Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
“ommAcchI, kai kooppu” is what our parents told us to do, in our childhood. And it is what their parents told them to, when they in turn were children. Thus, as a tradition, we have been taught to fold our palms in supplication, when standing before the Lord. What exactly does this gesture, which has been in vogue from time immemorial and is being passed on from one generation to another, actually mean? Is it based on some scriptural authority or is it just an empty mannerism which, rightly or wrongly like so many others of its ilk, has somehow survived the test of time?
Scripture refers to this gesture of supplication with folded palms, as ““anjali”. And references to this anjali are numerous and adulatory, be it in Srimad Ramayana, Sri Mahabharata, Puranas or Acharya sreesooktis. The greatness and glory of this simple gesture are so vast that Swami Desikan thought it fit to author a separate work on the same, titled ““anjali Vaibhavam”. Sri Alavandar has enshrined the significance of this gesture in his Stotra Ratnam, while other Acharyas too are not lacking in glorifying the greatness of anjali.
If we look into the etymological structure of this word, we find it to be extremely significant — “am jalayati iti anjali:” — this tells us that the apparently simple folding of palms is so potent that it completely floors the Lord and melts Him down, making Him abandon all idea of awarding commensurate penalty for our innumerable misdeeds. “am” in the aforesaid sentence refers to the Lord, who is represented by the letter ““A” (“akArArtthO VishNu:”). Sage BharadvAja tells us that this anjali is the best of all gestures and secures for us the favours of the Lord , with all expedition — “anjali: paramA mudrA, kshipram dEva prasAdinI”. There are any number of good deeds which earn us merit and ultimately afford us liberation from this mundane morass—cleaning up the Lord’s temple, adorning it with floral designs, fashioning garlands for Emperuman out of fragrant blooms, lighting up the Lord’s abode with lamps lit with ghee, gingelly oil etc., circumambulation of His sannidhi, prostrating before Him in such a way that all eight parts of the body touch the ground (“sAshtAnga praNAmam”), constant contemplation on esoteric formulations incorporating His hallowed names (Mantra japam), engaging in melodious exposition of His praises and so on. If the ultimate aim of all these endeavours is to please the Lord, then one need not resort to all these at all, and could confine himself to a mere anjali, which is more powerful than all the aforesaid in earning us the Lord’s pleasure. Whatever merits the other kainkaryams listed above might earn us in course of time, a single gesture of folded palms secures for us in a trice, says Sri Bharadvaja — “Kshipram dEva prasAdinI”.
Sri Alavandar devotes a full verse to adulate this anjali—
“tvat anghrim uddisya kadApi kEnachit yathA tathApi sakrit krita anjali:
tadaivam mushNAti asubhAni asEshata: subhAni pushNAti na jAtu heeyatE”
Each word of this verse is pregnant with meaning.
“Tvat anghrim uddisya” — This gesture is meaningful only if addressed to the Lord. Anjali to all and sundry human beings or to lesser dieties would not bring us any lasting benefit.
“kadApi” — There is no time specification for anjali. Unlike Sandhyavandanam which can be performed only at the confluence of the three sandhIs, unlike Mantra japam which requires purity of body and soul, unlike yAgAs and yagyAs which too are time-specific, this gesture of folded palms can be adopted any time, with absolutely no restriction. Night or day, summer or winter, full moon or new moon, makes no difference for joining our palms in supplication to the Lord. We can do it the moment we develop the urge.
“kEnachit” — Performing sacrifices is the prerogative of the traivarNikAs. BrahmachArIs alone can perform SamidAdAnam. Only males of the aforesaid group can imbibe and propagate the Vedas. Unlike all these restriction-bound deeds which are subject to constraints of VarNa, Ashrama etc., anjali falls within the domain of everyone, irrespective of cast, creed, colour, age or sex.
“yathA tathA vApi” — Most of the karmAs which earn us merit have to be performed in a particular fashion. Doing them otherwise would not only deny us of the intended fruit, but would also prove counter-productive. We thus hear of TvashtA begetting a son who would be killed by Indra, while his actual prayer was for an offspring who would end Indra’s life, all because Tvashta erred in the intonation of a Veda mantra. We hear of Brahmins turning into BrahmarAkshasAs due to shortcomings in the performance of sacrifices. Unlike all these rule-bound deeds, an anjali can be executed in any fashion.
“Sakrit krita:” — While most of the meritorious deeds require repetitive performance, a single performance of anjali destroys all in-auspiciousness and builds up all that is good for us.
Why is this simple gesture touted to be such an effective instrument in accomplishing such exalted goals? Because it signifies the surrender of one’s soul, the absolutely priceless offering which is relished by Emperuman. If we consider the ““anjali” mudrA, the palms folded together resemble a lotus bud, which is also the shape of our heart (Hridaya Kamalam) — “Padma kOsa prateekAsam hridayam chApi adhO mukham” says the Narayana anuvAkam. Just as the lotus is the best of flowers one can offer the Lord, our heart and the soul resident therein, are indubitably the most valuable of tributes that we can submit at His feet. It is thus that the anjali pleases Emperuman no end, signifying, as it does, the ultimate offering that can be submitted by anyone. And a tip here about the folded palm, learnt from elders—the palms should not be pressed flat together, but held loosely together with the tips of the fingers touching one another, so that the joined palms resemble a lotus.
A further beauty of the anjali mudrA is that while it represents a gesture of surrender to the arcchA murtthi we stand before at the Sannidhi, it simultaneously envisages obeisance to the Inner Dweller, the antaryAmi, who is forever resident in our hearts and souls. The position of the palms in this mudrA is such that it is in line with our chest, inside which is situated our heart, in which is enshrined the Lord, in His form as the ““HArda” or the Inner Dweller.
We might adorn the Lord at temples with any number of the most brilliant of gems and jewels made of the most precious of metals, but the ornament the Lord likes the most is our ““anjali”, the simple gesture of folded palms with an accompanying attitude of self-surrender, says Sri Nammazhwar—
““dEsamAna aNikalanum en kai kooppu seigayE”.
Just as a diamond’s brilliance is enhanced by a glittering gold setting, so too the efficacy of the anjali is heightened by certain accompaniments, says Sri KulasekharAzhwar. The palms folded in obeisance should be accompanied by a head bowed in devotion, hairs standing erect with the intensity of Bhagavat anubhavam, a voice made extremely shaky with emotion, eyes full of tears occasioned by depth of feeling for the Paramatma and so on, all of which cumulatively take us to unimaginable heights of sublime spiritual experience. It is those who have all these external signs of devotion, whose constant company we should crave for, says Azhwar. Here is the beautiful sloka from Sri Mukunda MAlA—
“baddhEna anjalinA natEna shirasA gAtraischa rOmOdgamai:
kanttEna svara gadgadEna nayanEna utkeerNa bAshpAmbunA
nityam tvat charaNAravinda yugaLa dhyAna amruta AsvAdinAm
asmAkam SaraseeruhAksha! satatam sampadyatAm jeevitam”
However, many a folded hand hides a lethal weapon, as happened in the case of MahAtmA Gandhi, whose life was taken by NAturAm GhotsE, hiding a pistol between his folded palms. People like me are very much like Ghotse, for the anjali mudra addressed to the Lord often hides an attitude of ahankAram and MamakAram (Pride and Possessiveness), both of which are deadly weapons causing extensive damage to the soul. These “kAram”s, apart from being hurtful to oneself, also bring tears of pain and sorrow to Emperuman, who is saddened at the incorrigibility of the human race despite His efforts for its emancipation. Hence, it is not enough to simply fold our hands, for anjali to be effective and rewarding—all the external accompaniments as prescribed by Sri Kulasekhara Perumal should be there. More important than these, we should make the anjali with the right attitude of mind, with our souls shorn, at least for the moment, of the stigma of the crippling ahankAram and killing MamakAram. “Easier said than done!”, I hear readers remark sceptically, but all this comes out of constant practice, as Sri Krishna tells Arjuna — “abhyAsEna tu KountEya!”.
We have been talking about weapons lurking between folded palms. Swami Desikan says, however, that the folded palms are themselves a weapon and the most potent of them at that. You can imagine the efficacy of this missile, if I tell you that it has the capability of flooring Emperuman Himself and of proving to be an effective shield against any arrows that the Lord might let loose against us, fed up with our constant transgression of His dicta. In His anger at our unrepentant attitudes and continuing crimes against ourselves, humanity and the Lord, the Lord often considers possibilities of punitive action, when all else (SAmam, bhEdam and dAnam) fails. And He lets loose against us arrows of token punishment for our sins. However, even the Lord’s weapons loose their efficacy, when confronted by our gesture of “anjali”. This potent weapon in our hands melts down the Lord to such an extent that He throws down bow and arrow, forgets everything about chastising us and comes running to embrace us and to take us to His abode, to treat us to the eternal and boundless bliss that He Himself enjoys at Paramapadam. Thus even the most potent of punitive arrows lose their cutting edge and become mere blunt and impotent missiles, when warded off with the weapon of anjali, says Swami Desikan in Sri Varadaraja Panchasat—
“HastIsa! Du:kha visha digdha phalAnubandhini
Abrahma keetam aparAhata samprayOgE
Dushkarma sanchaya vasAt duratikramE na:
Pratyastram anjali: asou tava nigrahAstrE”
Anjali is thus both a protective weapon (guarding us against exemplary divine retaliation on account of our sins) and an offensive one, flooring the Lord with a single shot, making Him feel compelled to rush to our rescue from the mundane morass.
Is there any doubt in declaring Anjali to be The Ultimate Arsenal?
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore