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"seppanna menm-mulai.." & "AtRa-padithAn mahanE.."

From: sampath kumar (
Date: Wed Jan 05 2000 - 12:18:52 PST

Dear friends,

The tiruppAvai verse of yesterday was Stanza#20
beginning "muppathhu-muvar". Today it is Stanza#21
beginning with "etra kalangal edir pongi..".

Both verses have some lines that are very riveting and
very interesting from a poetic or aesthetic angle and
especially for the vaishnava-layman of today's "hoi
polloi" (nice term a member used recently on the
list!) or (to use a 'tiruppAvai' expression) to any
lowly member of "arivonrum-illAda- aaykulam".

   ****      *****       *****
In stanza #20 there is an extraordinary line:

   seppana menn-mulai sevvAy siru marungul
     napinnai nangAy! tiruvE tuyilezhAy !

The above lines read together with the lines in
Stanza#19 "maitadan kanninAy ..." and "napinnai kongai
mEl vaittu kidandha malar mArbA.." would literally
translate into English as follows:

  "The Lord Almighty Krishna, the broad-chested one, 
who rests entrapped upon Napinnai's bosom, remains
enchanted with her large and beautiful eyes ("maitadan
kanninAy"), her full but delicate breasts
("seppana-menn-mulai"), her cherry-red mouth
("sevvAy") and slender waist ("siru-marungul"). Such
an enamoured One, hence, perhaps is oblivious of our
calls ( the call of the "aayarpAdi" maidens)."

The above are extraordinary lines! To one who
understands their "svapadEsArtham" or their real,
esoteric significance which "AchAryA-s" reveal in
their commentaries, the lines are truly profound! 

But to any lay reader (particularly someone from say a
Western background) who probably reads the lines for
the first time, the lines may appear to have strong
erotic or sexual overtones. It may also leave the lay
reader a little bewildered as to why a poetess would
want to depict the theme of "religious devotion" in
the rather explicit idiom of "mad sexual passion". The
answer to such an ordinarily troubling question is
given by various scholars steeped in the traditional
commentaries of "tiruppAvai". 

In the book "Mysticism in the Upanishads" by Bankey
Bihari (Pg.117) it is explained that "The madness of
sexual passion is generally resorted to in expressing
the madness of the devotees for the Lord".

V.Bashyam Iyengar in his book on "TiruppAvai" writes
(pg.19): "(When trying to understand these line of the
"tiruppAvai") one should note an important fact: that
the "breasts of Napinnai" ("seppana-menn- mulai")
which captivated the Lord and rivetted his attention
were in reality not of flesh and blood.It is
heart-rending how much Lord Krishna, our perfect
'avatAr' and Lord of Love has been misunderstood and
vilified by ignorant foreigners. Of course, they have
not read our books, much less comprehended their
meaning. How else is it possible to conceive that they
could find fault with the doings of One, whose
unquestionable sanction or otherwise constitutes the
sole standard of Right and Wrong? The "svApadesArtham"
or inner significance of the inscrutable doings of the
Lord is not understood or realised except by those who
have studied our books in the proper traditional

Now, we laymen (of the "hoi polloi"?) with our limited
mental faculties, however, may well ask ourselves,
"Alright, if our Poetess of Villiputtur in using the
phrase "seppana-menn-mulai" did not mean the "full and
delicate breasts of Napinnai" in the carnal sense of
"flesh and blood", then what else did she exactly mean
by it?". 

It is a perfectly justified question and one which the
'tiruppAvai' scholars have addressed very adequately
and indeed very admirably.

What do they say? We "lay-srivaishnavas" who are eager
to appreciate the greatness of "tiruppAvai", must
keenly learn from them.

The scholars explain that in Verses# 19 and #20:
"menn-mulai" (full breasts) stands for "budding
"sevvAy" (luscious-red mouth) stands for "inner beauty
of the soul"
"maitadan-kanninAy" (collyrium-etched eyes) stands for
the 'eye of gnyAna" or the "opening out" knowledge 
"marungul" (slim waist) stands for "vairAgyam" or

V.Bashyam Iyengar further explains wonderfully:
"All incarnations of the Lord, originate in his
natural love and mercy for his children but Krishna's
incarnation was pre-eminent in that respect. And if in
his quest for souls Krishna's unfathomable kindness
and condescension induced him to play with
cowherdesses, are we to condemn such "leelA-s" as
unbecoming and immoral? (No!). It was really the
incipient knowledge ("gnyAna" or spiritual awakening)
that He saw in the eyes ("maitadan- kanninAy") of the
cowherdesses, the budding devotion (the dawning of
"bhakti") that He saw in their half-developed breasts
("menn-mulai") and the creeping "vairAgya" or
renunciation that He saw in their slender waists

Now for we lay-srivaishnavas (of the "hoi polloi")
only when the "svapadEsArtham" of breasts, eyes, lips
and waists are explained to us in easily
understandable language as above.... only then are we
truly able to appreciate and realize how well  the
poetic genius of AndAl did to use them as perfect
metaphors for "the budding of bhakti", "the dawning of
gnyAna", "the birth of inner spiritual beauty" and
"the economy of "vyrAgyA" or renunciation" in Man.

   *********    ********     ********

In today's verse, Stanza#21 there is another
extraordinary line:

  "...perum passukal Atrap-padaittAn mahanE...".

Adiyen had always been taught that the above line was
an address to Krishna as being the "son of Nandagopan,
the mighty tender of cows whose udders were bursting
with milk...".

Adiyen had always thought that the above expression
was an address to Nandagopan.     

Recently adiyen came across a very creative piece of
"vyAkhyAnam" (interpretation) which tells me that the
above phrase can also be viewed as addressing
Sri.RamanujachArya even though ANdal pre-dated Andal
by at least 300-400 years! She probably had a
prescient awareness of the coming of Ramanuja well
before his time... say some scholars.

These scholars say that the term "perrum-passukal"
refers to "disciples". "AtrapadaittAn" denotes AchArya
EmperumAnAr and "mahanE" actually denotes the Lord
Tiru-narayan chella pillai of Melkote who was
personally installed in his temple and greatly
favoured by Ramanuja in his times.

If one mulls over the above ideas and the subject
lines of the 'tiruppAvai' one cannot help being amazed
at their aptness and applicability to Ramanuja who,
yes, did have hundreds of disciples
("perrum-passukal"), who did tend to them very
carefully by providing leadership for them during the
very troubled reign of King Kollutungan and, yes, who
did regard the Lord of Melkote, SampathkumAra-
Chellapillai, as his own "darling son"!

And now on that pleasant note on our Lord
Sampathkumaran of Melkote, this "siriyan" Sampathkumar
(one amongst the "hoi polloi') will sign off!


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