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Musings on Vega-setu stotram

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Sat Nov 23 1996 - 05:32:19 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear bhAgavatOttamas,

When someone as learned and devout as Sriman Sadagopan openly and generously
showers his "anugraham" on my feeble efforts in critique-ing the poetic
genius of that "jagad-guru" Sri.Vedanta Desika, I have no fears anymore of
my intentions being misunderstood. I have no more inhibitions for I deem an
endorsement from a learned "bhAgavatOttamar" like him to be in itself a
tacit sign of approval from the Lord Himself.

In my very first posting on this subject, it may be recalled I had commented
on Swami Desikan's scintillating choice of a "setu" i.e. bridge-dam-causeway
as symbol that easily reveals the Lord's "kalyana-guna-s" of :

a) awesome MAGNIFICENCE ("parAkramam") exhibited when He instantly subdued
the whirling torrents of the Vegavati river threatening to disrupt Brahma's
business

b) His seemingly "absurd" quality of CONDESCENSION ("parAdinam") as captured
and portrayed in the episode of Tirumazhisai Alwar and Kanikannan.

Now, one easily finds further confirmation of the exquisite aptness of Swami
Desikan's choice of this particular poetic symbol by referring to Nama
No:288, Shloka #31 of the "Vishu Sahasranamam" which designates the Lord as
"jagatah-setuh". We all know the "Sahasranamam" indeed is said by many
"acharyas" to be the "litmus test" for all religious experience,
encompassing as it does, within itself in a nutshell, as it were, all the
"kalyana-guna-s" of the Lord. When the quality of the Lord's "parAkramam"
and of "parAdInam" is thought fit to be expressed in the 'SahasranAmam'
itself through the poetic symbolism of "jagatah-setu", is it any wonder then
that Swami Desikan, the poet-supreme, too employs it in his 'stotra'!!

That 'jagad-gurus' of the world think alike is borne out by the fact that
Adi Sankara in his commentary on the "SahasranAmam" describes the "nama",
"jagatah-setu", to denote the Lord as He "who is the only bridge-like
contrivance enabling wading across the 'sea of samsara'. Or also that He is
the One who like a 'setu' functions as a bund to preserve order in all
Creation." 

Sankara at this point in the commentary is known to have quoted the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.22) : "esa setur vidharaNa esAm lokAnAm
asam-bhedAya", so to say that the Lord is verily the "Setu", the bund, that
holds rock-steady against and protects the world from the torrential and
chaotic forces of cosmic and terrestrial disorder".

No wonder then, is it? that Swami Desikan chose such a primeval, archetypal
symbol of a "bridge-bund" as his subject for his "vega-setu stotra" !!

Symbols are indeed the 'stock-in-trade' of poetic geniuses like Swami
Desikan in whose hands they get woven into the Lord's magic-carpets and on
which we can safely and blissfully let our own weak imaginations fly high.
Symbols enable a poet like Swami Desikan to represent, in but a mere phrase,
a whole encylopaedia of thoughts and sentiments; exactly in a way as,
perhaps, we know an excellent office-secretary to compress a mammoth
"session of dictation" from her boss into just a couple of pages of quick
and deft 'short-hand' strokes. Only the poet (like the office-secretary)
indeed knows exactly which symbol (or short-hand 'stroke') to invoke, employ
and implant in his verses so as to have the desired maximum effect on
readers and critics alike and to convey the majesty of his ideas and
associated conceptions.

We find Swami Desikan performing the same "magic" of weaving symbols into a
rich and splendid verbal tapestry in Verse #51 of the Daya Satakam wherein
he again employs the imagery of a "setu" and sings :

atikripanOpi janturadhigamya dayE! bhavateem asithila-dharma-setu
padaveem ruchirAm achirAt I
amitamahOrmi-jAlam atilanghya bhavAmbhu-nidhim bhavati
vrishachalaesa-pada-pattha-nanitya-dhanee II

Swami hails the Lord, if you have noticed, in the above verse as
"dharma-setu". Now we must read this reference to "dharma-setu" in
conjunction with Adi Sankara's allusion to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
'shloka' already quoted above. The Upanishad, as we see, uses the phrase
"lokAnam asam-bhedAya" i.e. it seems to say that the Lord is the bund that
holds firm and steady against the waves of cosmic and temporal disorder. Now
if we were to follow further that line of Upanishadi-c observation, then a
natural and reflexive question crops up in our minds :"How does the Lord
actually perform the function of a bund and hold steady against torrents ?".
The answer to that query is easily given away indeed by the above Verse #51
of the 'Daya Satakam' where Swami Desikan simply attaches the pre-fix
"dharma" to the word "setu" and thereby clearly, cleverly and instantly
echoing the truth of the Bhagavath-Gita: ("dharma-samsthApanar-thaya
sambhavAmi...") that cosmic-order is maintained by the Lord through "Dharma"
or "the law of righteousness".

Thanks to Swami Desikan thus we have here a wonderful mosaic of poetic
images viz. "A magnificent bund-causeway; standing firm amongst swirling
torrents that flow underneath; and yet offering easy and sure passage for
anyone desiring to cross over from one bank to the other." !!

Now if one were to collect all the above ideas associated with "setu" or
"bridge-bund-causeway" and mash it all together into a sizzlingly topped and
garnished "pizza" of religious experience and poetic sentiments, then Lo,
behold! from the "cook-book" of Swami Desikan's recipes in Verse #6 and
Verse#51 of the "Vega-setu stotram" and "Daya Satakam", respectively, you
will get a rare vegetarian delicacy with an irresistible aroma as follows : 

".... We mere mortals, the wretched of the earth, should learn to
contemplate on the Lord as if he were a "setu"; we must do this with
absolute faith that He is the "jagatah-setuh" ('Sahasranamam' ingredient!);
we must understand that He is the only architectural contrivance strong
enough to calm the torrents of cosmic disorder (Brihadaranya Upanishad
ingredient!) because He is a bund that stands on an unassailable bed-rock
called "dharma" (Daya-satakam ingredient!); if we have learnt to do that
then we, anyone of us, can walk across the causeway called "Dharma" with
least effort and without the least concern for the deadly sea of "samsara"
churning in the existential chasm below us (vega-setu stotra ingredient !)
....".

Tell me, dear bhAgavatOttamas, what better fare can one get ?! Would you now
have the heart to blame me, as one irredeemably addicted to the poetic
"cuisine" of Swami Desikan, that my "spiritual palate" simply refuses to
accept the "culinary" skills of any other poet-philosopher of the world?


srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathIndra mahadesikAya namaha

sudarshan. 


srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha