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Swamy Desikan-12- SubhAshitha nIvi- ThUppul maNdapam kaimkaryam appeal

From: Madhavakkannan V (
Date: Fri Sep 14 2001 - 17:32:26 PDT

SrImathe Ramanujaya namah:
SrImathe Nigamantha mahadesikaya namah:
SrImAn venkatanAthAryaH kavitArkika kesarI |
vedAntAcArya-varyome sannidhattAm sadA hRdi ||

May the glorious Sri Venkatanatha, the greatest of teachers of Vedanta, and 
the lion among poets and debaters, reside forever in my heart.

Dearest Srivaishnavas,

I am continuing on my appeal and posts on Swamy Desikan and appeal for 
Thuppul maNdapam kaimkaryam. URL:
It is my humble request to please contribute your mite towards this 
kaimkaryam, as remembering Acharyan, and talking alone will not suffice.

Let us continue to enjoy Swamy’s GREAT works.

There are seven works, Swamy wrote in Sanskrit which form part of literature 
about which we will start now.

I would like to firstly take up the work that I relish personally: 
“SubhAshitha nIvi”. The Subhashitha nIvi is a didactic poem in 144 slokas 
depicting the evil aspects of life in the first sections and the good 
aspects in the second seven sections. The slokas are full of wit and humour 
and many of them convey the same through double entendre. For example, 
misfortune of the well-equipped and deserving persons is well represented 
as: “I feel that eminent kinnaras should maintain silence in the world in 
which the hum of the mosquitoes is treated as the twang of the lute J “

Sri L. Srinivasan writes in his translation of this great work:

Vedanta  Desika,  the  eminent Srivaisnava Acarya, philosopher and poet, is 
also  the  author  of  Subhasita Nivi, a book of didactic verses in a terse 
style,  which,  unlike  his  other works, may be considered secular. It is, 
however,  one  of  his best works as it was born out of his rich experience 
and  ripe knowledge of men and matters. Out of his boundless compassion for 
suffering  humanity,  he  took  a  suitable  opportunity  to  compose  this 
wholesome work to help mankind lead a life of peace and happiness.

Tradition  has  it  that  Singha  Bhupala, the King of Rajamahendra, made a 
request  to  the  savant  to  visit  his  court and honour him. When it was 
declined, he followed it up with a prayer to send him a code of conduct for 
his  guidance, and our poet obliged him through this composition. Colour is 
lent  to  this  version by the fact that the treatise contains a chapter on 
the  cardinal  principles  of  statecraft  which would be helpful only to a 
king.  Vaibhava Prakasika also confirms this and further states that Tattva 
Sandesa  and  Rahasya Sandesa were similarly written for the benefit of the 
same king by Sri Desika (sl. 128-129)

Significance of the Title

Subhasita  means  apposite  saying  or  an  apophthegm. Nivi is a knot or a 
treasure-chest.  The  title  may  therefore, be taken to mean a Treasury of 
Golden  Sayings  or Knotty Sayings in Fine Verses.Treasures used to be kept 
in  the  olden  days in a bag tied securely by knots and impressed with the 
seal of the owner on it, so that only the lawful owner or one authorised by 
him  had  the  right  to  remove  the  seal,  untie the knots and enjoy the 
contents.  Likewise,  the  treasure  in  the  shape  of  various delightful 
meanings  of  these  slokas  is not easy for all to come by. Only those who 
have acquired the key to it through learning over a long period at the feet 
of  their acarya will have the capacity to unravel the knots and get at the 
true and enjoyable meanings.

Thieves  are  called  knot-looseners  in  Tamil  because  they used to loot 
treasures  kept  in  bags, untying the knots. The poet avers that they will 
not  succeed  in  appropriating the treasures inside this work because they 
can  only  get  at  the  literal  meanings  of the words and not their real 
imports.  In  those  days  there  was no printing and very few hand written 
copies  were available of a poet's compositions, and they were difficult to 
come by, with the result that plagiarists could steal slokas from the poems 
of  others  and  parade  them as their own. Vedanta Desika says in 1-2 that 
since  this  work  had been presented to the King by well-disposed scholars 
and thus attained publicity and popularity, charlatans would not be able to 
steal parts of it claiming them to be their own original work.

Nivi  has  also the significance of capital or principal amount which keeps 
on  earning  interest  if  properly invested. So, the suggestion is that if 
this  work  is  properly  studied,  it  will  also  keep  on yielding ideas 
endlessly for other works by competent scholars.

Division of the Work

There  is  symmetry  in  the  arrangement  of  the poem. It contains twelve 
chapters  each  containing twelve slokas making a total of 144 stanzas. The 
last  two  verses  of each paddhati use longer metres. It is divisible into 
two  broad  heads-matters  to  be  avoided  (the  first  five chapters) and 
qualities  to  be  cultivated  (the  next  seven  chapters). There are more 
chapters  on  the  good and less on the bad, as it is useless to waste more 
time  on  the  latter.  Further,  bad qualities have been dealt with in the 
beginning  because  we must first realize the pitfalls to be avoided or the 
shortcomings  to be eschewed before knowing the qualities to be emulated or 
cultivated, as this is the proper way of improving oneself by stages and in 
an  orderly  manner.  A  reversal  of the present order would not serve the 

Swamy Desikan starts off the work as:

I  bow with mind, speech and body to that great Lord, who is the best among 
all  persons,  who  approaches others of His own accord without waiting for 
them  to  take  the initiative because of His innate goodness and agreeable 
nature,  as  also  to  myself  who  is chief among the wicked and who harms 
others  without  reason,  there being one thing in common to us both, viz., 
that  the good or evil done to us once has the effect of wiping off all the 
good  and  or evil done before. If what God, in His wisdom, thinks is good, 
though not really good, has been done to Him even once by a person, all the 
wrongs  committed  by  him  earlier is forgiven by Him. Therefore, I bow to 
Him. In my case, if once what I consider wrong, which may not really be so, 
is  done  to  me  by  someone,  all the good done by him to me till then is 
completely  forgotten  by  me. Fie upon me! Ingratitude being the basest of 
vices, it has been mentioned at the very beginning.

Subhasita  Nivi  is  unique  in  many respects, including the naming of its 
chapters.  Unlike  other  compositions of its kind, it does not deal merely 
with  aesthetics,  but  is  highly  psychological  in  its insight into the 
various  facets  of  human  character.  Being  an  outstanding  Acharya  of 
Visistadvaita,  whose  basic tenet is that none is so fallen that he cannot 
be  redeemed, his work is a practical guide even to a reprobate and retrace 
his  steps,  while  indicating  at the same time to others the pitfalls and 
short comings that they should avoid. It is this context that his stress on 
good association becomes important and relevant, since man's potentialities 
for good and bad evolve according to the company he keeps.

The  slokas  are composed in sweet and simple words, containing at the same 
time  high  potential  qualities,  being  full of figures of speech of both 
sense  and sound, alankaras etc. There is both clarity of thought and depth 
of  meaning.  The  skill  with  which  slesa is used is to be marvelled at, 
making it a kavya of dhwani. The poet employs humour, satire and anyapadesa 
appropriately. The piece is compact and capable of being got by heart. In  
the  latter  part  of  the  poem  dealing  with  good  men, there is an 
undercurrent  of  Vedanta  running  all  through, on the lines of the Gita, 
which comes to the surface where they are compared to God Himself, as He is 
the  ideal  towards  which  they strive all along. Altogether, the work is a 
rare  treat of the versatile talents and genius of the master. When we come 
across  a  perfect  double entendre giving two meanings for the same set of 
words,  we admire the capacity of the author. Here, when we find that each 
sloka  is  capable  of  a  dozen or more meanings, we are simply staggered 
astounded.  Probably  there  is no similar work in world literature. It has 
been  well and truly said that the poem was composed by as arvajna (Vedanta 
Desika)  for  the  benefit  of  a  sarvajna (Singha Bhupala) and that it is 
indeed  only a sarvajna (an omniscient person) who can find out all that is 
intended to be conveyed by the author in this extraordinarily deep piece of 
(The above is an extract from Sri L Srinivasan’s article.)

Please donate according to your shakthi. The money can be sent to "Thuppul 
Trust" and the address is:

Thuppul Trust
Old No.20, New No.24, Thiruvengadam Street
West Mambalam, Chennai-600033, India
Phone No: 91-44-4741559 / 91-44-3715771

Please contact Sri. V.K. Sudharshan at or Sri Lakshmi N 
Srinivasa (He can collect and send it as single amount 
in USA).

The address:

Lakshminarasimhan Srinivasa
3 Old Towne Road, #212
Ayer, MA-01432

For those in the South East Asia, please contact me at . Please pass on this kaimkaryam to as many people 
as possible in order to complete the same.

kavi-tArkika-simhAya kalyANa-guNa-SAline |
Srimate venkateSAya vedAntagurave namaH ||

Salutations to Sri Venkatesa, in whom all perfection resides, who is the 
teacher of Vedanta and the lion among poets and debaters!

Swamy Desikan ThiruvadigaLE SaraNam
Narayana Narayana
NarayaNa dAsan madhavakkannan

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