Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
“Kalou sankeertaya KEsavam” says a sloka, pointing out that what is gained in other YugAs through elaborate YAgAs and YagyAs, through intensive penance involving excruciating physical hardship (“oon vAda vAda uyir kAvalittu tAn vAda seyyum tavam”) or through devotion of an impossibly high order, can be achieved easily during the Kali Yuga through the mere chanting of the Lord’s hallowed names. It is with this in mind that Mahrshis and Acharyas have composed innumerable stotrAs incorporating these holy names, so that humanity can redeem itself from its waywardness and strive for emancipation, by reciting these paens of praise on Emperuman. It is for this reason again that the Achamanam, which is an indispensable prerequisite of all vaidika karmAs as well as a purificatory ritual, entails the utterance of fifteen of these sacrosanct appellations, so that the intended KarmA is performed effectively and confers on one the desired fruits. The efficacy of the Bhagavan nAmA needs hardly any proof, but if proof were indeed required, we only have to look at the life histories of BhAgavatAs like Droupati, ajAmiLa, GajEndrAzhwan, PrahlAda, Dhruva and innumerable others, who have derived instant but everlasting benefits from the utterance of the Lord’s name.
When we explore the vast maze of the Lord’s names, in search of one we could choose for facile recitiation, we find ourselves bewildered by the wide variety of nAmAs available. There are those extolled by the Shruti, those chosen as favourites by Maharshis (“Rishibhi: pari geetAni”), those acclaimed by Azhwars, those enumerated by the itihAsAs and PurANAs and so on. There are simple ones like “GOpAla:” whose purport is easily comprehensible and complex ones like the NArAyaNa nAma, on which volumes have been written detailing the wealth of wisdom hidden in each of its syllables.
However, we of this jet age, characterised by paucity of time for anything spiritually constructive and with the cropping up of innumerable obstacles for the performance of even simple karmas like Sandhyavandanam (“shrEyAmsi bahu vighnAni”), would prefer for constant recitiation, a name of the Lord which has full efficacy and potency, while at the same time being Short and Sweet. This being the age of Fast Food and fast everything, in devotion too we would prefer something brief but effective. Being VaidikAs basically, we would also like the particular tirunAmam to be enshrined in the Shruti, knowing fulwell that it is the ultimate recognition of legitimacy. Being vortaries of Ubhaya VEdAnta, we would also like the nAmA to have the stamp of approval of Azhwars (“sishta parigraham”). And being avowed Democrats, we would like the name to be in popular parlance too, reflecting the choice of the people. Not being scholars (speaking for people like myself), we would find it best if the name is easy to pronounce, not some tongue-twister like “PraNatArtiharavarada:”. And last, we would like to adopt this nAmA for pleasurable recitation, as a constant thread of consciousness running through all our thoughts and actions, without being encumbered by the numerous restrictions accompanying mantrAs like the ashtAksharam, the DvAdasAksharam or the Shadaksharam. What we want is not a hallowed Mantra, but a sweet name for experiencing personal bliss through constant contemplation.
After a prolonged but pleasurable search, we do come up with such a tirunAmam, which suits all our requirements to a “T”. Like a child scouring the Departmental Store for a particular rare toy which it had seen with a neighbourhood kid, we too emit a hoop of joy at the discovery of the nAma, which we were in search of.
“Hari:” is one of those names of Emperuman, which sits short and sweet on the tongue. Its single syllable makes it easy for pronunciation even by children and those uninitiated in Sanskrit. And its very utterance produces an extremely sweet sensation on the tongue, like sugar candy. Where other longer Bhagavan nAmAs can be recited once, within the same span of time, this Hari nAmA can be uttered thrice or more. If we accept that the recitation of a holy name earns us merit and the more we do this the more merit we accumulate, then the Hari nAmA is the obvious choice for us, letting us score fast through greater recitation, due to its extremely short structure. It earns us a “sixer” every time, where other tirunAmAs afford us mere measly “singles”.
The Hari nAma has an extremely close and multi-faceted association with the Shruti. In fact, all VEda pArAyaNam begins with this name of the Lord”Hari: Om”and ends with it too. Anyone who recites the VEdAs, irrespective of his sect or denomination, invariably commences the exercise with the aforesaid prelude and concludes also with the same. Why should this be so? When there are any number of deities and any number of their names, why should the Shruti insist on being heralded by the Hari nAma in preference to any other? In fact, when we look into the SamhitAs, we find that Agni and Indra dominate, as far as frequency of reference is concerned. So why doesn’t a Vedic recital commence and conclude with a mention of those demigods?
Scholars say that matters mentioned in the beginning and the end (“upakramam and upasamhAram”) of any work, are a fair indication of the contents of the same. If we take Srimad Ramayana for instance, it begins with the question of Sri Valmiki about the possessor of certain auspicious attributes and Sri Narada”s identification of Sri Rama as such. The rest of the epic is but an elaboration of the kalyANa guNAs of the Lord, which were indicated in the very first Sarga. We find this to be so in other major works too. And the Shruti is no exception, for when its recitation commences with the Hari nAmA and concludes with the same, it is an extremely significant indication that the contents too are but eulogies to the holy Hari, the various rituals described therein being ways of His worship. Each individual word and syllable of the Vedic lore is but a direct or indirect reference to this hallowed tirunAmam.
With so many dEvatAs around, why should the Shruti pay a special tribute to this Hari, so much so that the entire body of Vedic Verses is one glorious and continuous eulogy to Him? The reason is not far to seek, for it is the Lord who has been of succour, whenever the Shruti has been in distress. When it was stolen by Madhu and Kaitabha, it was Sri HayagrIva who battled with and destroyed the demons and restored the VEda rAsis to BrahmA, so that the process of Creation could continue uninterruptedly.
It is Sri Hari who brings forth Chaturmukha BrahmA at the beginning of every creative process and endows him with Shroutic wisdom essential for the performance of his task. The Shruti itself attests to this?
“YO BrahmANam vidadhAti poorvam, YO vai VEdAnscha prahiNOti tasmai”.
It is the Lord who proudly proclaims His inalienable association with the Shruti and asserts that it is He and He alone who forms the ultimate wisdom which is to be garnered therefrom “VEdaischa sarvam aham Eva vEdya:” And above all, the Vedas, as the highest of PramANAs (sources of knowledge), have necessarily to speak only about the Parabrahmam, the highest of all entities, viz., Emperuman Sri Hari.
These are but a few samples of the multi-faceted and deep-rooted connection the ParmAtma has with the Shruti, which is adequate reason for the latter to begin and end with Hari nAma sankeertanam.
It’s all very well to say that the Hari nAma is intoned at the commencement and conclusion of VEda PArAyaNam? however, does the actual tirunAmam find mention in the vast body of Vedic lore” For, if it forms a mere prelude, without any specific reference to the same in the contents, the aforesaid contentions cannot gain popular acceptance. The answer to this question is Yes, for, how can the Veda ignore the holy name of the Lord, whose tiruvadi it wears as a glittering and prized crown?
If one were to search for one Prasna (chapter) of the available eightytwo in the Yajur VEda, which is of the extreme essence, the recital of which would tantamount to a pArAyaNam of the entire body of Vedas, one would definitely plump for the Third Prasna of the TaittirIya AraNyaka. It is this Prasna which conclusively showcases to us the identity of the Paramapurusha, which it doesn’t often refer by name elsewhere. It is this Prasna which tells us who exactly is the BrahmAm, the Sat, the AtmA etc., who is held out to be the Supreme Being.
For, it is this Prasna which houses the Purusha SUkta, which in turn has been acclaimed to be the essence of and the most significant part of the entire Vedic wisdom “VEdEshu Pourusham SUktam”. Almost immediately after declaring Sriman Narayana, with His Consorts Sree and Hree, as the Parama Purusha (“Hreescha tE LakshmIscha patnyou”), the AraNyaka pays a tribute to Hari “Harim harantam anuyanti dEvA:, Visvasya IsAnam vrishabham matInAm”.
This mantra tells us that all the thirty-three crore and odd demigods follow, worship and adulate Hari, the Destroyer (“harantam”). It is this Hari who is held out to be the Lord of all Universe (“Visvasya IsAnam”).
To expectant readers, this must come as indeed a disappointment, to learn that the much-touted Hari is after all a Destroyer, with all the attendant stigmas. Such an Emperuman can hardly endear Himself to us, when His principal function is that of destruction. However, it is not for nothing that elders have time and again emphasized that Veda vAkyas should be understood only with the aid of explanations and clarifications provided by the Smritis, itihAsAs and PurANAs, which collectively form the “UpabrhmaNA” for ascertaining the profound purport of the Shruti.
“Hari: harati pApAni dushta chittai: api smrita:
anicchayApi samsprishtO dahati Eva hi PAvaka:”
It is this sloka which tells us that though Sri Hari is indeed a destroyer, what He destroys is our accumulated baggage of misdeeds, our sins which are the root cause of all suffering in this samsAra. It is to this Hari that Sri Andal refers, when She assures us that all sins, past, present and future, would be effectively annihilated like so much dust in a raging fire “pOya pizhayum pugu taruvAn nindranavum teeyinil doosAgum”. Shastras tell us that the very contemplation of the Lord is enough for us to become pure and rid of all stigma accumulated over several lifetimes. And the Hari nAma has this cleansing effect, whether or not one utters it with the full realisation of its potency, says the aforesaid sloka, citing as example the fire which scorches one, whether or not the victim has knowledge of its properties.
Not only does a VEda pArAyaNam commence with the Hari nAma, but the beginning of every day should be with the same, say the Ahnika granthAs. It should be the very first word we utter after waking up. Thus Hari nAma sankeertanam should be our very first act every day, the mahA mantra to fortify us for the challenges the day would hold. And it is to be uttered not once or twice, but seven times “Hari: iti saptakritva ucchArya”– and in three groups of two each, ending with a single utterance at the end” says Swami Desikan in Sri VaiNava Dinachari”
“Vari iruL azhi vazhi manam varum uNarvodu
Karigiri maruviya Kariyavan adiyiNai
Parivodu paravu nal adiyavar pazhavurai
ariyari ariyari ariyari ariyE”
Here, the words “nal adiyavar pazha urai” are significant, for this brings out the hoary tradition of reciting the Hari nAma immediately after waking up every day. This is borne out also by Sri Andal’s sreesookti
“veLLatthu aravil tuyil amarnda vitthinai
uLlatthu koNdu munivargaLum yOgigaLum
meLLa ezhundu ari endra pEraravam
uLLam pugundu kuLirndElOr empAvAi”
It follows from the aforesaid that the daily Hari nAma sankeertanam should be accompanied by contemplation of Hari too, in His primordial form of VyUha VasudEva, in apparent slumber on the exquisite snake bed. And that this is the practice of ancients and revered ones, is shown by the words, “munivargaLum YOgigaLum”. The loud intonation of the Hari nAma, simultaneously by numerous Rishis and yOgis, fills the entire area with a reasonant reverberation which is at once pleasing to the ears and acts as an immediate cleansing agent for the soul, relieving it of the heat and dust of SamsAra.
We have heard that we should remember the GajEndra MOksha episode, immediately after waking from sleep. And we are told that simultaneously Hari nAma sankeertanam should be made. Is there a connection, or is it just an insignificant association?
Just as there have been numerous avatArAs of the Lord, in the form of Sri Nrisimha, Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, etc., Sri Hari too is an avatara. The Lord, in His infinite mercy, takes any number of avatArAs, of which ten have been catalogued just as a sample, as the DasAvatArAs. There are many more, like the HayagrIva, the Hamsa, etc., which do not figure in the ten, but are nevertheless acknowledged and eulogised by the Scripture. That of Sri Hari too is an avatAra, much glorified by Srimad BhAgavata PurANa, Azhwars and Acharyas.
Azhwars, especially, have lost themselves in the Soulabhyam, Rakshakatvam and Paratvam displayed in this avatAra and the Divya Prabandas are replete with references to the same.
The principal mission of this avatAra was the protection of beleagured Gajendra, who, after battling valiantly with the crocodile (which grasped his leg and tried to draw him into the pond, where the embattled elephant had gone to pluck lotus flowers to offer to the Lord), threw up his mighty trunk in despair and trumpeted loudly for all heavens to hear, seeking succour and a Saviour. And in his hurry and desperation, the elephant forgot to mention the ParamAtmA by name and just cried out “AdimoolamE!” (The Primordial Cause). However, just as a letter addressed to the President of India reaches him despite the lack of his name and address, Gajendra’s appeal too went straight to Emperuman, other lesser deities disowning the appellation and knowing not what to do?
“nakra AkrAntE kareendrE mukiLita nayanE moola moola it kinnE
nAham nAham nachAham na cha bhavati puna: tAdrusO mAdrusEshu
ityEvam tyakta hastE sapati sura gaNE bhAva soonyE samastE
Moolam yat prAdurAseet sa disatu BhagavAn managaLam santatam na:”
The Lord, answering to the sobriquet “Adimoolam”, rushed instantly to the elephant’s rescue, unmindful of His clothing being in disarray due to the tearing haste He was in. And, though He was astride Garuda, the personification of speed, the Lord’s anxiety made Him spur the divine bird on, resulting in indelible footmarks in the Bird’s sides (“tvat anghri sammarddha kiNAnka shObhinA”). It was as if the Lord was running, despite travelling on a winged wonder that was VainatEya “TArkshyam Aruhya dhAvan”
It is this episode, this avatara of the Lord as Sri Hari, that we are told to remember and contemplate, immediately after getting up from bed every day, along with Hari nAma sankeertanam, adhering to Sri Andal’s dictum, “vAyinAl pAdi manatthinAl chintikka”.
This Hari avatAra has been the subject of many an ecstatic outpouring by Azhwars. For instance, Sri Tondaradippodi marvels at the Lord’s soulabhyam in answering the call of a mere elephant, while exalted deities like BrahmA and Rudra are not rewarded with the Lord’s dharshan, even after aeons of penance (laced, however, with ahamkra)–
“PeN ulAm sadayinAnum Piramanum unnai kANbAn
eNNilA oozhi oozhi tavam seidAr veLgi nirpa
viNNulAr viyappa vandu Anaikku andru aruLai eenda
KaNNarA! Unnai andrO kaLaikaNa karudumArE”
Thus the Hari nAma’s efficacy is beyond description. If it is capable of conferring divine protection on a mere dumb pachyderm, who could not even spell out the nAmA with clarity, need we elaborate on its potency, when uttered with full knowledge of its glory and with even a semblance of devotion? The mere utterance of this tirunAmam confers upon the devotee such merit, as could be earned through philanthropic acts of unimaginable dimensions, performed at puNya kshEtrAs like VArANasI, KurukshEtram and NaimishAraNyam, says the Scripture.
“VArANasyAm KurukshEtrE NaimishAraNya Eva cha
datttam syAt tEna yEnOktam Hari: iti akshara dvayam”.
Thus Sri Hari appears to be a specialist in the destruction of our sins, whether or not we utter His hallowed name with devotion. When Sri PeriyAzhwar issues a clarion call to the Lord to rid us of the chronic and crippling malady of SamsAra, it is perhaps to Sri Hari that he refers “MaruttuvanAi nindra MAmaNi vaNNA!”. It is this holy Hari who appears to be the Divine Doctor, the one physician whom we can trust to cure us of all physical and spiritual ills that have plagued us for long. This is confirmed by Sage VyAsa “oushadham JAnhavI tOyam, vaidyO NArAyaNO Hari:”.
And what does Dr. Sri Hari look like? Just as we think of Sri Rama always with a bow at the ready, Sri Krishna with a flute in His hands, does Sri Hari have some special features? Yes, says the following sloka, describing His glorious form, resplendant with an arrow, a sceptre, the PAnchajanya shankha, the magnificent bow SArnga, a KEtaya to ward off opponents? missiles and the Magnificent Mace, KoumOdakI, with one palm held up in the comforting “abhaya mudrA”, promising protection to all those who approach-
“AbibhrANO rathAngam sharam asim abhayam shankha chApou sakEtou
Hastai: koumOdakIm apyavatu Hari: asou amhasAm samhatEr na:”
And it is to this Sri Hari that Sri Nammazhwar pays the ultimate tribute, in the very last of his nectarine outpourings in Tiruvaimozhi?
“avA ara soozh ariyai ayanai aranai alattri
avA attru veedu pettra Kurugoor SatakOpan sonna”
This would appear to be a direct translation of the nArAyaNa anuvAka vAkya, “sa BrahmA sa Shiva: sEndra: sOkshara: Parama svarAt”, and, by implication, shows up our Hari as the Parabrahmam. It is significant that while Sri Nammazhwar begins his Prabandam with a generic appellation (“uyarvara uyar nalam udayavan yavan avan”), without indicating the tirunAmam of the Lord of his choice, Azhwar shows his hand at the end with the mention of the Hari nAma, indicating clearly who occupies his thoughts constantly.
Time to stop, says the page indicator, telling me that I am on the sixth page and past the three-thousand-word mark. “Your title is again a misnomer, as the article is neither short nor sweet!” observes my daughter, looking to its length. It’s no fault of mine, for, though the name is short and sweet, its glories are innumerable and defy description.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore