Monday, July 25, 2011

A way to worship by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swamy, Coimbatore

A Way To Worship
(by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore)
The importance of worshipping the Lord daily need not be emphasized.
"TiruvArAdhanam" as it is called, occupies an extremely significant part of the Sri VaishnavA's daily agenda, perhaps the most substantial item thereof. Just like Sandhyavandanam, Brahmayagyam etc., Bhagavat ArAdhanam too is an indispensable part of our daily routine, never to be forsaken for any reason, except when one contracts "Asoucham" or "theettu". This is evident from a host of texts in the Shruti, Smriti and itihAsAs. The hallowed Rigveda emphasises the obligatory nature of such worship-"pra va: pAntam andhasO dhiyAyatE mahE shoorAya VishNavE cha archata". Shounaka Mahrshi, quoting this, lays down the mode of such worship in detail, as a "nitya karma"-" ShounakOham pravakshyAmi nityam Visnvarchanam param".

The PAncharAtra, for its part, tells us that ritualistic worship of the Lord with devotion is to be performed daily-
"nityam cha Etat VaisvadEvAdivat Bhagavat ArAdhanam".

Emphatic confirmation, if at all needed, comes from Sage Vyasa, who tells us that worship of the Lord affords us greater merit than any Vaidika karma: he exhorts us therefore to perform ArAdhanam daily-

"na VishnvArAdhanAt puNyam vidyatE karma vaidikam
tasmAt anAdi madhyAntam nityam ArAdhayEt Harim".

The dire consequences flowing form non-performance, due either to laziness or even oversight or ignorance, include a birth among lowly pigs, apart from rendering the offender liable for a spell in Hell-
"YO mOhAt athavA AlasyAt akritvA VishNu poojanam
bhunktE sa yAti narakAn sookarEshu abhijAyatE".

Not a single day should we stay, nor should we partake of even water in a village, town or house, where the Lord is not worshipped daily, says the ParAsara SamhitA-
"VishnvarchA rahitE grAmE VishnvarchA rahitE grihE
na kuryAt anna pAnAdi na tatra divasam vasEt".
Further, the term "YAjI' in the Bhagavat Gita sloka
"man manA bhava mad bhaktO mad YAjI mAm namaskuru"

very obviously refers to the TiruvArAdhanam to be performed daily by everyone.

And when we say "everyone" it indeed means everyone, without differences of gender, caste or status, economic or spiritual. While those eligible to recite the Shruti can use the same in the Lord's worship, those ineligible may resort to the Tantric mode of performing TiruvArAdhanam. For instance, when the husband is away or unwell, women can do this on the former's behalf, limiting themselves to nivEdanam of food cooked for the Lord, without using Vaidika mantrAs and without touching the images of the Lord (whether vigrahAs or SAlagrAma mUrthIs) says prakritam Srimad Azhagiasingar's Ahnika grantham ("BhartrumatInAm bhartru AgyAya atra pravritti: anugyAyatE-- tadapi kEvalam nivEdana Eva").

Such is the significance of this karma, that our Acharyas, beginning with Sri Bhashyakara, have laid down specific modes of ArAdhanam, for the benefit of people like us,who know not how to adulate the Lord. The "nityam" is one of the nine works of Sri Ramanuja, dealing in detail with this ritual, the very title emphasizing the need for its daily performance.

Why should we perform Bhagavat ArAdhanam? It should be enough reason for us that the Shruti, Smriti and Acharyas unanimously tell us that we should. However, apart from the need for implicit obedience to the Scripture, it is our love for the Lord that prompts us to offer Him worship. When our affection for someone abounds, we feel the need for doing something for them, as an expression of our love and care. It is paternal love for our progeny which makes us scoop up the child in our arms, hug it, smother it with kisses, croon to it and indulge in similar acts exhibiting our emotions. How do we display our love to the Paramapurusha, who has, out of His infinite mercy, given us this human birth, resides within us inseparably in an endearing gesture of eternal love and care, provides us with a reasoning intellect enabling us to choose a strategy for liberation most suited to us, makes us progress along the path of choice and ultimately confers upon us the coveted fruit of kainkaryam in Paramapadam? How do we demonstrate our gratitude and boundless affection for the Lord (not that He requires such demonstration), who hovers protectively over us all the time, unseen but definitely there, ensuring that we come to no harm in any fashion, willing to overlook all our misdeeds if only we would repent and turn over a new leaf, aiding and assisting us all as an omnibus relative-- a father, mother, brother, friend, wife and son, all rolled into one?

Bhagavat ArAdhanam or ritualistic worship provides us an outlet for our enduring emotions towards the Lord. It furnishes us with an ideal way of expressing our ecstatical feelings, where He is concerned. Such worship is born out of "anubhava janita preeti" or the ecstasy of the individual soul, forever enchanted by all the Lord has done, is doing and will surely do for us poor mortals. It is the end-product of an enduring enthralment occasioned by the innumerable auspicious attributes of the Lord, each of which affords us indescribable delight. ArAdhanam is the compulsive reaction of all those who are bewitched beyond measure by Emperuman's glorious and magnificent form, which makes them lose themselves in its enjoyment, similar to a small boy let loose in a toyshop with a bewildering variety of playthings.

It is this daily and blissful experience which prepares us for the eternalenthralment of service to the Lord at SriVaikuntam. It is a daily dress rehearsal, so to say, to what we are destined to do at our ultimate abode. When we bathe the Lord tenderly in scented water, pure milk, honey etc., we should relive the experiences of Sri Yasoda Piraatti and Sri PeriyAzhwar, who attained incomparable heights of bliss through such ministrations to the toddler Krishna. When we offer Him a dress of silk after the bath, we should be reminded of the glorious garments Sri Kousalya must have dotingly dressed her darling in. When we offer Him a lighted lamp, we should be struck at the incongruity of showing a feeble and flickering light to one who is the ultimate in luminescence ("Narayana parO jyOti:"). When we place before Him our humble offering of cooked food, we should be reminded of the love and devotion with which both exalted BharadvAja Maharshi and the humble Sabhari fed Him, in their own inimitable ways, and the equal gusto with which He partook of both the sumptutuous feast offered by the former and the modest jungle fruits tendered by the latter. When we offer flowers at His feet, we should remind ourselves that the best and the most precious bloom He would relish is our souls-"the Atma vastu". And that the other types of flora which would delight Him are the qualities of ahimsA, sense control, truthfulness, mercy, etc., which we should strive to cultivate. When we recite before Him stOtrAs for His pleasure, we should mentally place ourselves in the footprints of Azhwars and Acharyas, whose magnificent offerings, in verse and prose, in an uncontrollable outpouring of overwhelming love, affection and adoration, stand as guiding Beacons of Bhakti, till date. And when we finally put Him to bed, at the end of the daily quota of loving ministrations, we should be reminded of the magnificent snake who forms His eternal bed-- soft, supple, sinuous, lithe, fragrant, broad and beautiful-- and the myriad ways in which he appropriates the opportunities of service to the Lord-
"ChendrAl kudayAm, irundAl singAsanamAm nindrAl maravadiyAm-neetkadaluL endrum
puNayAm maNi viLakkAm poompattAm pulgum aNayAm TirumArku aravu".

Thus, Bhagavat ArAdhanam is only a daily practice session, to remind us constantly of the indescribable bliss that awaits us, as PrapannAs, at the end of this birth. For all that, it is none the less real, for kainkaryam to the arcchA moorti, whether it be at divyadEsams or at one's own home, is as
pleasurable as that to the Paramapadanatha at Srivaikuntam, as both Sri Kalian and Swami Desikan have attested. We should offer every arghyam or pAdyam or other ministration/ upachAram lovingly, imagining in our mind's eye the Lord accepting the same with alacrity and delight-delight akin to that occasioned to the mother by the infant, who puts a morsel of its own baby food into the mouth of the feeding parent, though its inexpert hands might spill most of the morsel enroute to the mouth. The performance of TiruvArAdhanam in the prescribed fashion ("gyAna vidhi pizhayAmE") is thus capable of affording us as much delight as perhaps that of nitya sUrIs, the permanent residents of Srivaikuntam, making us conform to the description of Sri Nammazhwar-"nila thEvar"-Gods on Earth.
Azhwars tell us how such ArAdhanam is to be performed. Sri Nammazhwar is so particular that all flowers should be utilised for adorning the Lord's tirumEni and tiruvadi, that he tells us to gather blooms from all eight directions for the purpose-"endisayum uLLa poo koNdu Etthi ugandu ugandu". He also lists the various upachArAs that are to be offered to the Paramapurusha-
"mEvi tozhudu uymmin neergaL VEda punida irukkai
nAvil koNdu achuthanai gyAna vidhi pizhayAmE
poovil pugayum viLakkum sAndamum neerum malindu
mEvi tozhum adiyArum bhagavarum mikkadu ulagE"

The Lord is to be adulated with choice words of praise (like the Purusha Sukta) that Vedas reserve for the Supreme Being. The best of scented smoke is to be offered to the Lord after a ceremonial bath, with the Veda mantra, "dhoorasi dhoorva dhoorvantam dhoorvatam yOsmAn dhoorvati...." and He is to be courteously shown a lighted lamp, as an auspicious item, to the accompaniment of the Mantra, "uddeepyasva JAtavEdO apagnan nirritim mama...". The best of flowers are to be showered on His tiruvadi, to the recitation of Mantra Pushpam (extracts from the four Vedas, itihAsAs, purANAs, divya prabandAs, poorvAcharya Stotras, etc.). The Lord's tirumEni is to be adorned with fragrant and cool sandalwood paste. He is to be propitiated with water time and again, in the form of arghyam, pAdyam, Achamaneeyam, SnAneeyam and pAneeyam. These are some of the offerings Sri Nammazhwar prescribes during TiruvArAdhanam.

Rather than search for external implements for worship, Sri Nammazhwar prefers to offer extremely personalised upachArAs to the Lord. Secure in the knowledge that He would relish these much more than any other external and ostentatious paraphernelia, Sri Nammazhwar offers his own mind, made extremely cool and fragrant with constant thoughts of the Lord, in the place of sandalwood paste-"poosum sAndu en nenjamE". Considering even the smooth sandalwood to be too rough for the Lord's extremely soft and delicate tirumEni, Azhwar considers his own mind to be a much better substitute. Rather than search for some flowers suitable for Emperuman and string them together into a garland, Azhwar finds a garland of verses much easier to fashion and more to the Lord's liking, substituting a "Poo mAlai" by a much sweeter, fragrant and poignant "PAmAlai". While flowers by nature wilt and fade after a day at the most, Azhwar's garland of verses remains eternally fresh and fragrant, which is another reason for his preference-"punayum kaNNi ennudaya vAsagam sei mAlayE". These divine and delightful verses serve not only as an adornment for the Lord's chest, but also double as glorious and glittering garments for His dressing up-"vAn pattAdayum akhdE". Woven as they are in various metres, with the warp of devotion, these Prabandas form the apparel of choice for Emperuman. Azhwar says that much more than glittering ornaments sculpted out of precious metals like gold and silver, a single gesture of supplication with joined palms-an "anjali"-would serve as the best of jewelry for the Lord. It is the surrender of our soul in the ultimate gesture of Prapatti that the Lord deems to be the most valuable of adornments. It is hence that Azhwar says, "dEsamAna aNikalanum en kai kooppu seigayE".

It is TiruvArAdhanam such as the one practised by Azhwar that occasions the maximum delight to Emperuman, much more than any characterised by the offering of items acquired at considerable cost. What He looks for is sincerity, devotion, love and piety: He bothers little about how much we spend and much more about how much of our thoughts are on Him.
We thus find that it is our duty, albeit a delectable one, to worship the Lord daily and that, in the process, the use of our internal organs as aforesaid, affords Emperuman great delight. The Lord calls him a thief, who eats daily without offering the food first to the Universal Provider-'stEna Eva hi sa:". It is for this reason that our Acharyas mercifully initiate us into the process of Bhagavat ArAdhanam, during Pancha SamskAram, in the fond hope that we would, from that day, perform ArAdhanam continuously. When we do the karma sincerely and with devotion, we would be able to discern a distinct smile on the face of the Lord who adorns our homes. Whatever be our occupation, whatever be the timings we have to observe in our profession, when we find time for a hundred other personal and official errands, we ought to accommodate Bhagavat ArAdhanam too in our daily schedule, not as something to be performed per force or out of a sense of obligation, but something to be done prompted solely by love, affection and adoration for the most magnificent of beings, one who delights in hearing our voices raised in praise, much as a parent would in hearing his toddler's first words, hardly intelligible but eminently satisfying all the same.

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