Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
When are we the most comfortable—while standing, lying down or sitting down? Standing, as a posture, is one adopted preparatory to some form of energetic activity like walking or running. A reclining posture, on the other hand, is what we adopt prior to giving ourselves up to NidrA dEvi, the goddess of sleep, whose embrace is so tight that we become oblivious to everything else in the world. Thus, while standing up or lying down, we can’t claim ourselves to be consciously comfortable. It is while sitting down, whether on earth or in a chair, that we can claim to be truly comfortable and be aware of it too. Sitting is the posture ideally suited to the pursuit of most of our academic, aesthetic or spiritual activities, be they reading, studying, music or Veda parayanam. It is the PadmAsanam which most of our Maharshis adopted for performing penance, certifying to the efficacy of the seated posture for contemplation of the Divine. Indian cultural mores, laying stress on hospitality, prompt us till date to offer the guest a seat, immediately after he enters our home—we don’t ask him to just stand or to lie down. The seated posture thus appears to be the preferred one for all restful forms of human activity.
The arcchAvatAra is the form taken by the Supreme Lord residing in innumerable temples across the globe, to entice us with His beauty beyond compare, to entrap us with His countless auspicious attributes and ultimately emancipate us through the adoption of an appropriate strategy for liberation, through a merciful Acharya. Of all His forms, this is the most accessible to us mortals, forming the object of even our impaired vision.
We would hence expect the Lord to adopt the sitting posture in these sannidhis, for He has nowhere to rush to. Contrary to our suppositions, we find a major number of His moorties in the temples to be either on His holy feet or supine, apparently in deep slumber. It is only at a few temples that we come across the Lord adopting a seated posture. Does this mean that He prefers only to stand or to lie down, eschewing the sitting posture as far as possible? At the holiest of holies, the BhoolOka Vaikunttam, Srirangam, we find Him lying down, while at the other principal divya desams like Tirumala, KAnchi and YAdavAdri (TirunArAyanapuram), we find Him standing. Does this reveal a marked bias on the part of the Lord against the seated posture?
No, says the DhyAna slOkam to the sacred ashtAkshara Mantra—
“Savyam pAdam prasArya srita durita haram dakshiNam kunchayitvA
jAnunyAdAya savyEtram itara bhujam nAga bhOgE nidhAya”
The Lord may stand or lie down as He pleases on earth, but His permanent posture, the one He adopts eternally in His glorious and natural abode of Sri Vaikunttam, is that of being seated. And the way He sits is also extremely captivating, with His left leg stretched, the right one slightly bent, leaning back regally, with one of His lower hands placed on His beautiful knee and the other on the supple snake bed, with the Divine Discus and the Cosmic Conch adorning His upper arms. As a Sovereign holding court in Paradise with an adulating audience consisting of celestials, the Lord prefers to sit splendorously on His throne of AdisEsha (“irundAl simhAsamAm”).
It is this glorious posture of the Universal Sovereign that comes in for admiration from Sri Nammazhwar—
“Veetrirundu Ezhulagum tanik kOl sella veevil seer Attral mikku ALum ammAnai”
With all the worlds, galaxies and universes under His undisputed control and command, the Lord reigns as the Magnificent Monarch, seated in splendour on the soft snake bed, all His glory, power and majesty reflected in all their bounty in the regal way He is seated.
As behoves the Supreme Ruler, the Lord is accompanied on His eternal and inimitable seat by His Divine Consorts, says Sri Alavandar — “tayA sahAseenam annta bhOgini”.
If the occasion is one of pomp and splendour and is momentous, the Lord prefers a seated posture, we find. Thus, on the occasion of His coronation as the undisputed monarch of Ayodhya, we find Vasishtta and other worthies requesting Sri Rama to sit on the diamond-studded throne of IkshvAkUs — “RAmam ratna mayE peethE saha Seetam nyavEsayat”. We are told by Sri Valmiki that the seat was in every way befitting the exalted occupants—made of the purest of gold and studded with unimaginably precious stones of a bewildering variety, with a profusion of them adding brilliance to the glittering regal seat—
“Ratnai: nana vidaischaiva chitritAyAm sushObhanai:
nAnA ratna mayE peethE kalpayitvA yathAvidhi”.
Another occasion on which the Prince of Ayodhya affected a seated posture was when He was about to perform the last rites of the magnificent bird, which gave up its life while battling with Ravana to free Sri Janaki. We can see this till date at Tirupputkuzhi, where the Lord is reported to have afforded MOsham to JatAyu.
We are able to discern a sort of pattern to the Lord’s postures—whenever He is accompanied by His Consorts and whenever the occasion is formal, He prefers to sit, rather than stand, perhaps out of consideration for His MahishIs. We thus find Him sitting splendorously on a magnificent golden throne, under the cool and comforting shade of the PArijAta tree, apparently enjoying Himself in the company of His Consorts Sri RugmiNi and Sri SatyabhAmA, dressed in all His finery and apparently posing for a family snapshot—
“CchAyAyAm PArijAtasya hEma simhAsanOpari
Aseenam ambuda syAmam AyatAksham alankritam
ChandrAnanam chatur bAhum SrivatsAnkita vakshasam
RugmiNI SatyabhAmAbhyAm sahitam Sri Krishnam AshrayE”.
Whatever be the seat and however comfortable it be, we see that children prefer to sit on the laps of their parents—Shri Dhruva is an example. The Lord too, as a toddler, prefers to ride on the hips of Sri Yasoda. We have this on the authority of Sri Periazhwar, the conscientious chronicler of all the Lord’s deeds, who describes the Lord demanding the Moon in the sky, from His perch on Sri Yasoda’s hips—
“Chakkara kaiyan tadam kaNNAl malara vizhittu
okkalai mEl irundu unnayE chutti kAttum kAN”.
And though His mother’s hips are His preferred seat, the mischievous toddler Krishna never sits still, but moves constantly, jumping up and down, causing irritation and pain to His mother — “edutthu koLLil marungai irutthidum”.
Those who offer a seat to the Lord with malicious intent never live to tell the tale. This is demonstrated by PoothanA, KamsA’s messenger of death, who arrives at Nandagopa’s palace disguised as a beautiful damsel. When she seats Sri Krishna on her hips and offers Him a poisonous breast, the Lord sucks out her life along with the milk, making her fall down lifeless, while remaining unharmed Himself.
The huge tirumEni of the PANdava Dootan at Kancheepuram makes us wonder, with other Azhwars, whether the Lord is seated due to the cumulative weariness of measuring all the worlds with His tiruvadi (“andru ivvulagam aLanda asavE kol!”), the fatigue occasioned by constantly standing before Arjuna’s chariot in the Kurukshetra battlefield (“Indiran siruvan tEr mun nindrAn”), the strain of traversing long and unending jungle paths barefoot during the Ramavatara (“nadanda kAlgaL nondavO”) or that of performing the role of a menial messenger, bearing an epistle of peace from Pandavas to the Kauravas.
It goes without saying that the Lord is entitled to the best of AsanAs, which is to be offered to Him with devotion and love. This is the spirit behind the various AsanAs offered to the Lord during our daily worship, TiruvAradhanam. However, what would you call someone who deliberately submits to Him a seat with the malicious intent of causing Him bodily harm, as did Poothana?
Sri MahAbharata narrates the episode of the dastardly DuryOdhana preparing a glittering diamond throne for the Lord in the royal court hall, but placing it on light bamboo sticks, so that the moment someone sat on it, the sticks would give away and plunge the throne, along with its unsuspecting occupant, into a cellar below, where wrestlers with bulging biceps waited to finish off the poor victim. Fully aware of all this, the Lord sat on the throne and when it gave away, He descended into the cellar, and assuming a gigantic form which filled the four directions, made short work of the wrestlers, emerging victorious and unscathed, making DuryOdhana look foolish in the eyes of the astounded and august luminaries adorning the court of HastinApura. This episode is chronicled by Sri Tirumangai Mannan thus—
“aravu neeL kodiyOn avayuL Asanatthai anjidAdE ida, adarkku
periya mA mEni aNdam ooduruva perum disai adangida nimirndOn”
The Lord demonstrates that for penance too, the ideal posture is to sit. This can be found at BadarikAshramam, where He sits in eternal contemplation, apparently fulfilling the criteria He Himself laid down for the performance of Yoga—
“Suchou dEsE prathisthApya stthiram Asanam Atmana:
nAti ucchritam nAti neecham sailAjina kusOttaram”
The seat chosen for Yoga or tapas should be neither too high nor too low, should be stable and comfortable and spread with holy darbha grass or the purifying skin of a deer, and the Asana should be in clean and spiritually uplifting environs, all of which are conducive for contemplation. This is what Sri BadarInArAyana’s posture tells those of us who are inclined towards spiritual sAdhana.
When we come to think of it, one Emperuman who is always to be found in the sitting posture, with rare exceptions, is Sri Nrisimha. We find Him always seated, in the close embrace of His constant Consort. Of the nine Nrisimha moorties at Ahobilam, we find only one (perhaps two) in the standing posture, demonstrating His preference for being seated, this being the position at other sannidhis too, whether it is ChOlasimhapuram, TiruvallikkENi or PAtalAdri (SingapperumAL kOil).
Again, with rare exceptions, we find the Divine Consort too always seated, with Her feet decorously covered by the folds of Her apparel. The Lord may stand or lie down, but His Empress never stands, if She can help it. And She always prefers soft seats like the lotus (“aravinda nivAsinIm”, “PadmAsinI”) or AdisEsha (“tayA sahAseenam anata bhOgini”).
While mortals like us are able to see Him in all His glory, seated at PAdagam (Pandava dootan sannidhi), the Lord seats Himself resplendently and permanently in the heart of the pious devotee, finding the same to be much more pleasurable than the best of thrones fashioned out of the most precious of gold and gems. Sri Tirumazhisai Piran tells us that once we realise the inalienable relationship subsisting between the Lord and ourselves, Emperuman takes up permanent residence in our hearts, seating Himself comfortably, never to leave—
“nindradu endai ooragatthu, irundadu endai PAdagatthu
andru Vekkanai kidandadu ennilAda munnelAm
andru nAn pirandilEn pirandapin marandilEn
nindradum irundadum kidandadum en nenjuLE”
Whatever glorious seats we may offer Him, the Lord prefers to seat Himself in our lotus hearts, if only we invite Him in. He stands at our doors, constantly knocking, seeking to be let into our homes and hearts. As it is, our heart can at best be a “hot seat”, filled with innumerable impurities like anger, intolerance, hypocrisy and arrogance.
To offer Him a seat in our hearts, we must first make it a place fit for His residence, by making our mind large and receptive, by ridding it of all unholy thoughts and filling it with the fragrance of devotion and piety and fashioning a throne fit for Him out of unalloyed adoration and the purest of love. The Lord has been standing at our heart’s entrance for quite long now, knocking till His knuckles hurt, loathe to giving up despite our unpromising attitudes. Now is the time to let Him into ourselves and seat Him in all the splendour that He deserves. For, more than the soft, snaky bed, more than the holy sannidhis constructed for His residence by Maharshis and Sages, more than any magnificent throne fashioned out of glittering gold and glorious gems, it is our hearts that He prefers for a seat.
When are we going to tell Him, “Please come in and do be seated”?
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore