Sri Tyagaraja- 9; Gita, Vishnu Sahasranama, Nama Mahima (Post No.7998)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No.7998

Date uploaded in London – – – 18 May 2020   

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Role of Saints and Sages in Living Religion

Saints play an important role in any religion. They live the great truths and thus demonstrate that religion has to be lived, not just believed in. They also show that it is practicable. It is they who bring the great truths to the attention of the common man, away from the sources which become the preserves of some groups in course of time.

Saints come in many guises. Some are Sages, anchorites fixed to a spot where people get to learn about them and flock to them. Others wander about, like fakirs, teaching and singing, mixing with people. In medieval India, when the country faced Mohammedan threat  and orthodoxy broke down, and confined itself within narrow ritualistic walls, it was these saints who went from place to place, talking to the people in their language and teaching them simple ways to spiritual life, shorn of all complications and technicalities, without  resort to confusing philosophy and conflicting theology .

It is the fashion in the modern day to write as if the saints were rebels, going away from the mainstream or inventing new, divergent ways. This is pure bunkum. Read the life of saints carefully. A genuine saint never contradicts the scriptures. They point out the hypocrisy that parades in the name of religion, ( this happens in every religion  in course of time) they simplify matters and highlight those features and practices which suit the emerging times. Such simplification is not contradiction or repudiation. It is such timely changes that make Hinduism a living force. But the true saints are not ‘reformers’ in the modern secular sense. It is necessary to remember that every cult figure is not necessarily a saint.

Changing Ages: Yuga Dharma

Hinduism has a concept of Yuga dharma; the predominant form of religious discipline and practice has to change with the times. Dhyana was prescribed in Krita yuga, Yajna was for Treta yuga, Archana was for the Dwapara. But the scriptures say that these are not possible in this Dark age called Kali. Man cannot concentrate long, as required in dhyana. Dravya, dana, other means required for yajna lack purity now. Materials used for puja too lack purity: look at how polluted our sacred rivers are, how dirty our temples, how greedy and ill-trained our priests. Even the water used for abisheka is polluted, the milk is reconstituted chemical, the honey is adulterated. All these things are beyond our control, beyond even govt. control! Our ancient Rishis thought about these things, and in their compassion prescribed simple means like uttering  the Name of God as the discipline of the age. For, it is possible for man to keep his heart and mind clean, even in the most polluted places. So they said, think of God with a pure heart, utter his names with love, this is sufficient. This is all in our ancient scriptures, not uttered by a later thinker or reformer like Kabir, as some modern writers would have us believe. 

The Gita Prescription

The Gita warns us about blind adherence to Vedic karma. Karma is useful and essential, as it imposes some discipline to tame our impulses and prevent us from going wayward on the basis of wild desires. But the kind of elaborate yajna karmas undertaken with a desire for the so called ‘higher’ worlds is a sure means to drag us down further, repeatedly. The Gita says:

Te tam bhuktva swargalokam vishalam
ksheene punye martyalokam vishanti
Yevam trayi dharmam anuprapanna
gatagatam kamakama labhante.           9.21

Having enjoyed the vast svarga world, they enter the mortal world (again) once the merits are exhausted. Thus, following the injunctions of the three Vedas, desiring desires, they (repeatedly) come and go.

Ananyaschintaynato mam 
ye janah: paryupasate
Tesham nityabhi yuktanam
Yoga kshemam vahamyaham.               9.22

Those who worship Me without any other thought, (or without thinking of Me as separate)- to such people who are thus devoted to me, I supply what they lack and preserve what they have.

Yanti deva vratan devan
pitruun yanti pitruvrata:
Bhutani yanti bhutejya
yanti madhyajino api mam.                9.25

Votaries of devas go to devas; devotees of pitrus go to the pitrus; worshippers of bhutas go to the bhutas.

My devotees come to Me.

And it is not difficult to worship God. We do not require the paraphernalia needed for yajna or the worship of bhutas or pitrus.

Patram pushpam phalam toyam
Yo me bhaktya prayachchati
Tad aham bhaktyupahrutam 
Asnami prayatatmana:                        9.26

Whoever with devotion offers  Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water- that I accept: the devout gift of pure heart.

South and North

Bhagavan has made matters so simple. But our pundits would only be satisfied with complicated arrangements. If you travel through India, you will notice one thing: religious worship in the South is ritual bound, even in temples where the priest controls the procedures and mantras ( (subject to govt dictats, as Hindu temples are govt. controlled). But in the North, you see people gathering in temples and singing Aarti songs in groups, where the rituals are minimum! After all, the South gave us Acharyas who fought on philosophy; the North gave us all the Avatars who save us directly!

Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama

We saw that the Gita arose when Arjuna raised doubts about Dharma. This was before the Mahabharata war. But after the war, after Yudhisthira is crowned the king, he develops doubt about dharma! Was it proper on his part to have fought such a terrible war involving massive slaughter, all for the sake of his kingship? He becomes restless. Krishna directs him to Bhishma, lying on his bed of arrows, to seek instruction on dharma, as Bhishma is an expert in the matter. Bhishma tells him about all the dharmas. But Yudishthira’s head reels “after listening to all the dharmas without remainder- srutva dharman aseshena”. He pointedly asks Bhishma: Tell me one dharma which is decidedly superior!. He raises six pointed questions:

  • Which one God  or Deity is to be worshipped as decided by the sastras?
  • What is the one object to be attained by people who have taken (human) birth?
  • Which Deity is to be worshipped with Stotras?
  • Which Deity is fit to be worshipped through archana for people to attain their welfare?
  • Which dharma is the supreme one, as decided by you?
  • By which japa can a man get freedom from this cycle of birth and death?

In reply, Bhishma reveals to him Vishnu Sahasranama- the thousand Names of Vishnu, as meeting all his requirements!

“Yeshame sarva dharmanam dhrmo adhikatamo mata:

This is the best of all dharmas- that is what I have decided”, declares Bhishma. 

The Gita and the Vishnu Sahasranama are thus integrally connected. The Gita was preached before the War began, the Sahsranama ,after the War ended.  Both deal with dharma. Both advocate devotion, surrender as the best means for liberation. The 11th chapter of the Gita reveals  the Vishavarupa of Bhagavan; the Sahasranama reveals an easy method to remember and honour that Bhagavan. We need not  necessarily associate the name Vishnu with the cult called Vaishnavism! “Vishnu” only means that which pervades everything in the universe, and does not mean any fixed form.The most common shloka on Ganapati starts: “Shuklam bharataram Vishnum”! 

Name in the Veda

 In fact Veda proclaims:

Sarvani rupani vichitya dhira: 

Namani krutva abhivadan yadaste

After a (fruitless ) search for His forms, the earnest devotee lives by holding on to His Names.

This is explained later in the Vishnupurana:

Dhyayan krutae, yajan yajnais

Traetayam dwapare-archayet

Yadapnoti, tadapnoti

Kalau sankeertya Keshavam

Whatever one may obtain by dhyana in Kritayuga, by yajnas in Treta yuga, by archana in Dwapara yuga- that one can get by singing the praises of the Lord, Keshava in the Kali yuga.

Why  is Name superior?

In his bashya on Vishnu Sahasranama, Acharya Sankara has given us a rare insight . After listening to all dharmas, Yudhishthira asks Bhishma for that one superior dharma. In what way is it to be considered superior? Why is Dharmaputra not satisfied with the other dharmas? For the expression, “adhikatamo”, Sankara gives the explanation that it is superior because Nama Sankeertan does not involve himsa, dravyantaram, purushantaram, desa,kala, prakara etc. niyama ( ie limitation in some way ); it is without any sort of dosha; it leads to both bhoga and moksha; it is not opposed to Vedic injunctions, it can be followed by all varnas. Nama does not depend on anything else for its performance or effectiveness and with easy effort, confers great benefit.

Why is Name not resorted to?

If Nama Kirtan is such an easy way, why do people not adopt it wholesale? Why are they still attached to various other, more difficult, strenuous and less effective ways? Saints say that this is due to the ‘ruchi’ and strength of ‘vasanas’ acquired through many births! After all, we do have people who prefer stale and bland food! Bhagavan says in the Gita that it is at the end of many births that a great  one gets an idea about the greatness of Bhagavan: ” bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate Vasudeva: saravamiti sa mahatma sudurlabha:”. The Bhagavatam clearly lays down that karmas are to be continued only till one takes to the path of devotion:

Taavat karmani kurvita 

na nirvidyeta yavata

Mad katha sravanadau 

va sraddha yavan na jayate.

Karmas are to be continued till one gets vairagya and acquires sraddha for bhagavata dharma like listening to the glories of the Lord. ( That is to say, the fruit of all karmas is to become a devotee!)

Tyagaraja as Nama Advocate

Tyagaraja lived a life devoted to Nama Kirtan. He practiced other forms of devotion too, but his legacy to posterity is the kirtanas. Rama, you are the only treasure of my entire clan- “Neevera kula danamu Santatamu, neevera jeevanamu”, sang Tyagaraja. His kirtanas have become our valued treasure. He shows that we do not even need flowers to worship Rama- the namas themselves constitute the flowers!

Name itself is the flower!

Nama kusuma mula che bujinche
nara janmame janmamu manasa.

Sriman manasa kanaka pitha muna

chelaga jesikoni vara Shiva Rama…..nama kusumamula

Nada swaramane vara navaratnapu

vedikapai sakala lila vinoduni
paramatmunu Sri Ramuni
padamulanu Tyagaraja hrud bhushanuni….nama kusumamula

O my mind! Installing ( Sri Ramachandra murti) in  the splendoured  golden seat that is the   heart, performing well archanas with the flowers of the names of Rama and Shiva- only such a birth is the real human birth!

The platform is adorned by the nine gems like Nada and Swara! There one has to invoke the presence of the blessed feet of Rama, who performs many lilas and who adorns the heart of Tyagaraja! One who so worships  is the one really born ( his is the only true janma).

Here Tyagaraja shows how truly Nama sankirtana does not need any external aid! God is invoked in the heart. His very names constitute the flowers! Good music itself becomes the decoration and adoration. Differences in the forms the Lord takes do not matter- whether Rama or Shiva, it is all His Name! If after getting this human birth, one cannot do even this, what is that birth worth? Elsewhere too he talks of namasmarana as the best flowers:

Harinama smaranambulu  virulaura Raghunatha (Paripalaya…)

The Harinama smarana that I perform are the good flowers.

Elsewhere, Sri Tyagaraja says:

Nee namamuche na madi nirmalamainadi
(Jnanamosaga rada)

By doing kirtana of your name, my mind has become pure.

Name as the Sword

Tyagaraja wants to join Rama’s retinue, but he wants to have only Rama nama as his sword, and the status of a devotee as his patent bow:

Rama bhaktudane mudra billayu
Rama namame vara katga   ….   Banturiti

The patent bow that is ‘Ramabhakta’ and the excellent sword that is Rama nama!

About the ‘sukham’ attained by Rama nama, Tyagaraja sings in a separate kriti.

Melu melu Rama nama sukha
mee daralo manasa 
Phala lochana Valmikaadi 
bhaala nila jaadulu saakshika

O my mind! It is the sukha (attained by repeating) of Rama nama that is the best in this world. I declare this, invoking Lord Shiva with his third eye, Munis like Valmiki, Parvati, Hanuman, as my witnesses!

In fact, Tyagaraja describes Rama Nama as fully based on the Veda, as it is dealt with in Upanishads. ( Rama Rahasya, Purva Tapini, and Uttara Tapini  Upanishads as also Kali Santaranopanishad)

He says:
Veda varna niyamamu namamuto  ( Evarikai) and 
Veda saramau namadheyamunu (Talachintane)

Tyagaraja has in fact sung nearly 100 kirtanas on the divya namas.

Real Nadopasana

Once some people interested in music were discussing the merits of music as upasana in the presence of Sri Ramana Maharshi. They mentioned Tyagaraja as an example of Nadopasaka. Sri Ramana asked them whether ” Tyagaraja sang what he got  or got what he did by his singing”? ( Petradaip paadinaara alladu paadip petraara?பெற்றதைப் பாடினாரா, அல்லது பாடிப் பெற்றாரா ) It is clear that Tyagaraja was a recipient of Divine grace and his music was an expression of that experience. Behind his blessings were his intense devotion through Nama japa, puja etc. People talk of Nadopasana as if it merely  involves musical practice.  It is of course a different subject.
It is difficult to get a direct, full translation of Sankara bashya on Vishnu Sahasranama in English or Tamil, though all extant translations and commentaries are based on it. I believe a full Hindi translation is available from the Gita Press, Gorakhpur. See the expositions of Anna Subrahmanya Iyer. and the Lifco publication. But the best book (in Tamil) on the subject is by Sri S.V. Radhakrishna Sastri, quoting extensive upanishadic sources, published by Agasthiar Book Depot, Trichy.

For a modern interpretation in English, one may refer to the book by Eknath Easwaran.

The extracts from the Gita here are based on the translation of Swami Swarupananda, first published more than a 100 years ago! (Advaita Ashrama)

On the importance of Nama Kirtan and Nama Siddhantha, the most valuable resources are the two excellent books of Bhagavannama Bodhendra: Sri Bhagavannamamrita Rasodayam and Sri Bhagavannama Rasayanam; Tamil translation by Sri Krisha Premi,  and Angarai Rangaswami Sastrigal (1942), respectively, both published by Sri Bhagavan Nama publications, Chennai-33.

For the text of Sri Tyagaraja Kirtanas, I follow the edition by T.S. Parthasarathy, 1976 reprint. Those interested in Devanagari version may see: The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja, by  Sri C.. Ramanujachari. RK Math Chennai publication.

To be continued……………………………………………..

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