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Musings on Vega-setu stotram

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Thu Nov 21 1996 - 01:37:51 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear bhAgavatOttamas,

I fear that in my last two postings on this subject I may have inadvertantly
raised suspicions in the minds of some of you that there is a suggestion or
hint of some basic contradiction between appreciation of Swami Desikan's
poetic hymns from a traditional ("sampradaya-ic') view-point as distinct
from what I have called "contemporary" stand-point. I hasten to state that
there is nothing of the sort of suggestive "opposition" between the two
approaches to a critique of Swami Desikan's works.

Now,I crave indulgence from all when I resort to a rather inappropriate
idiom in the English language to explain myself at this point but I am
willing to risk it if I can drive home my message. When I talk of
"contemporarizing" Swami Desikan's hymns what I mean is that the divine
"wine" of the poet is "bottled"  in the rich and hoary
"Vaishnava-sampradaya-ic" literature of ours and that "bottle" needs to now
be "labelled" with the common but appealing experiences of present-day
living. It is only then can Swami Desikan become an inspiration for not only
those familiar with Sanskrit,Tamil, vedic and divya-prabhandi-c literature
but also to everyman who struggles with the burden of modern secular life.
It is only then that we can expect our own children to grow up chanting
Swami Desikan's "shlokas" and with an enduring interest and curiosity for
the tradition and history of our past moorings. We need to turn Swami
Desikan into a poet as dear, accessible and relevant to Indian child, adult
and family alike just as, say, Shakespeare or Longfellow is to the English
people or Walt Whitman, Robert Graves or Bob Dylan, even, is to the American. 

Thus, bhAgavatOttamas must understand that what I am seeking is a change in
the "label", never the "bottle" and much less the "wine" itself !!

Now back to the "stotra" itself.

We noted that Verse #6 of the Vega-setu stotra ends with the pregnant phrase
"bhakthAnuganthuriha yasya gathAgathAni". I propose to share with you all
how this phrase is commented upon in extenso by several scholars and most
notably by my 'manaseega guru' Mukkur Swamy II.

The phrase "gathAgathAni", as Sriman Sadagopan pointed out a few weeks ago
in his posting, refers to the Lord's peripatetic adventure with the Alwar.
The Lord in that episode reportedly went "hither" with the Alwar and
returned "thither", from Kanchi to Or-irukkai village and then back again,
much like a batsman, in the game of cricket, has to scamper back and forth
over a 22-yard "pitch", throughout his "innings", to acquire "runs" before
he can retire gracefully to the "pavilion".

Now the standard commentary on this 'shloka' is that it refers to the
"going-coming" of the Lord and is associative of the esoteric reference to
"liberation" from the "birth-death-re-birth" cycle of mortals. 

Scholars in their various "vyAkhyAnams" state that when a devotee constantly
dwells on the "hither-thither shuttle" of the Lord then he inwardly realizes
in spirit the permanent ceasing of his own "temporal shuttling" (puNaRapi
jananam, puNaRapi maRaNam) between re-birth and death. The devotee, it is
said, realizes cessation of his own "karma"-driven existence and at last,
can look forward to leaving the vast "cricketing-field" of "samsara" having
"played out" a good, long "innings" running "hither and thither", and
finally "retiring" into the "Lord's pavilion" called SriVaikuntam.(Those of
you who have played cricket, I am sure are quite familiar with the famous
Lord's ground in England!).

Now a question will certainly arise in the mind of any reasonable person :
How credible is it to state that merely by contemplating on the divine
"hither-thither shuttling" of the Lord the peculiar brand of "shuttling" of
mere mortals forthwith ceases ? What is so special indeed about the Lord's
"shuttling" that its very contemplation should bestow upon Man "liberation"
from his repetitive karmic visitations to this world and the One Beyond ? Is
there any basis or "praMaNam" in our ancient scripture or lores for such an
article of faith ? Does all this make any sense or is it all some
"mumbo-jumbo", as Sriman Sadagopan called it in one of his other postings ?

These are the sort of questions indeed that "contemporary" man, why even our
own grown-up children, will pose and from which we cannot "duck away", can
we, as a "batsman" in cricket is known to do from a fearsome "bouncer" flung
at him ? Even if we are convinced that the real answers can lie indeed only
in individual realization of the truth of such Articles of the Vaishnava
Faith, and hence cannot be rationally explained to our children, we still
are obliged to provide some preliminary answers to them in the language and
style of the present to which they belong. If we do not do so or express our
inability to do it in a way at least reasonably intelligible to them, then
Swami Desikan himself and all his hymns, and all the lovely truths and
sentiments they contain, become a total "turn-off" to them.

Fortunately, we have our "acharyas" and scholars, both past and presently
living amongst us in this day as well,  who do provide very clear "hints" or
"cues" on which to base our responses to such questions of faith posed by
modern times in a way convincing to "contemporary" minds.
          
In my next posting on the "vega-setu stotra" I shall attempt to fashion an
answer to the tricky questions described above and associated with the
"gathAgathAni" of our Lord YathOkthakAri in Verse #6.

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha

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