Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Almost all the Stotras we know generally incorporate a “Phala shruti” or a cataloguing of benefits that would accrue to the reader. We find this in the great Epic Srimad Ramayanam. At the end of the very first chapter, we are told that one who reads the holy story of Rama would be freed from all sin and would be blessed with a long tenure in Swargam, along with one’s sons and grandsons. Along with this general benediction, caste-wise benefits are also enumerated-Brahmins would acquire proficiency in speech, those of royal blood would become acclaimed monarchs, merchants would beget great wealth and so on. The Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram too has a pretty long “phala shruti” at the end of it, promising everyone what they desire and what is good for them. We find Azhwars too indicating how profitable the perusal of their Prabandams would be. Sri Andal tells us that those who recite “Vaaranamaayiram” would be blessed with good children-”Vaayu nan makkalai pettru maghizhware”. Those who master the depths of the ten pasurams on Tirumalirumsolai would be sure to reach the Lord’s lotus feet, says She-”Sen tamzih patthum vallaar Tirumaal adi servargale”. Readers would rid themselves of all their travails, promises Kodai Naachiyaar, at the end of the ten pasurams beginning with “Kannan enum karum deivam”. And the last decad of Naachiar Tirmozhi assures us that those who meditate on its esoteric purports would attain inseparable and eternal communion with Emperuman-”Perum taal udaya Piraan adi keezh piriyaadu endrum iruppaare”.
While most of the Azhwars enumerate the eternal and everlasting bliss that one would attain in the Lord’s service as the outcome of mastering their Prabandams, there are certain exceptions too. For instance, Sri Nammazhwar promises those who know well the ten pasurams beginning with “Kedum idar”, that they would embrace delightful damsels with slender shoulders like bamboo shoots-”anaivar poi amarulagil painthodi madandayar tam vey maru tol inaye”. Wouldn’t you consider this totally uncharacteristic of Nammazhwar, who had not even a whiff of worldly pleasure, all through his brief sojourn on this earth? And for one who concentrated whole-heartedly on the Lord and His auspicious attributes to the exclusion of everything else, promising his readers an apparently puerile benefit, such as the company of beautiful women, appears out of place. And it appears incompatible too with the avowed purpose of the entire Tiruvaimozhi, that of generating and sustaining an all-consuming fervour for the Lord and all that is associated with Him. We wonder why Azhwar should suddenly resort to promising such ephemeral pleasures, when, all along, he has been advocating their conscious avoidance at all cost.
When we turn to the commentaries for elucidation, we find Sri Nampillai explaining this phenomenon of Azhwar’s apparently unsuitable promises with an apt example. To improve a cow’s yield, cowherds usually keep a stuffed calf in the cow’s sight, so that, enthused by the thought of feeding its young one, the mother secretes milk plentifully. Similarly, Azhwar too promises to Samsaaris the benefit they would covet (that of delightful feminine company). And, once they start perusing Tiruvaimozhi in the hope of attaining these minor pleasures, they lose themselves eventually in its descriptions of the Lord and His auspicious attributes. Ultimately they acquire the requisite wisdom, devotion and Vairaagyam, which lead them to a simple strategy like Prapatti, which in turn confers Salvation.
We thus see that “Phala Shruti”s range from promises of prosperity, material and otherwise, to the attainment of the Ultimate Goal, viz., Moksham.
While it is all right to catalogue the benefits arising from the study of Scripture, have you come across instances of negative incentives being prescribed for failure to study a particular Stotram or Prabandam? Have you similarly chanced upon criticism of people who do not study a particular Prabandam?
For instance, while the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram appends quite an exhaustive list of what could be achieved through its recitation, we do not find any element of compulsion in its learning or study. It doesn’t mention, for instance, that those who do not know the Stotram would rot forever in hell. Similarly, none of the Prabandams of Sri Nammazhwar or of Sri Kalian prescribes any detriment for non-study. It is only in the case of Tiruppavai that we are told that those who know not the thirty poignant pasurams of Kodai Naacchiar need not have been born at all, their lives being an utter waste. Planet Earth would earn an indelible stigma by carrying these people, who are ignorant of Tiruppavai-
“Kodai Tamizh iyyaiyndum iyndum ariyaada maanidarai
Vaiyyam sumappadum Vambu”.
For an Acharya to go to the extent of castigating in such strong terms those who do not know Tiruppavai, is indeed unusual. Our Preceptors are known more for their persuasive and mercy-filled exhortations, than pungent admonitions. This being so, it stands to reason that Tiruppavai contains some basic truths, without the knowledge of which our learning is incomplete and without which we have little to show for having been blessed with a human birth. What could be the fundamental concepts that this Prabandam portrays, which could entitle it to such indispensability?
1. Godhead-The first and foremost concept that Tiruppavai enunciates, in the very first pasuram, is the identity of the Supreme Being who is capable of bestowing Salvation. While there are any number of deities who grant minor boons, if it is Moksham you want, then it is to Sriman Narayana you must apply-”Moksham icchet Janaardanaat”. Unless we have a firm grasp of this, we would keep going round the maze of Samsara, caught up in the interminable cycle of births and deaths. Hence, unless we realise that “Narayanane namakke parai taruvaan”, would there be any purpose at all to our lives?
2. Good Conduct-Apart from revealing esoteric truths, Tiruppavai also instructs us in rules of good conduct, which ensure our physical and psychological health. We are told about simple rules like bathing in the early morning (“naat kaale neeradi”), avoiding bad ways (“seyyaadana seyyom”), eschewing untruthful and unpleasant speech (“tee kuralai chendru odom”), performing as much charity as possible (“iyyamum picchayum aam tanayum kai kaatti”). It is Tiruppavai’s uniqueness that it instructs us not only in high philosophy, but in “Saamaanya Dharmam” too.
3. Naama Sankeertanam-Tiruppavai highlights the easy and delightful pursuit of singing the Lord’s names, which is touted to be THE strategy for attaining devotion, in this Kali Yuga-”Kalou sankeertaya Kesavam”. Repeated references to this upaayam are to be found in the thirty pasurams-”Ongi ulagalanda Uttaman per paadi”, ”Kesavanai paadavum nee kette kidatthiyo”, ”Paar kadalul paiyya tuyindra Paraman adi paadi” ”Damodaranai-vaayinaal paadi manatthinaal sindikka”, “Maa vaai pilandaanai.paadi parai kondu”, “MaaMaayan Madhavan, Vaikunthan endru endru naamam palavum navindrelor empaavaai” and so on. Would anyone’s life be worth living, if he or she didn’t utter the Lord’s glorious names, as laid down in Tiruppavai?
4. Good Company-The common thread running through all the thirty songs of Tiruppavai is that of keeping company with the good and saintly-Sat Sangham. The uplifting nature of the company of kindred souls hungering for Bhagavat anubhavam is portrayed time and again. The emphasis is on collective enjoyment of divine bliss-”koodi irundu kulirndu”. The benefits of Sat Sangham are vividly visible for all to see, in these pasurams.
5. The Relationship-Though volumes have been written regarding the relationship between the individual soul and the Paramatma, it is Tiruppavai which puts the same in a nutshell and highlights the Master-Slave bond that binds the Lord and ourselves together-”ettraikkum ezhezh piravikkum uttrome aavom, unakke naam aat cheivom”. That this bond is not ephemeral like worldly ones and is eternal, is brought out by the line, “un tannodu uravel namakku ingu ozhikka ozhiyaadu”.
Our duty is to perform all possible service to Him-”nee kuttreval engalai kollaamal pogaadu”.
6. Our Desire-All of us are victims of wayward minds, which push us deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of desires. The satisfaction of one desire immediately gives rise to another and we get caught up in unending waves of wants. Tiruppavai has a very practical lesson to offer in this regard. Knowing full well that it is futile to instruct human beings to avoid desires, Andal shows us the way to channel these desires in a productive fashion, directing them towards attaining the Lord, performing endless service to Him and His devotees. The prayer is thus for the Lord to relieve us of desires which run counter to these objectives-”mattrai nam kaamangal maatru”.
7. The Strategy-We might know everything, but if we know not the strategy for attaining Liberation, we would continue to wallow in this mundane mire. Sri Andal proclaims this strategy in the very first pasuram itself, by telling us that the Lord would grant Moksham only to Prapannas- “Narayanane namakke parai taruvaan”. The operative word here is “namakku”, (to us) which indicates Surrendered Souls or those who have performed Prapatti. And the emphasis on this term, “namakke” makes it clear that the Lord would grant Moksham only to those who surrender themselves to Him, heart and soul–”Prapannaat anyeshaam na disati Mukunda: nija padam”
8. Arttha Panchakam: The avowed objective of all Scriptural formulations is to enlighten us about the Five Fundamentals, knowledge of which is essential for emancipation. When we summarise all that has been said above, it boils down to the fact that Tiruppavai is all about the following five aspects-
a) Nature and Identity of the Supreme Being
b) Nature of the Individual Soul
c) The Strategy to be adopted for the Individual Soul to attain the Lord’s lotus feet
d) What fruits await the Soul upon its ascent to Paramapadam
e) What impediments stand in the way of the Soul from realising/attaining all the aforesaid.
From all these, it would be crystal clear that those who are not fortunate to know Tiurppavai could never aspire for the Ultimate Goal. Without the Guide Book of Tiruppavai, they would know not the rules of conduct for life in this world or for ascent to those above. And denied of such wisdom, they would be little better than quadrupeds-”Gnaanena heena: pasubhi: samaana:”. And the world would be little richer for their nondescript and unremarkable existence-which is what the line “Vaiyyam sumappadum vambu” portrays so eloquently.
The greatness of Tiruppavai can be understood from the number of commentaries it has been able to attract, from eminent scholars, who have found, in these mere thirty pasurams, the seeds of concepts propounded in the entire Shruti. No less than seven vyaakhyaananams are available for this Prabandam-those authored by Sri Periavachan Pillai, Sri Azhagia Manavala Perumal Nayanar, Sri Nampillai, Sri Aay Jananyaacharya, Sri Peria Parakala Swami, Sri Rangaramanuja Swami (in Sanskrit), Sri Ranganatha Swami, Sri SuddhaSattvam Doddayaachaar Swami, Sri Vanamamalai Jeer and the last, but by no means the least, the one by Srimad Mukkur Azhagiasingar. If so many scions of the Sampradayam have seen fit to comment on these thirty apparently simple verses, it is indeed a glowing tribute to Tiruppavai’s esoteric and truths, which transcend time and place.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore