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Re: piLLaiyAr

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (
Date: Wed Sep 10 1997 - 01:58:21 PDT

On Tue, 9 Sep 1997, usdeiva wrote:

> There is no religion [living or defunct] but proposes a hierarchy of
> divinities.   SrIvaishNavam simply happens to lodge in the core
> monotheistic religion of the 'vEda', despite that the early western
> Indologists assumed that the vEda represented a pantheistic-
> polytheistic religion;  this was because the vEda spoke of a
> multiplicity of divinities personifying 'nature elements'.    

The term coined by an early Indologist to represent the outlook of the
vedas is "henotheism." It is also sometimes described as "kathenotheism."
The idea behind these words is that instead of being strictly monotheistic
or pantheistic or polytheistic, the vedas affirm a multitude of
divinities, but they salute each divinity as if it alone is verily the
supreme. On the one hand, the Supreme Deity can be seen as ensouling the
various Vedic gods, and on the other, each Vedic god is described as the
Supreme, whenever (s)he is invoked and worshipped. Whatever be the other
failings of these scholars, this does capture the spirit of worship in a
vedic ritual.

The quotations setting forth that SrI nArAyaNa is parabrahman cannot be
disputed. However, I would like to point out that similar vedic quotations
can be found about rudra, indra, varuNa and other deities. Jan Gonda's
text, "Visnuism and Sivaism" (Athlone Press, London) gives a very large
list of references that one can look up. SrIkaNTha's sUtrabhAshya and
appayya dIkshita's SivArkamaNidIpikA give a large number of such vedic
quotations which say that Siva is the greatest parabrahman.

> The elephant-faced deity of the Saiva pantheon is singularly missing in
> the works of even the great poet, kAlidAsa, who is identified as Saiva;
> not to mention the Tamil sangham classics which are the best bet there
> be for textual integrity, and which contain several hymns to vedic
> rudra, subsequently transmogrified into Siva.   

I thought there were poems of auvaiyAr addressed to "karimukhan," "yAnai"
etc. These would refer to the elephant-faced god, no?

> The skanda purANam (more
> than the innovative upa-purANam of gANapatyam) contains the basic
> genesis and profile of the deity 'piLLaiyAr' (itself a later-day Tamil
> lingo-ism) fusing into vighnESvara, who is to be propitiated in order
> that he withholds troubles and impediments.   The primitive concept of
> God incorporates inter alia a fear-centric role.  nArAyaNa as the One
> God is essentially described as the One who cares per se for his
> reatures ["rakshAika-dikshE", as in the invocation to SrIbhAshyam],
> eliminates fear ['bhaya-nASanah'], bestows Grace ['su-prasAdah'], and
> runs obstacles down.   This is why the padma-purANa SlOkam ==
> "SuklAmbara-dharam vishNum SaSi-varNam chatur-bhujam
>  prasanna-vadanam dhyAyEt sarva-vighnOpa-SAntayE",
> is recited at the commencement of any auspicious rite, vaidika-kriya, as
> invoking vishNu as 'vighna-hartA', to quell the impediments.  It is
> curious that Sri SEnkAlipuram ananta-rAma dIkshitar, as well as the
> Ramakrishna Mission, have carried this SlOkam in their publications, but
> constantly translating 'vishNu' into Tamil as piLLaiyAr'. 

I have not read Sri Anantarama Dikshitar's translations, but the
Ramakrishna Mission publications usually give an etymological meaning for
the word vishNu (i.e. one who has entered everything). This is then
upa-vyAkhyAni-fied as piLLaiyAr, because of the specific role of
vighna-upaSAnti, that is requested in this Slokam. To the general Tamil 
reader, the image that first comes to mind in this context is piLLaiyAr.

I would also be careful about using the word "primitive" with respect to
any conception of God. The word comes loaded with Euro-centrism and
Christo-centrism. We Indian non-Christians, of whatever sampradAya, should
not use the term lightly. Some of the peoples we would classify as
"primitive," e.g. the toDa tribals in the Nilgiris, seem to have very
sublime conceptions of divinity, while the most "civilized" among us often
seem to have no notion at all, or rather poor conceptions at best.

> This strategy of disinformation extended to appropriating for later-day
> icons the role-names ["nAmAni gauNAni...mahAtmanah, r*shibhih
> parigItAni"] of the One God drawn from ancient texts ['gaNAnAm tvA
> gaNapatim', 'vishvak-sEnO', 'SastA' etc], and hurriedly putting together
> a kitsch-n-pastiche mythology to 'enhance' such icons. 

It should be well to remember the adage - never attribute to malice
what can be attributed to ignorance. In this particular case, it is
highly debatable whether there is either malice or ignorance. The iconic
representations aside, various dharmasUtra texts mention the worship of
gaNeSa. Specifically, in the pancAyatana pUjA of most smArtas, gaNapati
worship is offered to a specific kind of stone, just as vishNu is
worshipped as the sAlagrAmam. gaNapati is identified with brahmaNaspati,
and is described as kavInAm kavi. In vedic references, kavi means
Rshi/mantra-drashTA. More specifically, the bhAdrapada Sukla caturthi
festival in honor of gaNeSa has been celebrated from ancient times, and by
brAhmaNas, the ones who cared the most for transmission of vedic 
tradition. This has been sung by Muttuswami Dikshitar in his song in
Chamaram raga, where he says "brAhmaNAdi pUjitam." In the advaita maTham
at Sringeri, it has been a long tradition to hold vidvat-sadas for the
ten days between the caturthi and caturdaSi, in the gaNapati-sannidhi.

> It is a sad irony that the SrIvaishNava community had neglected to know
> about the 'prasthAna-traya bhAshyam' of SrI Sankara-bhagavat-pAdAh;  SrI
> Sankara is indeed a beacon-light of vaishNava religion.  The AchArya
> propounded 'advaitam' and remained a profound vaishNava;  for that

In my humble opinion, it is rather futile to classify Sri Sankara and his
sampradAyam as either Saiva or vaishNava or other. As many recent advaita
AcAryas have pointed out, the general outlook is very inclusive, and we
can accept all mythological/iconic forms precisely because we deny form at
the ultimate level of conception. The texts describe the state of moksham
both as vishNo: paramam padam, and as Sivam. Also, the tradition of
sannyAsam is central to advaita vedAnta. And as should be well-known,
the advaita conception of moksham is not one of eternal kainkaryam in
vaikuNTham, simply because there are no two entities there. Such
philosophical issues aside, within the tradition, at the level of the
religious practices (the details of which are not well-known to the lay
followers), there is much evidence of such inclusive practice. For
example, when a nominated maThAdhipati is first initiated into sannyAsam,
a sAlagrAmam is placed over his head and worshipped. When the sannyAsin
passes away, most often, a Sivalingam is installed over the burial-spot.
Erecting a tulasI-brindAvanam is more the exception than the rule.

Far from being a deviation from earlier practice, or a campaign of
disinformation, these traditions fit in well with traditional mythological
roles assigned to Siva and vishNu. I am making an almost Dumontian
statement here, but it seems to well justified. A maThAdhipati, although
he is a sannyAsin, has secular duties to perform, by virtue of his post.
At the time of initiation, therefore, he is seen as a symbol of vishNu,
who rules over worldly order. Siva, on the other hand, is the
world-renouncing ascetic, and therefore, a Sivalingam is an apt
representation of the sannyAsin. Moreover, Siva also destroys the world,
as the sannyAsin is also supposed to have done, if only for himself. No
wonder that the mANDUkya-upanishad calls the turIya state as
prapancopaSamam and as Sivam. Although the words are used in strictly
etymological senses, there is more than sufficient suggestion of a
connection to Siva in this upanishad. One ancient author, maNDana miSra,
who was a contemporary of Sankara, describes moksham as
"paramaSiva-bhAvam" in a work called brahmasiddhi. maNDana miSra was
first a disciple of kumArila bhaTTa, the great mImAmsA philosopher, and
later a disciple of SankarAcArya himself, under the name sureSvara. I
presume that such descriptions/interpretations would not be countenanced
by strict vaishNavas. That is why it is so difficult to label Sankara and
even his immediate followers as vaishNavas. This is further supported by
the fact that padmapAda, sureSvara and toTaka, three of Sankara's
direct disciples, compare him to Siva/bhava/gangAdhara. Not that this
makes Saivas out of Sankara's disciples.

Finally, in another recent post, advaitam was compared to a poison which
came out of the kshIrasAgaram, and that too by a SrIvaishNava AcArya. I
suppose this outlook both explains and is explained by the fact that
SankarAcArya's bhAshyas are not well-known among the SrIvaishNava

> matter, krshNa-miSra the author of the allegory play
> prabOdha-chandrOdayam', and mahApurush SrI SankaradEva of Assam, were
> also vaishNava and advaiti at the same time.  

Add madhusUdana sarasvatI to the list. He was a great kRshNa-bhakta. In
one of his works, he explicitly draws a parallel between the four vyUha
scheme of the pAncarAtra texts and the viSva-taijasa-prAjna-turIya scheme
of the mANDUkya-upanishad. However, there isn't much evidence that 
Sankaradeva of Assam was a professed advaitin. He is more well known
only as a vaishNava saint.