A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the philosophy of the aḻvars: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “the aḻvars”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Philosophy of the Āḻvārs

As the hymns of the Āḻvārs have only a literary and devotional form, it is difficult to utilize them for philosophical purposes. As an illustration of the general subject-matter of their works, I shall try to give a brief summary of the main contents of Nāmm’-āḻvār’s (Śaṭhakopa) work, following Abhirāmavarācārya’s Dramiḍopaniṣat-tātparya[1]. The feeling of devotion to God felt by Śaṭhakopa could not be contained within him, and, thus overflowing, was expressed in verses which soothed all sufferers; this shows that his affection for suffering humanity was even greater than that of their own parents. Śaṭhakopa’s main ideal was to subdue our so-called manhood by reference to God (puruṣottama), the greatest of all beings, and to regard all beings as but women dependent on Him; and so it was that Śaṭhakopa conceived himself as a woman longing for her lover and entirely dependent on him. In the first of his four works he prayed for the cessation of rebirth; in the second he described his experiences of God’s great and noble qualities; in the third he expressed his longings to enjoy God; and in the fourth he described how all his experiences of God’s communion with him fell far short of his great longings.

In the first ten stanzas of his first centum he is infused with a spirit of service (dāsya) to God and describes his experiences of God’s essential qualities. In the next ten stanzas he describes the mercy of God and recommends every one to give up attachment to all other things, which are of a trifling and temporary nature. Then he prays to God for his incarnation on earth with Lakṣmī, His consort, and pays adoration to Him. He continues with a description of his mental agonies in not attaining communion with God, confessing his own guilt to Him. He then embraces God and realizes that all his failings are his own fault.

He explains that the spirit of service (dāsya) does not depend for its manifestation and realization on any elaborate rituals involving articles of worship, but on one’s own zeal. What is necessary is true devotion (bhakti). Such a devotion, he says, must proceed through an intense enjoyment of the nature of the noble qualities of God, so that the devotee may feel that there is nothing in anything else that is greater than them. With a yielding heart he says that God accepts the service of those who, instead of employing all the various means of subduing a crooked enemy, adopt only the means of friendliness to them[2].

God is pleased with those who are disposed to realize the sincerity of their own spirit, and it is through this that they can realize God in themselves. God’s favour does not depend on anything but His own grace, manifesting itself in an all-embracing devotion. He says, in the second śataka, that the devotee, having, on the one hand, felt the great and noble qualities of God, and yet being attached to other things, is pierced through with pangs of sorrow in not realizing God in communion, and feels a bond of sympathy with all humanity sharing the same grief.

Through the stories of God related in the Purāṇas, e.g. in the Bhāgavata, Śaṭhakopa feels the association of God which removes his sorrow and so increases his contact with God. He then describes how the great saints of the past had within their heart of hearts enjoyed an immersion in the ocean of God’s bliss, which is the depository of all blissful emotion; and he goes on to express his longings for the enjoyment of that bliss.

Through his longings for Him there arose in Śaṭhakopa great grief of separation, devoid of any interest in furthering unworthy ends; he communicated to Him his great sorrow at his incapacity to realize Him, and in so doing he lost consciousness through intensity of grief. As a result God Kṛṣṇa appeared before him, and he describes accordingly the joy of the vision of God. But he fears to lose God, who is too mighty for him, and takes refuge in his great attachment to Him. Next he says that they only realize God who have a sense of possession in Him. He describes God’s noble qualities, and shows that the realization of the proximity of God is much more desirable than the attainment of emancipation. He says that the true definition of mokṣa is to attain the position of God’s servant[3].

In the beginning of the third centum he describes the beauty of God. Then he bemoans the fact that, on account of the limitations of his senses and his mind, he is unable to enjoy the fullness of His beauty. Next he describes the infinitude of God’s glory and his own spirit of service to Him. Then he envisages the whole world and the words that denote the things of the world as being the body of God[4]. Then he expresses the pleasure and bliss he feels in the service of God, and says that even those who cannot come into contact with God in His own essence can find solace in directing their minds to His image and to the stories of Kṛṣṇa related in the Purāṇas. He then absorbs himself in the grief of his separation from God and hopes that by arresting all the inner senses he may see God with his own eyes. He also regrets the condition of other men who are wasting their time in devotion to gods other than Kṛṣṇa. He goes on to describe the vision of God and his great joy therein.

In the fourth centum he describes the transitoriness of all things considered as enjoyable, and the absolute superiority of the bliss of pleasing God. He goes on to explain how, through cessation of all inclination to other things and the increase of longing for God in a timeless and spaceless manner, and through the pangs of separation in not realizing Him constantly, he considers himself as a woman, and through the pangs of love loses his consciousness[5]. Then he describes how Hari is pleased with his amour and satisfies his longings by making Him enjoyable through the actions of mind, words and body by His blissful embraces[6].

Next he shows how, when he attempted to realize Kṛṣṇa by his spiritual zeal, Kṛṣṇa vanished from his sight and he was then once more filled with the grief of separation. Again he receives a vision of God and feels with joy His overwhelming superiority. He further describes how his vision of God was like a dream, and how, when the dream ceased, he lost consciousness. To fill up the emptiness of these occasional separations, he sorrowfully chanted the name of God, and earnestly prayed to Him. He wept for Him and felt that without Him everything was nothing. Yet at intervals he could not help feeling deep sympathy for erring humanity which had turned its mind away from God. According to him the real bondage consists in the preference man gives to things other than God. When one can feel God as all-in-all, every bond is loosened.

In the fifth centum he feels that God’s grace alone can save man. He again describes himself as the wife of God, constantly longing for His embrace. In his grief and lamentation and his anxiety to meet God, he was overcome by a swoon which, like the night, dimmed all his senses. At the end of this state he saw the ornaments of God, but could not see Him directly, and was thus filled both with grief and happiness. As a relief from the pangs of separation he found enjoyment in identifying himself in his mind with God and in imitating His ways, thinking that the world was created by him[7].

In a number of verses (seventy or eighty) he describes how he was attached to the image of the God Kṛṣṇa at Kumbha-konam and how he suffered through God’s apathy towards him in not satisfying him, His lover, with embraces and other tokens of love, and how he became angry with His indifference to his amorous approaches and was ultimately appeased by God, who satisfied him with loving embraces and the like. Thus God, who was divine lord of the universe, felt sympathy and love for him and appeased his sorrows in the fashion of a human lover[8]. He describes his great bliss in receiving the embrace of God. Through this rapturous divine love and divine embrace he lost all mundane interest in life.

In the ninth centum the sage, finding he could not look at the ordinary things of life, nor easily gain satisfaction in the divine presence of God in the whole world, fixed his mind on His transcendental form (aprdkṛta-vapuḥ) and became full of wailing and lamentation as a means of direct access to it. A great part of this centum is devoted to laments due to his feeling of separation from God. He describes how through constant lamentation and brooding he received the vision of God, but was unhappy because he could not touch Him; and how later on God took human form in response to his prayers and made him forget his sufferings[9].

In many other verses he again describes the emotions of his distress at his separation and temporary union with God; how he sent messages to God through birds; how he felt miserable because He delayed to meet him; how he expected to meet Him at appointed times, and how his future actions in Heaven should be repeated in earth and how his behaviour to God was like that of the Gopīs, full of ardent love and eagerness. In the concluding verses, however, he says that the real vision of God can come only to a deeply devoted mind and not to external eyes.

Hooper gives some interesting translations from the Tiru-vṛuttam of Nāmm’-āḻvār, a few of which may be quoted here to illustrate the nature of his songs of love for God[10]:

Long may she love, this girl with luring locks,
Who loves the feet that heavenly ones adore,
The feet of Kaṇṇan, dark as rainy clouds:
Her red eyes all abrim with tears of grief,
Like darting Kayal fish in a deep pool[11].
Hot in this village now doth blow the breeze
Whose nature coolness is. Hath he, this once,
The rain-cloud hued, his sceptre turned aside
To steal the love-glow from my lady, lorn
For tuḷasī, with wide eyes raining tears?[12]

In separation from the lord the Āḻvār finds delight in looking at darkness, which resembles Kṛṣṇa’s colour:

Thou, fair as Kaṇṇan’s heaven, when he’s away
What ages long it is! He here, a span!
Whether friends stay for many days, or go,
We grieve. Yet, be this spreading darkness blest
In spite of many a cunning trick it has[13].
What will befall my girl with bracelets fair,
With tearful eyes like gleaming Kayal big,
Who wanders with a secret pain at heart
For blooms of tulasl fresh from the Bird’s Lord
Who with that hill protected flocks in storm?[14]

The Āḻvār then laments and pleads with swans and herons to take his message:

The flying swans and herons I did beg,
Cringing: “Forget not, ye, who first arrive,
If ye behold my heart with Kaṇṇan there
Oh, speak of me and ask it ‘Sir not yet
Hast thou returned to her? And is it right?’”

The Āḻvār then laments that the clouds will not take his message. He speaks of the resemblance between the clouds and the Lord:

Tell me, ye clouds, how have ye won the means
That we are thus like Tirumāl’s blest form?
Bearing good water for protecting life,
Ye range through all the sky. Such penance, sure,
As makes your bodies ache, has won this grace!

The friend speaks of the callousness of the lord:

E’en in this age-long time of so-called night
When men must grope, he pities not that she
Stands in her deep immitigable grief....
The jungle traversed by the fawn-eyed girl
With fragile waist, whom sinful I brought forth
After long praise of Kanṇan’s lotus feet....

The Āḻvār sees a likeness of his lord in the blue water-lily, and sees the lord’s form everywhere:

All places, shining like great lotus pools
On a blue mountain broad, to me are but
The beauties of his eye—the lord of earth
Girt by the roaring sea, heaven’s lord, the lord
Of other good souls, black-hued lord—and mine!

The Āḻvār speaks of the greatness of the lord:

Sages with wisdom won by virtuous toil
Assert “His colour, glorious beauty, name,
His form—are such and such.” But all their toil
Has measured not the greatness of my lord:
Their wisdom’s light is but a wretched lamp.

The foster-mother pities the mistress unable to endure the length of the night:

This child of sinful me, with well-formed teeth,
Round breasts and rosy mouth, keeps saying,
“These Fair nights eternal are as my desire
For tuḷasī!”...

Again the foster-mother pities the girl as too young for such ardent love:

Breasts not yet full, and short her tresses soft;
Skirt loose about the waist; with prattling tongue
And innocent eyes....

Again the lord replies to a friend’s criticism of his infatuation for his mistress:

Those lilies red, which are the life of me—
The eyes of her who’s like the heaven of him....

The mistress is unable to endure the darkness and is yet further vexed by the appearance of the moon:

Oh, let the crescent moon which cleaves the dark
Encompassing of night, cleave me as well!
Ah, does it issue forth in brightness now,
That happy bloom may come to desolate me
Who only long for flowers of tulasl ?

The mistress’s friend despairs at the sight of her languishing:

... Ah! as she sobs and lisps
The cloud-hued’s names, I know not if she’ll live
Or if her frame and spirit mild must pass!

Again in Kula-śēkhara’s Tirumal- Tiru-moṛi, C. 5:

Though red fire comes itself and makes fierce heat,
The lotus red blooms not
Save for the fierce-rayed one
Who in the lofty heavens has his seat.
Vitruvakōḍu’s Lord, Thou wilt not remove
My woe, my heart melts not save at Thy boundless love....

With gathered waters all the streams ashine
Must spread abroad and run
And enter the deep sea
And cannot stand outside. So refuge mine,
Save in the shining bliss of entering Thee, is none,
Vitruvakōḍu’s Lord, thick cloud-hued, virtuous one![15]

Again from the same book[16]:

No kinship with the world have I
Which takes for true the life that is not true.
“For thee alone my passion burns,” I cry,
“Raṅgan, my Lord!”
No kinship with this world have I—
With throngs of maidens slim of waist:
With joy and love I rise for one alone, and cry
“Raṅgan, my Lord!”

Again in the Tiru-pāvai, a well-known section of the Nāl-āyira-divya-prabandham, the poetess Āṇḍāḷ conceives herself as a Gopī, requesting her friends to go with her to wake the sleeping Kṛṣṇa,

After the cows we to the jungle go
And eat there—cowherds knowing nought are we,
And yet how great the boon we have, that thou
Wast born among us! Thou who lackest nought,
Gōvinda, kinship that we have with thee
Here in this place can never cease!—If through
Our love we call thee baby names, in grace
Do not be wroth, for we—like children—we
Know nought—O Lord, wilt thou not grant to us
The drum we ask? Ah, Ēlōrembāvāy ![17]

Again Periy-āḻvār conceives himself as Yaśodā and describes the infant Kṛṣṇa as lying in the dust and calling for the moon!

(1)    He rolls round in the dust, so that the jewel on his brow keeps swinging, and his waist-bells tinkle! Oh, look at my son Gōvinda’s play, big Moon, if thou hast eyes in thy face—and then, be gone!

(2)    My little one, precious to me as nectar, my blessing, is calling thee, pointing, pointing, with his little hands! O Big Moon, if thou wishest to play with this little black one, hide not thyself in the clouds, but come rejoicing![18]

Again, Tiru-maṅgaiy says:

Or ever age creep on us, and we need
The staff’s support; ere we are double bent
With eyes fix’d on the ground in front, and feet
That totter, sitting down to rest, all spent:
     We would worship Vadari
     Home of him who mightily
     Suck’d his feigned mother’s breast
     Till she died, ogress confest.

Again Āṇḍāḷ says:

Daughter of Nandagōpāl, who is like
A lusty elephant, who fleeth not,
With shoulders strong: Nappinnāi, thou with hair
Diffusing fragrance, open thou the door!
Come see how everywhere the cocks are crowing,
And in the māthavi bower the Kuyil sweet
Repeats its song.—Thou with a ball in hand,
Come, gaily open, with thy lotus hands
And tinkling bangles fair, Tat we may sing
Thy cousin’s name! Ah, Ēlōrembāvāy!
Thou who art strong to make them brave in fight,
Going before the three and thirty gods,
Awake from out thy sleep! Thou who art just,
Thou who art mighty, thou, O faultless one,
Who burnest up thy foes, awake from sleep!
O Lady Nappinnāi, with tender breasts
Like unto little cups, with lips of red
And slender waist, Lakshmi, awake from sleep!
Proffer thy bridegroom fans and mirrors now,
And let us bathe! Ah, Elōrembāvāyi[19]

In describing the essential feature of the devotion of an Āḻvār like Namm’-āḻvār, called also Parāṅkuśa or Śaṭhakopa, Gōvindā-chāryar, the author of The Divine Wisdom of the Drâviḍa Saints and The Holy Lives of the Âzhvârs, says that according to Nāmm’-āḻvār, when one is overcome by bhakti-exultation and self-surrendering devotion to God he easily attains truth[20]. Nāmm’-āḻvār said that God’s grace is the only means of securing our salvation, and no effort is required on our part but to surrender ourselves to Him.

In the following words Nāmm’-āḻvār says that God is constantly trying to woo us to love Him:

Blissful Lord, heard I; anon my eyes in floods did run,
Oh what is this? I asked. What marvel this? the Perfect one,
Through friendly days and nights, elects with me to e’er remain,
To union wooing me, His own to make; nor let me “lone.”

Nāmm’-āḻvār again writes that God’s freedom is fettered by His mercy. Thus he says:

“O mercy, thou hast deprived God of the freedom of His just will.
Safe under the winds of mercy, no more can God Himself even of His will tear
Himself away from me; for, if He can do so, I shall still exclaim, I am
Victor, for He must purchase the freedom of His will by denying to Himself mercy.”

Illustrating the position, he refers to the case of a devout lady who clasped the feet of the Lord in Varadarāja’s shrine at Kāñcī and said:

“God I have now clasped thy feet firmly;
try if thou canst, spurn me and shake thyself off from me.”

Nāmm’-āḻvār used the term Tuvaḷiḷ or Ninṛu kumiṛume, a Tamil expression of love, which has been interpreted as signifying a continuous whirling emotion of love boring deeper and deeper, but never scattering and passing away. This circling and boring of love in the heart is mute, silent and incapable of expression; like the cow, whose teats filled with milk tingle, cannot withal express by mouth her painful longing to reach her calf who is tethered away from her. Thus, true love of God is perpetual and ever growing[21]. The difference between the love of Nāmm’-āḻvār and of Tiru-maṅgaiy-āḻvār is said to have been described by Yāmuna, as reported in the Bhagavad-vishayam, as of two different kinds.

Tiru-maṅgaiy-āḻvār’s love expresses the experience of a constant companionship with God in a state of delirious, rapturous reciprocation of ravishing love. He was immersed in the fathomless depth of love, and was in the greatest danger of becoming unconscious and falling into a stupor like one under the influence of a narcotic. Nāmm’-āḻvār, however, was in a state of urgent pursuit after God. He was thus overcome with a sense of loneliness and unconscious of his individual self. He was not utterly intoxicated. The energy flowing from a mind full and strong with the ardent expectation of meeting his bridegroom and beloved companion still sustained him and kept him alive[22].

This state is described in Tiru-vāy-moḻi in the following manner:

Day and night she knows not sleep,
In floods of tears her eyes do swim.
Lotus-like eyes! She weeps and reels,
Ah! how without thee can I bear;
She pants and feels all earth for Him.

This love of God is often described as having three stages: recollection, trance and rallying. The first means the reminiscence of all the past ravishment of soul vouchsafed by God. The second means fainting and desolation at such reminiscences and a consciousness of the present absence of such ravishing enjoyments. The third is a sudden lucidity whilst in the state of trance, which being of a delirious nature may often lead to death through the rapid introduction of death-coma[23].

The Āḻvārs were not given to any philosophical speculation but only to ecstatic experiences of the emotion of love for God; yet we sometimes find passages in Nāmm’-āḻvār’s works wherein he reveals his experience of the nature of soul.

Thus he says:

“It is not possible to give a description of that wonderful entity, the soul (ātmā)

—the soul which is eternal, and is essentially characterized by intelligence (jñāna)

—the soul which the Lord has condescended to exhibit to me as His mode, or I related to Him as the predicate is to the subject, or attribute is to substance (or consonants to the vowel A)

—the soul, the nature of which is beyond the comprehension of even the enlightened

—the soul, which cannot be classed under any category as this or that

—the soul whose apperception by the strenuous mental effort called yoga (psychic meditation) is even then not comparable to such perception or direct proof as arises from the senses conveying knowledge of the external world

— the soul (as revealed to me by my Lord) transcending all other categories of things, which could be grouped as ‘body’ or as ‘the senses,’ or as ‘the vital spirit’ (prāṇa), or as ‘the mind’ (manas), or as ‘the will’ (buddhi), being destitute of the modifications and corruptions to which all these are subject;

—the soul, which is very subtle and distinct from any of these;

—neither coming under the description ‘good,’ nor “bad.’ The soul is, briefly, an entity which does not fall under the cognizance of sense-knowledge[24].”

Soul is here described as a pure subtle essence unassociated with impurities of any kind and not knowable in the manner in which all ordinary things are known. Such philosophical descriptions or discussions concerning the nature of reality, or an investigation into the logical or epistemological position of the religion preached by them, are not within the scope and province of the Āḻvārs. They sang songs in an inspired manner and often believed that they themselves had no hand in their composition, but that it was God who spoke through them. These songs were often sung to the accompaniment of cymbals, and the intoxicating melody of the music was peculiar to the Āḻvārs and entirely different from the traditional music then current in South India.

A study of the works of the Āḻvārs, which were collected together by the disciples of Rāmānuja at his special request, and from which Rāmānuja himself drew much inspiration and food for his system of thought, reveals an intimate knowledge of the Purāṇic legends of Kṛṣṇa, as found in the Viṣṇu-purāṇa and the Bhāgavata[25]. There is at least one passage, already referred to, which may well be interpreted as alluding to Rādhā (Nappinnāi), who is described as the consort of Kṛṣṇa. The Āḻvārs refer to the legends of Kṛṣṇa’s early life in Brindavan and many of them play the role either of Yośodā, the friends of Kṛṣṇa, or of the Gopls. The spiritual love which finds expression in their songs is sometimes an earnest appeal of direct longing for union with Kṛṣṇa, or an expression of the pangs of separation, or a feeling of satisfaction, and enjoyment from union with Kṛṣṇa in a direct manner or sometimes through an emotional identification with the legendary personages associated with Kṛṣṇa’s life.

Even in the Bhāgavota-purāṇa (xi, xii) we hear of devotional intoxication through intense emotion, but we do not hear of any devotees identifying themselves with the legendary personages associated with the life of Kṛṣṇa and expressing their sentiment of love as proceeding out of such imaginary identification. We hear of the Gopī’s love for Kṛṣṇa, but we do not hear of any person identifying himself with GopI and expressing his sorrow of separation. In the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, Bhāgavata-purāṇa and the Harivaṃśa, the legendary love tales are only episodes in the life of Kṛṣṇa. But they do not make their devotees who identified themselves with the legendary lovers of Kṛṣṇa realize their devotion through such an imaginary identification.

All that is therein expressed is that the legendary life of Kṛṣṇa would intensify the devotion of those who were already attached to Him. But the idea that the legend of Kṛṣṇa should have so much influence on the devotees as to infuse them with the characteristic spirits of the legendary personages in such a manner as to transform their lives after their pattern is probably a new thing in the history of devotional development in any religion. It is also probably absent in the cults of other devotional faiths of India. With the Āḻvārs we notice for the first time the coming into prominence of an idea which achieved its culmination in the lives and literature of the devotees of the Gaudīya school of Bengal, and particularly in the life of Caitanya, which will be dealt with in the fourth volume of the present work.

The transfusion of the spirits of the legendary personages in the life-history of Kṛṣṇa naturally involved the transfusion of their special emotional attitudes towards Kṛṣṇa into the devotees, who were thus led to imagine themselves as being one w'ith those legendary personalities and to pass through the emotional history of those persons as conceived through imagination. It is for this reason that we find that, when this spirit was emphasized in the Gaudīya school and the analysis of erotic emotions made by the rhetorical school of thinkers from the tenth to the fourteenth century received recognition, the Gaudīya Yaiṣṇavas accepted the emotional analysis of the advancing stages of love and regarded them as indicating the stages in the development of the sentiment of devotion. As is well illustrated in Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Ujjvala-nīla-maṇi, the transition from ordinary devotion to deep amorous sentiment, as represented in the legendary lives of Gopīs and Rādhā, was secured by sympathetic imitation akin to the sympathetic interest displayed in the appreciation of dramatic actions.

The thinkers of the rhetorical school declare that a spectator of a dramatic action has his emotions aroused in such a manner that in their excess the individual limitations of time and space and the history of individual experiences which constitute his ordinary personality vanish for the time being. The disappearance of the ordinary individual personality and the overflow of emotion in one direction identify the person in an imaginary manner not only with the actors who display the emotion of the stage, but also with the actual personalities of those dramatic figures whose emotions are represented or imitated on the stage. A devotee, may, by over-brooding, rouse himself through autointoxication to such an emotional stage that upon the slightest suggestion he may transport himself to the imaginary sphere of a Gopī or Rādhā, and may continue to feel all the earnest affections that the most excited and passionate lover may ever feel.

It seems fairly certain that the Āḻvārs were the earliest devotees w'ho moved forward in the direction of such emotional transformation. Thus King Kula-śēkhara, who w'as an Āḻvār and devotee of Rāma, used to listen rapturously to the Rāmāyaṇa being recited to him. As he listened he became so excited that, when he heard of Rāma’s venturing forth against Rāvaṇa, his demon opponent, he used to give orders to mobilize his whole army to march forward towards Laṅkā as an ally of Rāma.

The devotional songs of the Āḻvārs show an intense familiarity with the various parts of the legendary life of Kṛṣṇa. The emotions that stirred them were primarily of the types of parental affection (as of a mother to her son), of friends and companions, servants to their masters, sons to their father and creator, as also that of a female lover to her beloved. In the case of some Āḻvārs, as that of Nāmm’-āḻvār and Tiru-maṇgaiy-āḻvār, the last-mentioned type assumes an overwhelming importance. In the spiritual experiences of these Āḻvārs we find a passionate yearning after God, the Lord and Lover; and in the expressions of their love we may trace most of the pathological symptoms of amorous longings which have been so intensely emphasized in the writings of the Vaiṣṇavas of the Gaudīya school. In the case of the latter, the human analogy involving description of the bodily charms of the female lover is often carried too far. In the case of the Āḻvārs, however, the emphasis is mostly on the transcendant beauty and charm of God, and on the ardent longings of the devotee who plays the part of a female lover, for Kṛṣṇa, the God.

The ardent longing is sometimes expressed in terms of the pitiable pathological symptoms due to love-sickness, sometimes by sending messengers, spending the whole night in expectation of the Lord, and sometimes in the expressions of ravishing joy felt by the seemingly actual embrace of the Lord. We hear also of the reciprocation of love on the part of the Lord, who is described as being infatuated with the beauty and charms of the beloved, the Āḻvār. In the course of these expressions, the personages in the legendary account of Kṛṣṇa’s life are freely introduced, and references are made to the glorious episodes of His life, as showing points that heighten the love of the lady-lover, the Āḻvār. The rapturous passions are like a whirlpool that eddies through the very eternity of the individual soul, and expresses itself sometimes in the pangs of separation and sometimes in the exhilaration of union.

The Āḻvār, in his ecstatic delight, visualizes God everywhere, and in the very profundity of his attainment pines for more. He also experiences states of supreme intoxication, when he becomes semi-conscious, or unconscious with occasional breaks into the consciousness of a yearning. But, though yearning after God is often delineated on the analogy of sex-love, this analogy is seldom carried to excess by studied attempts at following all the pathological symptoms of erotic love. It therefore represents a very chaste form of the expressions of divine love in terms of human love.

The Āḻvārs were probably the pioneers in showing how love for God may be on terms of tender equality, softening down to the rapturous emotion of conjugal love. The Śaivism of South India flourished more or less at the same time. The hymns of the Śaivas are full of deep and noble sentiments of devotion which can hardly be excelled in any literature; but their main emphasis is on the majesty and the greatness of God and the feeling of submission, selfabnegation and self-surrender to God. The spirit of self-surrender and a feeling of clinging to God as one’s all is equally dominant among the Āḻvārs; but among them it melts down into the sweetness of passionate love. The Śaiva hymns are indeed pregnant with the divine fire of devotion, but more in the spirit of submissive service.

Thus, Māṇikka-vāchakar, in his Tiru-vūcha kam, speaking of Śiva, says[26]:

And am I not Thy slave ? and did’st Thou not make me Thine own, I pray?
All those Thy servants have approached Thy Foot; this body full of sin
I may not quit, and see Thy face—Thou Lord of Çiva-world!—I fear, And see not how to gain the sight!

All false am I; false is my heart; and false my love; yet, if he weep,
May not Thy sinful servant Thee, Thou Soul’s Ambrosial sweetness, gain?
Lord of all honied gladness pure, in grace unto Thy servant teach The way that he may come to Thee!

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

There was no love in me towards Thy Foot,
  O Half of Her with beauteous fragrant locks!
By magic power that stones to mellow fruit
  converts, Thou mad’st me lover of Thy Feet.
Our Lord, Thy tender love no limit knows.
  Whatever sways me now, vvhate’er my deed,
  Thou can’st even yet Thy Foot again to me
  display and save, O Spotless Heavenly One!

The devotee also felt the sweetness of God’s love and the fact that it is through Divine Grace that one can be attracted towards Him and can love Him:

Honey from any flower sip not, though small
  as tiniest grain of millet seed!
Whene’er we think of Him, whene’er we see,
  whene’er of Him our lips converse,
Then sweetest rapture’s honey ever flows,
  till all our frame in bliss dissolves!
To Him alone, the mystic Dancer, go;
  and breathe His praise, thou humming-bee!

Footnotes and references:


MS. from Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Madras.


kauṭilyavatsu karaṇa-tritaye’pi jantuṣv
ātmīyam eva karaṇa-tritayaika-rūpyam
sandarśya tānapi hariḥ sva-vaśīkarotīty
ācaṣṭa sāndra-karuṇo munir aṣṭamena.


mokṣādaraṃ sphuṭam avekṣya munir mukunde
mokṣaṃ pradātuṃ sadrkṣa-phalaṃ pravrtte
ātme-ṣṭam asya pada-kiñkarataika-rūpaṃ
mokṣā-khya-vastu navame niraṇāyi tena.


sarvaṃ jagat samavalokya vibhoś śarīraṃ
tad-vācinaś ca sakalān dpi śabda-rāśīn
taṃ bhūta-bhautika-mukhān kathoyan padārthān
dāsyaṃ cakāra vacasaiva muniś caturthe.


taṃ puruṣā-rtham itarā-rtha-rucer nivṛttyā
sāndra-spṛhaḥ samaya-deśa-vidūragaṃ ca
ipsuḥ śucā tad-an-avāpti-bhuvā dvitīye
strī-bhāvanāṃ samadhigamya munir mwnoha.


prītāḥ paraṃ harir arnuṣya tadā svabhāvād
saṃśliṣṭavān idam uvāca munis tṛtīye.


śokaṃ ca taṃ pari-jihīrṣur ivākhilānāṃ
sargā-di-kartur anukāra-rasena śaureḥ
tasya pravṛttir akhilā racitā maye’ ti
tad-bhāva-bhāvita-manā munir āha ṣaṣṭhe.


kopam mama praṇaya-jaṃ praśamayya kṛṣṇa
svā-dhīnatām ātanute' ti sa-vismayaḥ saḥ
svyīāṃ viruddha-jagad-ākṛṭitāṃ ca tena
sandarśitām anubabhūva munis trtlye.


saṅgaṃ nivarttya mama saṃsṛti-maṇḍale māṃ
saṃsthāpayan katham asī’ ty anucoditena
āścaryya-loka-tanutām api darśayitvā
vismāritaḥ kila śucaṃ hariṇā' ṣṭame' sau.


Hymm of the Āḻvaṛs, by J. S. M. Hooper, pp. 61-88. _


The maid who is represented as speaking here stands for Āḻvār’s disciple, and the lady in love is the mistress, and Kannan is Kṛṣṇa, the Lord.


This is also a speech from the maid, and tuḷasī stands for Kṛṣṇa.


The time of separation is felt to be too long, and the time of union is felt to be too short.


Lamentation of the mother for the girl, the Āḻvār.


Hooper, op. cit. p. 48.


Ibid. p. 44


Hooper, op. cit. p. 57.


Ibid. p. 37


Hooper, op. cit. p. 55.


Bhagavad-vishayam, Bk. 1, p. 571, as quoted in Gōvindāchāryar’s Divine Wisdom of the Drâviḍa Saints.



Divine Wisdom, of the Drâviḍa Saints, pp. 127-128.


See the Bhagavad-vishayam, Bk. VI, p. 2865 ; also Divine Wisdom, pp. 130,131.


Bhagavad-vishayam, Bk. VII, p. 3194; also Divine Wisdom, p. 151.


Divine Wisdom, p. 169; also Tiru-vāy-moḻi, vm. 5-8.


Sir R. G. Bhandarkar notes that the Āḻvār Kula-śēkhara, in his work Mukunda-mālā, quotes a passage from the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (xi. 2. 36) (The Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems, p. 70). This has been challenged by S. K. Aiyangar, in his Early History of Vaiṣṇavism in South India, who says that this passage is absent from all the three editions (a Kannaḍa, a Grantha, and a Devanāgarī Edition) which were accessible to him (p. 28). It is further suggested there that the allusion in the passage is doubtful, because it generally occurs at the end of most South Indian books by way of an apology for the faults committed at the time of the recitation of holy verses or the performance of religious observances.


Pope’s translation of the Tiru vācha-kam, p. 77.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: