We all know that Ekadasi is one of the auspicious days in our Hindu calendar and we observe Ekadasi since it makes the Lord happy. One Ekadasi that is indeed very important in the Vaishnava tradition is the Vaikunta Ekadasi. All the Vaishnava temples celebrate this day in a very grand manner. One temple in Booloka Vaikuntam which is verily Srirangam where Lord Ranganatha resides celebrates a twenty day utsav commemorating this blessed day. It is on this day that the entrance to Vaikunta [Paramapadavasal] opens and the Lord Sri Hari is the first one to enter along with his devotees. There are no Bhagavathas, devotees or Vaishnavas who have not been enticed by the beauty of Lord Ranganatha, who is sleeping on the snake couch. The Utsav Murthy who comes out daily during the utsav is known to be more adorable than anyone else in this world. Mahatmas proclaimed him as “Azhagiya Manavalan”, the most beautiful person and he is an eternal bridegroom. Mahatmas have enjoyed the beauty of Lord Ranganatha and have perceived him to be Parabrahmam since he is the “Ulagam Unda Peruvaaya” since the entire world is contained in his stomach and he is reclining on the snake couch. There are two well-known Lord Ranganatha in the holy land of Bharat. One is the Lord in Srirangam and the other one is Lord PadmanabhaSwamy in Tiruvanthapuram. Both these Lords are reclining on their couches but there is one difference between them. The Lord in Srirangam after the dissolution of the earth [pralaya] has taken all the three worlds unto himself. In him is everything in this world. The Lord in Thiruvanthapuram is the one to remain after all the creations. All the creations happen around him and is depicted the same in the snapshots of Lord Padmanabhaswamy.
The Moolavar in Srirangam is very manifestation of Parabrahmam. One can make out this by his countenance [Gambhiram]. When the Lord comes out of the temple, he is very amiable [soulabhya]. He comes out almost daily from the day only to bestow his divine grace on the people. Even if a normal mortal doesn’t go and seek his darshan, the Lord will make sure that he bestows him with his darshan. Such is the compassion of Lord Ranganatha.
After reminiscing Lord Ranganatha commemorating the auspicious day of Vaikunta Ekadasi, Sri Narayananji fromBostondelivered the satsang lecture.
A great Vaishnavite Saint, Parasara Bhattar, in his Sri Ranganatha Strotram sings –
“Saptha Praakara Madhyae Sarasija Mukulodh Bhaasa Manae Vimanae”
“Cauvery Madhya Desae Mruduthara phaniraad boga paryanga bagae” |
“Nidra Mudrabiraamam katini katashiraha paarshva vinyastha hastham”
“Padma Daaththri karaabhyam parichitha charanam ranga rajam bhajeham”|| [Sloka No 1 of Sri Ranganatha Strotram ]
In the above hymn, he meditates on Lord Ranganatha who is housed in a seven storied mansion and the Gopuram [vimana] is unique and is in the form of a lotus bud [Sarasija Mukulodh Bhaasa Manae Vimanae]. This Vimana was the one that was brought and installed in Srirangam by Vibishana. One can perceive ParaVasudeva by standing in a particular position in the vehicle. By verily having the darshan of Vimana, [the tall Gopuram] of Srirangam, one does not even need to come inside the temple to have the darshan of Lord Ranganatha.
“Cauvery Madhya Desae Mruduthara phaniraad boga paryanga bagae” |
In Srirangam which is situated amidst two Cauvery rivers is verily where Lord Ranganatha is happily resting in a snake [Adisesha] couch.
Paarasara Bhattar then continues to extol the beautiful countenance of the Lord.
“Nidra Mudrabiraamam katini katashiraha paarshva vinyastha hastham”
He starts admiring from head to toe. Descriptions are generally from head-to-toe [kesha di padam] or toe-to-head [paada di kesam]. The first thing that Paarasara Bhat perceives is the Lord’ right hand [hastham].He uses his right-hand as a pillow and the other hand on his body. He then enjoys the Lord’s Divya mangala Vigraham. He sees Goddess Mahalakshmi Devi at the feet of the Lord, gently caressing his feet –Padma Daaththri karaabhyam parichitha charanam ranga rajam bhajeham.
Many Azhwars have sung praises on Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. It is said that Naalaira divya prabandam is known as “Tamil Vedam”. It has the essence of all Vedas. In spite of Lord’s ten incarnations on this earth, he was unable to liberate all the souls and so he decided to send Sadhus. Sage Sukha is of the opinion that Srimad Bhagavatham might not be an elixir to all since not everyone will possess this great scripture. Hence he sings –
“Kalau Kalau Bhavishyanti Narayana Parayanaha”
“Thamraparni nadhi yatra KruthaMala Payasvini”
Kauveri Cha mahapunya pratichi cha mahanadhi”
“Ye Pibanti jalam thaasaam manujha manujaeshwara”
Akin to how a Lord incarnated as ten avatars, there were ten Azhwars and our Andal and Madhurakvi Azhwar.
The only purport of the Azhwars was to bestow satsangs to everyone and they gave us the beautiful Nalaira Divya Prabandham, which is a beautiful collection of 4000 verses. It gives us the essence of all the four Vedas. The six Angaas of the Vedas [Vedaangas] are contained in Thirumangai Azhwar’s divine verses [Pasurams]. The great epic Ramayana is explained in ten verses in Kulasekara Azhwar’s Pasurams, where he exemplifies the entire Ramayana and eventually makes Lord Rama to sleep. If we delve into the works of Periyazhwar, we can see Periya Tirumozhi which is verily Srimad Bhagavatham itself. Vishnu Puranam in also elucidated in the pasurams of Periyazhwar. All the shastras are contained in the 4000 verses of Nalaira Divya Prabandham.
Even though all Azhwars are revered by one and all, one Azhwar is celebrated very much. He is none other than our NamAzhwar. He has given the essence of Vedas and was a realized soul [Jeevan Mukta] himself. All the other Azhwars went to Divya Desams to sing praises on the Lord. If we take the life-history of Thirumangai Azhwar he went to more than eighty Divaydesams to extol the greatness of the Lord, whereas in the case of NamAzhwar, he did not travel to any Divya Desam and sat in a hole in a tamarind tree and all the deities from the Divya Desams approached Nammazhwar to sing praises on them. He being a realized soul, enticed all the Devas and even the Lord and they came in front of him to give him darshan. There is one Azhwar who has a unique specialty. He did not want to be named and wanted to be called as “Dust in the feet of all Sri Vaishnavas”. He is none other than our Thondaradipodi Azhwar. He can be proclaimed as one of the greatest Azhwars. All the Azhwars had deep devotion to Lord Sri Hari and did not look at other deities whereas Thondaradipodi Azhwar considered only Sri Ranaganatha as the ultimate Lord and sang praises on Lord Ranganatha. He composed about forty Pasurams called Thirumalai. In addition to the forty pasurams, he has composes ten Pasurams for waking the Lord. He has given the essence of the Vedas and the greatness of devotion and bhakti in a lucid manner in these ten verses and it is with these ten pasurams that the Lord of Tirupati, Balaji wakes up every morning. Each of the verse in Tirumalai has an inner equivalent Sanskrit Shastras as well. Thirumalai is a representation of a scripture called “Vishnu Dharmam” that came out before Vishnu Puranam. Vishnu Dharmam extols on the greatness of chanting the Divine Names of the Lord. The Pasurams being composed in lucid manner is to enable people to comprehend the verses. That being said, it is also a fact that the normal mortals are not capable enough to interpret these Pasurams and hence Mahans come down to give the exposition of these verses. There once lived a great Mahatma, Periyavachanpillai who has given the dissertation for all the four thousand verses and from his treatise we see the greatness of Tirumalai which had forty pasurams glorifying the greatness of chanting the Divine Names of the Lord.
We all know that there is one person [strotha] expounding the purana and another person [vakthra] listening to the exposition. Vishnu Dharmam is being narrated by Sage Saunaka to King Sataneeka. In Tirumalai, it is ThoNdaradippodiAzhwAr who narrates the verses and it is verily Lord Ranaganatha who listens to these hymns. The verses –
“Patchai Ma Malai Pol Meni”
“Pavala vai kamala sen kan”
“Achuta amar erare”
“Ayar tam Kozhunthay ennum”
“Acchuvai tavira yaan poy”
“Indira logam aalum”
“Acchuvai Perinum vendane”
“Aranga Ma Naguralane”
The pasurams in Tirumalai commences in the same way as Srimad Bhagavatham. The first sloka in Srimad Bhagavatham starts by meditating on the Lord and that meditation is verily “Satyam param deemahi”. It is on a plural and Tirumalai is also plural – ‘kaavalil pulanai…’
“Let us all chant the Divine Names of the Lord and meditate on the divine form” – sings Thondaradipodi Azhwar in his first verse in Tirumalai. Srimad Bhagavatham refers to meditating on the divine truth of the Lord whereas Tirumalai refers to meditating on the divine form and on the Divine Names of the Lord.
The second sloka in Srimad Bhagavatham refers to Dharma – “Dharma Projitha “ and in Thirumalai after the first few verses, he establishes Sanatana Dharma. He tramples on all other less merited Dharmas and established the greatness of Sanatana Dharma and then goes on to acclaim the greatness of Bhagavan Nama, which is verily the essence of all Vedas.
He enjoys the beautiful countenance of the Lord and describes it as a green mountain – “Pacchai ma malai pol meni”, enjoys resplendent red lips of the Lord – “Pavala vai kamala sen kan” and the lotus like eyes of the Lord, “achuta amarar are” the moment one meditates on the form of the Lord, he is bestowed with his Divine Names on his lips. The moment one thinks on the Divine Names of the Lord, he is blessed with the Lord’s Divine Form in our heart. The term ‘achyuta’ connotes to Him who does not make Himself slide away from our hearts. He takes Lord Ranaganatha to the greatest of all heights and considers him as the epitome of all Devas. He does not want to envision Lord Ranganatha as Devas since Devas remain only in heaven and not desire to come down to earth and so he Ranaganatha as Lord Krishna “Ayar tam Kozhunthay ennum”. He only rejoices the taste of the Lord’s divine form and his Divine Names and even considers Indra Loka as inferior and sings that Vaikunta and Srirangam are one and the same.
It is said that Indra Loka is no different from Srirangam, in a sense! In Srirangam people are forever immersed in chanting the Divine form of the Lord, sing and glorify the beautiful form of the Lord and once in a year they follow a tradition called “Angapradhakshanam”, which is rolling over the streets [Chitravidhi, Uthravidhi], after drinking the nectar of the Lord’s beauty. It is said in the world of Indra, people consume “Somapana” and they become intoxicated and roll on the floors. ThondaradipodiAzhwar prefers rolling on the streets of Srirangam by rejoicing the beauty of the Lord.
Periyavachanpillai gives a beautiful interpretation to this. He says that the Azhwar does not refer Indra Loka but only compares Vaikunta to Srirangam. He uses the example of Hanuman to substantiate this fact. It is said in Ramayana, that when Lord Rama was about to depart to Vaikunta, he was very compassionate to take all his devotees along with him and entered the Sarayu river. He did not spare a small worm too but did not take Lord Hanuman with him. It is verily because Lord Hanuman did not desire any other form of the Lord other than Lord Rama. He said to Lord Rama that the very moment he started to read Ramayana, he is blessed with the divine form of Lord Rama and Hanumanji yearns for that form of Lord Rama only. Akin to Hanumanji, our Azhwar also does not desire to have the form of the Lord who is always “sadA pashyanthi suraiyah”. The Mahatmas in Vaikuntam can only see the darshan but the Lord does not talk to anybody.
The Azhwar in his first pasurams sings –
kAvalil pulanai vaiththu kali thannai kadakka pAyndhu
nAvalittu uzhi tharuginrom naman thamar thalaigaL mIdhe
mUvulaguNdu umizhndha mudhalva! nin nAmam katra
Avalippu udaimai kaNdAy arangkamA nagaruLAne! [Pasuram 1 from Thirumalai]
The above pasuram has a beautiful meaning. Our Periyavachanpillai lucidly delivered three interpretations for the verse – ‘kAvalil pulanai vaiththu’. The term “kaval” connotes “in control”. But the term ‘ il’ means not and hence kaval il’ signifies ‘not in control’. So for those who do not have their senses [pulanai] in control [kAvalil pulanai vaiththu], the chanting of Divine Names of the Lord is the only path for attaining the holy feet of the Lord in the age of Kali. Secondly he says that by chanting the Divine Names of the Lord, the Lord will slowly absolve all the worldly desires from our and cleanse our heart and transform each one of us into a noble soul. Thirdly he says that the Lord slowly takes complete control of our senses when we chant his Divine Name and he finally controls our senses, thereby all the senses will be under control and our mind and heart will focus completely on chanting the Divine Names.
Let’s see the meaning of the next segment of the verse…
“”kali thannai kadakkappaiyindu” –In Ramayana, there is an eagle known as Sampathi and tells Jadayu that crossing hundred miles to reach SriLanka is not so difficult when we compare it crossing the ocean of samsara since no one can comprehend the length and breadth of this ocean.
Here our Azhawr says that when we chant the Divine Names of the Lord, one will be able to jump the ocean of samsara seamlessly.
“nAvalittu uzhi tharuginROm1 naman thamar thalaigaL mIdhE ” – Naval in tamil connotes victory. Here our Azhwar who has realized the greatness of Nama sings in ecstasy and his happiness is clearly seen in this verse NAvalittu vuzhitarukindrom. He claims victory over death. When a devotee of the highest order who has chanted the Divine Names of the Lord all his life, gives up his mortal coil it is said that King Yama will bow down and that this devotee will walk over Yama to enter into the gates of Vaikunta since all the sins have been absolved by his incessant chanting of the Divine Names of the Lord.
“Sri Harayae ityuchae muthyuchae sarva papakath” Says Srimad Bhagavatham.
“Dhruvasya vaikunta padAdirohanah” – In the life-history of Dhruva, we see that Dhruva entered into Vaikunta by stepping on the head of King Yama.
“ninnAmam kattra Avalippudaimai” – The phrase “Avalippu” meand pride. The Azhwar goes and stands in front of Lord Ranganatha and tells the Lord, “Oh Lord, You ate mud and sand when in your childhood “ and then says that his mouth is more fragrant the Lord’s since he incessantly chants the Divine Names of the Lord. Our Periyavachanpillai gives a beautiful interpretation to this.
There once lived a boy who was very obstinate and his actions really provoked his mother. Once his mother severely reprimanded him for his actions and the boy had a feud with his mother and left his home without eating. At the end of the street there was a choultry and he took shelter there. His mother meanwhile was terribly sorry for her son and was worried that he will soon start to feel hungry. She sleuthed her son and went to the choultry and gave some food to the manager of choultry requesting him to give it to her son and he promptly delivered it to him. The boy after consuming the food said with pomp, “My mother thinks that only she can feed me”. But he did not realize the fact that it was only his mother who still fed him. The Azhwars are akin to the boy. It is verily the Lord who gave us all the scriptures and shastras. But we bickered with the Lord and did not follow it. He was still compassionate with us akin to this mother, who bestowed the Divine Names on our lips through these great Mahatmas. The Azhwars reactions with the Lord are akin to the boy’s behavior with his mother. The Azhwar says that he only desires to have the Divine Names of the Lord and not the Lord himself. But it is verily the Lord who bestowed the Divine Names on our lips.
The moment we chant the Divine Names of the Lord, the Lord will forever be looking at us. ThondaradipodiAzhwar also extols the greatness of the names Govinda and Gopala in addition to Lord Ranaganatha’s names and he glorifies the greatness of chanting the Divine Names in all his Tirumalai pasurams.
The satsang ended with Namasankirtan and prayers.