Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
To the newborn infant, which would you say is the most attractive part of the mother’s anatomy? The baby is unable to focus yet on the mother’s face, which is wreathed in smiles, nor is it able to look her in the eye and encounter the brimming love and affection it reflects. Nor even is the little one aware of her warm hands holding it with all gentleness. The one and only part of the mother the baby is instinctively and immediately aware of is her breast, which serves as its sole source of sustenance.
Now, putting ourselves in the position of the babe (which, in any case, people like me are, in terms of wisdom and maturity) and picturising the Lord as the mother (which also shouldn’t be difficult, considering His being the progenitor of all beings), which would we find to be the most important part of His tirumEni, in terms of affording us the greatest bliss, security, sustenance and succour? Whole volumes might have been written on the beauty of the Lord’s captivating eyes, His blooming countenance, His broad and beautiful chest housing Sri Mahalakshmi, His long and sinewy hands holding weapons which serve at once as destroyers and adornments, and so on. However, to suffering mortals like us steeped in sin and blundering eternally in the mundane maze, which would be the part of the Lord’s torso that is most useful to us, that affords us the most relief and bliss and ultimately serves as a beautiful boat ferrying us across the treacherous waters of Samsara?
Much more than any other part of His glorious tirumEni, the Lord’s holy feet (“Tiruvadi”) are the ones that find repeated mention in the Shruti, which is, for us, the ultimate authority on any matter under the Sun. The SamhitAs and BrAhmaNAs are replete with adulatory references to these Tiruvadis. Here are a few, for a sample—
“VishNO: padE paremE madhva utsa:”
The incredibly sweet and glorious feet of the Lord secrete nectar, says the Shruti, which Sri Nammazhwar translates thus—“un tEnE malarum tiruvadi tAmarai”. When we consider that these tiruvadi are likened to freshly bloomed lotuses (“PAda pankajam”, TAmarai adikkaL”, “Pankaya TAL”, etc.), there is nothing strange or unnatural about their secreting nectar. While ordinary Nectar obtained from the depths of the Milky Ocean is supposed to confer immortality on the consumer, the nectar emanating from the Lord’s feet afford eternal bliss and emancipation, which are a billion times more desirable than mere immortality. Sri Alavandar too confirms that the Lord’s tiruvadi is the source of this incredible secretion—“Tava amruta syandini pAda pankajE”.
Talking of secretions, it is worth remembering that the Lord’s feet were also the source of the holiest of all rivers, the Ganga. Legend has it that when the Lord’s feet, in their conquering spree during the TrivikramAvatAra, visited SatyalOka, BrahmA performed tirumanjam to it with water from his “kamandalu”, which then became a veritable torrent, later brought to the mundane worlds through the marathon efforts of the IkshvAku Emperor BhagIratha. “VishNu pAdAbja sambhootE, GangE! Tripada gAminI” is a tribute to this sacred river, indicating its holy origins.
Why should the Lord’s feet be likened to the lotus, when there are any numbers of other blooms? There are several similarities between the Lord’s tiruvadi and the TAmarai. For one thing, both are a bright and beautiful red. Both are incredibly soft and supple. Both secrete delectably sweet juices, the former nectar and the latter, honey. Both bloom at the prompting of external stimuli, the lotus at the rising sun and the Lord’s feet at the proximity of devotees. Just as a bee, which has tasted the pollen from the lotus, would never ever look again at a thorny shrub, one who has been fortunate to savour the flavour of the divine tiruvadi would look askance at any other mundane pleasure.
(“tava amruta syandini pAda pankajE
nivEsitAtmA katham anyat icchati
stitthEravindE makaranda nirbharE
madhuvratO na ikshurakam hi veekshatE”
It is not only Nectar and the Ganga which owe their origins to the Lord’s feet—even this big, broad world and numerous others like it, along with the innumerable galaxies and universes, originated from the holy tiruvadi, says the Purusha Suktam—“PadhbhyAm Bhoomi: disa: shrotrAt”. These were again the incredible feet, which transformed a dust-coated wayside stone into an extremely beautiful Rishi patnI (AhalyA). (So much so that the boatman Guha had initial reservations about letting Sri Rama set foot on his boat, lest the ferry be transformed into a bewitching feminine form.)
These again were the holy feet, which gave life to UttarA’s foetus, which was reduced to a handful of ashes and were thus responsible for the very life and breath of ParIkshit Maharaja. And these are the tiruvadis which SreedEvi and Bhoomi Piratti massage gently with their soft hands, says Swami Desikan-
“PAshANa nirmita tapOdhana dharma dAram
bhasmani upAhita narEndra kumAra bhAvam
samvAhitam TridasanAtha! RamA MaheebhyAm
sAmAnya daivatam usanti padam tvadeeyam”
The most-talked about exploit of the Lord’s tiruvadi is, of course, the measuring of the worlds above and below, during the Trivikramavataram. The tiny, delicate feet of the VAmana Brahmachari grew into colossal ones capable of spanning the entire universe with one giant step. And in the process of measuring the world, these sacred tiruvadis, which only the Divine Consorts have any hope of seeing or touching, placed themselves on the heads of all beings, right from the most exalted of Emperors to the humblest of menials, with absolutely no distinction as to caste, creed, colour, economic or social status. Even non-sentient objects were favoured by this purifying contact with the holy feet, which they could not dream of in innumerable births. Sri Alavandar, who was not around when the Trivikramavataram took place, longs for a momentary touch of the Lord’s triuvadi on his head—“Trivikrama ! tvat charaNAmbuja dvayam madeeya moordhAnam (kadA) alankarishyati!”. And it is this exploit that the Shruti chronicles time and again, making this the most talked-about avatara—
“TreeNi padA vichakramE VishNu: gOpA adAbhya:”
“trEdhA VishNu: urugAyO vichakramE”
“VichakramE prithivImEsha EtAm” etc.
Thus, it is the Lord’s glorious feet and their exploits that afford Him the distinction of repeated mention by the Shruti.
When we come to think of it, in the process of Asrita RakshaNam (protection of the sAdhUs) it is the Lord’s feet which are put in use the most and are also the part of the divine torso which strain the most. The event that comes to our mind immediately is the long walk of Chakravartthi Tirumagan, from Chitrakootam to Lanka, roaming throughout the jungle trails of DandakAraNyam, strewn with sharp stones and thorns. Though the Prince of Ayodhya did have sandals on His feet when He set out for the jungle sojourn, Sri Bharata took them away at Chitrakootam, with the result that the entire remaining journey was completed by the Purushottama on bare feet. Just think of it, a Prince of the celebrated IkshvAku dynasty, used to all the magnificent comforts of the palace, unused to the hardships of the inhospitable forests, traversing the interminable distance between Chitrakootam and Lanka on foot, barefoot that too, with the delicate soles, unused to hard surfaces, being exposed to stones, thorns and whatnot, besides being forced to walk in hot sun, numbing cold and pouring rain!
Even in Sri Krishnavatara, the Lord walked a lot at the bidding of His devotees, we are told. When the PandavAs, as a last ditch effort to avoid war with the KauravAs, needed someone to carry a message of peace and compromise to the latter, it was Sri Krishna they chose, because none else could represent their viewpoint with absolute commitment and wisdom. And Sri Krishna accepted this assignment with all enthusiasm, despite the rather low profile that a messenger carries, and walked with the message from the Pandava camp to that of the Kauravas—“Daruman irandadu isaindu chendrana” says Swami Desikan, referring to the Lord’s feet, which engaged themselves in the lowly occupation of a messenger, at the request of the Pandava.
Are the Lord’s feet capable of only such innocuous deeds? Do they play no part in proactive destruction of evil elements, which pose a threat to the good and holy? Indeed they do, says Sri Andal, (“pondra sakatam udaittAi pugazh pOttri”) recounting the Lord’s childhood exploit of kicking a wheel and breaking it into pieces—“uru sakatam udaya oru kAluttru uNarndana”. This was no ordinary wheel, but a messenger of death dispatched by Kamsa to eliminate Sri Krishna. Upon being administered a well-aimed kick from the Lord’s lotus feet, the mortally wounded asura regained his natural form and fell down dead.
And then there is the episode of the kutti Krishna subduing the venomous serpent KALiya, by dancing on the latter’s head– “adal uraga padam madiya Adi kadindana”. The normally lotus-soft feet of the Lord acquired an unbearable heaviness and punch, and each step of Krishna’s ballet descended on the serpent’s hood like a bolt of lightning, taming the snake in no time at all.
From all the aforesaid, it is clear that the Lord’s feet have indeed undergone untold strain. Is it because of all this strenuous walking and other exercise that He adopts a recumbent posture, ask Azhwars—
“andru iv ulagam aLanda asavE kol?”
Sri Nammazhwar too poses such a rhetorical question to the Lord,
querying Him as to the reasons for His apparent tiredness-
“KodiyAr mAda KOLuragatthum PuLingudiyum
MadiAdhu indrE nee tuyil mEvi magizhndadhu tAn
adiAr allal tavirttha asavO andrEl ip
padithAn neeNdu tAviya asavO, paNiyAyE”
“You were after all a young boy during Vamanavatara. Still, your holy feet had to traverse the entire universe and the heavens too. Has this been so much of a strain on you that You had to lie down to rest? Or are You fatigued by attending to frequent calls for succour from distressed devotees?” enquires Azhwar, seeking the reason for the Lord’s supine posture.
“nadanda kAlgaL nondavO?” inquires Tirumazhisai Piran too.
A more modern poet, expanding on the Azhwar’s theme, adduces a variety of possible reasons for Emperuman’s kidandha tirukkOlam. Could it be due to the strain of covering innumerable miles on foot during the vanavAsa as Sri Rama? Or is it due to running after the elusive MArIcha, who, in a bid to isolate Sri Mythily, dragged Sri Rama quite far from His Ashrama in hot chase? Or is it due to the constant roaming in the hot sun, tending to cows, in the boisterous company of gOpa brats? Listing all these, the poet
plaintively asks the Lord-“En paLLi koNdeer IyyA?”
It is to cure the Lord’s feet of all the possible ache and pain the aforesaid activities must have caused, that Sridevi and Bhoodevi massage His feet gently, with their soft and supple palms. Even their extremely spongy palms leave Emperuman’s indescribably delicate feet red, says the Venkateswara Prapatti—
“sa prEma bheeti KamalA kara pallavAnAm
samvAhanEpi samatikramam AtatAnou
KAntA vAngmanasa gOchara soukumAryou
Sri Venkatesa charanou sharanam prapadyE”
Swami Desikan confirms this — “Malar MagaL mai varuda malar pOdil sivandana”
Be all this as it may, we are more interested in learning what the Lord’s feet mean to us mortals. We are told that Emperuman’s tiruvadis are our ultimate refuge, a sanctuary par excellence, a safe haven from the jungle of Samsara filled with terrifying wild animals, an admirable asylum from the pursuing predator of Karma and a shady shelter from the scorching sun of TApatrayam (the three kinds of heat that make us dehydrated spiritually). It is a place of eternal peace, rest, relaxation and recuperation for souls battered by the constant buffeting of the winds blowing across the mundane morass. It is in the comforting shadow of these divine feet that we can experience the unique and unprecedented bliss that only the Lord can afford us.
It is due to all these reasons that we seek refuge in Emperuman’s tiruvadi, as ordained by the magnificent Dvaya Mantram. However, this is an esoteric formulation, obtained only by the elite few. What about the rest of the suffering masses who do not have access to this magnificent Mantra? To all those in the latter class, Emperuman at Tirumala reveals the secret of happiness in this and other worlds, by pointing His right palm at His holy feet, indicating to us that it is only through surrender to them that we can rid ourselves of our mundane coils and attain liberation.
When a thousand slokas could be composed on the sandals adorning the Lord’s feet, how many million verses could be devoted to the actual tiruvadis themselves! Let me end this piece with just one of them, from Swami Desikan’s NavamaNi Malai, which boasts of a lovely, lilting metre—
“oru madhi anbar uLam kavarndana
ulagam adanga vaLandu aLandana
oru sadai ondriya Gangai tandana
uraga padangaL arangu koNdana
Darumam uyarndadu idu enna nindrana
Daruman irandadu isaindu chendrana
Sakatam udaindu kalanga vendrana
TamargaL arundum marundu idu enbana
TirumagaL seyya karangaL ondrina
Tigazh tuLavu undu maNam kamazhndana
Chezhu maNi konda silambu ilangina
Selai tanil andru oru aNangu umizhndana
Varu marai andam amarnda paNbina
Ayan mudi tannil amarndu uyarndana
AruL tara eNNi ayindai vandana
Adiyavar meyyar malar padangaLE”
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore