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Re: Some questions regarding some of our customs ...

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Tue Oct 12 1999 - 13:05:43 PDT

> > 2.  There are certain ShriVaishnavas when
> > prostrating, perform the act 4 times or in
> > multiples of 2.  However, there are certain other
> > ShriVaishnavas who do it just once (such as the
> > people belonging to "thenKalai" <- Please do not
> > turn this question into a "kalai" fight). 
> > What is the significance here ?

The moods of each kind of prostration are slightly
different, but each in their own way intend to convey
the utmost respect.  In one method (single prostration),
the prostration is ended when the elder to whom the
namskAram is being done says "ezhundiRu, pa! (get up, my
son!)".  The the other (multiple prostration), the 
prostration is ended when the elder says "pOrum, pOrum, pa!
(enough, enough!). Let's examine each.

(a) Prostrating only once

    Those who prostrate only once and stay down until
    told to get up feel that this is the most respectful way
    of doing namaskAram. It is thought that here, one is 
    behaving as if he or she is completely at the mercy of 
    the other person, without any independent will. It is
    also held that a single prostration at the feet of 
    a merciful elder is itself enough to secure all blessings;
    why prostrate multiply, as if to ask for more? Don't
    tug on the Lord's heartstrings, don't try to prove that
    you merit His grace. A single gesture is far more than enough.

(b) Prostrating multiple times

    Those who prostrate again and again feel that this indicates
    one's perpetual willingness to serve, as well as one's
    perpetual willingness to be "sesha" of the other.  In other
    words, the mood is "it is not only just for now that I am falling
    at your feet. Just because I get up once does not mean that
    my prostration ends. It is perpetual, for ever and ever."
    The multiple prostration is intended to convey this willingness.

Of course, there are arguments between proponents of each kalai as 
to which form is the more ancient, more traditional form. I won't
get into that here. Suffice it to say, however, that each bhAvam
finds expression in some form or another in our pUrvAchAryas' works:

 -- Single Prostration

    prAyaH prapadane pumsAm paunaH punyam nivArayan |
    hastaS SrIrangabhartur mAm avyAd abhayamudritaH ||

    "May the right hand of Lord Ranganatha, which, held
    in the abhaya-mudra pose, promises freedom of fear to all, 
    protect me, as it asks those who have surrendered to
    Him to not do it again and again."  -- Nyasa Tilaka, sloka 2

    This is a reference to the pose of Lord Ranganatha in utsava
    form as Namperumaal. His hand is held up, in abhaya-mudra, 
    and Desika imagines this as saying "Stop! A single prapatti
    is enough! Don't repeat it!" If we take namaskAram as being
    equivalent to prapatti, one could take this bhAvam to mean
    that a single namaskAram is enough.

    Swami Desikan's son Kumara Varadacharya eloquently writes,
    putting words in Ranganatha's mouth, "My solemn vow is that
    upon a single observance of prapatti, I will give everything
    that is desired. If surrender is done again and again, I have
    nothing at all to give, and I will become a debtor. So stop!"

 -- Multiple Prostration

    nIlAtungastanagiritaTI suptam udbOdhya kRshNaM
      pArArthyaM svaM SrutiSataSiras siddham adhyApayantI |
    svOcchishTAyAm sraji nigalitam yA balAtkRtya bhunktE 
      gOdA tasyai nama idam idaM bhUya EvAstu bhUyaH ||

    "... may my repeated namaskArams to Goda forever 
     increase ..." -- Parasara Bhattar's thaniyan to Tiruppaavai

    The meaning of this is obvious.

One may disagree with these interpretations, but let's take them
in a positive, non-argumentative spirit.

[ As far as I have learnt and read, this distinction is not
  based on differing conceptions of Lakshmi Thaayaar, as 
  another correspondent has written. ]

> > 4.  A very fundamental question.  Why is it that
> > when we go around in a "pradakshinam", we go
> > around the sanctum in the direction we do it as
> > opposed to doing it the other way ?  Does the word
> > "dakshin" in the word have any significance ?

Yes, the word "dakshiNa" is significant. (The word is
not "pradakshaNam", as someone else mentioned.) "dakshina"
refers to the right. One circumambulates the Lord's shrine
clockwise, keeping the Lord always to the right or "dakshiNa"
side. That is why this is known as "pradakshiNam".

The exact reason for this is not very clear, but it is generally
considered more respectful to move about keeping a revered
object to one's right side. This is universal in India -- Buddhists,
Jains, as well as all varieties of Hindus observe this practice.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan