The Sleeping Lord and the Sleepless Devotees

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Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

There might be any number of distinctions between Emperuman Sriman Narayanan, whois the Supreme Lord of the Universe and other deities who form His adjuncts-‘angAni anyA dEvatA:’ confirms the Upanishad. Whether in wisdom, power, strength, prowess, bounties or magnificence, the Lord towers head and shoulders above all other dEvatAs. His beauty is matchless as is His fame, so much so that the other deities are dwarfed by His form and attributes’

ekadashi

“kANavum uruppolAr sevikkinAda kIrtthiyAr” says Sri Tirumazhisai Piran. This incomparable glory extends even to the arcchAvatAra, the form the Lord has assumed at various divyadesams for our easy access and adulation. In contrast to other dEvatAs, whatever be His form, whether in Paramapadam, the Milky Ocean or in arcchAvtara, the Lord appears to prefer a reclining posture, if the numerous divyadesams beginning with SriRangam are any indication. He sleeps the care-free sleep of the innocent, whether it be the nAga paryankam (snake bed) He reclines on in Sri Vaikuntam, the TiruppArkadal or the sand dunes amidstthe crystal clear waters of the Cauvery. Even when the entire world is gobbled up by the raging Cosmic Waters of PraLayam, the Lord snoozes on, assuming the form of an enchanting infant, accomodating His unlimited form on a tiny banyan leaf, forsaking the cushioned comfort of the soft snake bed. During Vibhava avatArAs too, the Lord doesn’t forsake His beauty sleep and doesn’t wake up tillSri Visvamitra reminds Him that sunrise is imminent and other deities are awaiting His blessings’

“KousalyA suprajA Rama! PoorvA sandhyA pravartatE
utthistta nara sArdoola kartavyam daivam Ahnikam”

While weare told that Sri Lakshmana never slept a wink for the fourteen long years His brother was in the jungle, ever watchful and vigilant, we do not hear of Sri Rama giving up His sleep. ThoughSri Kulasekharazhwar sings a lot of lullabies to the Lord to get Him to doze, it seems quite unnecessary, considering His penchant for sleep.

In the Krishnavatara too, Arjuna and Duryodhana, who go to Sri Krishna’s palace for seeking His assistance in their proposed battle, find Him asleep.

Knowing His habit of sleeping on, various Acharyas have composed SuprabhAta stotras for the various divyadesa Emperumans, to wake Him up in time, with Sri Tondaradippodi Azhwar leading the ensemble with His TiruppaLLiezhucchi. It appears from this prabandam that quite a lot of noise is required to make the Lord wake up, with the tweeting of birds, the loud mooing of buffaloes, the thunderous chorus of instruments like the YAzh, flute, ekkam, matthali, muzhavu etc, the sweet but strong choir of KinnarAs, GarudAs, GandharvAs et al, the chiming bells on the necks of cattle going out for grazing, the Maharshis and other devotees reciting mantras and stotras from the Shruti and other sources in their stentorian voices, the commotion caused by the neighing of horses and trumpeting of elephants on which various deities have come to worship Emperuman, and so on. There appears to be a virtual symphony comprising of every imaginable sound, noise and music, amidst which the Lord continues sleeping, undisturbed.

Sri Andal too speaks of the Lord’s wont to sleep on, ensconced in a four-poster king-sized bedstead, with a comforter made of the silkiest of cotton, the pleasant and soporific smell of burning incense and, above all, with the soft and supple arms of Nappinnai encircling Him in an unbreakable embrace”Kutthu viLakkeria, kOttukkAl kattil mEl, metthendra panjasayanatthin mEl Eri, kotthalar poonkuzhal Nappinnai kongai mEl vaitthu kidanda malar mArba!’.

The Lordis in such deep slumber that Azhwars wonder at the probable cause therefor”nadanda kAlgaL nondavO” ‘adiyAr allal tavirttha asavO” ‘padithAn neendu tAviya asavo”. Is it because of the fatigue to Your holy feet, which had to traverse all the worlds during Trivikramavatara, or is it due to your constant travels to rid devotees of their travails, or could it be the miles traversed on foot over hill and dale during Sri Ramavatara’ enquire Azhwars. Sri Tirumazhisai Piran, perhaps the most outspoken among Azhwars, commands the Lord to rid Himself of His sleep and reply to his questions. ‘Rise and shine’ the Azhwar tells the Lord”kidandavAru ezhundirundu pEsu vAzhi KEsanE’.

There isa saying in Sanksrit “yathA RAjA tathA prajA:” (subjects take after their ruler). If the king is an idler, we normally find his kingdom full of layabouts, spending their time doing nothing constructive and preventing those who would like to. On the other hand, we find that a brave and wise ruler has similar people for subjects. However, when we consider this world, of which the Lord is the undisputed and supreme Emperor, we find that the devotees of the Lord hardly sleep, compared to their Master, who is forever asleep. Thus, while the Lord sleeps, His devotees are unable even to close their eyes, racked by pangs of separation and longing for union or reunion with Him. This insomnia affectsall classes of devotees.

According to Sri Nammazhwar, the Lord’s votaries are driven to extreme insomnia, being unable to sleep at all, thinking incessantly of Emperuman and His endearing form and attributes and sorrowful that they are missing it every second. Each night for them is an endless eternity (“neeL iravAi neendadAl”). Others, with little or no attachment to the Lord are able to sleep well (‘oorellAm tunji ulagellAm naLLiruLAi’), but not those tormented by their boundless love and affection for the Lord. The night thus appears to them to be a source of anguish (‘valliravAi neendadAl’), being neither able to sleep like normal human beings nor enjoy the blissful company of the Lord which obviates the need for sleep. The hours of darkness appear interminable –‘neeL iravum Oyum pozhudillai, Or oozhiyAi neeNdadAl’. Unaffected relatives sleep like a log, unconcerned at the plight of this bhakta in torment. And what results from this sort of sleepless vigil night after night’ It is loss of weight (‘vaigalum vinayEn meliya’) with arms getting thin as a bamboo stalk, seemingly devoured by Consumption.

We may think that these devotees would be able to compensate their lack of sleep during nightby having a snooze or two during the day: but no, the day is as worse as the night and thoughts of the Lord torment in the daytime too, without any let. Like some unbearable affliction, it causes anguish every moment and would be relieved only by the sight and sound of the Lord, which, alas, are not forthcoming. Not only does sleep elude these devotees night and day, but tears at the insufferable separation run down their cheeks in a veritable flood”kangulum pagalum kaN tuyil ariyAL, kaNna neer kaigaLAl iraikkum’. Mad with unsatiated desire for the Lord, the affected person indulges in behaviour that is quite strange’almost down and out, hardly being able to move her limbs one moment (‘itta kAl itta kaiyaLAi irukkum’), running about the very next moment spouting the enchanting namesof the Lord, sobbing unbearably one moment at the thought of the continued separation from the beloved, jubiliant thenext moment with joy at the anticipation of the impending reunion with Him.

Those in Paramapadam, one would think, would be proof to this malady of sleeplessness, being blessed with the constant company of the Lord and without a care in the world of being separated from Him. However, one would be mistaken, for the Shruti tells us that the Celestials never even blink their eyes, leave alone sleep, lest they lose a single moment of the splendourous sight of the Lord and His ravishing beauty” tat VishNO: paramam padam sadA pasyanti sooraya:’. They dare not wink even, lest it cost them an invaluable second of Bhagavat anubhavam. They are ever greedy for the superlative sight the Lord affords, preferring to keep their eyes open constantly, rather than blink, least of all sleep. This is because of no second’s experience is similar to the previous, the Lord affording infinitely diverse anubhavam which takes on blissful variety, cofirming Sri Nammazhwar’s averment, ‘ appouzhudaikku appozhudu en ArAvamudamE!’. And if a nitya soori makes bold to wink, he loses that second of irreplaceable experience. As a result, none sleeps in Sri Vaikuntam, except perhaps the Lord, who presentsa magnificent specatcle in whatever He does.

If it is any consolation to us, this has been the state of the Lord’s devotees during His avatArAs too. As already pointed out, Sri ILayaperumAl slept not a wink during the fourteen years Sri Rama was in the jungle, always wakeful and vigilant in the face of lurking danger which manifested itself in the form of any number of encounters with the rakshasas. ‘Jahou nidrAncha tandrIncha’ says Sri Valmiki, recording Sri Lakshmana’s selfless and sleepless service in the cause of his elder brother. It is noteworthy that Sri Visvamitra’s exhortation to rise and shine is addressed to Sri Rama only (‘Kousalya Supraja Rama’.utthishtta’), perhaps indicating that Sri Lakshmana, being ever awake, had no need to be woken up, as concerned for his brother as always, hovering protectively over the sleeping Rama, so that even a mosquito did not disturb the Prince’s sleep nor did He come to any harm from midnight marauders.

We thus have it on very good authorty that once we become sincere votaries of the Lord, sleep automatically forsakes us. As long as we don’t attain Him, we are obsessed with the thought of seeing Him, speaking with Him and enjoying His enthralling company, and this robs of all sleep, night and day. Sri Nammazhwar rules out the possibility of sleep for such devotees”kAnnAra kaNdu kazhivadOr kAdal uttrArkkum uNdO kaNgaL tunjudalE’. And once we do attain Him, the inimitable bliss of Bhagavat anubhavam prevents us from ever closing our eyes for fear of losing the experience for even a trice.

The ‘JAgrat Vratam’ or sleepless penance observed on Ekadasi days, as exemplified by NampAduvAn and others, is perhaps in preparation for the day we would develop the sort of intimacy with the Lord as to forsake sleep for His sake. It is noteworthy too that according to the PAnchakAlika prakriyA, whereby the day is divided into five parts in the service of the Lord (viz., abhigamanam, ijyA, svAdhyAyam etc.), the act of going to sleep at the end of the day is known as ‘YOgam’, meaning not deep slumber with profuse snoring, but a blissful contemplation, with eyes closed, of the Lord, His magnificent tirumEni and attributes, the infinite pleasure we would derive in His company once we reach Paramapadam, etc.

Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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