[From the Life and works of Sri Nigamantha Mahadesikan- by Prof Sri A Srinivasaraghavan]
SrImAn venkatanAthAryaH kavitArkika kesarI |
vedAntAcArya-varyo me sannidhattAm sadA hRdi ||
May the glorious Venkatanatha, the greatest of teachers of Vedanta, and the lion among poets and debaters, reside forever in my heart.
Let us begin to enjoy the sthOthra granthas of Swamy Desikan [in alphabetical order]
Thus the first comes is ABHEETHI STHAVAM
Abeeti-stava is a stotra in twenty-nine verses which prays to Lord Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam to dispel all the fears of the world and bestow knowledge, devotion and happiness on all. There is a historical background for this stotra. In the 14th centuary A.D there was an invasion of Srirangam by the muslims from the north for taking away all the valuable things in the temples in the South, gem set golden jewels of the Lord and vessels of gold and silver used in the worship of the deities. The invading army was strong and big. The residents of Srirangam were weak and less in number. So all the leading Acharyas met, discussed and decided to take the Lord to some other place away from Srirangam, leave the doors of the treasure-rooms locked and raise a strong wall before the Sanctum Sanctorum for protecting the Lord of the sleeping Beauty. Some devout Acharyas escorted the palanquin in which the idols were kept screened and which was carried southward. Some Acharyas moved courageously northward in order to arrest the swift march of the invading army unmindful of the risk for their lives. A few remained in the city itself in its suburbs to protect the temple if the could.
Sri Vedanta Desika who was very much attached to Srirangam and Lord Ranganatha , was advised to leave the city and go northward and save himself to work for the expulsion of the invading army and for the re-installation of the Lord in the temple by his psychic powers and devotion and prayer. The aged Pillailokacharya with followers moved southward by solitary paths and stray villages- with the Lord. Swami Desika after a long and painful journey reached a remote village, Satyakaalam by name, near (Kollegal) in the Mysore State (modern Karnataka). There he stayed for several years leading a strenuous life in deep meditation on the Lord and prayer for the safety of Srirangam and the re installation of the Lord Ranganatha. It was in that lonely village on the bank of a flowing river at the foot of a pair of Asvatta trees that he observed the daily rites and carried on his meditation. There he composed the Abheetistava and almost made a penance reciting the stotra for nearly four decades. It is recorded that in Gingee, Gopanarya, a chief stain of Ginjee drove the marauders from Srirangam and re-installed Sri Ranganatha and His consorts in the temple. Hearing the happy and heartening news Swami Desika rushed back to Srinangam to worship the Lord of his heart and spend his last days at the feet of the Lord.
The Stotra begins with the praise of the Lord and his auspicious qualities and prays for the protection of those who worship him and recite his names (1-10). Then a prayer is made for relief from all fears that affect human beings-fear from wife, son or kinsmen, fear from bodily infirmities and from worldly objects good and bad; as well as fear from hell or heaven (11-18).
The last section (verses 19 to 27) makes a fervent prayer to the Lord that He must save all the shrines and gods installed there and the poor residents living there. In about half the number of slokas in the stotra there in mention of fear and freedom from it. In sloka 22 there is only casual mention of the sack of Srirangam by Turushkas and Yavanas (muslims and foreigners) though it was the main cause for the composition of the stotra.
The Slokas contain all the essential doctrines of our
Srivaishnava Sampradaya, a knowledge of which will dispel the fear of ignorance
and attachment for worldly pleasures. Another peculiar feature of Abheeti-stava
is that it contains the four carama slokas which describe the value of
Saranagati in Srivaishnavism-the Varaaha carama, Rama-carama, Geeta-carama
Sloka 6 (Sthite manasi vigrahe) reproduces to a great extent the words phrases and thoughts of Varaha-carama which is spoken to Bhoomi Devi as she is rescued from the Patala-loka and brought back.
Shite manasi susvasthe .......nayaami paramaam gatim.
(Varaaha-carama in Varaaha Purana)
Sloka 15 (Saktst-prapadana-sprsaam abhaya-daananitya-vratee) contains the important words of Rama-carama in which Sri Rama proclaims his vow to protect those who seek refuge in Him, while offering refuge to Vibhishana brushing aside the opposing arguments of Sugriva and others.
Sakrt eva prapannaaya .........dadaami etat vtatam Mama
(Ramayana Yuddhakanda 18.33)
Sloka 5 (Bhavantam iha yah) by the words “ Kvacana tasya nasayaat bhayam echoes the sentiments of Gita carama addresses to Arjuna by Sri Krishna.
Sarva-dharman parityajya ...........maa sucha
Sloka 10 in the words “Apathya-parihaara-dheevimukham…..avati vatsalaa Tvad-dayaa” reminds us the offer of protection to the Rakshasa maidens by Sita when Hanuman sought permission from Sita to punish the Rakshasees after Ravana’s death for their ill-treatment of Sita.
Paapaanaam vaa subhaanaam vaa vadhaarhaanaam plavangama
Karyam karunam saryena na kascit na apradhyati
(Ram Yudha kanda 116.44)
In sloka 19 Sri Vedanta Desika mentions with respect the names of Prahalada and the crow (Kaakaasura) Gajendra and Draupadi, Vibhishiana and a serpent, Gopa Damsels and Ambarrisha all of whom got rid of their fear by seeking refuge at the feet of the Lord. He prays that he and his associates also should have their fear dispelled at once by the Grace of Sri Ranganatha.
The last two slokas (28&29) are almost auto biographic to certain extent and conclude with a moving appeal to the Lord to grant his life-long longings as follows:
“O Lord! My youth was spent in the full enjoyment of the pleasures with delectable Bharati (words) in the compositions of Sri Ramanuja, the foremost amongst ascetic as. The hairs have grown grey on the head and I submit what I can do now. Be pleased to keep me in some sacred place like Srirangam where there will be no occasion for coming across an enemy and I will be in the company of pious souls who always pray for mutual benefit.
His advice in the last sloka is; “Read this sacred hymn of Lord Ranganatha which has sprung from the well known Sri Venkatesa by the merciful glance of learned preceptors.
The all compassionate Lord Kesava (Ranganatha) will offer
protection with all the innumerable auspicious qualities of His and says
“Get rid of your fear. May you have all prosperity”.
Acyuta Satakam in 101 Verses is a stotra in the Praakrit Language (that is spoken by women-characters in the Sanskrit Dramatic Literature). Sri Vedanta Desika himself has given the Sanskrit rendering of the Praakrit slokas for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with that language. This stotra gives in brief all the doctrines of Visishtaadvaita and of the Vaishnavism as portrayed by the Alwars. It is the out pouring of Sri Vedanta Desika (Venkatanatha) who, on account of his passionate love for acyuta (Lord Devanatha), has become transformed into a bride, probably donning the name of Venkatanaayikaa.
1-7 In the first seven slokas after a prayer to Lord Devanaayaka, the poet makes an apology for beginning to eulogize the Lord who is beyond the region of thought and word.
8-25 The magnificence and greatness of the Lord as revealed by the Upanishads- the Lord who is the Universal cause (7-9) who is in full form in all things, small or great, and who is the one that is ‘Prati-vastu-Poorna(10). He is the Over-Lord who supports, controls and rules all the objects in the world as the Antar-yaami. So all the words denoting all the objects connote the Lord also.
(Sarva-sabda-vaacya)(11). He is the material cause (upaadana
kaarana) with Prakriti as his body; the
Nimitta-kaarana (sentient cause) by His sankalpa, the Sahakaari-kaarana (Auxillary cause) by other useful objects in the world which also are His body (12-13). Bhagavan and Lakshmi are the Divine Couple who rule over all the male and female species (Seshi-Dampati) (14). He is without an equal or superior (Sama-abhyadhika-rahita) (15). He is the Supreme Deity who is worshipped by the observance of all the religious duties that have been ordained (Sarva-karma-samaraadhya) (16-18). He is impartial by nature and comes to the succor of all without distinction (19-22). Bhagavan along with Lakshmi as the second is the means for Salvation (Mokshopaaya) (24-25). Bhagavan in all His manifestations is endowed with endless auspicious qualities. His lovely form has all the elements which adorn Him as weapons and jewels
Astra-bhooshanaatmaka-sareera)(26-30) the mystic nature, time and purpose of His incarnations (Avataara-rahasya). (31) The Lord, even in the Archa-form with Lakshmi and Bhoomi is the fountain of Mercy and Saviour (Saranya-Danipataa).(32-33) description of the Lord Devanatha from head to foot(34-34) curly locks of hair (34) lovely face with lotus eyes(35) broad chest as the throne of Lakshmi(36) the shoulders (37) the stomach that is lean though it contains the entire universe (38). His lotus like Navel as a foot-stool for Lakshmi and the birth place of the four faced Brahma(39) the enchanting girdle(40) the thighs and the shanks(41,42) the foot, the source of the Ganges (43) the medicinal herb in the Oshadhi-hill(44) Bhagavan dispels ignorance and reveals the hidden mine of wealth(45-46) the greatness of His devotees in general(47-54) and of the Prapanna to Sri Vaikunta (Arciraadi-gati)(61-73) the poet’s prayer to the Lord to forgive his sins and save him(74-82) Sri Vedanta Desika is no longer Venkatanatha but has become Venkatanaayakee, the bride of the Lord. She prays for release from the worldly bondage (84). Her desire to cross the virajaa River and enter Paramapada where she will be welcomed by the Eternal Damsels and taken to the mansion of the Lord where she will regain her place on His chest as Kaustubha and do endless service.
Sri Vedanta Desika as Venkatanaayaki concludes this stotra
as a representative for individual souls who has been pining in separation.
She prays that she, the eternally youthful bride should become united with
the eternally youthful bridegroom Sriman Narayan.
This is a sthotra in eight (+two) slokas on the Lord eight arms who is in the shrine - ‘Ashtabhuja’ [eight armed], a suburb of Kanchi. Sri Vedanta Desika makes a moving appeal to the Lord to come to rescue since he is in the grip of sense-organs which are like crocodiles even as the lord rushed in great haste to save Gajendra from the mouth of a crocodile. Sri Desika declares that he is the servant of the Lord and will not seek the help of any other deity. He prays that the Lord should bless him with His service out of Mercy. The Stotra, according to Desika, is a packet of good food in their journey to the world of the Lord to those who had sought refuge at the Lord’s feet and is an infallible recipe for the illness of those who wish to seek the Lord’s feet to attain Him.
This Lord is addressed as "ATTABUYAKARATTHEN..[eight
armed honey OR Honey of Attabuyakaram place] " by Thirumangal AzhwAr
Swami Desika gives an interesting explanation for the possession of eight
arms by Lord Ashtabhuja. The Lord’s hurry to raise His devotees from the
sufferings of the world is so intense that He has doubled his Four fold
arms and made them eight. He also prays that the merciful Lord should accept
the Sthotra with His eight arms with equal hurry.
Sri Vedanta Desika devotes this Stotra in twelve verses to a description of the steps in the meditation on Bhagavaan (Sri Ranganatha of Srirangam). The meditation begins with the feet of the Lord and ends with the sparkling crown on His head. This is very much in the way of the Tamil Hymn Amalan Aadi Piran sung by Tamil Saint Tiru-p-paan Alwar in the Divyaprabhandha. Standing before the Lord, the AzhwAr sees Him with his eyes and sings whereas Sri Desika meditates and describes.
The first sloka speaks of the greatness of Sri Ranganatha as the Supreme Deity who shines in the hearts of the ascetics, who is the unguent for the Yogin’s eyes, the divine gem Cintaamani which bestows material wealth and eternal Bliss, and the dispeller of the distress of the destitute and helpless, as revealed be the Vedas.
Then begins the description of the charm and glory of
the (Angas) limbs of the Sleeping Beauty on the Serpent-couch His lotus-like
feet(2), the shank(3), the two thighs(4), the deep navel(5), the broad
chest(6), the long arms(7), the lovely face(8), the sparkling diadem(9).
Sloka 10 is a recapitulation of the above. The itinerary form of the Standing
Beauty with four arms in front of the Reclining lord is described in Sloka
11 and the fruit of the meditation on the two Beauties in Sloka 12. Sri
concludes by saying that Sri Ranganatha, who is seen in Srirangam, shines in his heart with his two Consorts lakshmi and Bhoomi and even a mere thought on the steps on the meditation on bhagavaan will raise a person to the high level of devotion possessed by the perfect yogi with deep concentration.
The use of the word ‘maneeshaa” in sloka 10 and the nature
of the description in the Stotra suggest that Sri Vedanta Desika has become
a bridge in love with Sri Ranganatha, the youthful lover.
Bhoo-stuti is a hymn in thirty-three slokas on Bhoomidevi (Mother Earth).She is a divine consort of Bhagavan. There is a Puranic reference that a demon Hiranyaksha, by name, abducted Her and kept Her under sea. In order to rescue Her, Bhagawaan assumed the form of a Boar (an animal which is not frightened by water or slush) went to the nether world, killed the Asura and brought Her back and married Her. It is also narrated that he placed Her on His shoulder as on a throne and performed Her coronation as the Supreme Deity of the Earth. His love for Her is so great that He as the serpent, Adisesha, supports Her always with His head. Sri DEsika mentions several names of the Bhoomi-Devi which indicate Her qualities of mercy, compassion and forbearance. She is Saravamsahaa(All-enduring) Avani(the saviour), Vipulaa(All-pervading) Kshamaa(Forbearance). She is Visvambharaa(world-supporter) if the Lord is Visvambharaa. She is Vishnu-patnee if He is Bhoopati. Thus She is His equal in all respects in the possession of auspicious qualities and greatness.
The mutual love of Bhoomi-Devi and Varaha-Bhagavan, the Divine couple, is beautifully portrayed by Sri Desika in the penultimate sloka(32) as follows:
“With Her lotus-feet placed on the lotus-like right hand
on Her Consort, Varaha, and gracefully reclining as on a couch on the left
arm which is like the body of Adisesha. With Her cheeks shining with the
pleasing touch of the face of Varaha and eyes like full-blown lotus.
May the All-forgiving Bhoomi-Devi bless me with all auspiciousness.
In conclusion Sri Desika declares that a devout study of the stotra will
help a man realize all his desires.
This is a Stotra in thirteen slokas which describes the ten incarnations of Bhagavan. Sri Desika has composed it as though it is a drama in ten scenes enacted in a stage (Ranga namely Sriranga by Bhagavan as the Chief Actor and Lakshmi, His consort as the Actress in appropriate forms. Lord Ranganatha is the Master of the stage and the hall is packed to the full by saintly souls who evince great interest in the play and immense devotion to the actors. Though there are more than thirty Chief Incarnations of the Lord, only ten of them are chosen here which are very popular. In them too, the emphasis is on the protection of the World and practice of Dharma by Bhagavan. Destruction of the Asuras is almost absent.
The episodes of the Dasa-avataras are described in an interesting and novel manner with poetic beauty. The glances of the Matsya-avatara searching for the Vedas serve as full-blown lotuses under waters of the ocean. The pillar in the palace of the great Asura became unexpectedly a grandmother by giving birth to Narasimha, who in His turn became the father of hosts of Brahmas; the leg of Trivikrama lifted high to measure the worlds above was really a flag-post with the River Mandakini as the waving banner to proclaim the charitable quality of an Asura. Sri Rama broadcast this vow that He will save all if they fall at His feet seeking refuge even once. The pranks of the cow-herd boy playing in the Yamuna and dancing on the head of the serpent Kaliya where really sweetened by the feats of the palm-bannered boy, Balarama, like adding sugar to milk.
The penultimate sloka (12th) enumerates all the ten Avataras with an appropriate epithet to every one of them which reveals their distinguishing nature. The names of the Avataras with their epithets are-self willed Fish(Matsya), Sportive Tortoise (Koorma), gigantic Boar (Varaha), Unthoght-of Lion (Narasimha), Saving Vamana, wrathful Rama(with the axe, parasu), Compassion-incarnate scion of the Kakutsa Clan(Sita Rama), playful Plough-weilder(Balarama), Prankful cowherd boy(Krishna), and the White-horse riding Kalki. It is also stated that those persons who mutter daily these names sanctify the entire Universe. They are really streets with warehouses where saleable bales of the merits (Punya) are stocked.
The last sloka states that the Stotra itself is Jagan-mangala (world-beneficiary) which was born of Sri Venkatesa, the poet. If a person just entertains a desire to read it, there will be the power speech (Sarasvati) in his mouth, devotion in his heart, purity in his body and reputation for him.
The poet’s love for this Stotra can be seen from the fact that all the slokas excepting the last find a place in Act VII of his drama, Sankalpa-suryodaya, which is a picture gallery where all the ten Avataras and their exploits have been painted.
In conclusion, it is the advice of Sri Vedanta Desika
to young boys that they should take to the study of the Stotra even when
they are young; because as they advance in age, there will be an advancement
of their knowledge of the sciences, great devotion to god, innate purity
of body and immense reputation.