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Re: Madhurakavi Alvar

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Mon Apr 28 1997 - 08:19:22 PDT

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",
Madhurakavi Alvar: "seththaththin vayiRRil siRayadhu piRandhaal
                    eththai thinRu engE kidakkum?"
Nammalvar: "aththai thinRu angE kidakkum."

It's really interesting to read the views of Sri.Dileepan, Sri.Mani and
Sri.Kalale on the above.

Sri.Triplicane in his post has suggested the subject be discussed further on
the list. So there's no harm, I think, in offering a sample of my own little
views on the same thread.

The encounter between the two AzhwArs is unique.Far more than being a
"kELvi-pathil" (question-answer) session, it was one of those rarest of rare
moments where one mystic soul shared true revelation with another. 

The "question" and the "answer" which arose between the two AzhwArs in that
moment of mystical revelation now serve us as a sort of "sUtrA" or aphorism. 

Aphorisms are really hard nuts to crack. They are pithy; they are pregnant
with all sorts of suggestive meanings; and they speak of truths which are
ordinarily not amenable to logical discourse. In other words, "sUtrA-s" are
statements of "revelation". Strictly speaking, one can't "understand" them;
one has to learn to "experience" them !

The "grammar of mystical experience", alas, can't be taught at any
university. It's possible to learn it only at the feet of an "AchAryan" or

"AchAryA-s" of the past have said that this rare and mystical encounter
between NammAlwAr and Madhurakavi, and the famous "question & answer (Q/A)"
that arose out of it, is indeed a difficult one to "understand" in terms of
non-mystical, lay language or logic.

If we keep the above qualifications in mind, then we can safely proceed to
examine the AzhwArs "Q/A" in any humble way possible for us.

Sri.Kalale explained very clearly that this Q/A hints at the relationship
between the principles ("tattva") of existence viz. "acit" (or "prakrti", in
a wider sense) and "cit"(jIva).

I propose to examine the same matter in just a little more detail than
Sri.Kalale himself so kindly did. I'm doing this just to squeeze out more
insights into the subject and to elicit, if possible, more views of other
learned "bhAgavatOttamA-s" on the list. 
Now if the Q/A were to be re-phrased in a few random but intelligible ways,
by juggling the words and phrases around here and there a bit, it will
enable us to sense the flavour of many VisishtAdvaita ideas on "acit", "cit"
or "Iswara".

Let's do it, shall we ?

Here's a sample :

A : "tan-UL pirandu-kidakka siriyadai vaitu~kOndu, settathu 
     etthai tinru, engaE kidakkum ? 
B : "siriyadu, settattin vayItril pirandAl,  
     etthai tinru engaE kidakkum ?
C : "settattin vayItril pirandAlUm, siriyadu
     etthai tinru engae kidakkum ?

For all the above 3 re-phrased questions the famous answer of
Nammalwar,"aththai thinRu angE kidakkum" is a brilliantly fitting reply !!

Let's take up A first :
Here the question is: "When matter (acit) or the objective world of
phenomenality, is infused with Intelligence (cit) or cognitive life-force,
does it have its essential nature or reality changed ?"

Nammalwar's answer to that is a resounding "NO" ("aththai thinRu angE

The objective world ("prakrti") --- what we call "tan-UL pirandu-kidakka
siriyadai vaitu-kOnd~irukkUm settathu" --- is a world composed of
cause-effect phenomena, sense-perception and of time-space
constraints.Through the inexorable operation of natural and physical laws
within its domain, Creation "perpetuates" or sustains itself ; in other
words "aththai thinRu angE kidakkin~rathu". 

(There is a famous law of physics that postulates the "Indestructiblity of
Matter", isn't it?Matter is considered "indestructible" because it somehow
"perpetuates" itself in one form or the other. When it is destroyed in one
form, it manifests elsewhere in another form! e.g Solid into liquid into gas
into sub-atomic particles and so on ....!).

But "self-perpetuation" ("puNaRapi-jananam puNaRapi maRaNam") is mere
manifestation of "forms". It should not be taken to mean
"self-eternalization" ("anantham")! And what is "self-perpetuated" does not
necessarily qualify to be called "self-Caused" ("svayam-Bhu")! 

Thus, in spite of being "self-sustaining" or "self-perpetuating", the
essential nature of "acit" or "prakriti",of matter or Creation, or of what
Madhurakavi calls "settathu", is that it is ever changing and transient; it
is limited by time/space; and it is endlessly subject to cause-effect.        

Let's take a look at B :
Here the question is about the nature of "cit", the "jivA" or the individual

It is being asked what happens to the soul when it coheres with "acit" or
matter. What happens when the Intelligent adheres to the Insentient ? In
other words, does the cognitive soul partake of the nature of phenomenal
matter ? Is "jIvA" of the same nature as matter ?

Here Nammalwar's emphatic answer, "aththai thinRu angE kidakkum", must be
taken to have been given with a slight qualification.

The answer is YES ("aththai thinRu angE kidakkum!"), the soul does partake
of the nature and condition of mere insentient matter ! But only under
certain circumstances ?

What circumstances ?

When the soul associates itself integrally with the world of objective
phenomenality! When "siriyadu" (jIvA) remains ignorant of its own true
nature and out of such ignorance ("agnyAnam/a-vivEkam") identifies itself
with "prakriti" ("acit"), then it is said to be "settattin vayItril
piranda-dAgum" ! 

Under such circumstance, "jIvA", too, partakes of the same pathetic
condition and nature of "acit" --- it becomes ever transmigrant (enslaved
and ever subordinate to the dictates of the three "gUNa-s", "rajas, tamO and
sAttva"); it becomes prone to the vicissitudes of cause-effect ("karmA") and
remains ever bound by time-space constraints ("kAla klEsha sankOcham").

Let's finally look at C :
Now, in C we have, on our hands, a very tricky way of re-phrasing
Madhurakavi's poser.

Let's study it a little closely :

C : "settattin vayItril pirandAlUm, siriyadu
     etthai tinru engae kidakkum ?

At first glance, it will seem that there is no difference between B and C
except that the order or sequence of the words has been changed.

In B, the subject "siriyadu" is referred to first (in the"pUrva-bhAgam" of
the question) followed then (in the "Uttara-bhAgam") by a reference to its
condition of "settattin vayItril pirandAl".

In C the order is reversed. The condition of "settattin vayItril pirandAlUm"
is referred to in the first part ("pUrva-bhAgam") of the question and is
followed (in the "Uttara-bhAgam") by a latterly reference to the subject
itself i.e "siriyadu". 

The other difference between B and C is: the word "pirandAl" in the former
turns into "pirandAlUm" in the latter !

The question now is : OK, so what's the big deal? What do these differences
signify ?

Let's try and answer it.

First, by changing "pirandAl" in B to "pirandalUm" in C, we change, too, the
subject of inquiry from "cit" to "Iswara". What is being talked about in C
is not the "cit" or the individual soul but "Iswara", the Transcendent Soul.  

Secondly, by re-arranging the order of words in B to the way it actually
appears in C, the subject "siriyadu" appears to be deliberately "hidden" in
the "Uttara-bhAgam" (the latter part) of the question -- as if it had been
secreted towards the end of a line to escape one's attention as one reads
it, as it were! 

Why "secreted" ? Why phrase the question in such a way ?

Because in the re-phrased question of Madhura-kavi, in C, what is really
being inquired about is "bhagavath-avatAra-rahasya" --- or the "secret" or
"mystery" of the Descent of God into the world of Man and of Creation !!

Now, many are the ways ("mArga-s") listed in the scriptures to realize
Iswara. Swami Desikan in his RTS lists the following important ones: 

"avatAra-rahasya-chintana", "purushOttama-vidya", "divyanama-sankIrtanam"
and "punya-kshEtra-vAsa".

The foremost "mArga", therefore, is "avatAra-rahasya-chintana" --
contemplation of the secret of the Descent of God into the world of "prakriti".

Now, it is said that those "bhAgavathA-s" who choose this "mArgA" are often
known to constantly ask themselves, like Madhura-kavi, and especially along
the same lines as in C, the question "settattin vayItril pirandAlUm,
siriyadu etthai tinru engae kidakkum ?"

In other words the "bhAgavatOttamA-s" who are lost in
"avatara-rahasya-chintana" keep asking themselves, much like
Madhura-kaviAlwar, questions such as "What happens to God (Iswara) who
descends ("avatAra") into the world of Man (cit) and of Creation (acit)?
What happens to Iswara's nature ? Does it also partake of the mundane nature
of "prakriti" and "jIvA" ? How does "Iswara" sustain Itself in the world of
"prakrti" ?

Such questions are answered by the scriptures categorically. They state that
in the periods of Descent or "avatAra", Iswara or the Transcendent Soul does
NOT partake of the nature of "prakriti". It does NOT get tainted with
cause-effect ("karma") syndromes; it does NOT get mired in sense-perceptions
or impressions ("tri-gUNA-s"); it is never subject to the constraints of
time-space continuum ("kAla-klEsham" or "sankOcham") !

Thus, although Lord Krishna may have been said to have been "born" out of
the womb of a mere mortal like Devaki, He being Iswara has no causal
connections with such a womb whatsoever ! Iswara is NEVER said to be
"settattin vayItril pirandA-dAgUm" !!

Now, we face a big contradiction here.

If what the scriptures have said above of "avatAra-rashasya" is true, then,
why would Nammalvar respond with an emphatic "aththai thinRu angE kidakkum"
? How do we explain then that the "siriyadu" referred to in C really
represents "Iswara"?

The way out of the contradiction lies in Nammalwar's another famous
"pAsuram" from the "tiruvAymOzhi"! Sung in praise of Lord
TiruvEngada-mUdaiyAn, that "prapatti pasURam" of his begins grandly with the
pregnant words :

"ulagamUnda peru vAyA ....ulappil kirtiyammAnE ...etc."

The opening lines themselves speak of Iswara as the One who "gorged into His
mouth all the Worlds of Creation and with everything else in it!"

The reference in the above "pasUram", in a poetic sense, may be said to
allude to Lord Krishna's "leela" in the Srimad Bhagavatham where Yasoda, His
foster mother, admonishes the divine-child for stuffing mud into its mouth.
The mother demands the child to open its mouth and spit out the muck. The
child opens its  mouth wide for Yasodha to peer into. And Behold ! She sees
the entire COSMOS trapped inside like a piece of dental tartar !

That is the idea which, in C, is meant to be conveyed as we also ask,
"settattin vayItril pirandAlUm, siriyadu ...etthai tinru engae kidakkum ?"
and Nammalvar answers us by saying, "aththai thinRu angE kidakkum" !! 

Thus, during "avatAra-kAlam", Iswara or "siriyadu" descends into the world
of temporality ("settattin vayItril pirappu-dal").

Thereafter, it is in the nature of Iswara to "feed" ("aththai thinRu") on
those "jIvA-s" who have truly realized the "margA" of
"avatara-rahasya-chintana". And it is such realized souls like NammalwAr
himself who testify to this by singing "ulagamUnda peru vAyA....."! 

And yet ("pirandAlUm"!), however, Iswara does NOT partake of the nature of
either mundane or cosmic Creation !

Iswara, instead, resides in the same PURE, EVER UNCHANGING,EVER
LIMITS OF TIME OR SPACE  i.e. "angE kidakkum" !

This is how, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", I have been taught to "understand" and
enjoy that great mystical encounter between Madhura-kaviyAr and NammAzhwAr !

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha