(Digest of pp.942-950 )
In Soundaryalahari, as well as in many similar works, there is mention about attaining a most attractive form, captivating women into submission by means of mantra, and such matters. These should not be taken literally. What does it mean to bring another into submission to you? It only means that you are already submitting yourself to such practices. To appropriate a lot of property simply means to allow oneself to be appropriated by that thought of proprietorship. To want to bring somebody else into submission implies that you are already submissive to such thoughts. Thereafter there is no question of bhakti towards ambaal or of surrendering to Her. Our Acharya would never have meant to make us slaves to such mean desires.
What he intended must therefore be to warn us well ahead so that we can steer clear of such desires and aspirations. Just as all rivers fall and get absorbed into the sea, so also all desires should get absorbed in oneself, never to rise up again – says the Gita. That is the kind of shAnti, Peace, that our Acharya would have advocated. It is the captivation by oneself of all desires and the absorption of all of them into oneself that the Acharya must have meant by the power of ‘vashyaM’, meaning, ‘captivation into submission’. All the three worlds become a woman who submits to the jnAni in submission – this is the vashyam that he talks about in Sloka No.19; not the captivation of a woman into submission for lustful objectives.
Now let me come, as I promised, to the importance of the red colour of ambaal. It is the colour of the eastern sky when the sun is just rising. Kameshvari is of that colour. What is so great about it? There is some physics of light here and there is also the philosophy of creation and dissolution. Red is at one end of the spectrum. When a colour is visible it means the light wave corresponding to that colour is the only thing that has not been absorbed by the medium that transmits the light. Whatever colour is reflected, that shows up; and whatever colours are absorbed, they do not show up. When white shows up it means none of the colours is absorbed, all of them are ‘reflected’ and they merge into one colour, white. When dark shows up it means all the waves of light are absorbed and there is no ‘reflection’.
Of the three gunas, shuddha-satvaM, or pure satvaM, is the one that does not keep any of the three for itself and therefore it is pure white, like milk. It is taken to be indicative of the para-brahman, though the latter transcends all the colours and the gunas. On the other side, the colour that keeps all the colours within itself and does not let any reflection out is black and this is the colour of ‘tamas’. It is pure Ignorance. The in-between guna is rajas, the kriyA-shakti. It is red in colour because it is the first colour that separates itself from the pure white sunlight and forms the beginning of the projection of the other colours and creations.
From the pure white of satvaM to the total darkness of tamas, the entire spectrum and variety of creation -- all of them have come from the parabrahman, through the first emanation of the ‘red’ Kameshvari. The ‘kriyA’ (Action) that projects the jIvas from brahman, and the ‘kriyA’ that takes the jivas back to brahman – both the kriyAs are those of the parA-shakti who rose up as the all-red Kameshvari from the first ‘thought’ of the Ultimate.Therefore ‘red’ is indicative of Creation and is therefore the colour of Creator BrahmA. The activity of life is all due to the flow of blood which is ‘red’ in colour. The Sanskrit word for blood is ‘rakta’ which also means ‘red’. Creation is done by a poet also; so the poetic talent, ‘kavitvam’ is also taken to be ‘red.
There are differences in the redness of rajas. The seeds of ‘kundumani’, the fruit of bitter gourd, and ‘pAdirip-pazham’ are all red.
(Note by VK: (1) The botanical name for ‘kundumani’
is Abrus precatorius.
The seeds of this contain
(2) I am not able to get the English name
But the first one is poisonous, the second is bitter though good for health, while the third is sweet as well as good for health. In rajas also, there is the rajas that binds, the rajas that keeps a goal of moksha and the rajas that lifts you up to moksha. The ‘redness’ of Kameshvari is of the third type. It is that redness which has to be meditated upon, says shloka #18, as the one that engulfs all the region from the sky to the earth. The words ‘saraNi’ and ‘lahari’ both mean a flood. ‘ShrI’ stands for the beauty of ambaal. ‘ShrI – saraNi’ mentioned in #18, is therefore nothing but Her Soundarya-lahari, the flood of Beauty.
The mention of ambaal’s Supreme Beauty (Slokas 12 and 18) in this part of Ananda-lahari, in spite of its yantra, mantra and esoteric occupations, is to tell us that all this is to lead us on to the darshan of that supreme beauty of ambaal’s form, described in the latter part, namely, Soundaryalahari. That physical form of course is contained in the ‘head-to-foot’ description; but the redness that radiates from that form is a light that fills up the universe!
(Digest of pp. 950-958 )
In the sahasra-nAma ( (poem of )one thousand names) of Lalita there is a long series of names which describe the divine form from head to foot. Naturally the hands have a due place there. But the hands and the weapons held in them are talked about even before the head-to-foot description starts. The weapons are not said to be just held, but they are built into an esoteric description. The weapons pAsham, ankusham, bow and arrow are each given a philosophical meaning. The ‘pAsham’ (noose) is called ‘rAgam’ (desire) there.
‘rAga-svarUpa-pAshADhyA’: Desire is the noose which binds. So She has the noose of Desire in Her hands. But the desire is not the wrong desire, it is the desire that binds one to ambaal. At that point there shoud be no hate or dvesham. That is why there is an ankusham (goad). And then there are the bow and arrow to help us bind our mind and senses to the Ultimate. Only after this the darshan of ambaal in Her head to foot physical form will be obtained. But even before that form is visible, what one sees is the vast spread of the red colour everywhere. So the name that occurs just before the first name in the head-to-foot description is ‘nijAruNa-prabhA-pUra-majjat-brahmANDa manDalA’, meaning, ‘She immerses the entire universe in Her crimson effulgence’. The same idea is said in the second line of Shloka 18:
divaM sarvAM urvIM aruNima-nimagnAM.
In several places in the Soundaryalahari, we find the same descriptions as in Lalita SahasranAma almost in the same words.
The forehead of ambaal is like an inverted half-moon :
dvitIyaM tan-manye makuTa-ghaTitaM chandra-kalashaM (Shloka 46);
If She opens Her eyes, it is Creation; if She closes them, it is Dissolution:
nimeshonmeshAbhyAM praLayam-udayaM yAti jagatI (Shloka 55);
Not even a tree bearing precious gems (vidruma-latA) can equal the enchanting lips of ambaaL:
dantachhada-rucheH pravakshye sAdRshyam janayatu phalaM vidruma-latA (Shloka 62);
The jingling of the gems in the anklets of ambaal’s feet is described in both almost in the same words:
Subaka-maNi-manjIra raNita- ... charaNa-kamalaM (Shloka 91);
The idea that ambaaL’s very speech can beat the sweetness of the vINA-music of Goddess Sarasvati, epitomised in the Lalita-shasranama line
is developed in a whole Shloka No.66 of Soundaryalahari.
While giving examples and analogies to various parts of the form of ambaal, when it comes to the chin of ambAL, both the Lalita sahasranama and the Soundaryalahari, say that it is devoid of all analogies:
Katham-kAram brUmas-tava chubukam-aupamya-rahitaM (Shloka 67);
Before the radiance of the pair of lotus feet of ambaal, the real lotus pales into insignificance, according to the Lalita-sahasranama line:
This idea is developed elaborately in
Shloka 87 where the Acharya shows in how many ways the divine feet pales the
lotus into insignificance. Lotus withers away in snow. But ambaal, whose house
of birth as well as the house of marriage both are in
While the Acharya has done stotras on Vishnu and Shiva giving a head-to-foot description of the deities, he has shown great originality in the fund of his innovative descriptions and analogies. Then why did he not do it here in the case of ambaal? Why did he have to borrow from the Lalita Sahasranama? It shows only the Acharya’s humility and the high pedestal on which he places the Lalita-sahasranama.
Now let us follow the main trend of our coverage of Soundaryalahari. In Shloka 21 he talks about the flood of absolute bliss in brahman that is experienced by one who has reached the apex in KunDalini yoga. This flood is legitimately called by him ‘AhlAda-lahari’. ‘AhlAda’ means happiness, joy, bliss.
And now comes one of the most easy-worded, but profoundly meaningful Shloka, #22.
(Digest of pp. 958-963 )
The next shloka is of great interest. Even in the portion of Anandalahari, which is supposed to be mainly the esoteric content of the ShAkta scriptures, there are shlokas which reflect the pure bhakti sentiment coupled with excelling poetry. One such shloka is No.22. In this shloka one is lifted from the dvaita-bhakti to an advaita-like stage where there is a symbiosis of bhakti, shakti and jnAna.
bhavAni tvam dAse mayi vitara dRShhTiM sakaruNAM
iti stotuM vAnchan kathayati bhavAni tvam-iti yaH /
tadaiva tvaM tasmai dishasi nija-sAyujya-padavIM
mukunda-brahmendra-sphuTa-makuTa-nIrAjita-padAM //22 //
“bhavANi” – Oh Mother bhavAni. Bhava is the name of Shiva. The Shakti of Bhava is BhavAni.
tvam vitara : Please (you) cast
dRShhTiM : (your) glance
sakaruNAM : (which is) coupled with Grace and Compassion
mayi : on me
dAse : (who is your) servant.
vAnchan : Wishing
iti stotuM : to praise thus,
bhavAni tvaM iti : “bhavAni tvaM” ,
tadaiva (= tadA + eva) : then and there, (that is, even before you complete the remaining words “dAse mayi vitara dRShhTiM sa karuNAM”)
tvaM : You
dishasi : grant, give
tasmai : to him
nija-sAyujya-padavIM : your own sAyujya status.
(We shall come to the fourth line of the stanza later)
The marvel here is, that the devotee has not yet said the full prayer of his, namely: Oh Bhavani, You please cast on me, your servant, your glance of compassion and grace. He has just said: “Oh Bhavani, You” ! That itself is sufficient for the Goddess to pour Her maximum Grace of Her own sAyujya status on the devotee. This is the implication of the words ‘tadA-eva’ in the beginning of the third line of the stanza. The very moment one says ‘bhavAni tvaM’, he is granted the Grace. How is this? And what is this sAyujya status that is being granted?
(The sAyujya concept was described
in the first paragraph of DPDS – 29 - VK)
The sAyujya status is that which becomes one with the Object of Adoration. But what is being said here is not the oneness with the nirguNa-brahman. Why am I saying this? Now go to the fourth line of the shloka.
Brahma : creator brahma
Indra : Indra, the King of the divines
sphuTa-makuTa : the shining crown
nIrAjita-padAM : the feet which have been offered the ceremonial waving (nIrAjana) of lights before them.
And thus, the last line means, in conjunction with the third line, “Then and there, You give him your sAyujya status, (which earns them) Your feet that have been given the ‘nIrAjana’ (waving of lights) by the Gods Vishnu, Brahma and Indra who, by falling at Your feet, have had their shining crowns touch your feet and thus have offered worship to it”.
It is the sAyujya status (the identity in form and essence) that privileges the devotee to enjoy the worship of even the Gods, through their ‘nIrAjana’ to the Divine Feet, with which there is identity now.
If one reaches advaita-sAyujya (identity) with the Ultimate, things will not be like this; for there is no ‘form’ there and there are no feet to be worshipped! And then there will be no gods in name and form. The advaita sAyujyam is the oneness with the Ultimate nirguna-brahman where there is no more universe. So what is said in this shloka is not the sAyujya of advaita.
It is the supreme brahman which manifests itself as the First Cause in terms of parAshakti. She is the Queen of this Universe and She adminsiters this whole universe by Her own agents such as Brahma and Indra. It is those divine agents who fall at Her feet in obeisance. It is in that state that the individual soul (jIvAtma) becomes one with the parAshakti in its sAyujya status. It is that sAyujya that is spoken of here.
The interesting fact is that even the advaita shAstras do speak of this state. Of course the goal of the advaita scriptures is not this. The peaceful nirguNa state without any mention of shakti or of any ‘action’ is the goal of advaita. But the ‘Ishvara’ that advaita talks of does ‘get into action’! It is He (taking the place of ‘parAshakti’ of the shAkta schools) who does all the leelA with the devotee. That is why, even though the Ultimate is something in which there should be no talk of ‘the rise of desire’ or the ‘occurrence of determination (sankalpa)’, the Upanishads do speak like ‘Whatever objects He desires, they appear by His very desire’. (‘yam kAmam kAmayate saH asya sankalpAd-eva samut-tishhTanti’ --Chandogya U. VIII -2). This means just that He has the quality of ‘aishvarya’, namely, the godliness of being parAshakti.
Even if the person goes via the path of jnAna and looks forward to the advaitic union in nirguNa brahman, the parAshakti catches hold of him, as it were, on the way and makes him play along with Her in saguNa-sAyujyam (identity with Ishvara, the aspect of brahman with form) in the world of action! But the play does not end there. He soars even higher spiritually. He is now in identity with the parAshakti, the Director of the entire universe and all its play. It is in that state he enjoys the bliss of union with the saguNa Ultimate. It is a state where there is the apex of Devotion and also the sense of advaita-jnAna – a perfectly peaceful and blissful state.
(Digest of pp. 964 - 969 )
Thus the identity (sAyujyam) that shloka 22 talks about in its third line has something to do with jnAna, bhakti and shakti. It is not the brahman-realisation spoken of in advaita.
Now we shall take up the pun on the words ‘bhavAni tvaM’ in the shloka. As soon as the devotee utters the words ‘bhavAni tvaM’ as a beginning for his full sentence: ‘bhavAni tvaM dAse mayi vitara dRshhTim sakaruNAM’ the Goddess is ready to grant him the highly merited sAyujyam (identity) with Her. What is so powerful in those two words ‘bhavAni tvaM’? This is where the poet has played with Sanskrit grammar.
The word ‘bhavAni’ can be interpreted in two ways – one as a noun, and another as a verb. The verbal root is ‘bhava’. This itself gives the two meanings. When ‘bhava’ is a noun it is a name of Lord Shiva. In this context ‘bhavAni’ would mean ‘the consort of bhava’, that is, ambaal. ‘bhava’ as a verb would mean ‘be’ or ‘become’. In this context, ‘bhavAni’ would mean ‘Let me become’ or ‘Let me be’. So ‘bhavAni tvaM’ would mean ‘May I become You’. Remember that in Sanskrit a sentence accommodates changing the order of the words in the sentence without affecting the meaning.
Ambaal is an ocean of compassion and grace. So when a devotee seeks the identity with Her by the two simple words ‘bhavAni tvaM’, She doesn’t wait for his further words; She simply grants the sAyujya-status ‘then and there’ ! But the irony of it is, he, the devotee, considers himself too low in the spiritual ladder to merit anything great and he has no conception of what honourable return from the Goddess awaits him. ‘Just a glance towards this poor me, Oh Mother!’ – this is all what he pleads for. Note that the poet uses the word ‘yah’, meaning, ‘whoever’. So the devotee does not have to be a great ‘sAdhu’. He could be any one. He may not even know that there is a status called ‘sAyujyam with ambaaL’! The couple of words ‘bhavAni tvaM’ has such an effect even on ordinary persons who recite it.
The Almighty is the Lord. I am only a servant – This is the attitude of the devotee in the first line of the shloka. Of course it is an attitude of duality, not advaita. But even to such a person who only wants to be a servant of the Goddess, ambaal hands over in a platter the very advaita itself. Certainly this is saguNa-advaitam. But would She not also grant him, in due course, the nirguNa-advaitam?
Take the case of Hanuman. He was always steeped in the concept “dAsohaM”, (‘dAsaH + ahaM’) meaning, “I am your servant”. ‘dAsa’ means servant. By the very fact that he was steeped in that concept of “dAsohaM” all his life, he reached the advaitic stage of “sohaM” (‘saH + ahaM’), which means, “I am He (That)”. What this shloka says is that ambaal transforms every one who comes to Her with the attitude of “dAsohaM”, to the apex stage of “sohaM”! It is a stage which is difficult for countless persons who struggle for the realisation of “aham brahmAsmi” and for even still more who ceaselessly meditate on the words “tat-tvaM-asi” of the guru. While many of them find it an inaccessible ideal, it is granted even to the ordinary person who sincerely comes to ambaal with the two words “bhavAni tvaM” though with something else in mind.
We have still not finished with ‘bhavAni tvaM’. So far we considered ‘bhavAni tvaM’ as two words. But ‘bhavAni-tvaM’ can also be considered as a single word. Then it means ‘the state of being bhavAni or parA-shakti’. The structure of the single word is something like ‘amaratvaM’ which means ‘the state of being immortal’ and like ‘kavi-tvaM’ which means ‘poetic talent’. So the moment the devotee says ‘bhavAni tvaM’ ambaal takes it as a request for ‘bhavAni-tvaM’ and She grants the ‘bhavAni-tvaM’ to him. In other words She gives Her own status, namely the status of sAyujya with Her to him.
Remember the devotee has not even begun his petition to Her. But even before He asks in full, She is ready to give him not only what he asks but even more. Recall the “vAnchA-samadhikaM” of shloka 4, where it was said that Her feet are capable of gracing the devotee with ‘more than what is wished’!
At this point the Paramacharya
makes a very subtle comment about Adi Shankara,
which is exquisite. It also shows
the bhakti which he has towards
(the Acharya) Adi Shankara. I am giving the following
paragraph (almost) in exact translation,
so that it can be enjoyed in the original. VK
When we see this, something remarkable strikes us. Suppose somebody is a great scholar in a language and without any knowledge-arrogance he is also a sincere devotee of the Goddess, to the extent that he considers himself as nothing but a lowliest servant of ambaal, -- all this is actually a description of the Acharya himself -- such a one never ignores even the commonest of people, but discovers a deep content even in their ordinary comments and speeches. Such profound contents will certainly be granted to him (at his stature) as an experience, by ambaal. But when he says that such an experience will be given by ambaal even to the common man, why would She not give it to him who has the greatness of heart to see the profound in the profane! The stanza of KuraL (in Tamil) which says: “From whomsoever whatsoever is heard, to see the Truth in that is Knowledge” gets a new meaning here. “Knowledge” may as well be taken to mean “Experiential Knowledge”!
(Digest of pp. 970 - 973 )
In the Vaishnava tradition, they do not accept the attributeless non-dual brahman, but they do talk about One-ness with the state of the Almighty Mahavishnu, along with all His powers. But even when they say this, out of deference to propriety, they make an exception to what one can obtain. The exception is ‘LakshmI-patitvaM’, that is, ‘the state of being the spouse of Lakshmi’. Naturally whatever powers and states of Mahavishnu you may aspire for and actually get, becoming the spouse of Lakshmi is taboo. In the same manner in the branch of philosophy called ‘ShivAdvaitam’, they talk of oneness with Lord Shiva, but they make a similar exception, for the same reason of propriety. All this is because, the destination in both these schools of philosophy is a couple, such as ‘Narayana-Lakshmi’ or ‘Shiva-Parvati’. The very fact that one has to make an exception throws a shade of doubt on the other statements of objectives.
One would like not to make any exception at all. That is where this shloka (#22) opens the door for us. It says: ‘Don’t aspire to become Narayana or Shiva; Don’t have your object of meditation the divine form of Narayana or Shiva, with the purpose of becoming one with it. Pray that you should become one with the form of the Mother, that is ambaal or Lakshmi. In their capacity of universal Mother, they will not only accept your prayers but will also give you that identical oneness with them. That Lakshmi or that ambaal are themselves internally in oneness with Vishnu and Shiva respectively. So when a jIva merges in the Mother, the Mother takes him along with Her and merges the jIva in either the Vishnu-form or the Shiva-form, thus granting you the Vishnu-sAyujyam or the Shiva-sAyujyam’. This shloka therefore gives the right strategy for us to become one with the Almighty at the same time not transgressing the elementary propriety of pati-patnI.
To say it shortly, first you become the mother then the father. So first it is the oneness of filial affection. When the mother becomes one with the father, it is the apex of all bhakti attitudes, namely the attitude of nAyikA. And that is what takes us to the ultimate advaita – so say the great rishis and saints who have gone through it all! Go back now and enjoy the imagery in shloka No.12, where the divine damsels in order to understand the beauty of ambaal, imagine their oneness with Lord Shiva and expect to get a glimpse of the full beauty of ambaa.
Thus in this single shloka, the Acharya has brought in advaitam and dvaitam, philosophy as well as a delightful pun, service to the Lord as well as the concept of the nAyikA (beloved of the Lord) bhAva -- all blended together.
To top it all we have one more thing to enjoy about this shloka. This is in the fourth line. It talks about the Divinities like Vishnu, BrahmA and Indra falling at the feet of the Goddess and the divine feet get the nIrAjana (Reverential waving of Lights) from such great Gods. In fact Soundaryalahari has three such nIrAjanas. One in this shloka, one in shloka 30 and one in the very last shloka (#100).
The situation in #30 is not the accidental utterance of words of Shloka 22, which meant identification with the Absolute in the generous interpretation of the poet. There it is not just any one, ‘yah’. He is not even just a devotee and a scholar. It is far more than that. He has risen above the ‘dAsohaM’ stage and has reached the ‘sohaM’ stage. It is the stage where the conviction that ‘I am one with You’ (= ‘tvAm-aham iti sadA bhAvayati yah’). He lives in that continuous identification with the Absolute. To such a one, says the Acharya (in #30), even the Cosmic Fire of Dissolution is just a nIrAjana (waving of Lights) only. Because it is so to the Mother Goddess. And it is therefore also so to one who has continually identified with Her.
The third ‘nIrAjana’ comes in the very last shloka where the Acharya offers this Soundaryalahari itself as a waving of Lights to that Sun-like Light, that is the ambaa Herself in Her capacity as the Source of all Speech and Learning. The words of the Soundaryalahari are words which emanated from Her. So Her own words form the nIrAjana to Her.
These three nIrAjanas can be classified as one for Creation, one for Sustenance and one for Dissolution. But not in that order. They come in the order: Sustenance, Dissolution and Creation. The devi-praNava is ‘umA’. The letters come in the order: ‘u’ (which is the letter for Sustenance, for it represents Vishnu ); ‘ma’ (which is the letter for Dissolution, for it represents Rudra) and ‘a’ (which is the letter for Creation, for it represents BrahmA). The first nIrAjana talks about the worship by Vishnu, BrahmA and Indra. It is significant that this listing of the divines begins with Vishnu, thus indicating that we are talking about the nIrAjana meant as an offering of the Sustenance function. The second nIrAjana (#30) corresponds to the Dissolution function is already built into the very words ‘the conflagration of Cosmic Dissolution proves only to be the nIrAjana’ (“mahA-samvartAgnir-viracayati nIrAjana-vidhiM”).
How does the third nIrAjana (#100) correspond to the Creation function? I shall explain this now.
Thus spake the Paramacharya.
Acknowledgement of Source Material:
Ra. Ganapthy’s ‘Deivathin Kural’ (Vol.6) in Tamil published by Vanathi Publishers, 4th edn. 1998
Copyright of English Summary © V. Krishnamurthy