Friday 5 August 2011

Paduka Sahasram by Vedanta Desika

A  Thousand Hymns on Lord’s Sandals
Vedanta Desika’s Paduka Sahasram occupies a unique place among the Vaishnavite Bhakti literature. The sandals of the Lord are more sublime than the Lord Himself. According to Sri Desika, the sandals represent a blend of two goddesses who are the heroines of this great poetical composition. All the followers of Vaishnavaite faith hold no second opinion about the greatness and glory of the Padukas.
 Lord Ram himself allowed His sandals to rule the kingdom for the benefit of the people. Through one sandal Sri Rama established his father’s adherence to satya palan and through the other, honoured the appeal of Bharat.
  Any devotee while singing the glory of the God always pays tributes first to His feet and then moves up.
This is our tradition, but our Swami has taken one step forward. Instead of the feet, he has started from the sandals.
The language is easy Sanskrit, the total verses being 1008. Due to the grace of Lord Ranganatha Swami, Sri Desika was able to complete the work in a single night. The poet accepts that he has been only an instrument.
The effort and success go to the credit of the Lord. The sandals worn by Sri Rama are not at all different from those of Lord Ranganatha.
Even at the time of incarnation, the sandals are the integral parts of Lord’s divine body. According to the Vaishnavite faith, the Padukas represent Nammalwar, the greatest among the 12 Alwars. Nammalwar is otherwise known as Shatakopan (Destroyer of the Wicked).
In all Vishnu temples, Shatari has a special position. The devotees feel an ecstatic pleasure and enjoy the divine grace when Shatari is placed on their head by the head priest or the Acharya. Shatari eliminates all the wicked thoughts from our mind. Similarly, Paduka Sahasram will make us sacred, and wise.
Now let as have a look at the composition. There are 32 chapters each one called Paddati (procedure) or system. What is the propriety behind it? Has Sri Desika numbered the chapters without any thought? Definitely not. “Padati” reveals one more meaning, that is moving forward methodically.
Sri Vedanta Desika has got his own unique status among the many preceptors (Acharyas)who appeared after Yatiraj Ramanuja. He was named Sri Venkatanathan. His birth place was Tirutanka, a small village near Kanchipuram. His father was Sri Anantha Suri and mother was Thotharamba. He was born under the influence of the star sravan, in the Tamil month of purattasi (badho in Hindi), and belonged to Vishwamitra Gotram.
It is being believed that the bell of Tirumalai temple itself, obeying the mandate of the Lord of the Seven Hills appeared in the world as Sri Desika.
Sri Venkatanathan had a sharp intellect. He underwent all the sanskaras and mastered the Vedas, Tamil Prabandam and other sacred Sanskrit texts. His maternal uncle, Appullar was his Guru. At the age of 20, he got married. His only son was Sri Kumar Varadachary.
The worldly charms and comforts had no place in Sri Desika’s life. Due to the grace of the Lord, he became well-known as a great Acharya, poet, scholar, philosopher and exponent and leader of Vishishtadwaita school.
A few miles away from Kanchipuram is a sacred place called Tiruahindrapuram, where the Lord is worshipped as Deivanayaka. Near the temple, even today there is a small hillock called Aoushadgiri. The Swami went up, sat under the holy tree and started meditation. He was chanting Garuda Mantra. Garuda appeared and was pleased to present the idol of Lord Hayagreeva and taught him Hayagreeva Mantram.
The Swami’s genius brightened up. He travelled all over India, visited all the important Vaishnavite shrines, gained more knowledge and divine experience.
During his pilgrimage he had to meet many scholars of other schools of thoughts, defeated them and returned as a victorious monarch. He condemned their statements and established the supremacy of Lord Narayana.
He was in Kanchipuram for some days and was invited to Srirangam to build the  Vishishtadwaita school. He was surrounded by an illustrious group of disciples. His ardent followers gave him the title ‘Kavithahithe Sinha’ (a lion among the poets).
Lord Ranganatha glorified him with the title, Vedanta Charya and Goddess Ranganayaki conferred upon him, the title, Sarva Tantra Swatantra (a person endowed with full liberty to create and adopt all types of techniques.)
Swami Desika was not only a Vedantic scholar but was also well- versed in many arts of the material world. He was also practical and was able to deal with different sorts of people.  He was not interested in accumulating wealth, and was free from all sorts of ego.  Hatred, jealousy, unnecessary pride, anger were unknown to him. He was simple but had enough courage and balance of mind to meet any trouble or problem.
To earn his daily bread, he used to go out for collection of food materials as per the sastras. ‘Enough for the day, don’t save for tomorrow,’ was his policy. Seeing his detachment, some well wisher in his anxiety to help his family offered rice grains mixed with small gold particles. While cleaning the bowl, Sri Desika’s wife separated them from rice and threw away the glittering pieces as per her husband’s advice.
He had such a faithful partner. It is said that she had no jewels to wear and that only the compositions of her husband, “Mummani Kovai, Nava Mani Malai”, were her possession. The Swami’s classmate, Vidyaranga, enjoying the patronage of Vijayanahara King, politely compelled Sri Desika to come to the court; but the Swami mildly pushed aside his request and remarked that a devotee of Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram is free from all types of wants. Sri Desika summed up his feelings in his composition called ‘Vairagya Panchakam’. It was a child’s play for the Swami to defeat other schools of thought. The debaters had no words to oppose him.
Once a vanquished Pandit used his magical power to torture the Swami. He went to a nearby tank, sipped palmful of water and chanted some mantras of wicked nature.
Sri Desika’s stomach began to swell but he was not worried. He understood the magic of the opponent and drew a straight line with his nail on the nearby pillar. To the surprise of everybody, all the water drunk by the magician drained out of the pillar.
Sri Desika composed a drama “Sankalapa Suryodaya” just to prove the inadequate knowledge of another poet known as Krishna Misra. Another poet, Dindim challenged the Swami who proved that Dindim meant foam formed by the waves, hence no stability. The Swami was a great sculptor; to defeat another mason, he was able to construct a well with broken, unshaped bricks. The well exists even today.
Just to tease him, jealous people employed a snake charmer. Lured by the money promised, the snake charmer approached the Swami and let out his poisonous snakes. The Swami kept absolute silence, drew seven horizontal parallel lines on the ground.
Except one or two, the other snakes could not cross those lines. So the snake charmer let out a dreadful snake called, Shanka Pala. As it came very close, the Swami began to chant Garuda Thandalam.
The next moment, Garuda came there and flew away with the Shanka Pala. The snake charmer fell at the Swami feet, and begged, “Sir pardon me, your enemies have sent me here. I won’t have come here; only one request, please see that Shanka Pal comes back to me. That snake is the main source of my livelihood.” The Swami look pity on this and sent him away with all the snakes.
His opponents were not keeping quiet. Somehow they wanted to mar his reputation. On a particular day the Swami was to observe his father’s ceremony. Everything was prepared well and the Swami was waiting for the three Brahmins to consume the food items duly served. The three Brahmins were not allowed to go to the Swami’s residence. They were frightened and retained by the enemies.
The Swami, as usual, was calm, drew the curtain and started chanting Purusha Suktham. The enemies were waiting outside. The curtain was removed. The food plates were empty. Oh, what a wonderful scene! The three Brahmins who came there were the presiding deities of Srirangam, Kanchipuram and Tirumalai. From that moment, all his enemies and opponents recognised his greatness and gave up their childish mischievous acts.
Once, during travelling, as night was fast approaching, he could not proceed. Sri Hayagreeva’s idol was always with him. Nothing was available to offer to the deity. He could offer only a handful of water. With fatigue and hunger, he slept on a platform like structure on the house of a merchant.
On the platform in a corner, sacks containing Bengalgram were piled up. The merchant came out in the night because he felt that somebody was munching the grams and saw that a horse was emptying the sacks. He tried his best to drive it away but failed. So he requested the Swami for help. The Swami said: “Bring some milk”. The milk was offered to the Lord. Next moment, the horse disappeared. The merchant came to know about the Swami’s knowledge and devotion and gave necessary materials for the worship of the Almighty.
During Muslim invasions, temples were demolished; jewels were taken away and holy places desecrated. At Srirangam, about 12,000 Vaishnava devotees gave up their lives to protect the temple and the deity.
Sri Sudarsana Bhattar, the author of “Srutha Prahashina” was not able to survive. So Sri Desika with the manuscript and two songs of the author had to flee towards the forest area of Mysore.There he had a congenial atmosphere to preach and establish his faith. After many years, he returned to Srirangam and to serve Lord Ranganatha. Finally he left for his abode.
The total number of works composed by him were 113 (Sanskrit 118, Tamil 24 and Prohit 1). He had complete mastery over Sanskrit and Tamil. Unfortunately all his works are not available.
Article by : T.P.Vanamamalai
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 January 2009
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