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nrsimha-jayanti & KamasikAshtakam

From: R.Balaji (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Sun May 10 1998 - 01:39:31 PDT

srimathe lakshmi-nrsimha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta gurave namaha

Dear BhAgavatOttamA-s,

Today is Swati; it is a blessed day for it is the "jayanti" of our Great
Lord of Ahobilam, Sri.MalOlan.

It must be "tirumanjanam" time now at several "Nrsimha-kshetrams" all
around India --- at the shrine of "prahlada-varadan" at Ahobilam,
"yoga-nrsimhan" at Sholinghur and Nammakkal,at "Nrsimha-sannidhi's" at
VedAdri, Mattapalli and Wadapalli right along the fertile and meandering
banks of the River Krishana, at Simhachallam and at Yaadugirigutta.....

Grand would be all the special rituals at all these "kshetrA-s".

At Chennai, the festivities at the "nrismha-sannidhi" in the
Parthasarathi Temple at Triplicane are really agog !

Today is a joyous occasion indeed for all of us ! It is the day of
descent of the Great Lord Lakshmi-nrsimhan amongst us!!

On this blessed day, the sounds of "veda-parayanam" and "prabhandham"
ring sonorously in the high-roofed portals of the "nrsimha-sannidhi".... 

The refrain of Tirumangai Alwar's famous "pasuram-s" on the Lord of
Ahobilam lingers like a rare, haunting fragrance in the hallowed
ambience of the Parthasarathy Swami temple here in Chennai....

At the nearby Ahobila Mutt the sweet rhymes of the
"nrsimha-karAvalamba-stotram" fill the din raised outside the temple
precincts by the distant blare of "nadaswaram" music and the jingle of
temple-gongs. 

The sweet yet pungent smell of rich "pAnaggam"(scented jaggery-water)
rents the air...

As sweet as the smell and taste of "pAnaggam" is, I tell you, so are the
exquisite rhymes of Verse 3 of Swami Desikan's famous dedication to Lord
Nrsimha-murthy, the 8-stanza "kAmAsikAshtakam". 

Most of you "nrismha-bhaktAs" are already aware of the lines:
           
           "bandhumakhilasya janto-ho
             bandhura paryanka bandha ramaniyam
           vishama-vilochana meeDay
             vegavati pulina narsimham"!!

This is one verse in the whole hymn that simply, absolutely captivates
my heart!!

Four simple lines are packed indeed with an astounding wealth of ideas
which would otherwise fill tomes and volumes of scriptural exegesis. 

The kavi-simham's choice of phrases like "bandhU", "bandhura", 
"vishama-vilOchana" and "kEli" are also so apt and evocative. You dwell
on each of the expressions for as much as a moment and you find you
simply can't help being overcome by a flood of allusions and associative
ideas.

"BANDHU", for example, is a very commonplace term that suddenly assumes
rich 'vedic' flavour --- what scholars would call, "nigama-parimalam"
--- as a result of the way in which the "kavi-simham" employs it.

"bandhU" in Sanskrit, we know, means "kinsman", "kith", "protector" or
"one who provides succour and refuge". But the most popular connotation
of the word is quite simply : "friendly relative". In French, it is
perhaps a little more expressive: "mon ami".

Now what is so poetic, we may be tempted to ask ourselves, in describing
the Lord as "friend", our "bandhU"? It seems really to be a rather banal
statement of the obvious, isn't it? A bland statement of this sort
indeed does little more than bring a number of associative material from
the "puranA-s" and "ithihAsA" immediately to our minds, isn't it ? It
brings to mind the "bandhU" who came to the rescue of Draupadi, the
"bandhu" who saved "prahlada", the "bandhu" who swiftly relieved
Gajendra of his misery, the "bandhu" who freely gave his protection to
even the undeserving AjAmilan .... and so on, so forth ...

Yes, the term "bandhu" would indeed be a very banal term of description
applied to our Lord Nrsimhan but for the expression "akhilasya janto-ho"
which Swami Desikan appends to it. 

"akhilasya janto-hO" signifies "all creatures of the world" and
"bandhumakhilasya janto-hO" hails the Lord as "the Kinsman of all
Creation" --- the 'Great Friend' of everything that might crawl,creep,
breathe, walk, swim or fly in this world.

The question that we should ask here is (and here indeed is the "rasa"
or the special flavour of the poetry involved ) if the Lord is to be
described as "bandhum-akhilasys janto-hO" or the "kinsman of all
creatures" does it mean He is the "bandhu" of REALLY ALL creatures --- 
good, evil and indifferent? 

If the Lord is declared to be the "bandhu" of those who have sworn
eternal allegiance to him (vide Sri.Andal's "yettraikkum yEzh-yEzh
piravikkum, undhannodu uttrOmmE yAvOm, unnakkE nAmAtcheivOm...etc.") we
know the matter is exactly as it ought to be.There is no great wonder or
surprise in all this! We know from not one but 5 "charama-shlOkA-s" in
the scriptures that the Lord Himself solemnly executed 'vedic'
affidavits to the effect that He shall never fail His "bhaktA-s", that
He shall guarantee redemption to His "prapanna-s" and that He shall ever
remain the "bandhU" of those who surrender unto Him? 

But what is so greatly poetic or extraordinary in all this ?

What is un-poetic (in this line from the "kamAsikAshtakam") is certainly
the apparent reference to the Lord being the "bandhu" of those who are
His "bhaktA-s" or "prapannA-s"!! The real poetic excitement, however,
lies in Swami Desikan's tacit and tongue-in-cheek hyperbole contained in
the statement that the Lord is 'bandhum-akhilasya-janto-ho" ie. The Lord
maintains the RELATIONSHIP of a primordial KINSMAN of ALL CREATURES and
not just only with those that are His "bhaktA-s" or "prapannA-s".

There is an element of grand and overarching pantheism here.

This point needs a bit of patient explaining if the poetic subtlety of
Swami Desikan's verse in the "kAmAsikAshtakam" is to be even vaguely
grasped by us. 

Consider this please : We cherish a relationship when we realise its
true nature and worth. If we do not realise a relationship or remain
wholly unaware of it there is no way we can cherish and nurture the
relationship. In other words, we cannot keep a personal, business or
social relationship "going" (as we commonly say) unless we keep
constantly "working" at it.

We cannot sustain a relationship with our spouse, for example, unless we
take pains to undertand the nature, intensity, scope, the undercurrents
and dynamics that rule the relationship. Similarly, even in our working
lives we have to take pains, willy-nilly, to firmly establish, nourish
and nurture healthy inter-personal relations with peers, subordinates
and superiors. We know we really have to "care" about the many little
relationships that go to make up the warp-and-woof of our life. When the
relationships really "work" (as it is commonly described) there is a
certain fullness and richness that characterises our lives. When the
"relationships" are not "worked hard upon" --- be it with spouse, boss
or friends --- a certain staleness and ennui grips our lives. 

The question to ask now is : The great "bandhu", the Lord, does he
extend His Grace only to those who "work" assiduously on their
"relationship" with Him as "bhaktA-s" or as "prapannA-s"? Does His grace
as "bandhu" NOT extend to those who are unaware of or who have not
realised their relationship with Him (the "mUDAtmA-s")? If the latter
case is true, then, is not Swami Desikan using an inappropriate poetic
flourish in hailing the Lord as the Kinsman of ALL Creatures --
"bandhumakhilasya janto-ho"! 

Our ancient "AchAryA-s" have a very interesting analogy to drive home
this point of our "relationship" with the great "bandhu". We must take
keen note of it for it will help us understand better Desikan's line. 

Here is the analogy:

Once upon a time there lived a happily wedded couple in a village. A
year after their marriage however great tragedy struck. The husband died
suddenly leaving behind a widow who was pregnant with his child.

A year later the widow gave birth to a son. 

Widowed mother and part-orphaned son eked out a very difficult existence
without paternal support. They struggled through many difficulties in
life. 

Yet, through all their strife in life, for the widow at least there was
always a silver lining in the clouds that appeared without fail on the
first day of every month all her life. On the first day of each month
she found that through the agency of some anonymous and mysterious
benefactor all the wholesome necessities of her household were being
provided gratis!

She'd open the doorway of her home in the morning and find at the
doorstep all the groceries, foodstuff, clothing and appliances that she
and her son would require for an entire month!! 

It was a real mystery to her as to who the anonymous good samaritan was
!! It continued every month, every year, unceasingly, unfailingly!

In spite of her efforts of many years the poor widow could never
discover the identity of the anonymous and elusive benefactor who not
once failed to supply the poor widow and her son with all necessities
and comforts of life.

Many years elapsed. The son grew up to be a handsome young youth. He
also grew up to be an extremely successful merchant. His prosperity knew
no bounds. In good time he too married and raised a family and lived
very happily.

It was finally time for his mother, the old widow, to depart. On her
death-bed her tearful son queried, "My dearest mother, the time has come
for you to depart. How shall I ever repay the great debt I owe you, my
dear mother, for all that you gave me in life? You provided me with
everyting that I needed in life to grow into the happy and prosperous
person that I am today. Ah, mother of mine, how shall I ever repay thee
your kindness?!".

The widow then smiled and said, "Your gratitude, my dear son, ought to
go to an anonymous benefactor of our family! Indeed it is he who has
provided us with all the good things in life we have enjoyed all these
years!! My love and my care that have been lavished on you all these
years, my child, all that too has been really enabled by the unseen
samaritan! Your debt to me shall be more than recompensed if only you
could discover who this great and elusive benefactor of ours is and who
has never shown himself all these years in any way other than through
his abounding generosity".

The son was simply stunned with the discovery after all the years that
he and his widowed mother owed everything in life to an unknown,
mysterious, hidden benefactor who had never once shown up!

Before breathing her last the widowed mother whispered to her son,"My
son, I have wasted away my life simply taking for granted all the means
of enjoyment the silent, unseen benefactor ("bandhu") bestowed on us. I
know not who he is, what he is and why he showers us with his unceasing
blessings. I have'nt fathomed the relationship between us and him."

"I leave now for the other world, my son. But the task of discovering
this benefactor and understanding the true kinship with him is now
yours. It is perhaps your life's work and happiness... and your life's
fulfillment....It is the only way you can repay the debt you say you owe
me, my son".

So saying the widow died. 

And the son.... even to this day (our "AchAryA-s" tell us).. the good
son is still engaged in the eternal quest of his true kinship with a
great Unseen, Mysterious, Anonymous Benefactor.....

The spiritual predicament of the son, if you think deeply about it, dear
"bhAgavatOttamA-s", is really no different from our own, is it? 

How charming indeed is the way our "achAryA-s" describe the misery
wrought by our spiritual aches through a simple and stark story!

Now it is THAT very same "Benefactor",the "bandhU" who showers His Grace
on all creatures alike -- those that like the widow and the son who had
no inkling whatsoever of their true relationship with an unseen
benefactor and also those like Draupadi or Gajendran of our scriptures
who fully realised the nature of their ties with the Lord --- it is
precisely that "bandhu" that Swami Desikan refers to in his
'kAmAsikAshtakam' as "bandhumakhilasya janto-hO"! 

That verily is the exquisite poetry, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", of the
line in Verse 3 of Swami Desikan's hymn which otherwise appears to us as
a pretty banal statement of the Lord's image as a "bandhu"! 

In His own 'avatara' as Nrsimha, the Lord proved that he was the
"bandhu" of all "jantus" of all "akhila"! The Lord was in fact the
"bandhu" of even the evil Hiranya-kasipu although in a very slanted sort
of way!!

In the esoteric doctrines of SriSampradayam and as explained by Swami
Desikan in his Rahasyatrayasaram, the ultimate moment of communion for a
soul with the Lord in "parama-padam" is conceived as the moment when the
"jivA" ( the individual soul) after having re-gained its form of
"suddha-sattva" or "ap-prAkrita svarupam" (a form completely dissociated
with "prakriti" i.e. entirely free of "tri-gunAs"), after having
regained its true form, the "jivA" is chaperoned into the Lord's
presence by an archangel -- a "vidyut-purushan". The "jivA' then
clambers up onto the lap of the Lord who welcomes him into His arms and
embraces him with great love while whispering many expressions of great
endearment. 

For the 'jivA' the very act of being seated on the lap of the Lord
constitutes the consummative moment of bliss -- the "anandA" of "mokshA"
that even the ancient Upanishads describe only inadequately!

The joy of such consummative experience -- the experience of being
seated or lying supine upon the Lap of the Almighty as in "parama-padam"
-- that same act .... was it not bestowed upon Hiranya-kasipu by our
Lord Lakshmi-nrsimhan even in the apocalyptic moment of his
destruction?! 

Therefore, was not the Lord then a "bandhu" to even an evil "jantu" of
this "akhilam" -- a despicable creature of this world -- like
Hiranya-kasipu ?

How wonderfully poetic and expressive therefore it is, is it not, that
Swami Desikan hails the Lord as "bandhumakhilasya janto-ho" .... the
"bandhu" of not only those (a) who have fully realised their "kinship"
with him and thereby enriched their lives ... (b) He is also the
"bandhu" of those of us who like the widow enjoy the benefactions of
life and yet perhaps may die away without once knowing the true identity
of the Unseen Benefactor ... and (c) He is also a "bandhu" of an unusual
sort to one as eggregiously evil as Hiranya-kasippu!!

The Lord is indeed therefore the "bandhu" of all creatures, isn't it ---
of the good, of the bad and...and of the indifferent even!!

Swami Desikan, the "kavi-simham", the leonine poet, isn't wrong at all,
is he ??!! 

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha
sudarshan