject, we are confused and refer to the relevant slokas of Sri Valmiki for confirmation-
“ityuktO Lakshmana: tasyA: kruddhO Ramasya pasyata:
uddhrutya khadgam chicchEda karNa nAsam mahAbala:”
There is no ambiguity-it is indeed Lakshmana who cuts off the rakshasi’s nose and ears.
Why should Sri Periazhwar, and Sri Kalian too, to boot, differ from Sri Valmiki, who has been blessed with the boon of witnessing and chronicling the proceedings of Rama charitam as it happened? It can’t be a case of mistaken identity or deliberate misinformation, for Azhwars have also been blessed with blemishless wisdom (“mayarvara madinalam”) and are incapable of bhramam or vipralambham.
The answer lies in Sri Valmiki’s own words, describing Sri Lakshmana as Sri Rama’s right arm-“RAmasya dakshiNo bAhu:”. For all practical purposes, Sri Lakshmana is considered an integral part of his illustrious elder brother, so that whatever the formerdoes is automatically attributed to the latter. Sri Lakshmana might have a separate body but the brothers apparently share the same life spirit, for the younger brother is described as Rama’s “prAna”- “LakshmanO Lakshmi sampannO bahi: prANa ivApara:” Normally, the life spirit (“PrANa”) remains within the body: however, Sri Lakshmana was so close and devoted to Sri Rama that the former was considered to be the “prANa” of the latter, albeit located externally.
It is this identity between the two brothers that prompts Azhwars to ascribe to Sri Rama something done by Lakshmana. If further proof were needed in this regard, one needs only to refer to Sage Visvamitra’s consistent practice of addressing only Sri Rama (“KousalyA suprajA Rama!”) during their long sojourn together, though Lakshmana too accompanied the Maharshi. Again, while it is only Sri Rama who is sought by the Rishi from Dasarata for Yaga samrakshanam, and the King agrees to part with only Sri Rama, Sri Lakshmana automatically accompanies his brother, unbidden by anyone and unsought by the Maharshi himself.
Apart from such identity, it is also appropriate to ascribe the act to Sri Rama, for it is at His express bidding that the demeaning disfigurement was inflicted by Lakshmana on Soorpanakha. Enraged by the rakshasi’s attempt to harm Sita, Sri Ramainstructs Lakshmana to maim the unseemly ogress-
“imAm viroopAm asatIm atimattAm mahOdarIm
RAkshasIm purusha vyAghra! viroopayitum arhasi”
The chastising of Soorpanakha is carried out at the express bidding of Sri Rama and while He looks on with obvious approval -“RAmasya pasyata:”
Thus, while Lakshmana merely executes the act of punishing the rakshasi, it is Sri Rama who issues the instructions therefor and is morally responsible for the deed. It is with this in view that the Azhwars attribute the act to Sri Rama, though the same is actually that of his younger brother.
This appears to be an appropriate solution for the apparent conflict between the Azhwars’ sreesooktis and that of the Maharshi. There may be other instances too of such dichotomy between two impeccable sources of wisdom, but our Acharyas have shown us the way of resolving such differences without trashing either source. If Sri Ramanuja is remembered till date, it is because of his approach of reconciling apparently conflicting Shruti vAkyAs, often representing diametrically opposite schools of thought. While some philosophers chose to disregard and dismiss Veda vAkyAs inconvenient to their chosen thread of philosophy, the Bhashyakara acceptedthe irrefutable validity of the entire Shruti and found a way to make the apparently conflicting portions dovetail with one another, with ease and without resorting to far-fetched formulations. Swami Desikan is so impressed with the Master Philosopher’s efforts in this regard that he likens the latter to an expert physician who cures the apparently incurable and chronic fever of conflict that the Shruti was seen to be suffering from- “shruteenAm antar jvaram aseesamat”.
This Article is written by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore