Devotional hymns have generally three facets:
There are thousands of devotional hymns in the vast archives of Hindu scriptural literature. Each one has a spiritual, mystic and/or occult sanctity given to it by the original seer who visualised it by his devotional meditative insight. Each one has also perhaps a mythological context in which it got the super-natural powers ascribed to it or claimed by it. Presented below is a purely personal tiny collection of 14 shloka-extracts from various such hymns, generally in the Sanskrit language, unless specified otherwise. Each extract may be just one verse from a well-known hymn but the particular verse is cited here because of its (experienced) value for daily recitation or meditation. This collection (in addition to the Na. and Soundaryalahari collections already elaborated in the previous sections), is totally a personal choice of this author from his own experience and needs to be taken as such, along with its limitations, omissions and commissions. At worst it may be taken as a sample of possible such collections. But all of these can be used as spring-boards to float flights of spiritual imagination, which give us enough food for a useful nididhyAsana (introspective contemplation). The elaboration of #1 below is an example. #2 below cannot be considered as a devotional prayer but it is included here because it is highly useful for a nididhyAsanA leading us to the vedantic truths.
#1. Shri VaidyanAthAShTakam Shloka No.6: Tr. Prostrations to Lord Shiva (known as) Shri Vaidya-nAtha, the Lord of all doctors and doctoring, -- (who is) (known by) thousands of names and of several triads of forms, whose Lotus Feet constitute the object of meditation by yogic saints, who pervades or manifests as the perceptible universe; and who is the (only) One to be known from all VedAnta.
The significance of this shloka starts from the observation that this is the only Vedantic shloka in an 8-shloka hymn, that is otherwise, a very common type of prayer, particularly oriented towards the deity Shri Vaidyanathaswami of the temple situated in a small town by name Vaideeswarankoil, near Chidambaram in Tamilnadu. The name of the deity translates as ‘the divine provider of cures’. It is said that Lord Shri Rama, Lakshmana, JaTAyu, the Vedas, ShhaNmukha, the Sun-God SUrya, the Mars-God AngAraka, all worshipped Shiva here. The deity is famous in modern times since innumerable number of families seek His Grace for the cure of all diseases. This innocent-looking verse of 44 syllables contains a mine of Vedantic import. First of all the ‘namaH shivAya’ mantra (See 1.8.4) one of the foremost mantras of Hindu religion and philosophy, is imbedded in it. If we put aside also the personal name ‘VaidyanAthaya’ the other five (impersonal) epithets that govern the name of the Absolute indicate the only five ultimates to which everything may be reduced, namely, sat, cit, Ananda, and nAma and rUpa, as a penultimate step to the final reduction to The advaitic One and Only One. In fact, if one keeps meditating on this shloka one can run through several concepts of advaita, including the concept of mAyA. We shall take these one by one below. We are going by the style of Shankara’s advice in LaghuvAkyavRtti (#17) – repeated by Vidyaranya in his PancadaSI (XIII – 83): “Thinking of that; Talking of that; Mutually reminding one another of the same thing; Being involved only in that – This is known as the practice of the subject of Brahman. (BrahmAbhyAsaM). So say the Wise”:
TRANSCENDENCE : He transcends everything. He can be known only through the declaration of the Vedas. And they declare ‘ahaM brahma asmi’. It is finally the ‘I’ that transcends everything. That transcendent entity is the essential common content of That as well as This. Any attempt to know It has to be done only through the teaching of Vedanta and the spiritual message of the Guru. It is the Ultimate Knowledge that Vedanta directs you to. The GitAcArya makes this astounding declaration (15-15) in no uncertain terms: “That which is known by all the Vedas (and by all forms of knowing) am I. I am indeed the knower of Veda and the maker of Vedanta” . Therefore VedAnta-vedyAya. It is something different from virtue and vice, it is different from cause and effect and also different from the past and the future (K.U. I-ii-14).But does it mean then that there is nothing else to be known? What about this visible universe which impacts on us in thousand-and-one ways? In any knowledge of things, we cannot ignore this perceptibility of this universe. Is that not so? The answer is: No. The perceptibility of the universe is only a transitory phenomenon. Its transitoriness is exactly what makes it less real than the substratum of Brahman on which it is superimposed. This is where we go to the next epithet: jagan-mayAya. But before we do that, note that the concept of transcendence is the vyApakatvaM that the Upanishads are never tired of speaking whenever they refer to the Absolute. Of the two processes by which we have to convince ourselves about the concept of the Absolute, this is the vyatireka process, meaning, the aloofness of the Effect from the Cause. Incidentally this is the ‘sat’ aspect of the five fundamentals mentioned earlier. The next one is the ‘cit’ aspect.
IMMANENCE : jagan-mayAya. The universe is full of Him. It is He that shows Himself as the universe. So learn to see Him in the universe. ‘yo mAm pashyati sarvatra’ ( He who sees Me everywhere and in everything …) says the Lord (VI – 30). He who sees only the elephant in the wooden elephant (Recall the classic quote in Tamil of Tirumoolar – See 9.6.8) is only a child in the spiritual plane. The world appears; but it only appears. The elephant appears in the wooden structure; but if you look carefully and take off the elephant appearance from the wood, slowly, gradually, steadily and concentratedly, you will only see the wood. The wood is not now seen ‘behind’ the elephant, not seen as the ‘substratum’ but seen as the only substance that is there. It requires conviction and concentration to get the view of the wood to the exclusion of ‘the elephant’. This is what every advaitic seer wants us to see. And they say: ‘yaH pashyati sa pashyati’. He who sees (thus), sees!
To see this, at least intellectually, the Kapilopakhyanam of BhA. (See 7.2) gives a telling example. The reflection of light on a wall from a pool of water or a glass, takes our attention to the source of the reflection, namely, to the pool or the glass. But that source itself has an original source, namely the sun in the sky. In the same way the consciousness of the I-sense that we all have must first be traced to the source, the JIva. But that again is not the final source. The ultimate source is the Bundle of Consciousness, that is Brahman. This is the immanence that the Upanishads, repeatedly emphasize by the technical word antaryAmitvaM. What we see is not a transformation of Brahman like what was milk earlier is now the curd that we see and taste. The universe is not the result of a ‘pariNAma’ of Brahman. Brahman never undergoes any change. It is Brahman itself that is appearing as the universe; the rope appearing as the snake. Of the two processes by which we have to convince ourselves about the Absolute, this is the anvayaprocess, meaning, the continuity of the Cause in the Effect.
Brahman appears as the Universe. Brahman also appears as JIva. In both cases the reality of the substratum gives an apparent reality to what is superimposed on it. But the two appearances, when the Ignorance vanishes, do not vanish the same way. When Ignorance vanishes, what appeared as the Universe is now known to have been Brahman only. So the Realisation comes that the Universe was only an appearance. On the other hand, when the JIva realises its Brahman-hood, the JIva appearance does not vanish; the JIva still remains but now remains as Brahman.
Well, it all seems to be too academic. How do we really ‘experience’ it? Only by resorting to the Lord for guidance. And so we go to the next epithet: ‘yogiSvara-dhyeya-padAmbhujAya’.
Vedantic Meditation:Throughout the vast literature of Vedanta, resort to the Lord’s help is a sine qua non. Without the Lord’s Grace Ultimate mokshaM is not going to happen. It is not the Effort of Man but the Grace of the Almighty that brings moksha. His Lotus Feet has to be meditated on and nididhyAsana done with His Grace will open the Gates of Realisation. The ‘Gate of Realisation’ is only another way of saying ‘Ignorance has ended’. Ignorance whose origin is shrouded in mystery – and will ever remain so, in spite of all our erudition, scholarship and logic – has a definite end. That is the end to which we are all striving. The sure way to strive is to hold on to the padAmbhuja (Lotus feet) of the Lord. ‘mAm-ekaM-sharaNaM vraja’ says the Lord, as the final message of the Gita. This is the Ananda aspect because Meditation itself is Bliss. The joining together of the two extremities – the Feet of the Divine with the head of the devotee – is what is esoterically symbolised by the joining of the palms in the traditional Hindu way of worship. The right palm denotes the feet of the Divine and the left palm denotes the head of the devotee. Succession of poets over the centuries have not only sung the greatness of the Divine Feet, but have sung greater glories of the dust under the Divine Feet (cf. Soundarya-lahari #2 :) and even of the sandals of the divine feet. Tulsi waxes eloquent on the divine sandals: they are the two syllables of the tAraka mantra – Rama – to ferry humanity across the ocean of samsAra (Ram Charit Manas, Ayodhya kand, #316).
tri-mUrti-rUpAya: The Lord is in three forms: the standard elementary meaning is, they are BrahmA, Vishnu and Shiva. But the Vedantic tenor of this shloka reminds us that it is not just the conventional meaning of tri-mUrti that is implied here but an esoteric intrpretation of everything that is three-fold. (Recall Bhattatiri’s verse (98 – 9) in this connection. Also K.R.: Verse beginning with ‘mUnru avan guNangaL ..’ in 7.3.) :
The three guNas, Satva, Rajas and tamas – all the combinations of which give you the entire world of experience;
the three states of awareness, jAgrat, svapna and sushupti which together give us all our world of experience but still not the Absolute state;
the three facets of activity, by the body (kAyena), by the speech (vacasA) and by the mind (manasA) but still the Absolute is not accessible to any of these;
the three portions of time, past (bhUta), present (bhavat) and future (bhavya);
the three syllables that make up the mystic word Aum that represents Brahman itself;
the three giant strides that the Lord took to measure all the three portions of universal space;
the three yogas, Karma, bhakti and JnAna
the three Vedas that spend all their words on Him but still fail to show Him to us, though it is The Absolute that is the bottomline of all the Vedas!
Sahasra-nAmne: The thousand names that try to describe Him do not complete the delineation; because it can never be completed. He is acintyaM (not delimited by thought-process), aprameyaM (not delimited by any counting or measuring process), avyapadeshyaM (not indicatable by any indicator), avyavahAryaM (not relatable) . The word sahasra, though meaning ‘thousand’ only indicates the non-enumerability of His names and qualities. He actually has no name and that is why any name fits Him! Each name refers to some content about the Absolute. Since there are infinite things to say about the Absolute, the count of names is endless. The power of each name has been extolled to the skies. But the power comes from the fact that the name represents the Absolute. In the standard prayer that one recites from the Vedas while doing the ritual of daily bath, one has the statement ‘aham asmi brahma aham asmi’ meaning I am Brahman, Brahman am I. (See 2.3). Without resorting to this ultimate statement of Existence no power, human or divine, can wash off the sins of the human mind. The jnAnAgni – Fire of Self-Wisdom – is what extinguishes all the actions and their imprints (B.G. 4-37): The Fire of Self-Wisdom turns all works to ashes.
#2. Ramana MahaRshi’s ULLadu nArpadu, Verse No.24 (In Tamil):
This inert body does not claim any proprietorship for the I-feeling; the Atman-consciousness does no function, so it does not claim the ‘I’; in between the feeling of ‘I’ is born in the whole system consisting of the body and mind. It is actually a knot (granthi) between consciousness (cit) and the inert (jaDa or acit). Know that this knot is the bondage, the individual soul, the subtle body or sUkshma-sharIra, egoism, samsAra, and the mind.
There is much to think about in this verse. This is an ideal verse for nididhyAsana. What is this ‘I’? When does the feeling arise? It rises and falls. In sleep it is not there. When we wake up it arises. The Atman which is sat-cit does not rise and fall – this is the declaration of all sages. Thus this ‘I’ is not that of the body nor of the Atman. Then what is it? The reply is given by the second line ‘in between the feeling of ‘I’ is born in the whole system consisting of the body and mind’. So something called ‘I’-- (its another name is JIva) -- seems to bind the Atma-caitanyam (Atman-consciousness) and this inert body (which is the only thing perceivable). There is a superimposition of the consciousness of the Atman on the body-mind and also a simultaneous superimposition of the attributes of the body-mind on the Atman. Thus this mutual imposition creates – mark it, ‘creates’ – a thing called ‘JIva’ or ‘I’. This created object is therefore an imposition, an imagination. In other words, it is not absolutely real.
Jothi Ramalinga-swamigal, (1823 – 1874), a born JnAni, whose voice refused to heed any but the voice of one’s pious conscience and who composed thousands of verses breathing universal love and peace, explained, even while in his teens, this phenomenon of ‘cit-jaDa-granthi’ (the knot of the sentient and the inert), to his elder brother’s wife, his guardian, in the simplest of terms, as follows:
Think of a bullock-cart. The bullock is a conscious animal. The cart is an inert object. The two are yoked by the ‘driver’ (resident of the cart) for reasons known only to himself. How does he ‘yoke’ them? By passing the bridle-rope (‘mUkkaNAng-kayiru’ in Tamil) through the bullock’s nose, and holding it himself, and also passing a rope through its neck and linking it with the frontal portion of the cart. And then it is the driver who is making the cart go; the bullock doesn’t know when the journey will end. This is exactly the situation of the JIva. It is ‘yoked’ to this body by the Universal Director-driver who decides when to start the journey of the JIva in this body; and at that precise moment he ‘passes the bridle-rope through the nose’ by providing life-giving breath to this JIva-body bondage and makes them go. He, and no one else, knows when the journey will end! The cart is jaDa. The bullock is the cit. This is the cit-jaDa-granthi.
The body is acit. The Atman is the cit. The granthi (knot) that takes place between the two is what creates the object called JIva. The Atman and the body are knotted by this granthi which is nothing but the imposition, imagination, ignorance. The Atman which is cit and the body which is acit can never be identical. So this granthi which appears to have made them one is unreal. The Atman remains as it always is, unaffected by this unreal granthi. There is no JIva other than this; that is why this granthi itself is called the JIva. There is another name for this JIva, namely, Chid-AbhAsa. It means that it is a reflection that appears to be cit. The mind also which is the root source of all samsAra is only an expansion of this granthi. So it is itself called samsAra. Mind is what constitutes the subtle body and so this is the subtle body, the sUkshma sharIra. And what is bondage. Who is bound? It is this chidAbhAsa who is bound. Bondage is nothing but a flow of thought in the mind. If there is no mind where is the bondage? Thus it is the ‘granthi’ that can itself be called the bondage. In sum the nature of this granthi is the thought, the egoistic thought, ‘I am this body, I am this mind’. Therefore this ‘granthi’ is the ego. In fact the word samsAra includes all that arises from Ignorance – namely, Falsehood, adharma, illegitimate desire, misery, anguish, hell, restlessness, theiving, murder, death and avidyA – all these are nothing but this ego, says Bhagavan Ramana.
#3. Alavandar Stotram No.63 : To me and to all the worlds Thou art the Father, mother, beloved son, dear friend, well-wisher, teacher and the goal. I for my part am Thine – Thy servant, Thy attendant and a refugee at Thy feet. Having offered whole-hearted surrender to Thee, I remain, now, Thy sole responsibility.
This is one of the innumerable verses in the ocean of bhakti literature replete with the depiction of the attitude of total surrender to God. The nature and intensity of our bhakti depends on our level of spiritual evolution, the state of our mind and the stage of its development in this life. What will suit most of us is not the shAnta (calm) bhakti of Bhishma, not the vAtsalya (filial affection) bhakti of YasodA, not the mAdhura (love) bhakti of Gouranga, but the dAsya (service) bhakti of which there are umpteen examples. Service to the Lord and -- mark it – to his devotees and in a larger sense to the entire humanity who are His children, this is the bhakti to which we can certainly rise. This bhakti comes out of an attitude of surrendeer as delineated in this verse of Yamunacharya, the Guru of Shri Ramanuja.
#4. ShivAnandalaharI – Shloka 58: Tr. Oh Lord of all Beings, The one sun (which is so far away) is able to destroy darkness that pervades earth and heaven and become visible. Your luminosity exceeds that of a crore of suns. Why then, do you (who are so near to me as my heart) not become visible to me? How intensely dense should my darkness (Ignorance) be? Please destroy this Yourself. Become directly manifest to me!
#5. ShivAnandalaharI – Shloka 57: Tr. Day in and day out I roam about in vain in search of wealth and food for this little belly of mine. Oh Lord, I know not how to serve you. But fortunately, by some iota of merit in my past births, You are still in my heart as in every one’s and therefore, Oh Lord of Beings, You should protect me.
#6. Appar Tevaram 6-1-1 (In Tamil): That day on which one does not speak or think of Him Who is the One that is rare to get, who is in the minds of noble souls, who is the heart of the Vedas, who is atomic, the Unknown Core of beings, the nectar and milk of salvation, the enlightening spirit, the Ruler of the Gods, the Lord Vishnu, the Four-faced BrahmA, the Fire, the Wind, the Water, the Earth, -- of the One who is the source of all these, the One who represents the Subtle Space Element – of that Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram, that day shall be a day lost in one’s Life.
#7. Tayumaanavar Song (In Tamil) : Ever-permanent, without any blemish, without any ignorance, without, support, ever-full, undecayingly pure, far as well as near, like the Light beyond the three Luminaries (Sun, Moon and Fire), the One Charm that includes all, overflowing with Bliss, undiscernible to mind or speech, standing as the Collossus of Consciousness – on that vastness of the beginning of Infinite Bliss, let us meditate.
#8. ShivAnandalaharI – Shloka 33 : Tr. 'O Master! O God! Is it not enough for people like me to serve Thee even once through making obeisance, singing praise, worship, meditation, listening to Thy story, or having a sight of Thee? By what else but these can liberation be achieved? This being so, what is there to be gained by the arduous worship of ephemeral deities?" And what hould they be prayed for?'
This is also what the Alvars and Nayanmars echo in their Tamil songs: (see Shloka #5 in 7.5). ‘Even if I get to go to the world of Indra and enjoy the fruits of that divine living I do not want it; I would rather dwell in the delight of the utterance of the divine name, Achyuta, Lord of the Divine, Gem of the Cowherds and the like’. ( #2 of TirumAlai of ToNDaraDippoDigaL, in the Four Thousand Prabandhams)
#9. Adi Shankara’s GangAShTakam Shloka No.8: Mother Ganga! On your banks, where the devotees of Shambhu meet, may I lay down my mortal coil; At the start of that holy journey of the soul may I with hands raised up in anjali form on my head remember blissfully the Lotus feet of Shriman Narayana and thus a permanent non-dual bhakti on Hari and Hara continue to overwhelm me at the moment!(Also see the comment on this shloka in 9.4.)
#10. Sundaramurti Nayanar TevAram – Verse 63 – 8 (Tamil): Oh Master, the Best of Beings, You are the Word personified, You are also the Meaning; You are the Origin and You are also the Dissolution; in order to Grace your devotees you grieve that they are not coming back to You; instead of coming under your grace and compassion, they suffer unwisely, for reasons I know not what. You are keeping the Goddess Shakti in half of your body, with the GaNas attending on You, Still You accept the alms offered to you under the mistaken assumption that you need to beg; You are our Master not only in this birth but in several births to come.
#11. Madhusudana Saraswati’s shloka on Krishna: Seated in meditation, their minds totally absorbed in that Supreme Unmanifested Reality, which is changeless, attributeless and actionless, let the Yogis see that mystic Glory of Light which they seem to visualise, but, for us, mortals, we should only yearn that there may miraculously appear before our physical eyes that bluish someonewho keeps romping on the shores of the Yamuna!
The significance here is not only in the shloka but more so in the author of the shloka; because Madhusudana Saraswati is a renowned exponent of advaita and of the nirguNa character of the Absolute Brahman. Still he waxes eloquent on his personal favourite Krishna. He is a monumental example of how advaita and saguNa-bhakti can coexist.
#12: Manicka-vAchagar’s TiruvAchagaM. Verse 15 of Tiruccadagam: (Tamil) You have become the five elements: Space, Earth, Air, Fire (and Water) ; Body and Soul are You; You are the Manifest as well as the Unmanifest; You are the One who pulls the cord that makes each one of us us dance like puppets with foolish thoughts of ‘ I ‘ and ‘Mine’. You are the Lord of all these; all our actions are in truth Yours. How can I ever exhaust Your Glories!
#13. ANDAL TiruppAvai. Verse No. 29 (Tamil): Please hear why, In this very early dawn, We have come to worship Your golden holy feet. You were born in our family of cow herds, And we are but there to obey your every wish, you better accept us. We have not come to get only the rewards from you, Oh Govinda. For ever and for several umpteen births, We would be only related to you, And we would be thine slaves, And so please remove all our other desires, And help us to worship Goddess Pavai.
#14. Author Unknown. On Hanuman. (In Tamil) One of the five elements fathered him , He flew through one of the five, Crossed one of the five, Found the damsel born to one of the five, and Placed one of the five in the foreign land, May he grace and protect us.
The ‘five’ talked about here stands for the five fundamental elements: Air, Space, Water, Earth and Fire. Hanuman was the son of Vayu, the Air-God. He flew in the sky through space and crossed the Ocean of Water. In Lanka he found the place where the Earth-born Sita was in captivity and he finally set to flames the whole of Lanka.
pitA tvaM mAtA tvaM dayita-tanayas-tvaM priya-suhRt tvameva tvaM mitraM gururasi gatiScAsi jagatAM / tvadIyas-tvad-bhRtyas-tava parijanas-tvad-gatirahaM prapannaS-caivaM saty-ahamapi tavaivAsmi hi bharaH //
ekO vArija-bAndhavaH kshitinabho vyAptaM tamo-maNDalaM bhitvA locana-gocaro’pi bhavati tvaM kOTi-sUrya-prabhaH / vedyaH kim nu bhavasyahO ghanataraM kIdRgbhaven-mattamaH tat-sarvaM vyapanIya me paSupate sAkshAt-prasanno bhava //
nityaM sodara-pUraNAya sakalAn-uddiSya vittASayA vyarthaM paryaTanaM karomi bhavataH sevAM na jAne vibho / maj-janmAntara-puNyapAka-balataH tvaM sharva sarvAntaraH tishTasyeva hi tena vA paSupate te rakshaNIyo’smy-ahaM //
ariyAnai andaNar tam cintayAnai arumaraiyin agattAnai aNuvai yArkkum teriyAda tattuvanait-tenaip-pAlait-tigazh oLiyait-tevargaL tam konai maRRaik-kariyAnai nAnmuganaik-kanalaik-kARRaik- kanaikaDalaik-kulavaraiyaik-kalandu ninRa periyAnaip perumpaRRap-puviyUrAnaip-pesAda nALellAm piRavA nALe.
nittiyamAy nirmalamAy nitkalamAy niRamayamAy niraivay nIngAc- cuttamumAyt-tUramumAy ccamIpamumAy turIya nirai cuDarai-yellAm vaittirunda tArakamumAy AnandaayamAgi mana-vAk-keTTAc- citturuvAy ninra vonRaic-cugArambapperu-veLiyAyc-cintanai ceyvOm.
nAlaM vA sakRd-eva deva bhavatas-sevA natir-vA nutiH pUjA vA smaraNaM kathA-shravaNam-apy-AlokanaM mAdRshAM / svAmin – nasthira-devatAnusaraNAyAsena kiM labhyate kA vA muktir-itaH kuto bhavati ced-kiM prArthanIyaM tadA //
mAtar-jAhnavi shambhu-sanga-milite maulau nidhAyanjaliM tvattIre vapuSho’vasana-samaye nArAyaNAnghri-dvayaM / sAnandaM smarato bhavishyati mama prANa-prayANotsave bhUyAd-bhaktir-avicyutA hari-hara-advaitAtmikA shAshvatI//
Sollai nambi poRuLAy ninRa nambi tORRam Iru mudal Agiya nambi
Vallai nambi aDiyArkku aRuL seyya varundi nambi unakkATceyakillAr
allal nambi paDukinRaden nADi aNangorupAkam vait-teNkaNam pORRa
illa nambi iDu pichai-koL nambi ezhu-piRappum engaL nambi kaNDAyE.
dhyAnAvasthita-tadgatena manasA taM nirguNaM nishhkriyaM jyotiH kimcana yogino yadi punaH pashyanti pashyantu te / asmAkaM tu tadeva locana-camatkArAya bhUyAt ciraM kALindI pulineshhu yat kim api ta nIlaM tamo dhAvati //
CiRRam CiRu-kAle vandu unnaic-cEvittun poRRAmarai-yaDiyE pORRum poruL kELAy peRRam mEyttu uNNum kulattil piRandu nI kuRREval engaLaik-koLLAmal pogAdu iRRaippaRai koLvAn anRu kAN GovindA eRRaikkum EzhEzh piRavikkum un-tannODu uRROmE AvOm unakkE nAm ATceyvOm maRRai nam kAmangaL mARRElOr empAvAi