Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Eight Forms of the Lord
According to the Uddhava Gita, the Arcchaa forms of the Lord may be made out of any of the following eight materials:
4. As a painting
5. Precious stones
6. Sand, clay, etc.
7. Worshipped in the mind of Yogis as a glorious form and
8. Pastes like sandal, etc.
“Shailee daarumayee louhee lepyaa lekhyaa cha saikatee
Manomayee manimayee pratimaa ashtavidhaa smritaa”
During the churning of the Milky Ocean for obtaining Nectar, the Lord assumed eight forms, says Sri Nampillai in the commentary to Tiruvaimozhi 7-3-3” Amrita mathanattil taan ettu vadivu kondaal pole kaanum”. And these eight forms assumed by the Lord simultaneously are:
The Indweller of the aforesaid
The Giant Turtle which supported the Manthara Parvatam on its back
Sri Krishna and Number Eight
Much more than the other avataaras, the association of Number Eight with Sri Krishna is extremely close.
1.Krishna was conceived by Devaki as her eighth child
2. Krishna was born on Ashtami, the eighth day after Pournami
3. Though Krishna’s wives numbered more than 16000, the principal among them were eight-(“Taasaam Krishna streenaam yaa: ashtou mahishya:”—Bhaagavatam)
Each of these Consorts of Sri Krishna gave birth to ten virile and wise sons. It is interesting to note that by begetting ten sons, Sri Krishna’s wives lived up to the Vedic dictum to women to bring forth ten children and to treat the husband as the eleventh—“Dasaasyaam putraan aadehi patim ekaadasam kridi”.
There might be any number of Mantras, but none to beat the Ashtaaksharam or the Eight-lettered formulation, in potency, descriptiveness and popular acceptance. This is considered to be the holiest of mantras and the most esoteric one, which is evident from the Narada Kalpa Sootram—
“Mantraanaam paramo mantra: guhyaanaam guhyam uttamam
Pavitram cha pavitraanaam Moola mantra: sanaatana:”
This Mantra has the acceptance of the Shruti, being enunciated in the Atharva Shiras and Katha Upanishad. Further, the Ashtaaksharam represents the essence of all the four Vedas—“Richo Yajoomshi Saamaani tathaiva Atharvanaani cha. Sarvam Ashtaakshara antasttham” Of all the mantras extolling the glory of Sriman Narayna, it is the Ashtaaksharam that has found infinite favour with Azhwars, as is evident from their frequent reference to it in their works—“Nin tiru ettezhutthum kattru” (Tirumangai Mannan) “Ettezhutthum oduvaargal vallaar vaanam aalave” (Tirumazhisai Piraan) “Naadum nagaramum nangariya Namo Naarayanaya endru ” (Periazhwar), etc. Tirumangai Mannan is so impressed with the purport of this mantra that he devotes all of ten paasurams, right at the beginning of Peria Tirumozhi, to sing the praises of this mantram. It is interesting to note that Azhwar obtained this mantram directly from the Lord, by force and at sword-point—“Maayonai vaal valiyaal mantiram kol Mangayar Kon”. Acharyas too have been extremely partial to this mantram, holding it to be the life-preserver (“Dhaarakam”).
If the mantra is so sacred and secret, how come we find it blaring out of loud-speakers at temples and printed in bold letters as banners hanging at sannidhis and other places? Shastras make it clear that mantras, to be effective to the user, should be obtained from the Acharya after pleasing him with sincere service. And the mantra so received should be preserved as carefully as a nuclear secret, for, if it is given away to all and sundry, it is likely to lose its significance and esteem in the eyes of the receiver. As such, neither the giver nor the receiver would benefit, unless the matnra is imparted and acquired through proper channel and in the appropriate manner, i.e., from the Guru to the Sishya in privacy. “Mantram yatnena gopayet” says the scripture, exhorting us to keep mantras to ourselves and not to disseminate the same indiscriminately.
There is a beautiful analogy in the Vaarttaamaalai, comparing the Tirumantram to the Maangalya Sootram. The normal Mangala Sootram worn by married women consists of 16 threads woven together. This forms the basis for married life and procreation, thereby immersing the wearer deeper and deeper in Samsaaram. However, the Tirumantram consists of just eight threads (each letter of the Ashtaaksharam forming a thread) and acts as a total antidote to Samsaaram, conferring all spiritual auspiciousness on its adherent. This eight-threaded Tirumangalyam is tied around the Jeevaatma’s neck by the Paramaatma, says Sri Pillai Tirunarayoor Arayar—“Bhartaa aana Emperuman tanadu Bhaaryai aana Jeevaatmaavukku kattina mangala sootram pole iruppadu Tirumantram”. Says Sri Pillai Lokacharya too—“ Ettu izhayaai moondru charadaai iruppadu oru mangala sootram pole Tirumantram”
In another apt analogy, Swami Desikan compares the Ashtaaksharam to a sugarcane stalk with eight parts—“Tirumantram aagira ettu kan aana karumbile”(Srimad Rahasyatrayasaaram).
The term Ashtaaksharam automatically refers to the haloed Narayana Mantram. However, are there any other mantras, relating to other deities, which too are eight-lettered? There indeed are, with the Soorya mantram serving as an example (“Ghrini iti dve akshare, Soorya iti treeni, Aaditya iti treeni, etad vai Saavitrasya ashtaaksharam padam”—Kaatakam), We have too a Varaaha ashtaakshara mantram, a Nrisimha ashtaaksharam, two ashtaakshara mantras for Sri Krishna and so on.
The Eight Svayam-Vyakta Kshetras
While abodes of the Lord are constructed for Him and His images consecrated there with love and devotion by Maharshis, Siddhas or Kings of repute, the Lord manifests on His own at certain places, which must definitely be held to be holier than those in the previous category. Significantly, these places, sanctified by the Lord’s own choice, are eight in number. And these are,
Here is the relative Pouraanika slokam—
“Srirangam Venkataadrischa Srimushnam Totaparvatam
Saalagraamam Pushkaramscha NaraNaaraayana aashramam
Naimisam cha iti me sthaanaani asou mukti pradaani vai
Ye tu Ashtaakshara ekaika: Varna moorti: vasaamyaham
Tishttaami Krishna kshetre punya saptakogata:
Ashtaaksharasya mantrasya sarvaakshara maya: sadaa”
While each of these eight kshetraas represents one letter of the sacred Ashtaakshara mantram, the Lord tells us that at Tirukkannapuram, He is the personification of the Ashtaakshara mantram in its entirety, placing the divya desam several notches above the aforesaid eight holy places. Sri Tirumangai Mannan is so enamoured of this Emperuman that He devotes no less than a hundred of his nectarine verses in praise of Souri Perumal of Tirukkannapuram. Azhwar also lets us into the secret of the true purport of the Ashtaakshra mantram, as revealed to him at Tirukkannapuram., viz., Bhaagavata Seshatvam (being beholden to the servants of the Lord, rather than to the Lord Himself)—
“Mattrum or deivam uladu endru iruppaarodu
Uttrilen, uttradum un adiyaarkku adimai
Mattrellaam pesilum nin tiru Ettezhutthum
Kattru naan, Kannapuratthu urai Ammaane!”
It is this Lord who grants liberation liberally to all those who surrender to Him, irrespective of caste, creed or economic or social criteria, avers Sri Nammazhwar—
“Sharanam aagum tana taal adaindaarkku ellaam
Maranam aanaal Vaikunttam kodukkum Piraan”
Eight Qualities of the Lord
Swami Desikan tells us in Geetaarttha Sangraham that the Lord sports eight principal qualities. These are—
He is not subject to the dictates of Karma, being beyond all action
He is not subject to the influence of Time and is always young (Yuvaa suvaasaa: pariveeta aagaat”)
He is immortal and is not subject to the cycle of births and deaths
He is totally unaffected by sorrow (“Visoka:”)
He is unaffected by hunger
He is untroubled by feelings like thirst
He is abundantly endowed with all elements for enjoyment
He is a Satya Sankalpa:, capable of carrying out all His resolutions.
Reiterating this in Srimad Rahasyatrayasaaram, Swami Desikan eulogises Emperuman as “En gunatton” and “Gunaashtaka visishtanaana Paramaatma”. A similar group of eight qualities adorn the Jeevatma too, at the time of Liberation, we are told in the same paasuram—“Ettu maa gunam– mukta dasayil aavirbhavikkum guna ashtakam”
Eight Forms of Lakshmi
If the Lord is so enamoured of Eight, can His Consort be otherwise? We find that Sri Mahalakshmi too is popularly worshipped in eight forms by seekers after material prosperity—
Dhana Lakshmi and
Eight Forms of Matter
Sri Krishna tells us in the Gita that Prakriti or Matter is of eight types;
Bhoomi or Earth
Aapa: or Water
Anala: or Fire
Vaayu: or the Wind
Kham or Atmosphere
Mana: or the Mind
Buddhi or the Intellect
“Bhoomi: Aapa: Anala: Vaayu: Kham Mana: Buddhi: eva cha
Ahankara iti iyam me bhinnaa Prakriti ahstadhaa”
The Eight Cases
Grammar is normally dry as dust and not a preferred vehicle for portraying devotion. Any student of language would normally regard the Grammar part as the most difficult and unappealing. However, there are cases where grammar has been used effectively to eulogise the Lord—Sri Kulasekhara Perumal, in his beautiful Mukunda Maala, employs the various cases (“Vibhakti” as they are known in Sanskrit or “Vettrumai” in Tamizh) in praise of Sri Krishna—
“Krishno rakshatu na: jagat traya guru: Krishnam namasyaamyaham
Krishnena amara shatrava: vinihataa: Krishnaaya tasmai nama:
Krishnaat eva samuditam jagat idam Krishnasya daasosmi aham
Krishne tishttati sarvam etat akhilam he Krishna! Rakshasva maam”
“Krishna:, Krishnam, Krishnena, Krishnaaya, Krishnaat, Krishnasya, Krishne and hey Krishna!” represent the first to eighth cases cleverly deployed for portraying the glory of Sri Krishna. “May Sri Krishna protect us. Our salutations to Sri Krishna. The enemies of devas were destroyed by Sri Krishna, to whom we offer obeisance. It is from Krishna that the entire world has sprung forth. I am an ardent servant of Sri Krishna. It is in Sri Krishna that this whole world of sentient beings and non-sentient object resides. Oh Krishna! Do protect me”. Though these lines may sound hackneyed in translation, the beauty and innovativeness of Azhwar’s original verse are indeed beyond description.
Closely following Azhwar, Sri Narayana Bhattatri, ardent devotee of Sri Guruvaayurappan, has also made a similar effort in using vibhaktis for glorifying His Lord, in his beautiful summary of Srimad Bhaagavatam, known as Naaraayaneeyam—
“Krishna: rakshatu maam charaachara guru: Krishnam namase sadaa
Krishnena eva surakshitoham asakrit Krishnaaya dattam mana:
Krishnaat eva samubhavo maam Vibho: Krishnasya daasosmi aham
Krishne bhakti rasaanchalaastu Bhagavan! He Krishna! Tubhyam nama:”
There is a another beautiful slokam (employing the eight cases) by Sri Sankaraachaarya too on Sri Rama, in his Rama Karnaamritam, which contains some of the sweetest verses on Sri Rama, set to lilting metre in simple and chaste Sanskrit.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore