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Musings on Vega-setu stotram

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Tue Nov 19 1996 - 22:54:45 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear bhAgavatOttamas,

In my last posting on this subject I shared with you all the idea that
Desikan's hymns can be appreciated even in a modern and secular("loukika")
sense and from the stand-point even of our petty day-to-day existence.
Although Vaishnava orthodoxy may frown at such attempts I must confess that
I personally disagree with it. I strongly believe we must not keep Swami
Desikan chained to the 14th-century but find ways and means to bring him
into our lives, here and now, in the 21st century. We must do it of course
without mutilating in the least his eternal and original message but
"contemporarize" him we must, because he rightly belongs to this age just as
he belongs to all times.

In this posting however I am going to lean again on our "sampradayi-c"
critique of this stotra as I have learnt from several elders and of course
from my "manaseega-guru", Sri Mukkur Swamy II.

The quintessence of the "vega-setu stotra", as it appeals to me personally,
lies in Verse 6 beginning "srimAn pitAmaha-vadhU-paricharya-mANaha ....."
and ending with the pregnant phrase "bhakthAnuganthuriha yasya gathAgathANi".

This verse is celebrated by many scholars as it alludes to the incident of
Tirumazhisai Alwar, his valet Kanikannan, the Chola King and the Lord's
peripatetic adventures with them. This famous episode from the Alwar's life
has already been beautifully narrated by Sriman Sadagopan and Srimathi
Lakshmi Srinivasan in this group.In the words of the Alwar himself this
incident is a marvellous illustration of the Lord's "parAdInam" i.e. His
quality of being willing to virtually wait on and "serve" His devotees; to
be at their beck and call; and to readily accede to their every whim. To use
a modern Americanism, the Lord is shown in this incident to be willing to
turn into a "flunky" even of his true "bhaktAs" !

This quality of the Lord is truly amazing, incredible and even unnatural
that it does take one' breath away. One can hardly believe one's eyes or
senses to see the Great Trivikraman Himself behave virtually like a circus
animal dancing obediently to the tune of its master/trainer. Poigai Alwar is
said to have marvelled at this behaviour of the Lord in another "pAsuram" in
the Mudal TiruvandAdi (77) :

vengadamoom viNagarum vehkAvum,
ahkatha poongkidangil neel kOval pon-nagarum
nAnkidathum ninrAn irunthAn kidanthAn nadanthAn
enrAl kedumAm iDar.

This quality of "parAdInam" of the Lord appears to his bhaktAs as supremely
"absurd" sometimes. One must imagine how delighted and surprised a child
becomes when, say, an adult, its father or perhaps an uncle, goes down on
the floor on all fours; tells the child to play-act it is a "great king" and
he is its pet-elephant; then asks the child to climb on to his back for a
"royal procession" around the house. Imagine how wonderful the child feels
as it climbs atop its "royal elephant" and then regally orders the "animal"
around as they both go around the house in "procession". The child squeals
in delight everytime it orders the "elephant" to stop or to proceed or kneel
or move faster and the "elephant" promptly obeys !! The child goes into
raptures every time he prods the "elephant" with a "hup,hup" and finds the
"vahanam" (the royal vehicle) do exactly its bidding !  

This quality of "parAdInam" that impels the Lord to simply do the bidding of
his bhaktAs without questions is also exhibited by Him in his "avataras".
The most dramatic example, scholars point out, is as Krishna, who as
charioteer to Arjuna in the Kurukshetra War, navigated him safely through
the deadly din and bustle of many a violent battle. 

It seems in those days the warrior atop the chariot and in the thick of
battle did not have the time or space to communicate his instructions to his
charioteer by word of mouth. This seems quite understandable for it does
seem impossible for the warrior to have been ever able to pause in
mid-battle, as it were, when he is busy shooting arrows all around him, to
stoop down or bend over to give verbal instructions to his charioteer to
steer this way or that ? Instead, military manuals of those days seem to
show, the warrior used to rest his feet on the shoulders of the charioteer
while carrying on battle; if he wanted the charioteer to steer the chariot
to the right he would tap his feet resting on the right shoulder of the
charioteer and vice versa; if he wanted the charioteer to do an about-turn
the warrior had to simply stamp both feet hard and firmly on the
charioteer's shoulders. This was how communication was made possible between
warrior and charioteer in the heat of battle in those days.

Now it is quite reasonable to believe that Arjuna too may have resorted to
the above signalling methods to communicate with his charioteer, Lord
Krishna, in Kurukshetra notwithstanding the nature and intimacy of their
mutual relationship.

Thus, I have heard U.Ve.Sri Srivathsankhachariar describe at an "upanyAsam"
of his I once attended many years ago, the Lord even physically demonstrated
his quality of 'parAdInam' in Kurukshetra by allowing Arjuna to place his
feet on His Hallowed Shoulders and simply obeying the signals those feet of
Arjuna transmitted to Him in the thick of battle. I must add here that the
good Sriman Srivatsankhachariar while narrating this used to find it hard to
suppress his emotions and tears.

Is it any wonder then that Swami Desikan, the poet non-pareil, is moved too
by this particularly lofty 'kalyana guna' of the Lord and hence deems it fit
to celebrate it in his most beautiful verse # 6 of his "Vega-setu stotra" ?

More on this subject in my next posting.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha

sudarshan.      


srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha