Tiruvaymoli (Thiruvaimozhi): English translation

by S. Satyamurthi Ayyangar | 388,514 words

This is the English translation of the Tiruvaymoli (or, Thiruvaimozhi): An ancient Tamil text consisting of 1102 verses which were sung by the poet-saint Nammalvar as an expression of his devotion to Vishnu. Hence, it is an important devotional book in Vaishnavism. Nammalvar is one of the twelve traditional saints of Tamil Nadu (Southern India), kn...

Appendix: The ‘Uhhaya Vedanta’ concept in Sri Vaishnavism

1. ‘Ubhaya Vedānta’—the two Vedāntas:

The two Vedāntas,which are like unto a pair of eyes, are the Saṃskṛt and the Draviḍian (Tamil) texts, respectively. The Saṃskṛt Vedas are better known than the Draviḍian counterpart and the generality of us are at least aware of the existence of the former, even if they have not been studied, as such, and much less, delved into. For resolving the doubts and difficulties, which might arise in the interpretation of the ‘Karma-Kāṇḍa’ of the Saṃskṛt Veda, dealing with the rites and rituals,in propitiation of ‘Brahman’ (God), Sage Jaimini brought out a work, known as ‘Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Śāstra’. Likewise, Sage Vyāsa produced the ‘Śārīraka Mīmāṃśā’ aliasUttara mīmāṃśā Śāstra as an aid to the proper understanding of the ‘Brahma Kāṇḍa’ (Upaniṣads) expatiating on the glory of ‘Brahman’. It is this glossary, that is commonly referred to, as the ‘Brahma Sūtra’ or ‘Bādarāyaṇa Sūtra’. The elucidation, furnished in the ‘Brahma Sūtras is indispensable to the Vedāntins who aspire for a proper appreciation and understanding of the Supreme Reality, the final goal and the infallible means of attaining it, as set out in the ‘Upaniṣads’. In fact, only those, well-versed in the ‘Brahma Sūtras’, are known as ‘Vedāntins’ or Brahma Jñānis’. In order to bring the cardinal principles and tenets, embedded in these Sūtras, within the fair grasp of all, the three great exponents of the Vedic religion, Śrī (Adi) Śaṅkarācārya, Śrī Rāmānujācārya and Śrī Ānanda Tīrtha (Madhvācārya) with Advaitik, Viśiṣtādvaitik and Dvaitīk approach respectively, have brought out their own commentaries of the ‘Brahma Sūtra’.

It is noteworthy that, unlike the names given to the commentaries of others viz. Śaṅkara Bhāṣya, Madhva Bhāṣya, Nīlakaṇṭa Bhāṣya and so on, the commentary of Śrī Rāmānuja is known as ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’. To the Śrīvaiṣṇavites, that is to say, the Viśiṣtādvitins, who are the followers of ‘Śrī Rāmānuja, ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’ is the great sustainer. It would be significant to mention, at this stage, that it has evoked the admiration of even Western Philosophers of the calibre of Prof. Maxmuller, Dr. Thibaut etc. Extracted below is the mature verdict of Prof. Maxmuller, resulting from years of dedicated deliberations, set forth in his very last work, “The six systems of Indian Philosophy—Page 245.”

“We ought, therefore, to look on Rāmānuja as a perfect equal of Śaṅkara, so far as his right of interpreting Bādarāyaṇa’s Sūtras, according to his opinion, is concerned. It is the same here, as everywhere, in Hindu Philosophy. The Individual philosopher is but the mouthpiece of tradition and that tradition goes further and further, the more we try to fix it chronologically. While Śaṅkara’s system is Advaita’ (i.e.), absolute monism, that of Rāmānuja has been called Viśiṣṭādvaita, the doctrine of unity with attributes or monism with a difference. Of course, with Rāmānuja also, Brahman is the highest reality, Omnipotent, OmniScient, but this Brahman is, at the same time, full of compassion or love. This is a new and very important feature in Rāmānuja’s Brahman, as compared with the icy self-sufficiency, ascribed to Brahman by Śaṅkara.

Even more important and more humanising is the recognition that souls, as individuals, possess reality, that ‘Cit’ and ‘Acit’, what perceives and what does not perceive, soul and matter, forming, as it were, the body of Brahman, are, in fact, modes (Prākāra) of Brahman”.

The portion italicized in the above extract, namely, “This is a new and very important feature”, has to be taken to mean that this feature of Vedānta had failed to receive proper treatment at the hands of the earlier monistic philosophers and it was left to Śrī Rāmānuja to expound it. Indeed, the doctrine of a loving God is as old as the Vedas. Not to cite many passages, one alone from the Rig-Veda (9-32-5), (Yoṣājāramivapriyaṃ) avers that love between God and souls is as fervid as between a lover and his beloved. As a matter of fact, Sage Bodhāyana compiled a copious guide to the ‘Brahma Sūtra’. It was reproduced by sages Taṅka, Dramiḍa, Guhadeva and others, in a condensed form. Śrī Rāmānuja set unto himself the task of bringing out his commentary (Śrī Bhāṣya) along the lines adopted by these Ṛṣis. While this is not the place to expatiate on the greatness and grandeur of ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’, it would be quite pertinent to point out that Śrī Rāmānuja, as the propounder of the Viśiṣṭā-dvaitik method of interpreting the Vedānta Sūtras, was largely inspired by the intuitive experiences and mystic utterances of that great Sage-poet Śaṭhakopa, better known as Saint Nammāḻvār. One might wonder how, of all the commentators, Śrī Rāmānuja alone was able to go through the entire gamut of the Śrutis and get hold of the relevant ‘Ghaṭaka Śrutis’, the cementing texts, such as ‘yasya ātmā Śarīram’, ‘Yasya pṛtivi Śarīram’, ‘ya ātmani thiṣṭan’, synthesising the various seemingly conflicting texts, the ‘abedha Śrutis’, suggestive of the existence of no more than that single entity—‘Brahman’ and the ‘bedha Śrutis’, high-lighting the difference between Brahman, the Supreme Lord, on the one hand and the Sentient and non-sentient beings, on the other. It is indeed unique, the aura of judgement with which he has wound up each one of his commentaries on the Vedānta Sūtras, declaring, ‘Itisarvaṃ samañjasaṃ’, that is, everything has thus been reconciled. It may be mentioned, in passing that those other systems of philosophic thought, which are either alien to the Vedas and heretical or are distorted interpretations of the vedic texts, have also been duly refuted by Śrī Rāmānuja, in his ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’.

2. The gulf between the ‘abedha’ and ‘bedha

It was not as if the ‘Ghaṭaka’ or the cementing texts, bridging the gulf between the ‘abedha’ and ‘bedha’ śrutis and reconciling them, were not already there for other commentators to see but it can be safely asserted that Śrī Rāmānuja’s special attention was drawn to them by Saint Nammālvār, right at the commencement of Tiruvāymoḻi. In the very first decad of the first centum of this scintillating hymnal, the Saint has admirably conveyed the contents of the ‘ghaṭaka Śruti’ in the compact Tamil expression, ‘Uṭalmicai Uyireṉa’. This conveys the truth that God permeates everything like unto the soul permeating the body, the body-soul relationship (Śarīra Śarīri bhāva), which is the key to Viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy. Later on, the Saint expands this idea by referring to God as the ghee remaining latent in the fresh-drawn milk, so on and so forth. As a matter of fact, this body-soul relationship, already dealt with in Śubālopaniṣad and Antaryāmi Brāhmaṇa etc.,was expounded by Nammāḻvār, in more than twenty stanzas of Tiruvāymoḻi. Śrī Rāmānuja’s Brahman (God) was the one postulated, rather revealed and revelled in, by all the love-intoxicated Saints that went before him, the monarch of whom was Saint Nammāḻvār—a God, full of compassion and a host of other auspicious traits, the repository of all conceivable excellence, immeasurable and unlimited, in dire contrast to the icy-cold, abstract God, formless and colourless, conceived by Śrī Śaṅkara. In Tiruvāymoḻi, the opening line itself throws open the flood-gate of the mystic vision of the Lord, conceived as the abode of inexhaustible bliss, that cuts out all fatigue. Actually, the glorious impact of the ‘Dramiḍa Vedānta the ‘Divya Prabandham’ on Ācārya Rāmānuja, particularly. Saint Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi (for which there is a peerless commentary, known as Īṭu muppattāṟāyiram), has to be dealt with separately and, in extenso. And now, let us pass on to the other Vedānta, the Drāmiḍa Vedānta.

3. Drāmiḍa Vedānta:

(i) The love-laden hymns of the Āḻvārs, the mystics, soaked in God-love, are collectively known as ‘Divya Prabandham’, rightly accorded a stature equal to that of the Saṃskṛt Vedas and, in a sense, even superior to them. The Drāmiḍa Vedānta has an edge over its Saṃskṛt counterpart, by virtue of the former’s clear and straightforward exposition of the Vedic truths, shorn of all quibblings and equivocation. Extending the comparison a little further, it may be pointed out that the Āḻvārs occupied a unique position to which the Vedic Ṛṣis could make no pretensions. Unlike the Ṛṣis, who had to attain to a standard of near perfection through their own efforts and personal equipment, the Āḻvārs were blessed with a full and complete knowledge of God-head and the Śāstras in all their ramifications, by a self-revealing God, the fountain-head of all knowledge and hence the superior excellence of their Songs Divine. The four thousand hymns of these seer-poets constitute a veritable treasure of divine knowledge, full of light, love, beauty, harmony and bliss. All the Vaiṣṇavas sing in chorus these inspired songs which flowed from the sacred lips of the Āḻvārs, at home and in the temples, in all worships, ceremonies and rituals, and none can fail to feel the thrill of divine presence, wherever they are sung. Śrī Vedānta Deṣika, the great Vaiṣṇava Acārya, a veritable lion among poets and logicians, has gratefully acknowledged, in the opening stanza of his ‘Adhikāra Saṅgraha’, the unfailing help and guidance received by him from the Divya Prabandham; he exlaims that these inspired hymns have resolved all doubts by shedding adequate light on the moot points, the dark corners, the by-lanes and slippery spots in the Saṃskṛt Vedas. Two works of this literary giant, entitled ‘Dramiḍopaniṣad Sāram’ and ‘Dramiḍopaniṣad Tātparya Ratnāvali’ purvey to the scholars of the Samskṛt-knowing world the salient teachings of Nammāḻvār, keeping them all spell-bound.

(ii) The Sweet-sounding hymns of the ‘Divya Prabandham’ are couched in the seemingly simple Tamil language and yet, they would not have yielded their real contents to the lay public, but for the great commentators—the versatile stalwarts of the calibre of Periyavāccān Piḷḷai, acclaimed as the prince among commentators, Vaṭakku Tiruvītipiḷḷai of cryptic memory, who could faithfully reproduce, in extenso, the elaborate discourses of Nampiḷḷai on ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ and others. But then, these commentaries, copious and illuminating though, are in what is known as ‘maṇipravāḷa’ style, an admixture of Tamil and Saṃskṛt, besides being replete with quotations from several other works, the Samskṛt Vedas, the Śāstras, the Itihāsas, Purāṇas etc., not to mention the peculiarities of the dialect, current in those good olden days. For a proper appreciation of these commentaries and deriving the maximum benefit, all by oneself, one has to possess the requisite equipment or, alternatively, study at the feet of great and competent scholars for quite some years. This is hardly possible for most of us in the modern age, notorious for its stress and strain, the old order of things, particularly, the traditional course of instructions in those pristine environments having been replaced by modern Schools and Colleges.

(iii) At this stage, it seems necessary to eliminate even that little bit of risk namely, contamination of public thinking in regard to the exalted status of the hymns of the Āḻvārs, which enjoy parity with the Saṃskṛt Vedas and the stature of the Āḻvārs themselves. The expression ‘Āḻvār’ means one who has taken a deep plunge into the nectarean ocean of the Lord’s innumerable auspicious attributes and His great glory. Being over-whelmed by an insatiate longing for incessant communion with God, the Āḻvārs not only remained immersed in such devout contemplation but literally got dissolved in the Lord, like milk, honey, sugar-candy and porridge. Śrī Vaiṣṇava tradition has fixed the number of the Āḻvārs, once for all, as twelve, since their peerless devotion is deemed unapproachable by ordinary, bound souls, however exalted be their illumination and purity. It is held that they are the eternal, ever-free angels in Heaven, very near and dear to the Lord who once, at His behest, came down in human form, to demonstrate, both by precept and example, the nature of true devotion to the benighted and erring mortals below. Fifth in the chronological order, in which the Āḻvār Saints are said to have made their appearance in this abode of ours, came Māṟaṉ, later known as Śaṭhakopa (the one who overcame the mischief of the ill-wind, known as ‘Śaṭha’, in Saṃskṛt parlance, that deals a deadly blow to the babe just emerging from the mother’s womb and makes it forget its past life) and Saint Nammāḻvār. Born of parents who were mere peasants, at the beginning of the current spell of kaliyuga, deep south in Tamil Nādu (Kurukūr, also known as Āḻvār Tirunakari), Māraṉ became a problem child unto his parents who had fervently prayed to Lord Viṣṇu for progeny. The child would not drink even the mother’s breast-milk when offered, would not speak, would sit, if seated, stand, if made to stand on the legs, lie down, if put to bed and, in short, it made no movement on its own. In sheer despair, the parents took the child to the local temple of Lord Adinātha, deposited it on the floor and prayed to the Lord, their eyes remaining closed, rapt in meditation. But, when they opened their eyes, they did not find the child. To their utter surprise, they discovered the child, seated in a lotus posture (Padmāsana) inside the hollow of a tamarind tree in the quadrangle of the temple, absorbed in yogic meditation. The young Saint is said to have remained in the same posture for thirty two years, meditating on Lord Viṣṇu and communing with Him, prior to his ascent to the Lord’s lotus feet in Heaven.

An elderly brahmin (later known as Madhurakavi Āḻvār), also born near Kurukūr, the birth place of Nammāḻvār, who was sojourning in Northern India, witnessed one day the unusual phenomenon of a resplendent sun in the southern horizon. Struck by great wonder, the Elder moved, on and on, towards this unprecedented source of rare brilliance and eventually reached his destination, namely, the tamarind tree in the temple at Āḻvār Tirunakari. Coming face to face with the juvenile Saint, sitting motionless inside the hollow of the tree, almost insensate, the perseverent visitor wished to know whether the youngster was at all alive. When queried by the new-comer, “Sire I if the little one is born in the womb of the dead (inert) matter, what will the former feed on and where will it lie?”, pat came the answer from the Saint, equally cryptic,“that it will eat and there it will lie,” signifying that the ‘Jīva’ (individual soul, subatomic in size) imbedded in inert matter, will partake of the characteristics of matter and literally get lost in it. Realising that he had, at long last, got hold of the master, the spiritual mentor he was in search of, the Elder stayed on, listening to the rapturous out-pourings from the love-laden heart of the Saint and swearing undivided allegiance to him, relegating even God to a secondary place. This is borne out by the sweet-tongued Elder’s own hymn of remarkable fervour (11 verses), captioned “Kaṇṇinuṇ Ciruttāmpu”. History has it that at a time when the four thousand hymns of the Āḻvārs had faded out of existence, Śrīman Nāthamuni (10th Century) propitiated, by dint of his yogic powers, Saint Nammāḻvār, right in front of the holy tamarind tree inside the temple at Āḻvārtirunakari, by reciting the aforesaid eleven verses of Madhurakavi Āḻvār, in adoration of the great master, as many as twelve thousand times. As a result of this yoga, Nammāḻvār appeared before Śrīman Nāthamuni and recited the four thousand hymns composed by all the Āḻvārs put together. Having collected these hymns in this extraordinary manner, Śrīman Nāthamuni handed them down to posterity, in an unbroken succession down to this day, vide ‘Guruparamparā prabhāvam—6,000 grantha” as well as ‘Guruparamparā Sāram’ of Śrī Vedānta Deśikar. It was, in this very context, that Nammāḻvār came to be extolled as the Chief of the clan of ‘Prapannas’ and looked upon as the figurative embodiment, within himself, of all the Āḻvārs, he being the body and the other Āḻvārs, the limbs thereof. His hymns are regarded as having the sanctity of the Vedas, being on a par with the Samskṛit Vedas, while those of the other Āḻvārs are treated as the ‘Vedāṅgas’ (ancillaries). No doubt, all the Āḻvārs were imbued with divine fervour of a very high order, having taken a deep plunge into the oceanic bliss of God-love. And yet, it has to be conceded that, for sheer philosophical profundity and mystic fervour, Nammāḻvār stands apart from the other Āḻvārs, on a pedestal of his own. Śrī Parāśara Bhaṭṭar, who flourished in the Vaiṣṇavite firmament nearly nine hundred years ago, has referred, in his laudatory hymns, known as ‘Śrī Raṅgarāja Stava’, to the Icons (idols) of Nammāḻvār and the other Āḻvārs, enshrined in one part of the spacious temple in Śrīraṅgam. As already stated, Sri Ramanuja made admirable use of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ and looked upon it as a sure and certain guide in resolving many an abstruse point while writing out his commentary (Śrī Bhāṣya) on the Brahma Sūtras. Therefore it is that he issued a mandate, as it were, in the last of his nine works, namely, the ‘Nitya Grantha’ depicting the daily routine to be followed by the devout, that recital of the hymns of Āḻvārs, sweet to hear, (Śrutisukhaiḥ,, in Saṃskṛt, and Cevikkiniya Ceñcol, in Tamil) should form an integral part of the daily worship which would otherwise be fruitless and insipid. That great savant, Śrī Āḷavantār, (Yāmuna) of vast and unfathomable learning, looked upon Nammāḻvār, as ‘All in-one’, the sum-total of all happiness, derived through earthly relations and riches, in just the same way as the Āḻvār comprehended the Supreme Lord. And then, none can fail to notice the enormous depth of devotion of Kūrattāḻvān, the illustrious father of Parāśara Bhaṭṭar and a disciple very close to Śrī Rāmānuja. In Āḻvāṉ’s Samskṛt hymns, the manner in which he adores Nammāḻvār, every now and then, is unique.

(iv) The foster-mother: Śrī Rāmānuja has been acclaimed by his contemporaries, as the foster-mother, who nourished the ‘Divya Prabandham’ with the utmost zeal and devotion. The invocatory stanzas, which are recited before chanting ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ and ‘Periya Tirumoḻi’, the grand apocalypse of Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār, echo this sentiment and even go to the extent of praying unto Śrī Rāmānuja to grant the votaries the requisite strength of memory for retaining, in their minds, the hymns of the Āḻvārs. Indeed, this redounds to the credit and glory of Śrī Rāmānuja, who spared no pains to ensure the intensive and systematic propagation of the hymns in the various pilgrim centres, dissemination of their inner (esoteric) meanings through elaborate commentaries and so on. But for Śrī Rāmānuja’s unremitting zeal and attention, in this direction, the ‘Divya Prabandhas’ might have been, once again, confined to the limbo of oblivion, as did happen in the days before Śrīman Nāthamuni.

(v) Oh, what a spell!

For the proper sustenance and nourishment of God-love, the ‘Divya Prabandham’ of the Āḻvārs stands right on top. Even the mere text, let alone the meaning thereof, makes enchanting reading, and those, who follow the meaning also and delve into it, ate bound to get themselves transported to the region of ecstasy. No wonder, therefore, our Pūrvcāryas—Śrīman Nāthamuni, Yāmuna, Rāmānuja, Kūrattāḻvān, Parāśara Bhaṭṭar and other great scholars had an abiding interest in, and marked partiality for the hymns of the Āḻvārs, despite their own profound learning in the Samskṛt vedas and virtual mastery over all the Śāstras. It is always up to us to freely partake of the sumptuous repast, served to us by these great preceptors, by dint of their delving deep into the oceanic depths of not only the Saṃskṛt Vedas but also the Dramiḍa Vedas. It is worth recalling in this connection the emotional upsurge and rapturous delight of a Not th Indian disciple, on his initiation into the beauty of beauties, which ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ undoubtedly is. Śrī Śudarśanācārya Śāstri, a staunch disciple of the famous (late) Govardhanam Rangācāriyār Swāmi, the founder of Rangji Mandir at Vṛndāvan (Uttara-Pradesh), studied ‘Bhagavad Viṣayaṃ’, the commentary on ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’, at the feet of the master.

The entraptured disciple gave vent to his reactions through ten Saṃskṛt ślokas, the gist of which is given below:

“Of the numerous Śāstras, extant in this world, none is comparable to the excellence of the ‘Divya Prabandams’ of the Āḻvārs. Those, who have written Commentaries for these hymns of the Āḻvārs, are the real ‘Brahma-Jñānis’. Only those, who are endowed with the capacity to drink deep of this insatiable nectar-the hymns of the Āḻvārs and the illuminating Commentaries thereof—can justify their existence as well-merited. Oh, what a pity! Tamil is not my mother tongue, born as I was in this part of the country. I, however, revel in the thought that I have been fortunate enough to listen to these marvellous discourses of the Swāmiji, unravelling this priceless treasure. Oh, Lord Śrīman Nārāyaṇa, as one who has taken refuge at the feet of the Govardhanam Swāmi, I have not the slightest doubt about my attaining ‘Mokṣa’ at the end of the current span of life. And yet, oh, Lord, I entreat you, with all the fervour at my command, taking your feet firmly in my hands, that you shall not grant me ‘Mokṣa’, at the end of this life of mine. Pray, let me be reborn in that part of the country, where Tamil is the regional language, the country which reverberates with the sweetness emanating from the hymns of the Āḻvārs, so that I may acquire a complete mastery over all the four thousand stanzas and be openly acclaimed as an ‘Adhyāpaka’ (Master) of the four thousand hymns. Let me sing these songs all the time, to my heart’s fill, not only in one birth but in a number of births, say, seven or eight more, before reaching my ultimate destination. If, however, you grant me ‘Mokṣa’ right now, I will surely get back to Earth, setting at naught the upaniṣadic text ‘Nacapunarāvartate’ and also the Brahma Sūtra,’ Anāvṛtti Śabdāt’, which declare that the High Heavens form the Eternal Land whence there is no returning and those who have reached this ultimate destination are not reborn elsewhere (the dreadful cycle of birth and rebirth grinding to a halt). Yes, I will scrap all these edicts and take rebirth either on the banks of the river Tāmraparṇi (the birth place of Nammāḻvār) or the river Kāvēri or near about Śrīperumputūr (the birth place of Śrī Rāmānuja, the Chief fountain of inspiration for the study of Divya Prabandhas)”.

4. Praise heaped on Divya Prabandhas by the Saṃskṛt Vedas and Purāṇas

The Vedic texts have, in several places, proclaimed the glory of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’. In the first praśna of ‘Kāṭhaka’ portion of ‘Taittirīya Upaniṣad’, which is quite familiar to the students of the Veda, comes the episode of Indra disabusing Bharadvāja of the possibility of the latter mastering the Vedas, even if his span of life were extended beyond the tenure of three hundred years already granted to him. The episode ends up with the greatly disappointed Bharadwāja ultimately attaining salvation through a study of Tiruvāymoḻi, taught to him by Indra. In other words, this is the episode of Bharadwāja’s initiation into ‘Savitur Vidyā’, as Tiruvāymoḻi is otherwise known. Śrīman Nāthamuni, in his yogic comprehension of Saint Nammāḻvār, rightly saw the ‘Savita’ (Sun) in him and extolled him as “Yadgosahasram apahanti......”, meaning:

I bow, in salutation to him, the Bakula-flowered (narcissus) Nammāḻvār, the Sun beaming through the thousand rays of Tiruvāymoḻi, which dispel darkness prevailing among people, where Lord Śrīman Nārāyaṇa resides, wielding His discus and conch and surrounded by His entire retinue, the region adored by the Brahmins, learned in the Śrutis, the cynosure of the Celestials”. As already elucidated, it was this extra-ordinary Sun, the ‘Vakulabhūṣaṇa Bhāskara’ (Saint Nammāḻvār), deep down in the South, whose effulgence attracted the elderly Madhura Kavi, the sweet-tongued poet, who was touring in the far North.

In the ‘Ṛk’, “Sahasra Paramām Devī” of ‘Taittirīya Upaniṣad’, ‘Devi’ stands for praise (Stuthi) which the Veda is. ‘Devī’ is derived from the root ‘Div’, which has several meanings, of which ‘Praise’ is the principal one. The word ‘Durva’, which stands in close proximity, means “the green one”. Indeed, the Dramiḍa Prabandhas are green and juicy. Invocation of ‘Durva Devī’ can only refer to the ‘Divya Prabandhas’, a fact which is further reinforced by the phraselogy, ‘Sahasra Parama’, referring to the thousand pācurams (stanzas) of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ c.f. ‘Sahasra Śākhām Yodhrākṣith Drāmiḍīm Brahma Saṃhithām’ of Śrī Parāśara Bhaṭṭar (Śloka 6 of the first centum of Śri Raṅgarāja Stavam). Even as ‘Puruṣa Sūktha’ is pre-eminent among Vedas, ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ stands foremost among the ‘Divya Prabandhas’. Even as the Saṃskṛt Vedas have several roots, the Dramiḍa Vedas have also their roots—the ‘Sahasra Śākhā’, each stanza of Tiruvāymoḻi being treated as a Śākhā. The expression, ‘adhrākṣīth’ means dissemination of the ‘Dramiḍopaniṣad’ by Śaṭhakopamuni, even as the Saṃskṛt Upaniṣads were disseminated through certain Ṛṣis. ‘Vedebhya Svāḥ’, occurring in the Seventh Kāṇḍa, fifth praśna, is immediately followed by ‘Gadhābhya Svāḥ’, which, according to Śrī Vedānta Deśikar, refers to the ‘Divya Prabandhas’. He has actually used the word ‘gadhā’, treating it as a synonym of ‘Divya Prabandhas’, in. his ‘Dramiḍopaniṣad Tātparya Ratnāvali’.

5. Nampiḷḷai

Nampiḷḷai, the greatest discourser of all times on Saint Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvāymoḻi, said as follows, while commenting on the last stanza of the illustrious work: “Hundreds of thousands of poetshave, no doubt, come into this world after Nammāḻvār and yet, brushing aside their performance as nothing better than the roaring of the sea, if people stick to the hymns of Nammāḻvār, with rapturous delight, it is because of the upsurge of devotion, overflowing its continent through hymns of unparalleled sweetness.” This being the case, one just need not be bothered as to when these works came down to us and when the Āḻvārs lived. The Divya Prabandhas are held in rapturous esteem, not only by the entire hierarchy of the ancient Vaiṣṇava Ācāryas but also by the Celestials in the upper regions, as could be seen from the Indra-Bharadvāja episode, narrated earlier. The advent of the Āḻvārs had been alluded to by the Mahaṛṣīs in the ‘Purāṇas’. Among the Samskṛt Purāṇas, Śrī Bhāgavatam is held in great esteem and reverentially recited by all alike—the Smārthas, Mādhvas and Vaiṣṇavas. Śloka 38 and the following Ślokas of Chapter V of the XI Skandham portend the appearance even in Kaliyuga, of Bhaktas who would look upon God Śrīman Nārāyaṇa, both as the ‘Means’ and the ‘End’, on the banks of the sacred rivers, namely, Tāmraparṇi, Pālār, Kāverī, Gṛtamālā and Prathīci. It is well-known that the ten Āḻvārs were born on the banks of these rivers. The first three Āḻvārs (Poikai, Pēy and Pūtattālvār) and Tirumaḷicai Āḻvār appeared in the Pālār region; Nammāḻvār and Madhurakavi Āḻvār were born on the banks of the river Tāmraparṇi, Periyāḻvār and Śrī Ānḍāl [Āṇḍāl], near Gṛtamālā; Toṇṭaraṭippoṭi, Tiruppāṇaṉ and Tirumaṅkai Āḻvārs, in the Kāverī Region, while ‘Prathīci’, the Western river is said to flow near the birth place of Kula-cēkara Āḻvār. Without undue prevarication, by way of discovering the date of the Mahaṛṣi who foretold the on-coming of the Āḻvārs, it would suffice, for the purpose of the present work, to state that the great Bhaktas, whose coming down to Earth was thus visualised by the Mahaṛṣi, and their hymns are of peerless grandeur and unrivalled excellence, irrespective of the age to which they belonged.

The great preceptor, Empār (Govinda Misrar) has elucidated in an isolated ‘muktaka’ śloka, as follows:

“Sage Vyāsa explained hundreds of Upaniṣads, in his Sūtras, which he once again expounded in ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’, reborn as Nammālvār; the third rebirth in the series was in the person of Rāmānuja, for effecting a proper synthesis of the two Vedāntas through appropriate reasoning, reflecting ‘Brahman’ therein, like a mirror.”

Here then is a glorious continuity of authorship. Nammālvār being a reincarnation of sage Vyāsa and Rāmānuja also being a reincarnation of that sage. As a matter of fact, Vyāsa was the incarnation of Lord Śrīman Nārāyaṇa Himself ‘Kṛṣṇadvaipāyanaṃ Vyāsam Viddhi Nārāyaṇam prabhum......’, “Vyāsāya Viṣṇurūpāya”. The initial unification of the Upaniṣads, in the form of a well-knit garland, known as ‘Śāriraka Mīmāṃsā’, was effected by sage Vyāsa, who reincarnated as Nammāḻvar and imparted a special aroma to the ‘Śāriraka Mīmāṃsā’ through Tiruvāymoḻi, sending into raptures even the Celestials in the yonder region.

This has thus brought out the glory of Śrī Rāmānuja, who harmonised the two Vedāntas into an integrated unity through his ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’. The veracity of the above observation of Empār can well be inferred from the repetition thereof, by no less than Śrī Vedānta Deśikar in his works and again, by Aḷakiya Maṇavāḷa perumal Nāyaṉār, the brilliant author of ‘Ācārya Hṛdayam’. It is this synthesis, the glorious impact, in particular, of the Dramiḍa Vedānta on Śrī Rāmānuja, that has imparted a special aroma, a unique feel and flavour to his ‘Śrī Bhāṣya’ and ‘Gītā Bhāṣya’, neatly spiced and thus marking them out as outstanding, something refreshingly different from the other commentaries in the field.

6. Saint Nammāḻvār and Tiruvāymoḻi:

The unique grandeur and excellence of Saint Nammāḻvār and Tiruvāymoḻi vis-a-vis the Ṛṣis and their works, namely, the Itihāsa-Purāṇas, known as Vedo-Upabrahmaṇas.

While an insatiate longing for incessant communion with the Lord has been a common feature of all the Āḻvārs, in the case of Śaṭhakopa (Nammāḻvār), it was a veritable extra-sensuous infatuation, an organic craving, a consuming passion, baffling description. Pulsating with God-love with every beat of his heart and panting through every pore and cell of his bed y, there was an appalling decentralisation of this hectic activity, each one of his senses, limbs and faculties vying with each other and throbbing for quick consummation. The love-smitten Saint would beckon a parrot to carry a message to the beloved Lord on the yonder heights but, in a state of rapturous impatience, actually commission a peacock, near at hand. In their competitive exuberance to get at the Lord, individually and in the quickest possible manner and time, each faculty of the Āḻvār would aspire to transcend its functional limitations, resulting in an overlapping of functions too. The hands would want to praise Him, the ears would pine to drink deep of His nectarean charm, the eyes would like to offer Him fruits and flowers, so on and so forth, a very extra-ordinary state of affairs indeed! (Tiruvāymoḻi I1I-8). And the beauty of it all is that the Lord responded in a like manner, talking to Śaṭhakopa through His eyes, looking at him through the sweet strains of His flute and so on (Tiruvāymoḻi IX-9-9).

Did not the Lord say, in His ‘Song Celestial’,—

“Even I, the Omniscient and the Omnipotent, cannot express fully how dear I am to the ‘Jñāni’, because there is no limit to his love.”

In the same breath, He also declared, “If the ‘Jñāni’ loves me so much, I love him even more.” (Gītā VII-17) And so, this is a rapport, inherently operating both ways—the direct intuitive experience of the lover and the beloved. It is this Bhakti-rūpāpanna Jñāna or intellectual love of God, that has been referred to, in the opening stanza of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’, as ‘Matinalam’, conferred upon Nammāḻvār by the spontaneous effort of a selfrevealing God, As mentioned earlier, tradition has it that the Saint came into this abode within weeks after Lord Kṛṣṇa went back to the Celestium. The special fascination, which the Saint, therefore, had for this proximate Avatāra, has been dealt with in the body of this work at the appropriate places.

In his inimitable diction, Aḷakiya Maṇavāḷa Perumāḷ Nāyaṉār, the illustrious author of ‘Ācārya Hṛdayam’, brings out admirably the quintessence of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ and the unique splendour and greatness of Saint Nammāḻvār vis-a-vis sages Vyāsa, Parāśara and Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. A study of Tiruvāymoḻi, without referring to this excellent guide, will certainly be very much the poorer for it.

Says this brilliant Author, in aphorisms 51 to 83:

Tiruviruttam”, the first of the four works of Nammāḻvār expanded itself into the sweet-sounding ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’, like unto ‘Ṛg’ veda beaming as the tuneful ‘Sāma’ veda, when attuned to the sweet-sounding notes of the latter. As a matter of fact, ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ is said to be on a par with ‘Cāndogya Sāmam’, of Cāndogyopaniṣad, which is so exquisite as to send the supreme Lord into raptures and made Him declare that, among the Vedas, He is Sāma Veda. (Gītā X-22).

Again, the four works of Nammāḻvār correspond not only to the four Vedas but also to the ‘Vedo upabrahmaṇas’, namely, Śrī Pāñcarātra, Itihāsas and Purāṇas, expatiating on the Lord’s bewitching personality, prowess, traits, cosmic wealth and mighty deeds, directed towards the protection of the Righteous, suppression of evil-doers and resuscitation of ‘Dharma’ (moral standards), as and when they decline.

Whereas the Ṛṣis, with their tapasya-oriented knowledge and the resultant clarity of vision, went on compiling the works uninterruptedly, Nammāḻvār’s profound knowledge, which ripened, rather bloomed into super-abundant love for God, choked him down to a state of trance, particularly when he meditated on the amazing simplicity of the Supreme Lord exhibited during His Avatāra, as Lord Kṛṣṇa. This happened not once but thrice, each spell of such suspended animation lasting as long as six months, the crucial stages being Tiruvāymoḻi, I-3-1, V-10-1 and VIII-8-1. Despite the profundity of their self-acquired knowledge, the Ṛṣis were bound down by ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ and caught in the vortex of worldly life; on the other hand, Nammāḻvār, with his revelational knowledge, got right on top of the world, well beyond its mischief, disentangled and disillu-sioned by a merciful Lord. The Ṛṣis subsisted on the forest produce, roots, fruits and so on, while Lord Kṛśṇa was the sole sustainer for Nammāḻvār, the food that he ate, the water that he drank and the betels he chewed (Tiruvāymoḻi VI-7-1). The Ṛṣis (e.g.) Vaśiṣṭa, and Vedavyāsa, bemoaned the loss of their sons but the only pangs of grief experienced by the Āḻvār, were due to separation from the Lord during those agonising moments, when His glorious vision went out of sight of the former and the rapport between them got snapped.

Nammāḻvār’s works became the cream of the whole compendium of ‘Divya Prabandham’, even as the ‘Puruṣa Sūktam’ gets the pride of place, among the Vedas, ‘Manu Smṛti’ among the Dharma Śāstras, ‘Bhagavad Gītā’ in Mahābhārata and ‘Viṣṇu Purāṇa’, among the Purāṇas. Rid of all their erstwhile equivocations and turbidity, the Saṃskṛt Vedas transformed themselves into the four works of Nammāḻvār in lucid Tamil, with a liquid flow and remarkable clarity. And this is how it is said to have happened. The Vedas, bespeaking the transcendental glory of the Supreme Lord in the High Heavens, took birth as Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, when the Lord came down to Earth as Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa; the same Vedas appeared as ‘Pāñcarātra’ to dwell upon the Lord’s attributes and activities in His ‘Vyūha’ or operative Form, when the seat of action shifts from the high Heaven to the ‘Milk-Ocean’; yet another allotropic form of the Vedas is the ‘Manu Smṛti’, dealing with the ‘Antaryāmi’ aspect of the Lord, as the Internal Controller of all. And row, as the ‘Dramiḍa Veda’, the works of Nammāḻvār revel in the incomparable excellence, the matchless beauty of the Lord’s Area (Iconic) manifestation, with the characteristic clarity imparted by the Author, the chosen medium of the Lord Himself, sweet like the lain water, extracted from the brackish oceanic waters, ready to be partaken by one and all at all times. Unlike the cosmic Sun, which dispels the external darkness alone, ‘Vakula bhūsaṇa Bhāskara’ (Nammāḻvār) could permeate the inner recesses of human beings and rid them of ‘tamas’, the internal darkness.

7. Grace first, Grace last, Grace throughout!

(i) Inspired and illumined by God Himself, Saint Nammāḻvār teaches prominently that the Grace of God is the sole means of our salvation. At this stage, it is indeed very relevant to go deep into this matter of ‘Nirhetuka Kṛpa’ (i.e.) the spontaneous or redemptive Grace of the Lord. We are told that the Lord sheds His grace on us voluntarily and in a manner wholly unrelated to the merit in us. Śrī Rāmānuja used to address the Lord, every now and then, as “Anālocita viśeṣa aśeṣa loka Śaraṇyā”, (Śaraṇāgati gadyam—Śloka 5 and Śrīraṅga Gadyam, Śloka 7) bringing out the benevolent protection extended by the Lord unto one and all of His Subjects, without distinction of ‘High’ and ‘Low’. Śrī Vedānta Desikar exclaims: ‘niṣkiñcchana janasvayaṃ rakṣādhīkṣā’—“The Lord takes great delight in redeeming, of His own accord, those of us who have absolutely no claim whatsoever to His Grace by dint of our own merit, and has made it, as it were, a creed.” This special dispensation redounds to His Great Glory all the more. Our great Ācāryas have, one and all of them, been vociferous enough in emphasising this special trait of the Lord.

(ii) If the means employed are much-too-slender, in comparison with the mighty dimensions of the end achieved and thus pale into insignificance before the latter, it would indeed be idle, rather preposterous to think in terms of correlating, much less equating the ‘means’ with the ‘end.’ The magnitude of the beatific bliss, entailing constant attendance on the Lord in that glorious celestial setting, rules out the possibility of the employment of any means worth the name for achieving it (i.e.) means commensurate with the results achieved. No doubt, the embodied soul cannot but do one thing or another all the time-may be a mixed fare, sometimes indulging in gambling and things of that sort and, at other times, taking to religious pursuits, such as worshipping the Lord and serving His devotees, listening to religious discourses etc. It is not all good or all bad. The very performance of good acts is a reward in itself, as it instils in us a sense of fulfilment. If it also attracts the good-will of the Lord, it is well and good, as He is wonted to lavish on us rewards, hundred-fold. When the reward does come to us, we shall not be foolhardy enough to ascribe it to the merit in us but take it as the merciful dispensation of the Lord. Even those mighty doyens, the veritable store-houses of knowledge, endowed with great spiritual prowess, said in their prayers to the Lord. ‘Akiñcano ahaṃ’, ‘Na dharma niṣṭosmi na cātma vedīna bhakti mām’ (Śloka 22 of Yāmuna’s Stotra Ratnam), ‘Nyasyami akiñcanaḥ Śrīmān! ‘(Śloka 2 of Nyāsa daśaka of Śrī Vedānta Deśika etc.,) What is the ‘Ākiñcanya’, referred to, by these stalwarts? If they did mean to say that they had no merit in them to win over His Grace, it has only served to bring into focus the plain truth that, in spite of all their equipment, they were still so infinitely small that nothing but His redemptive Grace could avail.

Again, but for His Grace descending on us, while still inside our mother’s womb, we shall never be able to turn our thoughts on ‘Mokṣa’, the final bliss. At the commencement of the IX section, Upāyavibhāga Adhikāra of ‘Rahasya traya sāra’, Śrī Vedānta Deśikar has said ‘Nidhānaṃ tatrāpi svayamakhila nirmāṇa nipuṇaḥ’. The word ‘Nidhānaṃ’ means ‘Root-cause’. If the Lord is the root-cause for all the good that accrues to us, His subjects, what is the fun in looking upon ourselves as capable of raising in us a spiritual stature, lofty enough to attract His Grace, ipso facto? It is just against this background that the Lord is being looked upon, as the ‘Ready Means’ (Siddhopāya), the Means and the End, rolled into one. The arguments smacking of a quid pro quo recede to the background, yielding place to the sure and certain knowledge that His Supreme (redemptive) Grace alone matters. If Nammāḻvār’s prayers, in his very first work (Tiruviruttam), for emancipation from this physical bondage impeding his continual enjoyment of Divine bliss, was not fulfilled by the Lord there and then, it was again due to His great concern for the teeming millions of suffering humanity. While granting the Saint, right here, all that enjoyment pined for by him in the yonder Heavens, the Lord deliberately kept him in this abode, for quite some time, so as to get from him all those four scintillating hymnals for the uplift of mankind as a whole. Ate not the Āḻvārs and Ācāryas ‘Tatva darśis’, mentioned by the Lord in Bhagavad Gītā, the propagators of true knowledge, shorn of doubts and despair, discrepancies and deviations?

(iii) The God, postulated by the Saint, is not that icy-cold, abstract being, divorced from every kind of relation which makes up man’s idea of the Divine Being. The Lord is most intimately linked up to us, a personal God who is not a mere principle, but one nearest, dearest and most patent to our heart and understanding, holding relationship such as our Creator, our Father, Donor, Judge and above all, our sole Refuge; His greatness lies not in His might and majesty in the celestial setting in the yonder Heaven, invisible and unapproachable, but in His condescending love and redemptive Grace, shea unto the myriads of His creatures, deep down here, sunk in sorrow. As already pointed out, ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ opens with a characterisation of God, as an inexhaustible fountain of bliss, the repository of a multitude of auspicious qualities, each one of which is of unlimited dimensions (anavadhika-athiśaya), thereby silencing, right at the very start, those philosophising on a ‘Nirguṇa Brahman’, an abstract God, devoid of attributes and predications. It is indeed a matter of Grace galore on the part of the Saint, his melting tenderness of heart and boundless compassion for the fellow-being, badly caught up in the unenviable meshes of earthly existence, that he chose to share with the world at large this revelational knowledge, literally swelling up his rapturous heart and overflowing, so as to be within reach of us all, at this distance of time. No doubt, Gautama Buddha too had, out of pity and compassion for the sufferinghumanity, renounced the regal life of ease and peace and took to mendicancy. But he did not postulate God in his philosophy. Here then is Nammāḻvār, in refreshing contrast, who, even during his ecstatic moments of God-enjoyment, was not unmindful of the worldlings. He would, now and then, address them and, undaunted by their callous indifference, present to them a sure and certain recipe for all their ills and evils, namely, loving surrender to God, with a mind disengaged from the erroneous notions of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. In the opening stanza of his very first work (Tiruviruttam—100 stanzas), Nammāḻvār, the humble petitioner, begins with the grateful recognition of God’s incessant labours, incarnating in ever so many forms to wean away the errant souls steeped in falsehoods, eking out an unholy existence of dirt and devilry through the media of their foul bodies. He also beseeches the Lord’s condescending attention to his own humble petition to rescue mankind from falling into the pit of inferior births, and worse still, the malignant pit of lust (Kāma) and aimless wanderings away from Him, disillusion and lift them up to Divine consciousness, so as to enable them to drink deep of His insatiable beauty and be rivetted to it. This God-love intensified itself in an amazing manner and giew up to astounding dimensions, as successively revealed by his other works, namely, ‘Tiruvāciriyam’ (7 stanzas), ‘Periya Tiruvantāti’ (87 stanzas) and ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’ (1102 stanzas).

(iv) The growth and evolution of the mental state of the Āḻvār on the spiritual plane, as revealed in his four works, have a strong parallel in the mental attitudes of Bharata. The Āḻvār’s state of mind, worked up through ‘Tiruviruttam’, was like that of Bharata, sunk deep in dejection when his mother addressed him as king, on his return to Ayodhyā, soon after king Daśaratha’s demise; in the next work,‘Tiruvāciriyam’, the Āḻvār was like unto an agitated Bharata, who, with his retinue, went into the forest and sought out Rāma; in ‘Periya Tiruvantāti’, the Āḻvār nurtured his God-love, as sedulously as Bharata did, during the long tenure of his stay in Nandigrām where Rāma’s pair of sandals had been installed on the throne and his return from exile was eagerly awaited. And then comes the finale, the blissful consummation in Tiruvāymoḻi like unto the reunion of Rāma and Bharata, followed by Rāma’s coronation and the due fulfilment of their respective roles in keeping with their essential nature. The love of this super-mystic sitting inside the hollow of the tamarind tree in the temple of ‘Ādinātha’ in ‘Āḻvār Tirunakari’, became as vast and expansive as the Lord Himself who, as Trivikrama encompassed the entire universe, high and low. Verily, the Saint’s transcendental love engulfed even the Lord and consumed the very object of love-love, taller than the sky and bigger than the ocean, the very acme of ‘Kṛṣṇa tṛṣṇa’—God-hunger and God-thirst. Says the Saint, in the climactic tenth decad of the tenth centum of ‘Tiruvāymoḻi’, “Once bound to Thee thus, I am so secure that neither Thou canst shake me off nor can I shake Thee off.” The wonderful, all-conquering Lord, quick and responsive, could envelop the Āḻvār’s love, full and flooding, and it was the ultimate realisation of this fact that led him to the transcendental Sanctum (Śrī Vaikuṇṭa), (Tiruvāymoḻi X-10-10 and 11).

(v) It is with the advent of this Bhakti cult that God-love has become the pivot of religion. Unlike the scholastic or speculative theology, as it is called, which, at best, teaches us to know God and produces learned men, doctors and theologians writing commentaries, mystical theology teaches us to love God (wisdom, matured into love of God), producing ardent lovers of the Almighty devoted to His loving service, the fullest blooming of the lotus heart of man, thirsting for spiritual communion with God.


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