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mantrA/garUda etc.-10

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Sat Apr 12 1997 - 09:16:17 PDT

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

In my "recap" I'd stated that "mantrA-s" serve a very high and sophisticated
"vEdi-c" purpose in our lives". For that reason alone they should'nt be
mistaken with voodoo-like incantations that serve only to deliver "results".

The above statement will be made clear when we closely examine the following
"shlOkA-s" from Swami Desikan's "garUDa-panchAshath" and "garUDa-dandakam".

(Please note these verses, according to scholars and "achAryA-s", have many
rich layers of connotation and significance that can be "peeled away" almost
endlessly. My attempt here is to explain or "peel away" only those ideas
therein which serve to emphasise certain aspects that are relevant to the
subject at hand.)

VERSE # 2:
vedaha svArthAdhirUDO bahira-bahira-bhivyakthi-mabhyEthi yasya
 sidhihi sAmkarshaNI sA pariNamathi yaya sApavargatrivargA I
prANasya prANamanyam praNihithimanasO yatra nirdhArayanthi
 prAchi sA brahmavidyA parichithagahana pAthu gArUtmathI naha II

The most striking feature about this verse is that it has Swami Desikan
roundly exclaiming that the "garUda-mantrA" is a great "ENIGMA" !!

He states clearly that the 'garuda-mantra" remains an enigma even to those
who are adept in spiritual practices i.e. "vEdic" tradition. Even preceptors
who have used this mysterious "mantrA" innumerable times are unsure of how
it works! 
It seems to work a bit like our own breathing ! We are all conscious, aren't
we, of our "breathing" all the time; we are doing it every single moment of
our lives; but do we all truly and surely grasp the nature of that force
that keeps impelling the process ... day in and day out..... relentlessly
... unfailingly... ?!!

It similarly seems, the poet observes, this "garUda-mantrA" verily breathes
Life into "life-breath" itself --- "prANasya prANamanyam...." and yet none
has a full idea of where it comes from ... whence .... and why !! 

In the same breath (!!), Swami Desikan, however, also states that while the
"mantrA" itself remains an enigma, what is NOT enigmatic, however, is the
way it is seen (or should we say, "heard" !) to "operate" in the lives of men !!

While we may not be sure about what it is that keeps us "breathing" all
through life, none of us has even an iota of doubt in our minds, do we,
about what "breathing" itself "does" to us !! We know it promotes
"respiration", for instance, and then "blood-circulation", "body-metabolism"
as well and, in fact, we know that it contributes in many "mysterious ways"
to everything else that is necessary to sustain "life and "bodily function"
and ..... to keep eager vultures and undertakers at a respectable and safe
arms-length distance, too !

The poet similarly hints through the use of the phrase "sApavargatrivargA",
that the "garUda-mantrA", although "mysterious" in nature and essence, is
known all the same to promote man's 3 principal ends in life :

A) dharma (conduct ever conducive to spiritual advancement),
B) kAma (desires that ever fuel "dharmic" conduct)
C) artha (acquisition of "material means" to sustain the right level of "kAma")

Let's go next to another verse of the same hymn.
VERSE # 3:
nEthram gAyatramUchE trivriditi cha shirO nAmadhEyam yajUmshi
 chandhAmsyangAni dhishNyAthmabhirajani shafair-vigrahO vAmadEvyam I
yasya stOmAthmanO-sow brihadi-tara-garUt-thAdhrishAmnAyapucha-ha
 svAchandhyam naf-prasUthAm sruti-shatha-shikarAbhishtuthAthmA garUthmAn II

In this verse, the idea of "vEdic" ENIGMA is sought by the "kavi-simham" to
be de-mystified in a staccato-burst of metaphorisms. The deep roots that the
whole "garUDa"-symbolism has in hoary "vEdic-srUti" are spectacularly
described by Swami Desikan in a poetic flurry of sharp images :  

(Statutory Warning : The following is my free but sincerest translation of
the Sanskrit original. It may injure or impair your powers of literary
appreciation of Sanskrit and, perhaps your nascent spiritual quests,too! So
'caveat emptor'!)

     "When thine "eyes" see, they see only through the tint of "gAyatra-sAma" !
      Thy reigning "Head" seems crowned by the "trivrt-sAma";
      Why, thy Name ! yeah ! it rings forth loud like 
      The clarion call of a "yajur-mantrA" !
      When thine limbs move, they swing to the rhythms of "vEdic-chhandas" !
      The vibrant beats of "vAmadEvya-sAma", we hear, Oh Garuda, 
      Coursing through the veins of your body !
      Oh Garuda! thy soul is the abode of the "stOma-sAma" !
      And those great flapping wings :
      One, a soaring "brhat"!
      And the other, a vaulting "rathantara-sAmA" !
      Why ! Even that feathered tail of thine, O GarUda
      Sings forth a "yagnya-yagniya-sAma" !!         

Now, you will all recall, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", a statement in one of the
earlier posts in this series which I reproduce below :

" ....Swami Desikan's hymns.... Not only do they appeal to our
sensibilities of poetic excellence ("rasA") but they also take a reader
beyond that critical threshold of human experience ... experience of Beauty
...onward unto something, something larger .... something we can only
define, for want of a better term, as "vEdic-experience"
experience that lifts the human spirit and carries it on "Garuda-wings", as
it were, soaring across an uncharted, yet safe and secure voyage, an
odyssey, where understanding is born ....a rare, private and personal
understanding of what this world, this existence ... this idea of 'reality'
and our own little place in its grand scheme of things ... what this is all
about .....

The above verse from the "garUda-panchAshath", dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", is
an extremely fine example of the same "vEdic resonances" that Swami Desikan
is able to produce through his poetry everytime he refers to the
"garUDa-mantra" and the "garUDa" symbolism.

In this magnificent verse the poet clearly establishes the fundamentally
'vEdic' character of "mantrA", its "aural" nature and its primary function
as an "acoustic-key" to a whole big body of 'vEdic' experience that is
possible only in the ancient realms of 'sruti' ---- starting from the
"gAyatra-sAma" and ending with the "yagnya-yagniya-sAma".

Let's go the next verse.

VERSE # 51 
"yathpakshasthA trivEdi trigUNa-jalanidhir-langhyathE yadGUNagnyai-hi
  vargasthry-vargikANAm gathimiha labhathE nAthavad yathsanAtha-ha I
 thrykAlyOpasthithAth sa thri-yUga-nidhiraghAya-thAth thrAyathAm naha
  thrAthAnEkasthri-dhAmnasridasha-ripUchamUmOhanO vAhanEndra-ha II" 

The approximate translation for the above is :

"May Lord Garuda..... protects us from sins of the past, present, and
future. His wings soar with the 3 Vedas (Rg, Yajur & Sama) and they shall
help us cross the oceanic expanse of bondage caused by the 3 'gUNa-s'(tamas,
rajas and satvic) of "prakriti" (existence). And thus crossing over
'prakriti', with the help of the Great Garuda, we will easily attain the 3
human ends too! (dharma, artha and kama)!!"

Here, in this verse, Swami Desikan's emphasis is again on how the "garUda"
"mantrA" operates in our lives; the way it facilitates our progress towards
the truly worthwhile ends of our worldly journey; what it does to our
personalities and the many subtle influences it wields on our minds; the way
it rules our relationships with the objects of the world, the people who
populate our own corner of the world; the way it protects all our interests
--- material, secular and spiritual.

If you read collectively all the above 3 verses on the "garUda"-symbolism,
dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", you will notice there are some grand themes in them : 

 a) nullification of the sins ("karmA") of the past, present and future
 b) the attainment of human ends of "dharma, artha and kAma"
 b) the conquest of primal "gUNa-s" of "prakriti" : "tamAs, raja-s and
sAttvic"     -- the limitations imposed by what we called "reflexivity"
 c) the "crossing" of human ends and human nature, from the world of
"visuality"     right across to the vEdic world of "AURALITY -- through
 4) and, eventually, realization of actual "liberation" 

All the above themes, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", can easily be recognized in
the little story (of Mukkur Swamy II) of that brahmin-boy who, with enormous
"shraddha" (faith), learnt and mastered a "nonsense" "mantrA" given him
casually by his Master, and returned to virtually "terrorise" his own "guru"
with it !!

We shall discuss them all, one by one, in the next few posts.

srimathE srivan satagOpa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha