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Musings on Vega-setu stotram

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Tue Nov 19 1996 - 01:06:19 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha.

Dear bhAgavatOttamas,

Over the week-end I was browsing through some past postings and read the
most touching comments of Sriman Sadagopan and Srimathi Lakshmi N.Srinivasan
many weeks ago on our Lord YathOktakari while translating Swami Desikan's
"vega-setu stotram". I could not help being transported into a personal
reverie while musing on this most exquisite composition of Swami Desikan and
thought I may share it with you all as well.I am borrowing for this posting
of mine from Sriman Sadagopan his wonted title viz. "Musings" which he often
uses for his own similar efforts and I hope he will forgive my act of petty
larceny.

About 20 kms. east from where I live in Bahrain the land ends into a narrow
strip of the Arabian Gulf. Here across 25 kms. of shallow sea there is a
huge causeway that links Bahrain island to the great empire of Saudi Arabia.
This great bridge is a marvel indeed of modern civil architecture and was
built in 1988 and christened "King Fahd Causeway". I don't know if it is
worthy of any comparison to your own "Golden Gate" in San Francisco but all
the same this great bridge of Bahrain is an awesome sight indeed for many
tourists to the Gulf Region who come on week-ends just to witness it and
have a pleasant picnic in the surrounding gardens and boulevards.This great
bridge is a great boon for Bahrain as it turned the emirate in 1988
immediately from a small island trading-post which Bahrain was until then
into a flourishing entrepot on the eastern seaboard for the entire
pan-Arabian provinces.The island economy has prospered since mainly because
of this great causeway.

Everytime my family and I visit King Fahd causeway I am reminded of our Lord
YathOkthakari. I often stand alone on the great towering bridge, look out
into the vast turquoise-blue expanse of sea, with the nippy desert-breeze
stinging my face, and invariably find myself muttering in the silence the
verses from Swami Desikan's "vega-setu stotram".

I cannot help wondering now how universal is the appeal of Swami Desikan
that even in this day in a strange, Muslim land far away from India, some
sights and scenes immediately evoke in my mind the wonderful imagery and
phrases he used in his hymns over 700 years ago. I am amazed too that Swami
Desikan can be enjoyed not only through the vedic idiom of his days; one
can, and must indeed, enjoy him too in the "loukika" ways of our present
times, if one only makes an effort. He was no doubt a poet of many dimensions.

It is not just accident that Swami Desikan chose a "vega-setu" i.e. a
dam-cum-bridge-cum-causeway as his subject in the subject "stotra".He chose
it because, the wonderfully percipient poet that he was, he realized its
power as a symbol,icon and image that strikes some deep chord of response in
all human beings of all ages. The sight or image of a great magnificent
bridge somehow affects the mind of man in a very deep and psychic way,
indeed. The attraction and awe that a bridge or a dam holds for the human
mind can be said to be immemorial. Man is known to have read deeply esoteric
and spiritual meanings into the archetypal structure of a causeway because
it seemed to represent his own empyrean efforts to conquer and transcend the
formidable forces of Space and Time that constantly overshadow his existence
on earth. Somehow a bridge appears to Man as the only sure means through
which he crosses the hurdles that lie strewn all over the path that leads
from "humanity to divinity".

Look at it this way : One can easily become aware of the special meaning
that "bridges" have for the human mind by noticing the way it is often used
and referred to even in day-to-day life. We hear many phrases, do we not,
like the following, for instance :

"build bridges"- is an oft-used term in the word of interntional diplomacy
and politics ; 

"burn my bridges" - is an expression that effectively conveys individual
commitment to a new and fresh future course of action;

"much water has flown under the bridge"-- is a phrase that we use to convey
that the past has passed and "let's get on with the future";

"bridge the gap" -- is a phrase we use often to draw attention to the need
to reconcile analomous situations in life

We also know that the word "bridge" is employed in titling many works of art
and literature. I can think of some great motion-pictures to come out of
even Hollywood and which I enjoyed thoroughly e.g. "The Bridge on the River
Kwai", "A Bridge Too Far" and most recently the Oscar-winning "The Bridges
of Madison County" etc.

In the history of human warfare, too, from the earliest known military
engagements of Man to the 1990 Gulf War, adversaries try to first destroy
bridges in each other's civilian territories. The Americans did this
devastatingly in Iraq in '90 and which crippled Saddam Hussain's armies more
than any other attack on his other military installations. This targetting
of bridges is done to cut-off communication and transport channels and to
consequently paralyse or immobilise the opponent first before slaughtering
him down like "sitting-ducks".

Thus one can indeed easily appreciate, from observing even the "loukika"
world around ourselves, why a great poet like Swami Desikan chose the
primordial image of a "causeway" in which to portray the Lord's "kalyana
guna" of MAGNIFICENCE in the "stotra" in praise of the "vega-setu". As a
poet par-excellence he knew which poetic symbol would remain ever vibrant
and unfaded in the minds of men who read and contemplate on his hymns and
accordingly Swami used it to telling effect. Swami Desikan was a poetic
genius indeed.

More of my ponderings in my next posting.

SrimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha.


sudarshan.        
srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha