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parashara-bhattar and "body-care"

From: sampath kumar (
Date: Sat Dec 04 1999 - 06:31:03 PST

Dear members,

There are some real "gems" in the bhakti-archives.
adiyen came across one recently in connection with the
discussion we all had on the question of "care of the
body (sareera): sAtvic?". Sri.K.M.Narayanan quoted
Parashara Bhattar in this regard. He must read the
following post of one Sri.M.K.Sudarshan way back in

Bhattar was one afternoon engaged in 'kalapshEpam'
(discourse) with his band of disciples at one of the
many "mandapam-s" (a sort of amphitheatre) in the
SriRangam 'veedhi-s'(outer courtyards of the Temple).

He was holding forth on the subject of the grossness
of the "sarira" (the body), its impermananent nature,
its similarity to the phenomenal world and how both
deserved nothing better than utmost "virakthi";
Bhattar, it seems, then went on to exhort his
'sishyA-s' (disciples) to forsake the tending of
('vairAgya') their bodies, its pleasures, its upkeep
and indulgences; he pointed out to them how
pre-occupation with the gross material body is the
biggest hurdle to attaining awareness of the subtle
nature of one's soul; and so on forth...

It is said that Bhattar was exceptionally eloquent
during that evenings's discourse which extended to a
couple of hours during which time he kept his
disciples spell-bound. Some of them were so enthralled
and moved by the central theme of the 'kAlapshepam'
they began to shed copious tears of remorse for being
unable to personally observe in their own lives the
"virakthi" and "vairAgya" their guru,
Sri.Parashsara-r, stirringly described.  

Sri.Bhattar eventually wound up his lessons for that
evening and dismissed his disciples many of whom came
up to him before departing and bowing before him
remarked, "Sir, thank you for your
'upadEsam'(exhortation). We have
resolved that from this very moment we shall observe
'vairAgyam' and 'virakthi'in our personal lives with
renewed vigour. We shall spurn this body of ours just
as we shall reject the "material" world. With your
'anugraham' we shall progress in our spiritual

Sri.Parashara-r blessed them all and wished them
god-speed in their new-found endeavours.

The morning after marked the dawning of a very
auspicious day. There was an 'Utsavam' (a processional
festival) at the SriRangam temple accompanied by
the usual religious fan-fare in and outside the temple
precincts; crowds milled under large "pandal-s"
(make-shift canopies); there were festoons and
banners strung everywhere; there were "gOshti-s"
(teams) singing the "veda-s" and the 'prabhandA-s';
there were pipers and drummers; and there were throngs
of devotees on the streets of SriRangam eagerly
awaiting the procession of the Lord Ranga to emerge
out of his sanctum-sanctorum and grace them all with
His Beatific Vision.

Now, the disciples of Sri.Parashara Bhattar also
assembled at a street corner to have "darshan" of Lord
Ranga's procession. Some of them were still in a state
of spiritual daze -- a hangover from the previous
night's discourse on "virakthi" and "vairAgyam" handed
down to them by their guru, Sri.Parasharar. That they
had yet to recover from the grim lessons of the
previous evening was obvious from their slovenly
demeanour. In their deep and all-pervasive mood of
'virakthi', they looked singularly dishevelled.
They had unkempt stubbles on their chins, their
garments were ungroomed, their "kUdUmI-s" (tufts of
hair) were untied; their eyes were red-rimmed
from lack of proper sleep and some of them had even
begun to look severely starved as a result of the
fasts they had commenced  ardourously in the spirit of
true "virakthi" and "vairAgyam" preached by their
Sri.Parashara Bhattar !!

As they stood there at a street-corner waiting for the
Lord Ranga's procession to arrive, very soon they
chanced upon their guru, Sri.Bhattar, at a distance.
He too was awaiting eagerly the arrival of the Lord's

The sight of their preceptor simply astounded the
disciples !

Sri.Parasharar, they saw, was dressed in the finest
silk ("pattu") raiments, his "mEl-vastram"
(upper-cloth) was of even finer fabric and embroidered
intricately with the holy designs of SriVaishnava
emblems; he had smeared his body all over with
sweet-smelling sandal-wood paste; his body and
forehead shone with a dozen mighty 'urdvapUndra'
marks; his 'kUdUmi' he had ornamented with exotic and
fragrant flowers !!

His disciples saw that Sri.Parashara-r had even
adorned special ear-studs ("kadukan") made of
glittering diamonds and, perhaps, for that very reason
he seemed to be turning his head vigorously, this way
and that, just to draw the attention of everyone
around to their razzle-dazzle !!  

When they saw their guru bedecked in all that finery,
Sri.Bhattar's 'sishyA-s' could not help the
uncharitable thoughts that arose immediately
in their minds.

"Ah ! there, indeed, is a guru whose sermons roar and
whose deeds squeak.("upadEsamO periyadhu; anUshtAnamO
siriyadhu")!", they said to themselves.

"Yonder is the man who exhorted us all last evening to
"virakthi" and "vairAgyam". He taught us to all spurn
the material body and to cease its indulgence. And yet
the very same man now stands there swathed in his
finest silks, "dressed to kill" (to use a modern
phrase), his body bathed with perfumes and his hands
bedecked with dazzling-gold rings on every little

"What a sanctimonious humbug, this Parashara Bhattar
is !!", thought the disciples as they watched their
guru from a distance. "He teaches us one thing and
himself practices the very opposite!"

After a while Lord Ranga's great procession arrived
and journeyed through the assemblies on the streets of
SriRangam. Everyone, Parashara Bhattar as well as his
disciples, had 'darshan' and then slowly dispersed to
go their ways.

One disciple, however, who could not cease being
intrigued by Sri.Parasharar's appearance, decided to
confront his guru with the latter's apparent hypocrisy
and to demand an explanation for it. He therefore
walked up to the guru and folding his hands queried :

"Honourable Sir, I have heard that the true mark of a
guru is his credibility. In the light of the grand
sermon you gave us all last evening on the virtue of
"virakthi" and "vairAgyam", how do you explain, Sir,
your own gaudy demeanour  at this moment !! Do you
know, Sir, you are dressed like a street-shop
mannequin ("marapAchi-bOmmai")!! And do you know, Sir,
that great souls who perorate on "vairAgyam" and who
lecture others to loath the body look awkward in the
sort of fine outfit that you, Sir, are presently
turned out in !!"

Sri.Parashara looked at the disciple, smiled and said

The disciple was only enraged further by Sri.Bhattar's
nonchalance and exploded:

"What do you take us all for, Sir!! Fools ?!! You dare
pontificate to us what you so blatantly mock in your
own behaviour !! And you expect us, Sir, to take you
as our guru ?!! Why do you call yourself a preceptor ?
You are nothing but a humbug and all that you teach
us, Sir, is nothing but absolute bunkum !!".

Sri.Parashara Bhattar listened patiently to this
outburst and at last deigned to reply to his disciple.

"kuzhandAi (My Pet)!, Let me explain to you the nature
of true 'virakthi'! It's time now for me to
practically demonstrate what was delivered to you in
a sermon last evening. Come with me !".

So saying Sri.Bhattar proceeded, with his disciple
following, to deliver a practical lesson on

Parashara Bhattar led his disciple down a SriRangam
street to a large "pandal" (a sprawling make-shift
canopy erected on street-kerbs on festive occasions).
He pointed to one of the bamboo-poles supporting the
structure and asked :
"Tell me, boy, what is this ?"
"It is a bamboo-pole, sir," replied the disciple.
"And what is this that has been wound around the
"It is a streamer, Sir, woven out of the bark-fibre of
the coconut tree".
"And how does it look ?", asked the Bhattar.
"It looks very pretty and colourful, Sir. They have
painted it all for the occasion, as you can see,"
remarked the disciple.
"And what is this here ?", continued Bhattar.
"It is a festoon of the leaves of the banana-tree.
"And how does it look ?"
"Why, it looks very lush and pleasing to the eye,
Sir," replied the disciple.
"And, boy, tell me what is this here ?", Sri.Bhattar
"It is a colourful banner made of leaves of the
mango-tree ("mAvalai-kodi'), Sir."
"And how does this banner look, boy ?".
"It's been plaited together with floral wreaths; its a
festive and colourful sight, Sir, indeed !", said the

Sri.Parashara next drew the boy closer to him and
looked him in the eye and spoke to his disciple :
"Now, answer me, boy. The streamer, the festoon and
the banner here, which you say all look so pretty, why
have all these been strung up here on this pandal?".

The disciple thought hard for a moment.

Then he answered,"Sir, these have been put up here for
the occasion of our Lord Ranga's "utsavam"."

"Smart boy!", said the Bhattar gleefully,"I say,
however, that the streamer, festoon and the banner
have been put up here not so much for the occasion of
Lord Ranga's procession as for the purpose of
ornamenting this structure of a "pandal" here ! Now
what say you to that, eh?" asked Bhattar.

The disciple fell silent and contemplated
Sri.Parasharar's remark for a full minute.

It was then that Sri.Bhattar's lesson slowly sank into
his comprehension.

The boy looked up into Bhattar's face. The tears then
welled up in his eyes. He fell at his guru's feet and
prostrated and said,

"Honourable Sir, please forgive me! Please pardon this
sinner. I have understood your "virakthi" now truly.
Out of ignorance and inexperience I mistook your
sartorial bearing today as a sign of your insincerity
to the values of true "virakthi" and "vairAgyam". But
now I have understood what you truly mean, Sir!"

The Bhattar gathered his young disciple up in his
arms, stroked his tearful cheeks and whispered in his
ears :

"My pet, my little pet, if it were not for the Lord's
procession this morning would there be need for this
"pandal" here ? Similarly, if it were not for the
Lord's Will ("ichcha") would there be any need for
this world("prakriti")? Would there be need for even
you and me ("jivAtmA's")? Now when they decorated this
"pandal" here with streamers, festoons and banners,
they did it,of course, to enhance the beauty of this
canopy; but what is the real purpose for display of
such beauty ? It is for our Lord Ranga's procession,
really, isn't it? If Lord Ranga didn't come by this
way this morning, would any fool take the trouble of
hanging streamers and festoons around this dumb and
dead timber ? If it were not for the Lord's "utsavam"
and His Exclusive Pleasure, where would we confine, I
ask you, these silly things like festoons and banners
? In the dust-bin, isn't it ? We would treat them all
with a kind of "virakthi" (indifference) isn't it?
They would
have no more lofty purpose other than to be used as
menial implements such as domestic broom-sticks
("thOdappam") or kitchen firewood ("varatti"),
isn't it ?"

"Likewise, my boy", Sri.Parasharar continued,"when we
talk of "virakthi" and "vairAgyam", we refer to them
as appropriate emotional responses to a world not
serving the Pleasure of the Lord
etc.). So long as the things of this world serve us
not in offering Ranga His Due Pleasure
("bhagavath-kainkaryam"), they deserve nothing but our
unqualified revulsion (virakthi). But occasionally
even such worldly things -- like the streamers,
festoons and banners here did today -- do serve The
Lord's Purpose or Pleasure ! At those times, my dear
boy, we should embrace the world, and freely rejoice
and indulge in it! Even the objects of our "virakthi"
would then turn into objects of Pleasure for the Lord
! It then
becomes our duty as His servants ("sEsha"), my dear
boy, to offer Him ("sEshi") and for His Sole Pleasure,
the very same "material" world that otherwise would
deserve our revulsion!

"Tell me, which is greater to us, after all -- Ranga's
Pleasure or our own "vairAgyam" ?!!".

"It is in that spirit of "virakthi" or "vairAgyam", my
dear little boy, that I wore all these fine clothes
and diamond ear-studs on my body today. These are but
like your streamers, festoons and banners for this
body ("sarira") of mine akin to this "pandal" here
erected for the Lord's procession !".

"Understand, my dear disciple," said Sri.Parashara
Bhattar finally,"that the practice of "virakthi" or
"vairAgyam" (self-abnegation), by itself, will not
carry you far forward to the Lord if there is, within
your heart, no awareness of the "sEsha-sEshi
sambhandham" (Master-Servant equation) between
ourselves and Ranga. Without that understanding, my
dear boy, the practice of "virakthi" or "vairAgyam"
will not only be vain and empty but also fruitless
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