Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Most of the things and concepts in this world are relative: but for a few tenets which we hold absolute, all others are interpreted with reference to the time, place, person and context. If we take Dharma or righteousness for instance, it differs from Yuga to Yuga, the requirements of Krita Yuga being vastly different from those of the current Kali Yuga. Dharma differes too from person to person, the King having duties entirely dissimilar to those of a trader or farmer. Similarly, what is Dharma in a particular context may not hold good for other situations. For instance, the primary requirement of honesty is waived, if the situation is such that it would involve a life being lost, whether one’s own or others’. The purpose of this piece is to divine Sri Kodai Nacchiar’s tiruvuLLam, when She apparently calls Sri Krishna all sorts of names, the most insulting of which is perhaps ‘Dharumam ariyA Kurumban’ (the miscreant devoid of all sense of right and wrong).
Azhwars are exemplary bhaktas, with nothing but unalloyed love, affection and devotion for the Lord. Their infatuation with the Lord and His endearing attributes is phenomenal, each of His characteristics appearing to them to be beyond compare. They wax eloquent on every single aspect of His kalyana gunas, losing themselves totally in their unfathomed depths. It is therefore inconceivable that any of their outpourings should contain even a single derogatory reference to the Lord, however remote, whether implicit or by inference. It is in this context that Sri Andal’s reference to ‘Dharumam ariyA Kurumban’ too has to be viewed.
Sri AmudanAr says in IrAmAnusa NoottrandAdi that words of abuse from the ignorant and uninitiated should be deemed indeed as praise “isayakillA manakkuttra mAndar pazhikkil pugazh”. For instance, if a nototrious criminal were to pass a disparaging comment about the sentencing judge for his arbitration, it could be very well construed as a compliment to the arbiter’s impartial implementation of statutory provisions. If a fool abuses a vidvAn as being ignorant, the latter could justifiably accept the abuse as an accolade.
The same analogy holds good for Azhwars too, when they apparently call the Lord uncomplimentary names. Even if Azhwars are neither ignorant (far from it, they have been blessed with unblemished wisdom) or biased, whatever they say about the Lord has to be adulatory, anything appearing otherwise being merely a matter of interpretation. Thus, even if a particular appellation addressed by an Azhwar appears uncomplimentary, it merely masks an accolade.
If Sri Andal really feels that the Lord is an unrighteous urchin, why would She pine dayand night to wed Him and record the same for posterity too in such prabandams as ‘VAraNamAyiram’ And why should She go to considerable trouble and expense to offer Him 100 huge pots of butter and ‘akkAravadisil’ (whether She Herself did it or had it done by Sri Ramanuja)? Unless all She felt for the Lord was unalloyed affection and admiration, She would hardly have devoted 143 nectarine pasurams in His praise. Taking all this together, we would have to conclude that the lone reference to ‘Dharmam ariyA Kurumban’ too is indeed adulatory, albeit it may appear otherwise, prima facie.
The Lord is the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Emperor of all Emperors ‘RajAdhi RAja: SarvEshAm’. The role of any King is to preserve the rule of law in his territory. This involves rewarding the righteous and punishing the delinquents. Establishment of Dharma on a firm footing necessarily comprises of both protecting the good and destroying the wicked, as the Lord Himself lays down in the Gita ‘ParitrANAya sadhUnAm, vinAsAya cha dushkritAm, dharma samstthApanArtthAya sambhavAmi yugE yugE’. Though it is a two-fold function, while the Lord performs SAdhu paritrANAm with boundless joy, to destroy anyone is anathema to Him, which He does as an unavoidable chore incidental to the main purpose of preservation of Dharma.
We thus find that it is the duty of the Lord, His Dharma, to weed out the wicked. However, He is loathe to performing this unpleasant task and prefers to look the other way, wherever the offences of His devotees are concerned “Bhakta dOshEshu adarsanam”, as pointed out bySwami Desikan. Even if we sinners commit a hundred transgressions, He magnanimously forgets them “na smarati apakArANAm satamapi AtmavattayA” (Srimad Ramayanam). Thus the Lord hardly performs His appointed role of the Universal Father, intent on meting out just punishment for all infringements, major and minor. For all practical purposes, He adopts the role of a lenient mother, saying to Himself, ‘Boys will be boys!’, whenever His deovtees commit some misdemeanour or the other. Instead of awarding them appropriate punishment, He brings them to the notice of a merciful Acharya, who takes the sinners under his wing and brings them back to the straight path leading to Paramapadam, through repentance and adoption of strategies like Bhakti or Prapatti.
Therefore, Sri Andal finds that the Lord has all but forgotten His Dharma of being the punitive Arbiter, dealing out just reprisal to all offenders, and, instead, turns a blind eye to their transgressions. The Lord’s line of argument isthat if He were to strictly invoke every rule in the divine statute, there wouldbe none left in this wide world, who would be beyond the sweep of rigorous retribution. It is for thisreason that He has almost abandoned His Dharma of awarding exemplary punishment toHis devotees for their various acts of commission and omission. And this is whySri Andal calls Him affectionately as “Dharumam ariyA Kurumban”, the Judge who has forgotten His gavel and sentencing procedures. We thus see that what appears prima facie to be a mortal insult being hurled at the Supreme Lord of the Universe, turns out in fact to be an encomium par excellence.
Having seen the justification in Sri Andal’s words, we must also see who has made the Lord the “Dharumam ariyA Kurumban” He isaccused or adulated to be. It is said that Periya Piratti knows not what punishmentis, however great be the offence ‘nityam agyAta nigrahAm’ and is said to be the personification of benefaction ‘Anugraha mayeem’. It is to the tunes of this lovely lady that the Lord dances forever, according to Sri Koorattazhwan ‘tat ingita parAdhIna:’
If we take Sri Bhoomi Devi, She is the embodiment of infinite tolerance, so much so that even the Lord’s patience is compared to Hers ‘KshamayA prithivI sama:’. And the other Consort, Sri Nila Devi,seduces Emperuman with Her wily charms such that He has nary a glance to spare for the sins of mortals like us. Sri Andal being the synthesis of all the three NacchimArs, is thus Herself responsible for the Lord forgetting His Dharma of punitive reaction and turning out to be a “Dharumam ariyA Kurumban”.
Another of Sri Kodai’s apparent insults, “Puram pOl uLLum kariyAn” (one who is as black of the heart as He is of the skin) is similarly an adulation in disguise. The Lord’s exterior resembles a black, rainbearing cloud ‘mEgha shyAmam’ says the prelude to the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotra, with which all Azhwars are in unanimous agreement, describing Him variously as ‘Mugil vaNnan’, ‘Kar mEgha vaNNan’ etc. Inside too, the Lord is akin to a rain cloud, which is ready to precipitate a shower of mercy at the slightest provocation, and most of the times, without any provocation too. Thus, He resembles the rain-bearing cloud, bringing cheer and joy to parched earth and poverty-stricken humanity, as much in His interior as His black exterior. This is what prompts Sri Andal to praise Him as a blackie, in and out.
When we think of Sri Andal and Her bewtiching bridal mysticism, we are indeed moved beyond measure by Her ananya bhakti, growingup with the Lord occupying every waking moment of Hers and even Her dreams, devoting Her mind, body and soul solely to Him, rebelling even at the thought of relationships with mortals (“mAnidavarkku endru Agil vAzhakillEn kandAi ManmathanE”), considering Emperuman to be Her all (“uNNum sOru parugum neer tinnum vettrilai yAvum Kannan Emperuman”), loving Him beyond measure, ecstatical when in His company and desolated when deserted by Him even for a second and living out the tenet ‘KannanukkE Amadu kAmam’. Azhwars like Sri Nammazhwar and Sri Kalian might pose to be ParAnkusa nAyaki and ParakAla nAyaki : they are however poor pretenders at best when compared to Sri Kodai, for it is only She who can voice with any authority the authentic feelings of joy and misery which a girl feels in the company or the absence of Her beloved. Is it any wonder that Acharyas have felt that Andal’s outpourings are indeed what the Upanishads are comprised of ‘Shruti shata shira: siddham adhyApayantI’ and form the very basis of the venerated Shruti ‘Vedam anaitthukkum vitthAgum Kodai tamizh’
“VaN Puduvai nagar Kodai malar padangaL vAzhiyE”
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore