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A tale of two thieves

From: sadagopan iyengar (
Date: Thu Aug 23 2001 - 10:45:41 PDT

       Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedantadesika
Yatindra Mahadesikaya Nama:

                         A Tale of Two Thieves

Azhwars are enamoured of addressing Emperuman as
"KaLvA"  (thief).   Listen to Sri
Nammazhwar-"Kalva,emmaiyum Ezhulagum ninnuLLE tOtriya
"en pollA karumAnikkamE en KaLvA"
"kaLavEzh veNNai toduvunda kaLvA". etc.
Sri Tirumangai Mannan is not far behind in calling Him
names-"kaLLa kuzhavi", "KaLvA" etc.
And what did the Lord do to earn this sobriquet? His
most obvious and endearing misdemeanour is that of
"navaneeta chouryam" or Butter Theft. The gopis of Sri
Gokulam are united in their complaint to Sri Yasodha
that ever since Sri Krishna was born, their milk and
butter were not their own, and kept disappearing
mysteriously ("karanda nar pAlum tayirum kadaindu uri
mEl vaittha veNNai, pirandadu mudalAga petrariyEn").
And the culprit, adding insult to injury, not only
emptied the pots of butter, but also banged them down,
breaking up all the pots. ("VeNNai vizhungi verum
kalatthai verpidai ittu adan Osai kEtkum")
(uruga vaittha kudatthodu veNNai uricchi udaitthittu
pOndu nindrAn").("pAlai .sAitthu parugiittu pOndu
nindrAn").etc.  The poor Lord, unused to thievery,
gets caught by the vigilant Gopis, and is roundly
cursed ("VeNNai undAn ivan endru Esa nindra
emperumAn") and beaten too ("Ayar kozhundAi avarAl
pudai uNNum en mAyappirAn"). And ultimately, when the
enchanting thief's exploits become unbearable, He is
also tied to the grinding stone with the aid of a
rope, restricting His movement ("Matthuru kadai veNNai
kaLavinil uravidai AppuNdu etthiram uralinOdu iNaindu
erindu Engia eLivE").

   Itihyam has it that Sri Nammazhwar was so much
taken up with this Souseelyam (that of the Parabrahmam
getting tied up by an unlettered cowherdess, and
looking to her for liberation, with appealing eyes
full of tears), that he fell unconscious for six
months. Volumes have been and would still be written
about navaneeta chouryam, and it is not for a humble
soul like adiyen to add to the lore.
Theft of milk and butter is hardly a matter for
serious concern. Sri Satakopa Muni accuses Him of a
much graver offence-that of stealing his soul- and
warns others to beware of this Divine Thief.
 "Senchor kavigAl uyir kAtthu Atcheymin-TirumAl irum
 Vanjak kaLvan mAmAyan mAyakkaviyAi vandu- en
Nenjum uyirum uL kalandu nindrAr ariyA vaNNam-en
Nenjum uyirum avai undu tAnE Agi niraindAnE"
And further, "neermayAl nenjam vanjitthu pugundu-ennai
                      Eermai seidu en uyirAi en
Emperuman was so enamoured of Azhwar that He could not
bear his seperation, and though Azhwar did not invite
Him, He stole Azhwar's body and soul and became one
with him. Here, Azhwar asks Emperuman an embarrassing
question- "I have been toiling in this samsAra for
aeons, suffering through several cycles of births and
deaths. And though I have been crying out to You
repeatedly, You did not heed me and did little to
grant me liberation. And, in this janmA, when I have
done nothing to merit your attentions, You are
invading me perforce and insist on taking me to
SriVaikuntam (ViNNulagam taruvAnAi viraigindrAn).  
Pray, tell me the reason for this? ( "indru ennai
poruLAkki tannai ennuL vaitthAn-andru ennai puram pOga
puNartthadu en seyvAn"). Emperuman does not have a
reply to this question, and stands silent before the
Azhwar, with eyes downcast with shame .The beautiful
sreesooktis of Sri Nampillai in the eedu and Swami
Desikan's interpretations of this pasuram are indeed
worthwhile perusing. Tempting  as it is to dwell on
these excellent panktis, adiyen would like to stick to
the topic. 
Summing up the case against His Lordship, one would
tend to agree with Azhwar that there is ample
justification for branding Emperuman as a "KaLvan".
However, we find that this thievery, instead of
bringing Him disrepute, adds to His glory .His theft
of butter, etc., and His getting punished for the
same, highlight the glorious attribute of Souseelyam,
while His stealing our bodies and souls is indicative
of His insatiable hunger for ChEtana lAbham.

   This is a tale of two thieves: having seen the
machinations of the Divine Thief, who do you think is
the other thief? Please do not take offence if I say
that we human beings collectively form the second
class of thieves. Sri Kalian says, "KaLvan AnEn padiru
seidiruppEn" , "vampulAm koondal manaiviyai turandu
pirar poruL tAram endru ivattrai nambinAr" etc. Some
of us covet the riches, women and other belongings of
others, rendering us the worst sort of thieves,
whether or not we actually carry out the thoughts of
theft into action. As the saying goes, a true
SriVaishnava always looks at others' wives as his own
mother, others' riches as mere dust, and treats all
other beings as he would be treated himself.("Matruvat
para dArEshu, lOshtavat para dravyEshu, Atmavat sarva
bhootEshu ya:pasyati sa pasyati").  
Going back to Sri Parakalan, the theft attributed to
him could be classified as sAtvic, as the proceeds,
though ill-gotten, were utilized not for his personal
benefit, but for tadeeyArAdhanam and for building
temple towers and compounds. Swami Desikan justifies
such unorthodox methods of fund-raising (as those
resorted to by Sri Kalian) in his (now extinct)work,
  However, the misdemeanours mentioned above pale into
insignificance, when we consider the other type of
theft all of us are guilty of-that of "AtmApahAram".
By nature, the JeevAtma is the eternal slave of the
Lord, and exists solely to be of some use to Him.
"dAsa bhootAh:svata:sarvE hi AtmAna:paramAtmana:" says
the MantrarAja pada stOtram. We all, our bodies and
souls,  are the undisputed property of Emperuman.
However, the age-old shackles of ahankAram and
MamakAram make us imagine that we are independent
agents with our own belongings. We delude ourselves
that we are responsible for our own well-being and
that of others " dependent" on us. Sri Nammazhwar puts
this state of mind succinctly thus-"YanE ennai
ariagilAdE, YanE entanadE endru irundEn".
 Swami Desikan describes this as the worst possible
form of theft, from several angles:
 1.the value of the stolen item, viz., the Jeevatma,
is beyond measure:
 2. the  person whose property is stolen is none less
than the Almighty:
 3.even after the Lord, in His infinite mercy, points
out to us (through shastrAs and Acharyas) that we are
indeed His property, we tend to  dispute it (by saying
"aham mE" when He claims "tvam ME").
    Now, how do we get out of the mire of ahankArA and
mamakArA? Swami Desikan comes to our rescue with an
easy solution- return the stolen article to the
rightful owner, with profound apologies.  Since, in
this case, the item stolen is the priceless jewel of
jeevatma, we should surrender ourselves, in body and
soul, to the Lord, with the conscious thought of
returning to Him what is His by right. This calls for
the realization,in Sri Nammazhwar's words, "yAnE nee,
en udaimayum neeyE"(I am indeed Yours, and all that I
consider mine is also Yours). Sri Alavandar puts this
beautifully thus-"mama nAtha yadasti yOsmi aham,
sakalam tat hi tavaiva Madhava".  In other words, what
is required is Atma SamarpaNam, through an Acharya.
The Saranagati thus performed restores to the soul its
lost quality of sEshatvam.  While the gravity of the
theft make us liable for maximum punishment, once we
perform Prapatti, the Divine Mother intercedes on our
behalf and ensures that we not only get off lightly,
but also gain admittance to the world of eternal
bliss, of uninterrupted kainkarya, to the Lord and His
divine consort.

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrsimha divya paduka sevaka
SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya

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