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Kulashekara Azhwar's Tirunakshatram-Some Reflections

From: muralidhar rangaswamy (rangaswamy_m_at_hotmail.com)
Date: Sat Mar 07 1998 - 21:07:55 PST

Kushyate Yasya NagarE Ranga YAtra Dine Dine
TAmaham ShirasAm VandE RajanAm Kulashekaram.

KumbhE PunarvasuBhavam KeraLE ChoLa PattaNE
Kaustubhamsham DharAdeesham KulashekaramAshrayE

Dear Friends,

On the occassion of Sri Kulashekara Azhwar's Tirunakshatram I 
wish to remember him through his two Sanskrit Taniyans (laudatory 
verses) and share a few reflections from the fourth decad of PerumaL 
Tirumozhi. The Azhwar has been most eloquently saluted by other 
members of our group. The single most distinguishing feature of the 
Azhwar is 
his unending desire to serve Bhagavatas. He held his hand in a pot 
containing 
poisonous snakes to establish the innocence of Bhagavatas. Lord Narayana 
accorded him a unique status among the Azhwars by conferring upon him 
the 
title of PerumaL. His work consisting of 100 Pasurams is divided into 
ten 
parts. In the first decad, the Azhwar extols the Lord of Srirangam. In 
it 
he enjoys an Anubhavam of his Abhimana Daivam, Lord Rama, as Sri 
Ranganatha 
reclining on the serpent bed of Srirangam. Interestingly, the Azhwar 
shares 
the Nakshatram of his Abhimana Daivam. The second decad extols 
Bhagavatas 
who have devoted their existence to serve at the Lord's pleasure and for 
his 
pleasure. In the third decad, the Azhwar brings out the benefits of 
associating with Bhagavatas. The fourth decad contains a brilliant 
eulogy to 
Lord Srinivasa. The Azhwar then offers SharaNagati to the Lord of 
Tiruvithakodu (a Divya Desam in KeraLa) in the fifth decad. In the sixth 
decad, the Azhwar takes on the Nayaki Bhavam and describes the pain and 
anguish of the Gopikas at being separated from their beloved Lord 
KrishNa. 
These verses are extremely moving and bring tears to one's eyes. Equally 
moving are the verses of the seventh decad in which the Azhwar describes 
Devaki's sorrow at her inability to enjoy the childhood pranks and 
Leelas 
of Lord Krishna. In it the Azhwar declares "Fie on this unfortunate me!
You have found mothers (Yashoda and Putana) befitting you". The eigth 
and 
ninth decads are devoted to Lord Rama. The Azhwar describes the love of 
Kausalya for Rama and Dasharatha for Lord Rama. In a fitting finale, the 
Azhwar succinctly presents the Ramayanam in the tenth decad.   
   
At a relatively young age, Lord Srinivasa 
appeared in the Azhwar's dream and instilled in him unshakable 
faith (Mahavishvasam), an extremely strong bond of love for the Lord 
(Vatsalyam) and an eternal, unsatiated desire to perform Bhagavad and 
Bhagavata Kainkaryam. A reflection of these attributes is seen in the 
Azhwar's Pasurams in the fourth decad of Perumal Tirumozhi. The 
BrahmAnda 
PurANam declares that in the entire universe there is no place like 
Venkatachalam and that there never has been nor will there ever be a God  
equal to Venkateshwara (Venkatesha SamO Deva Na BhutO Na Bhavishyati). 
The first part of this declaration is seen in the Azhwar's desire to be 
anything sentinent or insentinent associated with the sacred Hills of 
Tirumala (EnAnum AvEnE). The second part of the BrahmAnda PurANam 
declaration 
glorifying Venkateshwara is seen in the ninth Pasuram of the fourth 
decad. 
The Mahima of the Lord of Seven Hills stems from the fact that his name 
arises from a combination of three words, i.e. Vem (sin)+Kata (destroy)+
Ishvara (Lord). Thus merely uttering his name destroys one's sins. A 
second 
reason for the uniqueness of Lord Srinivasa comes from his constant 
association with Periya Piratti. H.H. Srimad Andavan Swamigal of Srimad 
Paundarikapuram 
Asramam very eloquently points out that incarnations of Lord Narayana 
such as 
Ranganatha, Rama, Krishna, Varadaraja can be addressed either by 
their name as is or with the prefix Sri to denote a respectful form of 
address and the Lord's association with his consort. However with regard 
to the 
Lord of Seven Hills, Swamigal points out that Sri is an integral part of 
the 
Lord since the term Nivasan does not make sense without the prefix Sri. 
This 
Vishaya VailakshaNam-the oneness of the Lord of Seven Hills and his 
consort
(Ekasheshitva)- is succinctly extolled by the Azhwar's reference to 
Sri in the ninth Pasuram.      

The Azhwar seeks 
increasingly better ways to serve the Lord of Seven Hills as he delivers 
each Pasuram. The first seven Pasurams are a prelude to the ultimate
SharaNagati referred to in the last four Pasurams. The Azhwar 
outlines all possible obstacles that may be encountered in one's quest 
for 
the Lord and devises excellent ways of overcoming them. In this post, I 
shall attempt to capture the Azhwar's thought process while delivering 
each Pasuram. Kulashekara Perumal was an Amsam of the Kaustubha gem of 
the 
Lord. Fittingly, he has rained ten gems in praise of Lord Srinivasa. It 
is impossible to do justice to the brilliance of Kulashekara Perumal's 
eulogy and I seek forbearance of all readers for my indulgence. 

The first Pasuram referring to the Krishnavataram indicates that just as 
Lord Krishna subdued the seven bulls to win the hand of Nappinai, one 
who 
seeks the Lord must subdue one's senses before begining their quest. 
Since all material pleasures are transient in nature and only serve to 
increase one's desires for gratifying the senses, they are 
counterproductive to spiritual pursuits. Therefore, the Azhwar seeks to 
avoid them at the outset. The opening of the Panchajanya conch refers to 
Shanka Nadam, which has several important meanings. First, the Pranava 
Aksharam emanating from the Panchajanya indicates the ultimacy 
(Parathvam) 
of Lord Narayana. This can be associated with the Narayana Upanishad 
salutation"OmithyekAksharam". Next, Pranavam destroys all 
inauspiciousness 
and removes all obstacles coming in one's quest of the Lord. A third 
interpretation is that the Shanka Nadam denoting the Pranava Aksharam 
indicates a tribute to Bhagavan Hayagriva, the presiding deity of 
Knowledge. The Spatika, around Bhagavan Hayagriva is white in color, as 
is 
the Panchajanya conch. The stork is also white in color. These are 
indicative 
of the Shuddha Satva of the Lord of Seven Hills. Thus the Shanka Nadam 
and 
tribute to Bhagavan Hayagriva taken in conjunction denote Anishta 
Nivrutti 
and Ishta PrApti. The choice of the stork is instructive for it 
indicates 
the Azhwar's thirst for Bhagavad Anubhavam just like a hungry stork 
waiting to grab fish from a lake.   

The second Pasuram again emphasizes the evanescent nature 
of worldly and material pleasures. The Azhwar shuns them and desires to 
be a fish in the hill streams of Venkatachalam. Several explanations can 
be offered for this desire of the Azhwar. In a moment of weakness, 
the stork may decide to fly away. In this case, the Azhwar would be 
deprived of Bhagavad Anubhavam. Therefore, wouldn't it be wonderful to 
be a fish in the hill stream of Venkatachalam and constantly be 
associated with the Lord? The reference to the fish can also be 
interpreted as a reference to the Matsya Avatram, which beautifully 
illustrates the Narayana Upanishad salutations "NarayanE PravartantE" 
and "NarayanE Praleeyante". These salutations refer to the fact that 
Lord 
Narayana is the one who sustains the universe as well as the one who 
causes Pralayam. Matsya Murthy brilliantly illustrates this Vedic 
declaration, by causing Pralaya and at the same time bestowing  
Satyavrata the power to overcome the waves of Pralaya. I am indebted to 
Sri Rangapriya Mahadesikan Swami for blessing me with the insight on the 
Matsya Murthy and the Narayana Upanishad salutation  

The Azhwar then reasons that the stream could perhaps dry up and the 
fish may 
die, thus denying him further Anubhavam of Bhagavan. The thought of 
separation from Bhagavan is extremely painful to the Azhwar. This must 
be 
noted in the context of the Azhwar's desire for daily pilgrimage to 
Srirangam so that he could constantly be by the side of his Abhimana 
Daivam, Lord Rama and enjoy Bhagavad and Bhagavata Kainkaryam. 
Therefore, 
he seeks a better way to remain by the side of the Lord.

In the third Pasuram, the Azhwar desires to hold the spit bowl of Lord 
Srinivasa. The message here is that when the Lord cleans his mouth 
with the water from the bowl while brushing his teeth, his benign glance 
will inevitably fall on the person who holds the bowl. This is a sure 
shot 
method to obtain the grace of the Lord. In the Daya Shatakam, Swami 
Desikan states that a mere benevolent glance of Lord Srinivasa is 
sufficient to absolve an individual of Deva Runa, Rishi Runa and Pitru 
Runa. The Azhwar points out an excellent method for obtaining 
this blessing. This Pasuram is also indicative of the fact that Bhaktas 
throng 
to the Temple of Srinivasa in large numbers and vie with one another to 
have a 
Darshanam of Lord Srinivasa just like Brahma, Indra and Rudra compete 
with 
one another to get a Darshanam of Lord Narayana at Sri Vaikuntam. Hence, 
the 
Swarga Vasal to the Temple of Lord Srinivasa is just as difficult to 
enter as 
the door to Sri Vaikuntam. "Wouldn't it make my task easier if I wait 
for the 
Lord at the Vaikunta Dwaram holding his spit bowl, and be assured of his 
Darshanam?" This seems to be the thought of the Azhwar.   

The Azhwar then reasons: "Wouldn't it be better for me to be near 
the lotus feet of the Lord, since his gaze is bound to fall on me as 
soon 
as he awakes from his sleep? What can I do to serve the lotus feet of 
the 
Lord?" This thought is probably motivated by the Mahabharata incident 
where Arjuna and Duryodhana proceeded to Dwaraka to seek Lord Krishna's 
help in the war. Lord Krishna was resting at that time. Duryodhana stood 
at the head-rest of the Lord's bed, while Arjuna respectfully stood at 
the 
Lord's feet and was blessed by the Lord's grace as soon as he awoke. 
Accordingly, the Azhwar resolves that if he becomes a Champaka 
tree at Tirumala, which yields flower used for offering at the feet of 
the Lord, his objective would be realized. This is reflected in the 
fourth Pasuram. 

The Azhwar continues in similar vein and reasons: "Perhaps the flowers 
offered to the Lord's feet may be discarded after they lose their 
freshness. 
Then I shall be deprived of the Lord's Anubhavam again. How can I do 
better?"
The Azhwar is also fearful of being distracted by material pursuits. 
Accordingly, he shuns all aspirations for monrachy, the marks of royalty 
and 
its associated pleasures. Instead, the Azhwar desires to be a tree at 
the 
hills of Tirumala and perform Kainkaryam for Lord Srinivasa. In taking 
the 
form of a tree at Tiruvenkatan, the Azhwar wishes to serve Bhagavatas, 
by providing them shade from the sun. In return, he would be overjoyed 
by 
their outpourings extolling the Lord and his limitless Kalyana Gunams.

The Azhwar is then concerned by the fact that someone can uproot the 
tree. In that case, he would again be deprived of the Bhagyam of 
performing 
Bhagavad and Bhagavata Kainkaryam. Therefore he desires to be something 
that is harder to move from Tiruvenkatan. Possible distractions surface 
again. The connection between Indra Lokam and the tree is indicative of 
the 
Parijata tree being uprooted from Indra's kingdom.  Accordingly, 
Kulashekara 
Perumal argues: "What if I am conferred with the pleasures of Indra 
Lokam? 
Would this not be simply a like a parrot in a golden cage? Are not the 
pleasures of Indra Lokam just as fleeting? Therefore is it not better to 
be an inanimate hill peak at Venkatachalam, resonating with the humming 
music of the bees?" This motivates the Azhwar to do penance to be a peak 
at Venkatachalam. 

In the seventh Pasuram, the Azhwar cries out "Of what use is it to be an 
emperor walking under a royal umbrella, living in a huge palace 
flaunting his 
wealth and hearing the praise of sycophants in the court? Are not all 
these marks of royalty useless tinsel if they cannot help in serving the 
Lord? Would it not be beautiful if I can become a hill stream at 
Venkatachalam which 
provides water used in performing Tirumanjanam for Lord Srinivasa?"  

Kulashekara Perumal then refers to the elevated status of Brahma, Indra 
and 
Rudra and points out that they have been granted their status as fruits 
of their Yagas and penance for Lord Srinivasa. However, even these are 
transient in nature. That which is permanent and lasting is service to  
the Lord and his Bhagavatas. Therefore, wouldn't it be marvellous to be 
a 
path or road traversed by Bhagavatas who come to have a Darshanam of 
Bhagavan. Thus yearns the Azhwar in the eighth Pasuram. 

The ninth Pasuram brilliantly establishes the concept of Sharanagati to 
the lotus feet of Lord Srinivasa.  The Azhwar concludes that 
the only thing of permanence is attainment of Lord Narayana's
(Tiruvenkatan) lotus feet. This can be related to the Narayana Sooktam 
salutation: Patim VishvasyAtmeshvaragam Shashvatagam Shivamachyutam 
and the Sriranganatha Gadyam salutation "Sthairya" (meaning fixed or 
permanent one). The eternal bliss of attaining the feet of Lord Narayana 
is described in the Narayana Upanishad salutation "Narayana
SayujyamavApnoti, Narayana SayujyamavApnoti", in the Taittriya 
Upanishad salutation "Sa YekO BrahmaNAnanda:"  and in the Vishnu
Sooktam salutation "TadvisNoh Paramam Padam Sada Pashyanti Soorayaha" 
Since this is the "bull's eye" Kulashekara Azhwar shuns everything else 
that comes in the  way of his goal (material wealth, royalty and its
associated paraphernalia and pleasures, Indra Lokam, the status of 
Brahma,
Indra, Rudra). The import of the message of the  Ashtakshara Mantram is 
beautifully reflected in Pasurams 8-10. The ninth Pasuram refers to the 
benefit of performing SharaNagati to Lord Narayana and finally,  
Pasurams 
8-10 reflect the Azhwar's enthusiasm to enjoy Bhagavad and Bhagavata 
Kainkaryam. Thus, the Azhwar succinctly presents Tatva 
(Lord Narayana is the supreme being), Hita (Surrender to His Lotus feet) 
and Purushartha (Constantly be engaged in Bhagavad and Bhagavata 
Kainkaryam)  
for a Sri Vaishnava. One can associate the Narayana Upanishad 
salutations 
"Nama Iti DvaE AksharE" and "NarayaNAyeti PanchAksharaNi", with Pasurams 
8-10. Another important feature of the ninth Pasuram is the description 
of 
Prapatti as Papa Nivrutti, i.e., the act of surrendering to Lord 
Narayana 
immediately rids one of their sins (Bharanyasam). The final Pasuram 
again 
refers to the bliss of attaining the Lord's feet. It is instructive to 
observe the use of "possessing a sharp trident to kill enemies" in the 
final 
Pasuram. The reference here is to the fact that all obstacles coming in 
the 
way of one's path to seek the Lord are ruthlessly destroyed by the three 
Rahasya Mantras, i.e., Ashtakshara Mantram, Dvaya Mantram, and Charma 
Shlokam.

Everything correctly stated is entirely due to the grace of my Acharyan. 
All errors and shortcomings are mine alone.

SrivenkatAchalAdeesham Shriyadyasita Vakshitam
Sritachetana Mandaram Srinivasamaham Bhaje

BhAvitam Srinivasasya Bhakta DoshEshvadarshanam

Kulashekara Perumal TiruvadiagaLE SharaNam,

Namo Narayana,

Muralidhar Rangaswamy  














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