Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The old man reclines in his chair, watching passers by. His eyes are clouded with cataract, limbs crippled with arthritis, lungs heavy with phlegm and the heart wheezing like an old, unserviceable pump. Looking at some youthful pedestrians, the old man is caught up in nostalgic memories of his own youth, when he was sprightly, active and full of vigour, able to enjoy the good things of life to the hilt. It all seems so distant, ages away, and the memories make the current state of helplessness more painful, almost intolerable. He fervently longs for a return to those good “young” days.
Everyone would agree that youth is a golden period of one’s life, when one is out of the fetters of boyhood and parental control, able to indulge one’s whims without inhibitions, with the brow unclouded by care and the forehead unlined with concern. The back is still straight, unburdened with familial responsibilities. The blood is hot and life seems to beckon to one, full of infinite possibilities ripe for exploitation. Even the Upanishad seems to recognise the magnificence of youth. While describing the factors which make a man the happiest in the world, the Anandavalli lists “youth” first-
“YuvA syAt sAdhu yuvAdhyAyaka: AsishttO dradishttO balishtta: tasya iyam prithivi sarvA vittasya poorNA:syAt. Sa EkO mAnusha Ananda:”
When a man is in the prime of his youth, endowed with sterling qualities, the blessings of elders and physical might, is intent in the pursuit of knowledge, and literally owns the entire world, his cup of happiness is deemed to be full. The reason forthe Upanishad listing youth as the prime blessing is that without the same, therest of the attainments cannot be a source of enjoyment. Of what use are untold riches to the old man described above, whose faculties do not permit enjoyment? Of what use is a sumptuous feast to the old man whose digestive juices have dried up and whose stomach can accommodate only a spoonful of gruel? Thus youth is the key to good life, as we know it.
Azwars too remind us of the glory of youth and exhort us to pay obeisance to the Lord at various divya desams, before middle/old age cripples us. Sri Nammazhwar would like us to visit TirumAlirumsOlai before we lose our youthful vigour-
கிளரொளி இளமை கெடுவதன் முன்னம்
வளரொளி மாயோன் மருவிய கோயில்
வளரிளம் பொழில்சூழ் மாலிருஞ்சோலை
தளர்விளராகில் சார்வது சதிரே
“KiLaroLi iLamai keduvathan munnam
VaLaroLi MayOn maruvia kOil
VaLariLam pozhil soozh MalirumsOlai’;
TaLarvilar Agi sArvadu sadirE”
Sri Tirumangai Mannan too impresses upon us the need to perform mangalasasanam at Badarikashramam when we are young and active, in all of ten pasurams beginning with
“Mutra mootthu kOl tuNaiyA munnadi vaLaindu”.
முற்ற மூத்து கோல் துணையா
முன் அடி நோக்கி வளைந்து
இற்ற கால் போல் தள்ளி மெள்ள
இருந்து அங்கு இளையாமுன்
பெற்ற தாய் போல் வந்த பேய்ச்சி
பெரு முலை ஊடு உயிரை
வற்ற வாங்கி உண்ட வாயான்
Shastras too concur with the Azhwar-:”tasmAt bAlyE vivEkAtmA yatEta shrEyasE sadA”- the wise man makes efforts for liberation when he is young. Sri Tirumangai Mannan says that since youth disappears in a jiffy, we should spend it in the optimum fashion by Bhagavat, BhAgavata sEvanam-“vALgaL Agi nALgaL sella nOimai kundri mooppeidi mALum nAL”.
Regretfully, however, youth lasts for seemingly a fleeting moment only, and is replaced by middle age, before one is even aware of it. One fine day you are surprised to hear a neighbourhood boy call you “uncle”, (where you were hitherto accustomed to “aNNA”) and realise with a heavy heart that the magic of youth has worn off. You wistfully long for youth again, but alas! the irreversible track of time leads only forward, onward to old age and decrepitude. If it is any consolation, we are not alone in longing for a return to golden youth- the Mahabharata says that no less a person than Emperor YayAti was seized with such a yearning, and could exchange his old age for the vigour of youth, with one of his sons.
Amidst this gloomy scenario of fading youth and beckoning old age, we find that surprisingly there is someone who never ages. Despite the passageof innumerable millennia, He remains young, and what is more, seems to grow younger by the day. Age doesn’t seem to affect Him adversely, and does not even give Him a “mature” look (as some people who have long last their youth are wont to describe themselves).
Who could this youth be? The Lord, of course! It is He who is unanimously voted as the Perennial Youth, by the Vedas and the Azhwars alike.
“YuvA suvAsA: pariveeta agAt. Sa u shrEyAn bhavati jAyamAna:” declares the Shruti, attesting to Emperuman’s nitya youvanam. That He never crosses the threshold of youth is gleaned from the description “YuvA KumAra:”. In an almost literal translation, a MudalAzhwar calls Him “iLam kumaran” (“iLam kumaran tan viNNagar”) .
He is the “iLam singam” of Sri Yasoda Piratti- a vigorous, uncontrollable lion cub- not a toothless old lion. His perennial youthfulness is something wonderful, magnificent, and beyond description, says Sri Alavandar-
“achintya divya adhbhuta nitya youvana
prakAsa lAvaNya maya amrutOdadhim”.
He is the youthful sun who makes the visages of Gopis bloom with happiness-“madanAtura vallavAnganA vadanAmbhOja DivAkarO YuvA” (Sri Gopala Vimsati).
Modern scientists are forever in search of formulae for reversing the inexorable advance of age and its debilitating effects on mankind. There are occasionally reports in scientific journals of significant progress in this regard, but the magic potion capable of reversing the aging process and restoring youthfulness has remained elusive, despite the millions spent on geriatric research.
However, Azhwars have, centuries before, spoken of a secret formula for this. Not only is theLord of Seven Hills, Tirumalayappan, perennially youthful, but He makes His devotees too shed the rigours of old age, informs Sri Nammazhwar-
ஓயு மூப்புப் பிறப்பிறப் புப்பிணி,
வீயு மாறுசெய் வான்திரு வேங்கடத்
தாயன், நாண்மல ராமடித் தாமரை,
வாயுள் ளும்மனத் துள்ளும்வைப் பார்கட்கே.
“Oyum mooppu pirappu irappu piNi
veeyumAru seivAn TiruvEngadatthu
Ayan nALmalaram adittAmarai
vAyuLLum manatthuLLum vaippArkatkE”
Those whose minds are full of His thoughts and lips constantly abuzz with His holy names, are spared the infirmities of old age, says Azhwar. Sri Kulasekharazhwar has another antidote for old age, death and rebirth-the Krishna RasAyanam or the Elixir capable of delivering us from the unending cycle of births and deaths, and endowing us with perennial youthfulness in the company of the youngest inhabitant of Sri Vaikuntam, viz., the Lord, who is verily the fountainhead of youth.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore