Swami Desikan – The Pacifist


Srirangam_Swami Desikan_40

Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

The uniqueness of our Sampradaya arises from the exalted Acharyas who adorn the Guruparampara. We can be justifiably proud of Acharyas like Sri Nathamuni, Sri Alavandar, Sri Ramanuja, Sri PiLLAn, Sri Azhwan, Sri Bhattar, Swami Desikan et al, who were unparalleled in their devotion to the Lord and their concern for the upliftment of mankind through their enlightening teachings.

In the garland of Guruparampara commencing with Sri Nathamuni and upto Swami Desikan, Sri Ramanuja is likened to the dazzling centrepiece (“mahatI guru pankti hAra yashti:….nibaddha nAyaka Sri:”). If the Guruparampara garland were extended to our own presentAcharyas, then Swami Desikan would easily become the splendorous centrepiece of the beautiful necklace. This is not to belittle the greatness of Sri Bhashyakara in any way, nor would Swami Desikan be pleased at all with such ativAdAs. However, if truth were told, the contribution of Swami Desikan to the protection and preservation of our Sampradaya is indeed incomparable.

The Vedas, the sole repository of spiritual knowledge, had been engulfed by sorrow due to misinterpretation and neglect. The Smritis, which paraphrased the Vedas, were subjected to disobedience and disrespect by ignorant people. The ItihAsAs and PurANAs, which have guided mankind through the ages, had lost their credibility with the disbelieving multitudes. The world fell into the trap of those who claim everything to be illusory and non-existent.

It was in such a scenario that the Lord sent His Bell to the earth, as Sri VenkatanAtha, to restore the magnificence, credibility and glory of the Scriptures, to wean people away from the destructive path they were treading and to show them the right royal way to Liberation. The following sloka brings this out-

“VEdE sanjAta khEdE munijana vachanE prApta nitya avamAnE

sankeerNE sarva varNE sati tad anuguNE nishpramANE purANE

MAyAvAdE samodE ;kali kalusha vasAt soonya vAdE vivAdE

Dharma trANAya yo abhoot sa jayatu bhagavAn VishNu ghantA avatAra:”

The esoteric secrets relating to the Prapatti marga were carefully preserved and shared with the select few only, till the times of Sri Ramanuja. It was the Bhashyakara who opened the doorsof such knowledge to one and all, so that the maximum people could adopt this path to emancipation. However, as with any newly unveiled formulation, there were doubts galore in the procedure to be followed for Sharanagati, its form, its efficacy vis a vis other popular strategies for liberation, etc.

It was Swami Desikan who codified the Sharanagati Shastra, defended it vociferously against the onslaught of critics who felt that the simplicity of the stratagem was hardly commensurate with the magnificence of its professed target. Where was Bhakti Yoga, with its emphasis on continuous, assiduous and long-drawn curriculum spread over several births and where Prapatti, capable of momentary performance? How could anyone affirm that both led to the same destination of Paramapadam? Where was the scriptural authority for this upAya? And when the Lord declares that He Himself is both the upAya (means) and the upEya(target to be attained), where is the question of our adopting a separate strategy for mOksha? Who is the person qualified to perform sharanagati and what are its prerequisites? What proof do we have of its efficacy? What role does the Piratti play in all this? Is She a mere ornamental adjunct to the Paramapurusha or is She capable of releasing souls from bondage on Her own?

Theseand innumerable other questions cropped up, to which varied answers were furnished, creating utter confusion in the minds of devotees uninformed about the philosophical foundations of our Sampradaya.

Then came Swami Desikan, blessed at a young age by Sri Hayagriva, the Lord of Knowledge andSri GarutmAn, the personification of VedAs. Little wonder then, that Swami Desikan was able not only to find authoritative answers to the aforesaid questions based on the Scriptures (especially the PrastAna trayam) and the tenets of PoorvAchAryAs, but also establish them on a solid and invincible foundationof logic, all presented through the sugar-coated medium of beautiful poetry and bewitching prose.

SwamiDesikan was a veritable master of logic (“TArkika Simham”). We know thepower of logic:- in the hands of an expert, it could be used to prove or disprove anything under the Sun. In the wrong hands, this would be a very dangerous tool, for it could be employed to confer legitimacy to preposterous premises. It stands to the credit of Swami Desikan that despite being an incomparable logician capableof blazing his own trail and bulldozing all opposition, he never strayed from the beaten path traversed by Poorvacharyas and always stayed within the narrow confines of the pramANAs.

Tooppul Pillai’s obsession with Prapatti and his anxiety that every single soul in this vast universe should attain liberation by adopting this simple upAya , find _expression_ in his numerous stotras, kAvyAs, dramas, commentaries and polemical works. In all his works, whatever be the subject on hand, the theme of Sharanagati runs as a constant undercurrent, so that the perusal of any one composition would endow us with comprehensive knowledge of Prapatti and its modalities. This is what prompted a grateful beneficiary from exclaiming

“Seer ondru Toppul TiruvEngadamudayAn
PAr ondra chonna pazhamozhiyuL
Or ondru tAnE amayAdO
TAraNiyil vAzhvArkku vAn Era pOmaLavum vAzhvu”

The vast range of the Acharya’s works and the ability of each of them to bestow the entire gamut of material and spiritual gains on the devotee, is brought out by the following Saptati Ratna MAlikA sloka-

“Para:shatam vApi para:sahasram Sri Venkatacharya kritA: prabandhA:

tatra alam Eka: khalu bhukti muktyO: kArtsnyEna ka: tAn gaNayEt samastAn”.

This world has never been gratefulenough towards its major benefactors. Instances are legion, of Preceptors being persecuted. Sri Ramanuja was harassed by Kulothunga ChOzha and forced into exile and long separation from his beloved Lord of Srirangam. Sri KoorattAzwan lost his eyes for the protection of the Sampradaya, while Sri Periya Nambi lost his life. Sri Sudarsana Bhattar and Sri Pillai LokAchArya gave up their lives in the defence of the Lord against the muslim invaders.

Similarly, Swami Desikan too suffered a lot of persecution at the hands of his detractors, who could not endure his spreading name and fame as the sole repository of all branches of SAmpradAyic knowledge-Sri Bhashyam, Bhagavat Vishayam, Rahasya granthAs and others.

Swami’s doorstep was festooned with footwear, so that it would hit his head as soon he came out. On the day of his father’s annual ceremony, obstacles were created byensuring the absence of those identified for nimantraNam (BrAhmaNArttham). When he was seated on the veranda of his house at Srirangam, immersed in the composition of one of his works, misguided sishyAs of an Acharyapurusha who was passing by manhandled Swami Desikan for not rising up in respect. He was challenged toa debate by anyone and everyone, at the drop of a hat. People insisted that he prove his title as “Sarvatantrasvatantra:” by constructing a well and by sculpting his own image. A magician was sent to induce a stomach ailment inthe Acharya. He was offered PuLihOra and Pongal as bhagavat prasAdam, at the Sannidhi on an Ekadasi day. His sobriquet “Kavi Simham” was putto test by challenging him to compose a thousand slokas overnight, a tall order by any standards.

It isnot these acts of persecution per se, but Sri Venkatanatha’s measured and pacifist responses that impress us. He accepted the footwear of detractors as “BhAgavata pAdukAs” and objects of veneration. The perpetrators of this dastardly act were put to shame instantly, for having tried to offend the great soul. His father’s shrAddham went off uninterrupted with the Lords of three divyadesams officiating as bhOktAs, in the place of the original invitees. He accepted challenge after challenge, whether it be to his scholarship or prowess in all fields. He constructed a beautiful well at Tiruvahindrapuram, which is functional tilldate for all to see. He composed the magnificent Paduka Sahasram, a thousand verses on the limited subject of the Lord’s sandals, well within the time limit set for the composition, while his challenger was able to cobble together hardly one-tenth of the number of slokas that Swami Desikan could.

The point to be taken here is that, irrespective of the provocation, the Acharya’s responses were always pacifist and self-effacing, demonstrative of his desire to shunthe evil of BhAgavata apachArA in any form. And he displayed exceptional equanimity in the face of praise or pillorying. Swami Desikan never reacted emotionally to detractors, but instead gave them measured, inoffensive responses based on logic and reason.

Swami’s prasishya Sri PrativAdi Bhayankaram Annan finds nothing strange in the Acharya being defamed, when there were people out to abuse even Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, and likens the detractors of Swami Desikan to the followers of Ravana and Sisupala-

“Sarvatantra dhoorvahasya Venaktesa dheemata:
kurvatE avamAnanAm tu kEchana adhunOdhbhavA:
Hantahanta Rama Krishna dooshaNa abhidhAyinAm
Kinnuchitram atra Cchaidya Ravana anusAriNAm”

SwaniDesikan’s vaibhavam is so vast and extensive that it would fill volumes. While it is impossible to contain his greatness in such few words as these, yet adiyen thought it worthwhile making a small attempt. While this piece may not tell anybody anything new, adiyen would consider it to have served its purpose, if it prompts a thought or two on the great Acharya, the likes of whom the world has never seen nor is likely to see.

“TrayyantArttha! Bhavat pAda pankEruha jushAm satAm
Svayam mayi sadA bhooyAt anugraha paramparA”.

(From” Sri PrArtthanAshtakam” by Sri KumAra VaradAchArya).

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