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Re: Soundarya lahari et al.

From: Sridhar Srinivasan (ss_at_clihouston.com)
Date: Tue Mar 23 1999 - 07:57:46 PST

Dear Members:

The recent discussion vis a vis soundarya lahari brings to fore the 
need to recognize an important point in the context of Sri 
Vaishnavam.  Our Acharyas leave no place for doubt or compromise when 
it comes to paratvam of SrimannArAyaNA.  After all, in the tatva 
traya sampradayam that is Sri VaishNavam, there is place for only one 
Iswara thathvam and that is SrimannArAyaNA.  Everything else 
(including all the other devathas) are subservient to Him.  To borrow 
a phrase from a recent discourse of Sri VELukkuDi krishNan, from 
brahma, the creator all the way to a measly ant (titheelika), we are 
all approximately equal when compared with the Isvara thattvam.  As 
Sri KrishNan aptly puts it, "avar (brahma) koncham uyarndha samsaari, 
aDiyEn koncham thaazhndha samsaari, avvuLavudhaan" in the context of 
parathvam and unique state (advitheeyan) of the lord.

Any philosophical work or poetry that does not unambiguously 
represent this point (and soundarya lahari clearly does not) has no 
place in our scheme of things.   There is no scope for barter or 
compromise here.  As Thondaradippodi Aazhvaar puts it,  rather mildly 
in Thirumaalai (this particular verse has been previously discussed 
on the Bhakti list)

veruppoDu samaNar munDar.....
aRuppadhE karumam kaNDAy...

In fact, Sri Peirya Vaacchaan piLLai's vyaakhyaanam 
identifies advaitins as one of the primary offenders (along with 
Buddhists) of Azhwaar's fine sensibilities.  This is not a virulent 
person advocating violence.  This is an exalted soul with such 
intense love for the lord  that he cannot tolerate any one stooping 
so low as to equate other samsaaris (laden with karma and doshas) 
with SrimannArAyaNA, piTA, bhOkTha, Seshi and Swamy (vide BG: bhOktha 
cha prabhurEva cha).

anya dEvatha araadhana, in any shape or form, (under any guise, 
including the often touted need for tolerance etc.) is simply 
unacceptable per our acharyas.  This does not mean that you have to 
display disrespect for anya dEvathas, neither does it imply that we 
treat them as equivalent to ParamAtma.   Our attitude towards anya 
dEvathas (as enunciated by an incidence in thirumahishi Azhwaar's 
life) is one of respect for a fellow bhAgavatha.

 I have witnessed in many Sri Vaishnava households where the KOvil 
Azhvaar and perumAL vigrahams are housed along with pictures/idols of 
piLLaiyAr, dEvi etc (Some might argue that this statement is clearly 
oxymoronish..).  Such instances often stem from an inadequate 
understanding of what SrimannarayaNa represents to us per our 
sampradayam.  After all, how many of us would tolerate the notion of 
many fathers being accepted as the cause of our birth? anya devatha 
aaradhana is no different.  In thirmangai Aazhwaar's scheme of 
things,  this is no different than prostitution (something clearly 
very offensive to our sensibilities)

This is why I can relate to Sri mahavishNu's indignation/sense of 
suffering.  To take any other attitude towards (including silence) to 
such gross and unacceptable statements (as those made by Sri Sankara 
in large parts of soundarya lahari) would be tantamount to accepting 
the position of krimi kantha Sozhan on Shiva paratvam and a direct 
contradiction of Ramanuja sampradayam.  This is not to imply that we 
do not appreciate the beauty of NArAyaNA sthuthi.  Just that the 
context of soundarya lahari places SrimannArAyaNA on par with anya 
dEvathas, and sometimes at the level of a demi-god; all very well and 
consistent with advaitham, but something quite anathematic in the 
context of Sri VaishNavam.

 The seemingly more moderate elements (I hope Mr. 
Sudarshan would not take offense to his inclusion under this subset) 
often are the ones erring egregiously in these instances.  There is 
no umbrella under which one can justify the need to enjoy soundarya 
lahari, not at least under the Sri Vaishnavite scheme of things.  
Where is the need for ferreting out isolated stanzas on NArAyaNA 
from advaitic compositions when we have an ocean of love, bhakthi and 
prapathi available from our Acharyas?  What about the magnificence of 
Swami Desikan's compositions or that of our dear emberumaanaar or 
parashara bhattar ( If one specifically looks for shlokams  in 
sanskrit)?  Is there anything that can hold a candle to Sri GuNa 
rathna kOsham or Sri ranga rAja sthavam or daYa shathakam or 
sharaNagathi gadyam or sthotra ratnam?  I think not. 

Clearly there exists no need for scouring buddhist or advaitic 
literature to look for sthotrams to extol the anantha kalyANa guNAs 
of the lord.   And claims of support/wisdom of all the elders in this 
forum or elsewhere cannot justify perpetration of 
description/discussion of soundarya lahari or its beauty on this 
list given the crux of the philosophical underpinnings that is 
shankara matham.

Aazhvaar Emberumaanaar Jeeyar thiruvaDigaLE sharaNam

sridhar