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Musings on Vega-setu stotra (FINAL)

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Sat Nov 30 1996 - 06:42:16 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear bhAgavatOttamas,

We have been grappling these past few weeks with Swami Desikan's
"gathAgathAni" and Yasodha's revelations in the 'bhAgavatham' to arrive at
some credible explanation of what is the "principle" behind our relations
with the Lord. We  ended up, as we have seen in my last few postings,
formulating a will-o-the-wisp which we called "The Principle of Inversion"
for want of a better definition. We also observed in my last posting that if
one wants to discover for oneself what this INVERSION really is all about,
one has no choice but to take the "plunge of faith" into SRI VAISHNAVISM and
set out on a life-long quest of its "Truths" as defined by our great
"achAryAs" like the Alwars and Swami Desikan. 

Although the quest may at times begin to seem to us like a "wild goose
chase" with no hope of achieving any clarity or certainty  --- even
NammAlvar seems to have felt so when he cried "vandAy pOlE vArAdAy, vArAdAy
pOl varUvAnE" --- we must however, as a matter of faith, soldier on
relentlessly. Then and only then, say our 'achAryAs", will we soon begin to
see and understand all the truths of the faith, such as Swami Desikan's
"gathAgathAni" or the "principle of inversion" of the BhAgavatham and such
other tenets. The Lord Himself will reveal truths to us, they say, in many
ways or experiences, small and big, significant and trivial, profound and
quotidian, covert and overt and sometimes even through "funny" situations.

To relieve the tedium of our discussions so far on "gathAgathAni" and on the
"Principle of Inversion" I thought I might as well relate to you all, dear
bhAgavatOttamas, one such "funny" situation in my life in which the Lord
Himself, I think, reminded me of Desikan's "gathAgathAni". With that
narration I will conclude my ponderous "musings" on the "Vega-setu stotra"
of Swami Desikan.

Before I start narrating that humorous incident, I wish to first deeply
thank Sriman Vijay Srinivasan and Sriman Sadagopan for a great favour they
have done to me. During the month of October Sriman Vijay Srinivasan's
remarks on the Daya Satakam whisked me away on a 'journey of musing' of
several weeks into the phrase "jada" as used in Verse #50 of the 'Daya
Satakam'. Similarly during November, Sriman Sadagopan's wonderful treatment
of the "Vega-setu stotra" virtually "kidnapped" me into my own, rather
intense, personal "anubhavam" of Swami Desikan's phrase "gathAgathAni" in
Verse #6 of that hymn !!

Who knows, perhaps, another "bhakthA" amongst you all may help me in the
month of Dec-Jan ("mArghazhi") by pointing out accidently some exquisite
phrase in the "Goda-stuthi" or "TiruppAvai" and thereby send me hurtling
into another fascinating "trip" of "bhagavath-anubhavam" of my own making !!!
To further explain now the "Principle of Inversion" and "gathAgathAni" I
take your permission to retrieve a little incident from personal
memorabilia. I hope you will not mind it because I think it is somewhat
relevant to the subject at hand.

Many years ago when I was a school-boy in Madras I used to eagerly look
forward to spending my long summer vacations (May-June) in Tirupati with my
paternal grand-parents. My grandfather used to practise law and was the
leader of the Bar there. His large joint-family lived in a spacious
ancestral house right on Govindaraja Sannidhi Street about a furlong and
half away from the sanctum-sanctorum of Lord Govindaraja and a few hundreds
yards from the Ahobila Mutt. Believe me, Tirupati in those days was a quiet
and sylvan little town quite in contrast to the concrete and
petty-commercial jungle it has become today. As a boy I used to love
wandering through its streets for hours during the day, with scores of
cousins and friends, playing and frolicking about and generally having good
fun in the great courtyards, "mantapams" and "pushkarani"-steps in and
around the Lord's great and ancient temple.

During one such brief holiday there in Tirupati, in my grand-parent's house,
I used to be very intrigued by a singular habit of my grandmother.She was a
lady of great character, proud of living under the illustrious shade of her
"vamsa-vriksha" (family-tree) that traced its roots back into history
directly to Sri Tirumala Nambi and she strictly espoused all values of true
and orthodox Sri Vaishnava "sampradAyam". 

Every morning, after seeing her husband, my grand-father, off to work at the
Munsiff Courts, my grand-mother would tell us brats, her grand-children, to
prepare for meal-time.

"Children", she would say,"get your plates, wash your hands and sit down on
the floor here in a perfect line and wait for meals to be served in a few

We would all then rush and do her bidding like good, obedient grand-children.

Then she would add, "And while you are getting ready for meals, dear
children, give me a few minutes and I'll just dash across to the temple,
have a quick "sevai" of (or, audience with) our Lord Govindaraja, then sneak
into Ahobila Mutt on my way back for "theertham" and "sattari" and be back
in double-quick time to serve you all food. So be good now, my dear
children, and wait for me. I'll be back in no time".

"And if you all remain good-kids," she would remark on her way out, by way
of an incentive to extract from all of us a solemn promise of good
behaviour, "I might even bring back, children, some delicious 'kovil dosai'
or 'chakkarai-pongal' from the 'madapalli'." (Now I don't know how many of
you "bhAgavatOttamas" know it, but "kovil dosai" and "chakkarai-pongal" from
the great kitchen of the Govindaraja temple in Tirupati continue, to this
day, to be magnificent culinary gifts of the Lord to his "bhakthA-s" !! Some
gourmet "bhakthA-s", I have heard, swear these two dishes are indeed worthy
equals, if not great substitutes, for the world-renowned "Tirumalai
vadai-laddu-s"  which we know constitute one of the many principal reasons
why Lord TirUvEngamUdaiyAn is so famous in this age of "kali"!!)

So saying my grand-mother would brace herself eagerly every morning and rush
to her appointment at the Lord's temple.

Invariably, however, my grand-mother would return late from the temple
taking sometimes as much as three-quarters of an hour to a full one to
complete her "darsan"!!

And when she did return to her hungry and impatient young grand-sons, who
used to be fretting about at the meal-place by then, she wouldn't even
bother to apologise to us. She would casually blame her delay all on the
"unusual and unexpected rush of out-station pilgrims" that day at
the"Govindarajar-sannidhi", when all she really did on her return from the
temple, we secretly knew, was to drop into a neighbour's house ("kOmA mAmi
veedu"!!) to grab the latest "chat-news" or gossip doing the rounds in
Tirupati town!(Thank God, there wasn't i-net facility in those days!)

Now this blithe and cavalier attitude of my grand-mother used to irritate me
a lot not so much because I, alongwith my cousins, was put to any great deal
of discomfort having to wait for a meal and/or suffer pangs of hunger, but
more because we, grand-mother and grand-children all, used to play out this
absurd farce repeatedly and meaninglessly every day!! Again and again  she
would say she would return in a trice only to keep us all waiting
expectantly, for a good part of an hour, with our empty meal-plates and then
take her own sweet time to complete her engagements with Lord Govindaraja!!

One day I couldn't stand it all anymore and drew courage to yell at my
grand-mother,"Patti (granny), what is all this nonsense !! Everyday you go
hither and thither ("ingaiyUm-angaiyUm pOhginrAyE"), you take your own time
and leave us waiting here for you like fools !!"

The poor lady, my grand-mother, was aghast at my little temper !

"If you have to hustle-bustle for the 'darshan' of the Lord like this,
'patti', why don't you do it either after we have all eaten or well before
we sit down for meal? Why do you keep us hanging on like this every day,
'patti'? It just isn't fair!", I continued to storm at her.

My grand-mother listened to my tirade silently. I expected a reaction and
feared a solid walloping administered soon to me for my arrant insolence but
surprisingly she just smiled, ruffled my head affectionately and fed me with
an extra-portion of "kovil-chakkarai-pongal" that day!

"I'm so sorry, my little pets," she said then with genuine contrition to all
of us,"But I promise you all, here and now, that my temple-visits that seem
to have caused you all so much discomfort these many days will cease
forthwith from tomorrow ("nAlai dinnathil-irunthu naan ingaiyUm-angaiyUm
pOghu-vathu niRka-paddum")".

And true to her word, dear bhAgavatOttama-s, in the days that ensued but
preceded the end of my summer-vacation that year in Tirupati, my
grand-mother faithfully stuck to her promise. She served us, her
grand-children, our meals regularly and right on the dot with never a
moment's delay !!

Now, today, at this point of time, looking back, I wonder how she managed to
re-schedule her day and her appointment with Lord Govindaraja at His temple.
I ask myself, just as perhaps you too all would : 

Did my "pAtti" altogether cancel her daily visits to the Govindaraja
"sannidhi" or the Ahobila Mutt "sannidhi"? 

Did she really give up, of her own free will, her "nitya-karmAnUshtANam"
(ordained duties) of having a "darsan" of the Lord just in order to be able
to perform the "sAdhAraNa-dharmam" (petty-duties) of feeding her brood of
grand-children on time ? 

Did my dearest grand-mother, the blessed soul with that perennial and
endearing toothless smile of hers I can never forget, did she commit thereby

My recollection tells me, dear bhAgavatOttama-s, that nothing of that sort
happened. My grand-mother served us meals "bang on time" for the rest of the
days during my vacation that year in Tirupati because she really no longer
needed to have "darsan" of Lord Govindaraja in the temple. And the reason
was simple : 

>From the following day a big "utsavam" (out-door festival) for Lord
Govindaraja commenced and which lasted full ten days until my vacation ended
and it was eventually time for me to return to Madras.

In the following ten days, every morning a few hours before the time
normally scheduled for our meal-time, the Lord Govindaraja would arrive
majestically  down "sannidhi" street on his various "vAhanam-s",
(palanquined-vehicles), a different one each day, viz.
"garuda","simha","hamsa" etc.. The Lord used to be carried down the streets
of Tirupati in a great procession of milling crowds of "bhAktA-s" and
pilgrims, amidst the din and bustle of religious festivity, amidst the sound
of fireworks, the full-throated shouts of "gOvinda, gOvinda", with the
banners and festoons fluttering colourfully in the morning breeze ....

Oh used to be a grand, Grace-filled sight : a great caparisoned
elephant came first, then the temple-horses, then loud pipers, then
'nada-swaram' pipers, then the great "prabhandha-goshti-s" came singing
their wonderful and mellifluous "pAsurams", followed by the
palanquin-carriers bellowing their "hup-hup" as they gleefully shouldered
the "burden" of the Lord and "thAyyAr" !! The "Utsava-muthi-s" themselves so
beatific to behold then came carried on a grand open palanquin all decorated
with flowers and "kumbha-vastram"! The huge temple-umbrellas cast a strange
and lovely hue of a shadow on the Lord and His Consorts ! 

The pleasant but acrid smell of camphor, wet turmeric,jasmine and sandalwood
filled the air as the Lord "stopped by" along the way at the door-steps of
each house on the street and received the humble offerings of coconuts and
fruits and the "hArathi" of every household, of every family ! 

Then quickly the great procession of Lord Govindaraja would move on down the
street like a huge gigantic wave of divinity washing away with it all the
anxieties and sins of devotees left behind as they watched rapturously, from
the door-steps of their own homesteads, the receding and awesome form of the
Lord as He proceeded forth on his "festive tour" of Tirupati town that day!!

And as the sound of the glorious chanting of the "veda-gOshti" (vedic choir)
following the Lord's procession died down in the distance that day, my
dearest grand-mother turned to me, put an arm around my shoulders and with a
mischievous twinkle in her eyes said :

"There my child, see how easy the Lord has made it for you and me! Instead
of me having to do the "gathAgathAni" to and fro his "sannidhi" every
morning and earning in the process your displeasure,you little devil,
Govindaraja has decided, instead, to do the "shuttling hither-thither" for a
change !! Now he will do the "gathAgathAni" to our door-steps every morning
the next ten days! There is no more need for me, my dear children, to
shuttle "hither-thither" to the temple and back while keeping you all
waiting !! That task is now the Lord's, indeed!! ("naan  ingaiyUm-angaiyUm
pOgha tevai illai; inimElUm athu Govindarajan porUppu"!!) And all that we
need to do is to sit back, relax, wait every morning for HIM to come in His
great procession to our very door-steps and Lo ! we can Behold and enjoy
blissfully His Exquisite "darsan"!!"

My dearest and late grand-mother, dear bhAgavatOttama-s, was indeed the
first person who practically initiated me into the esotericism of the Lord's
"gathAgathAni" that Swami Desikan celebrates in the "Vega-setu stotram".   

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yatindra mahadesikAya namaha

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha