Om Sri Chinmaya Satgurave Namah
"If the reader benefits by anything here, including the interpretation or meaning of the verses-- the real credit should go to the purvacharya's and the great bhaktas, who had walked this path of God. Anything that is not suitable or not useful, or not correctly interpreted, needless to say, it is my limited knowledge and my shortcoming. I beg your pardon for these shortcomings.”
We often hear it being said, “Nothing is impossible in the world”. Be that as it may, have we in fact attempted anything that is genuinely “really impossible”? So, what to talk of achieving the impossible! From time immemorial (i) searching the cause for the world, (ii) living beings and (iii) the relationship between these three are considered to be the highest and subtlest enquiry. The name given to the cause of the world is GOD. Though this is accepted throughout the world, yet to many it is just a word. The majority thinks, to have experience of God while living in this world, is impossible. So, to define God and to express the experience with Him is just a beautiful story, fantasy, imagination etc., and it is “really impossible” according to them.
But, India is known for many great people who had direct experience of God, commonly referred to as ‘Bhagwan’. They are called by the name Bhakta (devotee) and the relationship they had with Bhagwan is called as Bhakti (devotion). We can think of defining God and we may even succeed in defining God to a great extent. But to define Bhakti is very difficult and any attempt to define it will lead to embarrassing failure! So then, how do we understand Bhakti? Or how may we develop it without knowing it in its true nature?
This question becomes even more important, as ‘Bhakti’ is the link which connects us to “Bhagawan”. We have to strive to gain it and we can be sure that when we do reach the other side, to Bhakti, it will be simultaneous to finding God and hence achieving the “really impossible”. The only possible attempt to understand Bhakti will be thinking, thinking and again thinking of Bhaktas only; and observing their bhakti and its nature, its form, its expression and not being judgemental in the ordinary sense.
To our fortune there are hundreds and thousands of Bhaktas born in our country from time to time. Each Bhakta is unique and their experiences are also unique. Through their devotion they experienced God directly with the form, as well as God’s intrinsic nature- (Svarupa) as Sat-chit-ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). These Bhaktas in their divine union with God, have expressed their divine experiences through songs which came as effortless, spontaneous outpourings of their heart.
Among these kinds of Bhaktas, in South India, there were 12 Bhaktas of Lord Vishnu. They were called by the name”Alwars”. The word ‘Alwar’ in Tamil means ‘going deep’, which again, in this context, means, “one who is always, at all times and at all places, immersed deep in the love of the Lord ”. Among the 12 Alwars, only few belong to same periods and others different periods and also different parts of Tamilnadu. They have each expressed their love for Bhagawan and their experiences with Bhagawan in poetry. These divine songs are called “Naalaayira Divya Prapandham”, (Naalaayira – 4000, Divya- Divine, Prapandham – a collection of songs).
Among these 12 Alwars, there was only one lady Bhakta. She was called by the name “Andal”. The word “Andal” in Tamil means one who rules. She ruled Bhagavan with her Love and thus earned this name.
In this collection of 4000 songs, Andal’s contribution is 173 verses. The most famous and popular of these is the ‘Thiruppavai’ – 30 verses and the beautiful ‘Nachiar Thirumozhi’ - 143 verses.
Andal is considered as the best of all the ‘Alwars’ because of her very high and intense love for the Lord. She has really achieved ‘the impossible’. She married Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam temple at Tiruchirappalli district in Tamil Nadu, as we saw in the last post.
Is this really possible? When we go through the verses sung by her, there will be a deep sense of feeling emerging from within us, that the Lord had no other choice but to marry her! This conclusion will not be a blind belief but borne out through understanding the depth of Andal’s love for and devotion to the Lord. After this firm faith has arisen in our heart, we will start praying to this great devotee Andal and the Lord to bless us with this very kind of devotion by which we can also merge with HIM. With this only intention, we try to approach the verses of Andal’s “Nachiar Thirumozhi”.
The first stanza in Nachiar Thirumozhi is Andal’s prayer to Kamadevan – Cupid, Manmadhan -- to help her unite with Lord Venkatesha of Thirumala. The Bhava behind this worship is beautiful and the technique she adopts to attract the Lord in a different way shows the pure mind and singlepointedness of Andal. Here, we are ready to dive deep into the flood of Andal’s devotion and if we are lost and unable to come out of this flood, we are blessed!
In commenting on the 143 verses of NT, I have segmented it according to different topics and thus we will examine these 143 under 10 topics...
We begin with Topic One, Cupid, where the commentary covers the first 10 verses. In today's post, however I will be posting only 3 out of 10 of these verses,
Topic One: Cupid as messenger to Krishna
Verse One: Anangadeva, the whole month of “Thai” (Jan 15 – Feb 12) I spent cleaning the route by which you will come and during the first 2 weeks of “Masi” (Feb 13 – March 14) I spread that route with very fine soft sands and decorated the place beautifully and worshipped you and your brother “Samban”, so that I will attain good; please, I pray to you that you have to shower your grace and make me unite with Vengadavar (Lord Venkatesa)
If some big task has to be achieved for us through another, how much humbleness we show to that person! We will ensure that our behavior and conduct satisfies him, that he is happy in every way and we will go to any extent to satisfy him, please him. This, if we value the task whose accomplishment we seek, so highly. Pay attention, we are willing to do so much to achieve something in this world. The things and attractions of this world mean so much to us for which we are willing to trade away what life has given us.
Andal does not want anything from the world. Let that not give rise to pity in our hearts, for she is - so to say, the greediest among all, for she wants that which pervades the entire world (vyapakatvat Vishnuhu), that which is the substratum, the cause behind the world.
And look at us, for most of our life we hanker after very petty worldly things; worse, we are also unable to sustain our desire for these, as seen in our inability to put our all into achieving it. Why, within a short time we even change the object of our desire, sometimes even before we get it.
But Andal’s object of desire is ‘the Highest’ that one could desire and She was also very serious in this regard. With what intensity she sustains her desire and with what alertness and sharpness she chose the right person-- no less than ‘Manmadhan’ himself -- who could fulfill her desire. This verse highlights how she approaches him, the attitude she adopts when she addresses him, the acts she has performed to get his attention and favor, the intention with which she has done so, the precise words she uses to convey her mind to him, the clarity with which she expresses what she expects from him and the élan with which she prays to him asking him to give her these.
In the first verse, we can feel how deeply Andal is dedicated in her actions. She took a whole month to clean the place; we can understand how much care she took to do the task well and please Kamadevan, thereby not leaving any scope for error on her part so that nothing should come in the way of her union with the Lord of her heart, Venkateswara. It is as if she is telling Manmadhan “I am clearing all obstacles in your way, by cleaning the streets that you are expected to come by, so you too take care of removing all the obstacles coming in the way of my uniting with the Lord."
She is more alert when she says that ‘I worship your brother also along with you’ -- showing us practically how persons connected to the one who helps us is also to be treated with equal respect. Clearly, Andal means business.
Verse Two: I decorated the streets with fine soft white sand; before the darkness runs out and the sun rises, I took bath in the pond; then collecting sticks that are free of thorns, I created a sacrificial fire to worship you whole heartedly with so much effort (involved in performing all these actions and rituals). Now you get your arrows with the honey filled flowers ready and write on those divine arrows, His name, whose colour looks like the colour of the milky ocean, and indicate that I am desirous of reaching Him. Now you unite me with Him (who is my target) who tore off the mouth of the crane (Bakasura).
Reflection on the verse:
Here Andal emphasizes again that she took so much pain to look after ‘manmadhan’s comfort, even covering the streets with very fine soft white sand, so that his feet should not be harmed in any way. This is again to indicate that “how much effort I had undertaken for making your path smooth. So, you too please ensure that my path to my beloved Lord is also smooth.”
She also adds that she got up early in the morning, before sunrise and bathed in the cold pond water that had not yet been heated by the sun’s rays. She then collected wood that was perfect for a homam and performed worship to Kamadev. Thus she now tells Kamadev to prepare his honey filled flower arrows on which he should write that Andal loves Bhagawan and aim those arrows at her target, ie Bhagawan! Figurative meaning that we can derive from this is that just as Cupid strikes the loved person, Andal is using Cupid here as a ‘thought of love’ and in using the analogy of arrow she means to say ‘Bhagawan is the object of my love, so let Cupid direct me to Him’.
This is Andal’s desperation to reach/attain Bhagawan so that she is even willing to resort to anybody’s help to get to Him! Although her object is the paramadevata, she is using an ordinary devata to reach the apex! This can be taken as her state of mind which is impatient, anxious and desperate to somehow attain the Lord.
Verse Three I always pray to your divine feet offering “oomattha” (Datura) flower and “murukka” (Milkweed) flower which has good fragrance. Don’t make me scold you out of irritation that you are incapable. It is not fair on your part -- being in this status as kamadevan and not helping me even after I have worshipped you with so many objects. So, take the arrow made of flowers which is full of fragrance and write the name “Govinda” on it, so that I may enter that light – Vitthagan Vengadavaanan (the Lord Venkatesa)
Reflection on the verse:
In this verse the tone of Andal towards Manmadhan is changing a little. Her impatience is apparent. She tells him that until now she has been worshipping him and propitiating him thinking that as the devata of Love he can achieve anything for those in love. But this attitude of her towards him will change completely if he does not do his part after all her worship. She forewarns him that if what is expected of him is not delivered, he will have to face all the harsh words that will pour out in anger from her heart and she will not be responsible for that!
Just see her restless heart, how turbulent and impatient it is! Just a little while ago she was covering the street with white sand so that Kamadeva’s feet would be protected from the coarse street. Her tone was entreating, but now she is getting irritated. She now goes on to tell him that it is his responsibility to avoid her condemnation of him, by doing his end of the work properly -- of uniting her with the Lord.
On a re-read, it is clear, she is making it clear to him that this is give and take. That she has done her part of worshipping his feet very sincerely, not taking anything for granted, totally surrendered to him thinking that he will take care of all that has to be done. Likewise, Manmadhan also should not take anything for granted, she cautions. She then instructs him to take his flower arrow and asking him to write the name of her Lord with whom she wants to get united, aim it at her target, Bhagawan. It is as though she is making him commit to it, as if in writing, thereby ensuring her wish will be fulfilled.
What we see here is Andal’s staunch determination to get Kamadeva to do what is rightfully his role as the uniter of separated lovers. She is now compelling him to act and admonishing him for not doing what he is supposed to. She is open and frank when she says ‘this is what I want and all these rituals I am doing for this purpose only, including propitiating you’.
Needless to say, that these two extreme opposite limits of her mind at one time surrendering and at another time being annoyed with Manmadhan (Kama deva) is only the expression born out of her single pointed love for the Lord.