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Re: Azhwars Nitya suris or baddha jivatmas

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Tue Nov 18 1997 - 18:52:13 PST

One of our Bhakti list correspondents has rightly
suggested that I carefully read Swami Desika's "Rahasya
Traya Saaram" to understand the acharya's opinion on
the nature of the Alvars.  Reading Desika's words
along with Sri Rama Desikachariar's explanatory notes
proved even more insightful and conclusive than I 

[From p.7, "Sree guru parampara saaram", introductory
 section of Desika's "Rahasya Traya Saaram"]:

	``pUrvotpanneshu bhUteshu teshu teshu kalau prabhuH |
	  anupraviSya kurute yat samIhitam acyutaH || ''

				[vishnu dharmam 108.50]

	engiRapadiyE paraankuca parakaalaadi roopaththaalE
	abhinavamaaka oru daSaavataaram paNNi ...

Translation, according to Sri Rama Desika Swami's notes:

	According to the sloka --

	``In Kali Yuga, the great Lord Achyuta accomplishes
	what He desires by entering into creatures already
	born.'' --

	the Lord made 10 new descents in the form of
	Parankusa [Nammalvar], Parakala [Tirumangai Alvar],
	etc. ...

Swami Desika's intention in quoting this particular sloka 
while discussing the advent of the Alvars should be apparent
to the discerning reader. 

Some have assumed that since Sri Bhuvarahachariar's
statements about the humanity of the Alvars differed from 
their received understanding, this must point to a 
Thengalai / Vadagalai difference of opinion.  This conclusion,
in my opinion, is the easy way out, since it requires little
intellectual effort and research.  It is neither interesting
nor accurate to hastily trace differences of modern opinion 
and practice to the ancient acharyas.  I think it wiser
to use their writings as a basis and come to a common 
agreement as to what makes sense, rather than dogmatically
sticking to what one things are "Thengalai" or "Vadagalai."

In any event, the "Vadagalai" viewpoint, if one must
characterize it as such, is identical in this case to what
Sri Bhuvarahachariar initially wrote.  It was brought to
my attention that Dr. S.M. Srinivasa Chari's latest work
on the Alvars understands their divinity as being one
of inspiration and divine "Avesa", either by the Lord
or His divine attendants.  In his discussion of this
topic, he quotes the same passage of Desika's excerpted

Perhaps not surprisingly, this very issue was discussed
and settled hundreds of years back.  I am indebted to 
Sri M. Srinivasan of Chicago for mentioning Puttur Swamy's
explanation of Pinpazhagiya PerumaaL Jeeyar's "vaarththamaalai"
no. 188:

	[p. 225, Puttur Swamy's edition]
    188: "emberumaanaar thaanE nammazhvaaraay vandhaar"
	enRu aaLavandhaar aruLicceyvar; "nityasamsaarikaLilE
	oruvanai ubhayavibhoothi vilakshaNanaambadi 
	emberumaan aakkinaan" enRu embaar aruLicceyvar.

	Alavandar would graciously say, "The Lord Himself came as
	Nammalvar"; Embaar would graciously say, "The Lord took 
	one of those eternally caught in worldly existence and
	made him unique in ubhaya vibhoothi."

Puttur Swamy writes that both these acharyas were expressing
the same belief from different viewpoints.  It was believed
that the Lord at Thirukkurungudi manifested Himself as Nammalvar,
and yet it was also believed that the Lord displayed his grace
most abundantly in the personality of the Alvar.  The nature
of the vibhUti avatAra is taken to be the same as when 
Lord Krishna speaks of his infinite glories in Chapter 10 of
the Gita -- wherever there is anything great, holy, or magnificent,
He is there.

It seems that our acharyas wrote and thought with more 
subtlety and touching humanity than we sometimes give them

daasan Mani