Monthly Archives: January 2016

Bhakti Songs 381-390

381 நினைக்க வேண்டும்

 

அலைமோதும் மனதுக்கோர் அமைதிவேண்டும்

அடங்காத மதிக்கும் ஓர் எல்லை வேண்டும்

நினைவாலும் மனதாலும் நாடவேண்டும்

நித்தம் உன்பாதமே நான் தொழவேண்டும்

 

கண்ணுக்குப் புறம்பாக நீ நின்றபோதும்

கருத்துக்கு எட்டாது ஆனபோதும்

உணர்வின் ஊடாக என்னுள் வந்து

ஒன்றாகி என்னையும் நிதம் ஆளவேண்டும்

 

சொன்னதைச் சொல்லியே வந்தபோதும்

ஒன்றும் சொல்லாமலே நான் நின்றபோதும்

சொல்லாமலே என்னை அறிந்த நீயும்

சொந்தமாக்கி உன்னுடன் வைக்கவேண்டும் Continue reading

Understanding a Sampradaya

You can never understand a particular sampradaya of Hinduism based only on text; there are too many dimensions to consider. A sampradaya should be approached from various points of view. Yet, even these perspectives might create contradictions and won’t give a clear picture.

For example, the Srivaishnava tradition continuously claims that its origin is from Narayana itself. It went to his consort Sri, then to Senaimudali (Vishvassenar), Nammazhvar, and down through various acharyas. However, the sthala-purana of each temple will talk about the intricacies of Srivaishnava in its own way.

According to Dr. Anandapadbanacharya, the presiding deity of Srikurungudi in Tirunellveli becomes a ‘Sri Vaishnava’ only after being duly initiated in that tradition. This means that the very deity who is the origin of Srivaishnava needs to be further re-initiated to become an adherent of the same sampradaya. This is the story about it as explained by Anandabadbanacharya:

One day the presiding deity of Thirukurungudi (Nambi) asked Ramanuja how he can manage to win so many people to the sampradaya by correcting their wrong ways by taking only one ‘avatara’ (birth) as Ramanuja, whereas he failed to win so many people to this sampradaya in spite of taking so many avataras.  In response Ramanuja said, ‘if you ask according to due procedure, the response will be given’.

As a digression, Anandabadbanacharya said (Podigai, 2411-15, Sri Ramanuja Vaibhavam, 6.45 to 7.00 am), “This clearly shows how one can be initiated in Sri Vaishnava by approaching an acharya with due processes.” Then he refuted the counter-claim by so many (liberal or corrupt proponents) that at Tirukkottiyur, Ramanuja claimed to the ‘gopuram’ of the temple to proclaim the guru mantra that he received from his guru so that many people can be saved.1  Then he said, “This is completely denied by our guru parampara (tradition)2 and no one accepts such a wrong view propagated by many. Only by seeking an acharya with due process and humility, an aspirant seeker will be initiated with the guru mantra. This is clearly demonstrated by the very deity of Thirukkurungudi.”

Accordingly, Nambi, coming down from his ‘archavatara’ (idol) approached Ramanuja. Being a humble person, Ramanuja, instead of occupying the seat of the acharya, had his guru Periya Tirumalai Nambi (who is also his maternal uncle) initiate the deity of Thirukkurungudi in the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Then the presiding deity of that temple became ‘Sri Vaishnava Nambi’ or, the Nambi belongs to Sri Vaishnava.

Now if the Sri Vaishnava tradition originated from Narayana himself, how is it possible for him to become a Sri Vaishnava only after receiving deeksha later? This is the true nature of various Indian sampradayas. When we read any sthalapurana of a sampradaya, we should leave it there and should not take it further to compare or contrast with the rest of the other precepts of the tradition. In order to glorify a particular temple, place (sthala), deity, acharya or saint belonging to that particular place, there will be a story.

As a devotee leaves the temple after the darshna only taking with him the grace of god, we too should leave the particular story that belongs to that temple or place. If we began to analyse it by comparing it with the overall claims of the basic tenants of that sampradaya, we will end seeing nothing but contradictions.

 

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Post Script

After writing this, I wondered whether there is another story of Vishnu receiving the ‘mudra’ (seal) of both ‘Sangu and Chakara’ (conch and wheel), as it is imperative for every Sri Vaishnava follower to receive them on the shoulders from an acharya as a part of the initiation. Then, one night, while I was listening to a religious discourse at our ashram, I heard this topic being discussed. I didn’t hear it from the beginning and cannot give the details, but here is the story as best as I can remember:

There was a dispute about the identity of the deity at Tirupaty, as Shaivites claimed that it was not the murthy (idol) of Vishnu but actually Siva, and the followers of Skanda as their deity Shanmuga (Skanda). So the matter reached the king. He asked the followers of each sampradaya to bring the symbols of their respective sect (flag, weapons, etc.): Sangu and Chakra for Vaishnavies; Thrishul and Damaru for Shiva; Spear and peacock flag for Skanda. Then the king sealed the door and put security around it. It was unanimously decided that the next day whichever symbols the deity accepted, the murthy would belong to that sampradaya. So the followers of the three sects waited outside the sanctuary singing bhajans and praying whole night.

At midnight, Vishnu appeared to Ramanuja and asked him to come inside and help him put the wheel and conch as he cannot bend to take them. But Ramanuja asked, “How is it possible since the king closed and sealed the door and put security?” Then Vishnu instructed Ramanuja to take the form of a snake and come through the gap by the door. Accordingly, being himself an avatara of Adhi Shesha (snake and also the bed of Vishnu), and leaving his human body where it was, he took the ‘avatara’ of snake and went inside and put the wheel and conch on the shoulders of Vishnu.

Pleased with this, Vishnu said, “Now I have received the mudra according to your tradition. As you gave me this deeksha of Sangu and Chakra, you will become my acharya (preceptor) and I will honour you by giving your dhakshina (honorarium). You may ask for anything you like.” Always thinking about the mukti of his followers, Ramanuja said, “Assure me that you will give mukti not only to my immediate disciples, but all those who will follow them in all future generations” Accordingly Balaji (Vishnu) gave that dhakshina to Ramanuja.

Then the speaker concluded by saying, “That is why mukti is assured to the followers of Sri Ramanuja Sampradaya. So they need not worry about their mukti but only to think about other needs to lead the life on this earth.”

Then on January 1st and 4th, Dr. Anandapadbanacharya repeated the same story in his program in Podigai, ‘Sri Ramanuja Vaibhavam’. But there were lots of variations. He didn’t mention Ramanuja taking the avatara of a snake and going inside the sanctuary to put the conch and wheel on the shoulders of Balaji. But said that Ramanuja continued to stay outside and prayed to Vishnu to establish himself to prove that He is the deity that dwells inside in this kali yuga.

There was another slight but significant variation. According to the first speaker, it was Ramanuja and others who sought the interference of the king to decide the matter. Whereas according to Dr. Anandapadbanacharya, as the king failed to convince the followers of other faiths (that the deity is Balaji), he sought the help of Ramanuja to resolve the crisis. Accordingly Ramanuja is the one who gave the idea of the trial of keeping the symbols of each deity. This shows how Ramanuja has more authority to make a decision. Giving this kind of importance to the guru or acharya of one’s sampradaya over a king is quite common, whereas the king has real authority to decide on any religious dispute among the sampradayas. Whatever might be the variations in these stories, this shows the complexity of understanding the sampradayas based either on the text or on the tradition.

Both these narratives help us understand the complexity of understanding the various sampradayas in Hinduism. As I pointed out, each sthala purana (local story) is complete in itself and written to glorify that place or deity or a particular saint or event, which may or may not have any compatibility with the core tenants of that Sampradaya. This we should keep in our mind in our approach Understanding Hinduism.

 

Endnotes

  1. …the famous moment when Ramanuja mounted one of the gopuram towers at Tirukkottiyur —such a prominent part of the architecture of that temple—and shouted to all within earshot the secret initiatory mantra that had been vouchsafed to him by his guru….— John Stratton Hawley, A STORM OF SONGS: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement, London, Harvard University Press, 2015.p. 144
  2. Interestingly, in two of the hagiographies, viz., the Divyasuricaritam, which has two long chapters on Ramanuja, and the Yatiraja Vaibhavam, which deals exclusively with Ramanuja’s life, it is not the Dvaya {dvya} mantra, but the Carama sloka that Ramanuja learnt from his guru and revealed to everybody. Further, the stotras dedicated to him and the Ramanuja Nurrandadi, a hymnal composition that (p.15) forms a part of theNalayira Divya Prabandham, do not mention this famous incident. —Ranjeeta Dutta, From Hagiographies to Biographies, Ramanuna in Traditionand History, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 15-16

 

What is the greatest of these?

Sri Suki Sivam is not only an orator and powerful speaker but also a radical person who challenges several conventions and brings forth things useful in practical life. In the Pattimandram held in Mega T.V. on 21-10-2015 evening, he gave two thoughts worth sharing.

The first is the most striking one. In Tamil non-sentient things are called ‘Ahirinai’ whereas humans are called ‘Uarthinai’. But the correct negative word for ‘Uarthinai’ should be ‘Thaazthinai’ or ‘keezh thinai’. But that word is never used in Tamil for non-human beings and things like animals and materials. The reason is that in nature all humans are equal and great. But those who strive to achieve great things stand greater than others.

The second point is more important for me. The greatness of humans is proved by how we handle the non-sentient things. For example those who are upset with others will slam the door. Since she cannot show her anger with others, she expresses it by slamming the door. Similarly the way we keep our tables, almera and others things shows what kind of people we are. The main context is that in this Pattimandram (debate), the topic was which one among the three: stone, throne or bow, all non-sentient (ahirinai) things taught good lesson to us who are sentient (uyarthinai).

Of course Sri Sivam didn’t mentioned that the word ‘Uyarthinai’ should be translated actually as ‘great or noble’ but that is not the sense in which we use this Tamil word. The general meaning is that having a sixth sense we humans are ‘uyarthinai’ and all other non-sentient beings are ‘ahirinai’ as they don’t have the sixth sense.

In giving his verdict, Sivam proved that he is not only a good judge but a different one. Going away from convention, he called the Organizer of Kamban Kazhagam to the stage to ask the reason for selecting these three things and not others. The Organizer gave an excellent reason, but after listening to him, Sivam said that he found that the ‘Paduka’ (wood chapel) of Rama taught more than the other things in the Ramayana. The bow never departed from Raman’s hand and the throne was always waiting for him, but when Bharata took back Raman’s Paduka to keep on the throne to rule representing him, no wrong was done to anyone in the kingdom. In fact when Rama returned back to Ayodyaya and ruled, injustice was done to Sita by banishing her to the forest. But when the Paduka was ruling there, dharma prevailed.

I find that we can learn good things by listening to such speakers rather than reading a lot. That is why Valluvar also endorsed this by saying:

கற்றிலன் ஆயினும் கேட்க அஃதொருவற்கு

ஒற்கத்தின் ஊற்றாம் துணை.–குறள், 414

 

Though unlettered, one should heed

It is a prop in hours of need.—Kural, 414, M. Rajaram, tr. Thirukkural, New Delhi, Rupa & Co. 2009, p. 86

 

22-10-2015

 

 

The Limits of Scripture by Anantanand Rambachan

Synopsis cum Review

Unlike most other religions, Hinduism is concerned with evaluation rather than revelation. One can trace the signs of evolution even from the Vedic times. There are two main factors that led to such a process: internal and external. Though non-Vedic factors can be considered external, they contributed more to the assimilation of all such external challenges within the fold of Hinduism. Even heterodox factors like sramanas could not challenge such a process of assimilation and remained mostly internal. Since the coming of Islam, Hinduism has faced a real external challenge. Though there were a few attempts made by some to assimilate certain doctrinal aspects of each other, as “Islamic dominance in many part of India was primarily political and military”1 the encounter of both the civilizations, “after a short time”, as Panikkar observed, remained as “a problem of co-existence, with mutual toleration rather than the domination of one by another”.2 This even made Hinduism, “more rigid” in the words of Panikkar. But the major shift in such an external influence on Hinduism began from the West, particularly after the British.

In contrast to Hinduism’s earlier encounters with other civilizations and cultures, the British challenge was total – economic, social, religious, and intellectual. The main thrust of the Western incursion was directed toward the religion of the Hindus. Missionaries questioned the validity of Hinduism, denouncing it as a mass of superstitions. Hinduism was condemned as idolatrous and polytheistic. Social customs for which religious legitimation was claimed invoked the severest disapproval. These included such practices as the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, infant marriages, compulsory widowhood, and the institution of caste with the acceptance of untouchability. The structure of Hinduism was threatened by the concept of equality, which the British incorporated into the Indian legal system. Economically, India’s handicraft industry was subjected to the pressures of industrialization; politically, the divisions and fragmentations within Indian society were confronted with the British sense of community and nationalistic pride. The British, in other words, offered an observable, functioning, and successful alternative to the Indian system. 3

The internal challenges that Hinduism faced several times in her history forced her to move more towards orthodoxy, meaning accepting the scriptural authority of the Vedas. Any reformation that any individual or sampradaya wanted to bring should be in agreement with the Vedas. Though there were different opinions regarding which parts of the Vedas are authoritative (as in the case of Swami Dayanand Saraswati)4, there was a common understanding that Sruti holds the final authority. Such a view not only kept Hinduism intact but also helped various acharyas develop sound doctrinal and theological foundations on which their respective sampradaya could flourish. Even those who only paid lip service to the Vedic authority could not openly oppose its authority but were forced to trace back some connection in the Vedas to claim their idea as authoritative. Though an individual’s experiences were highly respected, experiences that were recorded under smriti writings were rejected in case of any contradiction with Sruti. Even though ‘experience holds the evidence’ become the watchword later in modern Hinduism, before the reformation, Hindu traditions were unaware of such technical terms or slogans. Continue reading