With the moon passing through the mūla (मूल) nakṣatra in the tamiḻ month of vaikāsi (equivalent of saṃskṛta vaiśākha (वैशाख), today happens to be the glorious day of gurupūjā for śrī jñānasambandha nāyanār svāmi (श्री ज्ञानसम्बन्ध नायनार् स्वामि). In śaiva siddhānta, the day where the great bhakta leaves this world for śiva is commemorated as gurupūjā. Among the sixty-three nāyanār-s (नायनार्-s) whose individual lives are richly and ornately memorialized in classical tamiḻ in the periyapurāṇam, the 12th and final book of the tamiḻ śaiva canon, the life and legacy of tiru-jñānasambandhar (तिरु-ज्ञानसम्बन्धर् – the -r at the end is to indicate respect in tamizh; the tiru/तिरु is tamiḻ for śrī) indeed stands out.
The author of the periyapurāṇam, śrī cēkkiḻār (चेक्किऴार्) gives us the life of jñānasambandhar in the 28th chapter of the book. What was the purpose of the birth of jñānasambandhar?
வேதநெறி தழைத் தோங்க vēdaneṟi taḻait tōṅka वेदनॆऱि तऴैत् तोङ्क
மிகுசைவத் துறைவிளங்கப் mikucaivat tuṟaiviḷaṅkap मिकुचैवत् तुऱैविळङ्कप्
பூதபரம்பரை பொலியப் bhūtaparamparai poliyap भूतपरम्परै पॊलियप्
புனிதவாய் மலர்ந்தழுத puṉitavāy malarntaḻuta पुऩितवाय् मलर्न्तऴुत
சீதவள வயற்புகலித் sītavaḷa vayaṟpukalit सीतवळ वयऱ्पुकलित्
திருஞான சம்பந்தர் tiruñāṉacampantar तिरुञाऩचम्पन्तर्
பாதமலர் தலைக்கொண்டு pādamalar talaikkoṇṭu पादमलर् तलैक्कॊण्टु
திருத்தொண்டு பரவுவாம் tiruttoṇṭu paravuvām तिरुत्तॊण्टु परवुवाम्
Audio of Vocal Rendition by śrī saṟgurunātha: http://thevaaram.org/isai/122/12280001.mp3 (Click link)
For the dharma of the veda to thrive and prosper,
For the great śaiva path to shine,
For the lineages of living beings to flourish,
The one who cried with his flowery mouth;
[Hailing from the city] Of pukali of cool and fecund fields,
His feet-flower; bearing them on our head
His divine service, we shall sing of!
What is this crying that the poet speaks of in the introductory verse? It is said that it is for sake of the veda, śaiva-dharma and living beings, that he cried! Why so? At the tender age of about three, on one fine morning, jñānasambandhar, born in the kauṇḍinya-gotra (कौण्डिन्य-गोत्र) to parents śivapādahṛdaya and bhagavatī (शिवपादहृदय and भगवती), followed his father to the brahmapurīśvara (ब्रह्मपुरीश्वर) temple of his birth-city of sīrkāḻi (सीर्काऴि), also known as pukali (पुकलि). When his father, after performing the morning ablutions, immersed in the waters of the temple pond to recite the sin-destroying aghamarṣaṇa-sūktam (अघमर्षण-सूक्तम्), the divine infant cried for his father had been long away from him. Looking at the grand gopura in front of him, remembering his real, non-earthly parents, he cried, “ammē appā” (अम्मे अप्पा – “Mother, Father!”).
And then, the divine parents manifested before them and the mother of the world nursed him with her divine milk, endowing him with the knowledge of the veda-s four and the āgama-s twenty-eight. His work on earth began with this magnificent hymn:
தோடுடைய செவியன் விடையேறி யோர் தூவெண்மதிசூடிக்
तोडुडैय चॆवियऩ् विडैयेऱि योर् तूवॆण्मतिचूडिक्
tōḍuḍaiya ceviyaṉ viḍaiyēṟi yōr tūveṇmaticūḍik
காடுடைய சுடலைப் பொடிபூசியென் உள்ளங்கவர்கள்வன்
काडुडैय चुडलैप् पॊदिपूसियॆऩ् उळ्ळङ्कवर्कळ्वऩ्
kāḍuḍaiya cuḍalaip podipūsiyeṉ uḷḷaṅkavarkaḷvaṉ
ஏடுடைய மலரான் முனை நாட் பணிந்தேத்த வருள் செய்த
एडुडैय मलराऩ् मुऩै नाट् पणिन्तेत्त वरुळ् चॆय्त
ēḍuḍaiya malarāṉ muṉai nāṭ paṇintētta varuḷ ceyta
பீடுடைய பிரமாபுர மேவிய பெம்மானிவனன்றே.
पीडुडैय पिरमापुर मेविय पॆम्माऩिवऩऩ्ऱे.
pīḍuḍaiya piramāpura mēviya pemmāṉivaṉaṉṟē.
Audio of vocal rendition (two renditions): http://thevaaram.org/isai/01/1001001.mp3
Translation: Mounting the bull, the one whose ears are adorned with the [female] ear-ring; adorning a pure, white moon, smearing the charnel-ash of the [cremation-] forest, the thief who thieves [away] my mind! Is he not that great lord [whom] the petaled-lotus-[seated]-one (brahma) had, in days of yore, worshiped, [who] did grace [to brahma]; [who] dwells in glory-possessing brahmāpura?
One could read the hidden import of this beautiful opening verse here: https://twitter.com/drAviDastotra/status/1095807012514996224
The greatness of jñānasambandhar is best illustrated by the words of those who are known to be equally exalted as him: The two other authors of the devāram (देवारम्): śrī vāgīśa (श्री वागीश), also known as tirunāvukkarasar (तिरुनावुक्करसर्), the king of speech, who was his contemporary and śrī sundaramūrti (श्री सुन्दरमूर्ति), who postdates both of them and is the first person to give us a poetic list of all the nāyanār-s (both individuals and groups).
When jñānasambandhar, after many of his travels and glorious deeds of holding the flag of dharma high against the nāstika-s who had abused the veda and śiva very much, went to the city of tiruppūnturutti (तिरुप्पून्तुरुत्ति) to meet tirunāvukkarasar who was of already advanced age, the latter, having heard of the arrival of the divine child, joined the crowd of devotees to bear the pearly palanquin of the prince of the city of pukali. At that time, jñānasambandhar felt in his divine buddhi (intellect) that something was amiss. I will let the divinely inspired cēkkiḻār to tell us the tale and post the translation, for convenience, as given by T. N. Ramachandran (which I find reliable/accurate for these three verses)
Verse 934: Audio: http://thevaaram.org/isai/123/12280934.mp3
வந்தணைந்த வாகீசர் vantaṇainta vākīcar वन्तणैन्त वाकीचर्
வண்புகலி வாழ்வேந்தர் vaṇpukali vāḻvēntar वण्पुकलि वाऴ्वेन्तर्
சந்தமணித் திருமுத்தின் cantamaṇit tirumuttiṉ चन्तमणित् तिरुमुत्तिऩ्
சிவிகையினைத் தாங்கியே civikaiyiṉait tāṅkiyē चिविकैयिऩैत् ताङ्किये
சிந்தைகளிப் புறவருவார் cintaikaḷip puṟavaruvār चिन्तैकळिप् पुऱवरुवार्
திருஞான சம்பந்தர் tiruñāṉa campantar तिरुञाऩ चम्पन्तर्
புந்தியினில் வேறொன்று puntiyiṉil vēṟoṉṟu पुन्तियिऩिल् वेऱॊऩ्ऱु
நிகழ்ந்திடமுன் புகல்கின்றார் nikaḻntiṭamuṉ pukalkiṉṟār निकऴ्न्तिटमुऩ् पुकल्किऩ्ऱार्
Verse 935: Audio: http://thevaaram.org/isai/123/12280935.mp3
அப்பர்தாம் எங்குற்றார் appartām eṅkuṟṟār अप्पर्ताम् ऎङ्कुऱ्ऱार्
இப்பொழுதென் றருள்செய்யச் ippoḻuteṉ ṟaruḷceyyac इप्पॊऴुतॆऩ् ऱरुळ्चॆय्यच्
செப்பரிய புகழ்த்திருநா ceppariya pukaḻttirunā चॆप्परिय पुकऴ्त्तिरुना
வுக்கரசர் செப்புவார் vukkaracar ceppuvār वुक्करचर् चॆप्पुवार्
ஒப்பரிய தவஞ்செய்தேன் oppariya tavañceytēṉ ऒप्परिय तवञ्चॆय्तेऩ्
ஆதலினால் உம்மடிகள் ātaliṉāl ummaṭikaḷ आतलिऩाल् उम्मटिकळ्
இப்பொழுது தாங்கிவரப் ippoḻutu tāṅkivarap इप्पॊऴुतु ताङ्किवरप्
பெற்றுய்ந்தேன் யான்என்றார் peṟṟuyntēṉ yāṉeṉṟār पॆऱ्ऱुय्न्तेऩ् याऩ्ऎऩ्ऱार्
Verse 936: http://thevaaram.org/isai/123/12280936.mp3
அவ்வார்த்தை கேட்டஞ்சி avvārttai kēṭṭañci अव्वार्त्तै केट्टञ्चि
அவனியின்மேல் இழிந்தருளி avaṉiyiṉmēl iḻintaruḷi अवऩियिऩ्मेल् इऴिन्तरुळि
இவ்வாறு செய்தருளிற் ivvāṟu ceytaruḷiṟ इव्वाऱु चॆय्तरुळिऱ्
றென்னாம்என் றிறைஞ்சுதலும் ṟeṉṉāmeṉ ṟiṟaiñcutalum ऱॆऩ्ऩाम्ऎऩ् ऱिऱैञ्चुतलुम्
செவ்வாறு மொழிநாவர் cevvāṟu moḻināvar चॆव्वाऱु मॊऴिनावर्
திருஞான சம்பந்தர்க் tiruñāṉa campantark तिरुञाऩ चम्पन्तर्क्
கெவ்வாறு செயத்தகுவ kevvāṟu ceyattakuva कॆव्वाऱु चॆयत्तकुव
தென்றெதிரே இறைஞ்சினார் teṉṟetirē iṟaiñciṉār तॆऩ्ऱॆतिरे इऱैञ्चिऩार्
Such is the impeccable greatness of jñānasambandhar. We could continue narrating much much more about the glory of the child-prince of pukali. But we will end it today with one of his greatest verses. When the jaina-s of Madurai, having failed in their plot to assassinate the divine child and having failed to keep their parchment from burning in the flames (which dared not harm the writing of the glorious prince of pukali, called for their parchments to be placed in the ferocious waters of river vaigai, the parchment of the nāstika-s was scattered into oblivion by the ferocious current of vaigai, while the one by sambandhar marched against the current and established the eternal truth of the veda, that is śivadharma (शिवधर्म). He wrote ten verses on those blessed leaves. And this is the opening verse of that hymn he set against the vaigai current:
வாழ்க அந்தணர் வானவ ரானினம் vāḻka antaṇar vāṉava rāṉiṉam वाऴ्क अन्तणर् वाऩव राऩिऩम्
வீழ்க தண்புனல் வேந்தனு மோங்குக vīḻka taṇpuṉal vēntaṉu mōṅkuka वीऴ्क तण्पुऩल् वेन्तऩु मोङ्कुक
ஆழ்க தீயதெல் லாமர னாமமே āḻka tīyatel lāmara ṉāmamē आऴ्क तीयतॆल् लामर ऩाममे
சூழ்க வையக முந்துயர் தீர்கவே cūḻka vaiyaka muntuyar tīrkavē चूऴ्क वैयक मुन्तुयर् तीर्कवे
Let the brāhmaṇas, sky-dwelling devas and the race of cows live long!
Let cool water (rain) pour!
Let the king become exalted!
Let all the evils be subjugated!
Let the name of hara encompass all!
Let the world be free from sufferings!
May the blessings of jñānasambandhar, who was praised as skanda himself, be showered upon bhārata at this significant time!
Image Source: https://shaivam.org/gallery/image/devotees/sambandar.png
किरणागमान्तर्गतशिवस्तोत्रम् – kiraṇāgamāntargataśivastotram – A saiddhāntika stotra from the kiraṇāgama by garuḍa to śrīkaṇṭha-rudra
In the saiddhāntika śaiva system, there are twenty-eight mūlāgama-s (primary āgama-s), each of which is traditionally supposed to be complete with four distinct sections:
The kiraṇāgama (also known as the kiraṇamahātantra) begins with the vidyāpāda, the section/pāda of an āgama text which covers the “vidyā” portion of an āgama, covering the matters of how the various āgama-s were revealed and to whom they were revealed, the doctrine of tattva-s (the fundamental principles which constitute all of existence; in the saiddhāntika and bhairava streams of mantramārga śaivam, there are 36 tattva-s) and other such philosophical matters. The vidyāpāda of the kiraṇāgama opens with this verse by garuḍa:
कैलासशिखरासीनं सोमं सोमार्धशेखरम्।
हरं दृष्ट्वाब्रवीतार्क्ष्यः स्तुतिपूर्वमिदं वचः
kailāsaśikharāsīnaṃ somaṃ somārdhaśekharam|
haraṃ dṛṣṭvābravīttārkṣyaḥ stutipūrvamidaṃ vacaḥ
[The one] seated on a summit of mount kailāsa, the soma (Here, it figuratively means, “one with umā”), the one crowned with the half-moon, the hara (Figuratively, the one who removes the bonds of the soul); preceded by a stuti, having seen him, tārkṣya (garuḍa-deva) says these words.
Here, the great saiddhāntika commentator of kāśmīradeśa, the great lion of siddhānta śaivam, mahākaṇṭha kaṇṭhīrava śrī bhaṭṭa rāmakaṇṭha (hereafter, rāmakaṇṭha), takes the pains to explain the order in which the opening events of the text takes place:
- Firstly, the stuti of garuḍa takes place: This beautiful stuti is given in śloka-s 2 to 9 of the first chapter of the āgama.
- Secondly, having uttered the words of praise, garuḍa obtains the sight of śrīkaṇṭha-rudra.
- Thirdly and finally, having now seen his guru, śrīkaṇṭha-rudra, garuḍa then utters the words (the question in śloka 10 of the text), opening the sacred dialogue between master and disciple.
We will see the actual commentary in detail in a subsequent post, or a subsequent edit of this very post. Now, we will see this stuti of 8 śloka-s, where the word, “jaya” appears a total of sixteen times.
Victory, oh one skilled in splitting the knot of the broad shoulders of andhaka!
jaya pravaravīreśasaṃruddhapuradāhaka ॥
Victory, oh burner of the [threefold] city, held/concealed by those most distinguished among the lords of the heroes/vīra-s (the three tripurāsura-s)
Victory, oh fearsome one, [who] lopped off a head of the lord of all the deva-s (brahma)!
jaya prathitasāmarthyamanmathasthitināśana ॥
Victory, oh one who is the very destruction of that manmatha (kāmadeva), whose skill/ability [to induce passions] is well-renowned/widely-spread.
Victory, oh one who removes the power of the kālakūṭa [poison], which ruined the body of acyuta!
Victory, oh the bearer (vidhāraṇa) of the force/speed (vega) of the river (sarit), which is greatly proud/haughty (maha+āṭopa) with its windings/curves (āvarta)!
jaya dāruvanodyānamunipatnīvimohaka ।
Victory, oh deluder of the sages as well as their wives in the dāruvana garden-grove!
jaya nṛttamahārambhakrīḍāvikṣobhadāruṇa ॥
Victory, oh who dreads [the world] with shaking, due to the great exertion/effort of the play of his dance!
Victory, oh one who, assuming the fierce form, terrified the thirty (tridaśa, a synonym for deva) and the asuras (Basically, the devāsura-s)!
Victory, one who, in the mouth of the lord of the cruel folks, showed a stream of blood!
Note: Due to the sheer strange wording of the verse, this is my favorite part of the whole stuti. While, on a surface reading, commentators have identified this line to pertain to the episode, where śiva humbles rāvaṇa by pressing down the mountain on his heads, one of the commentators, the venerable śrī tryambakaśambhu, gives a rich and beautiful inner meaning of this line, which we will see in a subsequent post or subsequent edit of this post.
jaya vīraparispandadakṣayajñavināśana ।
Victory, oh who is (or caused) the destruction of dakṣa’s sacrifice by stirring up (parispanda) the hero/vīra (that is, vīrabhadra)
Victory, one who took pride in that form (saṃsthāna) of the liṅga, wondrous (adbhuta) and great (maha)!
jaya śvetanimittogramṛtyudehanipātana ।
Victory, oh one who, for the sake of śveta-muni, felled the body of fierce death (ugramṛtyu)!
Victory, who has infatuated/bewitched the daughter of the mountain (śailaja; that is umā) with desire (kāma); [this kāma] which is the abode (vāsa) of the totality (aśeṣa) of pleasures (sukhā)!
Victory, oh one who removed the great heat/torture (santāpa) of upamanyu and the darkness (tamas) of the web (jāla) of delusion (moha)!
Victory, oh one who burns (pradāhaka) [these] worlds (loka-s) and the aloka-s (the non-human worlds ranging from those of piśāca-s to brahmadeva) from above (ūrdhva) the root (mūla) of the pātāla-s!
Note: In the siddhānta cosmology, below the pātāla-s are the naraka-s, which are directly above the world of kālāgni-rudra. At the time of absolute destruction, kālāgnirudra engulfs all the worlds above it.
We have thus ended the simple translation of the stuti. We hope to delve, as soon as possible, deep into the symbolic meanings and the classical commentaries on the stuti by the boundless grace of sadāśiva.
May the sixteen loud and thunderous jaya-s of the stuti shake the skulls of those who mock śiva and his āgama-s; may the deva praised by the four vedas and twenty-eight āgama-s protect the student of the hymn!
This is just an attempt by someone with zero background in saMskRta poetry. There is no metre here per se. But may these 4 lines of 28 syllables each be an offering to the god who gave the 28 siddhAnta Agama-s as the essence of the 4 veda-s for mahāśivarātri
He (yaH) who is the lord of the cidambara (City or inner space of heart where brahman dwells), the one who is adorned (shobhitaH) by the good actions (sukAryeNa) of the crushing (sUdaka) of the stain (kalaGka) caused (kRta) by the seperation (viraha) from the svarUpa
This refers to the siddhAnta doctrine that the primal impurity of ANava (atomism) or mUla-mala (thus, the filth/stain) falsely makes one think that he is a finite, embodied soul (atom) when he is reality is as expansive and blissful as shiva. Shiva removes this filth by means of dIkSA and anugraha (Grace). He is ornamented by the numerous initiations and other acts of grace, where he has graced souls with the removal of mala.
He who is agitated (kSobhitaH) by the [erotic] play (vihAreNa) in the lotus-endowed waters (sapaGkajodaka) by varAha of good form (surUpavarAha), the lord (pati) of the one who has the oceans (nidhi) as her garments nidhyambarI–earth)
The idea for this is from shrI sambandhar’s & appar’s old tamizh poems where he refers to varAha’s tusk on the neck of shiva as an ornament. varAha after finishing his work is imagined in some purANas as indulging in erotic sport with bhUdevI. That play has been imagined as a play in the muddy (paGka) lotus-filled waters….
shiva is apparently upset with that play which causes the cosmos to tremble and after causing him to leave that body & go back to his blissful & peaceful station in vaikuNTha, keeps varAha’s tusk as keepsake. But as we will see in line 3, the tusk comes handy.
Also, the word paGkaja has been chosen for lotus as mud invokes shrI varAha association very well and sapaGkajodaka rhymes with previous line’s kalaGkasUdaka & subsequent shivAgkamodaka & saTaGkabodhaka.
He who is the lord (patiH) with vidyA (knowledge) as his garments (vidyAmbara), who makes write (lekhayati) kumAra, who, holding (dhRta) the good tusk (su-rada) of the boar (sUkara), delights (modaka) the lap of shivA (devI) (shivAGka)
The basic premise for this whole poem was this imagery of baby skanda doing akSarAbhyAsam with the tusk of his uncle that shiva kept as souvenir when helping him get out of the avatAra and go back to vaikuNTha. Since he is too young to do it, shiva makes him write with that tusk.
That one; he, the lord of the cloth to be pierced (vidhya+ambara; vidhya: to be pierced), the one who supports/carries (bhRta) the good-natured/compassionate (sUrata) ones of good actions (sukara); the teacher (bodhakaH) endowed with the axe (saTaGka; referring to the iconographic axe); he (the one who is all these things described in these four lines) causes me (mAm) to attain (prApayati) knowledge (vidyA).
The cloth to be pierced is the tiras of shaiva siddhAnta; the tirodhana shakti of shiva that veils our consciousness and limits our self-awareness. It is a cloth/curtain that is to be pierced (vidhya) as that is the main function of sadAshiva–to pierce through the veil and free us…..Since shiva/sadAshiva is the lord of this tiras/curtain, the lord of the tirodhana shakti; he is called vidhyAmbarapati.
He carries and sustains the great sages, gods and bhaktas who have pleased him with good acts. He causes me to attain knowledge.
The author of this poem thanks @yaajushi bhagini for her kind assistance and constructive criticisms, and @rkedar1 and @pinakasena for their feedback on the poem.
It’s often argued that restrictive rules, in terms of temple entry or offering worship at one, impinge upon the “right to participate in religion” of those who are thus restricted. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of participation as intrinsically a positive act.
What do I mean by “positive act”? Most of us see would see participation as actually (and thus, positively) doing acts one generally does in a religious setting: such as entering a temple or performing a particular ritual.
However, this is not a realistic understanding of our dharma or any religion for that matter. When you participate in a religion, you do so, not only by doing what you are obligated to do, or doing something optional but allowed for you, but also by not doing what is prohibited.
You participate in the dharma when you abstain from meat on vrata/upavAsa days or enter a temple after removing footwear. That “negative acts” or abstentions were seen as participation is clear when one reads our texts. Let me elaborate.
Negative obligations are a core & critical component of participation. This is why “yama” (restraint) is one of the eight components of aSTANGga yoga. This is why various types of vrata-s are part of popular dharma as encapsulated in the purANa-s & other sources.
This is why yAmuNAcArya, the great shrIvaiSNava AcArya, holds in his AgamaprAmANya that, in truth, nobody is fully forbidden from “shrautam”. Why, because the shruti has general, restrictive injunctions like “Don’t injure creatures”, etc which every human is qualified to follow.
Similarly, when a woman, identified as having reproductive capabilities (for practical purposes, identified as a 10-50 age group), accepts the restriction pertaining to sabarimala with devotion, she is fully participating in the religion, in the worship of the deity.
This “negative” participation is, in no way, less profound and meaningful than the direct, “positive” participation of the men and women of the allowed age groups. One such example of such a participation can be seen in this wonderful music video here: https://t.co/8xDrA2wIHM
The core point at the centre of all this is that within any system, its followers truly participate only be adhering to both the positive obligations and negative injunctions (prohibitions) which define the very unique essence and identity of that system.
And this is not uniquely applicable to Hindu sects but will apply to any belief-practice system defined as a religion. You cannot be said to participate in a religion if you are not participating in the dietary, sexual or other restrictions laid down in that religion.
At this point, one may raise the argument that the restrictions in the case of sabarimala are not left to the conscience of the worshipper but enforced and thus, this would impinge upon the freedom of the individual worshipper to practice the religion as he or she sees fit.
The only real & truly honest response to this argument is that the temple is essentially the residence of the deity who is also the owner of the temple & is entitled to an absolute enjoyment of this property, as amply indicated by terms such as devasvam, devagRha, etc.
But, wait? A deity is no “real person”. How can he/she enjoy this property? Well, if the law can recognize the personhood of a body corporate (a company), its right to own property & transact in its own name, nothing ought to prevent a similar recognition in the case of temples.
There is a long, historical precedent (from both texts & inscriptions) allowing the recognition of a deity’s legal personhood, full ownership of its residence (& other properties) & freedom to decide how the residence ought to be accessed or enjoyed by other persons.
In accordance with what is the deity’s will executed & implemented by the priests and/or management who are both, verily, the deity’s trustees? The Agama-s or relevant tantra-s or paddhati-s known to govern the temple from very inception or simply known as last remembered usage.
Some idiot Hindus stated that the argument that shrI dharmashAstA in his form as ayyappa is observing naiSThika brahmacharya is not a sensible one as it suggests that ayyappa is “unable to see his women devotees in the 10-50 age group as sisters or mothers”.
Again and again, Hindus excel at showing mediocre quality of thought. Firstly, the mythos and rituals associated with a particular temple are not meant to be read as physical realities and anthropomorphic qualities are not be superimposed on the deity.
Our deities have transcendental and most subtle bodies. They do not “eat offerings” or “observe brahmacaryam” in the same way mortals would be seen in our mundane level of reality. Rituals and myths operate at a higher level of reality. What is the significance of this?
Well, this is the significance:
This is how our ritual spaces work and something I hope can be drilled into the heads of the judges who have no erudition about our religion. The deity’s nature (in Southern Agamika & tAntrika temples, this is based on the mantra-s installed in the deity’s icon/vigraha), location of deity’s shrine, nature of rituals done, type of priesthood, kind of food and flower offerings made to deity, nature of people who come to the temple, colors of garments worn by the deity, priests & devotees & many other factors all have to cohere with one another as far as possible.
All these factors come together to create a coherent “ritual reality”, which is the ultimate fruit a sincere worshiper truly yearns for. The deity’s presence becomes fully manifest and becomes a source of blessings for the worshipers and their families. Different Agama-s and tantra-s have their own versions of the “ritual reality” or “ritual universe” they are asking the priests and others to enact on this earth.
An example of this logic of ritual coherence: The shaiva Agama, kAmikAgama states that the fierce forms of both shiva & viSNu should be installed at village/town outskirts & not in the interior. Why so??
This choice of location (outskirts) matches with deity’s fierce nature, as that which is fierce & potentially dangerous must naturally be away from the dwellings of men. So, in the cases of temples & towns planned/designed in accordance with kAmikAgama, this will be the rule.
The idea of ritual coherence operates at sabarimala too. The mantra-s installed in that ayyappa mUrti in times of yore embody the naiSThika brahmacAryatvam (permanent celibacy) intrinsic to that deity. This is the essential nature of the deity; his “essential ritual reality”.
The “ritual reality” of a temple is harmed or even destroyed when the stipulated rules in place are not respected. In this case, the relevant rule would be the prohibition on the entry of women having reproductive abilities.
Such an entry alters & disrupts the “ritual reality” the temple seeks to manifest in this world. The concepts of “ritual reality” & “ritual coherence” lie behind our idea of “ritual space”. What may be appropriate in one sacred space may be completely inappropriate for another.
Example: In the shaivAgama-s, the presence of rudrakanyA-s. These young, pious virgin girls devoted to shiva perform dances in front of him & are even invited, along with the priests & king to be the very 1st recipients of the divine glance of a newly consecrated shiva!)
This would not be the case for the ritual space of ayyappa. The women would have to wait till certain biologically innate characteristics are gone with age, before seeking to visit ayyappa.
This is nothing to do with ayyappa’s “mind” as some idiots wrongly understand, Nothing can upset or agitate the mind of a transcendental being. But when the same transcendental being is installed in an icon with mantra-s, etc, certain formalities come into effect.
Only the first word (எல்லையற்ற/ ऎल्लैयऱ्ऱ /ellaiyaṟṟa) of the below verse was reverberating in my mind. But even as I decided to go to the gym nearby and work out, the first word would not leave the consciousness.
எல்லையற்ற மறைக்கொப்ப நுண்ணிய இனிமிகு துறைனூலதன்
சொல்லைகுற்ற மென்பார் விழியாகும் ஒருவழியார்க்கன்பர்
இல்லைசுற்ற மொருவன் மூவராகுமெழில்மிடறன் முச்சிக்குளிர
தில்லைசிற்ற அம்பலத்தில் எண்தோளர்க்கெண்தோழர் செய்வாரே
ऎल्लैयऱ्ऱ मऱैक्कॊप्प नुण्णिय इऩिमिगु तुऱैऩूलदऩ्
चॊल्लैकुऱ्ऱ मॆऩ्पार् विऴियागुम् ऒरुवऴियार्क्कऩ्बर्
इल्लैचुऱ्ऱ मॊरुवऩ् मूवरागुमॆऴिल्मिडऱऩ् मुच्चिक्कुळिर
तिल्लैचिऱ्ऱ अम्बलत्तिल् ऎण्तोळर्क्कॆण्तोऴर् चॆय्वारे
ellaiyaṟṟa maṟaikkoppa nuṇṇiya iṉimigu tuṟaiṉūladaṉ
collaikuṟṟa meṉpār viḻiyāgum oruvaḻiyārkkaṉbar
illaicuṟṟa moruvaṉ mūvarāgumeḻilmiḍaṟaṉ muccikkuḷira
tillaiciṟṟa ambalattil eṇtōḷarkkeṇtōḻar ceyvārē
Whole English translation:
He who calls flawed the word of the books of the subtle, very sweet path, [the books] which equal the limitless veda; he is not a devotee of one who, guiding on a path, becomes, [as if], an eye /
[There is only] one kinsman, one bandhu. In the cidambara temple at tillai, the eight companions of the eight-shouldered one caused the top-knot of the one, of a beautiful neck, who becomes the triad, to cool [with abhiṣeka]!! //
More detailed meaning:
எல்லையற்ற/ellaiyaṟṟa: Without limit/end, limitless/endless
மறைக்கொப்ப/maṟaikkoppa: equaling the veda.
Note: In the śruti, it is said, “anantā vai vedāḥ” (taittirīya brāhmaṇa 18.104.22.168). Such limitless/endless veda; equaling that (in greatness)
இனிமிகு/iṉimigu-very sweet/very good
துறைனூலதன்/tuṟaiṉūlataṉ-Of those books of the tuṟai (tuṟai here is referring to śivadharma/siddhānta; the books of the tuṟai are the books of the siddhānta path: the siddhānta āgama-s)
Note: The word துறை/tuṟai in tamiḻ can be used used in the sense of dharma. In periyapurāṇam, when describing the purpose of the birth of the child-saint jñānasambandha, it is said: வேத நெறி தழைத்தோங்க மிகு சைவத்துறை விளங்க. துறை/tuṟai here means “ford”; as in, a point at which a river or stream can be crossed or used for taking a bath, etc. Here, jñānasambandha’s advent is said to have been for the purpose of the flourishing of the veda dharma and the shining of the śaiva “tuṟai”, that is śivadharma, the way of the siddhānta. Additionally, do note that the ford imagery to describe śaivam (siddhānta) goes well with the characterization of the five streams (pañcasrotāṃsi), of which the siddhānta is one and is, obviously, deemed by the saiddhāntika-s as the ūrdhvasrotas (the upper stream-i.e. the highest).
tuṟaiṉūl: The book/books of the tuṟai. What are the texts of the siddhānta? The siddhānta āgama-s, of course. The āgama-s equal to the limitless veda.
tuṟaiṉūladaṉ-of those texts of the tuṟai; of those siddhānta āgama-s
சொல்லைகுற்ற மென்பார்/ collaikuṟṟa meṉpār: Those who call as flawed the word/words [of the aforementioned texts, the siddhānta āgama-s]
விழியாகும் ஒருவழியார்க்கன்பர் இல்லை / viḻiyāgum oruvaḻiyārkkaṉbar illai: he (the aforementioned person reviling the āgama-s) is not a devotee [or rather, not fit to be a devotee] of one who, guiding on a path, becomes, [as if], an eye.
Note: Who is the one who guides on a path and becomes, as if, an eye to the person being guided? The ācārya, of course; he who guides a soul to śiva. வழியார் / vaḻiyār here means the one on/of the path. வழி / vaḻi means way/path. There is a deeper meaning behind the use of two adjectives to describe a single person (the ācārya), and that too, similar sounding words: vaḻi (path) and viḻi (eye), which will become apparent towards the end of this article.
சுற்ற மொருவன் / cuṟṟa moruvaṉ: One is the kinsman/bandhu.
Note: This refers, of course, to sadāśiva, who is with an ātma for all time, while the soul’s form (it takes when incarnating), his parents, his friends, his place of birth, his characteristics, etc are changing. The permanency of the relationship between sadāśiva and the ātma is indicated here.
மூவராகுமெழில்மிடறன் / mūvarāgumeḻilmiḍaṟaṉ: He, of the beautiful neck, who becomes the triad
Note: The term has to be split as மூவராகும் / mūvarāgum + எழில்மிடறன் / eḻilmiḍaṟaṉ. mūvar means triad here. mūvarāgum means “becomes the triad”. eḻilmiḍaṟaṉ means “he of the beautiful neck” (மிடறு / miḍaṟu means neck)
முச்சிக்குளிர/muccikkuḷira: [cause] the top-knot of [the one, of the beautiful neck, who became the triad] to cool
This has to be read together with the previous phrase.
தில்லைசிற்ற அம்பலத்தில் / tillaiciṟṟa ambalattil: In tillai, in the cidambara [temple]
எண்தோளர்க்கெண்தோழர் செய்வாரே / eṇtōḷarkkeṇtōḻar ceyvārē: The eight companions of the eight-shouldered one will do.
Note: What will they do? They will cause the supreme sadāśiva to cool, from head to foot; all the way from the top-knot on his head. The last word, செய்வாரே / ceyvārē must be read together with முச்சிக்குளிர/muccikkuḷira. So, rearranging, the verbal phrase is as follows:
முச்சிக்குளிர செய்வாரே / muccikkuḷira ceyvārē : They will cause his top-knot to cool [by performing abhiṣeka with water and other unguents].
Why is the deity described as eight-shouldered here? The term for his being eight-shouldered comes right from the devāram, where the hallowed tamiḻ poets describe him as eight-shouldered. The simplest explanation is that the supreme deity, sadāśiva has five heads, with four heads facing in the four cardinal directions while the fifth is on top of the four heads, facing upwards. The two shoulders for each of the four cardinal faces add up to eight.
Thus ends the literal translation. A hidden meaning has been left behind for those interested in reading this article till the end.
Now, the obvious question is that who are these eight companions, who perform abhiṣeka to sadāśiva, residing in that pristine temple of cidambara?
See, there was an inextinguishable urging inside me for the past several days to write a verse in tamiḻ on the eight vidyeśvara-s. “How can their names be found in a text written partially in Old Javanese (related to the Malay of my own homeland, siṁhapurī) but not be found in a single tamiḻ work of note, especially when drāviḍadeśa is the only place where the siddhānta tradition really thrives?” See here for a note on the presence of saiddhāntika tradition as far as Java. It seemed rather blameworthy and I sought to rectify what I perceived as a deficiency.
These are the aṣṭavidyeśvarāḥ and this is a fixed order of their hierarchical ranks, with ananta being the highest of all the 8 vidyeśvara-s and second to sadāśiva only, and śikhaṇḍin being the last of all the vidyeśvara-s.
1. ananta (infinite, endless, limitless)
2. sūkṣma (subtle)
3. śivatama/śivottama (most gracious/most auspicious)
4. ekanetra (Literally, one-eyed, but netra also means leader
5. ekarudra (one rudra)
6. trimūrti (three forms)
7. śrīkaṇṭha (beautiful/radiant neck)
8. śikhaṇḍin (one with a śikhā)
These eight effulgent and exalted beings, though not directly named in the above verse, have been subtly indicated, without doing violence to the hierarchical order. See:
எல்லையற்ற / ellaiyaṟṟa (limitless): ananta
நுண்ணிய / nuṇṇiya (subtle): sūkṣma
இனிமிகு / iṉimigu (very sweet/good/kind/pleasant): shivatama/shivottama
விழியாகும் ஒரு வழியார்க்கு / viḻiyāgum oru vaḻiyārkku (The guide on the path who becomes an eye): ekanetra (netra means both eye and leader. The word “oru”, meaning one, is to emphasize the “eka” in ekanetra)
சுற்ற மொருவன் / cuṟṟa moruvaṉ (the kinsman is one): ekarudra. This is in reference to the story from the śatapatha brāhmaṇa from the veda where prajāpati was abandoned by the deva-s, and only rudra in the form of manyu remained within him and manifested as hundred-headed, thousand-eyed form. The singular term “oruvan” here is to emphasize the “eka” in ekarudra, as “oru” did for ekanetra.
Note: Today, I was struck by an alternative for சுற்ற / cuṟṟa. The word கொற்றன் / koṟṟaṉ meaning victor. In that case, the reading will be கொற்ற னொருவன்.
மூவராகும் / mūvarāgum (he who becomes the three): trimūrti
எழில்மிடறன் / eḻilmiḍaṟaṉ (he of the beautiful neck): śrīkaṇṭha who is of the beautiful neck.
முச்சி / mucci (top-knot/ śikhā): śikhaṇḍin who sports a śikhā.
Thus, all eight vidyeśvara-s have been indicated indirectly. Towards the completion of the verse, I had an imaginative vision in my mind, where the eight vidyeśvara-s are performing abhiṣeka to the deity of cidambara.
Text as Text, Text as Deity: Reconciling Ritual Rules of Textual Traditions with Devotion to the Gods
Note: Recently, I submitted an essay with the above title for a biannual journal on polytheism, Walking the Worlds, for the Winter issue of 2017, as you can see here. I am making the essay available in this blog for interested readers from Twitter and elsewhere. Hindu friends, do note that the journal is targeted at a primarily Western audience, and hence I had to write a comprehensive introduction. The essay can be read here:
Sectarian ADambara in Internet Hinduverse: More noisy than jayanta bhaTTa’s AgamADambara & not nearly as insightful or constructive
1. A brief note for those interested in learning rather than sectarianism: The attempt by abrahma-s to study mAdhva-s or rAmAnuja-s should be understood carefully. It should NOT be understood as mAdhva-s sharing some features with abrahma-s; which is clearly superficial
2. Understanding mAdhva-s & abrahma-s as “sharing” them gives a false impression that these so-called “shared” features independently originated among abrahma-s, or are an original insight by them, & therefore the mAdhva-s too have evolved in a similar pattern as the abrahma-s.
3. So, for instance, let’s take one such “shared” feature, that brahman is only an effective cause (nimitta kAraNa) & not the material cause (upAdAna kAraNa) of the universe. Of the 3 major schools of vedAnta, only mAdhva-s argue this. The rAmAnuja-s & advaitin-s argue otherwise.
4. This is one feature that attracted abrahma attention to mAdhva-s. However, mAdhva-s aren’t the only ones to boldly depart themselves from prevailing scene in vedAnta. The shaiva siddhAntin-s have been arguing exactly the same point since their time at kAshmIra in the 600-s.
5. So, even within dharma, there is a great diversity of opinion. So, this is not exactly an outlying opinion. The abrahma-s find this similarity appealing as it suits their purposes. That is all. They hold that their “God” (not our brahman) & the universe are not made of same material.
6. The abrahma-s are not original for having this opinion. Virtually, every non-abrahamic system predating the abrahma-s in those lands has understood the creator or the gods being the efficient cause of the universe only, not as being the material cause.
7. In other words, to put it simply, both abrahma-s & mAdhva-s have taken an idea which predated both & was already appreciated by the non-abrahamic world for a long, long time. In fact, it’s the more natural idea for vast majority to understand (though my own birth sampradAya varies from this position🙂)
8. So, it’s clear why framing this as an example of a mAdhva “closeness” or similarity to abrahma durmata would not be a proper position to take at all.
9. Another example I will quickly dispose of is one about avatAra. Actually, most abrahma-s will virulently reject the idea that their “divine” rAkSasa can take birth. We are left with the preta-s.
10. The preta theology, if anyone bothered to study, had the “Incarnation” as the fundamentally most significant theological point. Some preta-s saw a parallel with the avatAra concept but saw that it was particularly important to vaiSNava-s. But how similar are these?
11. No.1: The avatAra-s are accepted by all sects of our dharma even though they may not occupy the same level of importance for all of them. No.2: The significance of the ‘Incarnation’ of the preta is because of the abrahma view of history as essentially linear & finite.
12. In other words, the 2000-year-old birth of the preta from a “kanyA” under suspicious circumstances was an irreversible turning point in history. It is the fulcrum about which all of time before & after it revolves. One’s eternal fate hinges on this historical event.
13. Our avatAra-s, despite their immense importance, are ultimately part of a cyclical framework for the vast majority of the traditional schools. The same avatAra-s may not repeat in another yuga or manvantara or kalpa.
14. Finally, while the idea of gods incarnating as humans is quite rare, it is not completely unknown outside the Indic & abrahma spheres. The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl as the human ruler Topiltzin or Thoth/Hermes incarnating as Hermes Trismegistus are examples.
15. Ultimately, there are only two options. Either the divines (or a part of them) can be born on earth or they cannot. All of mainstream Hinduism asserts that they can. To find similarity between vaiSNava-s (not just mAdhva-s) & abrahma-s is a technique of abrahma cunningness/dishonesty.
16. So, those two examples give some idea of why making comparisons between abrahma-s and our own folks (whatever sampradaya they may be) is something that requires immense caution and nuance.
17. As someone who has consistently honoured a variety of sects & traditions within dharma, as someone who actually tweets in honor of both the rAmAnuja and mAdhva AcArya-s, as someone who repeatedly tries his best to work beyond sectarian divisions, I do have a request though. Care to read further?
It’s very easy to call for Hindu unity. It’s very easy to put Hindu interests first when one is in the comfort zone, and nobody has said anything controversial, mistaken or misguided.
But it is very difficult to harden the heart and put Hindu interests above sampradAya pride/zeal when that conflict comes. I respect many of the people of other sects than my own. Many of you are excellent handles, tweeting valuable and wonderful information. But how quickly one person’s mistaken observation was extended to “an understanding of Dvaita by fellow schools of Vedanta”?!
Immediately in response to the linked tweet above, one sees a “Just another advaitin showing off his mithyaj~nAna” or a crass remark like this: https://twitter.com/venkatsobers/status/959415525695631361
My Request to @Madhvahistory and other level-headed individuals like him: Those hurt at their sect being compared to something unfavorable (comparison is WRONG, superficial & ignores technicalities), I hope you’ll also help rein in your folks when they diss other AcArya-s or post hurtful hagiographic stories belittling followers of other deva-s.
A couple of months ago, the following verses appeared in the cidākāśa of my heart as I meditated on the deity of cidambaram. I had shared this with a few earlier but thought of making it public.
தாமரை நாணச் செய்யும் செய்யத்திருமகள் நாணச் செய்யும்
தாமரைக்கண்னோவ நச்சுயிர்கும் சிரமாயிரத்தான் பழிவீழ
தாமரைமகனார்க்கு நான்மறை ஈத்த ஐந்தலை முதல்வன்
தாமரையில் கூத்தாடி கண்ணுக்கு மருந்தானானே
saṃskṛta and ISO transliterations for anyone who does not read tamiḻ but yet desires to read this modest attempt at poetry:
तामरै नाणच् चॆय्युम् चॆय्यत्तिरुमगळ् नाणच् चॆय्युम्
तामरैक्कण्ऩोव नच्चुयिर्कुम् सिरमायिरत्ताऩ् पऴिवीऴ
तामरैमगऩार्क्कु नाऩ्मऱै ईत्त ऐन्तलै मुदल्वऩ्
तामरैयिल् कूत्ताडि कण्णुक्कु मरुन्दाऩाऩे
tāmarai nāṇac ceyyum ceyyattirumagaḷ nāṇac ceyyum
tāmaraikkaṇṉōva naccuyirkum siramāyirattāṉ paḻivīḻa
tāmaraimagaṉārkku nāṉmaṟai ītta aintalai mudalvaṉ
tāmaraiyil kūttāḍi kaṇṇukku marundāṉāṉē
Meaning: To remove the blame of the thousand-headed one (ādiśeṣa) breathing the toxic [breaths] that have pained the lotus-like eye of viṣṇu that makes the red[-complexioned] lakṣmī shy, who makes the lotus shy; [to remove that blame] the five-headed chief (sadāśiva) who gave the four veda-s to the lotus-born son (brahma); he (sadāśiva) danced in the lotus and became a medicine to that eye [of viṣṇu]!
1. The word, ‘செய்ய’ in ‘செய்யத்திருமகள்’ (चॆय्य in चॆय्यत्तिरुमगळ् or ceyya in ceyyattirumagaḷ) means red in this context. Interested readers can see an example of such an usage in song no. 255 of ainkurunūru here: https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-ainkurunuru/ as well as in song no. 323 of aganānūru here: https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-akananuru-301-400/
2. The shyness of lakṣmī can be understood in two, distinct ways:
a. When she saw the lotus eye of hari looking at her, she became overcome with bashfulness.
b. She saw the lotus eye and felt shy due to the beauty of his two eyes easily rivaling that of her entire form.
In either case, the shyness of lakṣmī results in her acquiring a reddish complexion so beautiful that it embarrasses the lotus, causing the lotus to feel shy.
3. The reference to śiva (sadāśiva is the special name given to śiva; sadāśiva is the highest deity of the siddhānta system) giving the four veda-s to brahma is a reference to śvetāśvatara upaniṣat 6.18. In this upaniṣat, it is quite clear that brahman is identified as śiva-rudra.
yo brahmāṇaṃ vidadhāti pūrvaṃ yo vai vedāṃś ca prahiṇoti tasmai…
4. Finally, the last lotus is a reference to both the temple of cidambaram, where sadāśiva performs the peerless dance as well as the lotus of the heart referred to in the daharavidyā chapter of cāndogyopaniṣat. In that lotus of the heart is a small space called the cidākāśa. cidākāśa is, thus, the space in the lotus of the heart, where the self is visualized as dwelling; the self (ātman) which is the very embodiment of consciousness (cit). Both cidākāśa and cidambara are semantically the same.
atha yad idam asmin brahmapure daharaṃ puṇḍarīkaṃ veśma daharo ‘sminn antarākāsaḥ |
tasmin yad antas tad anveṣṭavyaṃ tad vāva vijijñāsitavyam iti || cāndogyopaniṣat 8.1.1 ||
5. Something I learnt only after I composed this verse: The cidambara mahātmya composed by umāpati śivācārya (a famous śaiva teacher who was one of the priests at the great temple of cidambaram) in its fifteenth chapter has a narrative of śiva explaining to ādiśeṣa how he performs the dance at cidambaram, which is to earth what the heart is to the body! (A direct reference to the daharavidyā explained in point 3 above). In hindsight, this modest composition of mine becomes elevated to a meaningful and divine coincidence.
Continued from Here
The author thanks @pinaki for not only helping edit the article but co-authoring parts of the story and, in the process, educating me about Kerala, where I have not been yet…
A week went by after that rather harrowing conversation with Satyasoma. Life had attained a newfound normalcy, but the novelty was wearing off and Rudradatta was feeling rather bored. Since his birth in pāṇḍyadeśa, he had hardly spent sufficient amounts of quality time in any part of bhārata but for some rare family trips.
His udyoga was extremely demanding though it provided fair compensation and as a means to recharge after a punishingly packed schedule, Rudradatta’s office allowed him to take a longer-than-usual vacation. Thus, he undertook this trip to bhārata, his ancestral land. He went to cerapada to visit Satyasoma, who was staying all alone in one of the famous caturvedi maṅgala-s (the area of the village where brāhmaṇas reside) of yore. The region was a refuge to the ancient dramila brāhmaṇas who with their prowess in vaidīka and śāstra had transformed it into a dakṣiṇa kāśi. Today it lay within the boundaries of the prānta ruled by the pernicious rudhiradhvajas. Thinking it good to better acquaint himself with the palpably worrisome situation there as well as hoping to gain new contacts through whom he can gain further knowledge, he made his way to Satyasoma’s home and stayed there for two days. On the third morning, after he had finished his prātaḥ saṃdhyopāsana (saṃdhyā worship in the morning), he was relaxing by himself as Satyasoma had left to run some errands for a relative of his. And there was a knock on the door. Satyasoma was back at home.
Rudradatta: Soma, I had spent a good amount of time conversing with almost every one of my contacts in dramiladeśa. I believe I have milked as many interesting conversations as I can out of them. There are enough texts in my external disk to keep me busy. I will visit the devālayas soon. But, for once, I want to do something new. Do you know any person in cerapada to whom you can introduce me and whose company will be of interest to me?
Satyasoma: itokke viḍu! (Leave all that). I have got something to break you out of that intellectual and experiential rut, or rather the both of us.
Rudradatta: Not in the mood for teasing or guessing games, soma. Just tell me what it is.
Satyasoma: On the way, back home, I saw this young, well-built man, dressed in traditional garb approach me. I could not take my eyes off his venerable countenance. He spoke in malayāḷa. Such tejas! Such brahmavarcas! He told me that his name was ānandan. He said, “O, young paṭṭarē! You seem to be the kind of person before whom my āśān (master) would want the araṇgēṟṟam of his rūpaka. We are staging this play based on a kathā from the veda. We would not want more than two people in the sadassu (assembly). So, bring along a caṇṇāti (friend) with you if you will!”
Rudradatta: This is suspicious! So, he runs into you and invites you to bring, at most, one friend with you! Did he give any further details?
Satyasoma: Well, you wanted to do something new. Here it is. I am excited beyond words for this. So, don’t spoil my mood. And I insist that you should come with me to this. I don’t think ānanda specifically limited it to two and asked me to bring one friend, without any reason! This is devacitta (will of the gods), rudra! Man, your first Prime Minister, he was right! You are indeed a “champion grumbler”! Born in bhārata, you have nevertheless imbibed the qualities intrinsic to that land!
Rudradatta: Alright! Hold your peace, soma! We will go for this! Out of curiosity, at least, may I ask if this “ānanda” mentioned any details about the to you?
Satyasoma: Not really. He only said that it is a little-known story from the veda, filled with special effects and an abundance of adbhuta rasa, with a sprinkling of bībhatsa towards the end. He told me that it is very rare for a rūpaka to be staged, showcasing vedaviṣaya. Don’t think too much about it rudra! Just come!
Rudradatta: Fine fine! I will come. Where and when is this play?
Satyasoma: It is tonight at 8 PM. We can make it well within time considering that it will be enacted in a secluded clearing within the Nelliyāmpativana. He was kind enough to give the directions. Let me tell you about this pristine vana, rudra. Perched amidst the precarious steeps of the malaya hills, this is a relatively untainted āraṇya which still holds the trace of the loving caresses of bhārgava rāma who shaped this land. It is filled with rare creatures which still retain the echoes of the veda svarā-s in their chirping and cītkāra. It is nearly a two-hour drive and it will be chilly considering the elevation; so dress accordingly.
Rudradatta and Satyasoma complete their saṃdhyā prayers and leave for the play about 5.30 PM. The drive was as serpentine as the coils of confusion within Rudradatta’s mind. However, the splendid vistas offered by this ancient land assuaged some of his ill feelings. In the distance, he spotted rows of vṛkṣa bleeding thick white sap which gave this region the name of Pālakkāḍu (forest of milk). The maññu (light mist) spread along with the dark clouds of the Tuḷām Varṣa. The roiling retreating monsoons firing the bane of vṛtra, the clouds themselves arrayed in a tumult like a devāsura samara. Witnessing this play of forces beyond his ken, prompted Rudra into reminiscing a previous conversation.
Rudradatta: Soma, do you remember what I told you about producing traditional-style plays based on the veda? Remember the play I told you that I would love to see being staged?
Satyasoma: Yes, rudra. That riveting story of yavakrī from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa, right? Forget it, rudra. It is too obscure a story. And do you think, given the inappropriate parts of that story, they would stage it tonight? They appeared to be rather traditional.
Rudradatta: Adbhuta and bībhatsa, they say. Let’s see what they have for us.
Rudradatta and Satyasoma reach the place. They see ānanda at a distance who signals to them to follow him. They walk into a semi-forested area for a while till they reach an open ground with a wooden platform set up there and a few brāhmaṇa-s moving about, carrying props and getting ready.
Ānanda: Be seated here oh young men! The play will commence shortly.
The Sūtradhāra, (the director of a play) a lustrous brāhmaṇa of muscular build and wearing a turban, comes onto the stage to introduce the subject of the play:
Sūtradhāra: To the two men who braved their way to come to this forest in the dark, our greetings! We present this rūpaka, yauvanakṛtapramādam or as we might render, non-literally, in āṅglīkabhāṣā, “The madness done by the youth”. This is the story of yavakrī saumastamba from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa and the mad sāhasa that was his life!
Since, this is cerapada, we thought of bringing a story from a śākhā which thrives here! The relevant verses from the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa would be interspersed with the dialogues of our actors!
That would be all from me! Enjoy this play, which has no likeness of it, not staged according to the vidhi laid in the śāstra of bharata (i.e. nāṭyaśāstra) and speaks of otherworldly concerns!
Satyasoma: Rudra! What are the odds?! I think I am starting to get anxious!
Rudradatta: You are getting anxious now? It is too late. Let us sit through this and see what transpires in this dark forest.
A brāhmaṇa steps forward from behind the stage and proceeds to recite with gambhīra:
tena haitena mauṇḍibha udanyurīja udanyūnāṃ rājā |
taddha yavakrīḥ saumastambir āstāvaṃ prati niṣasāda |
“Now, in this way, mauṇḍibha udanyu sacrificed; the king of the udanyu.
yavakrī saumastambi sat down at the āstāva”
[The actor playing] yavakrī enters the stage and the play continues. Magical effects are produced on stage with expertise and skill, to the surprise of rudradatta and satyasoma. As the play ends, they reminisce the more memorable scenes of the play. You must pardon us here for not offering a more generous sneak-peek into the dialogues of the play for if we went into the details of the play, this story would never end!
Satyasoma: What a show Rudra! The part where Yajñavacas Rājastambāyana offers ājya (butter) into the fire and that woman suddenly appeared! They misdirected us by generating a lot of smoke! And just when you thought it was over, he offers one more time and a man with an iron club emerges from the wall of smoke! Wonder what pyrotechnic substance was the ājya?!
Rudradatta: Brilliant indeed! My favourite part, though, was when she reveals the soles of her feet, which is entirely covered with hair! It’s a whole different level of bībhatsa when you see it instead of merely reading it in the text.
Satyasoma: Ah that part! The look on yavakrī’s face! Priceless! If our doctor-to-be vaṅgasiṃha was here, he would have tried to explain it!
Rudradatta: When I read the text, I asked him about it. He told me it could be some extreme form of hypertrichosis.
Satyasoma (Laughing): Indeed! Ah! What a day! We were told to pay at the end of the play. So, let us play and then we can leave? It’s getting a bit late.
Rudradatta and Satyasoma are getting ready to leave. The sūtradhāra comes where they are and calls on Rudradatta.
Sūtradhāra: Do not be in such a great haste to leave, my friend. There is a fee to pay for this spectacular performance you just saw! Or, do you, young man, think that this is not worthy of a fee?
Rudradatta (bringing his hands together in greeting): Do not mistake us, venerable sir. We were just about to approach one of your men to ask regarding the fee. How much should we pay you for the extremely unusual privilege of watching such a beautiful play sir? Indeed, after paying you what is due, there are so many questions for me to ask you! Firstly, may we have the fortune of knowing your name sir?
Sūtradhāra: I suffer from a dośa of having too many names. Some say that, as a child, I demanded for more names. But let that be. This is the dakṣiṇā for the glorious performance you just saw! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja! Hurry now!
Rudradatta (a bit angrily): Hold it sir! I have spoken to you with nothing but the utmost politeness. You are rude as to not give me your name. Then you ask five nīlalohita cows which gives vāja…jyoti (and slightly sarcastically); where does the venerable one want me to go to procure cows for him? Is this a śrautakarma that I should make bovine payments?
Sūtradhāra: Verily, this is as good as śrauta. This rūpaka itself is the iṣti which just concluded. You are the yajamāna here! You desired to see a rūpaka. And thus, you have the adhikāra to be the yajamāna for the rūpakeṣti. I, the Sūtradhāra, the director, am the adhvaryu. (The ṛtvij belonging to the yajurveda; he can be said to be the “director” of a yajna)
This Ānanda here is the assistant director of this play, the pratiprasthātr (the first of three assistants of the adhvaryu). Of whatever worth the dakṣiṇā comes to, I, along with the hotṛ, udgātṛ and brahman (the adhvaryu and these three are the four main ṛtvij-s), will each get the largest portions and my pratiprasthātr gets half of what I get. Second only to me in rank he is!
And since it is a bright beautiful full-moon today, let this be a darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi for you! Just like the śrautayāga, you, the yajamāna, have to do nothing. We do everything but you will reap the benefit of it all.
Rudradatta: As Yajñavalkya indeed says so in the śatapatha brāhmaṇa
Sūtradhāra: Ah! Indeed! Why do you not expound on it for the listening pleasure of us all?
Rudradatta: As you request sir. In the darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi, after girding the wife of the yajamāna, there is a point in the ritual where the act of looking upon the ājya (butter) takes place. Some opined that the yajamāna himself should look at the auspicious ājya so as to secure the benefits of the rite for himself. The opinion of the feisty Yajñavalkya is recorded there. It is written:
athā́jyamávekṣate taddhaíke yájamānamávakhyāpayanti tádu hovāca yā́jñavalkyaḥ kathaṃ nu ná svayámadhvaryávo bhávanti katháṃ svayaṃ nā́nvāhuryátra bhū́yasya ivāśíṣaḥ kriyánte kathaṃ nveṣāmátraivá śraddhā́ bhavatī́ti yāṃ vai kā́ṃ ca yajñá r̥tvíja āśíṣamāśā́sate yájamānasyaiva sā tásmādadhvaryúrevā́vekṣeta
śatapatha brāhmaṇa 22.214.171.124
“Now, he (the adhvaryu) looks down on the ājya. Here, some others, make the yajamāna look [instead]. [Regarding] that, says yājñavalkya, “How (kathaṃ here is in the sense of why) do not they (the sacrificers, yajamāna-s) themselves be the adhvaryava [at their own sacrifice]? How do not they themselves supplement (that is, they themselves can recite the prayers) where blessings (āśiṣaḥ) are made? How can these (yajamāna-s, the sacrificers who perform these sacrifices) have faith in this?” Whatever and whichever blessings the priests (r̥tvija) ask for (āśāsate) is for the yajamāna alone. Therefore, the adhvaryu indeed should look down on it (the butter)”
Thus, even in our case, in this figurative sacrifice of the rūpakeṣti, you, your assistants and actors have done everything but I alone reap the pleasures of enjoying it as the spectator!
Sūtradhāra: Well spoken, young man! But you see, I would say that the rūpakeṣti is better than your cherished śrautadharma (the vedic religion of rituals). In the former, your senses are nourished and you feel satiated with the performance and pay a fair price to men who earn an honest living by means of their expertise in a craft. Look at the r̥tvija-s in śrautadharma.
They exploit the naivete of pious men and create all kinds of complicated rituals. How is that you are so passionate about this śrautadharma? What about the śruti itself? Or the innumerable smṛtaya and śrautasūtrāṇi (the śrautasūtra-s are the ritual manuals of baudhāyana, etc who clarify on points of śrauta rituals) Does it really care about how men were exploited by greedy priests?
Rudradatta: From friendly talk, you have crossed over to rudeness and attack against the veda. Sir, respectable as you look, you have no propriety in your conduct. Good men do not speak ill of the vedas and those who speak ill of it attain durgati. Your talk is like that of the navya-pāṣaṇḍavādin (neo- vedānta, babaisms, etc) or that of the mleccha scholars such as Max Muller the late german scholar.
Sūtradhāra: Well, what did they say that I am being accused of being like them?
Rudradatta: Muller thought that the dharma declined under the “dead hand” of the brāhmaṇa-s and their “priestcraft”. He wrote:
“I should like to live for 10 years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching. Whatever finds root in India soon overshadows the whole of Asia.”
Indeed, it was part of the grand scheme to portray as evil the brāhmaṇa-s as well as the rituals which they perform. With these gone, it would have been easy to subjugate the heathens and turn them into deranged monotheists.
And this has to be accomplished in a perfect and complete manner. It would not have been enough that the status quo rituals alone should be targeted. Even the śrautadharma, whose rituals had largely gone out of vogue, was excavated by these scavenger-scholars with the sole purpose of undermining it. They knew that the veda was the source of the dharma and hence they wrote evil against it and its rites.
Hermann Oldenberg notes that for the bauddha-s it was even worse than priestcraft: “…and for Buddhism also, this priestly class was something more than a vain and greedy priestcraft, that it was the necessary form in which the innermost essence, the evil genius, if we may so call it, of the Indian people has embodied itself”.
Sūtradhāra: Fine rhetoric. Answer my questions though! Does this precious śruti of yours or the smr̥ti-s of the so-called great men really care about how men are being exploited by greedy priests? No matter how wicked these r̥tvija-s may be, they will be elected to officiate anyway! Their conduct, their character is of no importance to anyone; be it the devas or men! As long as the devas get their share of the oblations or men, the fruits of the ritual!
Rudradatta: Listen for I shall endeavour to answer you even as my knowledge is limited.
I shall now quote from the śruti, the aitareya brāhmaṇa:
trīṇi ha vai yajñe kriyante jagdhaṃ gīrṇaṃ vāntaṃ
Three [things] occur in the yajna (sacrifice): the eaten (remnants), swallowed, and vomited [food].
taddhaitadeva jagdhaṃ yad āśaṃ samnaṃmārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā me dadyāduta vā mā vṛṇīteti taddha tatparāṅeva yathā jagdhaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty
Now this verily is eaten is when he (the sacrificer) makes as r̥tvij who desires ‘ May he give me, or may he choose me.’ That is cast-aside like remnants; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.
atha haitadeva gīrṇaṃ yadbibhyadārtvijyaṃ kārayata uta vā mā na bādhetota vā me na yajñaveśaśāṃ kuryāditi taddha tatparāṅeva yathā gīrṇaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakty
Now this verily is swallowed is when he makes as r̥tvij whom he fears, “Let him not either injure me, nor let him disturb the yajna for me/ That is cast-aside like something swallowed; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer
atha haitadeva vāntaṃ yadabhiśasyamānamārtvijyaṃ kārayate yathā ha vā idaṃ vāntānmanuṣyā bībhatsanta evamtasmāddevās taddha tatparāṅeva yathā vāntaṃ na haiva tadyajamānambhunakti
Now this verily is vomited is when he makes as r̥tvij who is spoken ill of. Just as here men are disgusted by what is vomited, similarly thus the gods. That is cast-aside like something vomited; that indeed does not reward the sacrificer.
sa eteṣāṃ trayāṇāmāśāmneyāt
He should not desire these three. // aitareya brāhmaṇa 3.46
Is this śruti sufficient for you, Sūtradhāra?
Sūtradhāra: Very well…
Rudradatta: Here are other verses from the śruti. Consider this from the noble mouth of śāṇḍilya
dákṣiṇāsu tvèva ná saṃvaditávyaṃ saṃvādénaivá ‘rtvíjo ‘lokā íti
But in [respect of] fees (dákṣiṇāsu: plural locative form of dákṣiṇā), it is not [something] to be agreed upon, (In this context, it means bargaining. The fees are not to be determined by discussion with input coming from the r̥tvija-s) by bargaining (literally: by agreeing upon it) the r̥tvija-s [become] worldless (deprived of heaven) // śatapatha brāhmaṇa 126.96.36.199
Satyasoma: What about the śāstra-s apart from the śruti?
Rudradatta: Or let me quote from the kalpasūtra texts you seem to be fond of criticizing. This is from bhagavān baudhāyana in his śrautasūtra:
kiṃgata u khalvativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti
So, in what occurrence, then, supersession [of one’s earlier choice of a priest] or non-choosing [of a priest] takes place?
steyamacārīd abhyamaṃsthād ayājyamayājayatsāditaṃ karma tadu hāsthita ity eteṣām ekasminn ativaraṇaṃ vāvaraṇaṃ vā bhavatīti
He who lives by robbery, inflicts injuries, officiates for unfit persons, commits a condemnable deed. In each one of these cases, supersession of one’s choice (If the sacrificer had earlier chosen this person as r̥tvij but comes to realize his despicable conduct later) or non-choosing (if he has yet to choose) takes place.
Thus, your contention that the conduct of those who serve as r̥tvija-s did not matter to the śruti (the veda) or the śiṣṭa-s (the wise men, such as baudhāyana who expound on the dharma to us) is unfounded bunkum!
Sūtradhāra: Well spoken! But what about the commentary on the mīmāṃsā sutra 1.3.4: hetudarśanāc ca? He who had delved into the ocean of śrauta knowledge, śabarasvāmin; he gives three examples of ulterior motives on part of the r̥tvija! I will be merciful and take just one of them!
lobhād vāsa āditsamānā audumbarīṃ kṛtsnāṃ veṣṭitavantaḥ kecit. tat smṛter bījam.
adhikaraṇāntaraṃ vā. vaisarjanahomīyaṃ vāso ‘dhvaryur gṛhṇātīti, yūpahastino dānam ācarantīti.
“Out of greed, desiring [excess] cloth, they (r̥tvija) cover up the whole of the audumbari (sacrificial post made of udumbara wood); this was what gave rise to the smṛti rule [that the whole post should be covered up]
Thus, these rules [made by priests] have no authority, such as: ‘At the vaisarjana homa, the cloth should be taken by the adhvaryu’, ‘The cloth covering the sacrificial post, they should give it away’ “
What is your reply to this, feisty young man?
Rudradatta: This has already been explained by kumārila bhaṭṭa in tantravārtika. The greed of the priests would have been better satisfied by covering the lower and upper parts of the yūpa (sacrificial post) by two pieces, exactly as two are used by women for the lower and the upper coverings. That way, the priest would get two large pieces of cloth instead of merely one! The priest could have interpolated in the smṛti that it should be an expensive silk cloth. Why would it be necessary to cover the sacrificial post with kuśa grass before covering it with cloth? The greedy priests might as well have had both coverings made of cloth!
That śabarasvāmin pointed out this example demonstrates that brāhmaṇa-s cared about worshippers getting exploited by a few greedy priests and were willing to point out what they saw as morally censurable, even if it be found in sacred ritual texts written by esteemed men! That kumārila demolishes the examples proves that even these examples are full of holes and that the case for śrautam being a system of greed and exploitation is a very weak one! I know all the three examples you speak of and could answer them too! Do you wish to hear?!
Sūtradhāra: No! I am pleased with what I have heard! Satiated like a guest who has been fed well! Now pay me my fee and I shall leave! Five nīlalohita cows which give vāja, peya, jyoti and bheṣaja!
Rudradatta: Sir, it is getting late. It is not the time for such jokes sir!
Sūtradhāra: I thought you were sharper than this! Alright! Let me be kind and explain! Vāja means food; peya, drink; jyoti, light for which you need electricity and bheṣaja, medicine! What do you need for that?
Sūtradhāra: Ah! Correct! Now, nīlalohita, that strange combination of red and blue, is purple. Do you not have five purple cows in your pocket?
Rudradatta: You mean my 2000 rupee notes!! You could have stated it directly!
Sūtradhāra: parokṣa-priyā iva hi devāḥ, says the śruti! “The gods love the indirect”. Are you not familiar with that? Since you like śrauta, oh taittirīyaka, perhaps I will put it this way:
sūtradhārāya pañcanīlalohitān ā labheta rūpakakāmas
sūtradhāro vai nīlalohita
pañcaśirā sūtradhāro bhavati
sūtradhāram eva svena bhāgadheyenopadhāvati
“To the Sūtradhāra, he should offer five reddish-blue [cows], desiring a rūpaka (play). The Sūtradhāra is the reddish-blue deity. The Sūtradhāra has five heads. With his own share, he shall please him!”
Rudradatta: Sir, first you said you are the adhvaryu asking for dakṣiṇā. Now you speak as if you are the deva. You confuse me with your contradictory speech! I’m exhausted and would like to leave for home with my friend! Here is the money Sir!
Sūtradhāra: r̥tvij, deva, yajamāna; I’m all that! Ha ha! Farewell!
Rudradatta and Satyasoma proceeds to leave. The sūtradhāra walks away with his assistant, rambling about Rudradatta.
Sūtradhāra: See the young āstika-s of today, ānanda! They grumble about parting with such a small sum. Did I ever tell you how nābhānediṣṭha of ancient times was ready to offer me the dakṣiṇā he was entitled to and already paid by the āṇgīrasas? A thousand cows he was prepared to yield to me, oh ānanda when I told him they belong to me! This boy sulks over paying me the dakṣiṇā he owes me! These youths today…Did I not give back the cows to nābhānediṣṭha? Perhaps, I will give these purple cows back to him! Like nābhānediṣṭha’s truthful speech, this boy’s feisty speech was pleasing to me!
Rudradatta turns back in excitement and sees that there was no one there! The sūtradhāra, his assistant ānanda, the other staff, the stage and the props-all had vanished! Rudradatta panics and then prods Satyasoma to turn back as well.
Rudradatta: Soma! Did you hear what he said?! Do you not see it now?!
Satyasoma: He was rambling on and on and mentioned nābhānediṣṭha. And now, he’s gone! All of them are gone! I do not understand what has transpired!
Rudradatta: Soma….(breathing heavily) …The Sūtradhāra is……
Brief glossary and commentary on some words used:
paṭṭare: Derived from saṃskṛta word bhaṭṭa; as our friend @pinakasena informs me, it is the term used for Tamil iyers settled in Kerala.
araṇgēṟṟam: premiere performance of a dance or play
The author would like to thank @Pinaki for helping with the editing and improving the structure with his invaluable input to the text.
Continued from Here:
satyasoma: But underneath the melancholy of it all, there is something quite strikingly beautiful about the way you put it, no? With 2500 kilometres separating the patrilineal descendant of somastambha and the prospective students of the jaiminīya brāhmaṇa sitting in an impoverished pāṭhaśālā, it is hard not to infer a deep and profound, yet subtle sense of pan-bhāratiya unity, a unity whose existence has been denied and our celebration of it, falsely invalidated.
rudradatta: Indeed, I did not mean to end my observation on a sad note. What I said with respect to the memory of somastambha’s name is just one of innumerable threads constituting this woven work, the warp and woof of dharma. Everyone knows about the dvādaśa jyotirliṅga-s for the śaiva-s, the divyadeśa-s of the śrī vaiṣṇavas or the śaktipīṭha-s of the śākta-s, covering the whole of bhārata or even what we call, akhaṇḍabhārata.
satyasoma: Would that not suffice, rudra? Or should I humour you and allow you to go on, in the unfailing hope that it will lead to something more than what I expect?
rudradatta: Allow me, soma. Thus, you have the Balinese brāḥmaṇas recognizing skanda as rohitaka supriyāya when praising him by several epithets in a stuti. The association of skanda with rohitaka (Rohtak, Haryana), I encountered in the mahābhārata as the following verse from the sabhāparva states while describing nakula’s conquest in the vāruṇeya (western) direction during the digvijaya:
“tato bahudhanaṃ ramyaṃ gavāśvadhanadhānyavat
kārtikeyasya dayitaṃ rohītakam upādravat” (sabhāparva 29.4)
“kārtikeyasya dayitaṃ”, it is said. Cherished and loved by kārtikeya is rohītaka.
Apart from this, a similar nāstika reference in the bauddha mahāmāyūrīvidyārājñī, and inscriptions to the same effect, which lay Hindu would associate skanda today with Rohtak? He’s hardly remembered there though it is exceedingly dear to him. Yet, thousands of kilometres away, in a small island tucked away in Indonesia, this connection is remembered.
Speaking of these “invisible threads” holding together bhārata, which, as the āryottama notes, even the wicked chacha appreciated, one has the peerless tradition of the rāmāyaṇa, after vālmiki, incarnating among the dramila-s as kamban’s poetry, among the Gonds and in Bali, Thailand, and Cambodia. Or the case of mahārāṣṭradeśa brāhmaṇa-s officiating at coastal rāmeśvara or the rawal who serves badrinātha at his temple at Uttarakhand hailing from among the nambūtiri-s.
But, the implications are more than just pan-Hindu unity transcending boundaries of land and language though it constitutes a significant part.
satyasoma: What else do these “invisible threads” imply, rudra, apart from pan-Hindu unity of thought and expression? What else did you see in these “threads”?
rudradatta: It is what I see beneath them, soma. The śruti stands underneath this tapestry as an inexhaustible source of traditions and stories, with every pada (word), vākya (sentence), a set of mantras and ākhyāna (narrative) in a brāhmaṇa having the potential to give rise to a tradition or a new story remembered by the masses. I could discuss several examples of that but that topic is for another day. But, I will content myself with one I can recount from personal experience.
satyasoma: The veda is the basis for everything in our dharma you say? Isn’t that a statement to which one pays mere lip-service?
rudradatta: I do not know if I can say for everything, soma. Perhaps more substantially than one would think, to put it safely. But it is not a basis in the sense you are thinking, soma. It is anachronistic to argue that the veda directly speaks of matters which arose way later than its time. What I refer to is how the veda is the source of “raw material” upon which new deities, practices and pious narratives are built. I speak about the indescribable sense of euphoria when one encounters an obscure part of the lofty śruti manifesting in the unlikeliest of places.
Let me get to the example, Soma. In the course of doing pañcāyatana pūjā for the Great Five (śiva, viṣṇu, ambā, ganapati and sūrya), many would, offer dīpārādhana with a pañcamukha dīpa (a “five-mouthed” lamp). During one such performance, I heard the following verses from the taittirīya brāhmaṇa being repeated thus:
“nárya prajā́ṃ me gopāya / amr̥tatvā́ya jīváse / jātā́ṃ janiṣyámāṇāṃ ca / amŕ̥te satyé prátiṣṭhitām /
átharva pitúṃ me gopāya / rásam ánnam ihā́yuṣe / ádabdhāyó ‘śītatano / áviṣaṃ naḥ pitúṃ kr̥ṇu /
śám̐sya paśū́n me gopāya / dvipā́do yé cátuṣpadaḥ // aṣṭā́śaphāś ca yá ihā́gne / yé cáikaśaphā āśugā́ḥ /
sápratha sabhā́ṃ me gopāya / yé ca sábhyāḥ sabhāsádaḥ / tā́n indriyā́vataḥ kuru / sárvamā́yur úpāsatām /
áhe budhniya mántraṃ me gopāya / yám ŕ̥ṣayastraividā́ vidúḥ / ŕ̥caḥ sā́māni yájūm̐ṣi / sā́ hí śrī́r amŕ̥tā satā́m //” (Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa 188.8.131.52-26)
satyasoma: Strange. Why would a verse with ahirbudhnya occur here? Is it because it is one of the names of rudra in later day texts and presumably it was a śiva-pañcāyatana? (pañcāyatana worship, but with Śiva placed specifically in the centre and the other four in the intermediate quarters) But if it is so, why particularly at this point? Do the other verses refer, somehow, to the other four devas?
rudradatta: No. The reason is less farfetched and simpler but more amusing. See, the pañcamukha dīpa is a five-flamed lamp. In the śrauta system, the three well-known fires are gārhapatya, dakṣiṇāgni (also known as anvāhāryapacana) and āhavanīya. That we know, right?
satyasoma: Yes yes, I’m aware. The equivalences with the three lokas and the trimūrti in later texts; that all we have heard of.
rudradatta: There are two other fires established at the very beginning of the śrauta life, in the agnyādheya ceremony (the establishing/setting-up of fires as a preliminary rite to qualify one to perform śrauta rituals). Namely, the sabhya and āvasathya fires. The above five verses are mentioned by bhagavān baudhāyana in his śrautasūtra as the virājakrama mantra-s and they are employed by the yajamāna (the sacrificer) to pray to those five fires, in the order I just mentioned.
satyasoma: Ah! I got it! Five sacrificial fires, five-mouthed lamp! That is the connection?!
rudradatta (smiling): Yes. In the relatively popular pañcāyatana pūjā, you find this obscure set of mantra-s from the taittirīya brāhmaṇa making an appearance and yet many of those who recite it will continue to do so without knowing the significance or the raison d’être behind it.
satyasoma: I can top that example of yours, rudra! As obscure as the reference may be, it is not so unimaginable to find mantras from the veda, however unrelated it may be, in a pūjā performed mainly by smārta brāhmaṇa-s.
Take this example! How many people would know that when they say the word, āratī, to speak of their beloved daily ritual, they are really uttering a slightly distorted version of āratrikā, which ultimately derives from the words of a veda mantra?
rudradatta: Seems familiar. I remember hearing about this from someone. Refresh my memory, Soma.
satyasoma: Apparently, the āratrikā rite is found in the atharvaveda pariśiṣṭa (supplement to the atharvaveda). There occurs this vidhi of which I will quote some of the verses I remember and are especially relevant:
“athāto rātrisūktānāṃ vidhim anukramiṣyāmaḥ 1
śuciḥ śuklavāsāḥ purohitaḥ 2
pārthivasya paścimāṃ saṃdhyām upāsya darbhaiḥ pavitrapāṇī rājānam abhigamya 3
piṣṭamayīṃ rātriṃ kṛtvā 4
annapānadhūpadīpair arcayitvā mālyaiś ca 5
prajvalitaiś caturbhir dīpakair arcayitvā 6
ā rātri pārthivam iṣirā yoṣeti sūktadvayena rātrim upasthāya 7
trāyamāṇe viśvajite ahne ca tveti rājānaṃ pradakṣiṇaṃ triḥ kṛtvā 8”
The rite was originally performed by a royal purohita, dressed in white robes, for the king at the time of the evening saṃdhyā. He would make an image of Goddess rātri out of flour and worships it with food, drink, incense, lamps and garlands. He worships her with four lamps burning and installs the idol by uttering two sūkta-s, “ā rātri pārthivam” (atharvaveda, śaunakiya śākhā, 19.47) and “iṣirā́yóṣā” (same text but 19.49). The purohita then waves the lights in a circular fashion in front of the king thrice for his protection from evil. I learnt about this, thanks to Dr. Nirmala Kulkarni.
rudradatta: This is interesting. Hence an apotropaic rite initially performed only for the kings, was later adopted by the common folk as well. It is worthwhile noting that so many of the practices Hindus take for granted as beginning-less features can be traced in some form to the śruti. Speaking of which, one can argue that even the harikatha to which the masses flock has roots deeply embedded within the śruti.
There has been an intimate link between the yajna and public recitation of sacred knowledge, often unappreciated by the lay Hindu. It is no coincidence that the mahābhārata is framed as janamejaya listening to vaiśampāyana at the sarpa-killing sattra or that the uttarakāṇḍa states how vālmīki has the sons of rāma go around the city singing the rāmāyaṇa on the occasion of the aśvamedha held by rāma or that ugraśrava sauti recites purāṇa-s to the sages at the sattra held by śaunaka.
Indeed, when one traces the origin of this, one realizes the roots of a formalized public discourse lie in the hoary pāriplava rite of the aśvamedha where various branches of knowledge are recited to different groups, with the itihāsa-s and purāṇa-s being narrated to fishermen and bird-catchers. But let me put that discussion aside for now. In all this, I forgot to ask you as to why you are here. Is everything okay, soma?
satyasoma: Yes, everything is fine, Rudra. It is a strange coincidence, I think, that you should mention harikatha just now. I attended one a few days ago, by this famous, “new-age” reciter at the behest of a friend. The harikatha was full of the clichéd attacks on rituals and vedas being incapable of leading a man to the highest good. This brāhmaṇa was carefully combining paurāṇika narratives with “commercially hot” words and phrases like, “be spiritual not religious”, “rituals are for the ignorant”, etc. I wonder, if he knew how the śruti equates viṣṇu with the yajna (sacrifice) itself. As I was sitting in my seat, cursing myself for being there, something strange happened, rudra. That’s what I came here to talk to you about.
rudradatta: What happened soma?!
satyasoma: Irritated with the vedanindana and avamatya he showed to rituals, I turned my head upwards and had the strangest vision ever! I saw “beings” standing in mid-air by the left side of the arch above the stage. I will tell you how it all played out in front of me. It was as if I, like arjuna, was given divya cakṣūṣi (divine eyes), for I do not think that what I saw, I could have seen them with the eyes of a mortal! The three beings! The first one was an old man, with silver hair and a thick beard indicating his antiquity. He had several heads, trunks and feet, similar to the puruṣa of puruṣa sūkta! Imagine that, rudra!
rudradatta: “sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt!” I can imagine! Go on, Soma! Do not stop now!
satyasoma: He was slowly thinning but, dressed in majestic garbs, he had a regal countenance and lordliness that remained largely unaffected by his age. His many heads were adorned by a single crown that was singularly unmatched. The second being was a handsome, young man who, though not possessing the royal look of the first, was nevertheless dressed magnificently, having several faces, each of them extremely resplendent and rivalling the other in beauty. All of his faces, his two shoulders and his trunk were covered with the auspicious symbols of viṣṇu!
I saw him rend his way out of one of the many trunks of the first one! The second one then feasted on part of the body of the first and remorselessly fattened himself! The first one became emaciated greatly! But in a short while, he too started thinning out. Then out of both of them, a luminous third one materialized, sporting a crown similar to that of the first being, but also having the auspicious marks of the second. He then devoured parts of both the first and the second and it seemed as if he had overpowered them, but not for long. He too became weak. The three of them then smirked condescendingly at the reciter of the harikatha and said, “etat sarvaṃ mariṣyati (This all will die)”! Then it all disappeared, rudra! What do you make of this? Tell me for it has been robbing me of my sleep for the several nights!
rudradatta listened with rapt attention and looked at satyasoma with trepidation and began to speak.
rudradatta: The trajectories of our minds seem to be crossing more often than I would hope for, for the coincidences are becoming too inordinate and frequent. Hear me out, soma, for this is what I think is the meaning of whatever you saw.
For a few weeks, in the course of reading various śāstra-s and other texts, a series of imaginations occurred to me. Since they were my own imagination, I naturally did not make much of it then. But what I saw with the internal eyes of my restless mind, something similar to what you have seen with your external eyes, Soma!
During one such study, I was reading the charming āgamaḍambara of jayanta bhaṭṭa. There is a particular scene in that play, which is rather touching; I read it again and again. This episode where a ṛtvik (a priest who performs śrauta sacrifices) and upādhyāya (a teacher) speak of the impending decline of śrautam as pāñcarātra, śaiva and others overpowered it even as these systems relied on the śruti as pramāṇa. There, the ṛtvik, with a tinge of sadness I can only intuit, tells the upādhyāya:
“vayasya, yathā manyase. kaḥ svārtham avadhīrya madhyastho dharmaikatāna buddhir bhavati? kiṃ tu kathaṃ vedaikaviṣaya yājanādhyāpanādi vṛttibhir asmābhiḥ kālo netavyaḥ?”
(Friend, it is as you think. Who, disregarding his own goals, impartially, have only dharma in his intellect? But how [when] performing sacrifices, teaching, etc; exclusively concerns of the veda, being our profession, should we pass our time?)
The upādhyāya replies:
“vayasya, yathaivātikrānto nītas tathaivāgāmy api grāsavasanamātra santoṣibhir neṣyate”
(Friend, whatever way we have led in the past, the [same] way in the future. With just a morsel to eat and clothing, we shall be content; without desire.)
And then both of these men speak on how the pāñcarātrika-s imitate the śrautin-s with impunity. As you very well know, I do have great regard for the vaiṣṇava contributions to our dharma, be it pāñcarātra or the great system of rāmānuja, who himself was a peerless defender of the veda’s authority. Yet, I felt some resentment about the disregard for the veda by many who represented these schools and thus, when I read it, I had visualizations similar to what you saw. And I will now explain what you saw!
satyasoma: Tell me without delay! My mind is restless with excitement!
rudradatta: The first being, old and of royal effulgence; he is the veda, the śrautadharma of majestic form. Divided into countless śākhā-s, each with a plurality of scriptures within, you saw him with several heads, trunk and feet! The second being is pāñcarātra, oh soma! Having his origins in the vājasaneya śākhā of the veda, as the pāñcarātra texts themselves state, you saw him tear himself out of one of the trunks of the first. Yet, ignoring his origin in the veda, he would put himself above it.
With his own unique mantraśāstra and kriya (rites) dedicated to the great nārāyaṇa, he would indeed have appeared very handsome to you, with all the auspicious marks of that deity. Feeding on the śruti as necessary, he grew in stature and thought he had won, just as the śrautin characters from the play thought he won! But time was not kind to him, oh soma!
In a short time, in a few centuries, as it were a drop in the kālasamudra (ocean of time), this complex ritual system dwindled into obscurity, with many of its initiations being forgotten. Having his origin in both the first and second beings, both the veda and pāñcarātra, comes the third being, the great system of rāmānuja. He adduced countless proofs from the veda with the venerable one (yāmunācārya) before him and the lion (vedānta deśika) after him both defending the pāñcarātra. Having taken up the mantle to explain vedānta, the end of the veda which has no end, comes this system of viśiṣṭādvaita śrī vaiṣṇavam! In staking a claim to their knowledge of the summum bonum of the vedic texts, they indeed sport a crown similar to that of the first. In that it is a system devoted to viṣṇu, he also has the same auspicious marks of the second! He is that third person you saw! Gradually, obscuring his two progenitors, he attained immense greatness!
Sadly, he too met his match, oh Soma! The pāñcarātra, the illuminating and high philosophical thought of rāmānuja vedānta combined with the devotional system of śrī vaiṣṇavam; both of them have been reduced to weakness. The veda continues living on albeit in dire straits, as the emaciated man you saw. The only thing really left is devotion, bhakti. But like many things in this world, such as patriotism and compassion, it has become the refuge of scoundrels. In this case, it is scoundrels who despise rituals.
The “new age” harikatha exponent has lived off by doing nindana of the rites of the veda as useless and he has prospered greatly! But his time too shall pass! The dharma has śāstra for its basis. It has karman (rites) for its basis. Without these, the insipid talk of that silly man, like cotton candy, lasts in its effects for but a short while. Having only this mediocrity as food for their buddhi, his audience will soon seek out other avenues, going into navya-pāṣaṇḍa (neo- vedānta, bābāisms) or worse, abrahma religions! Hence, they said, “etat sarvaṃ mariṣyati”! The “tradition” of this degenerate harikatha exponent, if one can even dignify it with such a term, will die soon. Do not think that it will leave something better behind for it has come up only by butchering the śāstra-s and sampradāya-s it fed upon. It will simply leave a void, ready to be filled by the first things to exploit it.
satyasoma: A warning as to what will come to pass in the future, uh, rudra?
rudradatta: Indeed. You already see Hindu youth turning towards the above-mentioned avenues, lapping up the puerile teachings of babas or a xyz-ānanda, when they fail to get answers from the “pandits” at their local temples. In fact, our friend, vaṅgasiṃha, informed me of some opining that we should be thankful that these Hindus have not converted yet. Such is the pitiful state of affairs, oh soma!
satyasoma: This is like that story of bhṛgu and varuṇa where varuṇa explains to bhṛgu his visions of horrible punishments in the afterlife, except that this ends on a far grimmer note.
rudradatta (laughing): Except that I’m no varuṇa and you’re no bhṛgu…
satyasoma: And yet, somehow, our lives are just as dramatic.