Once a disciple went to Parashara Bhatta and asked him what a ‘lakshana’ (characteristic) of a Vaishnava. Bhattar could have as well pointed to himself and said, ‘look at me, I am a Vaishnava’, but would a true Vaishnava do that? He didn’t even reference a grantha/shastras; instead, he asked his disciple to go and see Ananthazhwar in Tirupati, who is a disciple of Ramanuja and had had the Darshan of Lord Venkateswara Himself, for an answer. The disciple, after several days of travel, reaches Tirupati and in abject starvation, walks to where food is served and seats himself in the first serving (first ‘pankthi’). He was kicked out of the serving as he was ineligible, by qualifications to sit in the first-serving, and likewise for the second-serving too. Humbled, he skipped the other servings too, as he deemed himself ineligible, and ended up skipping food altogether.
Ananthazhwar came out of his house and his sight fell on this man and the former enquired of his roots and learning that he came from Srirangam, sent by Parashara Bhattar, he is elated, exchanges pleasantries and asks him if he had had his meal. When the disciple nodded in the negative, Ananthazhwar chided his ‘kainkaryaparas’ for not having taken care of the visitor from Srirangam and asked them to feed him first. Angered that the visitor has shown them in bad light, the ones who served food, srap leftovers from the utensils, make a small ball of food and present it to the visitor, who eats it as the Lord’s Prasadam, albeit feeling disrespected. Later, when he met Ananthaazhwar again, he posed the question to Ananthaazhwar about the qualities of a Vaishnava.
‘kokkaipol iruppaar, kozhiyai pol iruppar, uppaipol iruppaar, ummaipol iruppaar’, casually remarked Ananthaazhwar. ‘A Vaishnava is like a crane, is like a hen, is like salt and is like you’.
The crane waits on the banks of a lake, and waits for the big fish alone to catch it for its meals, leaving out the rest of the tiny ones. A Vaishnava is one who waits for the Periya Perumal – Lord Narayana to catch hold of His feet. From a mass of dust and dirt, the hen carefully picks up the few food-grains and pecks them. Likewise, a Vaishnava, amdist all the Shastras, granthas and Text, the Vaishnava picks up the essence of it alone filtering out the rest. Salt gives any food its taste. Without salt, however carefully prepared, the dish is not palatable. A Shastra (scripture), Thirtha (holy river), Kshetra (holy place) – gets its sanctity only by the presence/ benediction of a Vaishnava. A Vaishnava’s presence is inevitable for sanctification, just like salt is indispensible for taste. Finally, ‘ummaippol iruppar’ – this part, the visitor did not understand. He ruminates on it for hours together, and then goes back to Ananthaazhwar again, finding little success in trying to decipher the meaning of the last part.
Ananthaazhwar said, ‘you have passed the test!’ – A true Vaishnava is truly humble – like you, who have disregarded all the ill-treatment meted out to you and sought only knowledge; who did not claim to have understood everything but came back to me admitting that you have not understood yet! That is the quality of a Vaishnava, said Ananthazhwar.
After a round of introductions, Nishaji spoke on Vritrasura Upakhyana from Srimad Bhagavatam.
The Lord does not see a disparity to shower his grace in his own creation. Yet he has a little leaning to his devotees which is perhaps why Krishna crosses his legs! From stories, it may seem as if He favors the Devas always, and punishes the Asuras even if the devotion of the former is not supreme. In keeping with his fame of fairness, the Lord has a few Asura devotees as well, Prahlada, his grandson Mahabali being the foremost. Another lesser known devotee throughout our scriptures is Vritrasura whose devotion he kept as a hidden secret. Just like Radha Devi, whose name itself is so sacred to take, Vritrasura’s devotion was such pristine – delicate heart housed in a grotesque form.
Once when Indra was immersed in sensual pleasures of entertainment in his Loka, he ignored his Guru – Brushaspati who arrived there. An enraged Bruhaspati walk out, and Indra immediately realizes he has lost all his powers, and repenting for his bad-deed, goes searching for his Guru in vain. He approaches Brahma who suggests Thwashta’s son Vishwarupa. Indra approaches Vishwarupa but the latter doesn’t wish to take up the position of the Guru of the Devas. Out of compassion, he finally agreed and teaches the devas, the “Narayana Kavacham” which serves as a shield for one from head to toe. But however, Vishwarupa, gives a part of the offerings to his uncles, Asuras, whenever he performs Yagas for the Devas. Indra, enraged on hearing this, beheads the three heads of Viswarupa, killing his own Guru – a brahmana. Twashta was extremely angry on hearing this news, performs a fire-sacrifice from which emerges Vritrasura who was gory in appearance. The mantra was mispronounced and hence Vritrasura was born as one who would be killed by Indra (rather than one, who would kill Indra).
Vritrasura was strong and daunting to the Devas, who took refuge in the Lord. The Lord, who knew the real heart of Vritrasura, replied to the devas, ‘a true devotee who hankers for me will get me. One who looks for sensual pleasures is pitiable’ and blessed Indra with what he asked for – He instructed Indra to approach a sage called Dadichi and ask for his backbone with which he would make the ‘Vajrayuda’ – with which Vritrasura can be killed. Indra does as instructed and confronts Vritrasura at the battlefield.
Vritrasura laughed at Indra – ‘Look at what you went and asked the Lord!’, he laughed, ‘It wouldn’t take me long to go to the Lord and ask for a boon to defeat Indra, and the Lord shall grant it to me! But, Indra, I wouldn’t ask him for that. I wish for something greater and sublime!’ He very well knew that he was born to be killed by Indra and Indra also wanted victory over Vritrasura. That was his wish too – to die at the hands of Indra – for the Lord’s will was his will too.
He would keep his prayer soft and secretive. He had only 4 verses in prayer-
‘aham hare tava pAdaikamUla dAsAnudAso bhavitAsmi bhUyah |
manasmaretAsu pater guNAmste grhNIta vAkkarma karotu kAyah ||’
May my mind think about you and you alone; my hands serve you alone.
‘daasaanudasa’ – all great Mahatmas say this – May I be blessed t o serve the devotee of your devotee’s devotee! Such is their humility! A bhajan by Kabir ends as ‘raam naam nij amrut saar, sumire sumire bin.. kahe kabir chado harike charan nivaar‘ – ‘remembering the nectarine Rama Nama, devotees cross the ocean of the world, being a devotee of the devotees of the Lord, I shall not give up God’s Feet!’ Sekkizhar, the author of Periyapuranam calls himself ‘adiyaarukku adiyaar’; likewise, echo the Azhwars, – one of their name being Thondaradipodi (the dust at the feet of the devotees). Sri Swamiji would say, if you can serve Rama like Lakshmana, serve the Lord/Guru, that is good. If that is not possible, be like Bharata – do what the Guru says. If you cannot do even that, be like Shatrugna – serve the devotee of Bhagavan. Vritrasura asks for servitude to the servants of servants of the Lord.
And then in his second verse, he says,
Na naga prushtam nacha parameshtyam nasarvabhaumam narasadhipathyam
Nayoga siddhir apunarbhavam samanjasatva virahaiya kaankshe || (6:11:25)
Says Vritrasura, ‘I don’t want the pleasures of any of the worlds nor do I want any Yoga Siddhis; not even liberation if it means moving away from you, Oh Lord. May I be constantly in your Smarana’. Interestingly, in Uddhava Gita, the Lord uses these same words to describe the qualities of a true devotee.
The third sloka reveals the true nature of Vritra’s bhakti.
Ajatha pakshad iva maataram khagah stanyam yata vatsadhara ksudhartha: |
Priyam priyeva vyushitam vishanna Manoravindaasksha didrukshate tvaam” || (6:11:25)
When a little bird is born from the egg and the mother is away, it helplessly cries out, and Vritrasura says he is like that bird, crying out for Bhagavan. Then he goes one step higher and talks about a calf that is tied to a rope and can see its mother, but can’t go unto it. He says that he is like the calf tied to the world and hence not able to reach the Lord even though he knows the Lord is there. Finally he reveals his true devotion when he refers to the love of a wife for her husband – she knows where her husband has gone and is capable of going, but she waits patiently for him to come – a devotee who wishes for Bhagavan to come down and bestow His grace and darshan.
In the final sloka,
“Mamottama sloka janeshu sakyam samsara chakre bramtah smakarmabi: |
Tvan maayayaatmatmaja daara geheshu Asakta chityasa na naatha bhooyaat” (6:11:26)
He says, ‘Oh Lord! Please bestow me with Satsang with your devotees. And keep me away from those who keep speaking of the world.’ He underlines that satsang is the root of everything. He begins with satsang of the devotees of the devotees of the Lord and concludes with Satsang again, stressing the fact that if we are in a satsang, automatically, that which is referred in the other two slokas – staunch devotion towards the Lord comes.
In Pushti Marga, these slokas are the Chatusloki Bhagavatam. They are indeed the four Purushartas – Dharma( serving the Bhagavan’s devotees), Artha (the Lord who is the greatest wealth), Kama (the greatest desire is to yearn for the Lord) and Moksha (satsang leads one to verily Moksha). In Papa Ramdas’ words, ‘one whose lips has the Divine Name all the time is indeed a Jivan Mukta’. Chanting incessantly is indeed Moksha.
After Vritrasura makes this prayer, Indra attacks him with Vajrayuda and Vritra is killed.
The sixth canto – the heart of Bhagavatam – has Ajamila Charitra and this story –showing us the greatest of Bhakti and the grace of the Lord.
The satsang ended with prayers and Nama Sankirtan.