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Jatayu and Raghuveera Gadyam

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Sun Dec 15 1996 - 07:14:21 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika gurave namaha

Dear bhAgavatOttamAs,

Swami Desikan's Raghuveera Gadyam consists of 96 verses as follows :

                                shhloka#           No.of verses
             Invocatory verse  - 1                    1
             balakAndam        - 1-20                20 
             ayodhyAkAndam     - 21-27                7
             aranyA kAndam     - 28-41               14
             kishkinAkAndam    - 42-46                5
             sundarakAndam     - 47                   1
             yUddhakAndam      - 48-78               31
             uttharakAndam     - 79-94               16
             concluding verse  -                      1
                                        total        96

Now it can be easily seen that in this majestic hymn of Swami he has devoted
the largest number of 'shlokAs' -- 31 to be exact --- to the 'yUddhakAndam'. 

Looking casually at the above distribution table one would instantly be
tempted to ask oneself if Swami was not excessively fond of the
'yUddhakAndam' at the expense of other parts of the wonderful epic, the
'Ramayana'. One cannot help asking, for instance, why the "kavi-simham" has
given such short shrift to the "sundarakAndam", dismissing, as it were, that
most touching and philosophic account of Hanuman's quest for Sita-'pirAtti',
in nothing more than one swift and cursory "shloka" i.e.#47 !

One cannot help here speculating that, perhaps, a poet-extraordinaire like
Swami Desikan may have been in a bit of a quandary, at several points of
time during the composition of this hymn, as to how much of poetic energy he
ought to expend in the description and treatment of each of the "kAndam-s"
of this epic, competing fiercely, as each might have been with the other for
his poetic attention on the basis of their respective merit and all
seemingly equal in majesty and excellence.

One can imagine indeed what might have been the poet's predicament above.
But it is to Swami Desikan's credit that he maintains what is called A)
vigorous "poetic focus" and B) delicate "thematic balance".

In this great "gadyam" Swami Desikan's primary focus was on the theme of
"martial valour" and hence throughout the 96 verses, if you read them
carefully even in an English translation, you can sense the strong, almost
palpable, effort on Swami's part to stay "focussed" on Rama's qualities of
"valour" to the relative exclusion of almost all the Lord's other wondrous

Please make an effort, dear 'bhAgavatOttamAs', and you will easily witness
and appreciate this "poetic tension" in Desikan's verses beginning right
from Verse #1 where he begins with "Jaya, Jaya, Mahaveera (Warrior)!" right
until about the end of the 'yUddhakAndam" in #76 where he hails Rama as
"rAghava-simha" ("O, thou leonine one of your race!"). 

At many places, Swami Desikan seems to almost "stumble", as it were, and
succumbs to the temptation of "branching off" tangentially into describing
some other lofty quality of Rama -- like His kindness, His accessibility,
His charm etc. for example . Then, as you proceed with the reading of the
verse, you feel that realizing suddenly mid-stream that he is perhaps
straying from the primary theme of "Rama's valorous qualities", the poet is
"pulling" himself back on proper course to continue navigating on the narrow
path of enlarging on the cardinal theme of "martial magnificence".

It is through this constant creative and ideological "tug-of-war" within
himself while composing that Swami Desikan achieves that wonderful "thematic
balance" which is the hall-mark of this "gadyam". For, in spite of stanza-ic
"flashes" that occur here and there in the hymn, where qualities of Rama,
other than "valour", seem to be temporarily brought under the spotlight,
Swami quickly and with a flourish turns our attention back to Rama's
"mahAvIryam" -- which is the principal theme of the "gadyam". As we all
know, this gadyam is also known as "mahAvIra-vaibhavam".

It is, in my humble opinion, this constant and involuntary shifting of
poetic "spotlight" that can perhaps be offered as one of the explanations
why Swami Desikan appears to give short shrift to a few otherwise great
"kandAs" like the "sundara-kAndam".

Now, I may be wrong and very wrong, dear 'bhAgavatOttamAs', in thinking that
in the "aranyAkAndam" in this hymn, where Swami Desikan devotes only 14
stanzas, he "stumbles" most wonderfully, again and again, without being able
to help it. Because in this most endearing section Swami Desikan's poetic
genius brings forth in a gush of inspired expressions that seem to shift
focus primarily not on the Lord's "vIryam" (valour) but on a host of his
other "kalyAna-gunAs".

In my personal experience, this "aranyA-kandam" of the "mahAvIrya-vaibhavam"
is a welcome and sylvan place of respite along the lengthy narrative path of
the 'gadyam' and where we can, for a moment, cease admiring the "mahAvIryam"
of the Lord and briefly contemplate His other less martial qualities. It is
like a short rest-pause or recess from a certain routine and like all pauses
(as at a picnic-spot) it is refreshing and re-invigorating.

I say the 14-stanzas of the "aranyAkandam" are refreshing, dear
'bhAgavatOttamAs', because I consider that it is there that Swami Desikan
simply drops the emphasis on the theme of "vIryam" and draws our attention
instead to :

      a) to the theme of Love between man and woman
      b) to the theme of man's relationship with his environment(including
the          animal world) and his obligations to it
      c) to the theme of War and the place of the individual in it
      d) to the theme of Death and of dignity in dying
      e) to the eternal theme of "Dharma" 

I propose, dear members, to deal with each of the above in my ensuing
postings and I pray to the Lord Himself that nothing untoward again must
further interrupt our joint enjoyment of this phase. As Andal says,
"kUdIyirunthu -magazhinthu -elor-embavay" -- we must all congregate and
continue to enjoy in our little ways the majesty of the Lord in whatever way
he chooses to appear before us in our respective minds and hearts.

Not all of you, dear members, I grant, may be able enjoy reading with the
same intensity what I enjoy so much in writing. We are all petty mortals and
we have our peculiarities of taste. But we can ignore the angularities of
our selves and each other and look at only the bright side of things.The
rest we can easily "trash" by pulling down the dialog-box on our e-mail
screen and clicking our mouse-button, can't we, without batting an eyelid ?

My loving and dearest mother, Srimathi.Mani Krishnaswami, long ago rendered
the beautiful "Goda Stuthi" of Swami Desikan in mellow and soothing music.
Some of you may have heard it too. In that hymn in Verse #21 there is a
wonderful message for all of us :

rangEshvarasya tava cha praNayanubandhAt
anyOnyamAlyaparivrithimabhishtuvantaha II
vAchalayanthi vasudhE rasikastrilOkIm
nyUnAdhikathva-samatha-vishayair-vivAdaha II

In the above verse Swami Desikan says he is awe-struck by the great and
eternal debates taking place in all the three worlds between two camps of
devotees : one belonging to the camp of Ranganatha and the other to that of
Vasudha (Bhoomi-pirAtti). Now these two camps watch the wonderful event of
the Lord's wedding to Andal where they exchange floral garlands. Witnessing
this glorious sight and each camp lost in its own reverie of enjoyment, the
two keep debating with each other endlessly about who is the superior of the
two in "looks" and "qualities" : the bride or the groom !!!  

Dear 'bhAgavatOttamAs', we too, if you think about it, are essentially doing
the same when we get into our little debates of "sat-vishayam". In that
debate there are really no winners and losers. But everyone of us becomes a
winner by virtue of that debate because we eventually learn to see how the
other party -- either Ranganatha's side ("mApillai-pakkam") or "pirAtti's"
entourage ("poN-Athu kArA") -- views the spectacle of the
"divya-dampati"(the divine wedded-couple) equally beloved to us all !!!

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha