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Musings on Desikan's "araNyA-kAndam"

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Sun Dec 22 1996 - 08:01:23 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

The duties of a "grihastA" (the ordinary householder), or what is called
"grihastAshrama dharma", are couched in Verses #23, #25 and #26 of the
"Raghuveera gadyam". They could be said to be, indeed, the bedrock on which
"core family values" as defined by Sri Vaishnavism are anchored. 

The practical value of Sri Vaishnava 'sampradayam', as I have to come to
appreciate through my personal experience, is that it fully recognizes the
"grihastA" stage in life as very essential and conducive to attainment of
ultimate spiritual ends i.e. the LOVE which we saw described in
"dandakAtapOvana jhangamapArijatha" of Verse #28.

This is a matter of very great significance for all of us who belong to the
vast majority of secular or "loukika" souls.

The Sri Vaishnava way of life is unique in that it vigorously affirms many
"grihastAshrama dharma-s" by giving them their due place in the life of
ordinary mortals. Our "purAnic" lores hold in high esteem the "grihastA" as
much as they do the "sannyAsi" (the holy recluse); our "vedic" tradition
does not emphasize the superiority of the path of 'utter renunciation' at
the expense of the life of the "family-man".

"Via activa" is considered as effective as "Via contemplativa" !!(to use a
Latin idiom).

Indeed, if there is one thing which the Sri Vaishnava philosophy of life
states in an unambiguous manner it is that ordinary mortals like us, who are
not fit to adopt the "life-style" of the anchorite, should wholeheartedly
carry out various "grihastAshrama-dharmAs" to the best of our abilities. By
doing so, our tradition says, we go nearer to God-love
("jhangamapArijAta!!") and in fact become dear to Him. Our tradition in fact
frowns on "grihastAs" who shirk their "dharmA-s" in the mistaken belief that
there is great virtue in neglecting obligations to "home, spouse and family"
and "going away to live alone in the forests".

In Verse#23 of the "araNyA-kAndam" of the 'Raghuveera-gadyam' we see Swami
Desikan hailing Lord Rama as an upholder of one of the cardinal "dharma-s"
of the "grihastA" :

            bharadwAjashAsana parigrhIta- vichitra- chitrakootagiri-
kattathata ramyAvasatha!

Lord Rama in this verse is hailed for having built a lovely little home atop
the Chitrakoota hillock. The Lord was demonstrating, indeed, the first duty
of the "grihastA" which enjoins him to strive hard to set up home which must
be comfortable, wholesome in surroundings and conducive to the progress and
development of sound and healthy "family-life".

Next, in Verse#24 Swami Desikan refers pointedly to how Lord Rama delegated
those powers needed by his brother for effective political governance of
Ayodhya. The 'grihastAshrama-dharma' indicated in this stanza, dear
"bhAgavatOttamA-s", is implicit and not explicit. 

What is referred to here in a veiled manner is that a 'grihastA' must strive
to devote adequate time to his family-members. Using "career-pressures" as a
common excuse, he must never starve his dear ones of his "presence or time"
in as much as he would shudder to starve them of food, clothing or other
creature comforts.

To understand this particular "dharmA" deeply one must perforce dwell for a
moment on the quality of "marital life" which Lord Rama and Sita experienced
in their lives together upto that point of time in Chitrakoota. We must find
out how much time (or "quality time") they had for each other right
throughout the 'Ramayana'.

Let me explain.

I say categorically that one of the reasons why Swami Desikan says Lord Rama
was like "jhangamapArijatha" in the 'araNya-kAndam" was that it was only
during this period He gave "pirAtti", His Consort, the amount of
"quality-time" that a proper "grihastA" must needs give his family-members. 

"Pre-Chitrakoota" and "post-Chitrakoota", Lord Rama and Sita had hardly time
for each other in the way normal wedded couples should !! 

Look at the "pre-Chitrakoota" scenario :

Rama won Sita's hand, as we know, in a crowded game of "skills" in Mithila;
then they both got wedded in a grand royal ceremony which was designed to be
the "talk of the town for a century", as it were; then Rama as Crown Prince
of Ayodhya became understudy for his father, King Dasaratha, and was heavily
immersed in the affairs of State-administration; poor "Sita-pirAtti" had not
one but three mothers-in-law to handle; then there was a "palace crisis"
over the matter of succession to Dasaratha; then tragedy struck and Rama and
Sita had to go into exile; the "ghost of Ayodhya" still pursued them in the
form of Bharatha. The couple simply wouldn't be left alone for a moment !!!

Look at the "post-Chitrakoota" scenario :

Sita is abducted by Ravana; Rama rescues her from Lanka; but long separation
has taken a toll on marital feelings and leads to the awful "agni-pravEsam";
then there is the royal coronation in Ayodhya which is again a great public
affair; after that Lord Rama, the King, is upto his ears in
government-duties; then there is the 'uttara-khandam' incident and again the
couple is separated !!

The poor couple, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', if you think deeply, simply did
not have a single private and sombre moment to themselves all through this
period !! Not a moment when a loving husband and wife could exchange
tenderness and love for each other in a relaxed frame of mind !!!

But, by contrast, in the "araNya-kAndam" of the "Raghuveera-gadyam", Lord
Rama strictly observed two cardinal "grihastAshrama-dharmA-s" i.e.(1)
building a cozy home on Chitrakoota (verse#23) and (2) laying down
temporarily the "burden of office" through the "pAduka" cornonation of
Bharatha and finding time, at last, for Himself (Verse #25) !!

The moment Lord Rama, the "grihastA", observed these two 'dharmA-s", He
found enormous time to devote a bit of Himself as well as His time -- yes,
"quality time" !! --- solely for His Spouse or family !!

For the FIRST and ONLY time in their lives in the "Ramayana", dear
"bhAgavatOttamA-s", the Divine Couple enjoyed a modicum of "togetherness"
that any wedded couple deserves by way of right and that too away from the
cares and pressures of "royalty", "palace intrigue", "problems of governance
or affairs of state"!!!

Since "grihastAshrama-dharmA-s" were observed strictly by Rama in the
'araNya-kAndam", Swami Desikan says that the "ramyAvasatha"-"griha" of
Chitrakoota verily became the "tapOvana" that "Dandaka" was ; and the happy
result of such "tapas" was indeed the fragrance of "LOVE" in Rama's life
akin to"jhangama- pArijhAta"!!  

The third 'grihastAshrama-dharma' is embedded in Verse#26 and which I will
essay in my next posting.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha

sudarshan.